Wednesday, May 20, 2009

bring on the birthday burgers - recipe: dana's homemade burgers

My little guy turned one the first week of May. I can’t believe how fast the year went by. For several weeks prior to the big day, I had been trying to come up with a theme for John’s first birthday party.

I know, I know, this probably sounds silly. My husband, David, shook his head whenever the topic came up and told me, “Hun, you know that you’re doing this for you, right? John won’t remember anything and he’s a guy, so even if he could remember, he wouldn’t care.”

Bah humbug. Grudgingly, I admit that David’s right — the party was probably for me, but it was a great excuse to plan a get-together. It was a small affair — just my immediate family, John’s great aunt Deb, my best friend Nichole, her hubby Steve and their little guy Charlie.

After much thought, I finally came up with a theme — bunnies! (Uh oh, John might resent me for this when he’s a teenager — I promise not to show the pictures of your first b-day party to your girlfriends or buddies, OK John?)

Why bunnies, you ask? Because our first set of real dishes for him have a Peter Cottontail motif (thanks Doug and Diane).

My favourite newborn outfits for him were also from the “guess how much I love you” bunny series (thanks Kim and Rob).

But it was mostly because John sleeps with a little stuffed bunny every night for comfort (again courtesy of Kim and Rob). So as you can see, the theme is indeed appropriate.

Now to the food... salads were definitely in order — I made a Boston bibb salad and a roasted carrot and olive salad.

I also served my homemade beef burgers. When reviewing the menu beforehand, my (pedantic) husband David reminded me that rabbits are in fact strict vegetarians.

When I replied that I could serve veggie burgers instead, he quickly changed the subject. He was relieved (if not a bit skeptical) when I informed him that arctic hares are known to occasionally eat meat (thanks, google!). Dessert? Carrot cake, of course!

Dana’s homemade burgers (makes 24 large burgers)

Yes, it’s a bit unbelievable, but this recipe does call for seven-and-a-half pounds of beef (Warning! Don’t skimp on the regular ground beef — I use a mixture of regular and lean for the tastiest results). You can halve the recipe if you like, but I prefer to make a 'whack' of burgers and freeze some for future use. Trust me, you’ll thank me on a busy weeknight when all you have to do is thaw them.


  • 4 pounds regular ground beef
  • 3 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 2 medium sized onions, finely diced (about 2 cups)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup hoisin sauce
  • 3/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1 3/4 cups good-quality smoky barbecue sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3-4 cups breadcrumbs salt and pepper, to taste


  • Finely dice onions and sauté in pan over medium heat until softened and translucent, about five minutes. Add garlic and cook for one to two minutes or until fragrant. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool.
  • Transfer onion-garlic mixture to large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well to combine.
  • Shape into 24, five-ounce patties. Grill on barbecue over medium heat or wrap burgers individually in plastic wrap and freeze for future use.
  • Serve with an assortment of gourmet toppings and let your guests “build their best burger” — blue cheese, caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, sautéed mushrooms and slow roasted tomatoes are good choices.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cooking up mom’s favourite mother’s day treat - recipe: panna cotta with balsamic strawberries

Although I’ve been a mother for just over a year, I can’t help but think that Mother’s Day is much more about my mother than about me.

Last year, by the time Mother’s Day rolled around I’d been a mother for a mere five days.

It definitely felt strange to be included in on the pampering. My brother, Adam, and my sister-in-law, Michelle, had us all over to their home to treat us to a delicious meal of “surf & turf”. They even spoiled me with a gift certificate for a pedicure!

What I remember most about that particular Mother’s Day was that we all spent the entire evening staring at our new five-day-old baby, John, asleep in his car seat. We cooed after he made even the slightest facial movement (yup, you guessed it, he’s the first grandchild and the first nephew in our family so he’s definitely spoiled with attention).

OK, back to Mother’s Day.

One of my favourite ways to show appreciation is through cooking.

Accordingly, I’d planned to prepare a memorable meal to honour everything my mom does for our family (and she does a lot).

Deciding what to make was a challenge (my dilemma is always the same — it’s rather difficult to choose from so many great options).

Mom loves pretty much everything, but her all-time favourites include: rack of lamb, seafood, salad, good quality cheeses, pecan pie, crème caramel (anything with caramel, actually), crème brulee, panna cotta and yoghurt.

Yes, I said yoghurt. Mom is all about moderation! We tease her that her favourite food is actually yoghurt while mine is french fries.

Anyway, I settled on rack of lamb for our main and panna cotta for dessert.

Happy belated Mother’s Day to all of you — especially to my Mom, Rosslynn Shortt, who I am so incredibly fortunate to call “Mom”. I love you mouser! Panna cotta is Italian for “cooked cream” (panna = cream, cotta = cooked) — how could you possibly go wrong?

It’s a light custard served cold and typically with fresh fruit. This recipe is incredibly easy and delicious. I made it for Mom’s birthday last year and everyone loved it so much that I’m going to make it again (which is odd for me as I like to experiment with new recipes).

Mario Batali’s panna cotta with balsamic strawberries (Serves 6)

ingredients for panna cotta

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1¼ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1¼ cups plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sugar

ingredients strawberries

  • 2,1-pint baskets strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

method for panna cotta

  • Pour two tablespoons water into small bowl.
  • Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until softened, about 15 minutes.
  • Whisk one cup cream, yogurt, and vanilla in large bowl to blend.
  • Heat remaining one cup cream and half cup sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and cream comes to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add gelatin mixture, stirring to dissolve gelatin.
  • Mix hot cream-gelatin mixture into yogurt mixture in bowl.
  • Divide mixture among six, three-quarter cup ramekins, using about a half cup for each.
  • Refrigerate desserts uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

method for strawberries

  • Toss strawberries, vinegar, sugar, and pepper in large bowl to combine.
  • Let stand 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.
  • Spoon strawberries over panna cotta and serve.

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