Lessons from the Kitchen; Cheeseburgers and Fries

Welcome to the first chapter of Lessons in the Kitchen, where I teach you how to cook and help you expand your recipe repertoire. Today’s meal is cheeseburgers and home fries, one of my favorite meals. You can continue reading for full explanations with photos, or click on the buttons below for recipe cards without explanatory photos.

Below is a basic recipe and instructions for four people, but it can easily be increased to serve more. I typically plan for either ⅓ or ½ pound patties for the burgers and about one good sized russet potato per person. If you are only cooking for one or two people you can freeze leftover patties, just layer the patties between wax or parchment paper and seal in a freezer bag. Leftover hamburger buns can also be kept in the freezer by placing in a large freezer bag.

A note on ground beef. The fat content of ground beef is something I never thought about until I started doing my own shopping, and there are a lot of options. The main thing to remember is that the higher fat content will give you a juicier burger, but those patties will also shrink the most in the cooking process. Generally, the more fat content, the juicier your final burger will be. Honestly, trial and error tends to be the best method to determine your personal preference.

A note on meal timing. One of the most difficult and intimidating aspects of cooking a meal is timing everything to be done at about the same time. For this meal, I find best results from preheating the oven and getting the fries in the oven for their first fifteen minute bake time, then starting on the hamburgers. This is also a good idea because it reduces the chances of cross-contamination from the raw ground beef onto the potatoes. If you do struggle with timing and one dish is done before the other, just place either on low heat or on a plate in the microwave or oven to keep warm.

Cheeseburgers

2 pounds ground beef

Salt

Pepper

Garlic powder

Olive oil

  • Open the pack of ground beef and transfer to a plate. Throw away the trash and wash your hands. *Note; I always use a cast iron skillet to cook burgers, if you do the same go ahead and set it on a low heat to preheat the pan.* 
  • Sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder over the surface of the meat. Use your hands and mix the ground beef up to distribute the seasonings. 
  • Divide the meat into four equal portions of roughly ½ pound each, I normally do this by eye. Form each into a rough ball, then flatten. You want the patties to be about as thin as you can make them, and you can make the sides smooth or leave them a bit rough based on personal preference. If you are not confident in your ability to divide the pounds evenly, you can use a digital scale to make sure each patty is roughly the same size. Wash your hands again. 
  • Turn your stove on to medium heat, then line a clean plate with paper towels and place to the side. Drizzle a little olive oil in the pan, and when hot lay the patties on the pan. Do NOT move them immediately after placing in pan. You want a good sear to form when they hit the hot metal, and moving them around will disturb that process. 
  • When the edges start turning brown and they move easily, flip each patty. After a couple of minutes, start checking more regularly on their doneness. This can be checked a couple of ways. My favorite kitchen tool is a digital thermometer, which you can get for about $10 at Walmart. Ground beef should always be cooked well done, which is about 160 degrees fahrenheit. If you don’t have  a thermometer, there are two other ways to check. One is to gently press on the patty with a spatula and notice what color the juices are that come out. If the juices are pink or red, then it’s not done, but they are done when the juices are clear. The other way is to make a small cut into the center of one of the patties and look at the color of the ground beef. You want it to be one color, no pink. 
  • When they’re done, place them on the paper towel lined plate and top with sliced cheese of your choice. Transfer to a bun after they’ve cooled slightly and drained. One of the easiest ways to elevate a burger is to slightly butter the bun and toast it to your liking.

Homemade Baked Fries

About one potato per person, depending on potato size

Canola oil

Salt

Pepper

  • Turn oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit. Either wash or peel your potatoes, I prefer to leave the peel on my fries. 
  • To slice the fries, first slice a potato in half lengthwise. Then, make a parallel cut to the first to slice each half in half again. Lay each plank on it’s wide flat side, then slice into three or four. You want a general equality in the size of each fry. This will be impossible, since potatoes are not square, but the ideal fry would be a long square stick. 
  • Place the fries on a baking sheet, drizzle with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use either your hands or a pair of tongs to toss the fries and ensure equal coating of oil. 
  • Place in the oven for about fifteen minutes, then remove from the oven. Flip all the fries over, making sure each one is on a new side, then return to the oven for an additional fifteen minutes. 
  • To check if the fries are finished, pierce with a fork. A done fry will be easily pierced, but if there is much resistance, they may need ten or fifteen minutes longer.

Comfort Food and Collard Greens

The idea of “comfort food” is interesting to me.

I grew up in West Georgia. My dad’s family has lived in the same hundred miles going back over two hundred years, and my maternal grandmother grew up in the Appalachian mountains of North Georgia. So one might say we’re a Southern family, and certainly a Georgian one. And the fact is, what most Americans consider “comfort food” or “Soul food” to us is just weekly and daily occurrences. Cornbread, black-eye peas, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens – or just “greens”, as it’s often a combination of several different types of leafy greens- were made, consumed, and enjoyed regularly. Fried steak with gravy, pork chops, salmon patties, and hamburger steaks are entrees I ate with gusto several times a month. Meatloaf was reserved for Sunday’s after-church dinner, as was pot roast. It’s just always odd when I see common childhood meals referred to as “comfort food,” as though you can’t eat those foods as often as you want.

This topic crossed my mind when I went to supper with a dear friend of mine. Neither of us had been to that restaurant before, a place in downtown Austell, GA called the South Cobb Diner. The food was superb. The company was fantastic of course, an old friend I had fallen out of touch with and proceeded to spend two hours catching up. But the food. It was amazing. Sometimes at restaurants one or two things on the plate will taste sub-par or even canned, but everything was clearly fresh and homemade. Fried steak, Vidalia onion gravy, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens.

I have had a love-hate relationship with greens over the course of my life. Apparently when I was very young I would happily drink “pot likker,” which is the term I’ve always heard for the liquid left after the greens are cooked. I had low iron so that was probably really healthy for me. Then for most of my childhood I hated even the sight of greens, along with most boiled vegetables (unfortunately, vegetables in the South either come fried or boiled, so there were frequent grumblings and arguments about how many boiled things I had to eat). Now, greens and I have a tentative agreement that hinges on the presence of Franks hot sauce (as they say, I put that sh*t on everything, sorta).

All that to say, greens don’t often stand out as something I particularly enjoy. But these greens. Ya’ll. I think they changed my life. I would love to figure out how to make them. The only issue with greens is this; the recipe. No one I know is particularly fond of using a recipe if they don’t need it, and I come from a long line of women who glance at a recipe and then mostly ignore it and do what they want. So my concern is that there probably aren’t very many written recipes for greens, and they’re probably all just a list of ingredients.

My first foray into the world of collard greens (henceforth just “greens”) came on a Monday afternoon. The menu for the night was greens, hoppin’ john, and cornbread. I have made the latter two dishes more times than I can count, but as stated above, it would be my first try at greens.

I used the list of ingredients I was given, tried my best, and… they were ok. Not the best, not inedible (I guess), but just, eh. I think greens might just have to be the thing I can’t cook. And honestly, that’s ok with me. I can cook plenty of other dishes that are delicious, so I think I’ll manage without knowing how to cook greens. But if you want the other recipes, click the links below.