Monday, September 28, 2009

let me work it

I think I've sufficiently recovered from this weekend to talk about it. :)

I apologize in advance for the incredibly long post - I wanted to get it out of the way before Matty's parents are in town for the next two weeks. Will probably be posting sporadically as we've got a pretty full itinerary of going out planned. Perhaps if you feel you'll miss me, you could read a couple paragraphs at a time. :)

Saturday started with my alarm clock blaring at 5:40a.

To Do:
- get groceries (this was supposed to happen last night; plan derailed by longest service time at Jitlada known to humans)
- feed 30 people at our dear friends Brad + Tammy's baby shower at 2p

Menu:
- Mac and Cheese (4 pans)
- Pearl Couscous with Olives + Roasted Tomatoes (4 pans)
- Bacon Baked Beans (4 pans)
- Kale Slaw (2 pans)
- Roasted Red Pepper + Mozzarella Salad (2 pans)
- Black Bean Confetti Salad (2 pans)
- Double Dark Chocolate Cherry Cookies (recipe doubled)
- Key Lime-Graham Cracker Icebox Cookies (recipe doubled)
- Tres Leches Cake

First and foremost, I have to tell you how excited I was when I found Kitchen Dance. I've been looking for foil trays for ages, and I do have some steam tables from Costco, but the edges weren't crimpable, and they didn't come with lids. For this event, I went with the 4-lb. foil pans with board lids, and boy did they make transport so much easier. And since they're located in Southern California, I got my pans in 2 days, just in time for the baby shower!

Okay, enough gushing about pans. Back to the job at hand. I basically ended up a full hour behind the schedule I had planned for myself because I couldn't find anything at Albertson's. I ended up ditching another pasta dish and two kinds of cookies because I ran out of time.


While I was grocery shopping and prepping, I did have a fleeting thought that the meal was a little too bean- and pepper-centric, but I do think the kale slaw and the mac and cheese helped keep a good balance.

If I do say so myself, it all came together swimmingly. I think it definitely helped to have solid staples that I'd made before and knew were crowd pleasers. The new recipes were absolute dreams, and the only problem I had with them was not getting it through my thick skull that quadrupling a recipe meant I had no vessel in the house large enough to toss everything into.

The mac and cheese was a huge favorite. We went through all 4 pans. It's incredibly, decadently rich, and I could definitely see myself cuddling with a huge bowl of it on a bad day. Aesthetically, I wish the cottage cheese curds had disappeared, and perhaps they would have had I had time to do anything more than dump everything on top of the cooked pasta and hope for the best.

Mac and Cheese
1 8 oz package macaroni
1 8 oz package shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 12 oz container small curd cottage cheese
1 8 oz container sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta and drain.

In a 9x13 inch baking dish stir together all ingredients.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until top is golden. Devour.

The couscous was one of my favorites. I love couscous, especially pearl couscous. Add to it roasted tomatoes and delightfully salty olives, and I'm thrilled to have 2 pans of leftovers. Because I was out of time, I didn't puree any of the tomatoes, but tossed them all in whole. It tasted great, but I think the tomato sauce would have made for better, less dry leftovers.

I don't know that there are even words for the baked beans. They do take a long time to prepare, but it's all unattended oven time, so if you're doing a lot of stove-top or oven-free dishes to supplement your beans, you should be good to go. Really worth it.

Cookie time!

The chocolate-cherry ones are completely addictive. Rich and dark, but with pleasing bites of tartness when you encountered a bit of cherry. These will definitely be making multiple appearances in cookie trays to come.

The key lime-graham cracker ones amused me to no end. Pie in cookie form! Just brilliant. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to evenly space the log of graham cookie dough on top of the lime dough, so I just patted both into an 8x8-inch square and placed the graham layer on top. After rolling they doughs together and rolling the log to a more manageable size, these just needed a quick firming in the fridge and were ready to be sliced and baked.



And I've made the tres leches cake before, but have only topped it with Bailey's strawberries. I wanted to stay alcohol-free for the day, what with it being a baby shower and all, so I whipped up 2 cups of cream for a topping. Cake decorator, I am not, but delicious, it came out. :)

I still don't have a good handle on how to figure out serving sizes for large groups, but I think I did pretty well. We did have plenty left over, but luckily, we were in charge of craft services for the Kingsize "Rabbits" video shoot on Sunday, so the extra food made another appearance to feed the 20 or so extras and 15 or so crew.

I did end up supplementing with a Soba Noodle Salad, and we ordered a couple Papa John's pizzas that really took me back to my college experience, but we did manage to make a big dent in the leftovers.

I also found time Sunday morning to bake up some vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, and these completely nonvegan, incredible Toffee Chocolate Shortbread Cookies.


Swoon. I mean, seriously. Use mini chocolate chips so as to not overwhelm the balance of the cookies. You'll get just enough evenly-spaced chocolate-y goodness mixed in with the melted, chewy toffee bits, and the crumbly, buttery goodness of the dough. Perfect with a cup of tea, coffee, for breakfast...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

super saucy


When I think about alfredo sauce, I think of that episode of "The Office" (US) about Michael Scott's Dunder Miflin Scranton Meredith Palmer Memorial Celebrity Rabies Awareness Pro-Am Fun Run Race for the Cure. He carbo loads before the race by eating massive amounts of fettucine alfredo. With, obviously, detrimental results. We have some serious physical activity planned tonight, too - the Kingsize rock show, but I've been staring at this Vegan Alfredo for weeks, and just had to have it.

This won't fool any omnivores into thinking it wasn't vegan, but it's a very good creamy sauce and settled really nicely in the tummy. Next time, I might increase the sauce recipe by a bit - I felt it was just enough to go with half a pound of spaghetti and some broccoli, but I prefer my alfredo absolutely dripping with sauce. :)

On the side: Olive-Stuffed Flatbread. Not at all vegan. Why? Because we had delicious, delicious Anchovy-Stuffed Olives from Mel's Olives via the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Now, before you go wrinkling your nose at me, these olives are divine. They're not fishy. Just imbued with massive umami. I also used real cheese (mozzarella). The bread was crispy, chewy, rich and magnificent. I think I've found a new party trick.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

impressive instant


This poor package of tilapia has been in and out of the freezer so many times, I've lost track. Things are getting kind of nuts in our schedule, and it's getting harder and harder to plan meals.

Finally got to the little fishies tonight, and boy was this Ginger and Cilantro Baked Tilapia worth the wait. Ridiculously easy, ridiculously quick and ridiculously inexpensive meal.

I'm a huge fan of light, white fish. Don't get me wrong - I love me some salmon, too - but I grew up on white fish, and the easy comfort of it is really sustaining while still remaining light. It's delicate texture and flavor also makes it an easier fish to feed a crowd - it's not "fishy." Cilantro and ginger flavors may not be as universally appealing, but I still thought this combination would win over the haters. While strong on their own, they combined with the soy sauce, wine and sesame oil to create a marinade that perfectly complemented, and didn't overwhelm, the fish.

I am so stoked on this recipe. I mean, it was plated and we were eating, and I still couldn't believe dinner was actually finished. It took us no time to polish off, too!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

tonight, not again


Dear Cowboys,

Thanks for losing in the EXACT same USC did yesterday. Like I wasn't already fragile enough.

Love,
Ngoc

And that wasn't even my first heartbreak of the day. The first heartbreak of the day was finding out that Chili My Soul had closed.

My friend Paul and I had made plans to make the trip out to Encino to pick up a sampling of chili for our Cowboys viewing party tonight. We've been talking about it for weeks, and I just couldn't get it out of my head. Now, normally, I'm a much bigger planner than this - normally, I would have called them days ahead of time, known what I was getting, etc. Well, the one time I don't; the one time I wait until an hour and a half before kick-off, I get a message telling me the number's been disconnected, and confirm on Yelp that the restaurant had indeed closed.

After a whiny phone call to Paul, I decided to take matter into my own hands and make my own chili. However, with only about 45 minutes to pick up supplies and cook, my recipe choice was limited. Thank goodness for Deb's Red Bean Chili. I even had time to do a load of dishes while it was simmering.

And for a 30-minute chili, it was amazing. I mean, for any chili it was amazing. But I was really astounded by how good it was for so little effort. I did add a little extra salt and about 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika for some extra kick (and next time I may add even more smoked paprika because the chili powder I used was pretty tame). I wish I could have just a little extra time to whip up some cornbread, but Paul's brilliant idea for Fritos scoops was a winner. Too bad the Cowboys weren't.

found what i'm looking for


Ever since I made those Crab-Stuffed Avocados, I've been on this all avocado-all the time mode. I've done variations on a theme with canned tuna and salmon (crab is still best), and luckily football season provides for plenty of guacamole, but I continue to keep a sharp eye out for avocado recipes.

I'm on the Vegetarian Times email list, so as soon as this email came in for Avocado Chimichurri Bruschetta, it immediately went on my to-make list. This was supposed to be a light dinner after yesterday's day of football, but Matty, taking pity on my sorry state after the loss, took me out dinner.

And after stuffing ourselves silly with Mexican food and leftover Apple Cake, we slept hard. Until noon today. Just late enough that it wasn't too weird to add avocado bruschetta to a "breakfast" of Pepper Jack scrambled eggs and maple-smoked bacon.

And this bruschetta was everything I was looking for. It's everything it promises to be, too. No magical mingling of flavors, really - just good in its own right. If you like the ingredients, you'll like the final product. It's zippy from the lemon juice/red wine vinegar, slightly spicy from the red pepper flakes, fresh from the cilantro and parsley and delightfully creamy from the avocados. It's a great appetizer, but would also definitely be a substantial meal. I can definitely see this being a go-to solo dinner when Matty's on the road.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

something for the pain


That's it. All that's left of this Apple Cake In An Iron Skillet after we tore through it during the USC-Washington football game. And after I ate more of it with some Ben & Jerry's Cinnamon Bun ice cream to work myself out of the pure shock and depression of the loss.

I had originally bookmarked a different apple cake recipe to bake sheet cake-style for the viewing party. Then I saw Ree's post, and she just has this way with words/photos that makes me want to drop everything and make what she does. This was certainly no exception.

Then I had the brilliant idea to make both cakes - one for my Metropolitan Master Chorale's performance at Rosh Hashanah services this morning, and Ree's for football. Then I realized that would mean I would have to get up at 5:30a to run to the grocery store before I could bake, so you can be sure I hit snooze on my alarm as soon as it went off. Sorry singer buddies - I'll make it up to you.

I did manage to get up at 6:30a for this cake, and it was most definitely worth it. The apples in the cake batter disappear away to just subtly sweeten the cake, and the apples on top practically melt into sweet applesauce. Some of the edges also crisped up a little, making for lovely caramelized bits in between the bites of jammy goodness.

My one note would be to go ahead and cram 5 apples worth into your 10" skillet. I felt I had evenly spaced 4 apples worth of wedges and not left gaps, but I didn't account for the apples shrinking down. Also, do try to not read the recipe as turning your oven to 350 degrees when it really says 375 degrees. It'll make you really freak out that your cake hasn't cooked, much less browned, by the time you need to leave for your choir call time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

dilly dilly


"Well, where do you think the term 'dill hole' comes from? Or why 'dill weed' is an insult?"

Words that came out of my boyfriend's mouth when I was taken by surprise by his announcement that he doesn't like dill. Which I had put all over this Pasta with Beans and Mussels. Because I like dill. And because he loves mussels, I figured this would be the perfect meal for us.

The one perk was that it (along with the roasted broccoli I made for a side) was finished and one the table within 45 minutes. Unfortunately, that perk did not outweigh Matty's hatred of dill, or the fact that I had spent about 10 minutes shucking the mussels so was pretty much over them by the time we sat down to eat.

The heat of the red pepper flakes paired with the smoothness of the mussels, and the bite of the pasta paired with the creaminess of the beans actually make for a very lovely flavor, so should there ever be a next time, I'll use parsley as instructed in the recipe (even if I think it tastes more like grass than Matty think dill does), and leave the mussels in their shells. I think it'd make for a more exciting presentation as well as make my life a whole lot easier.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

solid potato salad


I really apologize for this photo of food that looks like it's already been eaten, but I forgot to take a picture of the gorgeous shiny vat of Horseradish Potato Salad that this was, and by the time I remembered, this was all that was left of the doubled recipe.

I was quite relieved to see that it was so popular. You see, I don't really have much experience with potato salad. I generally shy away from it at picnics because I still think of it as the horrid stuff they dumped on your plate in the elementary school cafeteria. However, our friend Chet was going to be making his famous jambalaya for mutual friends' baby shower, and his immediate response to my question of what side would be best was potato salad, so I was determined to make it work.

Matty picked out this recipe because of the horseradish, but he doesn't like potato salad at all, so it's not like I could ask him his unbiased opinion of the flavor balance between all the herbs and spices. I was initially afraid that it was too spicy after it spent the morning in the fridge while we were at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, but it somehow mellowed out to perfection on the car ride to the baby shower.

I think the only change I would make to this, if I ever have any other potato salad opportunity, is to add some celery for texture contrast. I'm not a big fan of too many mix-ins, but all potato all the time is just a little too tame for the bigness of the dressing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

no sugar tonight


I love a good challenge. One of my favorite games to play is to have my friends pick a favorite flavor and/or a type of baked good, and I'll try to make something that I think they would like. It's really the most fun when those friends also have dietary restrictions. Yes - I said, fun. It's like a culinary Sudoku for me - what fits where?

Our friend Astara invited us over for a movie and popcorn night, but since I can never leave well enough alone, I wanted to bring a dessert. Challenge: Astara is vegan and doesn't eat sugar.

I've done vegan, but I have never done a sugar-free dessert. Sure, I know a bit about alternative sweeteners, but I've never felt comfortable swapping out for sugar. It's not like margarine for butter or soy milk for milk, and with all the conflicting formulas online about sugar substitutes, I've always felt more comfortable with just dealing with the sugar that was called for.

I had tons of vegan recipes bookmarked, but since I wanted the sugar substitution spelled out for me, all of them were ruled out. As a last-ditch effort, I pulled out my copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and there on page 44 they were - Vanilla and Agave Nectar Cupcakes.

To be honest, it was kind of scary. I usually use a spatula to fold dry batter ingredients into wet, but when I went to do it with this, the flour mixture just clumped into balls. I panicked slightly, but luckily, the batter remains thin enough to be able to whisk through, so just warm up your arms and get that whisk in there, and you'll get the clumps out.

Next time, I will also be using a spouted bowl - since the batter is thin, it's just neater to be able to pour it out into the cupcake liners than to try transferring via spoon.

Another bit of panic occurred because I didn't hear the oven time go off while in the middle of a conference call with Matty's parents to plan their visit out here. Normally, I wouldn't be terribly worried, but the recipe specifically warned against overbaking, so I lit it out of the office when I saw that it had gotten late. I believe the cupcakes ended in there for about 26 minutes.

And to add the last bit of panic to the afternoon, the cupcakes turned out a fascinating shade of spray tan. Bright freaking orange. Great, I thought to myself. Now you're cupcakes are both dry and terrifying. Nice job, challenge-lover.

The recipe made 12 cupcakes, and I thought there might be around 12 people, so I couldn't even quality-control one. I just quickly made the Super Natural Agave Icing from the same cookbook, and hoped against hope that they would taste okay.

Luckily for me, they were very well-received. Everyone claimed they couldn't tell they were vegan and sugar-free (although, let me tell you, there were plenty of skeptics when I announced what they were - and frankly, I don't blame them). I particularly enjoyed the frosting - since it was made with coconut oil, it had a faintly tropical taste that went really well with the strong vanilla and almond flavors of the cupcake.

two become one


I don't think I eat enough fruit. I just never really think about it when I go to the store - I'm often too focused on the list I have and thinking ahead to prepping the items when I get home, that I don't look around to see what else looks good. Then, after every stunning revelation that I should probably add more fruit to my diet, I binge-buy. And sadly, a lot of what I buy becomes shriveled and unrecognizable in the fruit bowl or the back of the fridge, and meets its fate of being at the bottom of the garbage can.

Thankfully, I'm in the middle of a huge crush on Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours and knew that the two bananas I had leftover from her banana cream pie would be finding their place in her Black-and-White Banana Loaf.

It's a very rich cake - probably a little too decadent for breakfast like I had it this morning, but it'll make a mighty fine casual dessert with a nice cup of tea. My favorite part about this cake is that it's all banana. You add the chocolate to half of the batter AFTER the banana's all mixed in. It's not just half plain chocolate and half banana. It's banana and chocolate-banana. Brilliant.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

come here and learn a lesson from the lovely lemon tree


I just had a conversation with my friend Natalie, and we both came to the conclusion that we don't like lemon-flavored things unless it's an actual lemon thing. I know that's confusing. Basically, bring on the lemon meringue pies, but no thanks on lemon-flavored frosting in her case and Lemon Mascarpone Spaghetti in mine.

It's not that we didn't like it, and it's not that we didn't go back for seconds. It was just kinda meh. Really enjoyed the texture and creaminess the mascarpone lent to the spaghetti, but thought the lemon flavor was a little too "interesting."

However, what weren't meh were these Bacon-Wrapped Brussels Sprouts. Dear heavens. First of all, they're the damned cutest things. Second of all, two of my very favorite things in one sweet package. Please and thank you. To keep it simple, I just used half a slice of Niman Ranch applewood-smoked bacon to wrap each trimmed Brussels sprout (to be clear, I didn't bother blanching them first), secured it with a toothpick, and then baked them all for 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven on a cooling rack set atop a cookie sheet. Absolute perfection. I'm thinking Thanksgiving appetizer for this one.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

feelin' alright


I haven't quite gotten picnics out of my system yet this summer. Sure, there have been the occasional Hollywood Bowl visit here and there, and the tailgates have only just begun, but I can't get enough of eating outside on a blanket.

Luckily, Matty played the Ventura Hillsides Festival with Jay Nash today, and since it's Labor Day weekend, we made a mini-vacation out of it. I packed a picnic for the 10 of us musicians and significant others who would be there, and we set out bright and early this morning to spend another afternoon in the sun. (It took me until September to manage a suntan, but tan I did)!

The hit of the day were the Crab-Stuffed Avocados, part of Mark Bittman's wonderful summer list, but the Roasted Pepper + Mozzarella Salad was a close second. Bonus - I finally got a photo of it. :)

#61 Crab-Stuffed Avocados
1 1/2 pounds of crab meat
juice from 1 1/2 lemons
salt, pepper, chives to taste
6 avocados

Mix the crab meat, lemon juice and spices. Halve the avocados and stuff each with some of the filling.

Serves 12 as an appetizer or side.

They're kind of a pricey snack, but they were amazing. It makes me want to eat avocados plain more often. Guacamole is great, topping omelettes, salads, etc. with them is great, but just plain ol' avocado is so tasty on its own. And with the crab, it was the perfect foil of richness against the lightness and acidity of the salad. I'd love to try this with canned lobster at some point.

The only bummer of the day was not getting a photo of the Banana Cream Pie from Baking From My Home to Yours that I made to celebrate Jay's birthday. Banana cream pie doesn't really transport well, so by the time it was served, it was a bit of a goopy mess, but it was still the best banana cream pie I've ever had.

I made a lot of changes to Dorie's recipe, but the one thing I knew I had to stick with and what really made the pie was the brown sugar pastry cream. I was taken by surprise by how quickly it thickened on the stovetop, but it came out perfectly, and I'm surprised I had any left to put in the pie considering how many spoonfuls I was sneaking straight from the pot. It's so rich and complex - I think you'll find yourself doing the same if you make it.

And my changes:

Shape: Since I didn't have a way of neatly transporting a pie plate, I built the pie in an 8"x8" pan. Everything, including the whipped topping, fit perfectly under the lid.

Gluten-Free Pie Crust: I used the very simple recipe on the back of the bag of Bob's Red Mill White Rice Flour. Just one kind of flour and normal pantry items made for a delicious, cookie-like crust. It worried me that it ended up being more crumbly than doughy, but I went ahead and just pressed the bits into my pan, and it baked up nicely in the oven. An excellent texture contract to the rest of the pie elements.

Banana Filling: Instead of just slicing in fresh bananas, I sauteed them in whiskey a la Gluten-Free Girl. I would also love to try her coconut cream at some point as well. Good thing Jay's birthday comes every year! If for nothing else than actually getting a photo, I have a feeling I'll be making this again way before his next birthday.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

too early in the sun


The breakfast tailgate. I'm not a huge fan - I mean, two hours of mimosas followed by 4 hours in the sun can be nothing short of a recipe for disaster, but USC has a couple nooner games this season, so I'm going to have to get used to it.

We kicked off the season opener with White Chocolate French Toast, by combining White Chocolate Bread with my go-to French toast recipe.

I'm not normally a fan of white chocolate, but I was sucked into the story behind this "secret" recipe from Club Med. I mean, if people have been searching for this recipe for years, and they finally post it, who am I to NOT make it?

Have I also mentioned that I hate baking bread? Don't let the fact that I made 200 slider buns fool you. I really don't normally have that kind of patience. And the way things were going with this bread, I was really afraid I was wasting hours of time only to have to end up buying a loaf of bread at midnight and dropping white chocolate chips all around it.

My mixture never really turned into what I would call a "dough." It remained a thick batter, and I couldn't turn it out to knead into a ball, even after another half cup or so of flour. I gave up and put it back in the mixer bowl. After letting it rest for the required time, I scooped it into a 13"x9" pan with a foil wall in the middle in order to form two loaves. After I let it rest, it went into the oven along with my prayers to the baking gods.

Luckily, the thing actually decided to bake up into two beautiful loaves! Unluckily, it was late, and I didn't take a picture of either of them. I did sneak a slice into my mouth, and boy was it delicious. So rich and buttery - from nothing other than the white chocolate chips. Then, I just hurriedly sliced the bread, layered them into a 9"x9" pan (and a small Pyrex for Matty, who wouldn't be joining us at the tailgate), soaked it in custard overnight, and set the alarm extra early to bake it off.

It smelled amazing baking up. I would say that the final result was too rich for me to truly enjoy, but I'm glad I saw it through - my fellow tailgaters seemed to like it enough. :) I think if I ever pull up enough patience to try this again, I'd just leave the bread as is to enjoy, perhaps with a smear of peanut butter and a tall glass of milk.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

christmas in july


Considering that I spent the majority of my childhood parked on a piano bench, I know absolutely nothing about classical music. I mean, I learned enough of it, but you couldn't pay me to guess who wrote what. My real life always revolved around pop/rock music. I couldn't tell you the fundamental differences between Romantic and Baroque styles, but I can immediately tell the difference between *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys. It is what it is, you know?

So I was pleasantly surprised when Matty announced that he had secured tickets to the Hollywood Bowl tonight, and I discovered that it wasn't a band, but rather a night of "Russian Romantics." I mean, he's no Ray LaMontagne, but I think I like Rachmaninoff. ;)

I was in a blueberry sort of mood, so Matty picked this Blueberry Molasses Cake out of a list of blueberry options I sent him, and after getting home from rehearsal with the Metropolitan Master Chorale, I started baking. It dirties up a couple bowls, but all in all, it's very easy to put together. I baked it in an 8x8-inch pan and ended up adding about 10 minutes to the cooking time before the surface was even set.

I cut it into squares of 16 to pack up for the concert, and since we were going to stop by the store anyway for some picnic goodies, we decided to test out a square before leaving. You know, so we could get a replacement dessert if this one sucked.

Don't worry - it didn't suck. In fact, this cake tastes like Christmas in July. It's got all those warm, holiday flavors from the molasses, but has delightfully sweet-tart, summery bits from the blueberries. It's not very sweet at all, which is quite dangerous - I can see myself eating a whole pan of these with a pot of hot tea.

Matty made a special point to tell me that this was a keeper. And since you can use frozen blueberries in any season, it may go on the Thanksgiving breakfast list. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is my first Thanksgiving test recipe reference this year. Let the games begin.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

cheese, meat, cheese, cheese, meat, and that's it


I've had these Andouille and Beef Burgers hanging out in the freezer since my friend Kathryn's barbecue, and yesterday was just a day that required burgers and martinis once I got home so I'm glad we had the foresight to thaw half of the patties this morning. (For future reference, I got 11 patties out of the mixture of 2 pounds ground beef and 1 pound andouille sausage, but I'm sure if I were being more judicious, I could have squeezed out 12).

Next time, I think I'll grind up the sausage in the food processor first so that it's better incorporated into the ground beef. It tasted just fine - actually, great; but depending on how concentrated the sausage cubes were in the patty, it sometimes made it difficult to keep the patty together.

We kept it simple and just built our burgers with onion buns, lettuce and pepperjack cheese, but the spicy mayo and caramelized onion toppings sound delicious, too. We also just pan-fried the patties in a cast-iron pan for 5 minutes on each side - it was too hot to be outside, and it really didn't seem appropriate to be starting an intentional fire, even in a Weber grill. We've got 5 more patties in the freezer - I'm sure we'll work something out for next time.