Fish Chowder

In addition to the standard turkey and all its accoutrements, my family has another Thanksgiving tradition: crab cakes. Thanksgiving falls just after the start of Dungeness crab season here in San Francisco, and so for the past couple of years, we’ve spent one of the days of Thanksgiving weekend cracking, picking, and cake-ing some local crab legs. This usually leaves us with a pile of crab shells stacked high on the kitchen table, and this year, we decided to stuff them in a big pot and simmer them for stock.

There was just one problem: It turns out I don’t traditionally make things where fish stock makes sense. Which of my go-to recipes use stock at all? Chili. And the idea of chili with fish stock was a little squicky, so since November, I’ve had several baggies full of frozen stock taking up space in the freezer.

Fish Chowder

(Yeah, I need to stop making yellow food and photographing it in yellow bowls.)

In retrospect, soup seems like the obvious solution, but it wasn’t until I spotted this fish chowder recipe that I felt motivated to make it happen. The corn was what got me; I see myself eating a lot of corn between now and when it goes out of season. But the flavor that really worked in the finished soup was the thyme. Use it liberally — it tastes lovely in here.

Looking at the recipe, I was worried it didn’t include enough liquid to take this from soup to stew, but it turned out to be just about perfect. We had thawed a little extra stock, though, just in case, and I’d recommend having some on hand if you’re going to keep any of this as leftovers. If anything, the flavor was better the second day, but the liquid had almost all absorbed/evaporated, so I just dumped the extra cup or so of stock into the pot when I reheated it, and that thinned it out nicely.

Fish Chowder
(Adapted from Generation Y Foodie)

Ingredients
1 lb. fish filet (we used tilapia; any whitefish would probably work)
3 ears of corn
1/2 lb. potatoes, cut into chunks
3-4 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, diced
2 slices bacon, diced
12 oz. fish stock
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. milk
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme (or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
1. Grill, roast, or otherwise cook your corn and remove the kernels from the cob
2. In a large saucepan or pot (we used our dutch oven), saute the diced bacon, then add the onion and cook together until the onion softens
3. Add the celery and saute until it starts to soften (about another 3 minutes)
4. Add the fish filet and lightly brown (about 2 minutes per side). Remove from the pot and cut into chunks
5. Add the corn, then the potatoes, and saute about 5 more minutes
6. Add the stock, cream, milk, salt and pepper, and the thyme and simmer for 10 minutes, covered
7. Add the fish chunks and simmer for another 10-12 minutes, uncovered
8. Top with lots of black pepper and dried or chopped fresh thyme

Served with some of our toasted spent grain herb bread, we got five servings out of this recipe.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler

I know this blog is supposed to be about taking recipes and customizing them and cooking by feel, but sometimes, recipes don’t really need my help. And that’s how I feel about this cherry tomato cobbler with gruyere biscuits. Blistered, gooey tomatoes, deeply browned onions, and cheesy, creamy, dumpling-y biscuits? There’s no reason to mess with that.

cherry tomato cobbler

The second I spotted this recipe in a borrowed issue of Martha Stewart Living, it moved to the top of my to-make list — but tomatoes took a frustratingly long time to ripen this summer. Last week, though, I spotted a few big troughs at a farmer’s market stand for $1/pound, and I hoovered up three bags as fast before the word “tomatoes!” was even out of my mouth.

Martha recommends baking this in a 2-quart, 2-inch deep baking dish, but I actually wish I’d put it in something bigger; it bubbled over a bit in the oven (stick a cookie sheet under the baking dish if you have any worries; it saved me a ton fo cleanup), and I had a lot of biscuit dough left over. Well, “left over” is an interesting way to put it; can you ever really complain about extra biscuits?

gruyere biscuits

If I had to offer one tip on this recipe, it’s this: Don’t cut the onion cooking time short. I almost always think recipes overestimate the time needed to cook onions, but this time, the 25 minute sautee means these onions are rich and caramelized by the time they go into the oven. I’m not sure my kitchen has ever smelled better.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler
(from Martha Stewart Living)

Ingredients
For the filling:
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 pounds cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I used my favorite Aleppo)
1-2 teaspoons salt
Pepper

For the biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt (recipe suggests coarse: I split between regular and fleur de sel)
1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing

Instructions
1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Cook the onions over medium heat for 25 minutes or until nicely browned. Add garlic and cook for 3 more minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you make the biscuit topping

3. Make the biscuits: combine flour, baking powder, and a teaspoon of salt. Cut in butter with a pastry cutter until small clumps form (it should feel somewhat sandy). Stir in the cheese and the cream. (Martha suggests using a fork, but I needed a spatula.)

4. In a baking dish, combine tomatoes, 3 tablespoons of flour, red pepper flakes, salt (to taste, but about a teaspoon) and pepper

5. Spoon clumps of biscuit dough over the top of the tomato mixture; you should be able to squeeze 6-8 dumplings in there. Brush the tops of the biscuits with cream and sprinkle with cheese.

6. Bake until the tomatoes are bubbling and biscuits are brown, about an hour and 10 minutes. Let cool slightly before digging in.

If you have extra biscuit dough, you can bake it separately on another baking sheet. The biscuits will be a little crispier than the ones in the cobbler, but they’re delicious in their own right. Mine took about 45 minutes to bake, so set a second timer and keep an eye on them.

The Great Spent Grain Baking Experiment, Part 2

I knew the Great Spent Grain Baking Experiment was going to leave me with a kitchen full of bread. But I tend to have a very “well, the oven’s already on” attitude toward baking, and when I started seeing recipes for things like pizza dough and crackers, this had the potential to get out of hand very quickly.

Somehow, nothing was a total disaster, and I ended the experiment with several recipes I’ll make again the next time we brew. Here’s how the non-bread recipes shook out:

Spent Grain Pizza Dough

This was actually the first thing I made, but I didn’t bake it until last night. I added another cup of flour to the recipe, split it into two balls of dough after it rose, and froze them in plastic bags. Yesterday morning, I plopped one of the frozen discs in a lightly oiled bowl, covered it with a towel, and let it rise for about eight hours (pretty much my standard procedure for pizza dough).

spent grain pizza

This dough is very wet and stretchy, so I had to act fast to get it into a pizza shape, and it took a lot of cornmeal to get off the peel and onto my pizza stone, but the result? Amazing: thin and cracker-like with a perfectly puffy edge. This is a keeper for sure, and I’ll probably make a double batch (at least) next time. (Also, yes, that’s the Potesto again, with basil pesto this time.)

Soft Pretzels

I did some finagling with this one: I used my favorite Smitten Kitchen soft pretzel recipe, halved it, added a cup of spent grains to the dough, and then just kept adding flour until the dough cleared the sides of my mixer (four-ish cups, I think; at some point I just stood there with a half-cup of flour at the ready and dumped in a bit every time the dough started to stick again).

soft pretzels

These are perfect. Honestly, perfect. They are soft pretzels, so it would be hard for them not to be great, but I love the touch of whole grain flavor and the softness the spent grains added. These kept perfectly for two days in an open bowl covered with a kitchen towel, and I’m so sad that they’re gone. Absolutely going in the rotation.

Spent Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies

The ultimate “oh hey, why not?” recipe of this experiment, these came out well — not a blockbuster, but they do use 1.5 cups of grains and contain chocolate and peanut butter, so how bad could they be?

spent grain cookies

These remind me most of the pumpkin cookies I sometimes make, big and puffy and hearty. (I could almost pretend they were healthy in an energy bar kind of way.) I could see myself making a batch of these right after the grains come out of the beer to fuel us through the rest of the brewing process.

Spent Grain Wheat Crackers

I didn’t quite give myself enough time to bake these till they were fully crunchy — the top tray got there, but the bottom tray could have used 10-15 minutes more — and they really have to be thin to crisp up. If I were to do these again, I’d roll them out right on the baking sheet (maybe even flip the sheet over, top it with parchment, and bake them right there), because transferring them from my cutting board to the baking sheet took forever.

spent grain crackers

On the plus side, this makes a ton of crackers. The crispy ones are best, but the puffier ones just taste like pitas, so I’m not too bummed. I’ll just leave myself more time to bake next time.

***

So. What would I make again?

The pretzels, absolutely, every time. The crackers, actually; I’d like to try adding seeds and spices. The herb bread, which I really want to get right; I still haven’t figured out how to bake it through, but I love the taste, so I’m not done tweaking. The pizza dough. And perhaps another rye bread; I think I know enough now to work with these basic recipes and come up with something good.

Now, who wants some bread?

Curried Eggplant with Spinach

Before I continue on with carb-fest 2011, how about an actual dinner?

Curried Eggplant

I’d never cooked eggplant before we started getting it in our CSA box a couple of years ago. I had no idea what to do with the thing, and so I was lucky that an issue of Food and Wine arrived almost immediately with what quickly became my go-to eggplant recipe. There was a point in the winter of 2010 that I think we were eating this at least once a week!

The first eggplant of the season arrived last week, and with it came the return of curried eggplant with spinach. It’s one of those great dump-and-roast recipes, and it makes great leftovers. (Everything will turn more yellow over time, though, so if you’re weird about food color, beware.) I usually serve this with naan, but as I learned the other night, it also goes great with warm spent grain soft pretzels!

Curried Eggplant with Spinach
(Adapted from Food and Wine)

Ingredients
1 large or 2 small eggplants, chopped into 3/4-inch chunks
1 large onion, diced or cut into wedges
1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained
2-3 garlic cloves
2 tsp your favorite curry powder
1 tsp ground ginger
5-6 cups of baby spinach
salt and pepper
a few tablespoons olive oil

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 425

2. Chop up the eggplant, place in a bowl, cover generously with salt, and let sit for 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, chop up the onion and finely mince the garlic.

4. Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil. Mix the minced garlic, curry powder, and ground ginger with the oil.

5. Rinse and drain the eggplant, and add it, the chickpeas, and the onion to the roasting pan. Stir until everything is covered with the oil mixture, and season with salt and pepper.

6. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice during the process.

7. Working in batches, stir in the spinach until just wilted. I always later wish I’d added more spinach, so you can be pretty generous with it.

The Great Spent Grain Baking Experiment, Part 1

We like to say we have San Francisco’s smallest brewery: a corner of a room off our kitchen, parallel to our pantry, wedged between the cleaning supplies and the door to the trash chute. It may be tiny, but it’s totally functional, and every couple of months, we get another batch of beer going in there.

This past weekend, Pete started a rye IPA, and in the process, he happened to mention that he’d read about people baking bread using their spent beer grains. I already had beer bread on the brain, and so the Great Spent Grain Baking Experiment was born.

There are a ton of spent grain recipes online, but my limited experience baking yeast breads and my nonexistent experience with spent grains made it tough to judge which one would be the best. So I didn’t even try to choose. Instead, I baked three different bread recipes and pitted them against each other in a vast whole-grain carb-off. (The results of which I’ll be eating for weeks; anyone wanna come over?) I also ended up making a couple of pizza dough rounds, some crackers, chocolate chip cookies, and soft pretzels, but I’ll talk more about those another day.

spent grain beer bread

First, some spent grain basics:

When we brew beer, it’s actually just like brewing tea — but giant, and with things like oats and barley instead of herbs. When that’s done, what’s left is a whole lot of soggy, slightly sweet, and still totally edible whole grains. (In the past, we’ve just composted the spent grain, for lack of a farm full of livestock to feed it to.)

I used wet spent grains, but they can also be toasted/dried in the oven. Some people swear by that; others say you get more of a beer-y flavor by using them wet. Frankly, I went with wet because it was easier. Toasting seemed like a commitment.

I mixed all of these breads in my stand mixer with the dough hook. I’m sure they could be mixed by hand, too, but I like the feedback I get from the mixer (dough still sticking to the sides of the bowl? add more flour!). If I were a more confident breadmaker, maybe I wouldn’t need that, but I’ll take any safety net I can find.

My grain mix included oats, rye, and a few different types of barley, all of which came from San Francisco Brewcraft. The grain mixture went through a grinder once at the shop, but after we were done brewing, I ran it through the food processor to get it a bit smoother before baking. I also drained any especially wet bits in a wire mesh strainer.

Okay! Let’s see some bread.

Bread #1: Braukaiser.com’s Treberbrot

Spent grain bread #1

I liked the straightforwardness of the Braukaiser recipe: 1/3 bread flour, 1/3 wheat flour, 1/3 spent grain, yeast, water, salt. It seemed like a good, basic start as I tried to figure out the proportions. Because I can’t just leave well enough alone, though, I split the wheat flour portion between wheat and rye flour, added about a teaspoon of caraway seeds, and stirred a touch of molasses in with the proofed yeast right before I added it to the dough. I needed to add an additional cup or so of flour, which was pretty standard across all of these recipes.

Treberbrot cross section

This loaf didn’t rise much, and I think I might have let it sit for too long while I was pre-heating the oven. But it pretty much punches you in the teeth with rye flavor, which is what I was hoping for. Some of that’s the caraway, of course, and a little is probably the rye flour, but I like to think it takes advantage of the rye in the spent grains, too. I worried I’d burned it but it actually came out just a touch underdone. I’d make it again, but maybe in a couple of smaller loaves next time.

Bread #2: Grub Post’s Spent Grain Bread

The second recipe stood out to me because it used the most spent grain, and believe me, I had a lot of spent grain to use up. It intimidated me because it called for making a starter rather than just proofing the yeast, and I’m not sure I did it right — I’m actually making another loaf of this as I write this post, and I’m still not sure I did it right — and the bread took forever to rise. But when it did eventually start rising, there was no stopping it!

spent grain bread #2

Yeah, that’s right. Two loaves. For reference, my original dough ball was about the size of one of those.

I used mostly bread flour in this one, though I switched to all-purpose for the last couple of cups, and ended up using a little more than six cups of flour total. My only changes to this recipe were to add some chopped fresh rosemary and thyme and some rosemary salt from our CSA.

Beer bread cross-section

These loaves looked amazing and smelled even better, so it’s a huge bummer that I drastically underbaked them. In my defense, they sounded hollow, which is apparently the universal signal for bread done-ness, but … they weren’t done. They do make fantastic toast, though, and they would have won the taste test hands-down if they’d been baked through. I’m giving this one another shot in a loaf pan and testing the inside with a thermometer this time; if I can get it to work, I can imagine making this recipe after every batch of beer we brew.

Bread #3: Food and Brews’ Spent Grain Bread

This recipe used the most water of any, and looking back, I probably could have just eliminated some of it; I ended up adding a lot of extra flour. I didn’t make any other changes to the recipe, but I did shape it into dinner rolls instead of a regular loaf.

Spent grain dinner rolls

I’m so happy with how these came out — and happy I decided to use it for rolls. This recipe isn’t very exciting as written, it doesn’t use a ton of the grain, and I’m not sure what I would have done with a whole loaf of it. But as homemade hamburger buns? Perfect! (We sacrificed one for the picture below. And then we ate it plain.)

Spent grain dinner roll cross section

Next time: pretzels, cookies, crackers, and pizza!

Lavender Shortbread

The first thing I knew how to bake was my family’s shortbread. I’ve known the recipe by heart since at least fifth grade, which was the year we had to give how-to speeches in Language Arts. Mine was How to Bake Scottish Shortbread, and my visual aids were bags of white flour and rice flour to pass around and let everyone feel the difference. In college, my mom used to send me care packages of shortbread, and we’d freeze a few pieces in our teeny tiny dorm freezer for shortbread emergencies. I’ve baked shortbread at least once per holiday season every year of my adult life, and it made a memorable appearance at my wedding. I make it the same way every time, and I would never, ever dare alter the recipe.

Um, until now.

Mom, you might want to avert your eyes.

lavender shortbread

We got a huge bunch of lavender from our CSA recently, and it’s been drying in the kitchen ever since. The suggested recipe that came with the bunch was for lavender shortbread, and of course I took one look at it, scoffed, and thought, “I can do better.”

Now: I set out to have measurements for this recipe. I planned to report just how much lavender you need to add to the world’s most perfect shortbread recipe for just the perfect touch of herb-y, floral flavor. But, um. Lavender is sort of a pain to work with, especially when it’s drying upside-down in your pantry. More buds ended up on the floor than in the bowl. And since most normal shortbread recipes maybe make 24 pieces, and this one makes 100+, I was kind of guessing anyway. I think I was shooting for 4 teaspoons, initially, because I couldn’t tell if the lavender technically was still fresh or if it was already dried and how that would affect the strength of the flavor. But 4 didn’t look like enough, so I went for 6, and then after I dumped that into the bowl of dough, it looked like a pitiful amount of lavender, so I scraped a few more sprigs’ worth of flowers directly into the bowl. So, um, 8 teaspoons? Enough that you can see a little bud of lavender in any 1-inch section of dough you pinch, I’d say.

And if you don’t want to mess with perfection, just omit the lavender.

Lavender Shortbread
Ingredients
1 pound (4 sticks) butter
1 1/6 c. sugar
3 c. white flour
1 c. rice flour
2 eggs
8-ish teaspoons of lavender flowers

Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 300.

2. Pour the sugar into a large bowl. Slice the butter into tablespoon-sized squares and add the squares to the sugar. Leave them there until softened, half an hour or so.

3. Once the butter has softened, cream the butter and sugar together with your hands until smooth. Yes, with your hands. This is a tactile recipe; put your rings somewhere safe and get ready for lots of trips to the sink.

4. Add the eggs and keep mixing with your hands, delighting in how cold and squishy it feels.

5. Add the white and rice flour and mix with your hands until everything feels thoroughly blended. (It’ll still be sticky; that’s OK.) Add the lavender and blend a little more.

6. Turn the dough out into a long baking pan (11×17 is ideal). Pat it evenly into the pan, using the heel of your hand for the center and working the dough into the corners with your fingers.

7. With a knife, score the dough both horizontally and vertically into rectangular pieces. (I usually get 9-10 pieces down the short side and 11-12 down the long side.) Prick each piece twice with a fork.

8. Bake for an hour and 10 minutes to an hour and a half, stopping when the shortbread is just golden brown. (If you know your oven bakes unevenly — mine does — rotate the pan halfway through.)

Fix This Recipe: Molasses Brussels Sprouts

To go along with the cornflake buttermilk chicken, I decided to finally tackle the bag of brussels sprouts that had been sitting in my crisper since my last Trader Joe’s run. The goal was to re-create the molasses brussels sprouts I ate at The Front Porch a few months ago. I checked out a couple of recipes that used either maple syrup or molasses and ended up with something like the following:

1/6 c. cider vinegar
1/6 c. maple syrup
2 T molasses
salt and pepper

Here’s what it looked like when I poured it over the sprouts to roast:

brussels sprouts in maple glaze

Kinda soupy, less glaze-y than I was going for. Tasty, but a mess to keep the sauce from running all over the rest of the plate.

How could I fix this one? More maple syrup/molasses? Less vinegar? Olive oil? Give up and make these totally delicious-sounding brown sugar glazed sprouts instead?

Cornflake Buttermilk Chicken

OK, so the whole “I don’t cook meat very often” thing might be looking like a bit of a lie right now. The thing is, about a week ago, I ate some amazing chicken at Indie Mart. Chicken is probably my least-favorite meat to eat, so for me to describe it as “amazing” is really saying something. My friend speculated it had been marinated in buttermilk, and I had some buttermilk in the fridge, and that was all I needed to hear.

Cornflake Buttermilk Chicken

I thawed some of my Trader Joe’s frozen chicken in the fridge, then marinated it for about 8 hours in some buttermilk, green onions, garlic, and lemon juice. Dragged it through some crushed-up cornflakes and parmesan, baked for 40 minutes, and boom: amazing chicken. (OK, not as amazing as the Indie Mart chicken, but that was fried, and I can’t compete with that.)

I’ll be making this again this week. It was that good. (You know what else is good? Cornflakes straight from the box. I should probably stop that, if I want to have enough for this chicken.)

Cornflake Buttermilk Chicken
(Adapted from The Neelys)

Ingredients
Chicken breasts or tenders (I used four tenders, for two total servings)
2 green onions, chopped finely (white and green parts)
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 cups buttermilk
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 to 1 1/2 cups crushed cornflakes
1-2 tablespoons fresh or dried thyme
salt and pepper
other spices to taste (I added a little garlic powder)

Instructions
1. In a large bowl, pour in enough buttermilk to cover your chicken (I used 2 cups of buttermilk in a relatively shallow bowl, and it was plenty). Add the crushed garlic, green onions, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

2. Place the chicken in the bowl, cover, and marinate in the fridge. (Anywhere from 3-12 hours should work.)

3. Preheat the oven to 400.

4. Mix together the crushed cornflakes, parmesan, and thyme, and add any additional spices to taste.

5. Remove each piece of chicken from the buttermilk mixture and drag it through the cornflake mixture, pressing if necessary to make sure it sticks. Place the chicken on a baking sheet lined with parchment and sprinkle any leftover cornflake mixture over the top.

6. Bake for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

My leftovers reheated extremely well in the toaster oven, though they were a little drier on the second day (but still so much less dry than most chicken I’ve eaten in my life).

Spicy Soba Noodles with Sausage

I had never made soba noodles for myself until last summer, when I got inspired by one of Theodora’s soba noodle bowls and picked up some pre-cooked, cold noodles from the store. So easy, so fast, so tasty — and yet, they didn’t enter my regular rotation.

The other day, though, I was wandering my lovely local market and suddenly remembered those cold buckwheat noodles — what a simple, easy dinner they’d made on a night when I barely wanted to turn on the stove. I couldn’t find the pre-cooked ones, but I picked up a bag of uncooked noodles and figured I’d be able to handle making them cold on my own.

soba noodles

The inspiration for everything else was a pasta salad I used to make back in college — salami, cheese, red onion — but spicier and fresher. I spent a long time choosing the sausage, but once I picked andouille, everything else followed.

The one (minor) fail was the garlic oil I attempted to use as dressing. I went into this meal expecting to top the noodles with chili-infused olive oil, but apparently we ate it all — used it all? Do you really “eat” olive oil? — and so I tried to fake some garlic oil by cooking a few whole cloves of garlic in a few tablespoons of oil over low heat while I prepped the rest of the dish. It turned out OK but not very garlicky, and if I were to do this again, I’d make a vinegar-based dressing instead; the oil weighed things down a bit too much. The flavors meshed well, though, and only got better after a day in the fridge, so if you’re looking for a simple meal with serious leftover potential, this might be the ticket.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Sausage
Ingredients
Soba noodles, dry or cooked and cold; I prepared 4 servings
Red bell pepper, cut into chunks
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
Sausage of your choice; I used two Aidells links
Red pepper flakes
Chili powder
Salt and pepper
Olive oil/vinegar/your choice of dressing

Instructions
1. Prepare the soba noodles according to the instructions on the package; once they’re done, drain in a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water to cool them down.

2. Cut the sausage into coins and grill or saute them until cooked/heated through. (You can cut the coins smaller once grilled; I ended up quartering mine.)

3. Rinse the pasta pot with cold water so it’s nice and cool, and dump the noodles back in. Add the cooked sausage, bell pepper, and green onions, and toss well. If you’re using any sort of dressing, add that now too.

4. Season to taste; I ended up using a lot of red pepper flakes and just a dash of chili powder, and I could have used more of both.

5. Eat for days. If you have time to pop this in the fridge before you serve, even better; I liked it best at its coldest.

Three Bitty Burgers

I’m not a vegetarian, but over the years, I’ve found myself cooking less and less meat. I don’t love the process, I don’t love worrying so much about safety, and frankly, I don’t love how boring some meat-focused meals can feel. (I’m the girl who orders four side dishes and no meat at the steakhouse.) But ground beef has always been a bit of an exception. I like burgers, I like chili, and I like that I can tell when the meat is done without a lot of stress.

After making cabbage rolls, I found myself with 1/3 of a pound of ground beef left over — perfect for a night when I was cooking only for myself. I hit on the idea of sliders pretty early, figuring I’d drag out all the spices and toppings I could think of and play things by ear.

Three bitty burgers

I ended up with these three bitty burgers: one classic-with-a-twist, one Mediterranean-inspired, and one savory-spicy.

Here’s the breakdown:

Classic with a Twist
In the patty
Ground beef
Garlic powder
Red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

On the bun
Stone-ground mustard
Homemade pickled onions

Mediterranean
In the patty
Ground beef
Feta cheese
Greek seasoning
Salt and pepper

On the bun
Trader Joe’s artichoke and red pepper spread

Savory-Spicy
In the patty
Ground beef
Penzey’s Smoky 4s, aka my crack
Sweet-hot mustard
Salt and pepper

On the bun
Smoked gouda
Champagne mustard (…yeah, I have a lot of mustard)
Baby spinach
Sun-dried tomatoes

I had the highest hopes for the Mediterranean, and the feta in the patty worked well, but I liked the classic one the best. It tasted juiciest, which surprised me considering it was up against a burger that was about half mustard, and pickled onions just make everything more delicious.

Each served on 1/3 of a Dutch Crunch sandwich roll with oven-baked potato wedges, a side of sauteed spinach, and a few of the pickles I made the other week and don’t love (I think the problem was the cloves in the pickling spice; should’ve gone straight-up dill).