Sunday, February 28, 2010

Krystal burgers

Its no secret: I typically spend my lunch hour scouring the Internet for food blogs and new recipes. My time is mostly filled up by Pioneer Woman because I just flat-out love everything she posts, whether it be about cooking, her house, fun things to buy, or photography. Besides, every recipe that I have ever tried of hers has been nothing short of absolutely fantastic (and might I add, the steps to get to this fantastic-ness have always been relatively simple and easy to follow), which makes me a devout reader of PW.

Thanks to PW, I also browse both the Tasty Kitchen blog and the Tasty Kitchen website, where I contribute recipes and make cooking "friends" under the name mrsnaglich. One day, somewhere in all this searching around, I stumbled upon this: Big Red Kitchen

It sounded fun, primarily because I also want a big red kitchen someday. As I read along, I realized this blogger also loves comfort foods with a healthy twist, but she also provides great commentary on the how to's of life, such as how to behave at the church pot luck. I fell in love with the idea of the 2-for-1 recipe of spaghetti bolognese and "sloppy giuseppes." You know I definitely bookmarked this page and this page for the most perfect idea for a themed dinner, baby shower or not! Antipasto salad, do-it-yourself meatball subs, homemade pizzas, and pepperoni dip??? Yes please. Sounds like my kind of party.

But it was this that got my heart pumping.

Yes, really.

A recipe for do-it-yourself Krystal burgers.

To give you some background, my grandmother was comfortable situated extremely close to a Krystal restaurant. Growing up, almost every visit to my grandmother's house included a trip to Krystal. It was the 80s. Supersize Me wouldn't come out for another 15 years. Sometimes it was a small indulgence of 2 burgers and other times I made a complete and utter gluttonistic disgrace of myself in front of my family as I devoured more than 8 Krystals in one sitting just because I said I could do it. While I have proven that I can eat more than 8 Krystals in one sitting, I'll hold on to that glory of yesteryear and stick to a healthy 2-3 from now on.

What is so special about the Krystal, really? Nothing about it smacks of gourmet eats. Its not even something fancy enough for any other chain to replicate. It is comprised of a mysteriously thin meat (beef?) patty, strange small onions, a solitary pickle, a gentle slather of American yellow mustard, and finally topped by what is almost always a very soggy bun (that I love to slurp on... seriously. its okay to gag here). I loved them so much, I used to beg my parents to buy the frozen ones from the grocery store. Seriously.

At Krystal, I don't care about the fries, the chili cheese pups, the mini corn dogs (although wow... I'd definitely eat a mini corn pup right about now), or even the spicy Krystal chick. I don't even want a Krystal with cheese. I just want a nice, yummy, soggy regular Krystal burger.

Side note: Two nights before my wedding day I have a picture of my now-husband smiling as he held a giant sackful of Krystal. If I wasn't willing to marry him before, this sealed the deal. Love by Krystal burger. Mmmm mmmm good.

So anyway. Back to this recipe.

I obviously live in Africa. As much as I think South Africans would enjoy Krystal burgers, the only American food chains in SA are KFC, McDonalds, and Subway (which is so terrible here I almost didn't list it... g-rody). Therefore, it is impossible for me to get a Krystal burger.

To add more background to this, I must also admit to being bitten by the mini-burger/slider phenomenon that swept through the US right as we were leaving. Our last meal in the ATL airport was at TGI Friday's - Will and I split an order of mini burgers before boarding the plane to Africa. While we were in London, we regularly consumed the mini burgers from Burger King (3 were jalapeno with spicy ketchup, the other 3 were BBQ with little onion rings - YUM).

Naturally, we figured we could make mini burgers ourselves. We got the meat, found little buns, made mini patties and set them on the grill, only to find they were impossible to flip and control. We wound up with a bunch of little hockey pucks. At a party. Lots of little buns went without little patties. It was a sad state of affairs and we wrote off mini burgers from there on.

So then I find this recipe. Krystal burger meets mini burger. Heck yes.

First of all, I was a huge skeptic of baking ground beef. Its just... weird to me. Bake meat? When I told Will what I was going to do, he just raised his eyebrows and blessedly said nothing and happily let me go on my way to try and make these mini yum-yums for the party last night.

Second of all, I had to find dehydrated onion and ground beef that had the right amount of fat yet didn't taste like Christmas (note: South Africans strangely add clove and coriander to almost all of their ground beef). This meant going to the butcher and asking for them to grind up sirloin steak, but add beef fat to it. Again, gag if you must.

So! I found the little buns again (mini garlic buns - yum!), find teeny tiny pickles and teeny tiny tomatoes and set in to make the burgers. Really, its easy. Generously coat the bottom of a pyrex dish with dehydrated onion and then press the meat on top and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Blot grease, add cheese, and bake until melty. Let cool, cut with a pizza cutter, and slide those puppies into the buns.

I set the pickles and tomatoes out to the side, along with ketchup and mustard, so people could make their own sammies. I also grilled up onions and mushrooms in Dale's steak seasoning - its my favorite burger topping.

I made Krystal burgers! It tasted EXACTLY like a Krystal (minus the garlic on the bun). This was one of the easiest appetizers I have ever made. Moreover, with the mini tomatoes and pickles, the presentation was super cute. They were gobbled up incredibly fast - everyone raved and raved over how great they were.

So! If you've got an event coming up and don't know what to take - try these! So simple, easy cleanup, voila!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Zimbabwe, the third time around!

So far its a year of thirds - my third trip to Zambia, my third trip to Zimbabwe... well darn. I don't have another third! ha.

I'm currently in Harare for work. I adore Harare. Love it. Adore it. Its the best city! The people are super friendly, clean streets abound, amazing skyscrapers loom in the skyline, and trees, trees, trees - palm trees, jacarandas, and flowers galore! Its beautiful and happy. Even the work is good. All in all, its shaped up to be a great trip to Zim, which even includes my first attempt at Irish soda bread baking away in the oven. Results = to be announced...

As you know, I travel frequently for work. I deserve some credit - I've finally figured out how to pack for a 3 night trip in a carry-on bag. I've realized I only need two pairs of shoes for just about any trip. I have a dedicated bag of toiletries ready to go at a moments notice.

But no matter what I do... I always forget something.

Once I forgot my flat iron (we promptly turned around and retrieved it). Another time I forgot body lotion. Another time face lotion (a bigger "ooops!" than body lotion because I have such sensitive skin). Another time my allergy meds (and spent the whole time sneezing). Another time my allergy eye drops. I've even forgotten underwear (hotel soap and a hair dryer can solve just about any laundry crisis).

One time I even forgot my phone, only to drive back to the house and get it. I then got out at the airport only to realize, I forgot my phone in the car. Really. As I panicked and convinced a poor Avis car rental place for me to commandeer my phone, the sweet driver was running around the departures terminal looking for me. We eventually met up and all was well, but its not the way I'd recommend starting any trip.

This time I got in the car confident I had everything. Passport? Check. Cash? Check. Allergy meds? Check. Face lotion, phone, underwear? Check. Phew.

So I arrive in Zimbabwe, congratulation my expert packing skills to find...

I forgot my power converter.

No matter what I do, it seems I'll always forget something. Lists don't help. Its just bound to happen. And I just laugh and move on!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day 2010

First and foremost, the countdown to the arrival of Mary & Gary is officially at 23 days. I CAN'T WAIT! We're headed to Kruger, Cape Town, and Swaziland and they are taking a 2nd honeymoon up to Victoria Falls - going by train and staying 3 nights at my favorite place: Sussi & Chuma Lodge. Fun times are headed our way!

Will and I had a fantastic Valentine's Day this year. We had originally talked about going to the beach for the holiday, but my recent travel schedule coupled with the upcoming trips with mom and dad made an additional trip a bit excessive. When it got down to it, I realized what I really wanted was a romantic date with hubby. And that's when it hit me - we should try one of the top 10 restaurants in South Africa that's located right outside Pretoria - a place called The Restaurant Mosaic at the Hotel Orient.

Will and I made reservations for two for dinner in private in their minaret tower. We chose Friday night as Saturday and Sunday were already booked. We drove over at sunset and on the way there, our headlights went out. The only way they would work was if Will would hold the lever forward with his hand - not conducive in a stick shift car. When we walked in, we told them we were having car trouble and they promptly sent their resident mechanic (who works on the Rolls Royces) out to look at our Land Rover.

Meanwhile, let's stop and talk about this place - its located in the Francolin Conservancy west of Pretoria in the mountains. As we pulled into the conservancy, we immediately saw zebra staring at us. Incredible! And then we pull up to the hotel - take a peek at the top of this webpage. Incredible. It was like stepping into another country. We're led through massive Indian doors (the kind you see in Zanzibar) into this incredible entry parlor, complete with indoor pools, winding staircases, and beautiful Persian rugs and other art. We're led upstairs to this beautiful dining room, then outside by an amazing pool filled with flowers and rose petals, and into the cozy minaret tower, which is lit only by candles and filled with all sorts of flowers.

Romantic? You betcha.

We're seated and immediately starts the parade of servers - what do we want to drink, hot towels for our hands and faces, a basket of all sorts of hot bread (SOURDOUGH - oh my goodness!), and an explanation of the menu by the executive chef. Even a cute black persian kitty came in to say hi to us.

Unfortunately, the tower was a bit warm (it had been over 35 degrees celsius and the minaret tower baked in the sun all day) and so we decided to stick it out for the first few courses and then go inside to the A/C and fantastic music (I'm a sucker for Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and french music playlists - think Something's Gotta Give soundtrack).

Will and I had decided on the 6 course menu with wine pairings for our meal. Here are the courses (I took a copy of the menu and in case I lose it, here it is for permanent online safe keeping)(please also forgive the French misspellings - I can't figure out how to do accent marks in blogger):

Amuse Bouche: Chilled Melon Soup with Iberian Ham and Aged Balsamic, paired with Moreson Cuvee Cape NV
Review: Absolutely delicious! The soup was in a shot glass and incredibly flavorful and herby. The iberian ham was served two ways - it was wrapped around the end of a little crusty breadstick and the other was made into a samosa-style little treat. YUM.

First Course: Melange of Tomato, paired with Lamberti Pinot Grigio Santepietre 2008
Review: I love tomatoes. This medley included so many tomatoes, but just a bite of each. It was paired with - get this - a tomato TEA. It was so good - for someone who loves tomato soup, to have tomato tea was heavenly.
And to finally have Pinot Grigio after 1.5 years... yum.

Second Course: Medley of the Sea in Star Anise Scented Lobster Bisque, paired with Cederberg Private Cellar Bukettraube 2008
Review: Perfect. Again, a super small portion, but delicious. I haven't had scallops since I moved to South Africa and it was heavenly to have one massive scallop to enjoy. There was also lobster and homemade noodles in this incredible lobster bisque. Yummity.

Palate Cleanser: Lemon Verbena sorbet
Review: Again, perfect. I love lemon!!!

Third Course (the main - we had three options to pick from): Will got the Slow Roasted Duck Leg Confit with Sweet Port Wine Reduction with Veenwouden Syrah 2006.
I had the Beef Fillet Medallions with Wild Mushrooms and Thyme Infused Beef Jus served with Stony Brook Ghost Gum Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Review: Incredible! My beef fillets were cooked perfectly, although it was a huge portion. There were so many different types of mushrooms on my plate - it would have only been better had a tasty morel been sitting there. Even the mashed potatoes were perfect!

Will's duck confit was the best I've ever had in my life. It was so tender and flavorful and was even paired with a cute little duck pie.

The third option was Pan Seared Scottish Salmon with Delicate Saffron Foam.

Cheese course: A parade of Cheese with Accompaniments and homemade Pear and Macadamia Nut Bread

Review: 10 cheeses - all incredible. I have MISSED manchego cheese - yum yum yummy. Goat cheese, munster, you name it - it was there and perfect.

Dessert (two options): I had the White Chocolate and Summer Berry Decadence and Will had the Passion Fruit Creme Brulee with delicate Poached Peach Jelly and Passion fruit Sorbet. Both desserts were served with Bottega Moscata Petalo Il Vino dell Amore NV.

First off, this was an impressive dessert. Mine had homemade raspberry sorbet, homemade strawberry ice cream, and a delicious panna cotta with fresh fruits. Will's creme brulle was absolutely delicious and his had homemade vanilla ice cream. YUM. The sparkling dessert wine was perfect - I want to find it here!!!

During the main course, we found out our car couldn't be fixed. A taxi ride home (and back) would cost upwards of R1,000 since we were so far out from Pretoria. Therefore, with the encouragement of a special rate from the hotel, we decided to stay overnight at the Hotel Orient.

This was, by far, the fanciest place I've stayed in South Africa, and definitely one of the nicest places I've ever stayed in my life. We stayed in the Marrakesh Suite, which was a stunner. The bed was incredible, the bathtub was huge, and it even had a recessed stereo and sound system. It even had a private patio where we enjoyed the night breeze and irish coffees. They gave us good toothbrushes and toothpaste and we happily slept over.

In the morning, we were treated to breakfast on the patio next to the pool, which again had course upon course. Homemade granola with fresh fruit and yogurt and homemade vanilla milk, which was fantastic in my tea. Freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolate were to die for. The two breakfast mains were salmon scrambled eggs and eggs benedict. I actually don't like either dish so I tried the salmon eggs. I can see how they were good, but they weren't for me. The same for Will's eggs benedict - good, but just not for me. But caviar was included with my breakfast so I just had that on toast. Yum. Breakfast ended with these jam pastries that were so tasty.

Overall, this was the best date of my life (and the longest too). It was so great to eat amazing food and drink amazing wine, and to also have some of my favorite foods that I haven't been able to have since I moved here. It was also great to try some new wines from South Africa, which we'll go visit the next time we're in the Cape. It was definitely romantic and all the stresses of life simply fell away for the wonderful hours we spent there.

Final verdict: We're going back as soon as possible.

The rest of this long weekend has been leisurely and fantastic. I've tried to take advantage of being in the pool as much as possible. Its been a relatively cool and rainy summer, reducing our opportunities to get in the pool all summer long. This week has been super hot and dry and since being in the pool is one of my favorite things, that's what we've done.

Saturday night we had some friends over for dinner and enjoyed the South African delicacies of bacon wrapped candied cherries and chili cherry cheese sausages. Will's wildebeest burgers were fantastic-o. It was a nice leisurely time and for once, our BBQ didn't get rained out by an evening thunderstorm.

Valentine's Day we woke up super early so Will could go golfing and I could have morning coffee with Heidi and Beth. I got in the pool with my book and played with the dogs in the afternoon. Last night we made homemade cheese ravioli and spaghetti sauce with meatballs. We also started watching the "10 Best Episodes of Lost." Its been a romantic, relaxing weekend - just what we needed.

I am so thankful for Will and so incredibly thankful that we've been so blessed to start our marriage overseas.