I didn't win the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger contest held last month in California's Napa Valley.
It's not because I didn't try. My Best of Vermont Burger with maple bacon, thick slices of cheddar and green apple slaw just didn't measure up to Hawaii Da Kine Burgers With Sweet-Chili Glaze, Ginger-Goat Cheese Spread and Hot Watercress Salad.
Well, what could? Sounds pretty darn delicious, though the recipe is a bit intimidating. With 19 and 21 ingredients respectively, neither I nor winner Kristine Snyder paid much attention to organizers who suggested keeping ingredients to a manageable minimum.
With $50,000 at stake, you've got to shoot for the moon.
I had never entered a recipe contest before, mostly because many of them bar food professionals. Contest people figure a journalist who writes about food for a living has an unfair advantage. Well, I guess not, judging by how I fared in the burger contest. Ten finalists (five for beef burgers and five for alternative burgers) were chosen from 9,000 entries. I was not among those lucky (or talented) enough to get an all-expenses-paid trip west for the competition.
I must have been on the right trend track, though. Four of the finalists included a slaw on their burgers, including another apple version. It was spiked with tangy blue cheese. D'oh! I should have thought of that.
The other thing that likely knocked me out was the directions. And by that I mean I didn't follow them. The call is for original recipes that reflect a region's ingredients or culinary traditions. I picked Vermont because I've had several lovely vacations there. In hindsight, I realized a contestant is supposed to live in the region that inspired the burger. D'oh! again.
Susan Scarborough of Fernandina Beach won $10,000 in the best alternative burger category for her Tidewater Boil Burgers With Charred Sweet Corn Salsa and Lemon-Lime Crem-onnaise.
Okay, I get it now.
I've got plenty of time to think of a show-stopping, over-the-top burger for next year's competition that highlights the flavors of Florida. I'll take my pick from tropical, Cuban, seafood or Southern ingredients. A pressed Cuban burger? A Gulf of Mexico shrimp burger with stone crab-mango slaw? Something with citrus would be good. I have to work, too, on coming up with a Very Long Name.
For the record, my husband thinks the Vermont Burger is a winner. I share Snyder's $50,000 recipe and my losing recipe here. You be the judge.
Janet K. Keeler canbe reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.
Hawaii Da Kine Burgers
3 ounces spicy Portuguese sausage
2 pounds ground chuck
1/3 cup minced ripe papaya
1/3 cup minced Maui onion
5 teaspoons McCormick's Gourmet Collection Asian-style Spiced Sea Salt (or 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt)
Vegetable oil, for brushing on grill
6 seeded hamburger buns or sandwich rolls, split
Ginger-goat cheese spread:
4 ounces garlic-flavored mild goat cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
2/3 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
2 1 /2 tablespoons soy sauce
Hot watercress salad:
3 tablespoons macadamia nut or peanut oil
2 small ripe Hass avocados, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 ripe papaya, coarsely chopped
5 cups chopped watercress
2 small Maui onions, thinly sliced and separated into rings
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Prepare medium-hot fire in charcoal grill with a cover, or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.
Place sausage in food processor and process until finely chopped. Transfer to large bowl and add chuck, papaya, onion and spiced salt. Combine well, handling meat as little as possible to avoid compacting. Form into 6 patties and refrigerate until ready to grill.
To make spread: Combine goat cheese, mayonnaise and ginger in small bowl. Cover; set aside.
To make glaze: Combine sweet chili sauce and soy sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
To make salad: Pour oil into fire-proof skillet and heat on grill until it begins to smoke. While oil is heating, halve avocado slices and place in large bowl. Add lemon juice and toss gently.
Layer papaya, watercress, onions, garlic and pepper flakes over avocado and carefully drizzle hot oil over top. Add soy sauce and toss to combine.
Brush grill rack with oil. Place patties on rack, cover and cook 4 to 5 minutes per side, basting with glaze until desired doneness is reached. During last few minutes of cooking, place buns on outer edges of rack to toast lightly.
To assemble burgers, spread cut sides of bun tops with goat cheese spread. Place a patty on each bun bottom and top with equal portions of salad. Add bun tops.
Makes 6 burgers.
Source: Kristine Snyder, Build a Better Burger winner, 2008
Best of Vermont Burger
Green apple slaw:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons apple schnapps (see note)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large Granny Smith apple, halved and cored
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 pounds ground chuck
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
9 slices maple bacon
6 thick slices cheddar cheese
Melted butter for brushing
French's horseradish mustard (see note)
6 French or good-quality hamburger buns
To make slaw, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, maple syrup, apple schnapps and salt in medium bowl. Set aside.
Cut half the cored apple in matchstick strips and place in dressing immediately so that the lemon juice prevents discoloring. Grate the remaining half of the apple into the mix. Add sage and red onion. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To make burgers, place all burger ingredients in medium bowl and mix them together gently by hand. Do not overwork the burgers or the meat will be tough.
Divide mixture into six equal portions and shape into round patties, about 1/2 inch thick. With your thumbs, make a slight indentation in the middle to prevent shrinking on the grill. Place in a single layer on a platter and cover loosely with foil or plastic wrap until ready to cook.
Cook bacon and keep warm.
Heat a gas grill to medium-high. Coat the grill grate with nonstick spray and add burger patties. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes and flip. After about 4 minutes, top each burger with slice of cheddar. While cheese is melting, brush split burger buns with melted butter and toast, cut side down.
To assemble burgers, spread about 1 tablespoon of French's horseradish mustard on bottom half of toasted bun and top that with heaping tablespoon of the slaw. Add cheddar burger, drape with 1 1/2 slices of bacon and top with about 1/4 cup of slaw. Crown with top half of toasted bun. Serve immediately.
Makes 6 burgers.
Note: You can use apple cider or juice in place of apple schnapps. Also, French's has a new product that mixes horseradish with brown mustard. To make your own, mix 3 parts brown mustard with 1 part prepared horseradish.
Source: Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor
>>on the web
Build a Better Burger
For a complete list of winners in Sutter Home's Build a Better Burger competition, go to www.buildabetter
burger.com. You'll also find hundreds of burger recipes there. Entries for next year's competition will be accepted beginning in the spring. The Web site will have more information as the contest nears.