Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hamburger Haven

For the past few months, the barrista at our café downstairs has been asking me every time I come in how I am feeling and if I am having any strong pregnancy cravings.  I understand why she asks me how I'm doing; I complain constantly about my sloth-like activity levels these days.  It's the question about the cravings that has me a little confused.  Isn't that stuff all a myth, the pickles and ice cream stuff? Actually, here the it's not pickles and ice cream, it's herring and whipped cream.  Whatever turn of phrase you'd like to use for pregnant women's eating habits, I hadn't noticed any significant changes in my food cravings...until a few weeks ago when I couldn't stop thinking about meat.  It's seriously become an almost out of control issue for me.  My sensible dinner menus based heavily around grains and vegetables have given way to crazy last-minute trips to the grocery store for a steak, simply because the thought of eating whole-wheat pasta suddenly becomes abhorrent to me.  I've made all my best recipes involving black beans or lentils, but even that hasn't helped.  There are days I feel like Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby when she tears into her steak prepared bleu while creepy music plays in the background.  It's been like that around here, except that my steak isn't raw, we don't play music with screeching violins on our stereo, and as far as I know the fetus doesn't share any DNA with the devil.   

All of this to say in my very roundabout way that on Friday evening during our run, I turned to Niek and said I really felt like a hamburger.  Actually, maybe he suggested it first, but I definitely thought that a hamburger was a great idea.  Problem: Dutch people do not appreciate good burgers or know how to make them.  Since there is no Hamburger Habit equivalent anywhere nearby, Niek and I decided to make burgers at home...without a grill...seriously, without a grill.

Armed with my trusty Cook's Illustrated America's Best Recipes (which is looking pretty well-used these days), I tried to do this institution of American cooking justice.  CI offers pages and pages of commentary on creating the best grilled burgers and throws in a recipe for cooking burgers in a pan for the "high-rise dwellers" at the end of the section, but you can feel the pity oozing from the page.  Yes, poor me and the regulations that don't permit an open flame on my balcony.  Also, grills here are expensive!

My favorite part of the evening came when Niek and I were standing in the supermarket.  He picked up the pre-made burgers, and I balked at the price.  Why should I pay more per kilo for meat cut with filler when I can make a patty myself in about thirty seconds?  Salt, pepper, shape patty and you are finished.  I think it never occurred to him to make his own.  As far as I can tell, it doesn't occur to most Dutch people to make their own burgers.  I've been to a few backyard barbecues here, and I've only ever seen the pre-packaged patties.

After seven minutes in my fabulous cast iron pan (3 1/2 minutes per side as per the CI directions), we set to work making our double cheeseburgers.  No hamburger buns here, but the ciabatta rolls from the store were a decent substitute.  We may have gone a little crazy stacking them:
According to Heston Blumenthal, crazy British chef that he is, hamburgers shouldn't be more than two fingers high.  As you can see, we failed that test by a rather large margin.  Still, it satisfied my craving for a hamburger.  We watched Heston Blumenthals' In Search of Perfection hamburger episode and laughed at his hoity-toity burger.  Um, if I were going to use American cheese slices, I wouldn't make them myself with a pound of comté and a bottle of expensive wine.  This is the Netherlands, so we opted for the simple solution of Gouda.  It was a good burger.  I'm afraid we're going to be eating them a little more often in the coming weeks. 


  1. I follow molecular gastronomy, but Blumenthal has always been a footnote for me until now; I like the innovative ideas and I try to use them in making everyday food - like hamburgers (though burgers are about five times per year for me). I also look at America's Test Kitchen, but they always manage to make a mess of things ("we tried 600 variations until we stumbled upon...").

    Oddly, grilling is one of my weakest points, as there's always been someone else who volunteers to do it, so I've never learned.

    And, if you keep it a secret... I can't make eggs. Can't fry, poach, or even boil them. It's embarassing.

    The meat craving is common. Given that American doctors prescribe iron supplements of 30-60 mg. (or used to... I'm not up-to-date) to pregnant women, craving iron-rich foods makes sense.

  2. My favorite local burger:

  3. Steve,
    That burger looks absolutely amazing. If I ever make it back to Minneapolis I'll have to check it out. The beer list looks great, but "ouch" those prices! I'm spoiled here. Beer costs about as much as water.

    Blumenthal is incredibly entertaining. I recommend his first season of In Search of Perfection. The recipes feel less tedious than those from the second season, and he goes into the science behind his choices a little more. I would never make his recipes, because at the end of the day I'm a lazy cook.

    Oh, don't get me started on the ways America's Test Kitchen can irritate me. I just made zucchini bread from the recipe in the cookbook, and I had to throw it away...dense and boring. I didn't think that was possible with a quick bread, but somehow they managed.

    I can't poach eggs, either, although I've always wanted to try. I've been on a soft-boiled egg kick for the last few weeks, and I've still not successfully made the perfect one. Those little suckers are harder to prepare one would imagine.

    You are probably quite correct about my meat cravings. I just didn't expect them to be so strong. Because of my terrible fatigue my iron was tested, and it was quite low. That's despite making a concerted effort to eat iron-rich foods. I really hate taking supplements, but I'll try anything at this point not to feel like a zombie all day.

  4. Ha! Great post. Cravings are NOT myths! My eating habbits are already back to usual now that I'm not pregnant anymore. I had huge cravings for bananas and citrus fruits. Weird. Figured that was because my potassium is always low.

    I have to wonder if you are craving meat because you are anemic. Do they check that there? Are you taking iron? Well, I wouldn't get too hung up on it! I'm just pontificating, you know.

    And no hamburger buns there? Gotta say they are everywhere here, happily! I eat lots of veggie burgers and they are only half as good on another type of bun.

  5. SLG,
    I don't know if they always check pregnant women's iron levels. My midwife has checked my levels during my last two visits, because I have complained about extreme fatigue throughout almost my entire pregnancy. The first time I was fine, and at the last visit it was too low. I'm on iron supplements now, but I'm still so tired!

    How is it that Denmark has hamburger buns? I've never seen them here, but I've never sought them out before now. Do you have good veggie burgers? The only ones I ever really liked were the Boca burgers. I still can't believe how much they really do taste like beef patties.