The Ultimate Burger: what’s yours?

Sharon Jessup Joyce

Blog homemade burger

No, I haven’t fallen into the sin of arrogance. This post’s title refers to the search for the ultimate burger, not a claim that I’ve created it. For someone who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, I’ve enjoyed plenty of burgers, mostly beef, but sometimes vegetarian, chicken or fish (Halifax’s 2 Doors Down should take a bow for the best haddock burger ever, by the way). So I decided I wanted to create a beef burger in the spirit of the gourmet burger many restaurants brag about, with house-ground meat and house-made bun and sauces. I often make homemade hamburger buns and always make homemade ketchup and BBQ sauces, so we knew the potential there. The question was whether grinding the beef at home would help take our burger to the next level.

The obvious first step was choosing the right cut. I know fatty cuts are more flavourful, but they upset my finicky digestion; Bob and Adrian have also become accustomed to leaner cuts. I arrived at our butcher shop assuming I’d pick up sirloin. But Trevor spontanously offered me a great deal on a small and awkwardly-shaped ribless prime rib beef roast. The meat looked beautiful and the price was too good to pass up. So that was the beef taken care of. I figured I could always compensate for the higher-fat cut by making smaller patties.

Blog homemade saucesAt the market, I bought three varities of new onions, which I planned to caramelize with maple sugar. We already had some Cabot cheddar on hand, as well as homemade chipotle tomato ketchup from last fall’s preserving. (I’ll post that recipe in a few weeks, if anyone is interested.)

I decided to trim most of the fat from the beef and then add back some fat with olive oil. I know that sounds weird, but the Blog ground prime ribresults were delicious. After ruthless trimming, we had just under one kilogram of meat (see photo). I added 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. We ended up with seven 140-gram (five-ounce) patties.

I sauteed the onions in some olive oil, salt, maple sugar and a bit of leftover red wine.

A favourite homemade hamburger bun at our house is honey-oat, but I wanted to limit the number of flavours, so I decided to make maple-oat hamburger buns to reinforce the maple flavour in the onions.

We kept the finished burgers simple, with a mix of extra old and chipotle Cabot cheddar melted on the bun, and caramelized maple onions and homemade chipotle ketchup on the meat patty.

Grinding the meat ourselves just before cooking really did make a difference. I won’t claim this was The Ultimate Burger, but it may have been the best-tasting burger I’ve ever made. Now we just need to find the perfect craft beer to go with it.

Maple-oat hamburger buns

IngredientsBlog maple oat hamburger buns

  • 1-1/2 cups ground oatmeal
  • 2-1/2 cups flour of your choice (I usually use a roughly equal proportion of King Arthur bread flour, Five Roses unbleached all-purpose flour, and Five Roses whole wheat flour)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons oil or melted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons yeast

This recipe is for a bread machine, but you can make it by hand. Here’s a great blog that gives easy steps for converting bread machine recipes to by-hand or mixer versions:


  1. Grind oat flakes in a coffee grinder until they have the consistency of a fine flour.
  2. Mix oat flour and other flour(s) and salt together.
  3. Beat egg into buttermilk and add warm water and maple syrup or honey.
  4. Put wet ingredients into bread machine case.
  5. Sprinkle dry ingredients (except yeast) over liquid ingredients.
  6. Spoon yeast on top of dry ingredients.
  7. Use dough setting on bread machine.
  8. Once the dough setting is finished, shape the buns. Use about 70 grams of dough per bun. Roll dough into a round ball, then flatten it very ruthlessly (see photo, above).
  9. Leave, lightly covered, in a warm place until buns almost double in size.
  10. Cook in a 375 F oven for about 15 minutes.


Sharon divides her time between Kingston, Ontario and St Margaret Bay, NS, and has enjoyed some splendid burgers in both spots.
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance


Summer Sunday luncheon

Sharon Jessup Joyce

Summer Sunday salad lunch

Recently we took a day trip to Ottawa. Bob and Shelly and I went to have lunch with Dad and Cassandra (Dave was at the Calgary Stampede and Brody and Adrian each had plans with friends). I wanted a special meal, but it needed to be portable. And it was a hot weekend, so I wanted it to be served cold. We ended up with cold poached salmon with avocado mayonnaise, a Nicoise-style potato and bean salad, baby greens with strawberries and strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette and a corn salad and bread from Pan Chancho. For dessert, we had strawberry-rhubarb vanilla cake with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Some of Dad’s own white wine complemented the meal wonderfully.

IMG_1642Nicoise-style potato salad (portions given are for 1 pound of potatoes)

Cook new potatoes whole and unpeeled in salted water. When they are done, peel skin (optional), drain and toss with red wine vinegar (about 1 tablespoon vinegar to 1 pound of potatoes) and salt to taste. Set aside to cool.

Cook green beans (or green and yellow beans) until just tender, then drain and soak for 10 minutes in an ice-water bath. Drain and dry thoroughly.

Shred about 1/4 cup basil. Dice 2-3 green onions. Set aside.

Crush 2 garlic cloves and mix with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 teaspoons dijon mustard, 4 tablespoons olive oil, pinch of sugar and black pepper to taste. Add basil and green onions to dressing and dress potatoes and beans with dressing. Reserve about 1 tablespoonful of dressing.

Slice cherry tomatoes in half or large tomatoes into wedges. Put tomato pieces on top of salad and drizzle with remaining dressing. Garnish with black olives.

Full-meal option: Add wedges of hard-boiled egg or tuna, or both.

Poached Mexican-style salmon with avocado mayonnaise (serves 4)

Mix juice of 1 lime, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder and 1 Poached salmonteaspoon sugar. A small amount of salt is optional, but I didn’t use any this time.

Pour seasoning into a large skillet with a cover. Put one single piece of fresh salmon (1 to 1-1/2 pounds) in skillet and cover. Bring liquid just to boil and turn down to simmer. Simmer until salmon is opaque and flakes easily. Depending on its thickness and how you like your fish, this may be about 7 to 15 minutes. The nice thing about this cooking method is that the salmon won’t dry out, but you obviously don’t want it to become mushy. When the fish is cooked, set it off the heat, uncovered, to cool. Pour the poaching liquid over the fish while it cools.

Slice limes and cucumber very thin and place in a ring around a plate. Once the salmon has cooled, transfer it carefully and place it in the middle of the ring (a large spatula in each hand, a slow, careful approach, and a certain amount of cursing seems to do the trick).  Garnish with cilantro and chill until serving.

Cassie and hydrangeas Sunday lunch

Avocado mayonnaise

Puree two ripe avocadoes, 1-2 tablespoons buttermilk, juice of 1/2 to 1 lime, 1 jalapeno pepper, 2-3 green onions and about 1/2 cup cilantro, with salt to taste. Add a pinch of sugar if sauce is too tangy for your taste. Blend until very smooth. If you want a thicker sauce, substitute any mayonnaise dressing you like (full-fat, half-fat, no fat, Miracle Whip, etc.) for the buttermilk.

A note about limes (and Atlantic salmon)

Why have limes become so expensive? Mexican and Central American drug cartels have moved in to try to control lime production, since the North American appetite for limes has made the fruit a tremendously valuable commodity. In many areas, the criminals are succeeding, with really horrifying results, including the illegal seizure of farms and crops, and even the deaths of farmers and other citizens in lime-producing regions. It’s a complex situation, with one approach being to stop consuming limes. Much as I love that little green citrus fruit, I did consider making this choice, using lemons as a (poor) substitute for many dishes I cook and my family enjoys. But as I researched the issue, I found that lime farmers are organizing to fight back, with the support of governments and citizen justice organizations. These groups have asked North American consumers to keep eating limes, but source them carefully, from reputable growers and distributors. With the complexity of the food production and distribution chain, I’m not confident that limes I buy in Kingston, Ontario have a legitimate pedigree, the way I could know, for example, if I lived in southern California. It’s interesting that in Nova Scotia, our limes often come from Israel and other Mediterranean locales. In the meantime, I will pledge to keep eating local and seasonal fruits as much as I can — hence the focus on strawberries at our table in June and July.

And yes, farmed Atlantic salmon has also become an increasingly problematic food. I find hope in a recent conversation I had with a fishmonger in Halifax, who was telling me about new approaches to fish farms that will help to reduce overcrowding, disease and escapes into wild stocks so prevalent with current farms. The problem? Cost, of course. As consumers, we will literally need to put our money where our mouth is. And we need to care enough to do our homework to make sure we are eating fish raised ethically for all parties (including the salmon). As a part-time resident of Nova Scotia, the pat answer that I should eat more wild Pacific salmon isn’t a long-term solution for the Maritime provinces’ economy, Atlantic Canadians’ goal to eat locally or for the Pacific fishery, for that matter. And Atlantic salmon is a different species with a very different taste from its Pacific counterparts.


Sharon divides her time between Kingston, Ontario and St Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia, and tries to shop, cook and eat locally — and ethically — wherever she is, but it’s not easy sometimes!
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Easy fried rice

Adrian Schneider

Vegetable and egg fried rice

On Monday, I had a hankering for some eggs. Normally that’s a pretty easy thing to take care of: omelettes, fried eggs, poached eggs… all have a happy place in my limited store of memorized recipes. But I was in the mood for something different. Grasping at everything I could think of to do with eggs, a vision of scrambled eggs popped into my head. Problem was, we had run out of milk, and I wanted something stronger and eggier anyway. Scrambled eggs, just the eggs, the same kind we slice up into strips and put on fried rice….


Fried rice

The following is what I used, but there’s no particular reason to restrict yourself to these quantities or ingredients. It turned out to be a pair of lunches’ worth.


  • 1/2 cup white basmati rice
  • 2 teaspoons low-taste cooking oil (sunflower in this case)
  • 1 cup broth (2 pouches of chicken oxo in water, here, but vegetable stock would work nicely; a teaspoon of soya sauce would have been a good addition)
  • 1/3 cup cooking onions (I used 2 miniature onions from the market)
  • 1/4 of a large sweet red bell chili (ed note: called a bell pepper by many of us)
  • the rest of a bag of frozen peas, like 1/3 cup or so
  • 2 large eggs


A bowl of fried rice isn’t especially difficult to put together. The only real trick to it, rather appropriately, is frying the rice. If you fry the rice after it’s cooked, you get blobs of rice grains that are hard and crunchy on the outside, never a texture I’ve enjoyed. So you do it before. Put the oil in a pan on medium and wait for it to get hot, then put in your uncooked rice. You want to fry the grains until they’re a nice uniform golden colour. They’ll need to be stirred constantly, especially toward the end. You’ll see the grains puff up a bit, but don’t worry, they’ll be nice and golden before they turn into Rice Krispies.

Put the rice aside in a bowl while you start the broth boiling; it needs to cool a bit. Once the rice is fried you just handle it like regular rice: put it in the boiling water, cover, turn down to a low simmer, and steam for ~15 minutes. This is a good time to start your vegetables sauteeing if you like them soft like I do. Frozen peas don’t need the cooking and can just be thrown into the rice once it’s finished steaming, but the onions and sweet chili (ed: bell pepper) want to be diced up and simmered. Once the rice is steamed and in its final absorb-the-water stage, transfer all your vegetables to the rice pot and put the lid back on.

It’s finally egg time. Despite being kinda scrambled egg-like, the cooking is more like making an omelette. Whisk up the eggs and put them into a pan preheated to medium heat. You want them to cook into a flat sheet, so make sure the pan is large enough for them to spread out. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start worrying that they’re cooking too slowly and want to turn up the heat, but keep it even; you want the middle cooked enough that you can flip the egg-disk over, but without the bottom getting scorched. Once the eggs are solid enough that you can flip them, do so (or stick them under a broiler if you prefer). They’ll cook very rapidly from here, probably only a minute or two. Slide them onto a board and slice them into short strips with a sharp knife.

Serve out the rice, and decorate liberally with the strips of egg. Then eat.


Adrian cooks recreationally and eats seriously in Kingston, Ontario. 
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

Canada Day with a Mexican twist

Chicken avocado saladSharon Jessup Joyce

We’ve been into salad suppers lately. It’s partly because there’s so much fresh produce around, but also because we’ll do anything to avoid turning on the oven in this heat. Many of our nightly salads have been greens-based and vegetarian, but I wanted to make something a little heartier for Bob’s and my Canada Day lunch. So here’s what we had — not very Canadian, I guess, but delicious.

Ingredients for chicken-avocado salad with sliced tomatoes (serves 4)


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Juice of 1 lime


  • 2 ripe (but not mushy) avocadoes, cubed
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 to 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Juice of 1 small lime (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1/4 cup regular or low-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons regular or reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons regular or low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar or honey


  • 1 scallion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup diced sweet red pepper (optional)


  1. Preheat skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  2. Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and chipotle chili powder and brown on both sides.
  3. Pour juice of 1 lime over chicken, cover skillet and simmer until chicken is fully cooked.
  4. Set aside chicken to cool. Reserve pan juices, which should be thick and reddish-brown.
  5. Mix remaining olive oil, lime juice, sugar or honey, salt, sour cream, mayonnaise and buttermilk. Add reserved pan juices and mix.
  6. Dice chicken, avocado, scallion and jalapeno pepper and toss gently in dressing.
  7. Mound salad in centre of rimmed soup bowl or luncheon plate and surround with tomato slices.
  8. Sprinkle additional chopped cilantro and scallion (and red pepper, if using) on salad.

Strawberry sangria

Cousin Natalie gave me a shout-out on Facebook for my traditional sangria recipe, so of course I instantly wanted some. Here is a version of sangria we had yesterday to take advantage of what we had in the house. I never drink Fresita without remembering good times with Summer and Alysha, and yesterday was no exception.

Strawberry sangria


  • 2 cups dry rose
  • 2 ounces amber or white rum
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 cup strawberries, sliced
  • 2 cups Fresita strawberry sparkling wine (available at the LCBO and many other wine stores)
  • 2 cups sparkling water
  • Lime slices
  • Sprig of mint  for each glass

Slice the strawberries and pour the rum and lime juice over them to sit for at least an hour. Add rose and lime slices. Let sit in fridge. To make a glass of strawberry sangria, put ice cubes in a large wine glass. Pour two parts wine-fruit-rum mixture and top with one part each of chilled Fresita and chilled sparkling water.

Lime mousse with strawberries and vanilla whipped cream

For last night’s dessert, we broke with our tradition of having strawberry shortcake on Canada Day. I just couldn’t face turning on the oven to make the biscuits. So instead I made a lime mousse to serve with the strawberries and whipped cream. It was very tasty, but Adrian and I thought the mousse needed to be a bit lighter, so below is the adjusted recipe. It is NOT low-fat, but it sure was tasty!

Lime curd, strawberries and cream


  • 1 tablespoon butterLime curd
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest (or lemon zest)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (or lemon juice)
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped

DirectionsLime curd with whipped cream

  1. Bring water to a boil in the bottom of a double boiler, then turn heat down so water maintains a vigorous simmer while you cook the lime curd.
  2. Melt butter in top of double boiler.
  3. Mix together eggs, egg yolks, lime zest and juice, sugar and salt in bowl, beating until smooth. Pour into double boiler top.
  4. Stir mixture constantly with whisk until it thickens to the consistency of custard (about 10 minutes).
  5. Place double boiler top in a bowl of ice water (make sure it is not full enough to allow water to leak into custard.
  6. Cover custard with plastic wrap — make sure the wrap is against the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming.
  7. Refrigerate custard until cool, usually about an hour.
  8. Whip cream until it is very stiff.
  9. Gently fold cream into custard until just blended.
  10. Spoon mousse into individual serving bowls.
  11. Surround with unsugared berries and top with vanilla whipped cream.
Sharon lives in Kingston, Ontario, where she is counting the days until her return to Nova Scotia (10.25 days, give or take a half-hour).
Welcome to our family’s discussion forum on food. If you’d like to submit a post, please consider yourself family, and email us at

After a good dinner, one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.”

– Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance