May 13, 2010

Book & Restaurant Reviews: Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries, & Shakes and State & Lake

It's a two-fer today... Call me a bad Hindu, but I love a good burger every now and then. I personally can't tell a flank steak from a strip steak, so I leave the real meat prep up to the professionals and hardly ever make them at home. However, I am a HUGE fan of Bobby Flay, and so when I stumbled across his newest, Burgers, Fries, and Shakes, at the library, I immediately brought it home and proceeded to salivate.

I dream of throwing down with him one day on his famous TV show, be it cupcakes, cookies, or even my chilis and soups, which many of you have told me are your favorites here at Spoonfoolery. But at least this cookbook has given me some confidence for summer grilling season. His basic burger recipe is the same throughout, but he spins each possibility for between your buns as anything but ordinary. From giant basil leaves in place of lettuce for his Trattoria Burger to a burger variation on the Cubano, today's "It" sandwich, Flay travels the globe in good flavor. Burgers such as the California (avocado, tomato, and watercress--what else were you expecting?), the Carolina (BBQ sauce and slaw), the Cheyenne (shoestring onion rings, bacon, and a to-die-for black-gold of a homemade BBQ sauce recipe that he gives you as well) represent this great nation of beef too. And the fries-and-onion-rings tutorial midway through the book is great for the frying illiterate, such as yours truly. I couldn't even deep fry the Indian stuff until very recently, so it's good to know some foolproof ways to handle a burger's best buddies.

The shakes portion of this cookbook simply made my day! Somehow, Flay makes it seem A-OK to prepare a 1,500-calorie meal at home, even with topping it off with one of these sweet-and-creamy indulgences. I see a Blackberry Cheesecake Milkshake or a Toasted Marshmallow Milkshake in my very near future. I am also realizing how my plan to borrow cookbooks from the library is slowly backfiring, as this is officially the third book I've borrowed lately and then purchased promptly afterward!

Perhaps what made a burger cookbook catch my eye in the first place was thoroughly enjoying one at State & Lake, inside the Wit Hotel in downtown Chicago. This is the quintessential gastropub, with a mighty fine beer list (16 on tap!) and even a reasonably priced wine list (for downtown Chicago). It's standard pub fare taken up a notch, with such recent fancy-pants items on the bar scene as salted cod brandade, savory beignets, and braised short ribs. The mac-n-cheese, which my husband sort of ate (but not really, since stout on draft generally replaces a meal for him in such places!) sports a little truffle oil but unfortunately was not cooked al dente, so I grew bored with it fast. However, my burger was nicely done (for some reason medium well seems to be a hard thing for a lot of places to accomplish these days), and the fries would probably meet Bobby Flay's standard--crispy on the outside, long and skinny enough to cook through well on the inside, with a minimal toss in salt and parsley flecks. Yum! I tend to do only half a burger in the restaurant and take the rest home for lunch the next day, and I must say, it heated up nicely and was just as enjoyable a day later. Now, if only they could master mac-n-cheese, and it'd get my total seal of gastropub approval, but then, I guess there's always Bobby Flay's Four Cheese Burger in the book to make up for that!

All this said about burgers, fries, shakes, and mac-n-cheese mistakes, I'd like to take this moment to introduce our latest addition to the Spoonfoolery editorial staff, Burger King. Burger King is a true connoisseur and hopes to take you all over Chicago (and perhaps this great nation) in search of the more perfect union of meat, bread, toppings, and fries. Look for his restaurant reviews and random research on America's favorite sandwich soon!

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