Welcome to The Great American Burger Bake-Off
GABBO IS COMING. It's Friday, and I get a little ridiculous. (More so than usual)
Hello! Welcome. It’s Friday. We’ve almost made it through another week. Congratulations to us all.
For the last 42 weeks straight here on The Action Cookbook Newsletter, I’ve spent Friday mornings sharing with you seven good things: recipes, cocktails, music, book and television recommendations, and an variety of other things I think you might brighten your weekend. Each of these collections caps with pictures of dogs — your dogs, the beloved companions of the readers and subscribers who’ve helped grow this newsletter into more than I ever expected it to be.
It’s been a blast doing these, and I won’t be stopping any time soon — I’ve got long lists of things I want to share in the future, and I hope you’ll continue to join me on these Friday morning journeys.
As you’ve surely seen me mention over the last few weeks, I’m transitioning to a paid subscriber-supported model here; though one newsletter per week will remain free to all, now two — including Fridays — will go to subscribers. I know it’s a big request to ask you to contribute, but I truly hope that you’ve found this a useful and enjoyable resource over the last year, and I hope you’ll consider it.
As an added incentive, paying subscribers will get access to index posts for all of the recipes (HERE) and cocktails (HERE) I’ve shared here so far, indexes that I’ll update to include each subsequent week’s addition.
Today? Consider today my most aggressive pitch of this concept, a murderer’s row of Really Good Things that, taken as a whole, truly captures what I’ve been trying to do here.
This is my thesis.
I always start things out with the food — this week, let’s start with a recipe someone would have to be truly mad to conceive of.
Truly mad… about bold flavors.
One of my favorite shows on television for many years has been the long-running British reality/competition show The Great British Bake-Off. It’s great in a way that I find many British reality shows to be and find many of their American analogues to fall short in: it’s subtle and calming, free of needless drama and manufactured characters. It showcases people who are very good at things doing those things very well. It’s also exposed me to a number of culinary creations I was previously unfamiliar with — incredibly arcane pastries, esoteric confections and complex constructions.
There’s one in particular that I’ve thought about for a while. One that I felt I had to try.
In the finale of Series 4 in 2013, one of the challenges the bakers took on was to make a “picnic pie” — a layered savory pie baked in a loaf pan, meant to resemble a picnic basket when finished and able to be sliced and served at room temperature later on. The winning baker in that challenge, Ruby Tandoh, created a Mediterranean-inspired vegetarian pie using couscous, halloumi, roasted peppers, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes and zucchini. It was, as so many things on the show, understated and elegant.
I am neither of those things, and a picnic pie from my kitchen could not be either.
But what would it be? What says “Action Cookbook”? What would a silly American like myself make if they were thrust into this challenge? They’d go all-American.
They’d make a loaded double cheeseburger picnic pie.
YOU: are you okay
ME: hard to say really
This was a venture that filled an entire afternoon, so if you’re looking for a way to stay busy, this is a great one. First, we’ll make a dough.
For the pastry:
600 grams (about 4 cups, but I like to weigh flour for consistency) all-purpose flour
2 sticks plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces ice-cold water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Dice the butter into small cubes, then smash those cubes with a fork. Fold them into the dry ingredients with the fork and mix until the butter is fully incorporated and the mixture has only small crumbs visible; a pastry cutter/dough blender or potato masher can be very helpful for this. Stir in the water and mix until a firm dough forms. Divide this into three inequal portions: first, divide out a quarter of the dough, then split the remainder in half. Wrap each portion separately in plastic and chill for at least half an hour.
Once chilled, roll one of the two larger portions thin, and cut into 1” wide strips; basket-weave these into a chilled metal loaf pan to create a lattice.
(This is the point where I admit that my wife, a far more skilled baker than I, gamely handled the pastry portions of this week’s recipe.)
Roll out the second larger portion to a rectangular sheet; lay it into the pan over the lattice to create a smooth inner casing. Roll out the small portion and cut into strips; form another lattice that will form the lid of your basket; set it aside.
Now it’s time to fill this bad boy:
1 lb ground beef, formed into two large, thin patties the length and width of your loaf pan and griddled until cooked through and crisp, then drained on paper towels
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese; preferably slices, or block cheese sliced into wide planks
1/2 lb bacon, cooked and drained
2 tomatoes, sliced thin, generously salted and placed on paper towels to drain for 20-30 minutes
Flat-cut (“sandwich stack”) dill pickles, pressed between paper towels to drain
Romaine lettuce, grilled if possible, then shredded very finely
Frozen crinkle-cut french fries, about 1/2 bag, cooked per package instructions
3 T each of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, mixed together
You’ll notice there’s a lot of draining on here — moisture is your enemy in making a filled pie like this. The last thing you want is it collapsing into a sloppy, wet mess, so pre-cooking and/or salting and draining the ingredients as much as possible before you even assemble can help avert that.
Now, let’s assemble. Within the prepared pastry case, layer the items in order, making each layer fill the entire footprint with little or no gaps:
1/2 of the cheddar cheese
1/2 of the burgers
all of the bacon
shredded lettuce (don’t fill the entire footprint)
cooked french fries
remainder of the burger
the burger sauce mixture
remainder of the cheese
Did I create a GIF of this? Yes. Yes I did.
Lay the dough lattice lid over top and crimp the edges tightly, then brush the top with a wash of one beaten egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place in a 350F oven for 70-75 minutes or until golden brown on top; you’ll want to err on the side of more done than less. (More on that in a moment).
At the end of that time, remove it from the oven (leave the oven on) and let cool for 20 minutes. With oven mitts or dishtowels, place a plate or cutting board over top and gently invert it to remove the pan; it should separate cleanly. Brush the exterior with more beaten egg, then return to the oven for 5-10 minutes to brown the sides.
Remove to a cooling rack; let it fully cool, at least an hour, for the fillings to set up. Once fully cooled, slice into portions about 1” thick (I found a bread knife worked well for this.)
I’m not going to lie: I spent the better part of a day on this and I had no idea if it would work. I was really sweating as it cooled, not sure if I’d wasted my afternoon and was going to end up with a disgusting mess on my hands. Then I sliced it.
I swear to you this: it was really, really good. I was confident that it would be funny and a good gimmick, but it was actually genuinely delicious. The only thing that I would’ve changed is that I baked for 65 minutes and the crust was slightly underdone (though still tasty) — another 10 minutes would’ve been ideal.
My entire family — including my skeptical-but-supportive wife and skeptical-and-never-supportive children — ate it and asked for seconds, and I ate the leftovers for lunch twice this week. I came here to make a monstrosity, and I made something delicious.
I am become Fieri, flavorer of towns.
6) Whew. I think I need a smoke and a coffee after that.
Have you had the internet coffee yet? C’mon, you know the one.
What do you mean you don’t know what I’m talking about?
In recent months, a simple coffee beverage has gone viral on Instagram, TikTok and the web at large. Conveniently for these sheltered-in-place times, it’s simple to make at home with just a few ingredients. It’s called Dalogna coffee, and it first became a trend in South Korea before spreading around the world.
All it requires is three things:
2 T instant coffee (it has to be instant)
2 T sugar
2 T hot water
That’s it. Combine those three ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer (you can whisk it by hand if you don’t have a mixer, but you’ll have to be ready to whisk vigorously), and mix for 3-4 minutes on high. It won’t look like anything’s happening at first, and then suddenly it’ll thicken, expand, and form into stiff peaks just like a beaten egg.
What you have here is coffee, but a very thick, very strong coffee. It’s usually served over milk and/or ice, and you’ll want to use the coffee itself sparingly — this isn’t a dash of milk in your coffee situation, it’s a dash of coffee in your milk, unless you want to be clinging to the ceiling later.
It’s tasty, but more than anything, it’s fun — it’s a gimmick, and I love gimmicks, especially ones that involve some form of low-grade kitchen alchemy. My next thought after making it, though, was of course “how can I make this into a cocktail?”
I searched online. I found a recipe that suggested mixing whiskey in with the instant coffee, sugar and water. I will not share this recipe because it absolutely did not work; I don’t purport to understand the science behind the reaction that makes granulated coffee, sugar and water form into a thick, creamy foam, but whatever it is, the whiskey killed that reaction, and it never formed up.
The booze would have to go in the milk, and that leads me to a classic cocktail: Milk Punch.
There’s countless variations on this classic — it can be made with bourbon, brandy, rum, or some combination of the three, but here’s the basic idea:
2 oz brown liquor (bourbon, brandy, rum)
2 oz heavy cream
1/2 oz simple syrup or confectioner’s sugar
1/8 oz vanilla extract
Shake it together over ice; strain into a chilled glass with a few ice cubes.
It’s rich, creamy and sweet — the perfect base for a dollop of Dalogna coffee. Of course, I wanted an extra edge to it. I wanted a little smoke to play along with the bitterness of the coffee, so after making the milk punch but before adding the coffee, I floated 1/2 oz of a heavily peated Islay scotch — Ardbeg, in my case — over top, pouring it slowly over the back of an inverted spoon.
Then I added the coffee mixture and dusted with a pinch of nutmeg and ground cayenne.
You could easily omit the scotch; you have to be a fan of peat for it to work (my wife, for one, hated the addition). For me, it was like sipping Irish coffee beside a campfire.
I call it Coffee and a Cigarette, and it’s a perfect late-afternoon/early-evening sip —perhaps after you’ve had a heavy, ridiculous meal. (See above.) Also, I served mine in a coupe glass because it photographed better, but a rocks glass would be ideal, so you can stir the coffee into the milk punch when you’re ready.
Hey, are you enjoying this newsletter? Tell all your friends!
YOUR FRIENDS: please stop sending me weird food emails
YOU: but the weird food man asked me to
5) I knew what I was getting into, and yet. And yet.
It’s unlikely that I’m going to be the first person to suggest that you listen to Reunions, the seventh studio album by Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit; knowing that many of you share my rough demographic cohort, there’s a decent chance you’ve already listened to it.
I still want to reflect on it this week.
I’ve followed Isbell’s work for nearly two decades, from his six-year, three-album run with one of America’s truly great bands, Drive-By Truckers, to his fledgling-then-titanic solo career. I first met some very good friends at the taping of his Live From Lincoln Center concert in 2014. I’m a big fan, is what I’m saying.
I know that few artists have the ability to absolutely gut me emotionally the way that Isbell does, and I went into my first listen of this album fully steeled against this possibility. I immediately fell in love with the beauty of “River”:
The river is my savior
She's running to the sea
And to reach her destination
Is to simply cease to be
And running till you're nothing
Sounds a lot like being free
So I'll lay myself inside her
And I'll let her carry me
Anyway, I cried a few times on the first listen through the album, but I thought I’d made it out fine.
Then he closed with “Letting You Go”.
CMON JASON I’VE GOT A DAY TO GET THROUGH HERE, MAN, YOU GOTTA WARN ME OR SOMETHING FIRST
4) Can I Kick It? by Idris Goodwin
I’ve said before in these pages that I don’t always find poetry to be accessible, but that I view this more as a personal failing than a criticism of the art form. With that said, I recently picked up Can I Kick It?, a collection by poet and playwright Idris Goodwin, and it immediately grabbed me.
Goodwin describes his work as “Breakbeat” poetry, and there’s a clear lyrical rhythm to it, drawing heavily on hip-hop and beat influences and referencing popular culture liberally. One poem re-imagines Back To The Future through an Afro-Futurist lens; another imagines a dialogue from Harriet Tubman to Kanye West, yet another conjures “Ferris Bueller’s Black Friend”.
Others, like “Taken”, burn with an electric edge:
The takers talkin’ ‘bout some ‘take the country back’
Because all they know is take
Took away lands from the indigenous
Took the Indian and “saved the child”
Took the profile, the headdress, the names, the profit
Took the Bible, made it a noose
Took the cross, set it blazing
The book is available through Haymarket Press, and (as of this weekend) is currently on sale. I highly recommend you give it a look.
3) Spies, conspiracies, and hair metal
You’re probably at least tangentially familiar with the German rock band Scorpions, if for nothing else than their 1984 single “Rock You Like A Hurricane”. They’re the apotheosis of ‘80s hair metal: bombastic, cheesy, simplistic and fun. What you might not know — as I did not know — is that another of their songs, the 1990 anthem “Wind of Change”, is one of the top-selling singles in record industry history with over 15 million copies sold.
The song, which was much bigger in Europe than here in the United States, is an anthem of change written shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lead singer Klaus Meine was inspired to write the song after a goodwill visit to the USSR during perestroika, so the story goes, and it became a defining pop-culture celebration of new freedoms.
Or maybe Meine didn’t write it.
Maybe the CIA did.
That’s a theory explored by the fascinating new podcast Wind of Change, released on Spotify this month. Following on a tip from a well-connected source, New Yorker journalist Patrick Radden Keefe investigates the possibility, while also providing a sprawling study of the US government’s covert Cold War-era efforts to use popular culture to gain a psychological edge.
2) We don’t get everything right, but sometimes we do.
There’s just so little to watch on television right now. Along with a large portion of the viewing public, I just finished watching a 10-hour documentary about Michael Jordan whose general thesis statement was “Michael Jordan was a megalomaniacal tyrant but that’s good”, and I’d probably watch another 10 hours of it if there were more. We’re starved for good stories right now, and especially ones that harken back to times when our situation as a country wasn’t so [waves hand generally at all the horrors] y’know.
That means it’s a great time to revisit The National Parks: America’s Best Idea, Ken Burns’ sprawling 12-hour documentary that originally aired in 2009.
The entire series is available for streaming on Amazon Prime right now. It’s the perfect sort of thing to put on in the background while you melt into the couch and stare at your phone. Not that I would ever do that sort of thing.
2B) BONUS THING I SHOULD MENTION
Have you ever considered launching a newsletter of your own, but you’re not sure how you’d grow it? The good people in charge at Substack have invited me to speak on this very topic for a new Writer Workshop Series that’ll be taking place over the coming weeks. Next Tuesday, May 26th at 2pm ET/11am PT, I’ll share my best advice for getting your first 1,000 email signups.
That’s right, I’m an expert! Please ignore everything you’ve seen over the last 2,500 words or so in considering whether or not you agree with that statement.
And now? As we do to close out Fridays here every week, LET’S LOOK AT SOME DOGS.
1) They’re all good dogs.
First up, @trevin_flick shares a very good dog:
Hi, I love the newsletter. Here’s a picture of my dog Kiley. She’s a three-year-old pup that has a ton of energy. She loves to swim, run, and chase after her ball.
This dog exudes energy. She’s got that look of “I am taking a break, but I will be recovered before you are and you’d better be ready”. Great dog.
Next up, @JackNowakowski shares a dog in an improbable pose:
This is Parker, he would be honored to be in the newsletter, he is my best friend/I hate him so much. We found him dirty roaming around near my wife's office last fall and after we spent a month trying to find the owner he has moved in with use. He is very energetic and is learning words which makes my life much harder. He loves walks and dinner or as we have taken to calling them the w-word and the d-word respectively. He hates the garbage truck and when we are not giving him attention which has made working from home a challenge at times like when we are on a call and no one is petting him or picking him up.
I mean, I know we’re a few years past the Condescending Wonka meme, but I’m not going to fault this dog for bringing it back. I think it’s amazing he figured out how to use the internet in the first place. Great dog.
Finally this week, @getgaryd shares quite a pair:
This is Harvey, and this old soul is Paul.
Wait. Harvey. Paul. Paul. Harvey.
[drops coffee mug, which shatters on the ground]
And now you know… the rest of the story. (Great dogs).
Thanks to each of you for sharing your wonderful canine friends with all of us; you can always submit your own pup by DMing me on Twitter or responding to this email.
And thank you, as always, for making The Action Cookbook Newsletter a part of your week. I hope you have a good Friday and a wonderful, safe, and healthy weekend.
— Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)