Skillet-Grilled Burgers and Oven-Baked Fries

There are fewer flavors better than a warm, juicy burger on soft bread with fresh tomatoes, onions and lettuce from the garden. Of course, when it’s 2 degrees in Cleveland with heavy January snow falling outside, there’s no grilling going on. I can’t wait for warmer weather to enjoy a nice, thick burger, so tonight we warm up inside with skillet-grilled burgers, oven-baked fries and wine while the snow flies outside.

Farm-raised hamburgers with baby swiss cheese, romaine lettuce and jalapenos with a side of french fries

Before I start the burgers, I preheat the oven and slide in a pan of French fries. These will be served with malt vinegar and ketchup. Because what’s a burger without a side of fries? So much for New Year’s resolution-inspired salads…I’ve only had one salad so far this year. But then again, this is only my first burger of the year, too, and we’re only a week in.

My hometown butcher packages ground beef in 1-lb. rolls, so I cut a thawed pound in half, set aside half of it for tomorrow, and cut the remainder in half again to make quarter-pound burger patties. I make an indentation in each mound of raw, red meat and pour in a couple teaspoons of locally made Honey Habanero Barbecue Sauce from Maize Valley Winery, which I encountered when I got to write the copy for their new website. The sauce gives the burgers extra moisture and flavor, and even though this one has a bit of a kick to it, it doesn’t make the burgers too spicy.

I also sprinkled several generous shakes of black pepper, sea salt and garlic powder onto each mound of beef. Then (this is the fun part), you mush each patty together in your hands till it’s consistently mixed, then pat it into a ball and flatten to desired size and thickness. Remember to wash your hands after touching raw meat!

Don’t forget to check the fries. Shake them, scoot them around, and turn them over so they cook evenly.

I preheated a ceramic skillet over the stovetop on medium heat. I let the patties sizzle in the skillet for a few minutes, till I could see the bottoms browning and they were firm enough to easily flip over. As soon as I flipped them, my man started preparing slices of onion, lettuce, jalapeno and baby Swiss cheese to top our burgers. When the burgers started to brown on the other side, leaving a thin sliver of red meat in the center, I melted a slice of cheese on each one for a minute before scooping them up out of the heat and into buns.

Farm-raised hamburgers with Maize Valley Honey Habanero Sauce, jalapenos, onion, lettuce and baby Swiss cheese, with a side of French fries.

Farm-raised hamburgers with Maize Valley Honey Habanero Sauce, jalapenos, onion, lettuce and baby Swiss cheese, with a side of French fries.

Between the jalapenos, the Honey Habanero Barbecue Sauce and the crunch of onion, there’s just enough zing in these burgers to warm us up on a cold, snowy night. We washed them down with a glass of Rihannon, a delicious red blend of Petite Sirah, Barbera and Zinfandel that was recently dethroned as our favorite red wine. Rihannon has a vivid bouquet of strawberries and blackberries, with a pronounced nose of jammy fruits. The flavors are dry but smooth and fruity, like a fermented jam that coats your mouth in cherry and berry juice before slowly dissipating into a bright, balanced acidity. It brings a nice sweetness to the heat of the burgers.

A few nights ago – with that salad, I might note – we discovered a new wine that rivals Rihannon for our vote as best red: Los Dos. A Grenache Syrah blend, Los Dos comes on with a comparably jammy bouquet of blackberries and blueberries. It’s fruit-forward from the first sip, smooth and silky on the palate with a well-structured balance of juicy berries and spicy pepper. Here’s a much more sophisticated review of the 2012 Los Dos than I could ever write, from the chairman of The Wine Institute of Las Vegas. For only $8 (compared to $12 for the Rihannon), this is a great value wine that is way too easy to drink!

Burgers, fries and wine (and perhaps a salad if you’re abiding by New Year’s resolutions) can taste just as great in the frigid winter as they do on a warm summer evening.


My follow-up to the Double Down just might be the McGangBang off McDonald’s secret menu. It’s fairly similar to my suggestion in the Double Down post to have them drop the buns and make a “sandwich with something delicious between two burgers,” except it’s got the buns too – it’s basically a chicken sandwich stuffed between two hamburger sandwiches. Uh, yum. And my side dish is going to be fries with special Big Mac sauce. Heart, get ready to attack.

mcdonalds mcgangbang secret menu

Forget dieting. My new diet is to try all the deliciously greasy concoctions I can. I’d rather live life eating all the junk I want than counting calories.