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06/21/2017

~The Ninety Nine Vermonster Cheddar Cheeseburger~

IMG_0498Ninety Nine is a restaurant and pub chain headquartered in Massachusetts, with over 100 locations throughout the Northeast.  With 47 locations in Massachusetts, 10 in Connecticut, 3 in Maine, 12 in New Hampshire and 2 in Rhode Island and 2 in Vermont, they know a thing or two about New-England-Style pub grub and hospitality.  They boast no-nonsense food at down-to-earth prices and "a passion to serve".  My one-and-only experience with a Ninety-Nine restaurant was in Vermont, and it was a very tasty one, in the form of a Vermonster of a cheeseburger.

99-logoWhile a big juicy cheeseburger with cheddar and bacon on it was neither new or surprising to me, I won't lie, it was the thought of sweet and savory sautéed onions and apples piled on top of it with a creamy maple syrup-laced mayonnaise slathered on the slightly-sweet potato roll that hooked me.  Once I read those words, I stopped reading the menu.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 7.06.06 AMNinety Nine flame broils all of their burgers, and they are indeed juicy with the signature charred taste (a direct result of that cooking method). That said, I am an indoor/fair-weather outdoor kinda gal, and, even over an open flame, give me a cast-iron skillet with a lid and I'll make you a great burger that will compete with anyones.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 7.06.33 AMGive me a skillet w/a lid & I'll make a burger that'll compete w/any.

While everyone, including me, likes a 'burger made over the high, but dry, heat of a charcoal or gas grill, I love a 'burger that is pan-seared, in its own juices, in a skillet.  I grew up eating them prepared exclusively in that manner, and, truthfully, before everyone had a grill in their backyard, so did everyone else.  Our grandmothers knew how to make great burgers -- moist and juicy with no lighter fluid or propane required.  Quite frankly, it's a lost art, and, I'm here to show you how to do it on your stovetop.  That said, in the Summer and Fall, I like to make 'burgers on my portable gas burner.  Why?  I can make them on my deck, your patio, and, at tailgate any time.

IMG_8577 IMG_8586 IMG_8593 IMG_8601Meet the Iwantani 35F portable butane stove.  With 15,000 BTU's it's a high-quality workhorse that comes in a nifty protective carry case too.  If you've always wanted a gas stove but circumstances prevent it, this $75-$80 piece of equipment is, without compromise, as good as any residential gas stove and far superior to every electric stove.  It turns on and off with one easy click (which is why it's been given the nickname "click-burner" stove) and regulates heat perfectly. On high, it's hot enough to stir-fry like a pro, and, on low, it will keep sauce simmering gently without any boil overs or fear of scorching.  It runs on inexpensive butane canisters (about $20 for a case of twelve) which will last 45-60 minutes each, depending on how high the flame is set.

Part One:  Making the Maple Mayonnaise

IMG_0482For the maple mayonnaise:

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup pure Vermont maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_0486~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, thoroughly stir together the mayonnaise, maple syrup and pepper.  Cover w/plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

Part Two:  Making the Toppings:

IMG_0494For the bacon and the sautéed onion and apple topping:

8  slices thick-sliced bacon bacon, fried crisp, drained & cut in half to form 16 pieces

3 1/2-4  cups peeled and 1/4"-thick sliced, "half-moon-shaped Vidalia onions, or other sweet onion (about 12 ounces)*

3 1/2-4 cups peeled and sliced Granny Smith or Gala apples (3 apples, about 8 ounces each prior to peeling)*

4  tablespoons salted butter + 2 tablespoons bacon drippings (reserved from above)

1  tablespoon sugar

2  tablespoons pure maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

*Note:  To insure even cooking, it is important to slice the onions and apples to a uniform thickness.  If you want them thicker, slice them thicker.  Also, don't worry if your apples turn a little brown while waiting to get added to the pan.  They are going to turn brown anyway in the skillet.

IMG_0528 IMG_0531 IMG_0534 IMG_0537~Step 1.  In 12" skillet, over medium- medium-high heat, fry bacon as directed.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Remove and discard all but about 2 tablespoons drippings from skillet.  Over low heat, melt butter into the bacon drippings.  Add and stir in the onions, until thoroughly combined.  Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have lost a lot of their moisture, are limp, and steamed through, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_0539 IMG_0542 IMG_0544 IMG_0548 IMG_0550~Step 2.  Add and stir the apples, sugar, maple syrup and pepper  into the onion mixture, until thoroughly combined.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the apples have lost their volume and are limp too, another 6 minutes.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Sauté, stirring constantly, like you would a stir-fry, 6 more minutes, until golden. Remove from heat and set aside (or, feel free to cook a bit longer if you want a deeper golden color*).

Note:  If deeper golden is desired, go another 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, but watch carefully as the sugar and maple syrups in this mixture can and will go from brown to burned in an instant.  

Part Three:  Making the Cheeseburgers

IMG_0556For 4 cheeseburgers and the assembly:

1 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

8  slices yellow cheddar cheese

all the fried bacon

all the onion and apple topping

all the maple mayonnaise 

4  potato hamburger rolls

IMG_0524 IMG_8638 IMG_8647~Step 1.  Divide the meat into 4, 6-ounce portions. Form each portion into a 4"-4 1/2"-round disc, approximately 1/2" thick. Place hamburgers in the skillet and season them liberally with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Turn the "click burner" on and adjust the heat to medium high.

IMG_8655 IMG_8665 IMG_8668 IMG_8673 IMG_0561~Step 2.  Cook 'burgers on first side six minutes.  Flip them over on their second sides, and, this time, lightly season them (less than the first side) with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Reduce heat to medium- medium-low and continue to cook another six minutes.  Place two slices of cheese on each 'burger, put lid on skillet, turn heat off, and wait, for the cheese to melt, 1-1 1/2 minutes.

Slather each potato roll w/maple mayo, place a cheddar-'burger on top + two half-slices bacon & a big scoop of onion-apple sauté:

IMG_0506Enjoy every last delightful sweet, savory & slightly-salty bite:

IMG_0583The Ninety Nine Vermonster Cheddar Cheeseburger:  Recipe yields 4 large cheeseburgers.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; 12" skillet w/lid; paper towels; cutting board; vegetable peeler; paring knife; large slotted spoon; spatula

IMG_8160Cook's Note:  For those who don't eat red meat, Ninety Nine will happily make you a turkey burger instead.  For those who want to ~ Know the Pros & 'Cons' of Ground Turkey or Beef ~, just read my post.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

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