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Easy Indoor Grilling

wolfgangI feel lucky to live in a part of the country where the weather makes it possible to grill outdoors almost year round if you want to. But I also know that many diehard lovers of grilling won't let a little sub-freezing weather keep them from their favorite cooking method. They'll put on several layers of clothing, heavy gloves, and hats with earflaps just so they can enjoy grilled food.

While I respect such grilling fanatics, I've got to admit that I prefer a warm kitchen to a frosty backyard. That's one of the many reasons why I enjoy cooking with those fun little hinged electric indoor grills you use on your kitchen countertop, sometimes referred to as "contact grills."

With their hot, nonstick-coated ridged metal plates, these inexpensive appliances produce results surprisingly similar to what you can get from your backyard grill. Sure, live flames aren't involved. Neither is the extra flavor of wood smoke. But the searing heat of these devices does a good job of caramelizing the surfaces of food wherever they come in direct contact, producing great flavor. And the food is ready in half the time of conventional grilling, since it cooks from both sides at once. (You can get similar results, by the way, from electric panini machines.)

No wonder so many people count indoor grills as among their favorite appliances. I love mine and have lots of fun coming up with delicious new recipes for it. I'm happy to share one of those recipes with you here, for delicious dinnertime burgers with a difference.

Among the big challenges with any burger, however you cook it, is keeping the patty moist, flavorful and light. I've found that one of the best ways to achieve all these qualities is to incorporate into the mixture some moist cooked vegetables of the sort that are sometimes referred to as "meaty," especially eggplant and mushrooms. Doing this also achieves two other desirable goals: it makes the meat go farther; and it sneaks some vegetables into children, or other family members, who might otherwise resist them. Such a treatment works well not just with the usual beef used to make burgers but also with any other kind of ground meat or poultry you might like to use.

Serve the cooked patties on buns, accompanied by sliced tomatoes, pickles, lettuce leaves, and your favorite condiments. Or plate them bunless, with your favorite tomato sauce or with a sauce of more sauteed mushrooms and garlic that you simmer with canned broth until the liquid reduces and thickens. Add mashed potatoes and a side of other vegetables that you've cooked on the indoor grill, and there you have it: a delicious indoor winter cookout!



Serves 6 to 8

4 slices globe eggplant, each about 1/2 inch thick

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the eggplant

2 medium shallots, minced

1/2 pound organic mushrooms, trimmed, wiped clean, and coarsely chopped


Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup heavy organic cream

2 pounds ground organic beef, pork, veal, lamb, turkey, chicken, or any combination you like

2 large cage-free eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

Preheat an electric panini maker or a double-sided countertop grill.

Brush the eggplant slices on both sides with some olive oil. Place them in the panini maker or grill, close the lid, and cook until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. (Alternatively, cook them under a hot broiler, turning once, about 6 to 8 minutes total.) Turn off the heat, remove the eggplant slices to a plate, and let them cool.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and saute them, stirring frequently, until they turn pale golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and saute, stirring frequently, until they have softened, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Pour in the cream and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has reduced to form a fairly thick paste, with no excess liquid, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Remove the skillet from the heat, transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl, and let it cool for about 10 minutes.

Chop the cooled eggplant and add it to the mixing bowl along with the ground meat, eggs, garlic, cumin, thyme, and a little salt and pepper. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly blended.

Reheat the panini maker or double-sided grill (or heat a large skillet over medium-high heat). With moistened hands, form the mixture into large, square patties about 3-by-3 inches and 3/4 inch thick. Place as many patties on the cooking surface as will fit comfortably, close the lid, and cook until nicely browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes. (Or heat a little olive oil in the skillet and cook the patties for 3-1/2 to 4 minutes per side.) Transfer the patties to a heated platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm while you cook any remaining batches.

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