Khaki Wishes and Cookie Dreams

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I was never a Girl Scout. In lieu of those activities, my mom encouraged me take ballet and tap dance classes, piano lessons and vocal coaching. I was a bit of a singer/dancer as a child, taking any chance I could to steal the limelight to sing in front of an audience (large or small). I loved singing and dancing so much that I didn’t miss or even notice the other activities I could’ve been doing with other kids my age. It wasn’t until I was about 12 years old when I first saw Troop Beverly Hills, a movie about a group of Wilderness Girls from the 90210, led by the fierce (and amazingly dressed) Shelley Long.

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Troop Beverly Hills is one of my favorite movies, and after re-watching it in my 20s I immediately recognized one of my favorite artists, a young Jenny Lewis. In fact, the movie is flooded with young stars you may recognize.

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Looking back, I kind of wish I would’ve been a Wilderness Girl, just so that I could sing the “Cookie Time” song.

So right now (with all of my social media channels flooded with posts of Girl Scout cookies) I’m craving Thin Mints so very much. But no such luck on finding any Girl Scout cookie sales booths. Being the proactive and slightly impatient person that I am, I decided to create my own. The resulting recipe is vegan-optional (if you choose to use margarine instead of butter) and has a very subtle coconut flavor. ‘Cause mint and coconut go together like khaki and green, right? I’m calling ’em “Thick Mints” for obvious reasons.

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Homemade Thick Mints
Recipe slightly adapted from BakingBites.com
Yields about 2 1/2 dozen

INGREDIENTS
For the cookies:
8 ounces butter (or margarine)
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup rice flour (I used Mochiko)
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups all purpose flour

For the dipping chocolate:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon peppermint extract
1/8 cup canola oil

METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter (or margarine) and sugar till fully incorporated. Stir in the salt, extracts, coconut milk and cocoa powder. Mix until the cocoa powder is integrated and the batter looks like chocolate frosting. Add the flours and mix till just combined, making sure to not over-mix.

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Form the dough into a cylinder-like roll (think rolling pin-sized). Wrap the dough completely in Saran or other plastic wrap tightly. Place the dough into the freezer for at least 3 hours or overnight.

After properly resting, remove dough from the freezer and carefully discard plastic wrap. Using a sharp serrated knife cut dough into 1/2-inch discs, slowly cutting so as to not break the dough.

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Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for 11-13 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack, about 5 minutes.

While the cookies bake, make the peppermint coating. Heat a sauce pot of water till boiling. Place the baking chocolate into a heat-resistant bowl over the boiling water, making sure not to get water  into the chocolate.

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(Cook’s Note: I have read recipes online instructing to place chocolate into a microwave. Please, I repeat, please don’t do that. Heating chocolate in the microwave will oftentimes scorch it. Chocolate is a temperamental food that needs to be treated carefully. On that note, please don’t ever heat chocolate over a direct flame. Melting chocolate over a double-boiler creates a more controllable heat source.)

Once the chocolate has melted, stir in the peppermint extract. Then slowly add in the oil to thin it out.

Slowly drop the cookies into the melted chocolate. Turn to coat the cookies entirely, then lift the cookie out of the chocolate with a rubber spatula.

Place the dipped cookies onto a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Place the cookies in the freezer to set for at least an hour, preferably overnight if you’re patient!

Now it’s “cookie time, it’s cookie time, it’s cookie time!”

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots are property of Weintraub Entertainment Group)

Recreating…

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I’ve been a little homesick lately. Now don’t get me wrong–I LOVE my new city. I first publicly declared it here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my old home. Oakland was my residence for over 4 years. Perhaps not a long time for some, but for me, (the type of person who can’t sit still in one place for too long) Oakland was the closest thing I had to a permanent home in my adult years.

When I decided to move out of the Bay Area, I left behind a group of friends I like to call my second family. The faces I met at the various jobs I worked, the classmates I met in culinary school, and the friends I was lucky to reconnect with from high school. Those people are my family. I hold them so dearly to heart, I miss them every day.

Another big part of Oakland that I miss is the food. The Bay Area has a plethora of amazing restaurants. I was lucky enough to work in a few of them, as well as befriend some folks who did as well. One of the best restaurants in Oakland (in my humble opinion) is Ramen Shop. The restaurant hosts some of the best ramen I’ve had in the States. But one of the menu items I still can’t get out of my head is their dessert. Particularly, their Black Sesame Ice Cream Sandwich (with brown sugar cookies).

It’s a delicious pairing–like a vanilla-hued, silk-blend Stella McCartney pantsuit with nude strappy leather Céline heels. It’s a delicate match of toasted and creamy.

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I’ve made a few attempts at recreating this recipe, and the one I’m sharing with you tastes as close to the original that I could construct. If you ever find yourself in the East Bay, you’ve got to try out Ramen Shop. And for those of you (us) that aren’t, test out my recipe below to hold you over until then.

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Black Sesame Ice Cream Sandwiches
Yields 6 sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
Black Sesame Seed Ice Cream
Brown Butter Sugar Cookies

METHOD
Turn 12 cookies face up onto the countertop. Using an ice cream scoop, take 1/2 cup of ice cream and place each scoop onto 6 of the cookies. Using an offset spatula, spread evenly to the edges. Top the ice cream with a second cookie and press down to adhere. Freeze until solid, about an hour.

6 Shades of Grey

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This recipe is so amazing on its own. But with the addition of the Brown Butter Sugar Cookies it packs a punch full of delicate, creamy, and nutty flavor.
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Black Sesame Seed Ice Cream
Recipe slightly adapted from My Second Breakfast

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PASTE
1/2 cup black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons honey

FOR THE ICE CREAM BASE
black sesame paste
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

METHOD
In a small, dry, non-stick pan or cast-iron skillet, toast sesame seeds over medium heat until they start to pop and you start to smell a subtle nutty aroma.

Set aside to cool.

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Once cool, grind in a spice grinder until a paste begins to form. Add honey. Grind until the sesame seeds are in a paste-like consistency and hold together when the mixture is squeezed between your fingers.

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FOR THE ICE CREAM
In a small pot, heat up milk, sugar, sesame paste, and salt, stirring until sugar dissolves. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks until they start to turn light in color. Slowly add the warmed milk mixture to the eggs, whisking all the time (need to add a bit at a time so that the eggs don’t curdle).

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Once the milk is fully incorporated into the eggs, return the mixture to the pot and heat over medium heat, stirring, until thickened. The mixture should coat the back of a spoon and hold a line. Pour mixture into cold cream and add vanilla. Mix until combined.

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Place into the refrigerator to cool down for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. If you want to speed up the process, you can place the bowl with the ice cream mixture into an ice bath and stir, but will still need to store in fridge till fully cooled down.

Churn the ice cream in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker (mine is still in California…insert sad face emoji here) you can line a loaf pan or other freezer-safe container with plastic wrap and place the ice cream base in it. You will need to mix it with a spoon after the first 2 hours, then return it back to the freezer. Mix it second time after 2 more hours, spreading the top surface evenly with a rubber spatula. Then, place another piece of plastic wrap onto the top, lightly touching the surface. This way, the ice cream won’t have ice crystals at the top once fully frozen.

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Must Be a Full Moon

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Let’s take a few minutes to watch this before we continue.

Got it? Good. ‘Cause I’d totally eat the moon if it was made of these chewy cookies. (And heck, I’d have seconds. And thirds.) Although they’re perfect on their own, I strongly suggest you make the Black Sesame Ice Cream to go with. They are so good together. Kinda like Will Ferrell and Jeff Goldblum in that SNL skit.

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Brown Butter Sugar Cookies
Recipe adapted from Food Network
Yields 12 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

Melt the butter into a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until the butter is a deep golden brown. Remove from the heat and place the butter into a large bowl to cool.

Once the butter is cooled down, add the brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar and stir until smooth. Stir in the egg and vanilla extract, mixing until well combined.

In another medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry mixture to the butter mixture and stir until well incorporated and smooth, about a minute.

Add the rest of the granulated sugar to a plate. Divide the dough into 12 equal-sized balls and roll them in the sugar. Arrange the dough on the parchment paper lined sheet tray at least 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Cool the cookies on the sheet tray for 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack for another 10 minutes.

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A Sweet and a Meat

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I last travelled to the Philippines over 15 years ago with my family. My aunt and her husband were renewing their vows on their 25th wedding anniversary in the Philippines where they met as teenagers. At least, that’s how I remember the story. Our entire family on my mom’s side went to the islands to celebrate this beautiful occasion.

My mom, born and raised in the Philippines, had not been back to the homeland since she was about 20 years old.  My mom was really excited to show me, my brother and father, where she grew up. We got to see the grade school she attended and the house she lived in as a child with her other nine siblings. It was a sweet and humbling experience.

Being half-Filipino, I was only exposed to, I guess you can say, half of the cuisine. While my other half was exposed to the Italian-Spanish-German American cuisines my dad was brought up with. When we stayed in the Philippines for the month we were there, my brother and I had the same breakfast every day: longanissa (Filipino sweet pork sausage) or beef tapa with garlic fried rice and a fried egg (a longasilog) with ube ice cream. (We indulged. We were on vacation!)

A recent trip to the local Asian food supermarket gave me flashbacks to my childhood and that family vacation, where I found longanissa and ube ice cream in the frozen food aisle! I was giddy with excitement. For this week, I posted a recipe on homemade English Muffins. Then I thought afterward, why don’t I make my own sausage breakfast sandwich with the muffins and longanissa? Why not add an egg and cheese, too? This dish is a sweet little mish-mash of my Filipino-American heritage. And I’m happy to share it with you!

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Filipino-Style Breakfast Sausage Sandwich
Yields 1 sandwich

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 links longanissa sausage, casings removed
1 slice sharp cheddar cheese
1 egg
salt and pepper, to taste
1 ea. sandwich-size English Muffin
butter, for spreading

METHOD
Defrost the sausage (if frozen). Remove the sausage from the casing by using a knife to cut a small slit. Shape the meat into an equal-shaped patty. Heat a non-stick skillet or cast-iron to medium-high heat. Drizzle the pan with the oil and place the sausage patty onto the skillet, creating a nice sear on the side. Cook it for about 4 minutes. Flip the patty and cook for another 4 minutes. Check the center for doneness. Cook further if needed. Turn off the heat and place the cheese on top of the sausage patty. Use the skillet’s lid to cover the patty, allowing the residual heat to melt the cheese.

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In another skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, making sure the entire base of the pan is coated evenly. Crack the egg into the pan, allowing the egg to cook fully. Swirl the pan a bit to make sure the white is entirely cooked. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.

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Cut the English muffin in half and place into the toaster to re-heat. Spread some butter on the inside of the bread and place the sausage with cheese onto the base. Top with the egg and cover with the other half of the muffin. Easy.

Nooks and Jammies

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As a child of the ’80s, I can recall watching some of the best commercials like it was just yesterday. Remember this one? Thomas’ English Muffins were a breakfast mainstay when I was a kid. The “nooks and crannies” are key–they’re like little pools collecting all the butter and jam or whatever you put on the bread.

I’m a breakfast person but I’m always on the go in the mornings, so it’s sometimes difficult to have a decent breakfast before I start my day. Making these homemade English muffins ahead of time is a great option when you’re on-the-go like me. And the best part is, you can top them with whatever butter, jam, or spread you like. Or you can make your very own breakfast sandwiches. Endless options, really.

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Homemade English Muffins
Recipe slightly adapted from The Woks of Life
Yields 14 muffins or 7 sandwich-size muffins

INGREDIENTS
3 2/3 cups flour, plus more for kneading
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup lukewarm water
2/3 cup plain yogurt
semolina flour, for sprinkling
canola oil, for frying

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METHOD

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast and salt. Add water and yogurt, and mix into a soft dough. Knead the mixture for about 10 minutes, until smooth, adding more flour if it gets too sticky. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.

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Roll out the dough to a thickness of about ¾ inch. Cut out 14 circles with a 3-inch round cutter (I used a Mason jar lid). Sprinkle a sheet tray with semolina. Cover the portioned muffins with a damp towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until almost doubled in size.

For sandwich-size muffins (like the ones pictured above)  pair up the muffins and stick them together my pinching the side creases with the tips of your fingers to create a seam for one large muffin. Repeat this process for as many larger-size muffins you want to make.
(Cook’s note: I do this step after the muffins have been proofed because the slight separation of the two muffin halves post-proofing makes it super easy to cut them in half at serving.) 

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a flat griddle pan to medium-high heat and brush with oil. Add the muffins and cook for 6 minutes, three minutes per side, till golden brown. Once both sides have been seared, transfer to a sheet tray and finish in the oven for about 3-6 minutes. Serve with butter, jam and coffee.

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Do Fries Come With That Steak?

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I love Peruvian food. Like, I loooooooove it. A lot.

Peruvian cuisine is special in that it celebrates a vast cultural mélange–lending itself to Inkan, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, African, and Italian influences. The food is as deeply rooted in tradition as it is culturally rich.

I was first introduced to Peruvian cuisine 7 years ago through my friend Yolie, when I was living in Los Angeles. She took me to this little South Bay gem heralded by all the in-the-know locals–a family-owned Peruvian chain called El Pollo Inka. 

And let me tell you, I still have cravings for their Pollo a la Brasa and Aguadito soup with extra aji verde. But my love…<raises both arms into the air> my LOVE, is for their famous, Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef).

<Arms are still in the air> I can’t even begin to express how much I miss those tender chunks of wok-fried steak, crispy French fries with tomatoes, sweet red onions, fresh herbs, aji amarillo and soy sauce atop a bed of steamed rice. My body craves it like how I imagine a heroin addict yearns for another high–ploddingly reaching for the syringe:

“Just one more. One more hit is all it will take,” I can hear the addict saying.

But Lomo Saltado is a healthy addiction that I can speak openly about without reservations. It is the one dish I will always order at every Peruvian restaurant I encounter in my travels. San Francisco-based restaurant, Limón, has an exceptional take.

Lomo Saltado is a Chifa dish–the name for Peruvian-Chinese cuisine. Chifa comes from the Mandarin word, chī fàn, which means “to eat” or some will argue, specifically “to eat rice.” The dish is a perfect example of old- and new-world fusion.

As with most traditional dishes, recipes differ ever so slightly, depending on the kitchen. This recipe is an amalgam of the three very different versions I cited above.

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Lomo Saltado
Yields 2-4 servings

FOR THE MARINADE

INGREDIENTS
1 pound sirloin steak, cut into medium-sized strips
2 each garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar works, too)
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

METHOD
Place all items in a medium-sized bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

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FOR THE STIR-FRY

INGREDIENTS
2 large Russet potatoes, washed + peeled, cut into matchsticks
vegetable oil, for frying
1 medium red onion, cut into thick wedges
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 amarillo chile, deseeded and julienned*
(*Cook’s note: aji amarillos are often hard to find. If that’s the case for you, substitute for 1 serrano chile)
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
4 cups steamed rice

METHOD
Fill a deep, heavy-bottomed pan (or deep-fryer) halfway with oil. Heat to 300 degrees. Fry potatoes for about 10 minutes or until softened. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place onto a plate with paper towel to drain excess oil.

Crank up the heat to about 375 degrees. Return the fries to the fryer and cook for an additional 5 minutes and golden brown. Remove from the oil and drain, keeping them in a warm place while you do the stir-fry.

Heat a deep cast-iron skillet or wok over medium-high heat with a tablespoon of oil. Drain the meat from the marinade (keep the marinade!) and when the oil is hot, add the meat. Use a wooden spoon to quickly sear the meat. Lower to medium heat, add the onion, stir-frying for about 2 minutes. Then add the tomato and chile. Cook for 1 minute. Then pour over the marinade. Allow the meat and vegetables to fully cook. Turn off the heat and add the reserved French fries to coat. Sprinkle with the cilantro and stir. Pour over the steamed rice and serve.

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Visions of a Cheeseburger

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Arguably the best burger I’ve ever had (thus far) is from Father’s Office, a gastropub with two locations in L.A. The famous, “Father’s Office Burger” has been garnered as the very first “Gourmet Burger,” created by FO’s Owner-Executive Chef Sang Yoon, in 2001. (That’s the Chef Sang, who you may’ve seen on the last season of  Top Chef Masters.)

The dry-aged beef patty is topped with a French onion soup-like jam, applewood-smoked bacon compote, melted gruyere and bleu cheese and a bed of arugula. The gastropub has a very strict no-substitutions, no modifications policy. Don’t even think about asking for ketchup–that’s considered taboo at the Office.

My first dining experience at FO was 9 years ago with my good friend Connie, who took me to this place that she deemed had “the best burger, EVER.” That’s pretty big shoes to fill, I thought. As we sat at the dimly lit bar, she warned me right away not to ask for any condiments or to even try to modify the burger in any way. “I’m not a fan of Bleu cheese,” I said. “Trust me, it’s good,” she assured me. The first bite was this incredible mouth-watering, melt-in-your-mouth explosion of flavors: the umami from the beef, the sweetness from the caramelized onions, the hint of smokiness from the bacon, the tang from the bleu cheese and the peppery and crunchy bite from the arugula. I couldn’t believe it. She was right: hand’s down, this is truly the best burger I’ve ever had.

Since my move almost 4 years ago to the East Bay, I often crave that L.A. burger that reminds me of home. For those of you who have never tried the Father’s Office burger, you’re in luck. With a little research, recipe testing in my kitchen, and taste memory, I’ve found a recipe that tastes as close to the real thing as possible. Of course, nothing beats the original, but until my next trek down south, this will do.

Who makes the best burger you’ve ever had? Share your answers in the comments below! I’d love to hear your stories and suggestions!

The Father’s Office Burger
Recipe slightly adapted from Bakelist
Yields 2 burgers

For the Balsamic Bacon Onion Jam

INGREDIENTS
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 large yellow onion, peeled and julienned
4 slices applewood bacon, cut into lardons
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

METHOD
Heat a saute pan over medium-high. Once hot, add a tablespoon of EVOO and bacon into the pan with the onions, stirring occasionally. Once the onions become translucent in color, lower the heat to medium, continuing to render out the bacon fat. If the bacon begins to burn before the onions caramelize, add some water to the pan and lower the heat. This should help.

Once the onions begin to turn a golden brown color, add the balsamic vinegar and water to the pan. Cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until all of the liquid is dissolved. Season to taste. Remove from the heat.

For the Burgers

INGREDIENTS
14 ounces ground beef (preferably dry-aged)
2 buns, buttered and lightly toasted
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated
2 ounces Bleu cheese crumbles
1/2 cup baby arugula, washed and patted dry
*1/2 cup garlic aioli (see my recipe HERE)

METHOD
Heat a cast-iron skillet, grill or, non-stick pan with a little oil over medium-high heat.

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The crispy cheese bits that hit the pan are the best snacks!

While you’re waiting for your pan to heat up, shape the beef into two 7-ounce patties. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Place the patties onto the pan and allow to sear for 3-4 minutes per side. In the last minute of cooking, place the cheeses atop each patty. Cover with a lid for another minute or until melted.

Butter the burger buns and place on the grill or oven on broil for 1-2 minutes, just until lightly toasted.

ASSEMBLY

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This aioli is seriously good for French fry dipping


Spread the toasted buns with the garlic aioli.

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The more cheese, the better.

Top the bottom bun with a patty.

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This just keeps on getting better, right?

Then add 1-2 tablespoons of the balsamic onion-bacon jam.

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If you like, you can place more arugula into a small bowl, hit it with a pinch of salt, a splash of EVOO, some freshly ground black pepper, and mix it together for a side salad in lieu of fries.

Finish with the arugula, then the top bun. Serve with shoestring fries and the rest of your aioli.