Wednesday, April 8, 2009



Ah, looking forward to a homecooked meal way back in 1964... or maybe not!

Surfing through my favorite food blogs, I stumbled upon Domestic Muse and found myself laughing out loud! Actually shrieking with laughter. She is hosting THE 1ST ANNUAL EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN VINTAGE RECIPE CONTEST. She has asked us to pull out those old hand-written recipes of our youth, dust off the favorite family recipes, and re-create a “vintage” dish that we would love to see come back into vogue. Brilliant idea and what fun! But little does she know…

Anyone that has followed my blog from its earliest days has read about my mom’s cooking, the liver fried to resemble old shoe leather, baked fish overcooked and dry, cabbage soup that is best left undescribed…. my mother, and heaven knows we all love her, was not the best of home cooks, her heirloom dishes, recipes handed down mother-to-daughter, were enough to make us cringe and grab for the ketchup bottle. The canned vegetables, the boxed mixes (just add meat and water), the hot dogs served with her fabulous home fries were perfectly fine, but a vintage, family recipe that I would want to see come back into vogue? Not likely! Well, this took a bit of thinking…

Over the course of my last few trips home to mom’s house, I have pilfered so many of her old cookbooks, Joy of Cooking, The Settlement Cookbook by Mrs. Simon Kander (don’t you love those old cookbooks written by women who still went by their husband’s name?), Secrets of Better Cooking, coming across, oh joy! the actual recipes she used for meatloaf (who said “lead weight”?), salmon cakes (canned tuna, but these I actually loved!) and something similar to her Baked Red Snapper.

I also grabbed up handfuls of old promotional pamphlets put out by food companies offering recipes using their products, and, on my last trip home, I hit the jackpot, actually stumbling upon my old 7th-grade Home Economics notebook, complete with all of the recipes we learned how to make for this class: Chocolate Pudding (the teacher marked it “Neat”), Club Chicken Casserole and, heaven forbid! Cream Cheese Dainties! I had thought of making this oh-so 70’s treat for the Vintage Recipe Contest, I mean, who else would make these? But the list of ingredients was daunting to say the least: 2 sticks of butter, 6-oz package of cream cheese, 1 cup sugar, 2 cups flours and all rolled in crushed Rice Crispies cereal! I mean, who in my house (in their right mind) would eat these things?

But then a truly brilliant idea struck! One thing my mom made that we all loved, that we clamored for, that was so special, so exciting to eat was... Surprise Burgers! Mmmm…. hamburger patties split in two and filled with spaghetti sauce and a slice of American cheese, then sealed up and fried. Wow! This was a Kid’s Dream Meal! Out with the boring, the usual and in with the surprise! I can see the tv commercial for this now: “Why serve those boring burgers when you can surprise them with a mouthful of fun?” Yah!!!!

The recipe for this burger delight came from, yes, a product promotional pamphlet: the Hunt’s Tomato Sauce pamphlet “21 New Ways to Serve Hamburger (Hamburger Loves Hunt’s Tomato Sauce)”, printed in 1964. I have changed the recipe only insofar as, living in France, I can’t get the true jarred ingredients, but here goes….

SURPRISE BURGERS for a family of 4

20 oz (600 g) ground beef – or, as I did, I got the butcher to weigh me out 4 medium-sized burgers 5 oz (150 g) each
Your favorite jarred spaghetti or tomato sauce (you’ll be using 4 generous tablespoons)
4 slices (processed, of course!) American cheese (ours are a mix of emmenthal and cheddar)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, your favorite steak seasoning if you like

I took each pre-made hamburger patty, divided it into 2 equal pieces and rolled each half into a ball. If you have just a package of ground beef, divide the meat into 8 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.

Place each ball of ground meat between 2 squares of waxed or parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, carefully roll and flatten each ball into a thin disc, just larger and wider than a square of cheese, working 2 at a time (one Surprise Burger).

Remove the top piece of waxed paper and spread one disc with a generous tablespoon of the spaghetti or tomato sauce.

Lay a slice of American cheese on top of the sauce.

Sprinkle the other disc with salt and pepper and steak seasoning if using. Carefully flip this disc over onto the prepared disc. Fiddling with the meat if need be, seal the edges, enclosing the sauce and cheese inside the two layers of burger.

Put aside until you have prepared all 4 Surprise Burgers with the remaining ground beef.

Simply fry these delights as you would any hamburger (I do this in a non-stick pan so I don’t have to use any fat or grease). As they are a bit delicate to turn (you don’t want the top half sliding off), make sure they are completely cooked and well browned underneath before flipping them to cook the other side. Make sure they are well cooked all the way through so the sauce is hot and the cheese melted (I took mine off a bit too soon).

Enjoy your Surprise Burgers on a bun with chips or fries or on the plate with baked potatoes (filled with gobs of butter and sour cream, of course!) and a salad of iceburg lettuce with bottled Italian dressing.

Addendum : my very French older son asked me in a crazed voice :”Cheese in the middle? Who puts cheese in the middle of a hamburger?” which in his language means “You are absolutely nuts!” Oh, if he only knew!


Chef E said...

Now I have to say, that is one of those funny recipes from way back then, but I would like to place my order for one medium well, and don't hold back on any pickles or onions I want a burger!

Jamie said...

Chef E - I did forget the dill pickle slices! You are right! But as I said, I undercooked mine and the cheese wasn't completely melted, so the cheese dictates the cooking time! And though my son was horrified, I LOVE this recipe!

Chef E said...

If you liked my legion of peeps on the Farro post then go vote for me here!


Sorry for trying to get your vote, but I am feeling a bit awnry today! Yes, I put this on my list for my culinary students to make one day...I will call it a 'Vintage' Class that day! Thanks

cooknkate said...

We shred the cheese and mix it into the meat with spaghetti sauce and call them Pizza Burgers. The kids devour them!!

Yours look tasty too!

girlichef said...

This is great! What a blast from the past...and just as good now :)

asiangrrl said...

Jamie, you are making me nostalgic for the seventies, and I was a toddler then. These burgers look good enough to make me cry. Yum.

Donna-FFW said...

What a fantastic entry for the contest..

Sarah Herman said...

This recipe definately reminds me of my mom's cooking! Simple and good. Can't believe your son didn't like it!

Jamie said...

Sarah: he never actually said if he liked it or not (he didn't eat at the same time as we did that night!) just that he thought it (and I as an extension) was nuts!

Kate: yeah Pizza Burgers! Same thing and so yummy!

And everyone: absolutely a Blast from the Past. *sigh* oh those good old days!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I love old cookbooks! These surprise burgers look appetizing! now, I'm hungry like a lion...

Happy Easter!



hungerfornewways said...

Oh my gosh....what a gorgeous blog!

And what a fun idea. I will have to look into the contest...

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Love the old cookbooks. I was a young bride in the early seventies and just learning how to cook. Oops, I'm giving away my age; oh well. Books didn't have pretty colored pictures like they do now. You brought back a lot of great memories. Burgers are always one of my favorites.
Happy Easter to you and your family.

mlaiuppa said...

Unfortunately, the contest deadline was April 1.

I submitted my recipe anway.

Try it if you like. Grandma's Butterzueg cookies. Do NOT substitute. If you don't use lard, you'll get hockey pucks. Trust me. We learned this from experience.

I think lard has gotten a bad rap. Sure, you shouldn't overdo it. But in moderation, it's not such a bad thing. And in some cases, there is no substitution. I know. My Mom and I tried with this recipe. One year we wanted to be more health conscious so we substituted Crisco for the lard. Big mistake. We ended up with hockey pucks. We literally couldn't bite these cookies. I think we took a hammer to one. They all went into the trash and we started over with lard.

These cookies are heavenly. And as long as you only eat one or two, I don't think you need to worry about your cholesterol.

I love them fresh made the first day. They are not overly sweet and the cinnamon/sugar dusting is just right. No icing, No sprinkles, just as they are.

And you can also use your Brian cookie cutter.

mlaiuppa said...

My Mother's favorite cookbook is the Hood Basic Cookbook - Heseltine and Dow © 1947. She got one when she was first married. She also has a Storecast Cookbook - Wallace © 1951. I've repaired both for her as they're quite worn now. My personal favorites are my Nitty Gritty books and those published by Sunset Magazine. My all time favorite Sunsets are the Vegetarian and International Vegetarian, even though I am not a vegetarian. Vegetarian Epicure are nice too. I also have a set of tall, narrow cookbooks put out by HP Books circa 1988. My favorite is the book of Cookies by Pat Alburey. There is a key lime cookie in there to die for. Labor intensive but worth it. It is also the only recipe book I have with a recipe for water crackers.

Karen Brown Letarte said...

OMG, *I* was shrieking with laughter reading your post, Jamie! It made me think of Ruth Reichel's legendary stories of her mother's cooking, though it sounds like your mom was a gourmet in comparison! Thanks for contributing this fabulous entry to EONA!! I love your blog, it's awesome! :) K

Gloria Chadwick said...

Saw your surprise burgers for the EONA contest at Domestic Muse and had to come over to enjoy them firsthand. I love hamburgers and a surprise in the middle makes them even better. :)

jane said...

That's a one nice homemade burger recipe. I bet it will make me mouthful upon biting it, anyway great post and more power to your blog =)


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