Toddler Haute Cuisine

One of the challenges I’m preparing for now that we have two children in the house is organizing meal time, especially finding something that your uber picky two year old will actually eat. Fortunately, my wife is still on maternity leave, so I have two weeks left before this could really become a problem.

With my son stating to show an interest in certain forms of meat, I have been stealing any moment I can to prepare food in advance and freeze it so I can cut down the prep time after my wife has returned to work. I’ve made a few batches of sausage (chicken and cold smoked barbecue) and meatballs to give me some breathing room during the week.

The other day I read a post about old fashioned burger stand burgers by a blogger I have recently started following and was inspired to prepare a custom burger blend to add to my icebox warchest. After putting together a burger bar for my son’s second birthday using Chef Michael’s Symon’s Lola burger blend I was curious to make some modifications based on Julie’s post.

This is my grinder. There are many others like it, but this one is mine. My grinder is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my grinder is useless. Without my grinder, I am useless.

If you’ve read my Dad in the Kitchen posts for long enough, then you know that grinding up meat is one of my favorite things to do.

I have an old school hand crank model that I use for batches under 10-15 pounds and then I have a 3/4 HP motorized one for when I’m going to crank through forty to fifty pounds of meat.

I started out by grabbing a few pounds of tri tip sirloin steaks and a brisket, but rather than the chuck I had used previously I substituted boneless beef short ribs. I stuck with the 40/40/20 ratio, broke the meat down into cubes, seasoned it using a Umami Hamburger recipe and let it get happy in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

After coarsely grinding the mixture I loosely packed the meat that I had into a dozen burgers (about 1/3rd of a pound) and six little man sized burgers. Since we were having them for dinner that night I dug up my 2’’ round ravioli cutter and trimmed a sandwich thin and a slice of cheese to fit his burgers and served them up.

We were pleasantly surprised with his reaction, as he ate the entire burger with dip (his name for ketchup and maple syrup) and the broccoli slaw that I served with it.

The burgers I made that we weren’t going to consume in the next few days got partially frozen before I vacuumed sealed them for their stay in the freezer.

The substitution of the boneless beef short ribs for the chuck was a great move. From a cost standpoint I only spent about $.30/pound more than I would have for the leanest pre-ground meat at my local mega mart (which is the best comparison since I don’t add fat beyond what the meat already has) and I got to control what went into it.

If you’re interested in making your own custom burger blend you don’t even need your own grinder – although it is much more fun. Julie’s post provides a great set of instructions on how to do it by using a food processor and partially frozen meat so it doesn’t turn to mush.

PJ’s Custom Burger Blend

adapted from Chef Michael Symon, Willow Bird Baking & White on Rice Couple


  • 2 pounds tri tip steak, sirloin tips or sirloin steak
  • 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs
  • 1 pound beef brisket (with the fat cap on)
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely minced*
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground star anise


  • Cube all the meat and add to a large mixing bowl
  • Add the remaining ingredients to the cubed meat and stir to combine well
  • Return seasoned meat mixture to the refrigerator for an hour or so
  • Grind using a coarse plate, or follow instructions on this post for using a food processor
  • Pack loosely into patties of a size that fits your need, cook and enjoy
  • Should yield 10 to 15 burger patties depending on preference

* When I made my batch I did not add garlic as baby girl doesn’t seem to appreciate it at this time. We are hoping to be able to return garlic to our diet shortly.

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About PJ Mullen

PJ Mullen is a dad, husband, amateur chef and prolific air drummer blogging about his life as a dad and anything else that is on his mind. Occasionally he blogs about being a dad in the kitchen at peaches en risotto and is a contributor over at Digital Dads.

Facebook comments:

  • thisfullhouse

    Ohhhh….my….gosh….but, both my grandmother and mom used the same meat grinder and I swear, I can smell their home made Hungarian sausage cooking, right now….YUM!!!

  • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking

    Your burgers sound delicious! I love that you included your son in the process, since I’m sure this is going to absolutely change how he views food and what foods he enjoys as he grows up.

    I just got a KitchenAid meat grinder (still sitting on my counter untested as of yet), but I have a feeling an old-fashioned one might be the bee’s knees ;)

  • SeattleDad

    Sounds terrific. And love the burger bar idea.

  • DCUrbanDad

    Can I be your kid?

  • PJ Mullen

    The Porkert rules! Plus, it is a great way to add half an inch to your biceps. I really need to investigate some Hungarian sausage recipes.

  • PJ Mullen

    Thank you, and thanks for the inspiration. I saw beef short ribs in your recipe and thought that I needed to try them that way. Have fun with the new meat grinder, so many possibilities. My old school grinder is definitely more convenient for low volume grinds, but when HT has pork shoulder on sale for $.98/pound and I buy ten of them I’m glad I have some horsepower behind me :)

  • PJ Mullen

    Thanks, man. The burger bar is going to be become a party time staple in our household. Not only is it easy to plan and put together, but everyone can get what they want.

  • PJ Mullen

    Sure, I don’t need to save for college for you :)

  • Keith Wilcox

    Oh, man! Like everything you do, that sound totally yummy. I’ve been asking our butcher to grind meat for me, and he’s usually pretty amenable to it. But, sometimes I get the assistant kid who just points me to the pre ground meat. Sorta pisses me off because I never trust the pre-ground stuff. I need to get one of those hand cranky things (I never have more than a few lbs). Plus I didn’t know they made them that didn’t have to be screwed into the countertop. The one my grandma had was nailed right into the counter! :-)

  • PJ Mullen

    Thanks, Keith. I don’t blame you on not trusting the stuff that is pre-ground. The fat content is always in questions, as is the quality of the meat being used. Ever since I started grinding my own meat I’ve only rarely ever purchased pre-ground meat and that was in a pinch. Amazon has a model very similar to mine made by Cuisipro that is like $30. You really can’t beat that. Even if you were going to just grab a chuck roast, break it down and grind it for burgers at home you can’t go wrong. Plus, it’ll take you all of twenty minutes to do it.

  • http://LifeofaNewDad otter321

    I always wondered how you found time to do all this. My cooking has gone down to zero since having a kid. Every time I try he clings to my leg and screams Daddy. Nice work on the Full Metal Jacket reference. That has to be one of my all time favorite movie references in a blog. Also I detected an Emerilism in the “get happy” comment. Good stuff.

  • PJ Mullen

    It is tough, which is why I’m doing so much advance prep before the wife goes back to work. Thank you for getting the FMJ reference. With each new comment I was beginning to wonder why no one caught that. My Godfather references in my last post went largely ignored. I guess I knew I could count on you to catch it though. And, yes, there most certainly was an Emerilism. That is one of my favorite things to say.

  • http://LifeofaNewDad otter321

    I don’t know what it really says about me, but you can always count on me to catch a good movie or TV reference. I guess it clearly says that I watch to much TV. But I like TV.

  • PJ Mullen

    It says you have an appreciation for the classics like FMJ, Caddyshack and Animal House.

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