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January 14, 2010 at 9:49 AM

Red Mill Burgers donates profits, I donate onion rings recipe

It’s been 15 years since John and Babe Shepherd opened Red Mill Burgers on Phinney Ridge. In the years since, the brother-and-sister team opened a second location at Interbay and continue, in my opinion, to serve some of the best not-so-fast-food burgers — and certainly the best onion rings — in town.

Beg to differ if you must, but there’s no denying this: unlike the Rolling Stones (their favorite musicians) the Shepherds get great satisfaction — by selling burgers. Thanks, in no small part, to the support they’ve received over the years from Seattle’s burger-loving community. And to honor their commitment to the city that keeps them rolling, they’ve got a plan for paying it forward. Here’s how you can help:

My standing order: a Double Bacon Deluxe with cheese, and Babe’s Onion Rings

Go eat some burgers! Starting tomorrow, January 15, for 15 days, the Shepherds will donate 15 percent of Red Mill’s profits to the following non-profit agencies: the Greenwood Food Bank, Greenwood Senior Center and Phinney Neighborhood Association. They’ll also be selling commemorative T-shirts ($15) created by Red Mill employees.

Red Mill Burgers: worth the wait (photo courtesy Red Mill Burgers).

As the first reviewer to get on the wagon 15 years ago with a proclamation that Red Mill would be painting the town red for years to come, I’d like to show my appreciation for their efforts by sharing Tom Douglas’ Masa Onion Rings recipe — as Tom did in his first cookbook, “Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen.” While it’s not an exact replication of the secret formula used at Red Mill, it’s well known that Tom helped Babe (who worked for him for years) develop her own kick-ass recipe for these royal ringlets:

Babe’s onion rings rock my world.

Of course, it’s a whole lot easier to take a trip to Red Mill and order up a batch — with 15 percent going to a good cause. But if you’re the DIY-type, why not fry some up at home? And while you’re at it, howzabout grinding up some homemade burgers (here’s my how-to) to go along with them.

Masa Onion Rings

(serves 4-6)

2 onions (about 1 1/2 pounds)

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup medium-ground yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup masa harina (found in the Mexican food aisle at many area supermarkets)

1 tablespoon paprika

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Peanut oil for deep-frying

1. Peel the onions and and cut them into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Separate the onions into rings. Discard the inner center pieces, which are too small, or reserve them for another purpose. You will need three bowls for breading the onion rings. In the first bowl, place two cups of the flour. Pour the buttermilk in the second bowl. In the third bowl, combine the remaining two cups of flour with the cornmeal, masa harina, paprika, salt, cayenne, thyme, and black pepper. Line two baking sheets with parchment or wax paper. As you bread the onion rings, use one hand for dry ingredients and one hand for wet ingredients to avoid a gloppy mess on your hands. In batches, dip the onions in flour, then buttermilk, and then seasoned flour mix. When necessary, to keep the flour clean and easy to work with, sift the seasoned flour mix and discard any clumps of batter. Place the breaded rings on the baking sheets and place the sheets in the refrigerator for one hour to set.

2. Heat a straight-sided pan with at least two inches of oil, no more than halfway up the sides, to 350-degrees, checking with a deep-fry thermometer. Fry the onion rings without crowding them until golden yellow, then drain on paper towels. The onion rings should be light in color; be careful because the cornmeal can burn if you fry them too long. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately. (If you are frying the onion rings in batches, you can hold them on a baking sheet in a pre-heated 350-degree oven while you finish frying all of them. But don’t leave them in the oven too long, or they will get soggy.)

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