Friday, July 20, 2012

Turkey Meatball Burgers

A lesson in semantics: if you refer to something as a “burger,” it should be a patty made of meat, and only meat.  Some salt and pepper are also acceptable, but it should stop there.  If you are adding breadcrumbs, egg, herbs, and cheese, it is no longer simply a “burger.”  Think about how you would respond at your local bar if you ordered a cheeseburger, and it was full of breadcrumbs and minced onion.  It might be delicious, but that’s not what you ordered.  Rather, these augmented patties require some sort of qualifier in the title, like meatball burgers, or spanikopita lamb burgers, or Provencal burgers.  It may be totally delicious, and make your eyes roll back in your head, and you may vocalize involuntary, guttural sounds.  But don’t call it a burger. (You may, however, call me overly opinionated; I couldn’t argue with that.)
Alas, I present to you, with full disclosure, my turkey meatball burgers.  The primary component is ground turkey, seasoned liked a traditional meatball, shaped into a patty, and grilled.  Hence, the name: turkey meatball burgers!  I have this little problem with overcooking things on my grill, so I figured it would behoove me to choose a recipe that requires you to cook it all the way through.  These burgers did the trick.  I made them in the exact same way I make meatballs (breadcrumbs, egg, shredded parmesan, tomato paste, herbs, a touch of water).  I did one tiny thing different: I added some fresh thyme because it goes well with turkey, and I have an overgrown clump of it taking over the herb pot on my patio.
Because I made them with turkey and because they have all of sorts of other junk in them, I feel that it is very important to liberally oil the patties prior to grilling to prevent sticking.  I don’t know what would happen if you didn’t do this, but I don’t want to find out.  I think the easiest way to oil a patty is by first liberally oiling the plate you intend to stock pile your finished patties on.  That way, when you have a completed patty, you can simply give it a quick swipe on each side with the oil. 
Then you get to grill!  It is very straightforward because you are not aiming for the finesse of medium or medium well; you just want the patty to be cooked though and very firm to the touch.  If you are highly neurotic like some people I know (namely myself), you can even cut into one to make sure there is no indication of teaming salmonella (i.e. the burger should not be pink).  Then top your patties with a heaping spoonful of marinara sauce, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and a slice of Muenster.  Of course, you could go with something more traditional like mozzarella or provolone, but there is something about the salty, stringy quality of melted Muenster that really compliments this.  I used to work at the Palm Restaurant, which is a steak house, but it is rooted in Italian heritage.  They serve killer chicken parm, and I credit the parmesan/muenster cheese combo for the addictive deliciousness.  If that doesn’t have you convinced, please take a look at the stretchy string of cheese displayed below, and you may be running out to the deli counter before you even finish reading this.
I served my turkey meatball burgers open-faced on some French bread, adorning the bread with a little extra marinara before plopping the patty on top.  A pile of spinach sautéed with garlic, oil, and lemon served on the side will even make you feel healthy (at least that’s my twisted logic).
Turkey Meatball Burgers

3/4 lb. ground turkey thigh
1/3 lb. ground turkey breast
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup finely shredded parmesan, plus two tablespoons
1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
1/4 of a medium sized sweet onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater (include all juices)
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1-2 tablespoon light colored oil
1 cup jarred marinara sauce
Sliced Muenster cheese (or mozzarella)
Sliced French bread or crusty rolls
Basil for garnish (optional)

-       In a mixing bowl, combine tomato paste, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, beaten egg, grated onion, chopped parsley, thyme, seasoned salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes until the mixture is even.
-       Add both ground turkey breast and thigh, and mix together until just combined with clean hands.
-       On a large plate, pour oil and lightly spread around.
-       Form the turkey mixture into patties (I made 5).  If the mixture is very sticky, let wet hands slightly (I keep a small bowl of water nearby and occasionally dip my fingers in it).  As patties are formed, set them aside on the oiled plate, rubbing them lightly with oil on both sides.
-       Preheat a grill to medium for at least 10 minutes.  Cook the patties on the grill for about 10 minutes on each side.  (The patties must be completely cooked through.)
-       When the patties are done, top with a spoonful of marinara sauce, a pinch of Parmesan, and a slice of Muenster.  Close grill and allow the cheese to melt.
-       Serve the meatball burgers on desired bread with extra sauce, and garnish with basil.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

3-Cheese Grilled Cheese with Basil

I am currently in Detroit at my parents’ home, whose well-stocked refrigerator and pantry allows me to dabble to my heart’s content.  Today’s experiment: a truffle scented grilled cheese sandwich with fresh basil on olive bread.  The truffle aspect probably makes my parents sound a little snootier than they are in reality; however, they are very passionate about food (they prefer both quantity and quality).  My mom and I were in the grocery store the other day, and she pointed out a small package of truffle butter as we were walking through the dairy isle.  She said “we have some of that at home; dad and I like to put it on popcorn sometimes, like Ina Garten.”  My mom likes to buy different varietals of popcorn at the Detroit farmer’s market, and she pops it on the stove.  My dad hovers near by, watching her in awe, and then scoops popcorn into his mouth by the handful, eating happily and peppering the floor with the evidence.  In a nutshell, they love food, and obviously the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
So I took advantage of their beautiful kitchen and food supply one lazy afternoon during my trip home.  I started by splicing shards of cheese off a large block of Jarlberg that was loitering in the fridge.  I crumbled some feta, and gathered a small pile of shredded Parmesan on a plate.  I set all the cheese aside to allow it to come to room temperature for a deluxe grilled cheese sandwich.  I then removed a clump of basil from the bushy plant on my parents’ front porch, and buttered both sides of two pieces of bread studded with Greek olives.  Why butter both sides? Because the outside required butter for browning, and the inside received a delicate layer of truffle butter for flavor.  I let all of my ingredients come to room temperature before layering them together to compose my beautiful sandwich.  While I waited for my ingredients to lose their chill, I had the perfect pocket of time to cut up this beautiful watermelon.
I finally cooked my sandwich in a small sauté pan over a very low heat.  When it reached the ideal state of golden brown, with cheese beginning to bulge from the sides, I let it rest on the rack of the toaster over (no heat).  This allowed the molten cheese to settle (and to protect your mouth from burns), without the bread getting soggy on one side.  In a few minutes it was ready for a swift diagonal cut in half, which was the final step before my mom and I devoured it.  It was delicious and ridiculously decadent.  The flavor of the truffle butter may have gotten lost in the richness; however, the basil makes a huge difference, waking up the whole sandwich and cutting through any excess richness and saltiness. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

American Fare Remix

I spend copious amounts of time perusing recipes on the Internet.  Perhaps I should say I spend copious amounts of times “cruising” recipes on the web because there is a certain lustfulness to it.  The indefiniteness of web-based recipes… it makes my heart race a little.  I can never get bored of it.  And my own relentlessness combined with the infinite abyss of the Internet lead me to the Juicy Lucy.
The Juicy Lucy is a burger stuffed with cheese.  As I am in the midst of romancing my new grill, the Juicy Lucy was an obvious next step in our courtship.  It’s actually rather simple:  two very wide, thin burger patties are joined together with a core of sliced cheese, and grilled.  Brilliant.  If you are very lucky, rivulets of cheese will peak through the patty as it is being cooked, hinting at the molten cheese just beneath the surface.  Use American cheese, a good quality, deli-sliced American cheese.  It’s excellent on burgers, and it melts and oozes beautifully.
The Juicy Lucy was fabulous.  As you can see, I had a minor problem with the meat sticking to the grill.  However, problems are relative; once I saw the molten cheese peaking out of the edges, my dismay melted away.
I was also, oddly, craving potato salad.  And thus, I whipped some up in 98-degree heat.  I felt the need to boil a huge pot of potatoes in my AC-absent apartment.  It had better be good.  What I produced, I am calling “dressed-up American potato salad.”  It contains mayonnaise for the requisite American richness, as well as coarsely chopped hardboiled eggs, but its flavor and texture are augmented by vinaigrette-like ingredients: fresh lemon juice, white wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs.  Delicious.  Capers would also be excellent in this.
The potato salad, the burger, and a random avocado lingering in my refrigerator apparently had a meeting with destiny.  On my burger, you will notice a green, creamy substance on the bottom bun.  Smashed avocado?  Yes, but it’s even better.  It’s smashed avocado spritzed with lemon juice and mixed with about a tablespoon of the dressing for the potato salad: mayonnaise, olive oil, Dijon, lemon, white wine vinegar, and copious amounts of salt and pepper.  I’d call that a perfect storm, and it made my burger compliment the potato salad oh-so-nicely.  The Juicy Lucy would also be fabulous simply adorned with pickles.
Juicy Lucy (based on the recipe from

For each burger:
1/4-1/3 lb. ground beef (85% lean)
1 sliced American cheese
Lawry’s seasoned salt
Sesame seed hamburger bun
Sliced pickles or avocado spread for garnish

-       Break the slice of cheese into 4 equal pieces by folding it in half, then folding it in half again.  Set aside
-       For each burger, divide the meat in half.  Use a broad plate (lightly oiled, if desired) to carefully press the meat into two flat, wide circles, approximately one inch in diameter wider than your hamburger bun.
-       Place cheese in the middle of one patty and carefully lay the other one on top.  Mold the edges together, and roll the edge of the jumbo, cheese stuffed patty against the palm of your hand to help to come together and have a circular shape.
-       Preheat a grill to medium and cook on each side for 3-4 minutes, flipping once.  Allow burgers to rest for 5 minutes to all juices and cheese to evenly distribute; add desired toppings and enjoy.

Potato Salad

For the dressing:

2-3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Juice from half a lemon
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4-1/3 cup mayonnaise (I like the kind made with olive oil)
1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

-       Whisk together all ingredients to taste.  You should have about 1 cup of dressing when you’re done.  I made it in a large measuring cup to make my life easier.

For the Salad: 

3 scallions, minced
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3 rib of celery, diced finely
2 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
2 1/2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, skin left on, chopped in 11/2 inch chunks.
Kosher salt and pepper

-       Add potatoes to a large pot and cover with cold water.
-       Place on high heat and add 1-2 tablespoons of salt to the water.
-       Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are fork tender but not mushy.
-       Drain in a large colander, and then cover with a clean dish towel for 10 minutes to allow potatoes to finish cooking in their own steam.  This will allow for even cooking without over cooking.
-       Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and add dressing and other ingredients until you achieve your desired consistency.  Eat warm or refrigerate.  Reserve any leftover dressing because the consistency/seasoning may be different once the potato salad is cold.