Flavorful Turkey Burgers & Smokin' Hot Patty Melts

Last night, as I was sitting at an otherwise empty table, in the otherwise empty kitchen of an otherwise empty apartment, eating an absolutely delicious patty melt that I had scrounged together at the last minute, I realized something: I'm no longer a child. Sometime within the past 12 months, I became an adult - and no, it has nothing to do with a 21st birthday or moving into my first non-dorm, non-home residence. I became an adult the moment that snow storms stopped being the Most Exciting Thing That Could Possibly Happen, and started being The Biggest Nuisance Imaginable. I can't pinpoint exactly when this transformation took place, but I do know that last year, having a full week of canceled classes was still the coolest thing ever, and now, well...I'm thinking that all of those retirees in Florida may be onto something.

You see, yesterday I was supposed to drive home for the weekend. I had it all worked out - dirty laundry that stacked to about 4 feet high, a bank visit that had to be made before noon today, some serious baking adventures, and even a trip to L's house to pick up some fancy clothes that he didn't bring to school with him, for him to wear next week for our big V-Day restaurant dinner. This was to be an action-packed weekend. But today, as I discovered on Tuesday, was no ordinary Saturday; no, it was the university's Optional Make Up Day. Now, the snow disasters that have been ravaging the east coast have meant that my Biochemistry course has met for a grand total of three out of six classes, meaning we are seriously behind.

Guess who stayed on campus for Saturday school today? I'll give you a hint - it's the same person who didn't do her laundry yesterday or get to the bank before it closed, but did push her serious baking adventure to another day, and chose also to procrastinate going to L's to pick up his things because, by the time she got back to her hometown, all she wanted was a dry pair of sweatpants and her puppy.

And then there was today, which is eerily reminiscent of the book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. Only it was Me and the terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day. I'm talking setting the smoke detector off while making breakfast and waking my roommate up, rushing out of the house without finishing getting ready, almost slipping a bajillion times on the icy sidewalks, trudging through the rain to class, returning to be reprimanded by my roommate (despite apologizing profusely), and then discovering, while standing in the pouring rain, that some blessing to society had decided that I didn't really need my driver's sideview mirror.

Floptimism, indeed. I find that on nights like last night and after mornings like this one, something like that patty melt I made for dinner is the perfect remedy. Food is not the best form of stress management (most dietitians claim that it's actually the worst, ha...), but I do find that sitting down to a really good meal and focusing on that enjoyable experience can help melt away the problems surrounding you, particularly petty ones, as all of mine most definitely were/are. I'm not talking about scarfing down a quart of ice cream in minutes flat while watching sappy love movies and bawling your eyes out. I'm talking about making something or taking a portion of a food that you really enjoy, and savoring it. Sitting in a quiet, potentially empty space, just you and your food of choice, and slowly eating it, focusing just on the flavors and tastes. it's a different way of eating that really promotes appreciation of the food and has a calming effect on your state of being. For me it does, anyway.

I also find that cooking without a recipe can have a similar effect, which I also did in making the patty melt last night. I hadn't planned to be in the apartment last night, so I didn't have anything set aside for dinner. Instead, I pulled out various ingredients from my fridge and freezer, and came up with one of the best sandwiches I have ever tasted. The patty melt itself was good, but nothing out of this world - a honey mustard turkey burger, some bell pepper and spinach, cheddar cheese, and whole grain oatmeal bread. All of those were sitting on my counter when I went back to the fridge and spotted the ingredient that changed it all: hot sauce. The lightbulb went off in my head, I grabbed it, and got to work.

I brushed the one side of each slice of bread with a little bit of olive oil and a decent amount of the hot sauce, and put a little extra hot sauce, cumin, garlic powder and pepper in the middle of the sandwich. I cooked it so that the hot sauce was on the outside and got seared into the bread when I applied pressure to the cooking patty melt, and I can't tell you how incredible that sandwich tasted. The bread developed a smokiness without too much heat, as well as a really beautiful burnt-orange color, and you still got a kick from the "raw" hot sauce in the center. The cheese was melty, the burger itself flavorful in its own right, and the veggies savory and crunchy enough to keep the indulgent-factor in check. I mean really, I'd recommend brushing all grilled sandwich breads or rolls with something like hot sauce - grilled, cheese, paninis, quesadillas. It's such a simple way to elevate your meals to a new level. I'm sure I'm not the first person to ever think to do this, but humor me for the time being, because I'm very excited about this discovery nonetheless.

I also haven't told you about the honey mustard turkey burgers yet, so I included that recipe - I clearly didn't make it especially for this sandwich, and have enjoyed it in many other ways over the past few months. In fact, it's seriously delicious just with some lettuce and tomato. But don't feel like you need this burger to make the sandwich, either - any filling would be great, from a grilled chicken breast to a pile of beans and veggies, or even just straight-up, classic cheese.

Smokin' Hot Patty Melt
Yield: 1 sandwich

The Ingredients
2 slices (whole grain) bread
olive oil, to taste
hot sauce, to taste
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 - 1/3 cup spinach
1 segment bell pepper,* sliced into thin strips
cumin, garlic powder, fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 turkey burger patty

The Method
Brush 1 side of each slice of bread with olive oil, then hot sauce. Place one slice oil-side down in a skillet. Layer with half the cheese, spinach, and the pepper. Add a couple of more glugs of hot sauce to the center, sprinkle all of the spices over it, and top with the patty and the remaining cheese. Cover the sandwich with the second piece of bread, oil-side up, and place the skillet over medium heat.

Cook for about a minute, then place either a larger, heavier skillet or a brick wrapped in foil on top to add pressure. After 2 minutes, remove the heavy object of your choice and make sure the sandwich is loosened from the bottom of the pan. Place a plate upside down over the skillet and, with one hand on the skillet handle and the other pressing firmly onto the middle of the plate, flip the skillet and plate to invert the sandwich. Carefully remove the skillet and return it to the heat, and use a spatula to transfer the sandwich, cooked side up, back into the pan. Cover again with the heavy object, and let cook for an additional 2 minutes, until the other side is a vibrant, burnt-orange color and the cheese has melted completely.

*I think that a red pepper would look really fantastic, but I can only find domestic green bell peppers right now, so that's what I used.

Honey Mustard Turkey Burgers, adapted from Eating Well
Yield: 4-5 servings

The Ingredients
1/4 cup coarse-grained mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 pound ground turkey breast*
1/4 teaspoon salt (omitted)
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons very fine bread crumbs**
2 teaspoons canola oil (I subbed in olive oil)

The Method
Prepare a grill, grill pan, or saute pan (I used a grill pan). Whisk together the mustard and honey in a small bowl, and set aside. Take 3 tablespoons from that mixture and combine it with the turkey, onion, salt, pepper, and garlic powder; mix well. Add breadcrumbs as needed (see note). Form into 1-inch thick patties, roughly 4-5 (I got 5, but the recipe says to just make 4).

Brush both sides of each burger with a scant amount of oil (I did this, but if you're using a stove top I would imagine that a small amount of oil or cooking spray can just be applied to the pan instead). Grill/cook for about 5-7 minutes per side, or "until no pink remains in the center," but because I don't recommend cutting into burgers while they're cooking, you could also insert a thermometer and watch for it to reach 160 degrees. Before serving, brush the burgers with the remaining honey-mustard mixture.

*Really look for the terms "lean" and "breast" when you're selecting your ground turkey. You can see the difference between ground breast and ground turkey in general, with the former being much lighter in color. Nutritionally, you save about 8g saturated fat per serving. Even if you're not counting calories or concerned about your saturated fat intake, I would still encourage the leaner option, because the "stuff" they throw into the "ground turkey meat" to add to that fat is less than savory. I'll leave it at that.
**My ground turkey wasn't fully thawed in time for dinner, so as it thawed during the preparation process, it started to pool water. I used the bread crumbs to absorb the excess, but if your meat is fully thawed/you don't feel the need for the bread crumbs, by all means leave them out.

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