It’s less than two weeks to Christmas – eep! – and I’m full blown in the middle of coming up with the dinner menu. I come from a big family and my mom, out of sheer necessity, went buffet-style decades ago when she ran out of room to set up all the extra card tables. (We knew the formal sit-down dinner era was over when they half-heartedly started eyeballing the garage for more seating space.)
But even as we all got older, and the grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins built their own lives and started doing their own thing with their extended families, the buffet persisted and started morphing into this wonderful smorgasbord of a little bit of everything and anything. When I took over the hosting duties, I switched it completely to an all-appetizer spread. I don’t even set up card tables for seating. People can pick and nosh and roam and mingle to their hearts’ content, sitting anywhere they please with their plate of finger-food. You wanna eat that brownie first thing? Go ahead. You wanna eat Havartii Dill slices and nothing but Havartii Dill slices all night long? No problem. It’s a great success, and I’m very proud of our new tradition.
It comes at the price of developing the menu, though. Oh, the pressure (!swoon!)! Every year, I try to make sure that at least one-third of the spread is brand new. I have my staples that are served every year without fail. Then I go through the previous year’s menu to weed out the then-new-things that weren’t a big hit, and decide whether the successes should carry over to this year. Finally, I look at the holes that need to be filled for the year and start the search for new and creative replacements. That’s the fun part.
The pressure part is all the testing and deciding. Which is where this post comes in (finally, you must be thinking).
I was browsing around foodnetwork.com when I stumbled on an old recipe from Alton Brown for “Mini Man Burgers” – mini versions of really good hamburgers. Folks in some parts of the country know this kind of miniature cuisine by way of Krystals and White Castles (in Cincinnati, it’s White Castles). It hit me like a brick: duh! what a great finger food! I quickly decided, however, that I needed to substitute beef with turkey, for my health-conscience/health-challenged and aging family.
Conveniently, I had just made a batch of turkey burgers, so it was quick work to adapt and consolidate my recipe with Alton’s, and outright steal his method for prepping the patties. They’re so cute – 3 or 4 bites will do it. I used Sara Lee’s Classic Dinner Rolls available in the bread section. I’ve also seen recommendations for mini potato rolls, so if you can find them (I couldn’t in my area), there’s another option for you.
I dumped all of the non-turkey ingredients (including the Major Grey’s chutney, top left) into the food processor and minced everything really well. Not soupy, just finely minced. With such small patties, I didn’t want things to be chunky.
Here’s Alton’s recipe for beef mini burgers; I used turkey from a recipe I previously posted. With the turkey, I didn’t have roll the meat in the pan – it was easy enough to spread and smooth the mixture just with my hands. And I really liked the spreading of the spices in between the layers – I did the same thing with the feta cheese, and it all worked just beautifully. (Just make sure you let the mixture chill really well in the pan before you (a) fold the meat slab in half and (b) slice the patties into squares. And use parchment paper – it’s easier to handle than cling wrap.)
|Mini Man Burgers
Alton Brown, Foodnetwork.com
|1/2||teaspoon||freshly ground black pepper|
|8||(3-inch) buns or rolls, split in half|
|2 to 3||tablespoons||mayonnaise|
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Preheat a griddle to 350 degrees F.
Combine the onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Line a jellyroll or sheet pan with parchment paper, and place the ground chuck in the middle of the pan. Cover the meat with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Roll meat with a rolling pin until it covers the surface of the pan; it should be very thin. Remove the plastic wrap, and sprinkle the meat with the seasoning mixture. Fold the meat in half, from side to side, using the parchment paper. Use a pizza wheel to cut the meat into 8 even squares.
Wrap the buns in foil and place in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, place the burgers on the griddle and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Remove the buns from the oven. Spread a small amount of mayonnaise on each bun and top with the burger and any other condiments, as desired. Serve immediately.