Sunday, June 24, 2007

Grilled Turkey Sandwich

When I toured the campus at Illinois Wesleyan when I was 18, I fell in love with it. Winter had fallen on the campus, and a beautiful white blanket lay over the "quad." All was quiet, and I busily began imagining all the brilliant students hard at work learning SCIENCE and LITERATURE with delicious fervor. I would fit in here, I thought. It's okay for me to be a nerd here. These are my people. My dad chewed his lip and wondered how he could afford it. He had really just brought me to Bloomington to tour the campus of his alma mater up the street, Illinois State. In typical daughter fashion, I'd fallen in love with a more expensive option.

But Wesleyan smiles on the low to moderate-income honor student, and I found out that day that the "Green Weenie" (unofficial mascot name) financial plan for me included my choice of three meal plans. The school was starting a new system that next autumn, in which your student ID card functioned as a debit card for food. You could get a) all your meals in the school cafeteria, b) most of your meals there and a little "virtual money" at the school snack bar, or c) one meal a day in the cafeteria and $300 credit at the snack bar. I grimaced when the campus tour guide told us proudly, "and we're getting a new food service this year... MARRIOTT!!" My heart sank. My stomach flopped.

I knew for a fact that Marriott food service was just a new name for the same food service that I'd had all through grade school and high school: S.A.G.A. Food Service. I probably don't need to tell you that the food was awful. I never knew what it stood for, but the long version of the name that students had given it was "Soviets Attempting to Gag America." Enough said.

I went to Wesleyan anyway, and some of the food in the cafeteria was palatable. Some was not. I had a friend who swore that while working there, he read "Grade C Meat, But Edible" on the box of frozen burgers he unpacked. "BUT edible!" he repeated many times for emphasis, "BUT EDIBLE!" (This tale is an urban legend, I now know, but the school made it oh-so-plausible.) I know that I was stupid enough to give the Sweet and Sour Pork and something called Beef Ragout not one, but two tries each. I gagged them down, and was sent sprinting to the bathroom to gag them back up again for a total of four times together. The Soviets were winning!

Needless to say I opted every year for the maximum amount of money at the school snack bar, "the Dugout." The day the $300 credit ran out was a sad day, indeed, as there would be no real money to replace my play money. Far from the reaches of corrupt food service giants, the simple food there was made the way the counter ladies had been making it since the sixties. My favorite meal was a bag of Doritos, an iced tea, a banana, and a grilled turkey sandwich. "The Dugout" did this very well, and it not only got me through school and saved the fate of the free world, but it is still my favorite sandwich.

The sliced turkey (deli) meat was first grilled by itself on the flat-top grill, THEN placed on the bread with cheese to grill as you would a regular grilled cheese. You have to grill the meat first in the skillet when you make it. This is key. I like to dunk mine in a homemade 1,000 Island-style dressing: low-fat sour cream, Western dressing, and pickle relish. This addition was inspired by the Steak 'n Shake turkey melt, which I also love.

Long story, short recipe. That's how I'm doing it today. Also, I wanted you to know in advance why, if you say the word "ragout" in my presence, I will quite literally turn halfway inside out. Uuwhhhh. I can't abide by that!

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