Cheeseburger salad

Cheeseburger salad is…ugly. And while the main point of cheeseburger salad is to ditch the bun and whip up a nutritionally sound meal fairly quickly, it just doesn’t photograph well. I saw this idea a few years back on a paleo* or gluten-free website, and really dug the idea. Gluten-free frozen buns just…suck. I refuse to eat crappy replacement foods for the grains I can’t tolerate. Food doesn’t have to be terrible, even if I have to spend a little time finding creative ways to make the things I love.

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I do love a quality cheeseburger. And back when I was a wee, carefree kiddo, I absolutely loved McDonald’s cheeseburgers. When I was a kid, I swam and rode horses, and my sister figured skated on the opposite end of the city. My parents could barely keep up with shuffling my sister and I to our respective sports practices and school, and homemade dinners were mostly a thing of the past by the time we each started taking our sports seriously in early puberty. On the way home from swimming practice at 7:30, I was always ravenous from simultaneously growing into an adult, swimming hard for nearly two hours, and not having eaten since 11:00. My parents gave up and started feeding me fast food. I don’t remember for sure, but I bet even back then I had a terrible “hangry” (hungry-angry) attitude from hell. I’d almost always order two double cheeseburgers, a large fry, and a large soda. I wolfed them down in the remaining blocks home, and logically, gained a problematic amount of weight that yo-yo’d for years.

I gave up fast food cold turkey when I was 18 after a sleeve of McDonald’s fries failed to rot in the eight months I’d forgotten about them in a fourth-story apartment without air conditioning, but I never lost my appetite for those sweet, sweet cheeseburgers after a good workout.

Cheeseburger salad is as simple as it sounds: all of the ingredients of your favorite cheeseburger, over your favorite kind of lettuce (or more likely, whatever the hell lettuce you have on hand for making this lazy meal). I use lean 93/7 ground beef to avoid much of the fat drippings and having to strain the grease from my meat — an extra step that makes this meal slightly less lazy. Cook the meat completely, and if necessary, strain the grease from the meat and throw away. Add about 3 tbsp ketchup, 2 tbsp mustard, and 1 tbsp barbecue sauce to start, adjusting proportions as desired. With the meat coated in condiments and hot, spoon over a bed of lettuce. Add diced onions, pickles, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and bacon in any combination desired. Add additional ketchup or mustard if desired, or if you dare, throw on a little mayonnaise.

Because I live alone and don’t eat an entire pound of ground beef at once, I save the beef mixture in the fridge separately and will have a few hamburger salads over the next few days. It’s an easy one-minute prep meal if the other toppings are also already diced and sitting in their own Tupperware.

If you find a better way to photograph an assembled cheeseburger salad, feel free to post a link in the comments.

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*Yes, I realize that ketchup and barbecue sauce aren’t strictly paleo (because of the added sugar), but the idea is there. And you, Paleo Police, can certainly eat your salad dry if you prefer (ew), or find some way to make your own paleo-compliant ketchup and barbecue sauce.

Sweet chicken and savory sweet potato

I didn’t feel like cooking one bit after having been at the barn and dealing with the really, really cold weather on Thursday late at night. Baking feels like cooking, except it takes far less time to accomplish a great meal and allows for multitasking. I had a package of on-sale chicken thighs, and stumbled on this recipe for savory sweet potatoes. In my never-ending accidental quest to eat only Latino-inspired food and sweet potatoes one hundred ways, this recipe fit perfectly and I halved it to serve one.

I’m always one to drown my mashed sweet potatoes in butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and agave. It’s like vegetable candy! Using thyme and garlic seemed new and unknown to my sweet potato palate, but turned out well. Except…the oil on my hands smelled awful. I’d never used fresh thyme before — only the ground spice-jar stuff — and hadn’t expected it. I love the oils of rosemary and basil on my fingers that linger long after my meal, but thyme just smelled like animal piss. It nearly ruined the dish for me, and next time I think I’ll substitute rosemary. Rosemary is still quite the savory and fragrant herb, and would be a nice substitute. It took me several hand-washings in grease-cutting dish soap to rid my hands of the thyme oils. Stubborn little suckers.

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The chicken was too easy: I threw it in the oven for 25 minutes, about halfway through cooking the foil-wrapped sweet potato. A couple squirts of my favorite gluten-free barbecue sauce, flip (so it doesn’t stick to the glass dish), and a couple more squirts. While I did this on three of the chicken thighs, on the other half of the pan, I roasted the chicken plain with a light coating of olive oil to be used the next day in making green chile enchiladas. I flipped the chicken halfway through cooking, and voila — easy, juicy, baked chicken. No slaving over a stove required.

While I let the chicken and the sweet potato cool off just a bit, I whipped up a jar of pickled onions to be used over the next few weeks in salads and as a topper to entrees and quick tacos. I used a very basic, ingrained recipe for pickling with no variations:

In an old spaghetti jar (recycling!), mix one cup water, 1 tbsp white sugar, 1.5 tbsp salt, and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar. Put the lid on and shake a bunch. Cut up an entire red onion, usually done in thin slices, and shove as many of them as you can into the jar. Shake again to get the liquid into the smaller spaces, and leave it in the fridge for at least a half day before using, but no longer than 10-15 days.

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