Party: Iowa sushi

I was invited to a beach party, and yesterday, I unleashed the summer potluck snack of my childhood on an unsuspecting group of acquaintances: pickle roll-ups. My mom used to make these when I was a kid for just about every single potluck-style family gathering, and I loved them. Mostly, I loved the flavor of the cream cheese and the corned beef and only tolerated the pickle, so I tried to get all of the end pieces as she rolled and chopped these.

My parents cooked quite a bit when I was little, but other than a few family recipes, it wasn’t gourmet stuff. I was a meat-and-potatoes, Lunchables, Kraft mac-and-cheese, Spaghettio’s-lovin’, hot-dog-eatin’ true Midwestern child. Save for thick homemade chicken noodle soup, pickle roll-ups, “Spanish” rice (it just had tomato soup in it), deviled eggs, no-bake cookies, and a few other family treasures, my parents just didn’t have many specialties. But these gems, these pickle roll-ups, were special to me growing up. When they were made, I knew that there was something special coming up, like a family picnic or a holiday, and that I’d get to see my extended family.

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So when I was invited to this party, I tried to figure out what to bring. It occurred to me at the last second that pickle roll-ups would be fast to prepare and require only cheap ingredients, and I needed groceries, anyway. But as I made these, I started to remember. She let the real cream cheese warm up on the counter instead of using Philadelphia’s “whipped-style” and the glue it became held together much better. The cheap Buddig packets of corned beef used to be slightly thicker, and square-shaped, which meant the pickle roll-ups of my childhood didn’t tear quite as easily. She spread the cream cheese on the meat, rolled the pickle, and then let the uncut rolls chill in the fridge, helping the whole thing stick together before she cut them the next morning. I begged her to cut one or two the night before any potluck, and I’d forgotten all about that until I started cutting these rolls and they just started falling apart in my hands.

Needless to say, it was a pickle disaster. I actually gave up on the last half dozen pickles and just threw the unsheathed suckers on the plate because I was ready to be done with the mess! I made two trays of these suckers, and only used up almost two large jars of pickles, one cream cheese tub, and five Buddig packets. I still have to figure out how I’ll use two more tubs of “whipped” cream cheese, one large jar of pickles, and three packets of cheap corned beef sometime in the next hundred years.

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I made the rolls sitting in front of the television for something to do, and forgot to put them up high before I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse. I jumped out of the shower, and it hit me…shit. Sure enough, this little piggy had eaten the cream cheese and corned beef off of about 30-40 pickle slices. My eight-pound dog was so bloated and apologetic after I caught her binge-eating the skins of the finger food, just like when I was a kid. I think I actually hurt her dog feelings when I yelled at her and she crinkled her little forehead.

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The second pan was left untouched, and subsequently made it to the party. I also took three pounds of bacon and spent about an hour cooking it in the hosts’ kitchen — so we could “roast a pig” at the beach party. I had a total blast and danced the night away, drinking and making out with strangers, wearing tiny sunglasses and kicking around tiny beach balls, flipping through a book of pictures gay men drew of vaginas. I learned a new phrase for the potluck dish of my childhood last night from the host: Iowa sushi. It’s perfect.

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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.