Leftovers: steak salad

This is my dog, patiently waiting for her chance at a trimmed piece of steak while working on her down-stay command for five minutes. “Down-stay” is the toughest for this double-chin Miniature Pinscher. My dogs often help me eat the more healthful leftovers and vegetable scraps as a supplement to their high-quality, high-end dog food. I sometimes wonder why humans can’t get their children to eat certain vegetables; I just told my dogs that every vegetable they encountered was delicious, and in an attempt to please me, the little garbage disposals ate anything I put in front of them as puppies, especially teething carrots. As adult dogs, they stare me down for raw broccoli stems and wolf down the tougher parts of apples.

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Salads are…kind of boring to talk about, huh? Still, I had a leftover strip steak from the night before, and tossed it in a pan for a few minutes on each side to warm. Chopped it, tossed in some greens, added raw mushrooms and pickled onions, and dressed it in blue cheese from a local shop. Bam. Done. Three minutes. Lazy, leftovers cooking, ahoy!

I mostly just wanted to write about my dogs.

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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.

Pumpkin alfredo, caprese, peanut butter cookies

After a terrifying brush with death in a blizzard yesterday, I was understandably interested in some comfort food. I was on my way back from my road trip, and I knew some snow was coming. Being a hearty, life-long Midwesterner, I brushed the meteorological reports off as getting some snow and unnecessary panic. Those of us who have lived through many cold, snowy winters shrug at the snow reports. Winter. That’s just winter. Anyway, I slid past a 20-car pile-up without hitting anything, barely, and continued on my way — to the grocery store. Again. I have a feeling I’ll have to find a second home at the grocery store this year, as real food spoils fast.

I’ve made this recipe for pumpkin fettuccine alfredo before, and remembered just how simple and quickly the comfort food hit my table. What I should have done was follow the recipe, but instead, I forgot the parmesan and the sage at the store and wandered around there like a blind moron during a “snowpocalypse” grocery store run. I miss autumn.

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Sometimes, the mistakes are a part of the learning process, right? Well, I was hell-bent on making the pumpkin alfredo after I’d dumped my heavy cream and pumpkin into the saucepan, so I went ahead with it. When I realized I’d forgotten the parmesan cheese, I dumped the leftover ricotta in the sauce, thereby giving it what little cheese flavor that ricotta does have. This is definitely a dish that needs an earthy, salty, hard, punch-y cheese. I figured I’d add some protein and use the ground turkey I’d made on the first before I had to throw it out, and tossed that in the sauce. I didn’t toss in the garlic, or follow the recipe much at all. I was living outside the box! Making it up! And feeling awfully cocky after some cooking success in the previous days.

I dumped in salt, too much thyme because it came out of the jar too fast, not enough oregano, black pepper, and ground sage to save the earthy flavor a little. Ground sage, pals, is nothing like the real thing. In a separate pan, I sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, and garlic in butter. I added those to top it off.

Honestly? Follow that recipe link above. It’s great, it’s fast, and it’s so easy. I had much better luck with it before. If it were me, I’d even grate the parmesan fresh off the block instead of buying packaged shaved pieces, like I’m always tempted to do instead of cleaning a cheese grater by hand. To really go for the gold on this one, use organic pureed pumpkin if you can find it (better flavor), or cook and puree your own and add a little more pumpkin than cream — maybe a cup and a third instead of just one cup.

On the side, I made a favorite: caprese salad. Caprese is only about as hard as chopping the things you need: fresh mozzarella slices, a big tomato, fresh basil, and balsamic vinegar salad dressing. When I’m feeling frisky, I even add pickled red onions, which I could eat all day straight from the jar I pickle them in.

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After screwing up and eating my mistake (which wasn’t that bad, it just lacked in the amount of flavor I expected and loved from it before), I had to shovel the driveway. I hate shoveling. I really, really fucking hate shoveling. I have two herniated discs in my back, and wonky hip ligaments that like to throw me for a loop once in awhile. After coming inside, I thought I’d make some cookies for the kids next door, since they helped and did a great job. I casually flipped through a Better Homes and Gardens special Gluten-Free magazine issue that my mother gave to me, and out of nowhere appeared this recipe:

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I mean, how much easier could a cookie recipe be? It didn’t even include any fancy flours I don’t have, and I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand. I chose to roll mine in sugar at the end, as the recipe suggests, but instead of using parchment paper (who has parchment paper laying around?) I just slid a tiny bit of olive oil around a nonstick cookie sheet. A few notes for the cooking challenged like me, though: by “set in the center” they actually mean, “bake for 11-12 minutes and take the fragile things out of the oven, duh.” I carefully tried not to break them as I transferred them to a cool plate (who has wire racks?), and let them harden. They were great while they were still warm, and worth reheating in the microwave the next morning for a lazy snack in bed.

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