Not-So-Big Macs!


Homemade “Not-So-Big” Macs are a helluva lot better for you than the real deal! And way cuter!

Many people are surprised that I’ll admit to eating fast food every once in a while. Considering my choice of career and the unlimited budget that I have for purchasing the finest food that money can buy and people can eat, sometimes my friends are frankly astonished that I have the occasional craving for Taco Bell or similar trash foods. I suppose every once in a while I need a casual antidote to all the fancy stuff like caviar, foie gras, matsutake mushrooms, pork belly, and lobster tails. At least that’s my excuse, but really I just kinda like the stuff despite the realization that it’ll probably shave some time off my life and contribute to our degrading environment. But in truth I rarely indulge; I eat Taco Bell once a year and McDonald’s with a similar frequency.

But sometimes I really crave a tasty burger, and usually I don’t mean some kind of fancy-schmancy hand-ground meat patty artfully layered with chef-designed, umami-laden, manufactured-in-house condiments. No parmesan crisp or ketchup leather or shiitake bullshit or aged Vermont cheddar or sun-dried tomato or a goddamn brioche bun. I want a thin patty of good beef on a soft, yielding (read cheap) bun with honest-to-goodness Kraft American cheese. Sometimes all I want is a crappy fast-food burger, something gooey, chewy, beefy, sloppy.

However, I want it with killer beef, ideally grass-fed, so that I won’t be burdened with as much (however fleeting) guilt when I bite down into that burger and the hot beef grease courses over my tastebuds. And I want organic tomatoes and lettuce, quality onions, and a good pickle.

Anyway, a few days ago I was in one of my “trashy burger moods”. It hit me as I strolled the aisles at Trader Joe’s; inspiration struck as I spotted a bag of slider buns dotted with sesame seeds, something I’d never seen before. Barely two inches in diameter the little rolls screamed BIG MAC and that ubiquitous commercial ditty ran through my mind like the sexy come-on of a low-rent hooker trolling the unfashionable, less-hospitable end of Sunset Blvd: “two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun”. A shiver ran down my spine and I knew exactly what I was going to eat for dinner that night.


Inspiration came in a plastic bag.

Of course a few issues hampered the immediate execution of my “Not-So-Big Mac” or “Mini-Mac”. The Big Mac is constructed of a “triple-bun” with an additional round slab of bread starching up the middle of the burger. I had to create the extra bun slice by carefully trimming the the crust from the tops (or bottoms) of some of the slider buns. This was wasteful, to be sure, but authenticity demands a strenuous attention to detail and, quite possibly, some waste along the way.

Next is the so-called “special sauce” which is simply Russian dressing (1,000 Island being virtually identical). I used my own super-basic recipe of a half-cup of mayo, a quarter-cup of ketchup, two tablespoons of sweet pickle relish, and kosher salt and cracked peppercorn (to taste) all mixed up together. Also on the burger are sour pickle slices (look for dill hamburger chips), shredded iceberg lettuce, one slice of yellow American cheese, and some small pieces of sliced white onions. The sliced onions I soaked in cold water for about five minutes to get rid of the some of the acidity. I drained them well before putting them on the burger.


My Mini-Macs were magnificent!

The burger patties themselves I made very thin, less than a half-inch in thickness, and about three-and-a-half inches in diameter. Whenever you make burgers remember that they shrink significantly; how much shrinkage occurs is determined by fat content — more fat means more shrinkage, generally. So for a burger that fits a two-inch bun you need a burger that’s a little larger than three inches. I seasoned the burger patties with just a little salt and pepper right before cooking in a skillet (or on a flat-top griddle).

I heated my skillet over high heat until it was just smoking and swirled in a little vegetable oil. Very quickly I lightly browned the cut sides of all three parts of the bun — the top, the bottom, and the middle piece (which needs to browned on both sides). I kept the toasted buns warm on a small sheet pan in a low oven (about 200ºF) while I cooked the burgers.

I added more vegetable oil to the pan — just enough to coat the bottom evenly. I added the  burger patties; remember two patties per Mini-Mac! I cooked the burgers on one side about two minutes until very browned and a little crisp. I flipped the burgers and added a small slice of American cheese on top of half the burgers*; remember only one slice of cheese for each Mini-Mac! After one more minute of cooking I removed the burgers from the pan and took the warm buns out of the oven.

I assembled the Mini-Macs in the following order, assembling from top to bottom:

  • the bottom of the bun
  • a half-teaspoon of special sauce
  • one pickle chip
  • a few pieces of sliced onion
  • a tiny clutch of lettuce
  • a burger patty with cheese*
  • the “middle bun”
  • a few pieces of sliced onion
  • another tiny clutch of lettuce
  • a “cheeseless” burger patty
  • another half-teaspoon of special sauce
  • another pickle slice
  • the top of the bun

After assembly my fam and I ate them immediately. Both wife and son were appropriately grateful and deemed the Mini-Macs excellent!

* Big Mac scientists for some reason place a slice of unmelted cheese on the burger “underneath” the bottom burger patty, probably to keep the hot cheese from wilting the lettuce too much. However, I prefer melting the cheese on the burger while it cooks (better cheese-gooiness). I’m on the fence about whether the cheese should face up or down when you assemble, although I’m leaning toward cheese-up. You decide.

Crispy Vegan Veggie Burger!

Everything about this burger is vegan, except the brioche bun. Oops.

This is not exactly a recipe post as I don’t have a recipe for the veggie patty. It’s just a little something I whipped up yesterday for my friend Ian, whose diet is wholly vegan and usually mostly raw. The patty is made from sticky sprouted brown rice, black rice, mushrooms, and zucchini. I threw in a little garlic and herbs and a tiny bit of flour to bind it all together. I crisped it in olive oil in a very hot skillet and melted a slice of soy cheese (you can see it peeking out of the bun on the right side of the pick) over the top.

I placed the cooked burger on a toasted brioche bun with a slice of killer ripe beefsteak tomato, iceberg lettuce, bread-n-butter pickles, and thinly sliced red onion. A slather of Vegenaise and a drizzle of both yellow mustard and ketchup completed this super-tasty burger.

It wasn’t until Ian took a bite of the burger that I realized that the brioche bun probably had a tiny bit of egg in it. He probably didn’t realize it until he read this post. Oops.

One day I need to come up with a measured recipe for this patty. But that day is not today.

Apple Pan Hickory Burger

The Apple Pan's signature burger: The Hickory Burger

The Apple Pan restaurant in West LA opened in 1947 and barely anything has changed since, except the prices. Seemingly frozen in time like some back-lot period set, The Apple Pan looks like a cute little ranch-style cottage on the outside and the old-fashioned horseshoe-shaped countertop on the inside still only seats about twenty. The owners have resisted any overture to change — it’s still owned by the same family and they’ve never expanded, never added a fancy Micros POS system, never put a kobe beef burger on the menu, never even nodded in the direction of modernity. The menu is slight but timeless, offering only a couple of signature burgers (the Steak burger and the Hickory), a tuna salad sandwich, an egg salad sandwich, fries, and a slew of pies including, natch, apple.

The Apple Pan is a West LA institution.

I hadn’t eaten at the Apple Pan in probably ten years, but on a whim I went a couple of weeks ago, the day after I returned from Costa Rica in fact. I was craving simple food, American food. And as I was cruising by, hungry as all hell, the Apple Pan caught my eye and I squealed into the nearest parking spot on Pico Boulevard. I hustled up to the counter and stopped short; the counter was totally full. But luckily the moment I entered the server (energetic older dude with a serious but friendly demeanor) slapped down a check in front of a departing, burger-filled customer and I had but a couple of minutes of wait-time before I slid into the swivel stool at the burger trough.

The fries were a highlight of the meal!

I ordered a Hickory burger, some fries, and a Coke. The soda came in a can, which my server plopped down next to a paper cone set into a stainless steel pedestal — my drinking glass. A cardboard plate piled high with piping hot French fries hit the counter seconds later and my guy flipped a bottle of Heinz in his hand and asked, “ketchup?” I assented and with a hipster-bartender flourish he banged out a puddle of ketchup onto another, smaller cardboard plate.

The fries were excellent and addicting. They were unseasoned and I definitely needed a generous sprinkle of salt, but they tasted fresh and richly “potatoey”. The fries were crisp, crunchy, and delicious. Perfect fries are hard to find, but these were delightful. I scarfed in about 37 seconds. By which time my burger arrived, wrapped in paper, hot and savory.

It looks like it's a sixty-five years old...because it is!

The old-fashioned counter burger was thin and coarsely-ground. It was beefy and flavorful, although perhaps not as tender as I would have liked and a bit under-seasoned, like the fries. The Tillamook cheddar cheese was tasty, the pickles added some nice sour crunch, and the mound of fresh iceberg lettuce was crisp and inviting. The hickory sauce was pretty much just tomato puree with a touch of brown sugar and smoke, the most rudimentary of barbecue sauces, but it worked beautifully and made up for the absent tomato slice. The sauce was slightly tangy, slightly sweet, slightly smokey. The burger was delicious, maybe a little on the small side. I could have used a few more bites!
My only caveat was that the bun was squishy and crumbly. It didn’t hold up well to the moistness of the sauce or the lettuce. Halfway through eating the burger it started falling apart into gooey, cheesy, tomatoey chunks. Delicious chunks to be sure, but chunks nonetheless. I ate every last chunk.
I’ll make another visit soon. I have yet to try any of the pies, and I’ve heard the egg salad sandwich has a magic all its own, so that’s on the list. Certainly I will visit again before another decade passes me by. But I suspect that even a decade from now, The Apple Pan will be unchanged. 
10801 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Neighborhood: West Los Angeles

(310) 475-3585

Throwback Burger

Going for a 70's cookbook vibe.

I’ve been out of the country for a few days, eating glorious seafood in Central America. Upon my return I was craving two things: spicy pho with piles of bean sprouts and herbs and chilies, and a good ole fashioned cheeseburger.

We went to Pho36 direct from the airport on the night of our arrival and scratched that itch. The next day I addressed the second craving and made for dinner killer cheeseburgers from a combination of hand-ground chuck, sirloin, and skirt steak. Charred the burgers in a skillet and melted sharp cheddar over the patties. Served them with grilled onions, fresh onions, lettuce, tomato, Russian dressing, yellow mustard, and lots of pickles on a buttered, toasted onion roll. A small pile of Caesar salad on the side gave me license to believe I was eating a balanced meal.

It was a solid, slightly stodgy, not-particularly-innovative cheeseburger. It was a little plain, a little old-fashioned, not modern or flashy. No avocado or bacon or aioli or homemade tamarind ketchup or bulgogi marinade. Just a f#*king awesome burger. Incredibly satisfying. It made my soul glow.

The Juicy Lucy Leaves Me Goosey

This might look like a cheese-less burger, but no! It’s a Juicy Lucy!

The Juicy Lucy or “Jucy Lucy” is a specialty of South Minneapolis, originally introduced to the burger-eating masses by one of two rival bars on the same block. Both Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club claim to have invented the innovative, gooey burger with cheese not on top of the patty but (drumroll) inside the meat! Okay, okay, maybe it’s not really that innovative. Cheese-inside-meat creations aren’t that crazy an idea; does anybody remember a cheese-stuffed hot dog called (perhaps) a Frankenwiener? But the Juicy Lucy is fun, yummy, and special. When you bite into one, the incendiary liquid cheese gushes out like molten lava. It’s a little dangerous and a lot messy. Much of the cheese will end up on your plate, which you then can use as a sauce, mopping it up with hunks of greasy burger and bun.

Continue reading