Friday, October 26, 2018

Friday Food: The Great Velveeta Challenge

"Velveeta?" you say. "Why has Velveeta suddenly appeared in your kitchen?" Read on for the answer to that mystery.


Short version: Pasta with meat sauce, leftover collards, zucchini, and cauliflower

Long version: I took out a bag of ground beef to thaw with no particular plan in mind for it. I figured something would come to me. It always does.

This time, what came to me was that the remaining paste tomatoes the MiL had brought me were looking sort of wrinkly and sad. The best use for paste tomatoes is, of course, Finny's Sauce. I didn't have quite enough fresh tomatoes to fill the pan, so I also opened a can of whole tomatoes in juice and filled the rest of the pan with those (not with the juice, though, obviously).

That sauce is definitely not as good without fresh basil, though. Mark my words: Next year I am growing a LOT of basil.


I didn't have fresh basil or red wine, so I used dried basil and oregano plus a little balsamic vinegar. Although not the pinnacle of sauce, it was still really good. It's hard to go wrong with a whole head of roasted garlic. I browned the ground beef and then just dumped the sauce right into it. Mix with pasta and serve with random leftover vegetables, and there's dinner.


Short version: Tortilla chips and queso dip, tamales, green salad

Long version: The guy that we bought our house from left some food for us in the refrigerator. On purpose, I mean, not just forgot about. The eggs were no problem to use. The "whole wheat" bread was happily consumed by Cubby, who always relishes the opportunity to eat store-bought bread*. The can of diet root beer I poured right down the sink. The almost-complete box of Velveeta . . .

Well, that I couldn't bring myself to throw out. Sure, it's a "processed cheese product," but it is kind of cheese. And my mom used to use it for cheese sauce. I wouldn't buy it myself, but I figured I could at least make macaroni and cheese for the kids with it.

What I did instead was melt some of it in the microwave with some salsa and let A., Charlie, and Jack eat it with tortilla chips. I tasted some. It was weird. It tasted sweet, even though there's no sugar listed in the ingredients.


We also had prepared tamales, because we had to go to the small city to get a new tire on Saturday, so of course we also went to the grocery store and Cubby begged me to get some of the tamales that were on special. The instructions on the package said to steam them in the unopened bag. I say I'm not cooking my food in plastic packaging. So I took them out and wrapped them in aluminum foil to steam them.

I don't own a steamer basket--it's one of those things I keep thinking I should get and then forget about, so I think that means I don't really need it--but here's an easy way to get food up off the bottom of a pot: lay canning jar rings all around the bottom of the pot.

Easy assuming you have a glut of jar rings, that is. As I do.

I got one package of pork tamales and one of bean (on accident--I meant to get only pork) and the bean ones were way too spicy. We ate them anyway with a lot of sour cream.

One of these days I'm going to try making my own tamales. It's kind of the ultimate kitchen challenge in New Mexico, I think. But it will be one of these days when I'm sleeping more than four hours a night and not spending every spare moment driving ten miles away to paint walls.


Short version: Oven-fried chicken and pork chops, potato chunks, roasted sweet potatoes/onions/bell pepper/broccoli, sauteed spinach

Long version: I was so pleased with the corn flour+spice coating for chicken that I decided to do it with the combination of chicken and pork I had thawed (I had a partial package of each, but not enough of either for everyone). About noon, I dumped some vinegar, salt, pepper, and random spice mix into the bag the meat was in for a marinade. At dinnertime, all I had to do was shake the meat in a bag with the seasoned corn flour and put it on the baking sheet with melted butter.

I used the last of the aluminum foil for the tamales, so I had to use parchment paper on the baking pan. They weren't as crispy, but still very tasty. I also appreciate that the butter+corn flour helps them brown without using a broiler. I can just roast them at the same temperature as the vegetables. So efficient.

The spinach was also the result of going to the grocery store with the children. I had been letting the boys watch old Popeye videos on YouTube (do not recommend--Popeye and Bluto are really rude and mean) and they got a little obsessed with spinach. When Cubby saw it at the grocery store, he begged me to get it. I started to say no because I have a ton of collard greens at hand, but then I thought, "Wait a minute. I'm saying no to a kid begging for spinach?" So I bought it.

It was quite young spinach, so I just sauteed it quickly in olive oil with garlic. They all loved it. So it looks like I'll be growing spinach next year along with celeriac.


Short version: Not-burned brisket, macaroni and cheese, steamed carrots and broccoli, squash, cupcakes

Long version: Brisket redemption by adding more liquid and keeping the oven temperature lower.

I used some of the Velveeta to make macaroni and cheese with the recipe on the Velveeta box. I even had the tiny elbow kind of macaroni, and the resulting macaroni and cheese was pretty much indistinguishable from the Kraft kind in a box. Charlie and Cubby loved it. Jack did not. That boy's got good taste.

I don't know what the squash was. It was a pumpkin-looking one the MiL brought. I just cut it in half and put it face down on a baking sheet to cook while the brisket was in the oven.

I made cupcakes because I never measure when I'm making buttercream frosting and when I made it for Poppy's birthday cake, I added too much milk and then had to add more of everything else, resulting in about twice as much frosting as I needed. Well, I couldn't just throw all that butter and sugar away, could I? No. I must make more cake. So I did. The oven was still on anyway for the brisket, so I made Grandma Bishop's chocolate cake into cupcakes.

There were no complaints.


Short version: Pork ribs, corn muffins, green salad

Long version: I know the last time I made these corn muffins, the recipe was fully available for free on the New York Times website. And now it's not. As I refuse on principal to create any more accounts than necessary--and I don't feel the recipes on that website are necessary--I instead found a site that listed the ingredients and then made them from what I know about baking and what I remembered about that recipe. They turned out fine.

Also, Charlie, who claimed last time I made them that he didn't like them, ate three this time. I guess he forgot he didn't like them.

We need a photo right about now, don't we? Here, have a baby.

Fashion forward in polka dots.


Short version: Grease Bomb, a.k.a. Man Skillet; pinto beans; squash; green peas

Long version: Last time we were at the grocery store, A. bought some 72/28 ground beef. He told me this in the car. Had he told me this in the store, I would have said he shouldn't buy it. Waaay too much fat. He told me it was really cheap and if I didn't drain the fat we'd really get our money's worth.

I couldn't promise not to drain the fat. I always drain off excess fat. I keep it to brown or fry other things, but I drain it. So when I pulled out a bag of this ground beef to thaw, I told A. he could cook it exactly as he wanted it.

Thus, Man Food.

While I was at the new house painting, he made his own skillet thing. He cooked the ground beef with a couple of cloves of garlic, added some leftover potatoes that he had mashed, plus some masa to help absorb the great quantity of rendered grease, and then topped the whole thing with slices of Velveeta.

I had already cooked pinto beans in the morning--I had planned on making a vegetable soup with them, but didn't have the energy after the painting--so we had those, too, plus some already-cooked squash and green peas.

A. was thrilled with how his skillet meal turned out. Cubby and Jack had seconds. It actually tasted pretty good, although it was so heavy that I used just a small scoop to mix with my squash and beans.

The Man Skillet used the last of the Velveeta. I'm pretty sure the bachelor we bought our new house from would have approved of this use of his Velveeta.


Short version: Oven Cornell chicken, roasted potatoes, roasted onion and bell pepper, green salad

Long version: Cornell chicken is waaaay better on a grill. We really need to get a grill.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* God knows why. Store-bought bread manages to be both sweet and unpleasantly sour. Yuck.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

For Posterity

It's been almost exactly a week since Poppy's birthday, and I'm just now getting around to posting pictures from that day. I have to do it, you see, as this blog is pretty much her baby book. Besides, I did it for all three of her brothers (Cubby here, Charlie here, and Jack here), and I wouldn't want to leave myself open to any accusations of unfairness in the future.

As if a mother can escape those.


The big day started way too early, thanks to Poppy's cold and stuffed-up nose that made it hard for her to sleep.

5:25 a.m.: Wide-eyed baby and haggard mom.

I got up so early that it seemed perfectly reasonable to be baking a cake at 7 a.m. I used this recipe for a one-bowl yellow cake, which was indeed as easy as they claimed. I can say that because I mixed the whole thing up and got it in the oven while a baby crawled around my feet, Cubby cooked eggs at the stove, and Charlie and Jack ran in and out fighting and demanding breakfast.

It ended up being kind of dry, probably because I over-mixed it. The recipe did say to avoid that, but it also said to mix it for about three minutes if mixing by hand, and by the time I had mixed it for about thirty seconds, there were no lumps left.

Whatever. It was fine. I made a half recipe, because I know who will eat any leftover cake (me) and that person (me) does not need unnecessary temptation just sitting around the kitchen.

I made a vanilla buttercream frosting for it. I didn't have anything to decorate it with, so I mixed a little of the frosting with some strawberry jam to make pink frosting. Then I used the old hack of putting the frosting in the corner of a plastic baggie, cutting off the corner, and using that to write on the cake. It came out as well as that always does.

Total amateur hour.

While I was creating that messy masterpiece, Poppy was creating her own messy masterpiece on the floor.

A bag of canning jar lids and rings is an excellent distraction.

I managed to dig out some balloons from a random box that hadn't been unpacked yet, though I couldn't find the birthday candles and had to use one of our big emergency candles. Good thing I only needed one.

Poppy looks suitably impressed.

That lump of newspaper there on the table is Poppy's birthday present. Singular. And the only reason she had that is because it was a toy given to her for Christmas last year that she was too young for, so I had it in a closet until she was big enough and it happened to be in the box with the balloons. 

Thanks for the chewy ark, Aunt Marilyn! She loves it! Finally.

She also loved her cake.

Don't get between this girl and her cake.

And . . . that was pretty much it. She had a bath to wash off the cake and snot and was deposited into bed.

And that's how a first birthday with a fourth child goes down. Low-key, but at least she never has to worry about having other kids at her birthday party.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Day for the Books

At 8:15 a.m., A., me, Jack, and Poppy hit the road and drove 50 miles to drop the van off at the mechanic. After that, we went to the clinic for Poppy's one-year checkup*. She didn't get any of her vaccinations because I had to sign a records release for her former pediatrician to send her records to the new place, and due to the time change, it was the hour the pediatrician in New York was closed for lunch.

So I have to bring her back.

Fail number 1.

After that fun time, we went to the Motor Vehicle Department so A. could get his new driver's license. I couldn't get mine because I can't find my Social Security card in the mess of paperwork and boxes that have yet to be unpacked.

Fail number 2.

We finally arrived back home at 1 p.m. At 3:10 p.m., I got a call from the school asking if I was unable to come to the meeting I was scheduled to be at at 3 p.m. I was not unable, I had just written it in on the calendar for Thursday.

Fail number 3.

A. was gone doing some things at the new house, so I quickly loaded up a very tired baby in her stroller and speed-walked with Jack the 200 yards to the school, where four other people with busy schedules were waiting on me.

One of the teachers gave me a pen to sign a form, and I spent a good twenty seconds trying to click or twist the tip out before she kindly informed me that it just had a cap that could be taken off. That was a bit embarrassing, but nothing to what happened next.

We were almost through the meeting when I looked over to where Jack and Poppy were playing with toys on the floor and saw that Poppy's back was covered in poop and there was more of it all over the floor.

Is there a problem here?

I of course had nothing with me to clean it up with, so I had to cast myself upon the kindness of the women present--all of whom, thankfully, have their own children--to secure antibacterial wipes and an extra diaper, provided by the preschool teacher.

Yes, that was just what my day needed.

After cleaning up the baby and the floor, I made the appropriate self-deprecating jokes about leaving before we caused any more trouble and got the hell out of there with a pantsless baby covered with my sweater. And then I had to hang around the school for ten more minutes waiting for Cubby and Charlie to finish their days so we could go home.

I may never leave my house again.

* She's in the 90th percentile for height and the 83rd percentile for weight, which means that she is a very big girl. But my sore shoulders already knew that.