Tonight’s Meal: Mac & Cheese out of a Box

I have no idea whether MasterChef and MasterChef Junior are what they seem or whether the contestants (especially the kids) are shown recipes when faced with cooking something they’ve never seen before. I suspect so, though that’s not talked about on the show. Whatever happens, I feel pretty inept in making meals like mac & cheese by dumping the ingredients out of a box with the word “Kraft on it.

My mother made it from scratch. My wife and I started out making a lot of stuff from scratch but slowly stopped doing that when it became apparent that buying all the ingredients for the scratch version costs more than the stuff in a box–like pre-made pie crusts, for example.

Somewhere around here, I probably still have a copy of my mother’s cookbook The Joy of Cooking. We do have cookbooks but seldom look at them because it’s easier to look up recipes on the Internet. Not that they’re certified by Gordon Ramsay and the other judges on MasterChef or Chopped.

Seems to me that as we get older, we get addicted to easy comfort food rather than spending the afternoon in the kitchen cooking something that would look good on an expensive restaurant’s menu.

I don’t think my wife and I are unique. I don’t know very many people who eat anything fancy unless it’s, say–their anniversary and they’ve gone out to eat. And usually, that means a place like Outback or Applebees rather than a place with any Michelin stars.

Perhaps the easy-to-find recipes on the Internet will keep all of us from becoming totally inept in the kitchen. Meanwhile, all I need are servants, We would eat a lot better. How about you?

–Malcolm

My Vietnam War novel “At Sea” will be free on Kindle from June 1 through June 5.

I’m addicted to Cajun food and it’s my parents’ fault

Our family went on a trip to New Orleans when I was in junior high school. I was already in love with the blues, but the food there was an epiphany. Living in North Florida, we already had plenty of seafood, much of which we caught, but I had no idea how much food could be “enhanced” before we made a tour of all the “in” places to eat in and around the French Quarter.

I’m the only one in the family who became addicted, so I have no volunteers when I say, “Who’s up for Cajun tonight?” or “Anyone want to go on a road trip to Louisiana?” So, I’m stuck with nothing better to do than sneak over to a Popeye’s for chicken and dirty rice when I’m out running errands.

Don’t forget the cornbread

Needless to say, yesterday’s post about Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasonings wasn’t a fluke. I could live on that kind of coolness–or, perhaps I should say “hotness.”

I should mention here and now that Creole food is okay, but it doesn’t quite cut it when I have a choice and can order Cajun food. And far be it from me to try to explain the difference here except to say that I take offense when people serve gumbo without any gumbo in it. Gumbo needs, of course, okra, not the filé powder people keep wanting to substitute. Above all else, Cajun is rustic!

I could live off of Cajun Jambalaya (unlike the Creole version, it has no tomatoes in it).  The Internet lists a few other ideas if you’re new at this:

  • Gumbo.
  • Boiled crawfish.
  • Pecan pie.
  • Boudin sausage.
  • Shrimp and grits.
  • Wild duck.
  • Alligator.

Hungry yet, Cher?

Malcolm

Man arrested for slapping his mama

Junction City Texas, April 19, 2022, Star-Gazer News Service–Joe Smith was arrested here today for slapping his mama silly while cooking up a frying pan of dirty rice with a tablespoon of hot blend Slap Ya Mama™ cajun seasoning for extra excitement.

According to police, Smith’s Cajun cookbook included a potentially apocryphal story that the seasoning sold by the Walker family of Ville Platte, Louisiana, made food so good you were supposed to slap your mama for never cooking anything that great.

According to the Walker Family, Anthony “TW” Walker (who invented the blend) has never slapped his mama, never even considered it. In reality, according to TW, ”When you use this seasoning, the food tastes so good, you’ll receive a loving slap on the back and a kiss on the cheek for creating such a great tasting Cajun dish.”

Smith’s attorney, Aurelie Jones said that Smith missed the memo and/or the footnote in the recipe about mama slapping.

“I thought I had to slap my mama just after mincing the chicken gizzards or the recipe wouldn’t work,” said Smith. “That mojo was the conjure behind the cooking.”

Smith’s father, Wesson, said that if his boy had been cooking Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ, his son would be in the morgue because “Nobody slaps me and gets away with it. My wife Irene thinks the dirty rice faux pas was kind of funny after she iced down her face.”

The family is pressing assault and battery charges to “teach Joe a lesson.”

Jones told reporters that the dirty rice was spectacular, “though not worth jail time.”

-30-

Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter

What’s wrong with the last drop?

I grew up on Maxwell House coffee and still use it today. It outsold everyone else until the 1980s and now has become the brand everyone likes to make fun of. When I was a kid, it was made in a percolator. Now I use a drip coffee maker. (A Mr. Coffee, if you must know.)

I won’t touch a French press (too much trouble) and think Keurig coffee tastes awful. As for Starbucks, the prices are absurd and the culture of the whole shebang has elite written all over it. Barista? I think not. Just pour the damn coffee out of a Cory coffee maker rather than making a religion out of it.

Okay, I’m out of sync with the times, coffee-wise, and darned proud of my Maxwell House and Golden Cup (Waffle House) heritage.

My brothers and I always thought Maxwell House had a catchy slogan in “Good to the last drop.” Yet, we perceived a flaw. To us, saying “good to the last drop” implied that the coffee was great UNTIL you got to the last drop. We presumed the last drop was in some way swill. Otherwise, the slogan would have been “Good to and including the last drop.”

Or, maybe cultured people never drank the last drop because doing so looked greedy and needy and was frowned upon. If that was the case, they never had any idea what–if any–evils lurked in the last drop.

Now that Maxwell House is part of the giant Kraft Foods conglomerate, the question of the safety and goodness of the last drop will probablty never be answered and I’m not going to start licking the bottom of my cup to find out. When we were kids, we were told not to lick the bottom of our cup/glass/stein/tankard/Mason jar. Doing so was unseemly, almost as bad as loudly crunching up the ice from a sweet tea glass.

Teddy Roosevelt, who purportedly was the first person in the universe to say Maxwell House is good to the last drop was probably too busy to ever drink that last drop. So, everything else in the cup was all he knew. Well, bully!

Malcolm

Malcolm writes his novels while drinking Maxwell House coffee and certifies that his books are good to the final word.

 

Rare steak? I’m sending it back

Perfectly cooked? Ha! It hasn’t been cooked.

When I was a kid, everyday people ordered steaks medium to medium well. Now, that’s considered gauche, according to the food network. Just ask the bosses on Masterchef, Hell’s Kitchen, and Chopped. When they check the steak and find it to be nearly raw, they say, “Perfectly cooked.”

In a pig’s eye.

I could tell Chef Ramsay that the USDA says the safe cooking temperature for streak is 145˚. Basically, that computes to medium. Apparently the food network chefs have been brainwashed–but to what end?

I think it’s a “beautiful people” thing. Just look at how the people are dressed who come to a Hell’s Kitchen dinner. Runway ready, I would say. I haven’t seen people dressed like that since the last time I watched the Oscars. And that’s been a while. But they look less attractive with blood dripping from their mouths, pooling on their plates, and spattering across the tablecloths like a crime scene. That’s one hell of a fashion statement.

I feel like I should print out this chart wheneve I go to a steak house:

I doubt it would help. My simple rule of thumb is that if the color of the steak matches the color of my red wine, the steak is undercooked. I’ve had multiple arguments with servers about the doneness of my steaks, but then I didn’t have the chart with me. Usually, couple of thugs with meat cleavers come out of the kitchen and say, “Something wrong with your food, you uncultured oaf.”

“It’s fine,” I say, before putting a hex on the thugs.

Then the chef comes out in full splendour and says he has his standards but the customer is always right. Then, and only then, does my steak come back perfectly cooked. (They probably popped it into a microwave.)

Frankly, it’s easier to order something other than beef and avoid the arguments.

-Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

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My characters don’t eat raw meat.

The slow cooker blues

The blues don’t come from how great the pot roast tastes after it simmers for eight hours in a slow cooker. The blues come from the fact that after several hours or so, the entire house smells like supper is ready. This turns into an afternoon of snacking to keep one’s hunger at bay. Then, when it’s really time to eat, you’re no longer hungry.

Our house smells great right now because I peeled carrots and potatoes and quartered onions at the crack of dawn. I added a bunch of secret herbs and spices. I won’t tell you what those are because if you try them and don’t like them, y’all might turn into an angry mob. One tip: the cup of Port wine is what makes it work so well, and that’s odd because I really don’t like Port.

The inventor’s specs

The trick, I think, is to keep your afternoon snacks small–say, one Dorito or one Babybel® Cheese round out of the mesh bag or one chocolate chip cookie. Wash this down with about ten glasses of quality wine (preferably red though certainly not Port or bottom shelf Chianti).

We bought our first real Crock-Pot from Sunbeam (now Rival) in the 1970s when they were suddenly the best thing since fire. After a while, they became pas·sé, and those who still used them never told anybody since they’d be mocked as badly as those who admitted they were still drinking Mateus Rosé wine.

Now that their popularity has returned along with other time-saving devices aimed at families where both spouses have fulltime jobs, I can admit here in my blog that I’m making pot roast in a slow cooker (a real Crock-Pot, by the way).

Unfortunately, writing this post didn’t help with the hunger problem. Somewhere I read that every time you take off the lid to a Crock-Pot to check on what’s happening, you have to add 30 minutes to the cooking time. I have no idea whether that’s true, so I can even pretend to be tasting things (for quality control) the way I do when I make stew in the Dutch oven.

And it’s a bit early to be pouring a glass of wine.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novel Mountain Song is free on Kindle.

 

Unexpected comfort

“However, in her honor, it is my goal to help others with sick loved ones. It is my promise to make and deliver a Spoonful of Comfort to your loved ones with as much care as if I were sending it to my own mother. They’ll feel better and so will you. Whether you have an ailing mother, a child away at college with the flu or a grandchild with an ear infection, Spoonful of Comfort can help you show that you care with gourmet soup gift baskets.” – Marti Wymer, CEO/Founder, Spoonful of Comfort

When a person is sick, they often have a caring spouse–as I do–and caring friends–as I do–but when if comes down to the minute-by-minute crawl of days during their illness, they are usually alone with their thoughts and fears.

So any good thing that’s completely unexpected can make a great difference in their mood. In my case, it was the box I found on my front porch when I got home from my 40th cancer radiation treatment. It was a wonderful gift basket containing a quart of soup (kept cold in a special bag), granny’s cookies, granny’s dinner rolls, and a giant label to get the heated-up soup out of the pot.

I’ll respect the privacy of the C______ family, but they will see this post and know that the box on the porch really fired up my mood in a very good way. Thank you so much.

I happen to like chicken noodle soup accompanied by dinner rolls and cookies, so I’m looking forward to diving into this box of goodies.

Meanwhile, I followed the instructions and put the soup in the refrigerator, feeling less alone.

Malcolm 

Mama don’t allow no high-high priced coffee around here

I’m astounded by the cost of a cup of coffee at Starbucks and the price of a box of single-serving 24 Keurig K-Cup pods. I’ve tasted both brands of coffee. Not bad, even if I want what comes the closest to a standard, non-fru-fru, non-ramped-up, non-spoilt copy of coffee.

My parents used the same one of these percolators from the time I was a kid until I was in college.

We’ve been using automatic-drip coffee (AKA Mr. Coffee and similar coffee makers) ever since they came out in the 1970s. I was pleasantly surprised at how much better the coffee tasted than the coffee brewed in percolators. Like many appliances from the 1940s and 1950s which seemed to last forever, old-style percolators didn’t break down every few years.

All this comes to mind because automatic-drip coffee makers–from the $20 variety to the $100 variety seem to last a year to 18 months. So, as I did this morning at the nearest Dollar General store, I buy the $25 coffee maker, wash it our, run hot water through it, and I’m good to go.

We tried the more-expensive appliances but, like expensive tennis shoes, they don’t last much longer than the cheap brands. And the coffee, after all these years, I still use Maxwell House. Yeah, I hear you laughing, but I prefer it to everything else, though the original 8 O’Clock coffee that used to come from A&P grocery stores gave it a run for its money.

And it really is good to the last drop. (When I first started drinking coffee, I thought that slogan should have been “Good to and through the last drop” because as it is, one can infer that the last drop isn’t good.) Moving away from that, my 13-ounce package costs less than $4.00 and lasts about a week to ten days. Price-wise, that beats Starbucks and Kueric by a huge margin.

I’m not a connoisseur. Coffee is coffee and I don’t want anyone messing with it so that added ingredients and fad brand names drive the price up into the stratosphere. I guess I’m more or less semi-poor white trash because I won’t pay for a product that’s primarily made for people who like to brag about the fact they’re driving it or drinking it.

Malcolm

Putting sugar in cornbread is like putting raisins in hamburgers

It just isn’t done.

Yes, the Internet is filled with arguments about cornbread with sugar and cornbread without sugar. I conducted an informal poll which showed that those who put sugar in cornbread represent the unwashed, uncultured, and wholly ignorant segment of society. In fact, they don’t even deserve to be considered part of society.

Some clowns add wheat flour to cornbread. This group is descended from a grandmother off in Peoria who got roaring drunk one morning and reached for the wrong flour sack.

Unfortunately, there are heretics everywhere. Shun them. A site called Genius Kitchen provides a recipe for Old Fashioned Southern Cornbread.  Pshaw. They list one teaspoon of sugar. Who are these people?

In my novel Eulalie and Washerwoman, Eulalie says that the people who buy homes in a new subdivision after the African Americans were run out will be the kind of people who put sugar in their cornbread. If you’re not from the South, maybe you didn’t know she was mocking the lah-tee-dah faux culture people who don’t know their butts from a hole in the ground.

You probably know that I’m a white male. What this means among other things is that these days, is that “my kind” is slandered by everybody. Being from the South adds another level of malice to that slander. So, you probably won’t believe me when I tell you that sugar in cornbread is not necessarily a “white thing.” I don’t know any Southern white people who put sugar in their cornbread unless they moved here from the North.

Cat Cora, an Iron Chef from the Food Network lists cornbread’s ingredients as 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan, 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 cup buttermilk (shake before measuring), and 2 large eggs.  Okay, I’ll quibble about the kosher salt, but the main thing we don’t see here is SUGAR.

Most great Southern cooks–and that includes my wife–don’t need a recipe for cornbread any more than they need a recipe for real Southern biscuits. But Cat Cora’s is pretty darn close to what quality people make without a user’s manual when it comes to cornbread. I should mention that you need a cast-iron frying pan, but you can skip that if you don’t know what that is. Unfortunately, young people often need a recipe for cracklin’ bread, corn pone, johnny cakes, and hushpuppies because they weren’t brought up right when it came to kitchen skills.

(Note to my reader in England: When I say we eat hushpuppies with mullet [a tasty fish], we’re not eating baby dogs or Hush Puppies shoes.)

Here’s my advice if you want quality cornbread: The next time you’re served cornbread at a restaurant, see if it tastes sweet. If it does, shout out as loudly as you can: “Who’s the bastard who f_cked up my cornbread with sugar?”

If your parents or spouse serve you sweet cornbread, I suggest leaving our the words “bastard” and “f_cked up” while making the point that you refuse to eat that kind of swill in the future.

Malcolm

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suddenly the blog is like chopped liver.

There are weeks when a hundred or so people show up. And there are weeks when almost nobody shows up. One is tempted to ask, “What am I, chopped liver?”

If you love chopped liver, no offense is intended even though I might wonder if you were brainwashed.

Mother tried to sneak liver into our menu about once a month. Nobody liked it. Maybe she learned about it in Home Ec. Maybe her parents forced her to eat it and she was carrying on the tradition. Even ketchup couldn’t save it.

Chopped Liver with Egg – Wikipedia photo

If you know how search engines work, I have a question for you. When the subject of a post, often one written several years ago, isn’t part of the national debate, what causes people to suddenly click on it, seemingly in groups? It would make more sense if they left comments or posted links to those posts on Twitter or Facebook. But, they aren’t doing that (I don’t think).

This week it’s my Seminole Pumpkin Fry Bread post from March 2015. I grew up in Florida and often made fry bread. So, when I included fry bread in one of my novels, I wrote a post about it. Now, the post is getting more hits. What’s that about? Do clubs have meetings, pick a post, and then go out and look at it in droves to confuse the blogger? If so, those people are eating too much chopped liver. (By the way, if your mother is serving you liver, a half teaspoon of Tabasco sauce will kill the taste.)

Every week, my post The Bare-Bones Structure of a Fairy Tale gets hundreds of hits. I wrote that post in 2013. The number of hits surprises me. Perhaps more people are reading, writing, and studying fairy tales than I suspected. So many people have stopped by that post, that I’ve updated it with more information and links. Maybe I should add a subliminal spell to that post that draws fairies into every reader’s house. All in good fun, of course. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer, of course, is that those fairies bring you steaming plates of chopped liver.  (By the way, Sriracha sauce makes liver even worse. It makes everything worse. I know, I know, I’m in the minority of people who didn’t jump on the big Sriracha sauce bandwagon, opting to stay with Tabasco.)

Okay, let’s agree to disagree if you like chopped liver or Sriracha sauce, don’t send me any recipes, pamphlets, white papers, or how-to books featuring those things. In fact, if you’re a fan of chopped liver or Sriracha sauce, my advice is to become a contestant on the cooking show called Chopped. That show features mystery baskets of hideous ingredients that regular people have never heard of, much less would even eat.

According to The Weirdest Ingredients Ever Used on ‘Chopped’, here are a few of the show’s strange offerings: Dried fermented scallops, Eyeballs, Scrapple, and Caul fat. If you want to know what any of these things are, click on the link. I’ll warn you now that the article includes pictures. The chef contestants on each show must include all of the mandatory ingredients in each appetizer, entree, and dessert. And, as the show’s host Ted Allen tells them something like, “If your food doesn’t cut it, you’ll be chopped.” (Eliminated in that round of the show.)

In general, Mother made good meals. So, I probably would not have voted to chop her from the family kitchen for serving liver. I came close to saying I was going to start having meals on campus (you have to be crazy to do that) when mother–and apparently everyone else in the neighborhood–went on a weird food fad: baby bees, chocolate-covered ants. My brothers and I were told we had to taste everything on our plates. We forced down the liver with Hunt’s Ketchup (we never ate that swill called “catsup”), but we drew the line at the bees and the ants.

So, now I’m curious: Will people who tend to follow this blog see this post as just more chopped liver?

Malcolm

I do most of the cooking in our house. I have never served liver, chopped or otherwise. It goes without saying that I wouldn’t try to “elevate” the meal, as chef contestants would say, with something hideous like dried tarantula powder.