There are several things in life I swore I’d never do.
- Shop at Walmart.
- Listen to country music.
- Go bungee jumping.
- Read a single page of any of the Twilight books.
- Buy Velveeta.
So it is with great consternation that I must confess to committing a cardinal sin this weekend, and breaking one of my own hard-and-fast rules. I certainly didn’t set foot in the dreaded big-box retailer that I despise; couldn’t tell Tim McGraw apart from Blake Shelton if my life depended on it; would have to be all kinds of crazy to strap a rubber band around my ankles and willingly jump from a bridge; and prefer my vampires to be of the non-sparkling variety. I did, however, break down and not only buy Velveeta, but I actually cooked with it, too.
Oh, the shame.
Velveeta is such a weird product. First of all – what IS it?! I’ll tell you what it isn’t: cheese. I had to ask one of the grocery store employees at Winco where to find it the other day, because it wasn’t where I expected it to be. In the dairy aisle, you know. Instead it was stacked up like a pile of bricks (and is just about as heavy as one) on the end cap of one of the meat sections, but wasn’t refrigerated because – even though it contains ingredients like milk and whey – it’s also got alginate and apocarotenal, not to mention a really long shelf life. Using Velveeta in lieu of cheese is cheating, and I like to call anybody who does so a velcheeta. I first wrote about this nearly two years ago, when hardly anybody read my blog and I could get away with insulting my mom over the internet. Nowadays I’m more careful, but the fact is, she does happen to have a fondness for this foil-wrapped loaf of fake cheese that defies explanation and makes me think I just might have been adopted. In fact, she insists that the next time Tara and I have a grilled cheese sandwich challenge, we try her version of this American classic, which is made with Velveeta and Miracle Whip.
I almost want to cry.
With such an obvious distaste for this product, you’re probably scratching your head right about now and wondering what on earth possessed me to buy a block of the stuff. The truth is, before this weekend I figured I’d be much more inclined to give in to country music, because if nothing else Johnny Cash is considered country and I actually love the Man In Black’s music. I might even dig a Miranda Lambert song or two. Rest assured though, indie and alternative rock still comprise 90% of the music on my iPod. The Velveeta, then? The reason is simple.
I was on a quest for a really good macaroni ‘n cheese recipe.
Actually, I have a really good recipe. It’s Alton Brown‘s. I’ve been making it for years, and it’s delicious. But when it comes to cooking I like to experiment and even if something is tried and true, the temptation to mix things up occasionally is too powerful to resist. So I ventured on over to allrecipes.com and plugged in a search for mac ‘n cheese, sorting the results by rating. And quickly discovered that the four highest-rated recipes called for a mix of real cheese and – gasp! – my dreaded processed nemesis. I assumed that this was some kind of joke, but in reading the comments from people who had tried the recipes discovered that they actually LIKED them. A lot. They praised the creaminess that Velveeta imparted to the overall consistency of the dish.
“Perhaps,” I said to myself, “You are being too quick to judge, Mr. Petruska.”
I’m what you’d call an adventurous sort, and always eager to try new things. Plus, I hate to discriminate. Finally, I figured that since the recipe I chose called for plenty of real cheddar – hello, Tillamook! – that I could go ahead and also mix in 8 ounces of Velveeta, as per the instructions. The good news? That’s only 1/4 of the loaf. The bad news? That leaves me with 3/4 of a loaf of Velveeta now taking up valuable refrigerator space! Suggestions are welcome, please. And mother, I know: grilled cheese sandwiches.
So I bought Velveeta for the first time in my life and I cooked Velveeta for the first time in my life. I had my doubts upon removing it from the box and slicing off a hunk. I really got nervous when I realized it felt like a greasy rubber ball, and was about as springy. Still, I was determined to give it a chance. And the verdict?
The flavor wasn’t bad. The mac ‘n cheese had a nice tang to it, though that could have come from the addition of prepared mustard. Or, you know, the linear sulfated polysaccharides playfully known as carageenan. No, what got to me instead was the consistency. It was thick. Much too thick. Mac ‘n cheese shouldn’t be chewy, right? It should be creamy. I probably could have spackled my walls with this stuff (and conveniently, they are orange – the color would have blended right in).
I’m still not a fan. Next time, I’ll stick with my old recipe. There’s a reason Alton Brown is so popular. The dude doesn’t cook with Velveeta.
Other than my Velveeta-fied take on mac ‘n cheese, the weekend was pretty low-key. Ran errands, watched a really lame movie called The Big Year (seriously, who decided a comedy about people who go birdwatching would be funny – and why did Steve Martin agree to star?!) and did my taxes. I’d been dreading that last chore because of my unemployment status and the fact that I made a withdrawal from my 401K last spring, but it turns out I had nothing to fear as I ended up with a substantial refund. Whew! That is money I can really use, trust me. If I can manage to land a job sometime in the next month or so, I might actually be on Easy Street for a change. Fingers crossed, dare to dream, and all that jazz. With Tara moving in soon, it does feel like everything is falling into place rather nicely.
The kids are officially on Spring Break, and my parents are taking them to the Oregon coast for three nights. I might drop by their beach house myself on Tuesday and hang out overnight. Anything to get away from the constant, noisy construction taking place on my townhouse.
Oh, and great news – Tara has started a WordPress blog! It feels like everything has come full circle, considering we met through blogging way back in 2003. Feel free to check her out at Tara Piece Of Paper. She’s a rather talented writer, if I do say so myself.