Monday, January 2, 2012

Ghetto Heaven

I have always loved Hamburger Helper.  Growing up poor, I learned early not to turn up my nose at any food.  I grew up on instant stuff (Ramen noodles!) and while I now recognize that it's pretty gross, I still miss that type of stuff sometimes. 

So the other day I had some ground beef and a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese (fact: Kraft and Velveeta are the best.  My mother in law gave me a box of Annie's recently.  Tasted like cardboard).  I threw them together and it was YUM.

I browned the meat first and seasoned it with salt, pepper, liquid smoke flavoring and Worcestershire sauce (told ya) and maybe a bit too much Tabasco sauce.  Also added about a third of a jar of spaghetti sauce; it happened to be the kind with little sausages in it. 

There's the mac, and my butt courtesy of my husband.

And when the mac was done I just threw it together.  YUM times a million.  I highly recommend. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Christmas Meatloaf

I lied.  I'm not going to talk about My Enemy From the Deep, The Lobster, today.  (But I look forward to that conversation.)  It being post -Christmas and pre-New Year's, I must talk about our Christmas meal.

I've never made a big holiday meal before.  There's something about the holidays that invites giant enormous meals.  I mean, I'm definitely up for the challenge of cooking something big and yummy at any other time of the year, but for some reason Cooking Around the Holidays is daunting.  I suppose because cooking a meal for your family, at this time of year in particular, makes one a Grown Up.  You become like all the women before you in your family who were suddenly expected to feed everyone.  I suppose that in making my first sizable Christmas meal, I'm morphing from Pennie into Mrs Cuevas.  Or Mom.  Yikes.

But anyway.  I went grocery shopping with my mother in law recently, and we spent so much that we earned a certificate for a) a free ham, or b) $10 worth of groceries.  We chose the ham, of course, because we figured it was a steal (not knowing that the ham they were offering costs about 10 bucks anyway).  My husband had just suggested that I cook on Christmas Day, and the Free Ham sealed my fate.

So I tried to plan the rest of the meal.  In my head, large holiday meals include more than one kind of meat.  Turkey at Thanksgiving is accompanied by pernil.  In my family, we always seem to have at least 3 kinds of animal present.  My second meat had to be something tender, something that my mother in law, who is 80 and wears dentures, could enjoy, in case the ham was too tough.  LAMB, of course!  I made a lamb shoulder once, years ago, and man that was delectable.  Melts in your mouth.  However, I brought that lamb from a farmer's market, and I couldn't find lamb shoulder at the damn supermarket.   I settled on chops.  Very simple to cook and tender enough, right?

Now, the ham recipe.  For recipes and ideas, I always go to  This site RULES.  It's so awesome.  It's well organized, has tons of user feedback.  I've been going there for years and everything I've tried has always been delicious.  I used this recipe - HAM!

By the way, I really like exploring new foods and new ways of cooking.  This recipe calls for Worcestershire (I'm pretty sure I'm saying it wrong every time.  Wustershur?) sauce, something I've never used before and seldom eaten, and liquid smoke flavoring, something I'd never even heard of.  And I love them both SO MUCH I keep putting them in everything.  GOD it's good.

But I digress.  This is what my gorgeous ham looked like after 8 hours overnight in the oven:

 Yeah, I had to get a little ghetto with the pan because I realized too late I don't have a proper roasting pan.  So I used a smaller pan and covered it with a shit ton of foil.  (Maybe the drippings spilled over onto the bottom of the oven and burned and my husband made me get up at 6 am to check it and maybe I woke up Claudia who screamed for about three quarters of an hour because she'd been woken up before she was ready.  Maybe.)  Worked well enough - that meat was really tender and fell apart as soon as I took the bone out.  I don't know if I "deboned" it properly - when I was done it looked more like pulled pork than ham, as in I couldn't slice it the way I'm  used to seeing ham sliced.  Hmm.

Anywho, the recipe then calls for the ham to be covered in a mixture of the ham drippings, brown sugar, honey, and the Worcestershire and liquid smoke flavoring.  I also added a cherry glaze my husband found, and:

Looks pretty good, right?  'CAUSE IT WAS.  When he woke up, I told him the ham was so damn good he'd want to marry me again.

So in addition to the ham and lamb chops (which I seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary), I made scalloped potatoes and spinach tomato couscous.  Both from a box, because 1- I am not above it, and 2- I didn't want to be cooking all day.  Now, the meal went over like gangbusters.  My husband loved it, our daughter ate some of it without complaining before spitting it out like she does with all of her food these days, et cetera.

the lamb

some of the ham + the potatoes
that's me, all tarted up on Christmas Day, with the first plate

My mother in law enjoyed it too. In the only manner she could.

As I mentioned before, my dear husband's mother is getting on in years and has long since said goodbye to her teeth.  As such, she often fusses over her food, which of course is understandable.  No one wants to cut their gums on a piece of bread.  When I served her (after cutting up the lamb into bite-size pieces, and tossing the bones), she said she'd really enjoy it more if she put it in the food processor, which she does with her food often.  Okeydokey, I said.

I figured she was talking about the meats.  What actually happened was she combined the ham, lamb, potatoes AND couscous ("Coo coo?  Foo foo?  Oh it was delicious dear.") into a brown lump that sat in the middle of her plate.  She called it a meatloaf.  I call it baby food.  But no matter.  As long as she enjoyed it.  I'm not offended in the least.

Well, not really.

(Maybe a little.)

The funny thing is, although she has no teeth and is therefore very picky about her food, she has the worst sweet tooth (no pun intended) of anyone I've ever met.  She never purees cookies.

Feliz Navidad.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Texas Chili dun have beans!

Since I last wrote, Fetus has made his entrance into the world.  Meet Max:

He’s two months now, and a doll.  He's like a camel, or his eyes are at least; big dark eyes with long lashes.  For those interested, the labor was 7 hours long (less than half of how long it took to get his sister out).  I was quite rudely woken up at 2am with regular contractions and he was out at 9:10.  I had been, as it turns out, 4 cm dilated before labor even started.  Five minutes of pushing.  It was as smooth a labor and delivery as I could have hoped for.

But enough about that.  This is a food blog and placentas need not apply.  (I’m honestly not sure I would be into that.  Eating it, I mean.)  So anyway, I love Top Chef.  My husband doesn’t.  What irritates him most appears to be the portions that appear in fine dining.  “I’m hungry!  Where’s the rest of the food?  I wanna be fed!”  While I have never fine dined like the kind of fine dining they often do on Top Chef, he has.  He always felt hungry afterwards.  So he has a modicum of contempt for the whole thing, for poor Padma Lakshmi (“She’s not a chef.  Why the hell should they listen to her?”), for reality shows in general.  (He’s forever getting on my case about reality shows.)  “You make ze meal!  And zen we eat eet!  And zen ve jodge you!”  Unfortunately, Top Chef is not something that we can enjoy together.

So he didn’t see the recent chili cook off episode with me.  I first made chili about two years ago.  I found a recipe for it in the New York Metro (a free newspaper that workers near subway station exits press on you every weekday morning).  I’ve been unable to find that recipe again since, which is unfortunate because that chili was BADASS.  It was pretty dark, so it probably called for more chili powder and cumin than I’ve gotten into the habit of using, but it was really good.

The thing about this Top Chef episode was that this season they are in Texas, and as locals were so eager to point out (bless their Texy souls), Texas chili does NOT have beans in it.   That first recipe I used called for beans and meat, and I always put both in my chili.  I like it that way.  I think it’s hearty.  In fact I don’t think I’ve ever had chili without beans; but then again, I’m a damn Yank.

Nevertheless, I like to think of chili the same way I think of stew; an amalgamation of a bunch of different things.  The more stuff, I think, the better.  This chili that I made the other day was more…amalgamated than usual.

That there is spaghetti sauce, chopped onion, red kidney beans, and corn - a new addition.  The hubs requested corn, so I decided to throw it into the chili instead of serving on the side.  Made it rather sweet.

And here are two of my loves, my kitchen mainstays.  Sofrito and recaito are flavored bases often used in Hispanic cooking; I have a tendency to use them often.  Sofrito is, as you can see if you squint, a tomato base, and recaito is a cilantro base.  About a tablespoon of each glopped onto half of what I cook packs a nice wallop.  (These bases are what give yellow Spanish rice its flavor and what makes it yellow.  Took me forever to figure that one out.)  Snootier Puerto Rican cooks will yap about how they make their own from scratch, but I'm not quite there yet.  Store bought does just fine for now.

Here's an interesting one: our friend Celery.  (My mother in law has recently been trying to get me to drink Cel-ray, which is apparently a celery flavored soda.  She keeps saying it's good; I keep saying I'll take her word for it.)  I don't really use celery a lot; usually only in chicken soup when I'm sick.  But I had some left over from the last time I made said soup, and I was using a lot more vegetables in this here chili, so why the hell not.

I also used some chopped garlic (the little jarred type):

Yes, I'm too lazy to use fresh garlic.  I find that when I buy it fresh I don't use it fast enough.

Observe: the Sodium Collection.  What I seasoned the chili with, and, indeed, what I season almost everything with (except for the Murphy's Oil Soap in the background that I just realized is there....).  I'm like Giada; "a little bit of salt and a little bit of pepper" goes into practically everything.  Sea salt is healthy right?....

And now THE HUNK OF GROUND BEEF!  What meat eater doesn't like a hunk of ground beef?  I would have liked to use ground pork, which I've used as a burger before and I found it surprisingly lean and yummier than I expected, but I only had le boeuf.  I usually smoosh it up with my fingers and season it a bit before browning, but I was lazy that day.  And also hungry. 

I do not, sadly have a picture of the finished product, because it, well, got eated pretty quick and I forgot to take a picture of it before it got devoured.  You know, I didn't hate it, buuuut I didn't love it either.  It was a little too vegetable-y.  I think I'll skip the celery next time.

Next time I'll write about that most fearsome of creatures: the Lobster.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The First Birthday: In Which Mama Gets the Worst Indigestion of Her Life

Claudia's first birthday was last weekend. The only thing I wanted out of her party, at least foodily speaking (yes I just made up that word), was a smash cake for her. And fun smash cake pictures with cake and frosting all over her face!

For those not yet in the know, a smash cake is a tradition (started in Italy I think. But I could be wrong. I probably am.) for a first birthday where the guest of honor, or First Birthday Kid, gets his own little cake to SMASH. He or she gets to eat it all on their own and, one year olds not often being very proficient at feeding themselves, get it all over themselves. It's SUPER CUTE. But I'll get back to that in a moment.

As for what we served at the party (small, just family) Hispanics have this thing about pork. Or technically, pernil. Special occasions call for a giant hunk of pork roast. "Oh so and so's birthday is coming up. We have to get a giant ass side of pork." It's a mainstay at holidays (I remember one year there was no pernil at Thanksgiving. I threw a minor fit and it reappeared that Christmas.). I can't tell ya why it's important that the roast pork appear at parties and such (those held indoors at least; hard to have roast pork at an outdoor party, for example). I suspect there's a deep philosophical reason, as there usually is, to what foods MUST be at what occasions, like turkey at Thanksgiving and ham at Easter. (Seafood on Good Friday! I'm not even Catholic but I still look forward to that.) All I know is that, for me, a party ain't a party until I've eaten too much pernil.

(fresh out of the oven)

(nicely carved up and ready for consumption - this does not mean that some people had already consumed too much....)

And of course, where there is pernil there must also be rice and beans, AKA arroz con habichuelas. But now that I look a little closer at it (I was not eying it very carefully while inhaling it) I actually think that's arroz con gandules (pigeon peas). Rice and beans are also a mainstay; even if there are people who object to peas or beans (most often, old people and young people), it's always there.


A couple of small roast chickens also made their appearances; my mother in law insisted upon them. She likes roast chicken. What can I say.


Also, a tuna salad:


Depending on the size of the party and the time that various Makers of Food have, in our family potato salad and tuna salad often rotate. Sometimes they both show up.

All of the guests;


That's a salad up on top and the cakes in the middle. The cakes were bought from a nearby bakery. No one really bakes around here; I know I can't bake to save my life.

Now we'll get to the Smash Cake Fail. For the big cake, we put a single numeral 1 in the middle and everyone sang Happy Birthday - which she LOVED, especially when we got to the part with her name. She's totally in love with herself. We then sat her in her feeding chair with a good-sized bib, put her cake in front of her, and I got ready with the camera to catch some fun cake mess.



"What's this? Well what am I supposed to do with it? Feed it to me with a spoon dammit you always do."

She did touch it briefly and she even licked it, but apparently she would not destroy it.

Maybe I got a little impatient and put some frosting on her face.


I was confused. I thought children her age were supposed to enjoy destroying things. ALL things. She can certainly make a mess out of a room and change all the settings on your TV if left to her own devices. But then it did occur to me; she does not often make messes with FOOD. Sure she'll throw an animal cracker on the floor with the best of them, but she isn't really known for making messes with food on her own. She much prefers emptying the hamper and subsequently running around with my dirty underwear around her neck, or running away with her dirty diapers. But a pastry mess? "Well I never." She loves making messes with napkins though, and didn't fail to deliver on that.


Back to the pork, though, and the title of this post. I ate a lot of pork. Early and often. I don't know if that was the culprit, or perhaps combined with Too Much Pepsi, but I burped ALL DAY LONG. This pregnancy has been the Burp Pregnancy (last one was the Fart Pregnancy), but it was even more burps than my normal quota for the day. I think I worried a few people. I also ate several (who's counting?....) entire plates of food in addition to the regular scraps of pork, and toward the end of the day I was in the bathroom. Did you ever see Bill Cosby: Himself? The part where he talks about people who overdo it when they drink and end up talking to God over the toilet bowl? "Oh Jesus. Oh Goddd. If you get me out of this, I'll never drink as long as I live." It was like that. Only in reverse. Later that night saw me hunched over in the fetal position wailing, with what I can confidently call heartburn (Hot Throat Fart) for the first time ever, positive that this was not preterm labor at all (as women in their third trimesters are wont to wonder) but just paying for stuffing my face with grease and caffeine all day. I have had indigestion every evening since and have invested in a bottle of Maalox.

But no matter. My first baby is no longer a baby, but walking and talking (in a language no one understands yet, but quite loquacious nonetheless). I suppose as long as she continues to crap on herself she'll still be my baby. And I have another year of that at least.

Monday, August 1, 2011

An Introduction

I'd like to introduce you, dear currently non-existent readers (at the time I'm writing this, at least) to the Foodie Family.

Marc is the papa. (He may write some posts of his own here from time to time.) Marc is tall and built like a pickup truck; compact and with pretty good gas mileage but still a TRUCK FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. We often go back and forth trying to think of things that either of us does not like to eat; he has not thought of a single thing. His chicken wing record is 75 in two hours. His beer consumption, while significantly decreased in the last couple of years, is still impressive. He is a self-professed beer connoisseur.

Pennie is the mama. She has always been notorious for having a large appetite, especially for someone her size; she's kind of slender and pretty short and for what she does consume she ought to be...NOT slender. She is gestating her second baby in as many years and as far as food goes, DOES NOT like being pregnant. No sushi! No cold deli meats!??! (Most of the time...) No soft cheeses? Pfft. Try as she might she always has trouble gaining weight while pregnant; nearly all of it shows up in the third trimester. Marc argues that one day her eating habits will catch up with her and her ass will fall. Hopefully she's done having babies by then anyway.

Claudia is our newly minted one year old. She eats EVERYTHING. Loved breastmilk when she got it. Loved formula when I had to wean her. Preferred pears over bananas but would eat both. Loves purees and table food. Will make a face with cottage cheese but will still eat some of it. Screams when you don't feed her pad thai fast enough. Enjoys sampling her bathwater, grass, dirt, and sand, but most of all LOVES paper. Especially napkins, man that stuff melts in the mouth doesn't it? Mmm. They say toddlers should eat what you eat, and I totally agree with that. I feel a little guilty when I get her pre-packaged toddler foods, because perhaps it doesn't feel like I'm...involved enough in her nutrition? I dunno. But I can hardly wake with a hankering for two overeasy eggs on corned beef hash and except her to share it. She only has four functional teeth. So at the moment I'm a little confused over how to feed her. Feeding a baby was so much easier.

Fetus is our boy due in October. Fetus kept me sick for longer than his sister, but not quite as severely. Fetus has gone through some swings; for a while he wanted lots of milk. There was a week or so where I ate a hamburger every day. (That was delightful. Truly.) Fetus has recently taken to making me feel as if I'd never eaten a single thing in my entire life at 11 pm, and he demands to be fed but for some reason with nothing in the kitchen. Marc blames me for not vocalizing my dietary needs at a more suitable hour, but it is not ME requesting a hot sandwich (preferably a meatball sub) at this hour. I just want to go to sleep.

What you will not see here is me visiting a farmer's market. I think I've only done that once in my life. You will not see recipes, not written by me at least. I can follow a recipe with the best of them but I'm more of an improviser. (Which is maybe what makes it hard for me to feed a toddler! Puzzle pieces, ya'll.) What you will see is me talking about our various experiences as a family, most notably with food. I think food is a super messed up thing in our country; practically everyone is obese, we're told to eat organic until we look at the prices and go "well that's one bag of damn organic radishes, how are we supposed to make THAT last", the information on what to feed a newborn and when is mind-boggling. This is, I guess, one family's struggle to stay alive and healthy while still managing to enjoy it.

To follow: Claudia's first birthday party, including the Smash Cake Fail.