Before you get hasty with me for having a box of Velveeta on my blog, hold your horses. First, no less than 8 years ago (maybe even less…), making Velveeta was synonymous with “a good dinner in” – especially the one with the broccoli bits. Second, this isn’t what you think – I have not turned to a life of processed food, and I’m not about to squirt cheese into my mouth or break out the bag of Friday’s Potato Skins.
But check this out – I DO have something exciting to tell you, and that’s this: Iron Chef is back!!! Holla!
Back when we were bayside and shuckin’ oysters over too much wine, a few of us started talking about dinner party ideas, and somehow the foods of our youths were weaved into the convo. In general, we chatted about how our food choices have changed so much over the years, and for the better. You can’t blame our parents – everyone ate processed food in the 80’s and 90’s; many still do. My mom didn’t cook gourmet dinners (not that we would have eaten them anyway – do you know how picky I was??!), but she made sure we had full tummys every night. She didn’t shop from farmers’ markets – the closest one was over an hour away! But what she did was this – she put food on the table that we ate, processed or not. For that I am eternally grateful, as we all should be.
And so, amidst drunken remarks about the boxed and frozen entrees of our childhoods, we deduced (again, the thinking wasn’t the most clear here…) that a party celebrating said foods seemed appropriate, and downright awesome.
From that, and many conversations about starting Iron Chef up now that we’re settled and with enough friends who were remotely interested, Iron Chef San Francisco has been born – only this time around, we aren’t limiting ourselves to theme ingredients; we are opening it up to themes. Because we can. Well, because I can – I did start it, after all ;).
So the theme this time was “shit your parents made”, and we meant it in the nicest way possible, really we did. As it turns out, the battle was a perfect ice breaker – no one was intimidated (or at least they didn’t say so), and the focus wasn’t as much on winning as it was meeting people and hearing stories about our childhood foods. Plus, it was a whole new group of people, and we were excited just to get Iron Chef going again, no matter what the ingredient/theme. I like to think I planned it that way…
But next time, that’s another story. I have a win from Chicago to reclaim, after all.
Presentation was lacking almost everywhere (ahem, Exhibit A, above), and creativity was a little hard to judge since we were limited to what foods we were exposed to in our childhoods. And taste, well, some were good and some were bad – simple as that.
But in the end, we did have a clear top 3:
- Judy’s Dorito Salad
- Sandra’s Cantonese Tangyuan
- Kevin’s Midwestern Reuben Dip on Pumpernickel Toasts
As for me, making the pizza casserole brought back a ton of memories. This was probably one of my very favorite dishes of my childhood, and fortunately my mom made it often – thanks, Mama! I will say this though – it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered, but again, I like to think I’ve moved on from the days of Velveeta cheese and bagged shredded cheese…
Either way, it’s worth it to make an exception every now and then, and certainly for the sake of fun.
(ps – if you’re reading, in the Bay Area, and interested in being part of Iron Chef, just let me know – the more, the merrier!)
(some of the night’s dishes, from L to R: pea and asparagus casserole, cranberry jello mold, fried rice, haystacks, Dorito salad, shredded chicken sandwiches, meatloaf, Cantonese tangyuan, tuna noodle casserole. not pictured: Dad’s meatsauce, Reuben dip)
Mom’s Pizza Casserole
time commitment: ~45 minutes (30 active)
1 package of Velveeta Shells n’ Cheese
1 lb ground beef
2 small cans of tomato sauce
fresh ground pepper, to taste
pepperonis, enough to cover the top
shredded “pizza cheese” – cheddar/mozzarella combo
preheat oven to 350 F. cook pasta according to package instructions, drain. meanwhile, brown meat (or wait and brown meat in the same pot). in 2 quart casserole dish, combine pasta, Velveeta cheese pack, beef, and tomato sauce. add pepper to taste. place pepperonis to make a top layer and cover with cheese (as much or as little as you want – I used half a regular sized bag of shredded cheese). bake for 15 minutes.