What We Ate #4 – 07/20/2021

There’s a dish, or a family of dishes, that every busy parent recognizes. From what I’ve heard, some families call it slumgullion, and some call it American goulash or firefighter’s goulash or any number of other adjectives modifying the name of a dish with which it has little in common. But in our household, it’s always been glop.

It’s hard to delineate the criteria that constitute glop. There’s hamburger glop, tuna glop, ham glop, sausage glop, chicken glop and, I suppose, tofu glop, although you couldn’t prove that by me. The things that all glops have in common is that they contain protein and vegetables in some kind of sauce, they’re usually served with some kind of starch either underneath or cooked in, and they constitute a full meal. They are properly eaten from bowls (with either a fork or a spoon, depending on how gloppy your glop is), they’re filling and comforting, and a harried parent can throw them together in an hour or less.

Glop often uses canned soup or premade sauces, which keep indefinitely and are only a can-opener away. 1950s cookbooks were full of this kind of thing.

The hamburger stroganoff that was a godsend to beleaguered housewives of that era is classic glop. Spaghetti sauce can be glop if it has meat and veggies in it and you don’t take it too seriously. Mac and cheese with meat and vegetables stirred in is such classic glop that every parent depends on it as a way to use up all that semi-wilted stuff in the bottom of the crisper drawer, and that kids will nonetheless eat and enjoy. A tamale pie – leftover meat with spicy tomatoes, veggies and some shredded cheese at the bottom, a cornbread crust on top – is upside-down glop.

Several of the frozen meals you can find in any supermarket are classic glop, only they cost more. Stouffer’s turkey tetrazzini, which I secretly adore and still buy as the occasional treat, is a perfect example, as are the Swanson’s pot pies every kid loves. (The crust counts as starch.)

I’ve heard from the Dudes that glop was a frequent meal at their dad’s house – I’m quite sure he never learned that from his mother, who did all her cooking from the recipes on her well-thumbed bookshelf, so glop is contagious rather than hereditary. You know that you’ve successfully preached the gospel of glop when your thirteen-year-old son strolls through the kitchen, notices that you have butter and milk and flour out on the counter, and remarks casually, “Oh, white sauce.”[1]

In case you have never had to do improvisational dinner for a table of hungry kids, here’s how you make hamburger stroganoff. Like all glops, it is infinitely variable based on what you have in the fridge and what your kids are willing to eat.

  • If you have bacon, chop a few slices roughly and fry it till it’s crisp and the fat is rendered. If you don’t, just pour a little oil into a large straight-sided pan.
  • Add some chopped onion and/or celery and/or garlic and/or green pepper. Cook till it starts to soften.
  • Break up some ground meat – if you have two teenage boys and you intend to eat some too, you’ll need a pound. Classic hamburger stroganoff uses ground beef, but it ought to be good with ground lamb or ground pork or ground turkey, and you could probably even get away with tofu or seitan. One of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in Santa Cruz served cashew stroganoff.
  • Throw it in the pan and push it around till it’s mostly brown.
  • If you feel like it, add a splat of tomato paste. Push it around until it starts to darken and smell nice.[2]
  • Add as many sliced mushrooms as your supply and appetite permit. (I like criminis, but you do you.) Cook them till they’re not raw anymore – it won’t take long.
  • Add seasonings to taste: some oregano is nice, and so is smoked paprika if you like it (I love it). A dash or two of Worcestershire sauce is good too.
  • Add a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup and stir in thoroughly. Taste for seasoning; it will probably need a little bit of salt and a lot of black pepper, and a dash of hot sauce might not go amiss either.
  • Simmer, stirring occasionally, over low heat until it’s hot through.
  • Just before serving, stir in a cup or more of sour cream.
  • Serve over egg noodles. Or mashed potatoes. Or rice. Or toast. It’s yummy and soul-satisfying any way you fix it.

[1] That particular dish wound up as leftover ham and peas with a lot of Swiss cheese incorporated into the sauce, served over egg noodles. It was delicious.

[2] You can add a glug of dry sherry too, although then you have to spell the dish “gloppe.”

What We Ate #3 – 7/6/21

I don’t like to refer to myself as having been a “single mom” – Frank and I had joint custody, which meant that nearly all the duties of parenting were shared. But from the point of our breakup onward, I was a solo mom, and trying to support our little household on the income of a freelance writer.

If you’ve ever been a freelance anything, you’ll know that both your time and your income are wildly unpredictable. Which means that there will be days when there isn’t much money, which tend to be the same days that you take on too much work in order to get more money. Which in turn means that you’re always on the lookout for cheap meals that can be thrown together quickly, and that are tasty and filling enough to satisfy a couple of fast-growing, ravenous boys.

The Dudes never developed a taste for Purina Mom Chow (my experience is that few kids appreciate cottage cheese in any form). But a couple of similarly improvised dishes were in regular rotation chez Hardy/Taber.

We often ate Potatoes á les Dudes:

  • Bake one potato or sweet potato per person – in the oven is best, but if you’re pressed for time, the microwave works okay too
  • Slit the top of the potato and squeeze it so the inside pops partly out. Butter the inside with as much butter as your budget and waistline will permit.
  • Poach one egg per person and drop it into the opened potato.
  • Spread a handful of shredded cheese on top – we liked pepper jack, but any meltable cheese will do.
  • Microwave the potatoes till the cheese melts a little – 30-60 seconds, depending on how many potatoes you’re doing – and serve.

Some salsa on top makes the dish a bit more interesting for adult palates, but it’s good without it too.

Another infinitely variable dinner we ate often was Green Bean Tuna Melts:

  • Heat up enough frozen French-cut green beans to feed your group, and divide them into individual bowls.
  • Flake half a can of water-pack tuna over each bowl.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil and a little vinegar – use something with some flavor, like real cider vinegar – over the top.
  • Top with a handful of shredded pepper jack (are you sensing a theme here?).
  • Microwave till cheese is slightly melted and tuna is warm.

This dish lends itself to dozens of easy substitutions and additions – I’ve been eating it lately with a frozen roasted vegetable mix instead of the beans, and it would work fine with something like zucchini if that’s what you have on hand. You can also substitute canned salmon for the tuna, and I think canned chicken would work fine, as would meat shredded off a rotisserie chicken[1].

We also ate a lot of Velveeta mac and cheese – I won’t give you the recipe for that because I’m pretty sure it’s right there on the Velveeta box. I will, however, note that you can add chopped ham, Spam, hot dogs or cooked ground meat, and almost any kind of vegetables (peas are a natural, but diced cooked carrots would be nice too) to make it a tiny bit less junk-food-y. The one time I went all out and made proper, from-scratch mac and cheese, the Dudes wouldn’t eat it. That, in my experience, is the usual response of kids to fancy cooking. The good news is that they eventually get over it.

Something you do not want to do is get them into sushi at an early age. There’s a certain amount of amusement to be had by taking them to an all-you-can-eat sushi bar and watching the owner’s face fall, but that’s pretty expensive entertainment. If they have to get hooked on something, peanut butter and jelly works fine.

[1] We didn’t have those in my solo-mom days, more’s the pity.