Velveeta brings out the finicky side in fudge fans

HAPPY EATER

January 26, 1994|By ROB KASPER

The other night the kids and I made fudge with Velveeta in it.

Why? Well, it was a dull Monday night. Mom was away, so it was an all-guy meal. But the main reason was the challenge. It had not been done before. At least not in our house.

How was the Velveeta fudge? In a word, bouncy. In two words, not bad. In three words, not terrific either.

When I announced that Velveeta fudge was on the evening menu, the kids reacted with skepticism. Like most people who attempt to feed children, I was accustomed to having my cooking questioned. But usually kids confined their suspicions to what was in the main dish.

For instance, the other night as I was making our standard all-guy dinner -- tacos and more tacos -- the 8-year-old spotted something suspicious in the hamburger meat I was cooking. He thought he saw some seasoning.

When it comes to fried ground beef, the kid is a food purist. Nothing is supposed to mingle with sizzling animal protein. Once the meat hits the table, of course, it wallows in ketchup. But during the frying, it is inviolate.

Like many parents I pay close attention to the culinary desires of kids -- when the kids are looking. When they aren't, I try to sneak in seasoning or other exotica. The other night I tried to surreptitiously put some peppery seasoning in the hamburger meat, and I got caught.

When the kid asked me what I had put in the meat, I replied that he would like it. He said he wouldn't. He tried it and he didn't like it. I ended up cooking another batch of hamburger, the second batch was free of the dreaded seasoning.

The kid ended up eating his supper, and all it cost me was an extra few minutes frying more meat. For me, tossing the seasoning on the hamburger meat was like running a double reverse in a football game. It looked good on paper. But in a game situation, it fell apart. So I went back to cooking the basics.

But it surprised me when the kids were suspicious of the fudge. At our house the only question usually asked about dessert is, "How big is my portion?"

Nonetheless, the 13-year-old immediately questioned why anybody would want to put Velveeta in fudge. The only possible answer, he said, was that it was an incentive to get people to buy more Velveeta.

If so, it worked on me. Even though in my childhood there was always a box of Velveeta glowing in the family fridge, as an adult, my friendship with Velveeta has slackened. A few years ago I traveled to Oregon, a state I remember for its splendid salmon, its robust beers, its delicate Pinot Noirs, and its Velveeta groupies. It was one of the groupies who recently mailed me the recipe for Velveeta fudge.

I once served as a judge in a Velveeta cooking contest held in Portland. But ever since eating all that Velveeta, I haven't kept much of the orange stuff in my house. So the other night before making the fudge, I had to stop at the grocery store. I had some trouble locating Velveeta in the store because I had forgotten it didn't need that special dairy case treatment demanded by temperamental cheeses. Velveeta sat on a normal unchilled shelf. Velveeta is shelf-stable, which means, I think, a box of it can support a 200-pound shelf without buckling.

Maybe I got that wrong. But I do know that a major appeal of Velveeta is its texture. It easily lends itself to many shapes. The 8-year-old noticed this characteristic when we started making the fudge. "Hey!" the kid said. "This feels like clay."

The Velveeta also melted quickly. A quarter pound of it turned to liquid much faster than the stick of butter that sat with it in the microwave. Eventually I coaxed the melted butter and Velveeta mixture out of the dish and into a bowl containing a mixture of a 1/4 cup of cocoa, 1/2 pound of powdered sugar, a 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla, and a 1/2 cup of walnuts. I stirred this all together. Next I put the mixture in a flat dish, spreading it out as best I could. I let the mixture gather itself in the fridge.

After a few minutes, the boys and I sliced into it. It was not a big hit. These kids, who have battled over the last remaining cookie in a package, were each able to confine himself to one small piece of Velveeta fudge. Later I gave my wife a piece of the nutty fudge and she described it as a "waste of good walnuts."

Just because no one is wolfing it down, I don't think the fudge is a failure. Velveeta has many uses. It has long been known to be a good bait. If we don't eat all the fudge, we can save it for a fishing trip. And some day we might find a big catfish with a major sweet tooth.

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