Lowbrow Chow We Love

You can call it trite, but you know it's true: Sometimes only iceberg and Velveeta will do.

Once again, I stood gazing into my shopping cart in disbelief. Surely this wasn't mine, the one bearing the Velveeta singles, iceberg lettuce, and mini-marshmallows. After all, I'm a foodie, a bona fide gourmet cook. I buy mesclun, sun-dried tomatoes, and genuine aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. Why would my cart look like this? Because I'm shopping for my 5-year-old. She loves this stuff. And secretly, so do I.

I haven't always felt free to make such public purchases―or confessions. In my 20s, I worked in upscale restaurants that instilled in me the supposed superiority of white over bright-orange cheeses and of oddly shaped, bitter greens over familiar, crispy iceberg. If not for my daughter, I might never have remembered that processed cheese melts like a charm, iceberg provides a crunch no other lettuce can claim, and marshmallows are too sweet and sticky not to use in treats.

I'm glad for the rediscovery: These old-time culinary favorites simplify cooking and add texture and flavor to meals. And in some cases they just plain work better than the more highfalutin alternatives.

Take grilled cheese: Only processed American slices really melt and ooze out of sandwiches the way you'd get them at any self-respecting diner. And the ooey-gooeyness really pulls it all together in, say, our Grilled Turkey Club. For other creamy and quick classics, such as our Two-Step Macaroni and Cheese, nothing can match Velveeta (or similar brands) for turning smooth but not stringy in practically no time at all.

Iceberg has advantages, too. Cold and crunchy, it's the perfect contrast to the chicken-and-bean filling in our Chicken Taco Salad or the mayonnaise, tomato, and other ingredients in Classic Layered Salad. Even after sitting for hours alongside olive oil or kidney beans―or alone in storage in the fridge―iceberg holds its texture much longer than its high-end cousins.

As for miniature marshmallows―well, there's simply no substitute for these heaven-sent confections. They melt beautifully and put just the right amount of sweetness in kid-classic desserts like our Peanut Butter-Crispy Rice Bars―not to mention marshmallow creme does the same for brownies. But one of my favorite things about these little fluffy puffs is the way they make my daughter smile every time she pops one in her mouth. And, yeah, so do I.

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