Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

by Cate on March 26, 2008

Remember that song by C+C Music Factory?  Whatever happened to them?  Just out of curiosity, I went to go look up when the song came out; I knew it was in the late 80s/early 90s, but nothing more specific than that.  1990.  Ouch.  Eighteen freakin’ years ago … but it feels like just yesterday.

So anyway, I have some things that have been furrowing my brow lately and thought perhaps the astute crowd here could help me out.

Things That Make ME Go Hmmm…

1.  For those that have been to Taco Bell before, how DO they get the beef so tiny and fine?  And I mean this in total seriousness.  When we make tacos or quesadillas and the like at home, I can never quite get the meat to that consistency.  Know the secret?

2.  Why do the subs made in a deli taste so much better than the ones you make yourself at home?  Using the same ingredients, they still don’t compare.  Is there a secret?

3.  Without cutting into it, what is the best way to tell if chicken is fully cooked inside?  When I’m making chicken with a sauce, I don’t mind cutting into it, because the slit will be covered up.  But in a case of grilled chicken, I don’t want to serve chicken that has been hacked into, you know?  How to tell?

4.  Anyone watch Jon & Kate Plus 8?  On a recent episode, in a shot of their kitchen table I spotted cupcake placements.  If you know me, you know how much I love cupcakes, and now, of course, I must have these placemats.  Have you seen them for sale anywhere?  Help!

Got answers?  Got your own questions?

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly March 26, 2008 at 9:32 pm

The cupcake placemats were at Target for Valentine’s Day. I don’t know if they still have them. There were several other cupcake pieces in the collection, including a pillow, photo holder and dish scrubbie. I have one placemat and the scrubbie.


Robyn March 26, 2008 at 9:34 pm
Cate March 26, 2008 at 9:52 pm

Oh man, how could I have missed an entire line of cupcake stuff? Besides the placemats, that cookie jar is too cute. Ahhh!

Thanks for the links, Robyn. Will have to poke around our Targets just in case…


Barbara March 26, 2008 at 11:20 pm

My husband can get the ground beef almost as fine as at Taco Bell. He just continually smashes it and moves it around from the minute it starts cooking with a pancake turner. I don’t have the patience or tenacity to smash it as much as it requires and can never get it as small as he does. He’s also great at anything that requires beating for a long time. But I never let him make pancakes.


Stephanie March 27, 2008 at 12:05 am

When you first said cupcake placemats, I thought you meant tiny individual mats to be used solely for the cakes (and nothing else). That sounded like a cute idea when I was thinking about it… :o) Glad to see the links to the actual, much more sensible regular-sized mats simply decorated with cupcakes!

As for the chicken, an instant read thermometer is the way to go. Ensures doneness without the hacking.


Kalyn March 27, 2008 at 12:13 am

Sometimes if I want the ground beef to be really crumbled apart, I mash it a bit with a potato masher. It really does work. don’t start mashing until it’s nearly cooked.


Michelle March 27, 2008 at 5:37 am

Hi Cate,

I can answer all of these except for the cupcake one, which you already have answers to! :)

1) You can basically re-mince beef mince in a food processor. Either after it’s cooked or before (I suspect it works better done after) to get it finer than it is. Either that or mince your own meat (from fresh pieces), using an very fine mince setting on a mincer (can sometimes get these as an attachment on a Kitchen Aid.)

2) I have three theories about this – a) that you don’t have to make it, so it automatically tastes better, b) that they use far fresher ingredients (especially bread, which most delis would get fresh every day) and c) SALT! Most restuarant food tastes a lot better than at home because it’s properly seasoned. The same is true for sandwich fillings.

3) Two ways: a) Insert the blade of a thin knife into the fattest part of a chicken and if the juices run clear, it’s done or b) invest in a probe thermometer and place it into the fatest bit. Cookec chicken should always be above 70C.


PS I think this is my first comment but I’ve been reading for ages. We made the thighs on rice the other night and it was delish! Thanks!


Leslie March 27, 2008 at 8:33 am

Ah, they beat me to the reponse about the placemats. But I know the ground beef one! They BOIL it! Sounds gross, eh? It’s also how you make Cincinnati chili. I used to always wonder how they got the beef to be so fine in that type of chili and one day I decided to follow a recipe — you basically boil the ground beef in a few cups of water. The resulting beef is super fine! I also just bought a special ground beef tool from Pampered Chef and it really helps to break up the beef in the pan while you are cooking it. Not as much as boiling does, but the ground beef tool is my new fav kitchen gadget. I love your blog — congrats on the new baby!!


The Neighor (wife) March 27, 2008 at 8:44 am

Women!! Step away from the placemats.

Do any of you remember when Cate moved? Well, one of my jobs during the unpacking process was putting away all her placements. Let me just say, she has a whole cabinet full. It’s been a joke ever since. lol


The Neighbor Husband March 27, 2008 at 8:47 am

If you put each of Cate’s inventory of placemats side by side you could circle her house a few times. Cate, STEP AWAY FROM THE PLACEMATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


chris March 27, 2008 at 8:58 am

i just want to say I LOVE LOVE LOVE jon and kate plus 8. i even watch all the reruns.


Mary Beth March 27, 2008 at 9:07 am

I don’t go to Taco Bell but sometimes I make meat topping for hot dogs (Texas Weiners) and I throw the cooked meat in the food processor which gets it very fine. Don’t do it with raw meat, you end up with a mess. Trust me!


Michele Lane March 27, 2008 at 9:27 am

I like my taco meat fine too.. I have a magic bullet blender mixer thingee (love it.) and after I cook the ground beef. or turkey or whatever,I throw it in there with the taco seasonings and a little salsa. works like a charm.


Alice March 27, 2008 at 11:18 am

The water thing works for me! After browning the meat and adding the seasonings I add some water, less than 1/2 inch and let it all cook down, stirring occassionally until the water is gone.


Snarkmeister March 27, 2008 at 12:08 pm

For chicken, I use the kind of thermometer that lets you put a probe in the meat at the thickest part (NOT touching bone) – for a whole chicken it’s the thigh – and you set the thermometer part to the desired temp. When the temperature is reached, it sounds an alarm. I set it to about 165-168 (depending on if I’m doing a whole chicken or just individual pieces) because the meat continues to cook for a couple minutes after you take it out of the oven, while it’s resting. The probe just leaves a small hole in the meat and the chicken comes out PERFECTLY every time. Crispy skin outside, juicy meat inside.


Maria March 28, 2008 at 5:18 am

1. I pulse the meat in a food processor to get it fine.
2. I prefer my subs, so I can’t help you. The freshest ingredients, quality cold cuts, fresh bread and the right sub sauce and condiments make the difference IMHO.


Amy March 31, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Subs always taste better out, but I notice the difference even more with salads. I rarely eat salad at home because it just doesn’t feel or taste the same. Even if I buy olive Garden dressing, it still tastes better there. I don’t get it.


Cate April 2, 2008 at 8:35 pm

OK, so now on my list of things to buy is an instant-read thermometer. Thanks for all the tips on the ground beef. I’m not sure I can bring myself to boil it, but will definitely try the food processor route. I see a taco night in our near future!


Sarah October 9, 2008 at 11:20 pm

I always wondered how they got meat so fine, too. Glad I stumbled across your site. It’s fabulous, btw.

And the instant read thermometer is next on my list of kitchen purchases as well. I’m so over cutting into a pink piece of chicken.


Candice January 22, 2009 at 11:26 pm

If anyone has this cupcake placemat just laying around their house and it’s in good condition….Please Please e-mail me!! I will gladly take it off your hands!! Just let me know how much you want for it!!
E-mail me at…put cupcake placemat in the subject!!


Cate O'Malley January 23, 2009 at 2:02 am

Candice – have you checked eBay? My mom gave me a set last year for my birthday and she got them all from eBay. Hope that helps!


Candice January 23, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Thanks Cate!!! but I have checked ebay,everyday, hoping that someone will list one …but they haven’t. I know someone listed a few, with a bunch of other things, but I didn’t need the extra stuff the were offering with the placemats.


Allison December 2, 2009 at 10:41 am

I used to make deli subs, couldn’t stand Subway ones. For me the difference between awesome subs and mediocre ones is in the mayo or “dressing” used.


ulna October 29, 2010 at 12:16 am

Subs always taste better out, but I notice the difference even more with salads. I rarely eat salad at home because it just doesn’t feel or taste the same. Even if I buy olive Garden dressing, it still tastes better there. I don’t get it.


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