Quantum Meat Loaf

Most meat loaf are “comfort food” and really don’t amount to much but a lump of protein that plays well with mashed potatoes, reeking of caramelized ketchup or canned brown gravy. This meat loaf can be sliced thin into pita with yogurt sauce, sliced thick, cubed, and simmered into red sauce for pasta, cubed and simmered into something like wedding soup or slow cooked until it crumbles with smoked chili to serve over rice… you name it. This is the meat loaf that does not know what it will do until the observer opens the left overs carton and resolves the quantum uncertainties  You can cook this on Sunday afternoon and eat off it all week without ever having the same dish twice. I recommend cutting the cooked loaf into large portions and freezing them until you’re ready to consume just to ensure you get long life without any microbial mischief.

First, make sure the cat is or is not dead, and put it out of the room. Then…

Puree a white onion and a red onion, put into a screen and let the water drain out for at least 15 minutes (30 would be better).

Put the puree into a large mixing bowl… no, not that one, a really big one. No, seriously. A big one. *sigh* fine, it’s your counter top.

Put the puree into a mixing bowl and add proportional amounts of salt, pepper, garlic powder, sumac, smoked paprika, hot paprika, red pepper flake, dried oregano, dried thyme and ground fennel seed. Chiffonade a few handfuls of basil leaves, and add.

Work into this a pound each of ground lamb, beef and pork sausage (I like Italian sausage for this, the mild kind has a lot of fennel and will work well, but “breakfast” sausage will also work) and combine thoroughly — probably with your hands unless you have a stand mixer with some kind of very gentle paddle device.

Slowly work in plain bread crumbs until any remaining moisture from the onion has been sufficiently absorbed to allow the entire mass to form a free standing loaf on a hotel pan.

  • DO NOT ADD EGG
  • DO NOT PACK INTO A LOAF PAN
  • DO NOT MAKE ANY KIND OF GLAZE

Just don’t. You’re going to get something better than dry corners with this, and more of it, properly mixed and balanced meat loaf doesn’t need egg (which, according to Alton Brown, represents a health hazard, anyway), and we’re going to make gravy, so you don’t need a glaze.

Form an oblong loaf on the hotel pan, and surround it with course chopped carrots, small potatoes (or course chopped big ones) and either chopped fennel bulb or sweet onion.  Place under the broiler, low setting, and watch carefully. You don’t want the top of the loaf to burn, but you do want the entire loaf to brown and char as much as you can manage without burning any of it. How you shape your loaf will play a factor here. Too much dome will give you a burnt top and under-browned sides. Too flat and while you’ll get a nice even char, there won’t be enough tender interior.

Once you have your desired char, set the oven to 250 and cook until the loaf reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F. It will easily coast, once out of the oven, covered in foil, well above the safety threshold for meat. Given you’re cooking a well over three pound loaf, this will take a while at such low heat. If you have one of those probe thermometers with an alarm based on temperature instead of time, I highly recommend that approach. Otherwise, begin taking soundings for doneness after 45 minutes.

Reserve all the vegetables and all the pan drippings. The drippings can be used to make gravy, or can be added to a red sauce, or  simmered to make broth for soups… almost anything you want to be heartrendingly delicious.

I recommend giving the vegetables (that have been roasting in the fat all that time) as rewards to children for A’s on quizzes and tests.

That outer char on the loaf will give you that flavor people love from dry corners without

  • having such a limited amount of dry corners to go around
  • ruining the texture of the meat by drying it out that much

 

You can probably modify this recipe only just slightly, especially if you can get (or make) finely ground meat, compress the loaf under pressure around a skewer and make a loaf from which thin slices can be carved for gyro sandwiches. The original recipe above will work, but will crumble up when sliced too thinly. A finer grind and a compressed loaf will hold shape better when carved.

When Dragon Meets Pig

Dragons are notoriously hungry and they don’t approach their meals delicately.  So it is no surprise that they shred their victims prior to consuming them.  For me, to make this a little easier, I decided to slow cook it.  Descending upon it from on high and using my imaginary talons would not have worked so well.  And then I’d heve been yelled at for making a mess in the kitchen.

So, instead, I followed this recipe for slow-cooked pulled pork.

To top it, I read a few recipes and concocted this for the BBQ sauce:

  • 2c ketchup
  • 2T cider vinegar
  • 1T cumin
  • 1T garlic powder
  • 2t ground coriander seed
  • 1t chipotle powder
  • 1t black pepper
  • Put all in a pan. Mix. Warm over low/med-low heat until it bubbles. Stir. Cook for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

I really enjoy pork and chicken in this stereotypical southern style.  This comes out as no exception to that.  The pork recipe yields a moist, slightly sweet, nicely seasoned meat.  The sauce has the right kind of heat and tang to it to make a perfect accent.  Not quite dragon fire, but heat is noticeable.  And so… dragon meets pig.

Tomato Soup of Vegan Defiance

I found some vegan cheese in the hopes of having a good old grilled cheese and tomato soup lunch.  My bread is vegan [1] and I reckoned that tomato soup would be as well.  HA ha HA ha HAaa…  Most tomato soups have some form of milk in them.  Sitting right next to my tomato soup is cans of stewed and diced tomatoes (T is for tomato, after all…).  So I declared “Oh, yeah?!” at the pre-packaged soups, grabbed a large can of tomatoes and headed for my modern fire pit.

The list of ingredients for this was rather random.  As I recall, it went something like this:

Can ‘o tomatoes; that’s a good start.  Milk kinda creams this so how about some Silk soy milk.  But then we need some flavor.  What do I like with tomatoes?  Basil and oregano should work.  Perhaps a little salt and pepper as well.  Oh, and garlic is nice too, so garlic powder, come on down!

What I should have done was check tomato ingredients for salt.  Many canned tomatoes have salt added.  Thankfully, I did not add too much.  Having selected my components, now came the mighty incantation.

Empty can of tomatoes, juice and all into a 3+ quart pot.  The pot should have enough room for the contents and enough depth to withstand splattering.  Add 1/4c soy milk (SWAG).  Break out the magic wand [2] and transform the chunky puddle into a creamy puree (could also do with a blender).  Set pot on burner at medium heat and add remaining spices “to taste”.  If I was to guess at the amounts, I probably added 1/2t basil, 1/2t oregano, 1/8t salt, 1/4t pepper, 1/2t garlic powder.

Stir occasionally until steamy hot.  Serve and enjoy.

It was good enough to try again; definitely good enough and fast enough to make to consider skipping canned tomato soup altogether.  I need to work on the slight sharpness of the tomatoes without adding sugar.  I know that works, but I dislike the idea.

Some slight changes I would try would be (a) use minced garlic and puree it with the tomatoes and soy milk, (b) add 1T of of olive oil, (c) experiment with other spices such as celery seed, cumin, and onion powder.  Perhaps if I were very clever I might sauté some onions and then puree those with the liquids.

Endlessly Absorbing Grain (+3 against curries)

This past Wednesday I needed to prepare a dish to take to a pot luck dinner which was occurring after Lenten Vespers. The parish I attend is overwhelmingly dominated by Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian families. I neither know how to cook the food of The Levant nor would I want to go toe-to-toe with some of the mothers and grandmothers who can. So, for these kinds of events, I turn to the vegetarian fare of “The Sub-continent” aka India. At least as a starting point. Almost nothing I cook could ever really be seen as an attempt to produce an “authentic” ethnic dish.

So, the plan for this past Wednesday was roasted vegetables, legumes and barley in a coconut milk curry. Pause to store provisions, memorize spells and tune your weaponry, this is going to be long.

1 cup hulled barley
1/2 cup yellow dal
1/2 cup green lentils

Combine with five cups of water in a Dutch oven, bring to a boil, cover and put into a 375 degree oven for an hour.

1 can heavy coconut milk
1 cup tomato soup (I like the tomato and roasted red pepper in a carton stuff, myself)

Place this in a small sauce pan over low heat.

Work in these spices. I grind them all in a coffee grinder to a fine powder both to “wake up” and reduce textural impact.

red pepper flake
smoked paprika
garam masala
muchi curry
turmeric
coriander
cardamom
cumin
garlic powder (not salt)

I use a fairly balanced amount of each, and not much of any. If you want to get precise, I’d start with 1/8 teaspoon of all, if that seems under seasoned after 15 minutes of simmering, go up to 1/4 teaspoon of each.

What follows had been prepared previously

roughly chop a balanced amount of each of these items:

yellow sweet onion
red onion
several garlic cloves
zucchini
baby carrots (can be left whole, or roughly chop big carrots)
celery
fresno peppers
orange or yellow bell pepper [1]
brussel sprouts (whole or halved if fairly large examples)

Combine with a small amount of oil and salt into Dutch oven 425 degree heat, uncovered, for at least an hour. You’ve got a lot of water to drive out, here. Stir every 10 or 15 minutes so that neither to top nor the bottom get burnt. Basically continue this until you worry they’ll get absolutely mushy. You’re doing dry cooking, so you aren’t losing any nutrients anywhere, just driving out water which is tasteless and has no nutrition.

This kind of vegetable combining and roasting is one of my “staple” techniques. I make fairly large batches of this and then re-use it in many ways. Most of the previous batch got rendered down into sauce by pureeing it and adding stewed tomatoes and basil.  I deliberately leave it without seasoning or spice to keep it as versatile as possible.
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Returning to real time…

Fold some of this vegetable mixture into the red curry such that it is neither sparse nor overwhelming. combine this with the lentil and barley mixture.

Ideally, served with naan or some other similar flat bread and eaten with the hands, but as it has grain in it, you can just dive in with a spoon.

What you are supposed to end up with is a kind of thick stew of red sauce in which you find vegetables, grain and legumes. But I needed to make this in the early afternoon, and services were at 6:30. So when I was done, I put this into the serving dish I was going to use, and put it back into the oven at 200 degrees. I should have put it in covered. I was worried it would get watery if I did. What ended up happening is that the barley sucked all the water out of the coconut milk and the soup and so what I served, instead of being a very loose, saucy kind of stew, was a thick, sticky, almost spreadable kind of situation. And most of the color cooked out of it, too, so it was all brown.

It was still tasty, just not what I set out to serve. The good news, I guess, is that it was easy to spread into a piece of pita bread and eat.

[1] Colors equate to specific sweetness levels. Green are bitter. Red aren’t as sweet as orange or yellow.