More on Meatloaf

In my Quantum Meat Loaf post I talked about how malleable and flexible this preparation is.

One quick update. Do not skip including large quantities of at least one strong, green herb such as fennel, oregano, thyme or sage — unless you like a strong lamb flavor and only intend to use your loaf for Eastern Mediterranean style dishes.

Most of my loaves have included quite a bit of fennel, which doesn’t make the whole loaf taste of fennel, but does allow it to work both in Italian dishes and Greek or Syrian dishes. My most recent didn’t have any fennel at all (for reasons I won’t bother to get into here) and the result was still delicious, but had a strong lamb flavor that could really only be tamed by fresh curly parsley (such as tabbouleh) or tzatziki sauce.

I’ve begun getting my ground meat from a farmer’s market vendor who has block frozen beef, lamb and pork, and so I’ve switched to ground pork instead of pork sausage, because the beef and lamb aren’t 90+% lean the way they are from the fancy grocery store that offers grass fed meat. But, the loss of the seasoning from the sausage has to be accounted for with my own inclusions — which has often involved a lot of ground fennel for me, and now I know it is necessary.

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.

What To Do With Too Much Produce

Right now I have way too much of

  • tomatoes
  • bush beans (green and purple)
  • pole beans (green and purple)
  • basil, sweet (I haven’t even begun to guess what to do with the purple and the Thai)
  • oregano
I also had left over macaroni which had been tossed with peas, blush peppers, kalamata, shallots and black pepper.
So I boiled up some basic lentils until they were mostly done, and then tossed in large diced tomatoes, large diced beans, salt, zatar and black pepper.
Once done, toss with the left over pasta.
Why do I keep saying toss?
Anyway, this was brilliant tasty, and Friday vegan for the win.

Everyone Should Have Fire Potions Handy

One downside with participating in a community garden and having a plot in that garden is that when produce comes in, produce comes in. Suddenly your house is full of bush beans, pole beans, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs, bell peppers and hot peppers, and I mean full, all at the same time. I am a culinary spell caster who neither grew up in, nor received his training, nor has spent very much time at all for that matter, in what gardening people call “Zone 9a” but that is where I find myself at the moment. So rather than this avalanche of product happening in July or August, it has been happening for about the past month. I have literally sat at my laptop munching a cucumber I just pulled out of my garden while reading tweets from friends complaining about snow. This is deeply confusing if you aren’t actually a Southerner.

I am also not a seasoned (ha ha) green thumb. My Mom kept gardens when I was a kid, but as with most things I now enjoy, at the time I found it boring. So in some regards, I am winging it during this, my first season. Thankfully I am tag-teaming on my plot with another couple who have at least one year’s experience already in the bag.

For reasons I don’t entirely understand, my habanero hot peppers are coming in long since full grown, but are not changing color from dark green to anything close to orange. Recently I gave up and harvested a big bunch of them (about 40) that seemed to be about as big as one could expect them to get, but which were still quite green.

I also have piles of tomatoes. Sadly, not piles of Roma tomatoes just yet, they seem to be taking their time coming in, but piles of grape, cherry, some Roma and some of the more generic round ones I don’t know the particulars on. So in an effort to get some stuff used up, I decided to make a batch of arrabbiata.

Let me just say in passing that gutting grape and cherry tomatoes is incredibly tedious. People think spell casting is all glamorous fireballs and healing effects and illusions. Nobody stops to think about the finger grinding, brain numbing work of preparing physical components. Chefs get the glory, wait staff get the tips, but the morning vegetable crew does all the real work. Believe.

So, here’s what went into the whirling typhoon of mystical combining stuff:

  • fresh oregano (from my garden)
  • fresh sweet basil (from my garden)
  • olive oil
  • 3 habanero peppers, including seeds (from the garden)
  • roughly 40 assorted tomatoes, cored and seeded (from the garden)
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt
I started with 3 peppers thinking this was conservative and I could add more to bump up the heat.
What I ended up doing was adding two cans of tomato paste in an effort to cool the results down, and we still had to eat dinner with handkerchiefs in hand when served over pasta without cheese (dairy buffers this kind of heat).
That being said, a dollop of it over roast beef, stuck under the broiler on slices of sourdough made for a truly sensational lunch.
Today I will be adding another 30 or so tomatoes to continue tempering the heat. I also plan to take all the peppers that have stems and string them to dry, since I now know that using them up is going to take FOREVER.
Meanwhile, if any orcs attack, I’m just going to spoon this stuff into clay jars and throw it.

Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Beholder

Beholder

I have said it before, and I will say it again after this: I am not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan.

I have said it before, and I will say it again afte this: I am a huge snob when it comes to food and drinks.

Amusingly, this latter point crops up in some not so snobby ways, like “what is the best pizza” or “what is the best cheeseburger” not just “what is the best 18 year single malt scotch”. What it means in the upshot is that I have strong opinions both on how to correctly define various food terms, and on what the near Platonic actualization of that term then may be — whether you want them or not.

Being from New Jersey, and thus wedged between that holy junkfood trinity of Philadelphia, New York City and The Jersey Shore [1], I have especially strong views on the word “pizza”. A strong case can be made that of all the styles of pizza to be found throughout the United States, “New York style” is the closest to the Neapolitan original (yes, pizza is really a genuinely Italian food, believe it or not), and since this is the style one generally finds throughout the heavily Italian immigrant populated regions around the holy junkfood trinity, most notably the highly lauded “boardwalk pizza” of the Jersey Shore, those of us who grew up eating this style have a tendency to insist that this is “pizza” and that all else is at best inferior and at worst (like Chicago style) not pizza at all.

I say all this, and mention once again in passing that I am not a vegetarian/vegan because I am about to discuss something we cooked the other evening for dinner, and I am going to very deliberately not call it a pizza. While it did involve a traditional dough (purchased in a small, frozen ball from the grocer), fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh oregano, fresh “blushing beauty” bell peppers, and was cooked in a rocket hot oven on top of ceramic tiles, it did not have any cheese on it. None. And because of this, it was not a pizza.

So call it a veggie flatbread. And we had it on a whim, mostly. It wasn’t a fasting day in the Church cycle that required us to skip the cheese, we aren’t deliberately watching our dairy fat intake or anything like that. We just tried this to see how it would be.

In addition to the already mentioned items, all from my organice community garden plot, we also caramelized a red onion.

My primary concern was whether or not the veggies would stick to the dough without cheese. They did. Mostly. If I had rendered the tomatoes more into sauce, it is very likely this would have bound everything to each other, and the dough.

Tonight we are making another attempt, this time with a chunky sauce of fresh tomato and oregano, faux sausage crumble, black olives, and cheese.  In other words, we’re making pizza.

pizza

pizza

The really important thing here, when you have your oven up to 550 degrees and you’re cooking directly on ceramic tiles, is to actually sit and watch the thing cook after the first 10 minutes or so. I used a timer to do 10 minutes, and then a second timer to do an additional 5, which was about 2-3 minutes too long. Much of the crust without toppings on it was burnt. Thankfully, the crust was overwhelmed with toppings, so the loss was minimal.

My plan tonight is to do the first ten minutes, add the cheese, then watch from there rather than using timers.

[1] Please note that the cast of the TV show of that name are not from New Jersey. Most are from New York, at least one is from Rhode Island, and in any case, the entire show is set in a location that residents of New Jersey universally despise precisely because people like that from New York have completely overrun the place. When a resident of New Jersey says “the Shore” they are more likely to mean Wildwood, Ocean City, Atlantic City &c. rather than Seaside Heights.

Paella — but you can call me Goulash

When I was a kid, a family friend once entered the room with a bowl of some sort of food.  When I asked what it was he gave me a sinister look and declared “Goulash…”.  I’ve since looked up goulash, but whenever I see a mixture of stuff that is tomato-rich, I think of him.

I think this (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-paella-recipe.html) was one of the first vegan recipes I made from this book.  It is good enough to repeat and I think the presence of the cashews makes a nice crunch and adds a good flavor.  This was the amusing recipe I was thinking of that lists spices in the directions that aren’t in the ingredients list and the ingredients were very out of order.  I have fixed that below.

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2t chili powder
  • 12 oz. (300g) brown rice (1 cup)
  • 3 cups (800ml) of vegetable stock
  • 6 fl.oz. (150ml) dry white wine (or substitute with 1 tbsp vinegar)
  • 1 can (454g) chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2t tarragon
  • 1t basil
  • 1t oregano
  • 1T tomato puree
  • 1 red and 1 green pepper, roughly chopped
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 8 oz. (200g) mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 oz. (50g) mange tout [1] topped and tailed
  • 4 oz. (100g) frozen peas
  • 2 oz. (50g) broken cashew nuts (about 1/2 cup)

In a large, heavy saucepan saute the onion in 4T olive oil.  Add chili powder and the rice and cook for 4-5 minutes.  Add vegetable stock, wine, tomatoes, tarragon, basil, oregano, tomato puree, . Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add peppers, celery, mushrooms, mange tout and cook for another 30 minutes until the rice is cooked. Add peas, cashew nuts, salt and pepper. Heat through until peas are ready and serve.

[1] The other fun I had was “mange tout”.  Being silly I wondered “what’s a mangy toot?”  It’s unripened pea pods for the not French among us.

Mediterranean Vegetable and Grain Salad

This was last week’s offering for the pot luck dinner. Much less work than tonight’s dish.

One cup of the same old baked barley I’m always talking about. 375 degree oven, 3 cups of water, one hour. Blah blah blah.

While that is cooking, in the food processor combine

  • a dozen cloves of roasted garlic (I make huge batches of this by getting bulk peeled garlic at Costco)
  • lemon juice (a fair bit)
  • olive oil (to match, you’re making a dressing)
  • red pepper flake
  • smoked paprika
  • salt & pepper
  • sumac
  • thyme (dried)
  • sesame seeds
  • cumin
  • oregano (dried)
  • cilantro (dried)

Render that into a dressing.
Course chop the following (either in the processor or by hand)

  • green, black and kalamata olives.
  • artichoke hearts
  • one can stewed tomatoes
  • capers

Toss the barley (after it has cooled and been fluffed) and the chopped veggies with a can of garbanzo beans and a can of black beans. Toss in the dressing.

Salads like this taste best if allowed to mellow overnight, but taste just fine after a couple of hours setting up. Served immediately upon combining, they will seem flat in a way you can’t put your finger on, somehow.