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.

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Bubbling Cauldron of Reviving Potion

An example of how to use this physical component in a full blown spell:

Cut two blocks of firm tofu into three sheets each. Lay out flat and press with as much weight as you can get onto them for at least 30 minutes. Uncover and cube each sheet into sixteen.

While your tofu is pressing, get one can of black beans (with the goo) into a food processor or blender along with a generous portion of roasted garlic, vegetable broth and Chinese five spice. Don’t render completely smooth, but try to be sure nearly all the beans are broken up.

Get your wok (or a huge, non-stick skillet, or a huge cast iron skillet you trust to be not sticky) rocket hot and give it a very generous portion of the fire and ice potion. Once hot, augment with more unflavored high heat oil (like safflower) and possibly toasted sesame oil for flavor. Drop the tofu cubes in and keep them moving vigorously until they begin to brown up (in addition to the red oil stain, don’t mistake the one for the other). Splash some soy sauce and cook off the moisture. Splash a big sum of “rooster sauce” and do the same. If the season and your habits allow, do the same with fish sauce. Put the tofu aside in a serving dish.

Add the black bean mixture along with a second can of un-processed beans into the hot wok. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stir often. Depending on how much broth you added, this may take some time. If you get bored, impatient, or simply want a lot of sauce, use corn starch to thicken before the liquid reduces too far.

Slice a batch of snap peas on the bias and put them on top of the tofu. Pour on the sauce, stir to combine, and serve with rice or noodles.

Have a lot of beverages near to hand — and handkerchiefs.

Potion of Endless Fire and Ice

  1. Find a grocery that sells whole Szechuan pepper corns [a]
  2. Pour the entire contents into your spice mill along with an equal quantity of red pepper flakes
  3. Grind as fine as you are able
  4. Pour this powder into about five time as much (by volume) of a high heat oil (like safflower)
  5. Shake thoroughly
  6. Let sit at least a week before using, but shake daily if you can remember
  7. If the oil is not red in color within that week, keep waiting
  8. Shake prior to every use
  9. Use this in every single thing you cook

Your mouth (and your guests) will thank you.

[a] I was shocked to learn this past year that the numbing peppers that make Szechuan cuisine so fantastic are not a chili, but are more like black pepper.

Kale Chips … of FIRE

Lately we have been drowning in a see a greenery which has resulted in … yep … salads.  An adventure in a salad is a lot like a 15th level Paladin walking in on a room of 1st level skeletons.  For the uninitiated — none whatsoever.  However, there is sometimes a rare jewel that makes things interesting.  A bauble that drops from nowhere and suddenly the mundane turns interesting.  And so it is with kale chips of fire.

Typically I find kale unappealing.  I’ve used it before.  I’ve made soups with it.  I’ve sauteed it.  I’ve otherwise abused it into a form I would eat and hopefully digest.  But this recipe makes all the difference in the world.

Preheat an oven to 350F.  While it warms, remove the kale leaves from the stems and shred them into something resembling the size of your favorite chips.  Reckon an amount that would cover a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and reserve the rest for another time.  In a large bowl, toss the kale you plan to use with a light coating of olive oil, a dash of salt, perhaps a little pepper, and red pepper flakes (quantity of your choosing…).  Spread on the parchment paper lined cookie sheet and place in oven.  Bake for 10-20 minutes and keep an eye on them.  The goal is to bake them until most of them turn brown.

Let them cool a bit and enjoy.

When I first made this, I got a little eager with the red pepper.  As a result, I conjured a fire elemental to wander about the chips for awhile… and then in my glowingly warm belly.  They were kicky, but they were good.  And I vanquished them.

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.