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.

Non-Loaf Vegan Nut Roast

While I based this recipe very heavily on this (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-nutroast-recipe.html), I am going to write it according to the minor changes I made.  The printed version is a little funnier because it reads “bread made into crumbs” while the online recipe reads simply “breadcrumbs”.  Since I make a fair amount of bread, I used actual crumbed bread.  I think the various chunks of bread provided a more interesting texture than if I had used packaged breadcrumbs.  Of course, with the latter it is also difficult to tell if they are truly vegan.

  • 1t olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped small (but not diced)
  • 1 grated carrot (I shredded it with a peeler)
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, chopped
  • 2oz. sliced mushrooms, chopped — about 1/4 cup
  • 8 oz. chopped mixed nuts — about 1 cup
  • 1 oz. (25g) wheat flour — about 4t (I’ll confirm later and update)
  • 5 fl. oz. (125ml) vegetable stock
  • 2oz. (50g) breadcrumbs — about 1/4c
  • 1T Mixed herbs — I used rosemary, sage, and basil at 1t each
  • 1/2t salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4t pepper (or to taste)

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5 / 190 °C / 375 °F.

Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion until translucent (5-10 minutes). Add pepper, celery and mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes — only trying to bring them up to temperature. Add the grated carrot and saute for one more minute. Remove from the heat, add the flour and stir. Add vegetable stock, nuts, breadcrumbs, mixed herbs and a little salt and pepper, and mix well. Grease the inside of a loaf tin. Put the mixture into the tin, pressing it down with a spoon. Bake for 40 minutes.

As with so many adventures, my very first step (bite, in this case) resulted in a “this isn’t what I bargained for”.  For some reason, I was expecting something more like a “meat loaf” from this, but it was nothing like it.  This was a “roasted nut casserole”.  I think the next time I will subject the nuts and mushrooms to a joy ride in the Machine of Whirling Blades to get a more granular texture out of them.  Perhaps that would help it be more “loafy” in texture.  An Ooze of Vegetable Broth (aka a gravy) might help as well.

Why Do Druids Sell Fresh Herbs Only in Huge Bunches?

Maybe this is only a problem for those of us who rarely cook for more than two people at a time. But when I’m buying fresh basil, or cilantro, or parsley, I really (really) don’t need three quarters of a pound of cilantro. After you’ve put that quarter cup of chopped herbage into your recipe, what do you do with the rest of the bunch before it is fit only for the compost?

Mint is easy. You put it in the food processor with sugar and just enough water and you then have a great simple syrup for your spirituous libations.

Rose mary, sage, and other heartier greens should be wrapped in towels and dried. This way they keep a long time, and work more or less just as well — sometimes better.

But the delicate greens like basil, parsley and cilantro? What do you do?

Step one is to find an art supply or restaurant supply shop (do not go to a dedicated cooking store as these are almost always very over priced, especially that one you find in upscale malls that seems to be named after a California grape growing region) and to purchase a few squeeze bottles of a reasonable size. You know, the kind that look like they should have ketchup or mustard in them. But get clear ones if you can, not the red and yellow ones, to avoid confusion.

Next, put your herbs, one at a time please, into your blender or food processor with high quality olive oil. High quality, but not the super ultra premium stuff.

As a bit of a tangent, let’s talk about olive oil. Everyone loves to talk about fancy extra virgin olive oils. Everyone loves to find those free samples in the grocery store with bits of bread to taste oils that come in tall, skinny, dark green glass bottles which are the equivalent of a single barrel scotch or a regional wine. This stuff is not for cooking. This stuff is for eating. Yes, by itself, with bread. These high end oils have unique, strong flavors that don’t belong in food, but do belong in your belly. Heck, when the Orthodox fasting rule excludes oil, what it means is this kind of oil, the stuff you’d break out for a feast of some kind, not eat everyday. Why not everyday? Because that skinny glass bottle costs $20 or more, that’s why not. But our culture has even gotten a bit weird about cooking olive oil, as well. TV chefs of the variety that make me question the way men think about women and also drive me to drink like to get all sassy about their “ee vee oh oh” when they’re cooking. Behold as I wave my magic wand and make you disappear (that’s a remote control joke). As a rule of thumb, the higher the quality of the olive oil, the lower the smoke point is. Thus, the better it is, the less useful it is for cooking. Now, I’m not saying you should start doing all your cooking with canola or vegetable shortening. I’m just saying that there’s nothing wrong with those big cans (or big plastic bottles) of fairly generic extra virgin olive oil or even olive oils that are not extra virgin, or even virgin. This stuff is cheap. It has a high smoke point, and you can get more than 20 ounces of it at a time, which is good. This is what you’re supposed to cook with. Sure, it isn’t prestigious, but that’s because you aren’t going to put it out on the table in a clear dish for dipping bruschetta into. You’re going to use huge glugs of it at a time to make your food cook better and taste better. And you don’t want to go broke in the process. I cook almost exclusively with olive oil. We keep small amounts of sesame oil in the house for certain Asian dishes, and we have some extremely high smoke point stuff like safflower around for the wok, and baking gets done with something more neutral than olive oil. But if I’m cooking, I’m cooking with olive oil. Like my “go to” preserved vegetable items, I buy this stuff in bulk at the warehouse store. Seriously. There is no shame in this. You may find that many dishes actually taste better with a cheaper olive oil that brings less flavor into the mix. Try making steel cut oats one morning with that top shelf stuff and tell me it isn’t better with the cheap stuff.

Sorry, tangent over. Put your herbs into the blender or food processor with some of your good but not great olive oil. There’s a balancing act here, much like making the simple syrup with the mint, where you want just enough of the herb and the oil so that neither really dominates the mix. Store this in the squeeze bottle in the fridge. This will now keep much longer than fresh herbs do, but gives you a way to cook with fresh herb like flavor without wasting huge bushels of green leaves in the compost every two or three days. Just remember to take the bottle out and let the oil come up to room temperature before trying to use it, or it won’t come out of the bottle. Also remember to put it immediately back into the fridge when you’re done.

If you want to make an amazing salsa-type dip, dice up your veggies (onion, tomato, tomatillo, garlic, chili &c.) and then dress them with a bit of cumin, salt, and your cilantro oil. No nasty leaves in your teeth, and still that great, fresh, green lawn clippings flavor! Or, make an Italian cold salad with white beans (cannellini) and your basil oil.