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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Water Dragons

You’ll want to start with a reasonably sized, closable vessel for the oven (a dutch oven may be too big in this case) and a couple of thick cuts of fish (fillets are probably too thin, steaks are cut the wrong way, I used cod loin, but if that is not cost effective in your area, or is out of season, make the smallest possible adjustment from this option you can).

In addition, you want a mango (soft, but not mushy), a large stick of lemongrass, hot peppers (I used habanero I oven dried two Summers ago), olive oil and basic seasonings.

Apply a thin (but complete) layer of olive oil into your cooking vessel. Lay the fish flat, keeping the upper surface dry of the oil. Cut the lemongrass into a handful of large pieces which you bruise with the back of a knife, but keep whole (you need to remove them later, and you really don’t want pieces of lemongrass ending up in your creamy sauce), and scatter these and the hot peppers around (but not on top of) the fish.

Season the top of the fish.

Slice the mango into long, thin strips and arrange these on top of the fish.

Cover and put into a 225f degree oven for at least an hour, two might be better.

Transfer the fish to plates, and get out the lemongrass (compost it). Everything else goes into a blender or food processor to be rendered smooth and creamy.

Dress the fish and serve with saffron rice. Depending on how many hot peppers you used, have alcohol or dairy on hand.

If you have extra sauce left over, it makes a fantastic sauce for pasta with lump crab meat.

Well, unless you don’t like sweet heat.

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.

“Instant Soup”, Marrow and Fatness — Homemade Stock and Broth

[Editor’s note: I do not actually advocate that you make this recipe. After reading The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend, I basically stopped eating chicken entirely — unless I know that it came directly from a small, local farmer. Chickens are a bit different from other livestock raised for butchering in that in the industrialized, factory style they are routinely “de-beaked” to prevent them from pecking one another; something which isn’t an issue so much with pigs, cows or sheep. Apparently terms such as “free range” or “cage free” have not been regulated sufficiently to require that either eggs or meat sold under these labels come from animals which were not de-beaked. Which means it is basically impossible to get ethically sourced chicken unless you buy it directly from a farmer.

With the hope that someday ethical farming is one day normative as it was just 100 years ago, I include not only this recipe, but instructions on what exactly to buy as if one were shopping in the grocery, not simply buying whole birds from a farmer.

Again, please don’t actually make this unless you are certain you know how that chicken was raised. Alternately, you can adapt this recipe using ox tail and similar bits to make beef stock and broth — just remember the resulting separated fat is not schmaltz and not kosher, if you care.]

1 O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.

3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
4 Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. (Psalm 62 (LXX))

Growing up, I used to hear the word “schmaltz” or “schmaltzy” a lot. Usually in relation to bad acting or an over the top broadway show. But I never knew where the word came from or what it really meant. Back before my wife became a strict vegetarian, I started making my own stock and broth in huge batches and freezing it, and that’s when I found out what schmaltz really is — and why you wouldn’t want your art  to ever be compared to it.

Making sauces, soups, glazes and gravy can be a huge hassle and a huge time sink. At least, this is true if you prefer not to open a can or carton full of shockingly thin, yellow liquid every time you need a shot of umami and thickening power in a dish. [1] Rendering the water out of things can take quite a long time. But every good culinary spell caster should have this trick up their billowing robe sleeves. “Instant soup” — no not that powdered nonsense, and not bouillon, either. Salt licks are for cows. There is one variety of faux beef bouillon I use for making pho at home, but that’s another show post. So why did I bring up schmaltz? Well, the great thing about making your own stock and your own broth is that you get a third fantastic cooking substance which comes along for the ride for free. Schmaltz. You’ve heard about all these trendy places that have started serving potato frites which have been fried in duck fat, I’m sure. Well? There’s a reason for this trend. Cooking with the rendered fat of poultry adds amazing savory to dishes. And should you ever need to serve a kosher meal, this will be essential since you can’t use butter or lard (not just pork lard, the fat of all hoofed animals was forbidden to be eaten).

So let’s make our own stock and broth (and schmaltz). What do we need to do? Well, first you need a caldron. No, your pasta boiler is not big enough. In fact, unless you routinely cook for more than 10 people at a time, you don’t own anything big enough for this task. If you already own a turkey frier, that will work. When I was making this a few times a year, I just went to a restaurant supply wholesaler and bought myself a huge, cheap, aluminium pot. Mine is roughly fourteen inches high, and of about the same diameter. It has a flat bottom, flat sides and a flat lid. It has two stout handles. That’s about it, feature wise. If you are going to commit to making your own stocks and broths routinely, it is worth the investment — and it isn’t all that much. Why do you need such a big vessel? Well, it only is really instant soup if you do this every great once in a while and then pull the results out as needed “in an instant”. If you’re spending every fourth Saturday making small batches, that kind of takes the wind out of the whole thing.

OK, you have your pot. Now you need chicken. In an ideal world, you’re buying whole chickens (with all the internals intact and all the weird bits included) directly from a farmer. If this is the case, then all you need to do is quarter anywhere from two to four birds (depending on size of batch and your pot) and put them into the pot. Then add just enough cold water to cover them. The water has to be cold. If you drop bones into boiling water, the gelatin won’t actually come out into your stock, it will instantly congeal inside the bones and the whole operation will be a huge waste. If your farmer was kind enough to include the “giblets”, don’t save them for gravy, just include them here.

In a less than ideal world, you do this. Go to a reputable butcher, or at least the meat counter in a reputable grocer. Because the world we live in has been distorted by so much black magic, people are utterly obsessed with the white meat of chicken. Why is this the known result of black magic? Because white meat has less flavor and less nutrition than dark meat. The only reason people prefer it, is because skinless, boneless chicken breasts look pretty for the sorts of people who buy into all the “eat first with your eyes” presentation nonsense. I will grant that you can’t just throw food onto a plate with no consideration for appearances. But if you use “plate” as a verb, I will hurl magic missiles at you, and if it takes you longer to arrange the food than it did to cook it, I will laugh at you. Why does this business about white meat matter? Well, aside from being the cause of the truly heinous industrialized chicken factory, it also means that, believe it or not, whole chickens are more expensive than packs of dark meat parts. Well, some dark meat parts. Legs are still pricy because people like to fry them. Wings, for reasons I will never understand, are pricy because people like them, for reasons I will never understand, slathered in hot sauce (if ever there was a mode of cuisine that ought to be vegetarian, since you can’t taste the meat at all, it is the Buffalo wing). But chicken thighs are almost completely ignored by the American diner and you can get enormous “family packs” of them for extremely reasonable prices. If your world isn’t quite so black, you can also ask the butcher if they still have the chicken backs, which nobody ever seems to want [2], and mention that you’d also be willing to buy keels, necks and giblets if they are at odds for what to do with them. If you can become known to your butcher as the sort who is not only willing to buy the odd bits, but is interested in the odd bits, you may find yourself in a budding friendship which has fantastic consequences for your wallet and your kitchen. Because Americans insist on eating only pretty, lean meat (that comma is important), butchers find themselves with a lot of stuff they don’t have much use for — even products like scapple have been fading from the marketplace, making these things even harder to get rid of. Stock and broth makers can step in and reap the benefits and help prevent waste. Again, once acquired, put your bits into your big pot and cover with cold water.

Apply heat and bring the whole thing up to a gently rolling boil. This may take a while. You’ve got a lot of cold mass, here. Be patient. Once you have your simmer, begin checking fairly often for when the meat will easily come off the bones and tendons. If you want to make stock and broth separately, at this point you need to take the meaty pieces out, remove the meat, and then return the bone and tendon to the pot. If you’re just making a flavorful stock, you can skip this step. [3] For the stock, you want to continue this gentle boil until you find that the bones break far more easily than the size of the bone would suggest and the tendons no longer actually hold anything together. This means you have rendered all the gelatin from these parts and there is nothing left to do. You will need to remove all the bits, somehow. If you have a second large vessel, and a big screen strainer, this is easily done. If not, this is going to be tedious — good luck. Actually, I would have a plan for this before you get started.

Lastly, you now need to get this to cool down as quickly as you can. This is mostly for safety reasons. You just created a low acid, nutrient rich liquid environment that is nice and warm — just the kind of thing that bacteria love. If you can get your vessel of liquid into a big cooler surrounded by ice packs or ice, that might be ideal. Once the liquid is cooled, you should notice two things immediately. The first is a thick layer of schmaltz floating on the top. This can be scraped off and saved. The second is that the liquid shouldn’t be a liquid anymore. In a cool state, this stock should have so much gelatin in it that it starts to actually set up like a dessert. If this is not so, and you don’t have any noticeable thickening at all, something went wrong and you should go get more chicken bones and try again (with the same liquid). If you have some thickening, but not much, you can just very gently drive out some of the water by re-heating for a long time and then re-cooling. Once the schmaltz is skimmed off, transfer the stock into as many small containers as you can spare. Small is better because you’re going to need to freeze most of this, and it can’t be instant soup if you have to defrost a huge block just to get a cup or two you can use. In fact, if you have room for lots and lots of ice cube trays, that’s a really sweet hack to employ at this stage.

So what do you do with stock? Remember that stock is not broth, and broth is not soup. If you separated the meat and other bits as described above, your stock will have very little flavor of its own. It exists to thicken. It can not only be used to make soup, by being combined with a flavorful broth, but it can also be used to speed up gravy making, or to improve the mouth feel and texture of sauces and glazes. But, if you have small, frozen blocks of stock and small frozen blocks of broth in your freezer, you can make “instant soup” the likes of which no one has ever tasted before by simply heating the two together in a pan.

[1] Yes I often post recipes calling for cartons of vegetable broth or tomato soup. For whatever reason, commercially available chicken broth is absolutely awful, while other kinds of basic soups are very good. So this derision is for chicken broth specifically.

[2] Sign of how rapidly industrialized meat took over. When I was a kid, just 25 years ago or so, packages of chicken backs were right out in the case next to everything else. We used to buy them to use as bait when we went crabbing in the tidal flats of coastal New Jersey.

[3] For the broth, in a smaller pot sweat coarsely chopped carrots, celery, white onion and any other savories you enjoy. Once soft, add your chicken meat and enough water to cover — hot water is fine in this case. Bring to a simmer and let it sit more or less until you’re too bored to tolerate it anymore. Add salt and any seasonings. Chicken broth is so popular because it is such a blank canvas. You can keep your base very simple with just salt and pepper or pre-prepare a deeply complex flavor profile. At some point, start putting the stick blender to the whole thing and when the result is smooth, take it off the heat, cool it and store it.

Maybe I Can Make This Better Yellow Split Pea Dahl

This recipe (http://www.simpleveganrecipes.co.uk/index.html?recipe=recipes/vegan-dahl-recipe.html) isn’t quite a failure, but I usually really like dahl.  So what went wrong?  The Kooking Kleric went wrong, that’s what.  When composing your special entree golem, using the right ingredients is so important that if you don’t you could end up with a puddle of yellow-brown stuff (or Cthulhu) instead of what you expected.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit some of the substitutions I made, but let others learn from my mistakes (or missing limbs of my pride).

  • I ran out of cumin, so compensated with more garam masala — mistake.
  • I used canned chili peppers which, unbeknownst to me, had been rendered impotent — mistake.
  • The recipe did not call for onion — and it would be much improved by one.
  • It is not a crime to use salt to liven things up — and I should have.

So here is the recipe as it should be, at least according to this Kitchen Kleric.

  • 8 oz. yellow split peas  (soaked overnight — that’s 12 hours)
  • Dried chilli (or 1/8t cayenne pepper / chili powder)
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice (maybe even 1T)
  • (1 tsp. salt)

Soak the split peas overnight. Boil them for one hour in fresh water (about 6 cups).  Drain and rinse.

If you have the right ingredients… Heat 1T (ish) Olive Oil in a small, heavy pan.  Add a small piece of chilli and fry (printed book says “until blackened”… not sure about that, so let’s say “very well”).  Add the cumin seeds and fry.  Add this mixture to the cooked split peas.  Also add the mustard, garam masala and turmeric.  Boil until the lentils are soft (about 30 minutes).  Add lemon juice.

But this is how I’m likely to make it… Add the mustard, garam masala, turmeric, red pepper (or chili powder), ground cumin, and salt to cooked peas.  Add just enough water to cover the lentils, but not more. Boil until the lentils are soft (about 30 minutes).  Add lemon juice.

I would try this again both with the right ingredients as well as my substitutions.

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.

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.