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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Kobold Slaw

Eh? Get it? Kobold? Cole, bold? Bold cole slaw? Kobold slaw? No? Sorry.

Anyway, food ideas have been thin on the ground here, lately. I went into a long post Lenten funk, and then I spent the whole month of June on a road trip eating other people’s largely uninspired cooking (with a few notable exceptions).

But yesterday’s festivities found me doing my eye of round roast with the zatar rub, sliced thin, and wrapped into pita with tabbouleh, which I served to friends. Alas, I do not yet make my own tabbouleh. But thus inspired to actually make real food, I did embark on a “one shot” quest. Our side dish was a fresh slaw.

One small head of cabbage, cored, quartered, and sliced thin.[1] One sweet onion [2], cored, halved, and sliced thin. One each of green, red and yellow bell peppers, cored and sliced thin.

I would say for an off the cuff batch, go with that, but use two each of the peppers. But I was trying to use up some of the last of the harvesting from my garden (the time has come to turn most of it over and plant black eyed peas and sweet potatoes), so instead I used four “blushing beauty” bell peppers (these are smaller than the usual variety, hence four instead of three), and a large cucumber which I removed the seeds from and sliced thin as well. I also de-seeded and sliced into ribbons three of my fresh habanero peppers which are only just barely turning orange these days. It is from this last that the dish is dubbed Kobold Slaw.

As a dressing I whisked together toasted sesame oil, olive oil, soy sauce, salt, black pepper, prepared horse radish paste, powdered ginger (if I had planned ahead, fresh would have been better), and a teensy bit of egg-free canola mayo [3]. The idea was something along the lines of a sesame ginger salad dressing, but thicker. Keeping in mind that the oil is going to draw the heat out of the ribboned hot pepper flesh, as well.

Again, if you plan ahead, you can make this dish hours prior to serving it, tossing the dressing around every 30 minutes or so. The longer it has to set up, the more profound and complex the flavors will get. I served this first within an hour of making it, and it was good. We served the rest much later for the fireworks party and it was so much better.

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If you prefer a more traditional cole slaw, I did have a genuinely inspired variety during my travels that included whole caraway seeds in with the cabbage and carrots which was very, very tasty.

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[1] If you actually plan ahead, do this an hour or two before everything else. Salt the cabbage liberally, toss it every few minutes for at least half an hour, then rinse off all the salt. This will remove a lot of water from the cabbage which will otherwise end up in your dressing at the bottom of the serving bowl.

[2] Remember that “Vidalia” is a brand name from a specific county in… Georgia or one of the Carolinas. Get whatever sweet onions grow most locally to you, even if they’re just some uninterestingly labeled alphanumeric. Reducing your carbon foot print tastes better than terroir.

[3] Vegan without having to buy “veganaise” which is just gross, since the only way to get mayo made with ethical eggs, that I know of, is to make your own from scratch, which is tasty, but a hassle.

Tenser’s Cheesy Disks

In addition to celebrating Bright Week with meats, we celebrate with dairy as well. In addition to cream in my iced coffee [1] once again and milk in my steamed steel cut oats, our house has been a veritable chees-a-po-looza (see previous mention of tacos).

Last night was quesadilla. Normally I would make these in a cast iron skillet on the stove top, but last night I got the bright idea to do several of them at one time on a half sheet in the oven. 350 degrees, 15 minutes on each side, perfect.

I de-seeded four large jalapeno peppers and sliced the fruit into small crescents. I cut one sweet onion (not a “Vidalia” brand, and yes that word is a brand, but whatever the local variety is) into similarly sized shapes. These were set about to browning in some olive oil, roasted garlic and salt over high heat in a cast iron skillet. Meanwhile, a can of cannellini beans was opened and drained. Once the savory items were well along, a tub of baby spinach was tossed into the pan and wilted. Some left over rice and left over pico de gallo may or may not have been thrown in just to use it up.

Several small tortilla were arranged on the half sheet. Shredded pepper jack was applied. The beans were spooned onto the cheese. The skillet mixture was placed on top. Everything was worked a bit to flatten it out, and then tortilla were placed on top of each. Half sheet went into the pre-heated oven directly onto the oven stones. After 15 minutes the tray was removed, each item was flipped, and then the tray went back in for another 15.

The cheese melts, the beans melt, the roasted garlic melts… SO GOOD.

[1] Any time the temperature is above 85 degrees, I require iced coffee to function. Living in Houston means I drink a lot of iced coffee these days.

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.