Friday, April 25, 2008

A Night with Friends and Meatloaf

What a tiring week. Normally, I try to keep a rational schedule on the road- as I might do at home. I enjoy being relaxed no later than 9 PM. Well, that didn’t work out so well this week. And honestly, that’s OK. I had fun. Tiring fun, but fun.

I spent the evenings with colleagues and friends dining and imbibing. Tuesday, I met a group of folks for dinner followed by cheese and port with another few colleagues elsewhere. If you read an earlier post of mine titled Niagara on the Lake and Cheese Secrets, then you’ll recall Margaret who owns a cheese shop there. She was in town here in Westerly on business so enjoying nice restaurant cheeses with an “expert” was quite a treat. Some of the assorted jams were disappointing though. Still good times. I got in a couple of hours later than usual for me.

Wednesday night was especially fun and an unusual distraction from my typical nights on the road. You see- I have been sharing my new endeavors at writing with my colleagues (Torturing them, some might say). Surprisingly, they’ve been reading it too. As it ended up- several co-workers made a plan to gather Wednesday night at Christina and Tim’s house so I could cook for them. I was going to prepare a version of my 1st ever penned recipe, Meatloaf. I know, I know. Meatloaf? How about port braised short ribs or blackened Mahi-Mahi? Well, I thought about those types of choices but I decided that anyone can impress with minimal skills and pretentious ingredients. It takes a real cook to lovingly shape routine ingredients into a perfect meal worthy of a dining out experience. I’ll leave it to my colleagues to judge but I was pleased.

So, I left work and headed to the local grocery store for supplies. Tina had gone through my recipe and wrote down the items she did not have. It is worth noting, I think, that if you plan to shop at a store you are not familiar with, expect to double your shopping time. At my store the spices are at the end of aisle 4. I know this. Therefore the only logical layout of ANY grocery store has the spices at the end of aisle 4 (and on the right as you’re facing the rear of the building where I should see the poultry). After crossing from one end of the grocery store to the other several times –only men do this- I had what I needed.

A short time later I arrived at Tim and Tina’s beautiful rural Rhode Island home. I was so pleased in their kitchen. They own the exact same refrigerator as Lisa and I have in Florida. There was a cutting board with knives set out atop black granite counter tops. I settled in nicely. After unpacking, I began on the fresh breadcrumbs. I imagine there are recipes out there that using store bought breadcrumbs is OK but I refuse anymore. I buy fresh (not day old) bread. Then I break it into pieces by hand, drizzle it with olive oil and seasoning, and then pop it in an oven to become like little croutons. Finally a trip to the food processor and my loaf is reduced to a medium grain consistency. In this case, there was no food processor available so I worked in batches in a blender.

Next I got the onions caramelizing (later adding fresh garlic) and the corn wrapped in foil roasting. I tried to move slowly and enjoy the company. It started with Tim and I chatting in the kitchen but soon we were joined by Tina and their boys, Luke and Daniel. After that, Rob, Michele and Edgar joined from work. I sipped a dry red wine Tim offered and chatted while making dinner.

Once the onions were finished to a nice caramel color and cooled, they were added to the meat mix along with the breadcrumbs. I don’t want to make you read the recipe twice but I do want to point out what I think are the keys to this type of recipe being a masterpiece. Of course, quality ingredients matter but more importantly, the attention to detail that is paid to the ingredients make all the difference in the world. Also, lean cuts of meat don’t make flavorful meatloaf. While there are Turkey meatloaves and healthier versions, to be sure, my thought is- If you’re going to have meatloaf, eat meatloaf. If you want to diet, grab a carrot.

So on to some details of prep. I like caramelized onions. The onions give a wonderful sweetness and they have their own seasoning (because I salt and pepper them while preparing). The green bell peppers are chopped more finely because while I like the hint of a crunch, I don’t like big honking chunks of pepper in the meatloaf. The breadcrumbs are freshly made for their silky quality. I used to use a couple tablespoons of heavy cream to add richness but I find that with the fresh breadcrumbs, I don’t need to do that anymore.

For the potatoes, the key is the correct doneness, dryness, mashing and liquid ingredients. Doneness: When a recipe says fork tender, it means fork tender. Undercooked and you have a harder, flavorless and unpleasant bite. Overcook and you have mush. Dryness: Once perfectly cooked and drained, put them immediately back in the hot pot to allow the extra moisture to evaporate (Not back on a flame though). Mashing: That’s a taste thing. I like them a bit more rustic so I tend to leave skin on and hand mash. Add the liquids in bits because adding is never a problem but there is NO subtracting. Using a hand mixer will certainly give you a more whipped and fluffier consistency (the way my mom liked them). Certainly any flavor enhancer you like in the potatoes are fine. For this recipe, I chose sour cream and Gruyere cheese. That combo worked well.

While frozen corn could be used in a pinch (and I am NOT above that), I like roasting corn on the cob then slicing it off and creaming it. The added step retains a great sweetness in the corn.

Hopefully I’m getting my point across. Honing your technique and putting some forethought into it can really enhance a simple meal like Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn.

After dinner, we sat around the table, chatted, sipped some more wine (Edgar stuck to beer I think- you’d have to know Edgar), and enjoyed a Pumpkin roll that Rob bought. It was a great compliment to a hearty meal. We talked about a lot but unfortunately chatted about work too. Still it felt more like an evening with friends than co-workers.

Ahh, and yet again I crawl into bed way too late. Thursday night, tonight, I am at 40,000 feet, still tired, finishing this, perusing through the photos of the evening and headed home. I can’t wait to see my own little girl. She’s asleep now but she’ll be lovely.

Confession time before the meal: I was quite displeased with my onion gravy. It failed. I used the wrong fat and it was too hot when I added the flour. It was a basic mistake. Stick with the version in the recipe below and you’ll be fine. It’s tried and tested. Now on to the recipe:


  • 1.0 lb ground Chuck

  • 1 lb ground Pork

  • 1/3 to ½ loaf any good white bread fresh from bakery

  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder

  • 4 tbsp olive oil divided

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 medium Spanish or sweet onion diced or sliced

  • 4 cloves garlic coarsely chopped

  • 1 green pepper very finely diced

  • 1 tsp ground Cumin

  • 1 tsp ground Coriander

  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

  • 6 tbsp Ketchup divided

  • 2 tbsp sour cream

  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat leaf (Italian) parsley

  • 6-8 thick center cut bacon slices

  • salt and pepper

  • Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Break bread into pieces and spread on cookie sheet. Drizzle 3 tbsp olive oil over bread and sprinkle garlic powder over as well. Season with salt and pepper. Place in oven till bread is completely dry. Remove before it browns. About 10-15 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

    In the meantime, sauté onions and 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat till the onions are translucent. About 5 minutes. Then add garlic cloves. Sauté until slightly caramelized with hints of darkness to the onion. Remove from heat and let cool.

    Once the bread is dried, place in food processor to make bread crumbs. Pulse till fine. Place in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled onion and garlic. Add 3 tbsp Ketchup and remaining ingredients. Season again with salt and pepper. Using your hands, fold ingredients together till well blended but not over worked. On a greased cookie sheet shape well blended ingredients into a loaf. Spread remaining Ketchup over loaf. Lay the strips of bacon over the meatloaf to completely cover. Bake for 40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest for a minimum of 5 minutes (preferably 10-15 minutes) before cutting and serving.

    Mashed Potatoes

  • 3 lbs Yukon Gold (or similar) potatoes cubed

  • 1/3 cup sour cream

  • 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) melted butter
  • ¼ cup cream

  • ½ cup Gruyere Cheese

  • salt and pepper

  • In a pot, cover potatoes with cold water and place over high heat. Add a couple tbsp salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking until potatoes are fork tender. About 10 minutes. Turn stove off, drain potatoes and replace pot to burner. Return potatoes to hot pot (this helps them dry).

    Add the cheese and wet ingredients, a small amount at a time, and mash. Some folks like a hand mixer but I like the texture that a masher provides. More sour cream and/or cream can be used to thin consistency if desired. Use less if you like them thicker.

    Onion Gravy

  • 1 small Spanish onion

  • 3 tbsp butter

  • 3 tbsp + 1 tsp all purpose flour divided

  • 2 cups beef broth

  • Salt and pepper

  • Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and 2 tbsp flour. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook until flour begins to turn a light caramel color, about 10 minutes. Add broth and last teaspoon of flour. Raise the heat and bring to a boil whisking frequently. Once gravy boils, it is at its thickest. Remove from heat and serve.

    Herbed Creamed Corn

  • 6 fresh medium sized ears of corn in husks (completely un-shucked)

  • 3 tbsp butter

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

  • 3 tbsp freshly chopped parsley

  • salt and pepper

  • Before preparing any other portion of the meal, roast the corn in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove and cool. Shuck the corn, remove the silk completely and cut the corn from the cob. Set aside and prepare the rest below in the last 10 minutes.

    In a sauté pan over medium high heat, melt the butter and add the corn. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cream and reduce heat to medium. Cook down (reduce) the cream stirring frequently (about 7 minutes). Add parsley and serve.

    Once plated, sprinkle more gruyere cheese over entire plate.

    Serves 6.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    The gravy absolutely did not fail, I loved it and went back for seconds when the top layer of my potatoes was gone. When you said you were going to make Creamed Corn, I thought to myself, "Well I don't really like baby food, but ok, I'll try it." It turned out to be my favorite part of the meal and I think it will be the first of your recipies I try.
    PS - Dan wants to know when you get your Chef hat?