Monday, October 20, 2014

Meatloaf! File this one under "not Mom's"

Some of the best inventions came about by accident. And by inventions, I mean food inventions, too.

The microwave oven wasn't intended for cooking food, for example, and the first instance of cooking food probably had more to do with something accidentally burning rather than some primitive ancestor deciding that mammoth tartare was getting boring.

Cornflakes were an accident, and nachos happened because a desperate cook threw together what he had on hand when some late customers wanted something to eat. Caesar salad allegedly was invented in the same way. Cookies were small amounts of cake batter that were cooked to test the cake.

And, allegedly, chocolate chip cookies were an accident as well, although some sources say that's a bit of a fiction.

Yes some good things happen when we step out of our comfort zone, reach into the fridge, and accidentally grab the wrong spice.

This meatloaf isn't quite that accidental, but it wasn't really deliberate, either. I was cooking a recipe from a cookbook, and I used 1/4 pound each of ground beef and pork. But I had bought 1-pound packages. So I had 3/4 pound each of the ground beef and pork.

So ... what could I use that meat for? The weather said, "meatloaf" and I obliged.

My usual meatloaf is all-beef, so the half-and-half pork and beef mix was different. And I usually add cubed or torn bread. But ... I ended up using bread crumbs, because that's what I had.

The bread crumbs themselves were a little unusual. I had made a loaf of bread that included cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and oregano, so that's what the crumbs were made from.

So the bread was definitely different, since I normally use a plain white bread. The tomatoes added specs of red to the meatloaf, and the cheese and oregano added some subtle flavor.

The biggest difference between this loaf and my usual was the texture. My meatloaf is usually fairly chunky and ... not exactly crumbly, but coarsely grained. This one was a lot smoother - more like the lunchmeat style meatloaf that you'd find in the deli.

Definitely a success, and I'm sure I'll make this again. But I'm not going to abandon my mom's old fashioned meatloaf, either. There's room for both.

Not-Mom's Meatloaf

3/4 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/2 onions, diced
1/2 - 1 cup bread crumbs*, or as needed
Splash of heavy cream (or milk)
Salt and pepper, to taste (1/2 teaspoon each, if you're unsure)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and have a suitable baking pan standing by.

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Your hands are the best tool for this, since the feel of the meatloaf is important. You want a loaf that's not particularly wet or dry. It shouldn't be mushy or sloppy, but it also shouldn't be as dense as ground meat. The texture going into the oven is similar to what you'll get coming out - more cohesive, but similar.

If your meatloaf is too wet, add more breadcrumbs. If it's too dry and dense, add a splash more cream or milk.

Form meat into a loaf. It should hold together well and not sag or collapse.

Place this on a baking pan or lipped baking sheet. I used a glass casserole (reviewed here).

Bake at 350 degrees until the internal temperature reaches at least 180 degrees - this took about 2 hours, but the shape of your loaf, the pan, and your oven will make a difference. Check after an hour to see how far you have to go.

Let the meatloaf rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.

*I used flavored bread crumbs, but plain crumbs are fine. If you're using plain crumbs, you can opt to add some herbs, spices, or other flavorings to the loaf.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Peanut Butter Madeleines and a 5-Cookbook #Giveaway

I have madeleine pans, but I seldom use them. Most of the recipes I've seen are for basic vanilla madeleines, or maybe there's some citrus zest.

That's fine once in a while, but when there are so many other recipe for cookies, cakes, and cupcakes with great flavors ... well, madeleines don't need to be made all that often around here.

When I received the book Madeleines by Barbara Feldman Morse, I was curious how many variations I'd find.

Wow. First I wanted to make the dark chocolate espresso madeleines, then I boggled at the savory ones. Now that's what I talking about.

Then I saw a recipe for peanut butter madeleines dipped in chocolate. And that's where I stopped.

Chocolate-Dipped Peanut Butter Madeleines
Adapted from Madeleines by Barbara Feldman Morse

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
For the topping:
2 cups dark or semisweet chocolate chips or 8 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate
2 cups peanuts, chopped medium or fine

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and spray two 12-shell pans with baking spray.

Put the butter and sugar in a microwavable bowl and heat on low for 2 minutes. Stir with a whixk until smooth. If the butter didn't melt continue heating 30 seconds at a time until it melts, stirring in between heating.

Note: mine never really got smooth, even though I beat the heck out of it with an electric mixer as suggested in the front-of-the-book instructions. It was supposed to fall off the beaters in ribbons. That never happened. I'm not sure if I heated it too much or too little but in the end, these were really good, so I guess it doesn't matter all that much.

Let the mixture cool for 3-4 minutes before adding the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition.

Whisk in the peanut butter until well blended.

Add the vanilla, salt, and flour. and whisk until thoroughly incorporated.

Fill each shell with batter until it's almost full, pressing the batter gently to distribute it evenly in the shells.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until the madeleines puff up and there are no shiny spots. The edges should be slightly browned, and there might be some cracks on the top. Do not overbake,

Remove the pans from the oven and let them cool on racks for a minute or two, then flip the madeleines out of the pans on the racks. If the stick a little, just give then a little push on the edges and they'll release. let them cool completely.

Melt the chocolate 30 seconds at a time in the microwave, stirring after each heating, until the chocolate is completely melted.

Now, you can dip the madeleines into the chocolate, or drizzle it over the top. I went with the Jackson Pollack effect.

Sprinkle the chopped nuts onto the chocolate. I decided to skip the chopped nuts, but they would be good with the dipped chocolate version.

Allow the chocolate to set before serving or storing. If you're in a hurry to get the chocolate to set, you can refrigerate the cookies for a short time.

Disclaimer: This book was supplied to me by the publisher, and they are supplying a total of five books for a giveaway (hosted on my other blog).

Want to win this book AND FOUR MORE?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Neil Anderson's Bolognese of August from Adventures in Comfort Food

When I agreed to participate in a blog tour for a book with "comfort food" in the title, a number of things came to mind. Pasta with a tomato sauce was high on the list. So when I saw this recipe for bolognese, I knew I had to try it.

This isn't typically how I make tomato sauce for pasta, but then again, I'm not Italian. When I went to the store for supplies, there was no veal to be found except for some tiny chops that cost more than my mortgage. The butcher said they stopped carrying the ground veal because of quality issues.

There was also a celery shortage, but I averted that disaster by buying celery sticks that were cleverly hidden in the prepped-foods area, along with must-haves like pineapple chunks and asparagus packed with lemon slices.

As for the veal, there was nothing I could do except buy something else. I briefly pondered using ground turkey or chicken, but then decided to use beef. So that's what I used here. If you can find veal, then by all means, use it. But beef worked just fine, if that's holding you back.

The one thing I quibble with here is the serving size. This might feed 3-4 people if they're all teenagers or athletes, but around here a half-pound box of dry pasta is good for 4-6 servings. Then again, we probably don't eat as much as the average person. So take my thoughts with a grain or two of salt.

The intro to the recipe said:
Neil Anderson was the second chef I ever hired. He came into the restaurant one day, turned to the waitress and said, “I want to work here.” We took him on. During Neil’s first summer, I told him we were going to make Bolognese sauce.

“Right," said Neil. "We are making Bolognese, and you are going to go sweat over it." He was not incorrect that heavy, long-cooked meat sauces are not entirely appropriate for the dog days, but I am contrary. Neil is now a professor of languages somewhere, and every summer we make this out of season in his honor.

This is our version of a traditional Bolognese: a meat sauce flavored with a bit of  tomato. It is not the red sauce with meat that sometimes gets called by the same name. Through long cooking, the meats gain a velvety texture and a flavor so addictive that you won’t be able to stop eating it, no matter what the weather.

Look for more bloggers posting more recipes from the book, including: FAB Bowl of Meet, Steak Bomb, Wontons from Space  Deconstructed Nachos,  Woo-Tang Clam, Fish Hash,  Vacation in your Mouth, Jerry Fries, and Steak House.

Did I mention that some of the recipe names are quirky? Why, yes they are.

Neil Anderson’s Bolognese of August
Recipe from Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes
Used with permission. All rights reserved.Serves 3 to 4

1/2 cup/120 ml olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1/8 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 onion, sliced
1 rib celery, chopped coarsely
1/2 cup/60 g carrot, cut into medium dice
4 oz/113 g ground veal
4 oz/113 g ground pork
1 (28 oz/794 g) can tomatoes
2 tbsp/33 g tomato paste
1/2 cup/118 ml heavy cream
1 lb/454 g dried rigatoni pasta, cooked

Place a 4-quart/4 L nonreactive pot over medium-high heat. Heat the olive oil and add the garlic; fry until the cloves are almost golden, 4 minutes. Add the fennel seeds, count to 3, and drop in the onion, celery and carrot. Sweat the vegetables in the olive oil until they are sweet and the garlic is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the veal and pork, breaking up with a spoon to distribute the meat and vegetables as evenly as you can (you’ll mash it later).

When the meat is cooked (it should take 10 to 12 minutes) add the tomatoes, tomato paste and 1/2 cup/118 ml of water. Turn down the heat to low and simmer for at least an hour, preferably 2. Mash with a potato masher to break everything up until it looks like a sauce.

Add the cream. If you’ll be storing the sauce, wait to add the cream until reheating.

For this dish, I prefer boxed rigatoni (not homemade noodles). Add the cooked noodles to the pot of sauce and stir carefully so that you don’t break any noodles.

Distribute onto plates, pour some red wine and eat.

Chef’s Tip: For foolproof seasoning: Remove a small amount of the sauce and add some salt and pepper until it tastes perfect. Using this as a guide, add salt and pepper by small amounts to the pot until it matches the sample.

Recipe by Kerry Altiero and Katherine Gaudet from Adventures in Comfort Food: Incredible, Delicious and New Recipes from a Unique, Small-Town Restaurant. Printed with permission of Page St. Publishing.

I received the book from the publisher for the purpose of this book tour.

A couple notes on this recipe:

This recipe has a lot of oil - there's 1/2 cup at the beginning, along with the fat from the meats you use. If you're bothered by that amount of fat, the easy way to get rid of it is to refrigerate the finished sauce. The fat will rise to the top and harden a bit, so you can remove as much as you like. Leave at least a little - there's flavor in fat. I left it as is, and once the cream and pasta were added, it just sort of disappeared.

I was a little concerned about the whole garlic cloves - I didn't like the idea of someone eating a whole clove with their pasta, so I hunted them down in the finished sauce and made sure they were smashed. If I make this again, I might dice or slice the garlic thinly rather than leaving it whole. Maybe.

The admonishment about not adding the cream if you're going to reheat has to do with the possibility that the cream could curdle. I have the same problem with a tomato soup I make. The solution is to heat the sauce slowly and gently, and never let it boil. If it does boil, you're doomed. The cream is probably going to curdle. It's still edible, but it's not pretty and it the texture is grainy.

So, if you make the sauce ahead, or if you have leftovers, heat gently to warm it, but don't boil it, and you should be fine.
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