Thursday, April 26, 2012

Prove to Mom You're Not Going to Starve Meatloaf- 100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know

I decided to make meatloaf last weekend for 2 reasons.  The first was that I've had a craving for some meatloaf.  The second was my excuse to actually make it- my father in law was in town and meatloaf is one of his favorite foods.  I hadn't used any recipes lately and meatloaf is always a dish that I like to test out new recipes with.  Its such a varied dish that can taste so differently depending on the preparation and its also one that I usually like in any way, shape or form.  Meatloaf was one of the first dishes that I learned to make by using a recipe in my Betty Crocker Junior Cookbook.  There was a basic recipe for Frosted Meatloaf that used ground beef, BBQ sauce, oats, and eggs for the loaf.  You bake it and top with mashed potatoes and a few slices of American cheese and put it back in the oven to finish off.  I used to love this and made it all the time!  For some reason the idea of this repulses Shawn, so its not my go-to recipe by any standards.  I do, however, always make it a goal to have leftovers and top those with mashed potatoes and cheese the next day.  Forget turkey/ stuffing/ cranberry combos.  This is the #1 leftover combo in my book!

For this particular recipe I wanted something simple and with "normal" ingredients because I had been attending food events all weekend and eating a plethora of exotic foods.  Finding new, untried, recipes is getting tougher and tougher.  A lot of the ones that I wanted to try, I've already tried!  I went back to a newer book that I've been frequenting with the fun titles and found this one.  I love that it includes some veggies and has a ketchup based sauce. 

I preheated the oven to 375 and lined a baking dish with parchment paper, coating it with cooking spray.  One of the reasons that I like to try new recipes is to gain new cooking methods. Sometimes I like them better, sometimes they're not as good as ones I've already tried. I really like my own method of cooking on a rack lined with foil that has holes cut in it to allow the fat to drain.  It's already proven to be a winner but I don't know everything so I always like to go with the recommended method when making a "recipe" dish.  After the pan was ready, I got started with the prepping.  The instructions calls for sauteeing the veggies before adding them to the meatloaf.  This is something that I've started doing for a while.  I really like it.  It softens the veggies and helps them blend well into the other ingredients.  I sauteed the onion, garlic, and a bay leaf for about 5 minutes while I chopped up some red bell pepper and parsley.  I didn't have fresh thyme, as requested, but substituted dried.  If you've not done this before, it's usually about a third of the required fresh herb.  I added this all to the onion mixture and sauteed for another few minutes.  Discarded the bay leaf, scraped into a bowl to cool, and set aside. 

In a large bowl, I combined the meat (one part beef/pork/veal, one part lean ground beef) with lightly scrambled egg, fresh breadcrumbs, ketchup, Worcestershire, salt, pepper, and the onion mixture. 

Confession: About a year ago I "accidentally" took a box of disposable gloves from the kitchen at work.  They are absolutely awesome for things like this. 

Once the meat was mixed well, I shaped it on the parchment.  I had doubled the recipe, to ensure leftovers, and made 2 loaves for baking.  We all love the ends of the meatloaf, so this ensures more ends for people to enjoy!  I baked the meatloaf for about an hour and tested it.  Still a little shy of 165, so I glazed it with a touch of ketchup and put it back in for another 15 minutes.   Took it out and let it sit for about 10 minutes while I got the rest of the meal together.  The "rest of the meal" was the Boston Market side dishes that I had run out to get during the final stages of meatloaf cooking because I didn't feel like cooking anything.  Lazy mama at her best! 

It sliced up well and tasted great!!  The red peppers added a nice sweetness to the dish and the meatloaf was really moist.  I'm glad that I made 2 loaves, because we ended up saving the second for leftovers.  I had my leftover special (mmmmmm) and we had dinner another night by making meatloaf sandwiches with cheddar bread from a local bakery and some barbecue sauce. 

I'll still keep browsing around with recipes- not to find the perfect one but just because I like trying different meatloafs.  I mean, who doesn't love meatloaf?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Better than French Onion Soup- Smoke & Spice

I bought this cookbook for Shawn not long after he got his smoker.  Its a damn good cookbook, with great recipes, explanations, and variations.  Easter dinner was a few days ago and, at Shawn's request, we made a tray of smoked mac & cheese.  I was baking the ham and we were left with an interesting and not often found situation: an empty tray on the smoker.  I have to say, I was giddy about this.  What a fun opportunity to try something out!!  I poured through the book, looking at side dishes and options.  I settled on this French Onion soup variation mainly because Shawn loves the soup.  The recipe calls for smoked onions, which can easily be done.  At first, I tried to figure out the timing of the recipe, to allow the onions to be smoked and the soup to be made with enough time for it to be an appetizer.  We eventually decided that we had enough food for the meal and I simply smoked up the onions and a few heads of garlic for future use. 

This process was amazingly simple and something that I'll probably do whenever we have a spare tray for a few hours.  I rubbed the whole, unpeeled onions, and whole, unpeeled, heads of garlic with a touch of oil and they were ready.  Easy enough, right?  They sat in the smoker for a little over an hour and probably could have been in for up to 45 minutes longer without affecting the ingredients.  Peeling them was interesting.. I let them sit for about an hour to cool.  The oil on the onions and the moisture from smoking them made them a little slippery.  I would use a sharper knife next time, to save on the effort, and just be super careful.  The garlic was simply gorgeous and I can't wait to figure out what I'm going to do with it. 

Two days later I had completely forgotten about these items sitting in my fridge.  I went to heat up some leftover escarole with garlic as a snack and it occured to me that the onions would make a tasty addition to my snack.  In case you're curious, it was.  The onion was still a little firm, but the sweetness was perfect.  No bitterness at all, just tasty sweet onion.  I remembered my original thought, to make the onion soup, and realized that the day old slices of bread that came with the escarole would be the perfect soup crouton!  Pure genius!  I quickly changed up our original dinner plans and we went forward with the new one. 

I started by heating up my non stick dutch oven.  This is one of my absolute favorite pans and it was totally free with an Acme promotion last year.  Go figure.  Anyways, I heated up the pan and added the sliced onions for a touch.  Once they started sweating, I added a 1/4 cup of merlot and let it sautee in for a few minutes.  The recipe calls for homemade beef stock.  I didn't have that, but had about 3 cups worth of homemade pork stock so I used it instead.  I needed 3 more cups of broth and only had one can of beef broth and one can of chicken, so basically my soup was a potpourri of meat flavoring.  I added a tablespoon of barbeque sauce, even though I thought it strange, and some dried thyme, smoked salt, and black pepper.  Let it all simmer for almost an hour and tried it out.  It needed... something.  That something was a touch more red wine and a little more salt.  Perfect!! 

To make the actual soup, I pulled out 2 soup crocks that were given to us as a gift years ago.  I love these two bowls because I know they're oven friendly and they have the little handles on the sides that make it so easy to transfer from oven to countertop.  The handles cool very quickly, too, which is great.  I added the soup to each bowl and topped it with the stale bread.  I topped with a slice of provolone cheese and then sprinkled shredded swiss on top.  It went in the broiler for a few minutes and was finished. 

A lot of the broth soaked up into the bread, so I added more to my bowl to compensate for it about halfway through my meal.  The broth was really tasty!  The red wine gave it just the right balance and the BBQ sauce and black pepper gave a light touch of heat.  The bread and cheese were amazing, as all bread and melted cheese is.  The only thing I would change is that there were too many onions.  They were tasty, but it was too much in proportion to everything else.  Overall, I'd call the soup a success!

Given my current pregnancy and various degrees of laziness and queasiness, I've been making efforts to freeze meals whenever possible.  Instead of keeping the soup for leftovers, I froze the remainder for a future meal and will probably add more beef broth when I heat it up.  Looking forward to a quick and easy meal in my future!

Better than French Onion Soup- Smoke & Spice
Serves 4 as a main course, or 6 as appetizers
4 medium onions
vegetable oil
6 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 Tbsp not-too-sweet BBQ sauce
1 tsp dried thyme
salt to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 slices crusty bread
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

1.  About 3 hours before you plan to eat the soup, prepare the smoker for barbequing, bringing the tem to 200-250F.
2.  Rub the onions with a thin coating of oil and place them in the smoker.  Cook until the skins are well browned and the onions feel soft, about 1 1/2 hours.  When the onions are cool enough to handle, peel them and slice them thin.
3.  Place the onions in a saucepan and add the stock, wine, sauce, thyme, salt & pepper.  Simmer for 45 minutes.
4.  Preheat the broiler.  Toast the bread. 
5.  Spoon the hot soup into 4 ovenproof bowls.  Top each portion of soup with a piece of toast and some of the cheese.  Broil briefly until the cheese is melted.  Serve immediately. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Matzoh Ball Soup

I grew up eating matzoh ball soup.  I also grew up with latkes, macaroons, bagels and lox, kasha varnishkes, and those little chocolate covered raspberry gel thingies.  My mothers side of the family is (was) Jewish and while I never went to Hebrew school or went to temple, the food was part of my childhood.  We celebrated all holidays when I was growing up but I always related more to the Christian side and found myself learning in that direction as I got older.  Now that my mom is gone, as well as that side of my family, I don't really celebrate my Jewish roots as much as I should.  This isn't me saying that I'm changing this or making any life altering statements... its just a little insight to me and my background.  I do love the food, though.  There is no comfort food that can bring me back to childhood more than some matzoh ball soup.  I tried making my own once when I was just out of college.  It was good, not great, but I was the only person in my house that would eat it and it was a hell of a lot of work.  It was a long time before I had the urge to try again. 

I never got my mom's recipe before she passed away.  Not that hers was the best ever, but matzoh balls are specific.  My mom made hers like her mom and her grandmom and we like ours the same way because its what we grew up with.  We like them fluffy.  Dense ones are tasty, too, but not what I know.  Its not what I'm looking for when I need more than just soup.  When I need to connect with my childhood and my mom.  When you don't live in the area that you grew up in and you lose the family that you knew, its hard to go back to your childhood and your memories.  I didn't realize that right away.  The year after my mom died, a coworker was making soup for her passover sedar.  We talked a bit about it and she told me that her secret was club soda "to make them fluffy".  One thing that I do remember about my family's method was that it definitely included this.  She was kind enough to bring some in for me.  This was when I learned about food and memories.... I couldn't bring myself to eat the soup.  I was an emotional crazy woman for a day and a half, not realizing why, while this container of soup just sat there in my fridge.  I finally realized what was going on and sat down, alone, to cry and eat my bowl of soup.  It was perfect and made me love, miss, connect, remember.... every feeling on the planet.  All in a bowl of soup. 

I've been wanting to attempt my own version for over a year now.  I've had it in restaurants and its always good, but not what I'm looking for.  For this, I don't want to use a recipe.  I've been searching different recipes, taking little bits from them and using what I already know to create my own.  One that pays tribute to what I remember and one that I can pass along to my children as they get older.  I've gotten pretty good at making soups in the past year and decided to go for it.  I debating blogging about it.  Its a little more information than I usually share on here but I like the idea of tracking the experience and I can use it to recall what I liked and didn't like as I perfect the recipe over the next few years. 

I started with the stock.  Many recipes call for chicken thighs but I always prefer chicken breasts and thought I'd try it for my version.  I cut up 2 onions, 4 celery stalks, and a cup of baby carrots and added some asparagus ends and dill and parsley stems that I had in the freezer.  I added 7 boneless chicken breasts (with the fat still on) and covered with water.  I usually use the crockpot for this kind of thing, but put it on the stovetop on medium.  After about an hour, I skimmed the gook off the top, and let it simmer a little longer.  After about 3 hours, I pulled the chicken breasts out of the water and set them aside to cool.  I strained the veggies through a mesh sieve, squeezing the juice out, and discarded the veggies.  Shredded the chicken, and put the broth and the chicken (separately) in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day, I took the lid off the broth to skim the fat.  In the world of Jewish cooking, this is known as the "shmatlz".  Its key in traditional matzoh balls and you use it in place of the vegetable oil. I was very bummed to find that I had accumulated no schmalt overnight.  So much for boneless, chicken breasts... I used the vegetable oil instead and made a mental note to use split chicken breasts with the skin on next time to help get some fat in the broth while keeping the meat white for the end result. 

Now for the matzoh balls... It seems that Northern Delaware has very few Kosher patrons at the local supermarkets.  A few of the local markets have absolutely no kosher section and some only put out a few items for the holidays.  I lucked out a little with it being close to Passover, but had the damndest time finding matzoh meal.  Instead, I grabbed a box of matzoh ball mix and figured I'd customize it myself.  Actually, I added a box of reduced sodium matzoh ball mix because in my searches many people complained about how salty Maneschevitz was and it was all that ShopRite had.  I decided to try only one box of mix, figuring that 9-12 balls would be good to start with.  I separated 2 eggs, whipping the whites a little, and mixed the egg yolks, whites, 2 Tbsps of vegetable oil, a touch of club soda, and a touch of chopped dill.  Mixed it all up and put it in the fridge for setting.  The recipes that I browsed suggested anywhere from 15 minutes until 2 hours.  I figure the longer, the better, and finished this step nice and early.  My next big decision was how to cook the balls.  I have no dishwasher and always err on the side of less pans.  Some people suggest cooking the balls in water, some say broth gives it more flavor, and some cook theirs right in the soup.  The lazy cook in me wanted to cook mine in the soup to give the balls flavor and have one less pan to wash.  After reading some threads on, I found that both are fine but cooking in the soup gives it a cloudy, murky quality.  I also want John and Shawn to try the soup and figure they'll be more likely to give it a shot if the broth and soup quality look good, so I decided to cook the balls separately in water, cut with chicken broth for flavor.  I also thought this could be a good option because I could freeze some of the actual soup portion without the matzoh balls for future meals.

On to the soup!  I chopped up about a cup each of carrots and celery and sliced up about 4 or 5 cloves of garlic.  I sauteed the vegetables with a touch of butter for about 5 minutes, then added most of the chicken stock.  I saved about a cup or two to boil the matzoh balls in.  Once everything had come to a boil, I turned it down, and simmered for about an hour.  Halfway through, I took out the matzoh ball mix and rolled out 12 small balls, about an inch around.  I mixed the remaining chicken stock with some water, brought it to a boil, and added the balls to the boiling water.  Covered it all with a lid, turned it down to a simmer, and turned the timer to 35 minutes.  Then I walked away.  You can't ever open the lid while making matzoh balls!!  Its like a crockpot- total party foul.  35 minutes later, I took one out to test one.  At first glance, it looked great.  I cut into the ball and my fork sliced through quickly.  Light and fluffy!  I put the balls in the soup, added some shredded cooked chicken, salt, pepper, and chopped fresh dill, and let it all sit for another few minutes.  Then I scooped out a bowl, let it cool, and dove in. 

Mmmmmm...... light and fluffy matzoh balls.  Exactly like my moms.  The flavor was nice, with the chicken stock and dill coming through.  The broth was great and super flavorful.  I needed to add a touch more salt & pepper, which I expected.  I tend to be a little light handed with seasoning.  Overall.... I loved it!  John didn't care for the dill (or grass, as he called it) but he liked the matzoh balls once he tried one out of my bowl.  He said it tasted like chicken.  Good compliment, as far as I'm concerned!  I'm happy to have this in my reperatoire and look forward to making it many times in my life.