Saturday, March 7, 2009

Not for the squeamish

If you like mudpies you’ll love meatloaf, because there is no avoiding sticking your hands into that meat concoction to thoroughly mix it. You really really need to remember to wash your hands before making this dish, because you’re going to be in it up to your elbows. I also always leave warm water running before I start mixing so that I don’t have to handle the faucet with my icky meaty hands.

This is the meatloaf that my mother always made and one of a handful of dishes for which I never saw a recipe. I have no idea how I learned to make it; just watched her so many times that it sunk in. It’s another major family favorite.

1 1/2 to 1 ratio chopped beef and chopped pork (or lamb if you’re feeling fancy and rich)
1 egg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (please make your own, it’s super easy; see below)
2 teaspoons fresh or dried oregano
1T fresh or dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Coat an 8” or 9” loaf pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350F/175C.

Dump all ingredients together in a mixing bowl and mush them around with your hands until really thoroughly mixed. Form into a loaf and press into the pan, artistically apply ketchup (you heard me, ketchup, this ain’t the Cordon Bleu). Bake 1 hour (longer for a larger meatloaf). Check it at around 40 minutes; if there is a lot of fat, pour it off and return it to the oven. When done it should be brown all the way through; no red at all. If it’s not quite done you can slice it and top it off in the microwave, or serve just the ends, which are probably done, and finish off the rest in the oven.

You can also turn this mix into meatballs— about 1 1/2 to 2 inch round balls pan fried in oil and then sautéed in a can of whole tomatoes for typical Italo-American ones. For Greek style, make them more egg shaped, lay a tomato slice over each one (canned peeled tomatoes are fine, or fresh) and bake them at 350F/175C for about 30 minutes, turning once.

Serve this with potatoes:

Homemade potato chips
Slice potatoes paper thin; blot thoroughly (you want to remove as much moisture as you can so that the oil doesn’t foam up) and deep fry in very hot oil til deep golden brown. The oil should be at least 2” below the top of the saucepan but still deep enough to thoroughly submerge a good sized handful of potato slices. I drop the slices in just 1-2 at a time until there are 10-15 slices at once. This keeps them from sticking to each other. You’ll need a slotted spoon or wok “spider” to scoop out the finished potatoes. Shake the oil off in a brown paper bag or drain on a pad of newspaper. Do NOT leave the cooktop unattended while cooking these.

Once the oil has cooled return it to an empty container; you can probably use it again within a couple of days, or seal it tightly and discard it with your regular garbage.


Mashed potatoes
Peel and boil til thoroughly soft, 1 medium Russet potato per diner (America’s Test Kitchen says start with cold water; the potato will finish with a better texture.) Drain off the water (leave the cooked potatoes in the saucepan). Add 2-3 pats of butter, salt and pepper to taste, an egg, and enough milk to get a creamy texture, then whip with a hand held mixer. You must mix the egg in immediately so it doesn’t cook to solid in the hot potatoes. The egg gives it a nice color. Don’t overmix or the potatoes will have a sticky texture; basically stop when they are just smooth.

For extra interest add to the boil a couple of cloves of garlic and a small diced onion (make sure they are very very soft before mixing), and/or a mix of root vegetables like celery root, parsnips, or rutabagas.

Homemade breadcrumbs

Instead of throwing away the heels of the bread, or palming them off on your partner, toast them in a warm oven (about 250D) until thoroughly dry, then crumb them in a food processor or heavy-duty blender.

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