Friday, October 10, 2008

An off-the-cuff dinner

Sure you can get out your “Joy of Cooking” and find a perfectly good meatloaf plan, probably with optional variations. But when you find a piece of top round in your freezer that you just know is not going to give you an edible London broil (I know from experience), and the weather is quite cool, screw your courage to the sticking point and get creative. I did consult “Joy” for just one thing: internal temperature for the meatloaf - 160°.

The fact is you could simply prepare ground beef as if for a burger, put it in a loaf pan, top it with cheese and have “burger loaf.” Same for chicken, turkey or pork. A standard meatloaf mix will generally have 2 or 3 different kinds of meat. Anything you would do to a hamburger you can do to meatloaf. Be brave. You have to go quite a distance to screw it up.

If you are using ground beef and ground veal 160° is too high a temp. However, lots of people use chicken, turkey or pork along with beef. The poultry must get up to 160°; the pork to 145°. That low for pork? Scientists tell us the infrequent potential from undercooking piggy meat is obviated at a temperature of 137°. Personally I go for 140° for, say, pork tenderloin or a roast of pork.

“Joy” told me to get the meat up to 160° with ground pork in it. I didn’t think I wanted to go that high, but caved in to my uncertainty about the processed pork sausage I used. In the end the meatloaf was well done and a little dense but had excellent flavor. And, dressed with some homemade tomato sauce (you could use a jarred spaghetti sauce for this), it was very, very good. Next time I’ll go for 150°, as I indicate below.

I couldn’t help but notice some other components of the cookbook meatloaf recipe: meat quantities, egg quantity, bread crumbs, etc. But I was dealing with specific amounts of ingredients I had on hand and adjusted everything accordingly.

I went out to buy one thing I didn’t have, pork sausage. The Safeway had some available in bulk and I was able to buy the ½ pound I wanted. The clerk assured me it was spicy sausage. That turned out not to be true. If I do this again with that same product, I’ll definitely add some red pepper flakes.

Recently I posted a recipe for baked artichoke hearts. I got it from Rachel Ray. Each time I’ve made it I like it less. The food network website gave me a few ideas and I invented an artichoke braise that I think is superb. It was a side dish to the meatloaf along with some polenta.

So, starting from square one…

(Don’t let your) Meatloaf
1.4 lbs. top round, ground
½ lb hot Italian sausages, casing removed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ medium onion, finely diced
1/8 cup parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
1 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper
2 tbsp pimiento, chopped
4 bay leaves
4 tbsp tomato sauce, plus more for garnish

In a large bowl, mix the meat and sausage together with your hands, just until combined. Add remaining ingredients except bay leaves. Toss lightly until combined.

Put the sausage through the grinder if it is particularly sticky. It will blend better with the beef than way.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven.

Spray a loaf pan with Pam. Place bay leaves on the bottom of the pan. Add the meatloaf mixture, pressing it carefully into the pan to eliminate air pockets. Top it with tomato sauce. Place the loaf pan on a baking sheet and put it into the oven.

Bake until the internal temperature is 150°. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes. The sides of the loaf should start to pull away slightly from the sides of the loaf pan.

You could try to remove the meatloaf from the pan, but I chickened out and managed to extract the first (most difficult) slice intact. Slice with a serrated knife into 1-inch slices or larger if you want. Served with your favorite steak or barbeque sauce if you wish.

Braised artichoke hearts

I am far too lazy to disassemble artichoke hearts. You can get them frozen at the market and, while not quite as good as fresh, they are perfectly viable.

1 package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and at room temperature
6 thin slices of lemon
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
pepper (white if you have it)
½ cup chicken stock

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the lemon slices and the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. A word about the lemon: slice them across including the peel and be sure not to include any seeds. The rind will not be bitter after its cooked.

Add the artichoke hearts and salt and pepper and sauté just until the hearts start to take on a little color. Add the broth, cover, and simmer for a few minutes while you finish up other dinner preparations. You can always reduce the heat to very low at let them sit a bit longer. Or, you can take them off the heat and serve them warm, though I think not a room temperature.

What could be simpler than that?

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