Saturday, April 14, 2012

Best Meatloaf Ever

I'm calling this the Best Meatloaf Ever!" for several reasons, not the least of which is how tasty it is. And for its "Make Ahead Magic."

I hadn't intended to make meatloaf, but the weekend forecast for chilly and damp weather put the idea of warm and cozy dinners at the lake cottage in mind. I wandered about peering at the grocery meat cases. Nothing much inspired until I saw the grass-fed ground beef -- On Special!!! I picked up three pounds of 85% lean and another pound of regular ground beef at 95% lean. As long as I was making meatloaf, may as well make three to have a couple stocked away in the freezer for more cool summer nights.

Back in the kitchen I pulled ideas from several family traditions and some healthy-food concepts. I wanted to keep this lean, low salt and satisfying. I began with the binder -- crackers soaked in milk, from my great-grandmother's beef loaf recipe. I added several coarse grinds of black pepper in honor of my grandfather who could never have too much pepper. And a liberal dash of Worcestershire sauce for my dad, who loved it. Mixed in a couple of eggs, although in retrospect I would have used 2 egg whites and one yolk to keep it leaner, and dumped in the beef.

As I started to mix with my hands, I quickly realized this needed some texture. Into the fridge. Out came the jar of medium chunky salsa for a kid-friendly kick. I formed the mixture into three oval loaves and put them in the large baking dish, so they would have room to cook all the way around. I heated the oven to 350 degrees and stirred up the last magic -- the topping. This is straight out of the 1950s and Potluck Paradise -- ketchup, yellow mustard, and brown sugar. I ladled half of it on top of the loaves before baking and the second half midway through. After an hour the loaves were cooked through to a food-safe 160 degrees. I pulled them from the pan juices and let them cool. The next day, I reheated the meatloaf in the oven. YUM! Almost as "beefy" as a perfectly cooked sirloin steak.

A word about the grass-fed beef. It is simply wonderful. Regular hamburger doesn't stand a chance next to the rich flavor of this meat, which is becoming more and more easily available I think the meatloaf would be tasty made with regular beef, but it is so much better giving this taste of our grandparents, or great grandparents, the starring role.

Best Ever Make Ahead Meatloaf

3 pounds 80% to 85% lean grass-fed beef
1 pound 90% lean hamburger
1/2 sleeve unsalted soda crackers, finely crushed with a rolling pin
1/2 to 3/4 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon -- or more -- freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs or 2 egg whites and one yolk
1 cup chunky salsa

For the topping:
1 cup salt-free ketchup
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/3 cup brown sugar

Mix and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the crushed crackers in a large mixing bowl. Add half cup milk and stir. Add more milk if need to have a nice cracker slurry. Stir in the pepper, Worcestershire sauce. and eggs. Add the beef and dump the salsa on top. Then begin mixing with your hands, making sure to bring up the cracker mixture from the bottom of the bowl. Form into three loaves and place in a large baking pan so there is at least an inch between the loaves. Make the topping mixture and spoon half of it over the loaves. Bake for about a half hour and then spoon the rest of the ketchup topping over them. Continue baking until the center of the loaf reaches 160 degrees F. Remove from pan to drain away the excess fat and juices. Cool and refrigerate. Reheat in oven with about 3/4 of an inch of water in the pan. Or microwave.

Copyright 2012 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Visions of Summer Harvest

Our plum tree is blooming to beat the band. Only problem . . it is weeks ahead of schedule due to unusually warm weather. Alas, the bees in the neighbor's hive seem to be still sleeping. I suspect we will be fortunate to harvest a handful of fruit.

Stalwart rhubarb has started to burst forth as well. At lest I can toss a towel over the plants should the weather take a sudden frosty snap in the days to come. It will be ready for picking by the end of May. In addition to the crisps, strawberry rhubarb pies, and sauces, I think I'll put up some of this World War I-era jam. I haven't made it in a couple of years. It is mighty tasty and will be dandy poured warm over ice cream when we get our June cold spells to "balance out" this amazing early spring.

World War I Rhubarb Raisin Jam

4 cups rhubarb, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins, coarsely chopped
2 cups orange juice

Mix the rhubarb and sugar in a three- or four-quart pot and let stand for 4 to 5 hours. Stir the mixture every once and a while to help the sugar dissolve. Then add the raisins and bring to a boil over medium heat, lower and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the mixture is quite thick. Stir from time to time. Add the orange juice, bring back just to the boil and pour mixture into sterilized jars. Keep in the refrigerator for a month, or freeze, You may also process in boiling water bath according to USDA guidelines

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Birthday Cake for Charles Dickens

February 7, 2012 is Charles Dickens 200th birthday. As I was looking for a period-appropriate cake to bake to celebrate, I stumbled on the menu for the dinner held in his honor by the New York City press on April 18, 1868.

It was quite an event. Dickens had been touring the northeastern part of America giving dramatic readings from his books since November, 1867. In all he gave 76 readings over five months and earned the equivalent of more than three million dollars.

The New York City press invited Dickens to a celebratory dinner. As reported in an article in the March 1919 issue of The Bookman, “Dining with Dickens at Delmonico’s” by Kate Dickenson Sweetser, the event was a huge success. The gathering of 200 of the city’s leading writers, reporters, and editors rose to their feet and applauded when Dickens arrived in the room. He was ill and escorted to the head table by Horace Greeley.

Dickens spoke briefly before dinner and made a sort of apology for his critical comments and writing about America based on his experiences on his first tour 25 years earlier. This night he promised upon his return to England to “bear such testimony to the gigantic changes in this country. Also to record that wherever I have been I have been received with unsurpassed politeness, delicacy. Sweet tempter, hospitality, consideration and respect for the privacy daily forced on my by the nature of my avocation here and the state of my health.”

Members of the committee spoke as well and a fine meal was enjoyed by all. The menu was printed in French, but is easy enough to understand. Lorenzo Delmonico, the leading restaurateur of the day paid homage to literature as he named many of his dishes for the evening: cream of asparagus soup a la Dumas, small hors d’oeuvres a la Dickens. stuffed lamb a la Walter Scott, chops a la Fenimore Cooper. The vegetables included small peas, tomatoes, artichokes and braised lettuce. And for dessert fruits, orange ice and two cakes. The “Viennoise” cake I take to be a version of what we now call a “Sachre torte” chocolate cake with apricot jam in between the layers. The Savarin is a yeast-raised cake with syrup poured over it.

This was the cake to make and it sure gave me the dickens. And will give me many stories to tell. The hardest part is getting the cake out of the baking pan. But not to worry, if your cake looks like this one below, or worse, just pour the syrup over and then put pieces of the cake in a decorative bowl or glass, top with berries and cream and serve individually. No one need to know the fiction you are passing off as a glamorous cake. It will taste just as good.

Although there are many modern recipes, I wanted to find one from the era. I found one using Google Books in an 1867 cookbook -- Handbook of Practical Cookery for Ladies and Professional Cooks by Pierre Blot who was a professor of gastronomy and founder of the New York Cooking Academy.

This is a classic cake and the recipe is very similar, if not identical, to modern ones. I have adapted it for modern ingredients. However, there are two important differences. The period recipe calls for buttering the baking pan and sprinkling with finely ground almonds and the syrup you make to pour over the cooled cake is much less sweet than modern ones. It is a nice light taste, not heavy and lets the flavors of the brandy or rum fill the cake.

Savarin Cake a la Charles Dickens

1 package instant yeast – quick rise
1/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup milk, warmed to about 100 degrees F.
2 eggs
6 tablespoons very soft butter, not melted
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour

To prepare the baking pan:
1/2 to 1 cup very, very finely ground almonds
soft butter

For the sauce:
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup rum or brandy

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast, water and tablespoon sugar. Let stand until the yeast is “proofed” and slightly foamy. Put the eggs into the warm milk and stir until well mixed. Stir the milk mixture into the yeast and then the softened butter. Add the sugar and half the flour. Mix well until you have a smooth batter. Stir in the rest of the flour. If the batter isn’t perfectly smooth, beat for a minute or so with an electric mixer. Set the batter aside and prepare the baking pans. Savarin is traditionally baked in a tube or ring pan. Pick one that will hold at least 8 cups of batter, or divide between two pans. Butter the pan very well and sprinkle with the ground almonds, or regular flour. Spoon batter into the pan, no more than half full. Set aside in a warm place to rise until not quite doubled. Put into a preheated 350 degree F. oven. Bake until the cake is lightly browned and firm in the center. Cool in the pans on a rack and the gently insert a knife around the outside edges and push cake away from side of the pan, turn upside down, cross your fingers that it comes out.

While the cake is cooling, make the syrup. In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook for about five minutes until the syrup thickens slightly. Allow to cool and add the rum of brandy.

Spoon the syrup over the cooled cake gradually so that it is absorbed into the cake. Serve with whipped cream and berries. Or as they did at the Dickens’ dinner – with orange sherbet.