Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Behind the Dinners: Meatloaf

They say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. To be honest, I think I have coerced most of the friends that I have in to letting me cook them a meal at one point or another. You know, to seal the deal.

I honestly can say, however, that never does Jim look at me more adoringly than when I am pulling a one-pound, zestfully seasoned log of ground beef out of the oven. There is something about this phenomenon that is tried and true. What is it about meatloaf that so captivates the men in our lives? Is there something in the glaze? Is there an unknown pheromone reaction that occurs when the ground beef and the egg meet? Oh no, I would have my money on their mommies.

Meatloaf is like a default setting for home cooking. Very basic, always satisfying, goes with everything. This is why so many men have been fed innumerable slices of this delicacy in their childhood. Home late from school? Meatloaf. Running off to soccer practice? Meatloaf. What am I supposed to cook on a Wednesday? Meatloaf. Meatloaf brings them back to the warm comforts of home, to the caring arms of their mothers. Decidedly, meatloaf is the Oedipus Rex of home cooking. Importantly, a secret weapon in any respectable arsenal.

Basic Meatloaf
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 Egg
3 tblsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Yellow Onion, finely chopped
Salt and Pepper

1/4 cup Ketchup
2 tblsp. Worcestershire Sauce
2 tblsp. A1 Steak Sauce
2 tblsp. Brown Sugar

Preheat oven to 350*f.
1) In a bowl, mix together the beef, egg, worcestershire sauce, onion, and a few cranks of salt and pepper.

2) Kneed together until thoroughly combined and shape into an oblong loaf, about 1.5" thick. Place the loaf on to a grate in a pan lined with tinfoil.

3) In a small bowl, mix together ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, A1, and brown sugar until uniform and thoroughly combined.

4) Glaze the top of the meatloaf with about 1/2 of the sauce, and bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes.

5) When the meatloaf is basically done (after 20-30 minutes) and juices are running clear, add a second layer of glaze to the top. Open the oven and turn it to broil on High.

6) After 10 minutes or so (when the sauce is thick and mostly set) pull the meatloaf out. Let it sit for 5 minutes or so before eating.

Amazing, isn't it? It's astonishing how something so simple -- primal, even -- could bring so many people so much joy. If you're savvy, you'll make mashed potatoes and a salad to go with it. If you want the entire world to explode, you'll make mac & cheese instead of potatoes, totally nix the greens, and add a brownie.

There you have it, the Holy Grail of "mom's cooking". Keep it close, keep it safe. Good luck, and Godspeed.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Praise the Yucca

Behold the yucca root:

Yucca is a root vegetable native to arid environments in the North, Central, and South Americas, as well as the West Indies (or so Wikipedia tells me).

This is what I know about yucca:

1) Yucca chips are in the assortment of Terra chips that I enjoy so much.
2) Yucca is cooked the same way as potato (you can even mash it!)
3) I love yucca fries.

It was at Jim's request that I made yucca fries to go with our roasted chicken the other night. I thought it was a great idea because they're easy to make, you can dress them up, and they were still elegant enough to compliment my roasted chicken with thyme and bacon a la Tyler Florence. I made enough for Jim and I to eat with dinner, and then turned the remaining yucca in to chips.

Yucca Fries
1 Yucca Root
2.5 cups Vegetable Oil
1 tblsp Salt
2 tsp Pepper
1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

1) With a potato peeler, peal the skin off of the yucca root.

2) Cut the Yucca down the middle lenghthwise, and then in to strips 1/4"-1/2" wide and 4" long.

The thinner the fry, the more crispy it'll be. The wider ones will be a little softer. If you cut them smaller than 1/4" they tend to get too crispy to eat, and if you cut them larger than 1/2" inch they take longer to cook. So, there's a method to my madness.

3) In a medium, deep sided pot, heat vegetable oil until it reaches about 300*f on a fry/candy thermometer. Drop in the fries about 10 at a time. They will come to the surface, and once they're golden brown remove them with a slotted spoon. Drain on a paper towel.

4) In the meantime, mix the salt, pepper, and cheese together on a piece of wax paper. Roll the fries in the seasoning while they are still warm.

5) Serve 'em up!

They yucca itself is a little peppery, which complimented the savory roasted chicken so nicely. The Parmesan cheese gave it a little body, and the salt... well, let's face it. A fry isn't a fry without some salt. Even a gourmet fry. They are healthier for you than regular fries, easy to make, and so tasty! They are really quite addictive.

P.S. That 2007 Red Bicyclette Chardonnay in the background is a great deal. It complimented the dinner so well. It is very smooth, subtly fruity, and for under $15 I was pleasantly surprised! Thanks to Paul (our third romantic diner) for the recommendation! It is always good to take a European with you when you go wine shopping.