Monday, February 12, 2007

Building a Better Meatloaf ...

As a catering chef clients often ask me to put together an American menu for them. Over the years I've learned there are damn few items that can honestly claim the title. "Meat loaf" a client argues, but really, isn't it just poor man’s pate? "Beef stew" they challenge, but we all know there are several versions whose recipes were in the knapsacks of the early settlers. "Hot dogs".... it's called a frankfurter Helen. "Apple pie".... don't get me started.

By now, you must be waving your hand as high as the smart kid in the back of Sister Imelda's 4th grade classroom. Yes we know ... there are a few truly American dishes, at least in my opinion. Southern Fried Chicken comes to mind, and Chicken Fried Steak. Barbecue in general. Clam, fish and corn chowders, though I seem to recall the word chowder comes from a French word. Several mythic stewpots, Brunswick for example, Gumbo or Burgoo. All I'm saying is, there's not as much truly American food as you might think, once you rule out Velveeta, Condensed Soups and Tuna Melts.

What we clever Americans can claim, is an inspired ability for improvisation and adaptation to what's on hand. So it may have been with that immigrant mother from Bordeaux who was faced with a pound of meat, a few eggs and a loaf of stale bread to feed her new American family of 10. Drawing on her own tradition, she forged a new one. An inspired one, to my Midwestern palate. Pate's all well and good and perfect on a crouton with dijon, cornichons and a flacon of Cote du Rhone, but it's not what's called for on a plate with mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, string beans and horseradish. And true to my colors, Big Mary would easily sacrifice a life time of pate over the possibility of a lifetime without meat loaf.

Meat Loaf is also one of those dishes whose quality we most often determine by how close to our mama's recipe it is. Indeed Mama Gladys set my standard, but I have researched a few innovations that I offer to the next generation. Inspired by the Handsome Venezuelan's recent diet success I've done some research to make meat loaf, if not diet food, at least more waist watcher friendly.

The classic meatloaf mix is 1/3 each ground beef, veal and pork. If you are open to it, go for it. It truly makes the penultimate meatloaf. But if looking for a less caloric version, feel free to go with ground turkey breast or the leanest ground beef offered, the mushrooms in this recipe guarantee a tender moist loaf. I've also called for fresh whole wheat bread crumbs. The fresh bread crumbs provide a lighter product and the whole wheat adds some fiber which reduces the carbohydrate effect. This feeds 3 - 4 people. I believe it should multiply easily.

Big Mary's Meatloaf
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrot, shredded
1/4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1 cup (approximately 1/3#) white mushrooms, very finely chopped (use a food processor)
1 pound ground meat
1 large egg (or equivalent egg substitute)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs

1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup hoisin sauce

Preheat oven to 350*
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil, and then onion and garlic. Sauté a few minutes until onion begins to wilt. Add chopped thyme and carrot. Sauté 2 more minutes. Add white wine, cook 1 more minute and remove from heat. Set aside to cool.
Combine ground meat, egg, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper, bread crumbs and cooled onion mix. Mix thoroughly, and form into a loaf approximately 5 " X 10". Place on a foil lined baking sheet.
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 145* when inserted into the center of the meatloaf.
Make the glaze by mixing the ketchup and hoisin in a bowl. Brush liberally over the meat loaf and return to the oven for 10 minutes or so until temperature reads 155*. Remove from oven and let meatloaf rest for 5 - 10 minutes before slicing.

There you have it my pretties. And I predict if you have any leftovers, you'll be fighting over meatloaf sandwiches on toasted white bread. Next time we're going to be talking chili, another American food improvisation.

Contented Eating,
Big Mary

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