Monday, September 26, 2011

Buttermilk Meatloaf: A Crowd Pleaser!

There are countless wonderful meatloaf recipes out there, and this is just one. Meatloaf is one of those quintessential American dishes that many consider ultimate "comfort food," and when you are enjoying a real good meatloaf it sure makes you feel good! One of the obstacles to preparing a meatloaf is thinking about ways to insure that it won't dry out during the baking process. A dry, crumbly meatloaf is not comfort food - it's like a bad burger that all the ketchup in the world won't fix. It makes sense to me that in order to prevent it from drying out, extra moisture should be built in from the get-go.

I like to use ground round or chuck as the primary meat. I think it has enough fat to contribute to the moisture and also has great flavor. I augment the ground beef with some ground pork, which also brings moisture and balances out the beefy flavor a bit. I go with a two-to-one ratio with the meat. In this recipe, I use 1 1/2 pound ground round, and 3/4 pound ground pork. If you wanted to, you could use a pork sausage of some kind.

The buttermilk, high in fat and rich flavor, provides a lot of the moisture. Soaked up by the breadcrumbs (I like to use panko, Japanese-style, breadcrumbs), the buttermilk is distributed throughout the meatloaf. The great thing about meatloaf is that you can add in the things that you like best. Maybe you want to put in some spinach, or mushrooms, or olives, or whatever - add them in!! This dish allows one to be creative, which is always a plus! I put in canned diced tomatoes with chili peppers (like a Ro-Tel), because I like how tomato flavor works with meatloaf, and the tomatoes have a lot of added moisture - so again, another element to help prevent the meatloaf from drying out.

You can also have fun with the glaze you put on top of your meatloaf. Use ketchup, chili sauce, a little hot sauce, or go with a mustard sweetened with brown sugar or honey - lots of possibilities. I find that two coats of glaze is best - one at the beginning and then reapplying halfway through the baking.

And as good as the meatloaf is when it comes out of the oven, the leftovers are even better! It's always good to make a little more than you need so that the next day you can have sandwiches. Cook once and eat twice!

Buttermilk Meatloaf
1 1/2 pounds ground round
3/4 pound ground pork
1 cup buttermilk
1 large onion, diced and browned in butter
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 can DRAINED diced tomatoes with chili peppers (like Ro-Tel)

Glaze for meatloaf
3/4 Chili Sauce (or Ketchup)
2 TBSP BBQ Sauce
a couple of shakes of hot sauce - I use Sriricha

Preheat oven to 350. In a small skillet, brown onion in butter (about 4 TBSP) until onion is slightly brown and soft. Remove from heat and let cool. In a large bowl, place ground meats and and all other ingredients. Lightly mix with fingers or fork. Do not squeeze mixture - this will make for a tougher texture. Mix to combine all ingredients throughout. On a baking sheet (or a 9x13 baking dish) that has been sprayed with non-stick spray, transfer meat mixture and shape into loaf. I like to try to keep the top flat as it holds the glaze and it a good shape for sandwiches. Once shaped, apply one coat of glaze to the entire outside of the meatloaf. Put in oven for 30 minutes. Remove, coat meatloaf with glaze again, and put back in oven for another 30 minutes. Remove meatloaf and let rest for 10 minutes prior to cutting. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Popovers For When Friends Pop Over

When thinking about something special to make for dinner when friends Jeff and Erin arrived for a cottage weekend, I thought the cooler weather would provide a little inspiration. And it did. Something hearty, warm and easy to prepare. In thinking through the many options, I decided on a pot roast. This is something I've made many times before, and it has to go down as one of my all-time favorite "feel good" dishes. As a matter of fact, we featured a pot roast on an earlier posting here on CoF.

To my way of thinking, if you are going to make a main course that has some liquid element (sauce, gravy, au jus, etc.) then you must have some kind of bread to assist in the eating! Some sort of crusty roll or bread would be a good working partner with pot roast, but nostalgia and a call for something different took us in the direction of popovers.

A local Detroit-based department store, J.L. Hudson's, used to serve popovers in their lunch room. Oh, how I miss that wonderful store. The big flagship was on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit, took and entire city block and encompassed more than two million square feet of space (it was the second largest department store in the US following Macy's in NYC). There were any number of delicious dishes coming out on Hudson's menu. My favorites were the Canadian cheese soup and chicken pot pie, but it was all good. The popovers just seemed so fancy - and while they are fairly straightforward, there is something very elegant about these light, eggy breads.

While J.L. Hudson's is long gone, make some popovers the next time you are serving pot roast, steak, prime rib, roast beef or anything else. You'll make it fancy!

2 eggs (room temperature)
1 cup sifted all purpose flour
1 cup milk (room temperature and use at least 2%)
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBSP vegetable/canola oil
6 well greased (I use Pam) custard cups or a popover pan

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Crack two eggs in a large bowl. Add flour, milk and salt to eggs and beat well for a minute or so using a hand or electric blender until well combined. Add oil and blend another minute. Batter will be thin. Pour batter into custard cups/popover pan, filling them half way. Put in 475 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Remove popovers from oven. With small knife, put small slit on top to allow steam to escape, this will help prevent popovers from getting soggy inside. Eat warm with or without butter, but these are great for soaking up juicy, gravy and sauce! Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Berry Cherry Rhubarb Pie - Or "Summer Ain't Over Yet!" Pie

It was starting to feel like summer was completely over. The weather had turned cool. The breeze had a subtle crispness. The days were noticeably getting shorter. The whole scene got me thinking about fall and, naturally, the foods and flavors that go along with this favorite season of mine. I got it in my head that I was going to make a pumpkin pie as a way to welcome autumn and reflect on what was a wonderful summer. And then, as quickly as the sensations of fall seemed to reveal themselves, all the indicators turned right back into summer mode. It got hot and still and felt every bit of mid-July.

Well, how could I enjoy and appreciate a piece of pumpkin pie with all this heat? Even smothered in Cool Whip? No, it was too soon. Summer, in fact, had not slipped through our midst. It was still hanging on and fighting for its life. So, while the pumpkin pie idea was going to have to wait a while, my hankering for pie could not. I decided to take a look in the freezer. I'm a believer in buying quantities of things when in season, and either eating them like crazy for weeks on end (like sweet corn) or canning/freezing them for sometime down the road when you can no longer get them fresh. I found remnants of frozen blueberries, cherries and rhubarb - not enough of any of them to make a full pie, so why not combine them?

One of the online communities that I belong to is Automatic Washer. This is a wonderful group of folks who are interested in and collect washing machines and other vintage appliances. While I don't collect washing machines, I do collect vintage stoves, refrigerators and small appliances. I have met so many great people on this site, and there is a good number of fine cooks and bakers who often exchange recipes and advice about preparing food. Just recently, there have been a couple of threads about making pie - in particular the challenges of making pie crust. I have to admit that making crust has been a long-time challenge for me, and for as many as I have made over the years, I still seem to encounter some issue every time. But, the important thing is that I learned to roll with it (no pun intended), and work with and/or around any problem so that my crusts come out flaky, tender and good tasting.

Pies make people happy. Whether you have a stock of spring and summer fruits to use, or you want to usher in autumn with apple or pumpkin pies, the small investment in pie making time pays big dividends!

Pie Crust
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup Crisco (best if cold - I keep mine in the fridge)
5-6 TBSP ice water

Combine flour and salt in a large bowl and whisk together. Add Crisco and using a pastry blender cut-in shortening with flour mixture until it becomes the consistency of small peas. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time and incorporate using a fork. You want the dough to be damp enough that there are no longer any small particles in bowl. When you pick up dough and press large pieces together, it should hold together. Form dough into one large ball and divide it in two parts. I generally make one half a little larger than the other - and I use the larger piece to roll out my bottom crust. The smaller one is for the top crust. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and put in fridge for 30 minutes.

After the dough has chilled, use a well-floured board or pastry cloth and a floured rolling pin and begin to roll out bottom crust. You should try to roll it out about an inch larger than you need to cover the bottom of the pie pan. Transfer the bottom crust to the pie pan. I wrap the crust back around the rolling pin and then "unroll" it over the pie pan. Pour your pie filling over the bottom crust. Roll out the top crust and place over filling. Crimp and tuck bottom and top crusts together. Cut vents in top of pie for steam to escape and bake at 400 degrees for 50 minutes (or until top is golden brown). Remove and let cool on rack for 3-4 hours.

Berry-Cherry-Rhubarb Filling
4 cups blueberries
2 cups cherries
1 1/2 cups rhubarb
2 cups sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
2 TBSP butter (cut into small pieces)

If using frozen fruit, thaw completely and drain off as much of the liquid as you can. In a large bowl combine fruit, sugar, flour and cinnamon. Gently stir together so as not to crush the fruit but to distribute the sugar/flour/cinnamon. Add filling to pie after the bottom crust is placed in pie dish and dot the top of the filling with pieces of butter. Put top crust over filling and continue as directed above.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Biscuit Baking for Moderns

One can find great delight in the most simple of things. I think this is a fact that many of us realize as we move through life. The best things need not to be complicated, complex, multi-faceted or over the top. When I was a young boy, I recall my grandma and other "old" adults talk about food and refer to a dish someone had made as being "too rich." How in the world could anything every be too rich, I thought. The richer the better! The sweeter the better! The creamier the better! More is better, right? What a kid doesn't know about life is a lot.

Biscuits are one of those things that are, at least on the face of it, simple and straightforward. Done well, they are light yet sturdy enough to hold up to a big spread of sweet butter, honey, jams and preserves, thick pieces of smoked ham or cheese or anything else you want to put on them. Biscuits serve as a delivery system for wonderful things that need a little propping up. Yes, you can eat a good biscuit just on its own, but why would you when there are so many wonderful things around to keep it company.

So, when a colleague of mine at Wayne State University asked me to do up a good recipe for biscuits I was happy to oblige, because I love biscuits and now I had good reason to bake up a batch. I was also a little worried, because this wasn't just any request. It came from my friend Beaufort, who grew up in the south and I'm sure knows a thing or two about biscuits. What was I - this Yankee from Detroit - going to show anyone about making biscuits? Wanting to do my best for my respected colleague, I pulled out my recipe, turned on the oven, put my apron on, and got down to the business of making these biscuits. Beaufort, this one's for you!

2 cups all purpose flour (plus more for the board)
1 TBSP baking powder
1 TBSP sugar
1 tsp salt
3 TBSP cold unsalted butter (cut into small cubes)
3 TBSP cold Crisco
3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, salt) in a large bowl and whisk together until well mixed. Add butter and Crisco to flour mixture and using a pastry blender (or two knives) cut solids into the flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Do this as quickly as you can so that butter and Crisco remain cold. Add milk gradually and mix after each addition. Add just enough milk so the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl (see video). If the weather is hot and humid, you may not need all the milk. If it's cool, you may use it all or even a tablespoon more. You don't want the dough too wet, otherwise it will be difficult to work with.

Once the dough comes together in the bowl, remove it to a floured surface. Kneed the dough about 15 or 20 times - no more. You don't want to overwork it. Pat dough into circle that is about an inch in thickness. Using a two-inch biscuit cutter (or juice glass) that is dipped in flour, begin to cut your biscuits. Put your scraps of dough together and keep cutting. You should get six biscuits from this recipe. Put raw biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in 425 degree oven 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, you want the tops to get a soft, golden brown (but not the sides). When done, transfer baked biscuits onto a cooling rack or better yet directly on to a plate and eat them while they are hot! They will keep for about a day in an airtight container, if you don't eat them all right out of the oven.