Thursday, January 17, 2013

Principles of Meatloaf

I recently received an email request from my son Adam for my meatloaf recipe and have been delaying my reply because, as you may have guessed, I make meatloaf without a recipe. I'm sure most of us have a list of basic dishes they've made all their life, learned from watching a grandparent, and have never written down the ingredients and amounts especially because it all changes slightly each time depending. But there are some general principles and standard ingredients which will reliably produce a savory meatloaf with the correct remembered taste. So here's my crack at it and feel free to adjust to your own taste.


2 lbs Ground beef
breadcrumbs - preferably Progresso Italian Style or Colonna Italian Style
Onion - finely chopped and sautéed in butter until transparent and slightly brown
2 cloves garlic finely minced and added to the onions for the last few minutes sauteeing
Mushrooms - chopped and sautéed in butter
eggs (approx 1 egg per pound of ground beef)
parmesan cheese - grated
milk to moisten breadcrumbs
salt, pepper, herbs and spices, chopped parsley

Loaf pan - 2lb size usually around 7½ x 4¾ x 3½ inches deep

Basically, I add a small amount of milk to the breadcrumbs and set aside to allow it to be absorbed.
Meanwhile, I chop the onions and mushrooms and saute them in butter.
Put the ground beef into a large mixing bowl and dump the other ingredients on top of the beef.
* Add herbs and spices, salt & pepper - how much depends on whether you use plain or Italian flavoured breadcrumbs. Do give it a few good grinds of black pepper. I hate bland food. Be careful what you add as some herbs have very strong flavors and can easily overwhelm your dish ie oregano, thyme.

Now GENTLY mix it all with your hands. (You did wash your hands carefully with soap and water first, right?) You want everything to form a soft but uniform mix. Do not overmix, squeese, or beat the ingredients - texture is very important.

Place the mix into a loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour at 350F. Check for doneness - meat should be nicely brown with crispy bits at the edges and juices run clear. If needed, leave in another 15 min and check again.

When done, allow to sit for 15 min or so to settle and then serve hot. Can also be allowed to cool and eaten cold. Makes very nice sandwiches.

If you want an actual recipe - here's one I absolutely love (and it's very similar to mine):

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Celery Soda

New York Jews love it. Everybody else hates it. Celery Soda is not just a name- it really IS a celery flavored soda.

Now, before you run screaming into the night, let me give you some background. First, the taste. Many people, when thinking of the flavor of celery, imagine old celery which has a very pronounced flavor, its stalks dark and heavy. There's a certain muskiness to them. This is not the flavor of celery soda. In fact, this recipe calls for celery seeds. Not salt, seeds.

In fact, celery seeds come from a particular variety of celery which is cultivated for the beautiful flavor and aroma of its seeds, while the stalk and roots (celery and celeriac, respectivly) are pretty much ignored. In terms of smell, it is rich, a little spicy, very aromatic. The taste when home made can most closely be approximated by ginger ale, with a little more aromatics and almost a hint of something like licorice. Real licorice, not the red stuff.

That said, before getting any further, a serious health warning. No, not allergies- if you're allergic to celery, I presume you're smart enough to avoid this. No, what I mean is that there are two kinds of celery seeds. There are celery seeds for eating and celery seeds for growing. DO NOT MIX THESE UP. Celery seeds for eating, as I mentioned before, are specifically cultivated from a different plant. Celery seeds for growing grow the other type of plant. Celery seeds for growing also tend to have other things mixed in with the seeds like tiny twigs and such. Most importantly, they are often sprayed with an anti-fungal compound which is toxic. So don't go to your local hardware store to buy these. Buy them from spice selections. They're good and they're cheap. If you're lazy like me, I bought three 1 pound bags from Amazon for $13. Yea, it's overkill, but it's really cheap stuff and lasts a really long time. The company I got mine from is really good, and worth taking a look:

When I've lived outside of New York, I miss it so much. I know how much it drives my poor mother and sister crazy that they can't get it. Celery soda has a pleasantly light sweetness combines with an aromatic astringency that cuts through fat and grease. As such, you can always tell the real Jews at places like Katz's and Carnegie because we're the ones with the celery soda to go with our pastrami (not corned beef) sandwiches. Also: hot pastrami is not hot because you stuck a refridgerated hunk on a meat slicer then microwaved it- it's hot because it's kept hot after the smoking and hand sliced. Damn, I could go for some pastrami....mmmm. Anyway, it really cuts through it nicely.

So, this recipe is dedicated to my benighted family members who can't get it.

Okay! Do yourself a favor and get a coffee mill/spice grinder. I have a mortar and pestle, but with the tiny seeds it would be a nightmare dealing with them in the mortar.

In a small saucepan, combine one cup of sugar with a half cup of water. Heat over a high heat until the sugar is mostly dissolved, then turn heat down to medium. While it is heating, grind 1 and a half heaping tablespoons celery seed. You don't need to powderize it, so a few seconds should more than do the trick.

Once all the sugar has dissolved and the sauce pan is clear and colorless, remove from heat and add the ground celery seed. Give it a good stir, then set aside, covered, for one hour. After an hour has passed, filter through a fine mesh. Don't use a coffee filter. The simple syrup will be too thick to filter properly, and it's possible that it will pick up a flavor along the way, while a mesh won't. If you're like me, the only fine metal mesh you have around is a tiny little egg-sized powdered sugar sifter, bent 3 ways from sunday. God, it's like making coffee at my grandfather's all over again. Alternately, you can use that french press sitting around that you never use.

Anyway, filter into a small mason jar (or something sealable) and stick it in the refrigerator to chill. You can use it immediately too, of course. You now have your celery syrup. Add a tablespoon to a glass, then add seltzer to taste. I find letting the syrup sit overnight is best before use.

This recipe is scalable, so feel free to double or triple it as you like. The syrup will keep in your fridge for practically forever, so you can easily make a small batch and just whip it out to make yourself a glass whenever you like. I'd be really curious to try making some cocktails with it actually. Asti- I think I have our next group activity planned!