Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Meatloaf

There is nothing more basic than the meatloaf. Except that there are hundreds of ways to make it and another thousand ways for it to fall apart. Mine is very basic, tastes fantastic and doesn't fall apart. What more could someone ask for?

Meatloaf is one of the meals that Mikey requests the most often. I don't mind, it's something I can mix up early in the day and stick in the refrigerator until I'm ready to bake it. You don't need to make it ahead of time. I like to because I can have all the dirty dishes washed up and be able to relax during dinner knowing almost everything is done.

This is going to be one of those recipes that I will have to stop and think about how much of something I'm using. I just throw things in a bowl and mix it up. But here goes:

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (use a mid fat range, not the lean but not the 80/20 either or your loaf will split like mine did tonight)
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon onion flakes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 + 1/4 cup ketchup

Why onion flakes? If you like the taste of onion but don't want your meatloaf to fall apart these work perfect. There is enough moisture (as you will see) to hydrate the onions.

Mikey loves pepper! If you're not as much of a fan you can use half the amount.

Bread crumbs. You can buy it in a can at the store or make your own very easy. When your bread goes stale just take the slices and lay on a cooking rack, cover with a towel and let them dry. Mine are usually dry the next morning. Alternately you can place them in the oven on the lowest setting or use your dehydrator. And I do that depending on the amount of bread I have.

Throw all the ingredients into a bowl. Save the 1/4 cup ketchup for the top.

Find an oblong pan. I use a Pyrex 7x11 pan. You don't want to use a loaf pan because the fat needs somewhere to go. (another step to make sure your loaf doesn't fall apart.) There is no need to grease it but if you want to save clean up time line the pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. I don't because meatloaf has a tendency to take some of the foil with it.

Take the rings off your right hand and just start squishing the mixture through your fingers until it's well mixed. The consistency will be moist and slimy but enough to be thick enough to hold it's shape.

 Place meat in center of pan and shape it into a loaf. 

Cover the top with the remaining ketchup. You can use more or less depending on your tastes. I am not a big ketchup eater but meatloaf should be a little tangy. If Mikey were making this he would layer bacon over the top.

Now you can put it in the fridge until later or place it in the oven turned on to 375F. No need to preheat. (If something has a cook time of longer than 20 minutes there isn't a need to waste energy preheating unless the top might burn during the preheating.)

Bake the meatloaf for 1 hour and 15 minutes. The ideal time to cook a meatloaf for is until it reaches 160F degrees internal temperature. 160 degrees ensures that all bacteria have been killed off. It is really important to let your meatloaf rest for at least 20 minutes before cutting it. No matter how pretty your loaf it will fall apart if you cut it fresh from the oven.

For tonight's dinner we are going to have both whipped potatoes and rice. One of those nights when we can't agree on the starch so we do both.  Tonight the whipped potatoes are made with sour cream, butter, milk, salt and pepper. I'm thinking green for vegetable. I don't do fancy side dishes, just the basics. We never eat as much as I make and I don't see the need. I'll leave that up to the restaurants.

Been busy-Have your cake and eat it too.

Occasionally someone asks me to make a decorated cake for some occasion. My hands aren't nearly what they used to be 20 years ago. Perhaps if I did more cakes I would regain the youthful strength.

I didn't have much time to get this together. I usually like to have plenty of notice so I can plan and really find out what the person is looking for.

This project started as strawberry cupcakes (that I still have to decorate) and then a sheet cake was added because the person is afraid 40 cupcakes won't be enough. 

I am not a decorator that you will ever find on television but I can do a fair job with a cake that tastes much better than store bought. The cakes are white with a strawberry cake marble. They are getting frosted with white buttercream frosting and pink borders.

Round cakes are SO much easier to do borders on.
I stuck toothpicks around the edges so when I cover the cake the frosting won't get squashed.

I searched three stores to find some kind of topping for the cake. I finally found this pink snow globe with a baby carriage inside. I could not put this unpacked store bought trinket on a cake with washing it. Who knows how many hands have held it! Washing it chipped some of the paint though.

I think it worked out alright though.

The finished hurry up and get it done cake. Not too bad considering it's been a long time since I've decorated a cake.

Here are some pictures of the last cakes I made. No, I do not use all edible things on my cakes. I also don't think fondant tastes very good and have never bothered learning to use it. Although I did use some in the groomscake pictured below.

This one was really fun and a combined effort with my mom, sister and myself. My brother loves the outdoors so what better groomscake? The river is made with sparkly gel. The rocks are chocolate candies and the path is crushed Oreos.

The wedding cake was enormous and I was so afraid that all the kids running around an bumping the table were going to make it crash and splatter all over the place. Luckily it only leaned a little, even with tons of support dowels.
The flowers were made from royal icing and brushed with edible pink glitter. I believe I used over 10 bags of powdered sugar to frost this thing. Wow!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taffy Bars - Not what you think.

I think the original recipe was toffee bars but as the family passed the recipe down through the years it got transmogrified to taffy. My mom got it from Grandma A in 1963. We don't know any history before that. We just know that this is a family favorite then and now. 

1 cup shortening (normally I would cheat here and use Crisco sticks)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour             

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cream shortening and sugar.
Add egg.
Notice that I didn't waste the time (or dishes) measuring the dry ingredients out in a different bowl?
Mix in dry ingredients. The most effective way to do this is to cut in with a spoon, lift and turn bowl slightly. Keep repeating this and soon you will have the crumbly look. You might need to use your fingers to get the mixture from the bottom well blended.

Press mixture into greased 9x13 pan.

Bake 15-20 minutes.
Frost with following immediately after removing from oven.

1 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons cocoa
1/4 cup milk dash salt
 1/4 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
Measure sugar and cocoa into medium saucepan. Blend well.
Add milk.
About 10 minutes before bars are done start heating the frosting on medium heat. Stir constantly.
Bring to full roiling boil (one that can't be stirred away) for 1 minute. Having two kitchen timers is nice but since my only one is being used for the bars I use the One-One thousand, two-one thousand all the way up to 60. This has always worked for me.
Full rolling boil, still stirring because this will scorch very quickly.
Remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. Stir until melted. When bars come out of the oven pour it over them.

Spread gently to cover edges of bars. Not too much or all your liquid frosting will run underneath.
Let cool completely. If you are impatient like me and can't wait that long, place them in the fridge to speed up the process. The frosting will thicken as it cools.

*Update* This recipe was also in Grandma's Recipes. 

Fried Pork Chops- Northern or Southern?

Growing up I had heard the old wives tale that raw pork will give you worms. All pork I ate was cooked until it was dry. Not that it was bad. It was what I knew and I loved a good fried pork chop. Especially when the fat around the edges was nice and crispy.

This blog is going to focus on the fried pork chop. The way I learned to fry a pork chop was to salt and pepper it then fry it in fat until it was fully cooked. I love the flavor this gave. Simple and easy.

When I met my husband I wanted to impress him with my cooking skills and asked him what he wanted for dinner. He told me fried pork chops. I don't recall what else I made to go with the dinner but I made him fried pork chops. He sat down to dinner and with a smile on his face ate every bite and told me how wonderful they were.

Let me go deeper into that and tell you that I am from Northern Minnesota and he is from Florida. Our ideas of good food had a rather large variation. I will defend myself here and say that I can cook 'Southern' right along with the best of the Southern cooks. But apparently not pork chops. I just didn't know it yet. 

Being the news addict that I am there was a special on one night about the proper cooking time of pork chops. It is not 20 minutes per side on medium heat! The time depends greatly on the size of the chop of course and whether or not it has a bone. Ah! This was another thing that we didn't agree on. I preferred a chop with no bone and my husband likes the bone. My thinking was why would you want a bone, it's a waste! (Mainly because I'm a terribly fussy eater and don't eat anything near a bone.)

I've gotten sidetracked. I really didn't think there could be THAT much to talk about a pork chop. Oh yes, I heard that a slightly rare pork chops is not only safe to eat it is good to eat. I was utterly shocked at such news! Oddly enough after serving my husband pork chops that first time he hadn't asked again, if they would appear on his dinner plate he would eat them. I went on thinking all was well with my pork chops.

That is until one night he said 'Honey, let me show you what a Southern pork chop is like.' This was my first inkling that maybe mine were not as fabulous as I had thought.  He went through the steps of dipping the pork chop in an egg and milk mixture with salt and way more pepper than I had ever imagined using. I was fairly skeptical about this method of dipping in the wash then in flour. But the pork chops were fantastic. He fried them well enough to be done but not overcooked and they were fantastic. Let me add here that I am very thankful to have a husband that can cook, even if it means not always seeing eye to eye on methods and ingredients. I just like knowing that if I don't feel like cooking he is there to jump in and take over.

As years went by I kept experimenting with marinade and coating. I changed from a thick pork chop to a thin chop which takes only minutes of frying at the right temperature. My husband actually asks me now for fried pork chops quite often.

The recipe comes from nowhere except trial and error. The amounts were hard to figure out because I am a cook that just throws thing in until it looks right. Because I use my seasoning mix in several fried foods one day I was determined to figure out what all went into my special mix. I just always knew what bottles and cans I grabbed out of the spice cabinet. It was interesting to see it written down.

This recipe will make about 1 cup of mix. Enough to fry foods 4 times. Just store it in an air tight container and shake it up before using it again.

1/2 cup salt
1/4 cup pepper
1 Tablespoon paprika (helps give fried food a golden color)
3 Tablespoons Mrs Dash Table Blend
1/2 Tablespoon Cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoon garlic powder
2 Tablespoon onion powder

Those proportions seem high but it does get mixed into marinade and flour and that evens it out.

Another thing I learned from a television show was that don't just season the flour because the flavor is on the inside. After that I started adding my spice mix to the original simple marinade.

My marinade has no recipe either so here goes with trying to figure out what goes into it.

1 cup buttermilk (or regular milk if you don't have any)
2 eggs
2-3 dashes of soy sauce (This does amazing things for pork but don't get carried away, it's potent stuff. Just ask my husband.)
1/8 cup of the above seasoning

Whisk it all together or just pour it all into a gallon bag and squish it up.

I have a Food Saver that marinades and adore it's speediness. Feel free to use it to speed up the marinading time. If you don't have one, just throw your chops into the bag (or covered bowl) and put in the fridge for several hours.
When I use the Food Saver I try to make sure there is enough to cover the meat. When I just use a bag I simply turn the bag over whenever I walk by the fridge.

Anytime sooner than 10 minutes before frying your chops you'll want to make the flour mixture that they will be dipped in. In a bowl that is a suitable size mix together

1 cup flour
1/4 cup corn starch (helps prevent crust from falling off in the pan)
1/8 cup above seasoning mix

Whisk it together to mix well.

Without letting the marinade drip off the meat too much press meat into flour, turn over and flour any missed spots while pressing the opposite side into flour mixture.

Have a wire rack over a cookie sheet ready and place the floured chop on the rack. Repeat with all chops.

While the chops are resting get your pan ready, I use an electric cooker just because of the size. I'm able to cook 4 at a time instead of 1 or 2. Add 1/4 to 1/2 inch of oil. Set the temperature to high. After the meat has rested place it in the hot oil. Use a meat tong to move the chops from the wire rack to the oil. You don't want to lose any of the coating.

For the very thin chops that I'm frying you will only need to fry long enough on each side to brown. The meat cooks fast and you do not want to over cook it. That's what dries the chops out. No matter how thick the cut is you will want to make sure it's at an internal temperature of 160F. (No, I do not own a meat thermometer. I just want to make sure you know the safe temperature.)

My husband likes pan gravy made with the drippings. This is not easily accomplished because he likes the gravy to simmer for 15-20 minutes and I don't want the pork chops to continue cooking even in a warm oven.

The next thing to agree on would be the starch. Rice or potatoes. He will almost always choose rice but for me nothing beats mashed potatoes. The real ones, not those flakes in a box. Rice usually wins because of simplicity. For this meal we agreed on pierogies sauteed in butter until golden.

For anyone that does not own a food saver, this is probably the MOST valuable tool in my kitchen. I use it to keep food fresh longer, marinate meats, seal jars even pack things (like clothes) tight that will be shipped overseas.