Meatloaf

The American meatloaf is the evolutionary result of the American industrialization of the slaughterhouse. Industrialization brought down the cost of meats and promoted the distribution of meat products across the nation. For decades, carcasses in whole, half or quarter cuts were shipped from central points to any city or butcher shop. Times change and the modern version of shipping meats is more specialized, with specific parts aggregated into one package and shipped in cardboard boxes. Only specialty butcher shops work with whole carcasses today. Within this business structure, meatloaf is one of the most economical meat dishes that can be assembled at home.

Meatloaf is part of a minced meat tradition that goes back at least two millennia. The Romans had a recipe. With the technology of a knife or a cleaver with a durable sharp edge, even the toughest and most undesirable meats could be reduced to good, tasty recipes. The most difficult cuts (ears, nose, and tails) were processed into sausages but the tough pieces of muscle could be made tender too by fine dicing. Minced meat recipes can be found in every culture but the variations of meatloaf, using the meats and ingredients at hand, are favored dishes in Europe, South America, Africa, and the Near East. In Lebanon, the dish will be minced lamb or lamb mixed with beef as kofte while in the Philippines, a dish called embotido and is made from ground pork stuffed with hardboiled eggs. The variations of minced meat recipes across the world depend on the availability of inexpensive ingredients in the local economy.

The American Meatloaf gained prominence in home kitchens during the Great Depression, after the 1928 Stock Market Crash. Rationing during WWII confirmed its status as a gut filling dish that could be served using many variations. The recipe of minced meat could be stretched with breadcrumbs of any bread, stale cereal, or crushed crackers. Saltines were popular. The dish could be enhanced with ketchup, jelly, barbeque sauce, mashed potatoes, and spices. Even more, immigrant traditions could add their own flair to the minced meat dish.

The United States is a melting pot and meatloaf is a unique example. The mid-twentieth century witnessed the rise of advice columnists, who began as a staple in immigrant newspapers on matters of assimilation and who evolved into a nationwide ethos of community and behavior. Ann Landers and Dear Abby, competing sisters, were some of the most trusted voices in American print during their tenures. Ann Landers printed her meatloaf recipe in her column and the dish became an enduring sensation. In the decades since, Ann Lander’s recipe (or some near variation) has become the American meatloaf:

Ingredients

2 pounds ground beef

1 egg

1 1/2 cup bread crumbs

3/4 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon Accent® seasoning mix

1/2 cup warm water

1 package dry onion soup mix

2 slices bacon

1 can (8 ounce size) tomato sauce

 

Mix all the ingredients except for the bacon and the tomato sauce. Form a loaf and place in pan. Lay bacon on top and pour sauce over the loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

First, the recipe is not kosher or halal. Second, Accent and onion soup mixes are high quantity MSG products, which makes the dish particularly tasty, yet makes it untenable for those avoiding MSG. Most of the ingredients are bagged, boxed, or canned too. Only the egg and the beef need to be fresh, making this recipe clearly rooted in the supermarket cuisine of the mid to late twentieth century.

For a current recipe, the history of meatloaf points to a dish of minced meat and local ingredients; local, as in what is in your refrigerator. Instead of dry mixes, add the liquid from leftover soup or broth. Add a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a raw egg. If you don’t have stale bread to turn into breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes work great with a little elbow grease. Any ground meat will do, from beef, pork, and lamb to turkey, chicken, wild game or fowl. Along with salt and pepper, any typical spice combination in the cabinet will work.

As a dish, meatloaf ingredients are flexible to your tastes and traditions. Jalapenos on top – why not? Some European recipes stuff the loaf with olives, East Europeans stuff with hardboiled eggs like the Filipinos do.

Use your hands to mix this recipe. If you want to cook the fat out by letting it pool in the pan, then use less breadcrumbs.

If you want to freeze the dish for later, only cook for ½ hour. Let cool and wrap in freezer paper. Use within six months. Defrost overnight in refrigerator and cook for ½ hour (@ 350) to serve.

 

Basic Meatloaf

2 lbs ground meats

1 egg

1 cup of broth

2 TBS grape must* (Italian Saba) and 2 TBS red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups breadcrumbs

1-2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ tsp each: basil, thyme and celery seed

Tomato sauce or any gravy

 

Mix in one ingredient at a time (all spices together though), leaving tomato sauce aside. Form loaf and place in greased bread pan. Pour tomato sauce on top and cook 1 hour at 350 degrees. Recipe doubles easily.

*thickened grape juice

Nostalgia versus the Roasted Chicken

“O dear God, not chicken again!” was a common refrain  in my household and across many other houses as well. Chicken was tasteless, a poor excuse for a good meal because it was overcooked and dry. The skin was a spongy limp mouthful of yuck. Hiding it under tomato sauce or burying it in flavored rice did not dispel the fowl’s worst qualities.

(Fried chicken was apparently in a food class by itself and had little functional relationship to the roasted, broiled, baked, or boiled fowl of gastronomic dismay. My memory is a bit fuzzy but I am fairly certain that fried chicken was an entirely separate category in the food pyramid, right up there with candy, cookies, brownies and cakes, which is why my mother would not make it very often. Fried chicken is still the top American entry for the title “Food of the Gods” in my book.)

The domesticated chicken in the West emerged from India from a small red jungle fowl. A similar chicken emerged in the East, probably from Thailand. Cocks crowing are mentioned in the Bible but when the Bible discusses sacrificing birds and eating them, the text is referring to turtle doves. Ancient Greece mentions chickens by 600 BCE but again, as cocks crowing. They were considered exotic birds. Ancient Persia deified them and a pope elevated them. The earliest chicken recipes come from Rome, where the bird was preferred boiled and served with sauces made with the offal.

No fried chicken for the Romans.

According to the New York Times, roasted chicken is supposed to be a nostalgic comfort food that evokes the ancient ritual of families sitting around the table together to eat dinner. What I remember as nostalgia was picking up a white oven-bag of a whole roasted bird from the heated tray at the Winn Dixie after band practice and before homework. The birds in those bags were always available, no matter the day. Adding to the cozy warmth of store-cooked birds was the expectation of the leftovers of this salty, greasy mess turning into an unrecognizable science experiment by the next morning. Perhaps nostalgia for roasted chicken is a bit more fiction than food writers are willing to admit.

Returning to the dish: The holy grail of the roasted chicken dish is moist meat, crispy skin, and sweet juices collecting underneath for a simple gravy. I assume that a generation ago the educated cook could turn out a great dish with just a little bit of effort on the small, non-hybrid birds. Today’s version of oversized breasts and un-exercised muscles makes the cooking overly cumbersome and usually not worth the effort: the finished fowl today is typically not a religious epiphany.

However, even with the hurdles of the modern chicken farming (which is scary), a home kitchen can turn out a decent roasted chicken. The essential tool one needs for roasted chicken is a cast iron pan. Without cast iron, this simple recipe will not work.

1 whole chicken

Butter, oil or (best) chicken fat

Kosher salt and ground pepper

 

Preheat oven to 350o F

Wash the chicken. Pop out one thigh bone from the spine. Using a knife or chicken shears, cut the chicken in half up that side of the spine. Turn the chicken over and, using the palms of your hands, press down and break the breast bone, leaving the chicken flat.

Cover the bottom of the cast iron pan with kosher salt. Place chicken in the pan, folding the thighs so that the legs are facing in. Rub the chicken with the preferred fat. Season the skin with more kosher salt and pepper.

Shove the pan in the oven and roast for 90 minutes. Ten minutes before the end, check the skin. If the skin is not crisp, turn on the broiler to crisp the skin, being careful not to burn it.

Remove and plate the chicken if serving immediately. If not plating, let the bird rest on a chopping board, covered. The juices in the bottom are usually three or four tablespoons of fat and the rest is juice. You can use these juices either to make a gravy or to pour into a mason jar for another dish. I use the chilled fat from the mason jar to coat my roasted chicken the next week and the solidified juices for the gravy.

 

Pizza, no pretensions

Pizza, for all the fanfare and faddishness about it, is another example of a flatbread. Some historians and anthropologists conclude that flatbread was probably the first type of bread created and certainly, it origins predate written history. Relatively late historical entries in the record include Persian soldiers baking flatbread on their shields out on fields and Classical Greeks serving flatbreads painted with olive oil and topped with cheese.

While flatbread concoctions such as pizza magherita emerge from noble Italian houses, pizza was a poor family’s food. The dough was basic and cooked very quickly. In Southern Italy, the very poor could bring their own scraps of dough to the baker and cook a pizza in the baker’s oven at the end of the day for a coin or two. Anything could be thrown on top. Flatbread with toppings had been sold in takeaways and in outdoor stalls for centuries to the working classes.

Pizza dough today is enriched white flour and often cut with shortening for extra crisp, very difficult for those with food intolerances. Whole wheat pizza dough is often bitter and hard to crisp, even on a baking stone. However, there is a trick, a simple ingredient that suppresses the bitterness and promotes crispy, even as a leftover for breakfast the next morning: buttermilk.

NOTE: Most buttermilks have extra chemicals. The best buttermilk is only pasteurized milk and two bacterial cultures.

This the bread machine version: (in order of placement in loaf pan)

  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • 1 Tbl bread machine yeast

 

  1. Set on quick dough setting (45 minutes).
  2. Remove and place dough in ceramic bowl and cover with plastic wrap, letting sit until dough rises (1/2 hour to ¾ hour)
  3. Make pizza, focaccia bread, or flat bread of choice.

Can be refrigerated in Ziploc for up to 24 hours.

New TV Trend or Old

The emerging trend on cable series is the killing off of the lead characters, a development that crosses a boundary of trust of previous generations of television shows. Harken back to the days of “Gunsmoke” and no matter what happened, the lead characters would return week after week. Even JR returned to “Dallas” because his death was only a dream in the next season. Some critics call it a betrayal of an unwritten agreement between the television industry and the viewer. A trust has been broken. Others call this dramatic turn a conscientious reflection back to the viewer of a more reality-based probability of circumstances. Writers and producers are killing off beloved fictional figures, ones with whom the viewers identified.

The story of the Maccabees is also a case of lead characters dying and the plot carrying on to a morally pleasing ending – when we tell the story to the children. The actual source material, Maccabees I and II, is far messier. The father, Mattathias, starts the rebellion by slaying the Jewish idolater. The plot shifts from there to his eldest son Judah taking command of the rebel force and only then are we told that Mattathias has died. Following the story we have already shifted our focus to Judah and we are not unduly upset at the death of his father.

Judah Maccabee prevails and liberates the Temple in Jerusalem. Hurray! They celebrate and rededicate the temple after which the children’s version of the story ends. However, the real story does not end. Judah dies a few months later by the betrayal of an allied army in battle. One by one, the other brothers are killed as well, one in battle and the rest by regicide. Sounds terrible, does it not?

Their sacrifice, their mistakes, failures and successes led to the founding of a more secure dynasty – the Hasmoneans. The unfolding consequences of the Maccabean saga were that the Temple ritual was solidified, a new class of teachers/officials called the Pharisees arose, and the process of selecting the books for the second part of the Bible began. History does not always fit into a plot for a children’s story but the reality is infinitely more interesting.

Maybe this year’s producers are not wrong after all.

Eight steps to genocide

As we look across the world we see terrible violence and wholesale slaughter of innocents and combatants alike. When do these egregious acts rise to the level of genocide? Genocide is not an accident and there are eight traceable steps necessary to generate a genocidal episode.

They are as follow:
1. Classification: which creates an “us vs. them.”

  1. Symbolization: which gives names and symbols to what we classify, e.g., the yellow star
    the Nazis forced Jews to wear.
  2. Dehumanization: which denies the humanity of the “other,” i.e. calling Jews pigs and dogs.
  3. Organization: genocide is done by groups, not individuals.
  4. Polarization: driving groups of people apart.
  5. Preparation: forcing groups into ghettos, separating them by religious or ethnic identity
  6. Extermination: begins and quickly becomes mass killing legally called “genocide.”
  7. Denial: always follows genocide.

I do not know which is more frightening, the point that we have had enough genocidal episodes that social scientists can generate such a list or the fact that after the Holocaust, the world continues to generate such horror.