Bachelor’s Best Meatloaf

We all know about meatloaf. It was a way to stretch a small amount of meat into a full meal by adding breadcrumbs, an egg, sometimes milk, and maybe some vegetables. There are hundreds of recipes. But here is ours. This main dish has lots of room for variations and favorite ingredients.

Equipment

You will need a pan to put the meatloaf in for cooking. Many recipes call for a loaf pan, such as one would use to bake bread. But prefer something a bit bigger and more open, but deep enough to keep any grease from spilling all over the over. You can even use a rimmed cookie sheet. We like an 8-by-4 inch pan lined with aluminum foil to make clean-up easy.

You’ll also need a large mixing bowl and a small bowl to lightly beat an egg with a fork or small whisk. Use the same small bowl to soak breadcrumbs in the milk.

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/12 pounds of ground beef. We recommend an 80-20 mix for the best flavor. Too little fat in the meat will make the loaf dry. Too much fat will make the meatloaf sitting in a puddle of grease. You can also use what some call a “meatloaf mix” of ground beef, ground pork and usually veal or ground turkey.
  • 1 teaspoon of salt and an equal amount of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs. We like to use Panko. You can also just tear up a couple slices of bread. Whatever you do, do not use the stuff that comes in a canister and looks like sawdust. You know why it looks like that? Because manufacturers are allowed by law to include cellulose, or sawdust, in the mix, up to 50%. Also, the larger breadcrumbs will react better with the milk, as you’ll see when we get to the instructions.
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup thick steak sauce, like Heinz 57 or A-1
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce.
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper, about half to two-thirds of a pepper. Save the rest to top a salad.

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C).
  2. In a small bowl, mix milk with breadcrumbs and allow the bread to soak up the milk.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine meat, salt, pepper, 3 tablespoons of steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, onion, green pepper and milk-soaked breadcrumbs. Mix with hands until evenly distributed. Also, add any additional spices and herbs to the mix according to your tastes.
  4. Line the pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
  5. Mix remaining steak sauce with ketchup and set aside.
  6. Transfer the meat mixture to the pan and shape into a loaf. Pour or brush ketchup-steak sauce mixture over the meatloaf.
  7. Bake in preheated oven for about one hour or until done. Allow it to stand at least five minutes before slicing and serving.

For side dishes, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf and glazed sauteed vegetables and a green salad. This makes about six to eight servings. And cold meatloaf makes a great sandwich.

Keep Your Wine In Good Shape

Now that you know a few things about wine and you’re starting to taste different wines, it’s time to think about keeping your wine in the best possible quality.

But first, let’s take one last look at selecting the right wine for the occasion. You may have noticed that many descriptions of wines include possible food pairings. While the best wine is the one you like, some types of wine go better with certain foods than others.

The general rule of thumb is that light and fruity wines go well with lighter, more delicate food. Wines with a hardier flavor and robust tannins go best with rustic or spicy food. That is not, as we have noted, a hard and fast rule. Many white wines go amazingly well with spicy foods. The best bet? Find a good wine shop and ask someone working there. They are exposed to many wines and know a lot about what goes with what. Until you’re more sure of your footing, follow their commendations. But go with your own tastes, not what someone else thinks you should like. Price does NOT determine quality or taste. Start with a recommendation and then explore from there.

When you find a wine you really like, one that goes well with the kind of food you like and the kind of entertaining you do, go ahead and buy a case. The cost savings are usually worth it. Plus, you always have a favorite wine handy when needed.

Storing wine

Now that you’ve got your wine home, you have to think about storing your investment so you get the most out of it when you want. Some wines are made to drink right away. These are usually the every day, less distinguished wines like beaujolais, reioja, and pinot. Others, like a bordeaux, are meant to hang out in a cool, dark place for a few years. In either case, storing your wine is important.

Remember that wine is a living, breathing thing. Many wines continue to change in the bottle for several years, even when stored correctly. The first rule is to protect it from light. Wine cellars are usually in basements for a reason. Wine bottles are usually colored so light doesn’t penetrate to the wine so easily. If you get a glass-fronted wine refrigerator, make sure it’s not in direct sunlight.

If the wine bottle has a natural cork, store the bottle on its side so the wine touches the cork and keeps it moist. When corks dry out, they shrink, allowing air (and germs) to get inside and ruin the wine. Also, this allows you to see better any sediment that might develop in the wine. If this happens, you’ll want to decant the wine into another container, pouring the wine through cheesecloth.

Keep the wine at a constant temperature. This is another reason why wine cellars are in basements. Whatever you do, don’t let the wind get above 75F. You also don’t want it to get too cold. Below 50 is getting too cold for the wine to mature properly. Around 55 is just right.

If you don’t have a basement, a dark closet is a good choice. I know it’s tempting to display your selection of wine to impress your friends, neighbors and dates, but resist the urge. And once you’ve got it settled, don’t move it around any more than necessary. Wine likes a quiet place to sleep, so try to cushion it from outside vibrations like traffic or motors.

Keep the humidity around 70%. Too dry and the cork may dry out or the wine may actually evaporate even in a sealed bottle. Too humid and mold develops and labels fall off.

Don’t keep it in a smelly place. The aromas will get into the wine. And check with your wine merchant about how long the wine should be stored. Not all wines keep well for years and years.

When you’re ready to serve, take the time to get the wine to the correct temperature. Ice buckets are only useful to initially cool down sparkling, rose or dry white wines. After the wine is cooled, take it out of the ice and wrap the bottle in a towel to keep it from warming up too fast. Red wines should be served closer to room temperature, about 65F. Many red wines benefit from being “allowed to breathe.” That means opening the wine and allowing it to react with the air for 20 minutes to an hour. The process can be shortened by aerating, which involves pouring the wine into a decanter or other container giving the air a chance to get into the wine as it splashes into the other container.

Collecting wine. If you really get serious about wine, collecting wines is a great pastime and gives you the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labors. But you might want to make a wine storage place. There are plenty of Do-It-Yourself projects to turn a closet into a wine cellar. You can also invest in a wine refrigerator.

Wine as a gift. It used to be that most of us were brought up to believe that you never went empty-handed to someone’s home. A bottle of wine was usually a good choice. Even if it didn’t go with what was being served, it was something the hosts could keep for later. These days, that’s a more dangerous choice. If you don’t know the hosts well, check with mutual friends for possible snares, like alcoholism, tea-totalers and picky tastes. The last thing you want to do is offend them. If wine doesn’t seem like a good choice, flowers or baked goods might be a better choice. If wine is still a good idea, try to keep in mind the tastes of the hosts. If you don’t know what that is, then choose one of your personal favorites.

Wine is a marvelous thing. You can help spread the love by throwing a wine tasting party. Your wine merchant will be happy to help you develop what’s called a “flight.” That’s a series of wines that go together in some way and usually progresses the same way a meal does: appetizer, soup or salad, main course, dessert. If you haven’t tried a glass of wine with dinner, now’s the time to try it.

You Can Replace SOME Of The Fat

Remember that old saying about being able to fool only some of the people some of the time? That applies to cooking as well. We’re always looking for ways to cut the fat in some of our favorite dishes. But that’s not easy to do in many cases because of the flavor that fat gives to the dish. Also, many methods of lowering fat involves lots of artificial ingredients, flavorings and chemicals. In my opinion, that’s not always a worthy trade-off.

But in many cases we can replace a substantial part of the fat in our recipes with a little creativity. But I must warn you that you will have to make these judgements for yourself. There are things I’m not willing to give up that you might, and visa versa.

Milk. The difference in fat between whole milk and skim is about 8 grams per cup. That’s not a tremendous amount, but it depends on how much you use. You need to keep your daily fat intake to 30 grams or less, so that 8 grams can be a big help if you drink a lot of milk. Personally, I believe in taking the middle ground. I usually use 1% percent milk. That has the lowest amount of fat while still having some of the taste of the regular milk. If your store doesn’t carry 1%, 2% is a good choice.

Cheese. There’s a lot of fat in cheese. One cup of grated cheese has 80 grams of fat. So use it sparingly. There are fat-free cheeses out there and they can be okay in some uses, but not all. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Cream cheese. I’m not a big fan of fat-free cream cheese. It just doesn’t seem to have the flavor I want from cream cheese. A good substitute is goat cheese, which is very low in fat and has a tangy flavor that works really well on a bagel.

Ground Turkey for Ground Beef. This is a tough one. In most cases, ground turkey is very lean and you will have to add fat just to cook it. But if you use olive oil, you can at least add better quality fat than what’s usually in meat. I would recommend staying away from frozen ground turkey. I just don’t like the way it acts when it thaws out. I find it gets all watery and nasty. But the fat savings are substantial, 115 grams of fat per pound between them.

Egg Substitute. Eggs are not the worst thing in the world, even if you have cholesterol problems. I’m not convinced medical science has a firm handle on this issue. Real eggs have about 6 grams of fat each more than egg substitutes. That’s not a huge savings. Egg substitutes don’t work well on their own. I find the grainy texture and lack of flavor of scrambled egg substitute not worth the fat savings. However, it does work well in baking or a breakfast casserole. Real eggs also have beneficial compounds the fake stuff doesn’t have. Also, the substitutes are filled with artificial ingredients and chemicals. I just don’t think that’s such a good trade off. And don’t get me started on egg whites. Definitely, there are uses for egg white, like when you’re making a souffle. But they should not be used for eggs by themselves. The taste makes me gag. I’d rather do without.

Oil by definition has fat in it. But some fats are better than others. Olive oil, for example, we know has lots of good fat which far outweighs the bad. But here’s a tip. In most baking, you can replace the oil in the recipe with unsweetened applesauce. It does a good job of replacing the volume and retaining moistness that oil does. But it doesn’t work in yeast breads.

Little things can cut the fat without sacrifice taste or giving over to lots of chemicals. Just be a little creative and choosy. We all need some fat for our bodies to work properly. But we don’t need so much.

Summer Eating: Cold Soup

Soup is one of those foods that are ideal for bachelors. They are easy to make, can contain just about anything and be used as a main dish, side dish or even a snack. They are easy to re-heat and store. They can even travel well.

But who wants a hot bowl of soup when it’s so hot outside? So, we can take a page from warmer climes and come up with some cold soup ideas that make a great accompaniment to sandwiches, light snack or salads — in short, summertime fare.

There are two best known cold soups: gazpacho and vichyssoise. While these are popular for a reason, you’re certainly not limited to these two types of soup. There are also many soups we normally serve warm that can be served cold with the addition of some herbs or fresh summer vegetables like cucumbers or zucchini.

Gazpacho is a Spanish style soup that is perfect for warm weather and popular in Western Mediterranean and Central American counties. At its base are tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. There are many variations. If this sounds a lot like salsa, you’d be right. But don’t break out a jar of salsa and start eating. There are some differences.

Most gazpachos are blended into a puree with the other ingredients added in a small dice to make it smooth and chunky at the same time. Most recipes call for fresh tomatoes, seeded and cored, but you can use canned diced tomatoes, which actually will hold up better because they’ve been cooked. Gazpacho is usually served as an appetizer, but it can stand on its own with some crusty bread for a light lunch. To up the protein count, try adding some cooked cocktail shrimp or leftover diced chicken.

Vichyssoise is essentially a potato and leek soup made with chicken stock. We think of it as French, but actually it was invented in a New York hotel restaurant. There is a French soup using potatoes and leeks that’s served hot and is very common in Europe. Again, there are many different recipes but basically, you make a hot soup of potatoes, onions, leeks and herbs cooked with chicken stock. The soup is then pureed into a smooth, thick liquid, cold milk or half and half is added, stirred in and then chilled before serving. I like this even hot in the summer, but trying it cold might be worth a try. A touch of fresh dill would go well with this. So would a sandwich.

But summer, cold soups don’t have to stop there. Many summer soups are made from cold fruit. The fruit is pureed with milk, sugar and other ingredients to make something a little less smooth and a bit spicier than a smoothie. These are often served as desserts, but can also be used a great appetizer.

Still more summer soups can be made from ingredients usually served warm, such as sweet potatoes, broccoli or squash. Smoothed in a blender or food processor and chilled with milk or cream, these more unusual soups can make a bit of a surprise at the next family picnic.

Make Your Own Salad Dressings

Salads are quick, easy, nutritious and best of all don’t heat up your kitchen. But drowning that salad full of fresh summer ingredients in bottled store-bought dressing is just a shame when there are so many other possibilities.

Making your own dressings means you know what’s in them. No artificial stuff. No chemicals. No preservatives. And making dressing just takes a minute or two. Leftovers store in the fridge for up to a week in a tightly sealed jar or other container.

One of the easiest, most versatile dressings is Honey Mustardgolden_honey_mustard_dressing. Not only is this good on salads, but it’s great with chicken breasts, vegetables, pork and fish. Try it on whatever you like instead of other condiments.

This one I stole from one of my favorite TV chefs, Alton Brown, host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America. One of the things I like about Alton is that he explains why we do things the way we do, why certain things happen when we cook food and why we can’t believe all those food myths we have heard through the years.

Honey Mustard Dressing

Whisk together in a bowl these ingredients:

  • 5 tablespoons of honey
  • 3 tablespoons of smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon of rice wine vinegar

That’s it! Don’t have rice wine vinegar? Shame on you. In a pinch, you could substitute white wine or cider vinegar. Just remember it will affect the taste.

Sardines: A Canned Hidden Treasure

With increasing pollution of our seas and oceans, more chefs are now recommending we get to know the smaller fish. These little fish, like sardines and anchovies, have lots of flavor, are sustainable and conveniently canned, available to everyone. Also, they are inexpensive. Another reason they are being recommended is that these smaller fish are less likely to be contaminated with things that shouldn’t be there, like mercury. 

Many people have a first reaction that they don’t like them. But lots of people who say that have never really tried them. Certainly, they haven’t tried to make them tasty. Usually, these little canned fish have a lot more nutrition than the usual frozen fish fillets we see all the time in people’s freezers. Those are often not even a real fish fillet, but a conglomeration of fish pieces squeezed together and coated with a breading. While these are better than no fish at all in your diet, they lack many of the nutrients for which we eat fish in the first place.

Many of the more popular fish, like cod, red snapper, tuna and salmon, have been contaminated with mercury from centuries of burning coal. Overfishing has meant more of these species are farmed rather than wild, and farmed fish have less flavor.

Sardines are canned in many different ways. At the cannery, the fish are washed, their heads are removed, and the fish are cooked, either by deep-frying or by steam-cooking, after which they are dried. They are then packed in either olive, sunflower or soybean oil, water, or in a tomato, chili or mustard sauce. Canned sardines in supermarkets may actually be sprat (such as the “brisling sardine”) or round herrings. Sardines are typically tightly packed in a small can which is scored for easy opening, either with a pull tab (similar to how a beverage can is opened), or a key, attached to the side of the can. Thus, it has the virtues of being an easily portable, nonperishable, self-contained food. The close packing of sardines in the can led to their metaphorical use of describing any situation where people or objects are crowded together, for instance, in a bus or subway car.

Sardines come already cooked so you can eat them right out of the can, usually with crackers. You can make an appetizer out of them by stacking them on a cracker with a chunk of tomato and a slice of cheese. You can dredge them in flour and pan fry them with some spices. They can be chopped and added to a salad for some added protein.

Having canned sardines, or any other canned fish, in the pantry can give you many delicious dishes. They are always ready, nutritious, sustainable and inexpensive.

I Love Applesauce!

We’ve mentioned before that applesauce, unsweetened, of course, can be a good substitute for oil in lots of recipes, especially baking. But this wonder food is extremely versatile. It can answer a lot of your nutritional, weight loss and taste needs.

Like pancakes, waffles and French Toast?  But pancake syrup is pure sugar, even the best quality stuff. And the artificial pancake syrup is made almost entirely out of chemicals. The sugar-free syrups can have a nasty aftertaste, especially noticeable if you use a heavy hand pouring the stuff.

But never fear, there is an answer. Applesauce! Unsweetened applesauce is just mashed apples. It’s simple. There are no chemical or artificial ingredients. And it really works well as a topping on pancakes and other things where you would usually use syrup.

Applesauce also makes a great snack or little dessert. You know how we like to have something a little sweet at the end of a meal? Well, that’s natural. We all do. Instead of reaching for the cookies or ice cream, try a small bowl of applesauce. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon, maybe even a little artificial sweetener. It will tackle that craving without making you feel over-full.

Yes, I love applesauce. It’s inexpensive and good for you. Try it.

Think Outside The Obvious Cuisine

Many people have very set ideas about ethnic cuisines here in America. But more and more, authentic foreign food is showing up in store fronts across the country. And the adventurous foodie should avail themselves of this treat.

Most of us, when we think of Italian food, we think of pasta. What we often don’t realize is there are other authentic Italian foods, like fried octopus and baked eels. When we think of Chinese food, we think of rice with spicy vegetable and meat laden sauces, fried rice and egg rolls. But we don’t think about Moon Cake, Coconut Bread or Winter Melon Cake.

The lesson here is to think about ethnic foods that are not typical. You might find a whole world of delights. Visit neighborhoods where immigrants live and you’ll find shops and restaurants with real food from their homelands that you might not even think of as food.

Here, when we think of Mexican food, we think of tacos, burritos and salsa. But if you go to Mexico, especially outside the main tourist towns, you find that tacos are not hard and crunchy, but soft and usually filled with leftover meat and vegetables or rotisserie grilled pork or lamb. No salsa, just lots of chile peppers, pickled in a pungent vinegar.

I love Ethiopian food, falling for the spicy communal dishes at a tiny restaurant in Chicago. But when I tell people that, they ask if Ethiopian food is an empty plate or a bowl of rice gruel. Prior to the famine in Northeast Africa, that part of the world had a rich culinary history. Eating Dora Wat, a chicken stew, with the spongy flatbread is a tastebud holiday in exotic lands. Add a glass of honey wine and it’s heaven.

If your town is lucky enough to have a Chinatown, stop by a bakery for some different kinds of treats. Chinese baked goods are less sweet and sometimes contain ingredients we don’t think of like barbecued pork or durian, that nasty asian fruit that smells like someone got sick. For a real exotic adventure go to a Chinese grocery. But be warned, this is not the place for the squeamish or those with sensitive noses. If you don’t like to see whole, dead animals, pass that up.

Immigrant neighborhoods usually have some place that offers the tastes of home, which might not be to the taste of many European-descended Americans. But that’s what makes this country so great. There’s a big culinary world out there you probably haven’t explored. So, be adventurous and travel the world without every leaving your home town.

Pork Lo Mein Better Than Takeout

There are few items on the menus at most Chinese restaurants in the U.S. that really are Chinese. But a few of the dishes are at least based on real Chinese food. One of those is Lo Mein.PorkLoMein

It’s a noodle dish, rather like spaghetti, that contains meat, vegetables and pasta in a sauce. Some people confuse it with Chow Mein, a similar dish that used crispy noodles instead of fully cooked pasta.

It would be silly to cook a pork roast just for this dish. But, if you are planning to cook one, buy a roast that weighs a pound more than what you need. Then you have leftover roast pork that is perfect for this dish. You will need at least a half pound of barbecued and/or roasted pork. You can find this at a Chinese grocery or restaurant. Cut the pork into bite-size pieces.

For the pasta, you can use any long, thin noodle. Chinese egg noodles are ideal, but plain old spaghetti will work. Cook the pasta according to directions, knocking one minute off the minimum time. The noodles will finish cooking in the sauce. Rinse them with cold water after you drain them.

In a small to medium size bowl, stir together soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese rice cooking wine and honey. You will need about one and a half tablespoons of each, double on the soy sauce, half on the honey. You are looking for tangy and slightly sweet, not a dessert.

For the rest of your ingredients, you need vegetable oil, minced garlic (about 1-1/2 teaspoons),  a teaspoon of minced ginger, three scallions cut into two inch lengths, and four or five thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Swirl in a tablespoon of oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then stir-fry the garlic, ginger and scallions until there is a wonderful smell. Add the mushrooms and cook for one or two minutes. Add the noodles and pork to heat them up. Pour in the sauce and toss until everything is well coated and hot.

Like most Asian food, Roast Pork Lo Mein is easy and quick, not to mention delicious.

Cooking Up A Storm

Comfort food is probably the first thing you’ll think of to cook on a cold, rainy day. It’s also a good idea to make something that has some staying power to be reheated.

Topping the list for most people is some kind of soup. We’re not talking a delicate broth, but something with some weight, butter and potatoes. During a recent cold snap, we in The Bachelor’s Kitchen turned to a trusted recipe for ham and potato souphampotatosoupbowl. This hearty dish tastes wonderful and is very filling.

Another good choice is chili. There are hundreds of recipes in addition to ours. Chili goes with almost anything or is great by itself, with or without crackers. We like a good pot of chili on a regular basis all year ‘round.

In less than an hour you can be enjoying this great winter soup. It’s especially useful if you have leftover ham. In addition to the standard recipe, we add carrots and half an onion to add some depth of flavor and richness.  hampotatosoup2

We started with about five large potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch dice. We cut up five medium carrots the same way. Two stalks of celery were chopped into smaller pieces. Half an onion was chopped finely. About a cup of leftover ham slices was cut into bite size pieces. Add all that into a stockpot along with 2 cups of chicken broth and 1-1/2 cups of water, or you can use 3-1/2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of chicken bouillon or chicken soup starter. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower heat to medium and cook until the potatoes and carrots are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper and taste for whether more salt is needed.

hampotatosoup1In a separate saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Don’t be afraid of butter. The taste cannot be duplicated. Whisk in 5 tablespoons of flour and stir to keep the roux smooth. Cook until it turns a nice blond color and starts to get thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Slowly pour in 2 cups of milk while whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Keep stirring until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture to the stockpot and stir to mix well. Heat until everything is heated through and serve.

You could easily add other ingredients, like corn or broccoli. You could use bacon or chopped pork instead of or in addition to ham.

Whatever you decide to do, use your enforced confinement during a winter storm to do some great cooking.