Monday, February 29, 2016

I Did Something Weird To My Minestrone, Plus I Hope You’ll Never Make Meatloaf The Same Way Again

On the weekends, I like to have lots of leftovers for H and me to snack on. I had meatloaf in the fridge AND I had made a big pot of minestrone the day before. While I was heating up the soup, I got a hankering for a bit of meatloaf. Instead of having it separately, I just cubed it up and added it to my steaming cup of minestrone. No additional heating up was necessary. 

It was soooo delicious and it was such an excellent combination. It was very Italian Wedding Soup-like without all the greens…and with a lot more vegetables. All the bits and pieces that were in the meatloaf (see below) went together beautifully with the huge (but easily sourced) list of minestrone ingredients.
Here’s how to make both:

Years ago, my friend A drew my attention to the extraordinary meatloaf in the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. I can’t believe I had never noticed this recipe before. It wasn’t what was IN the meatloaf that intrigued me, but HOW it was shaped. It was patted out into a large rectangle, topped with sundried tomatoes, large leaves of basil and slices of smoked mozzarella. Then it was ROLLED UP like a jellyroll. And when you cut it, it had yummy swirls of pretty stuff in each slice. (The ends of the meatloaf look a little swirl-less in this picture, but the middle was quite attractive.)

Those spiral slices are really special, and any meatloaf would be enhanced with a layer of savory goodness in the middle. Lately I’ve been chopping things up from the olive bar - sundried tomatoes, baby (pitted) olives and those cute cubes of feta and using that as my filling.

In the meatloaf itself, I often use what I have handy or leftover – sometimes it’s brown rice, or crumbs made from the heels of oldish bread. (Fresh bread crumbs are fine too, as are Progresso’s.) I’ve also used finely chopped nuts in place of or in addition to the bread crumbs or rice. And I always add shredded zucchini and carrots and chopped onions.

Why do I add all of this to my meatloaf? Because I am 100% trying to stretch the meat as much as possible and increase the ratio of the other ingredients to the meat.

My Meatloaf
(with kudos to the Silver Palate’s Italian Meatloaf)

1 medium zucchini
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 large onion, chopped finely
2 pounds ground beef (sirloin works, chuck gives great flavor)
1 egg
2 cups bread crumbs, dried or fresh and/or leftover brown rice
½ cup ketchup
½ cup parsley, finely chopped

1½ cups chopped sundried tomatoes, pitted olives, feta, halloumi or whatever appeals to you from the olive bar.

½ cup parsley and/or basil, finely chopped
OR go with the classic and use basil leaves, whole sundried tomatoes and slices of any type of mozzarella

4 Yukon gold potatoes, halved and sliced

1 secret ingredient, which is in the body of the recipe

Shred zucchini and carrots with shredding blade of food processor. Place in large bowl with all the other meatloaf ingredients.

Using clean hands, mix meatloaf ingredients together. Mix well, but don’t squeeze the life out of everything. Place two big sheets of plastic wrap on the counter, overlapping to give you a big rectangle. Place meatloaf mixture in middle and pat into a large rectangle.  Spoon over sundried tomato and parsley mixture leaving about an inch border all around. From the short side, roll up the meatloaf, using the plastic wrap to help, and place in a roasting pan, which has been sprayed with nonstick spray.

Surround the meatloaf with the sliced potatoes and spoon half a can or more of condensed tomato soup over the top. Serve whatever is leftover in the can separately. (This is a trick from H’s mother, which shocked me at first. I tried it years ago and I never skip it now. I buried it in the recipe, so you wouldn’t judge me.) 

Note: If canned soup appalls you too much (I do understand), take a small can of diced tomatoes and put it in a glass bowl. Microwave on high for 3 minutes and you’ll get a nicely thickened, chunky tomato pure√© that’s also good for the top of the meatloaf.

Bake at 375°F* for one hour, turning the potatoes once during baking.

* You may bake meatloaf at any temperature from 350°F to 400°F without incident. If you need the oven at another temperature, the meatloaf will understand. One hour is about right, but I suppose at 400°F you could check the potatoes and the temp of the meat after 45 minutes. The internal temperature of the meatloaf should 160°F.


It's only the list of ingredients here that's lengthy. Once you've gathered and chopped up everything, it's easy to proceed. Leave out any vegetables you don’t like, or add in any you love.  

My Minestrone  
2 onions, sliced
¼ green cabbage, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
olive oil
handful of white mushrooms, sliced
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
 2 quarts vegetable, chicken or beef stock
1 cup white wine
2 potatoes, any size, peeled, medium diced
1 large can tomatoes OR 2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
thyme, sage + basil, 1 generous tbl. each, if fresh OR 1 generous tsp. dried
1 cup string beans, topped and tailed
1 14 oz. can beans, drained and rinsed under cold water - cannelloni, kidney, chickpeas - your choice

½ cup uncooked elbow pasta, cooked al dente, separately in boiling water*

Soften onions, cabbage, carrots and celery in olive oil on medium heat.  Raise heat to medium high and add mushrooms, salt and pepper.  Cook until mushrooms are just beginning to release liquid.  Add stock and wine, potatoes and canned tomatoes.  Bring to boil.  Add zucchini and string beans.  Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.  Add 1 can beans.  Simmer another 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Add cooked elbows 5 minutes before serving. 

Soup can be frozen when completely cool.

* Always cook the pasta separately and add it just before serving. If you cook the elbows in the minestrone, it will absorb all the liquid.  

NOTE: I like to serve this with large croutes of French bread topped with Emmental.  Cut your bread thickish on an angle.  Top with cheese and place under broiler or in toaster oven until cheese melts.  You only have to cook one side.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Lessons Learned - I’m Still Thinking About Thanksgiving

I decided that when I started blogging again I would give us all something new to look at. It’s still the same me, but I wanted a fresher, brighter look. I’m also posting #Tipsfortoday on Twitter and Instagram…maybe not EVERY day…but many.

I have so much to tell you, but I’ll start with this – a revolutionary change I made to my Thanksgiving agenda. (I know! It was months ago, but now you can say I told you so!) After being told that an 18.93 lb. turkey might be too small for 15 people, I did what you all have been doing for decades. I bought an extra turkey breast AND I BRINED IT!!! It was my first time ever!

My big objections to brining a whole turkey were:
  1.  It would be too salty to stuff. (I’m one of the few dinosaurs left who still stuffs a turkey.)
  2. The magical drippings would be too salty to use for gravy.
Both of those things are still true, but since I was only brining the breast, THEY DIDN’T MATTER! I used the simplest recipe I could find for the brine and I cooked the breast at 350°F for a little less than 2 hours, the day before Thanksgiving. (The thermometer registered about 162°F.) I let it cool, wrapped it in foil and tossed it in the fridge (on a plate). The next day I sliced it SUPER thin, which is not easy with a half-hour-out-of-the-oven whole turkey. I heated the sliced turkey up in a saut√© pan with stock and I served it with the regular turkey. I actually thought it was better. It was SO moist and exciting that I will NEVER not do that again!

Others lessons I learned:
Always make clear notes for next year.
I found a note I had made about the stuffing. It said, “Make more stuffing.” That was easy enough.

But then I found an incomprehensible post-it on my chowder recipe. It was some complicated formula of ingredients that didn’t match the recipe at all. HUH? I decided to ignore it and make my usual Corn and Clam Chowder, to which I add scallops on special occasions.

Note: This is a recipe that I make in the midst of the most heavy duty, meal of the year. That's why I don’t bother with fresh clams. Any other time, it would be wonderful to steam fresh clams in the yummy onion, potato and butter base and have all the natural juices be part of the soup.

Sue’s Corn and Clam Chowder (serves 6)

1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 tsps. unsalted butter
2 cans chopped clams
At least 1 bottle of clam juice, stock and/or milk or cream made up to 4 cups of liquid
1 medium Idaho potato, peeled and diced
1 cup corn, fresh, frozen or canned
optional: 12 sea scallops or 4 handfuls of bay scallops

Melt butter in medium to large saucepan. Add onion and carrots and cook until completely softened. Do not brown.

Drain juice from canned clams into measuring pitcher. Set clams aside. Add clam juice, stock, milk and/or cream to make 4 cups of liquid. (To the canned clam juice, I usually add one bottle of clam juice, about a cup of vegetable stock and then milk and bit of cream until it measures 4 cups.)

Stir in diced potato. Bring to the boil. Lower heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes. (You may make the soup up to this point a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Add clams, corn and scallops, if using. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes just until scallops are cooked and soup is hot. Serve, making sure each serving has 2 sea scallops or a good amount of bay scallops.

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One more lesson learned. No one needs to make 7 pounds of sweet potatoes for just one meal. No matter how many people you're serving!