Monday, May 22, 2017

We Are Nothing if Not Trendy
What’s cooking? Tex-Mex Meat Loaf




The Wednesday Food section of The New York Times this week asserts that “Mexican cuisine has made the leap to the global stage of fine dining.... In places like Barcelona, London and Melbourne, as well as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, food lovers are seeing the cuisine of Mexico in a bright new light.”

Hah! I say. As a long-time fan of Mexican food, the Kitchen Goddess is way ahead of The New York Times. Now I will not go so far as to put Tex-Mex dishes in the same category as “Mexican cuisine,” but as I have noted before, enchiladas and queso fresco run in my veins. In my high school days, we had less than an hour for lunch, but that didn’t stop us – on an almost daily basis – from sprinting to our cars when the bell rang at the end of 3rd period, hauling ass across town to eat at a tiny restaurant run by a Mexican couple and their extended family and friends, then hauling ass back across town to arrive panting but exhilarated at the beginning of 4th period. Those were the days.

In fact, those days are still available, as that tiny restaurant, Teka Molino, is now in two places in San Antonio, and both are much improved over the original scruffy operation, but with pretty much the exact same food. And, being semi-retired, the Kitchen Goddess no longer has to haul ass anywhere. She has been known to make the 90-mile trek from Austin to San Antonio, for the sole purpose of lunch at Teka.

But Tex-Mex is not the only trend I am shining a light on today. The other star emerging from the food world shadows is... meatloaf. Yes, you heard it right. Meatloaf.

A thoroughly American invention, meatloaf has been around since the late 1800s. It started as a way to make a meal from the scraps left over when industrial meatpacking began. (The Kitchen Goddess gets slightly nauseous thinking about this version.) It gained ground in the Depression, and by the 1950s, the dish had become a June Cleaver staple. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t got a memory of Mom’s or Dad’s meatloaf.

But I hadn’t thought a lot about meatloaf until the other day when I was listening to a podcast interview with Frank Bruni, former restaurant critic and food writer (and now an op-ed columnist) for The NY Times. The podcast was focusing on Bruni in yet another role, as co-author of a new book, A Meatloaf in Every Oven. And as an example of the multicultural flourishes in the book, he brought up their Mexican meatloaf, which featured salsa and chips.

Wait just a damn minute. Meatloaf with salsa and chips? That’s my recipe, concocted for my two sons on a day when I didn’t have tomato sauce or breadcrumbs. The boys liked it so much, it became the only way I made the dish.

For a tiny sanity check, I went to the web, where I discovered that quite a few other people have come up with those tweaks to standard meatloaf. Rats. But the excursion did make me want to revisit that recipe – something I hadn’t made in years. You’ll be happy to know it’s as good as ever. But in my advanced stage of culinary daring, I’ve tweaked it yet again, adding corn and pork and a little more cumin, for a more authentic Tex-Mex flavor.

Kitchen Goddess notes: The KG has been on a podcast binge recently, but it has enlightened her on a couple of topics that apply with this recipe:
(1) When working with hamburger meat, the tenderest burgers result from salting only the outside of the burger. Salting the meat before mixing causes the proteins to break down and reknit, but the KG was never good at either chemistry or knitting, so if you want to know more, click here. I just know it makes the meat tougher and drier. Which is why I recommend salting your meat in loaf form, right before it goes into the oven.
(2) Garlic’s considerable health benefits are only released when it is sliced or mashed, and it takes about 10 minutes for the relevant enzyme to develop. So to get both flavor and health benefits, chop your garlic at least 10 minutes before submitting it to heat. That’s why the ingredient list below starts with minced garlic.



Tex-Mex Meatloaf


Serves 6.

Ingredients
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1 pound ground beef (I used ground chuck, 20% fat)
½ pound ground pork
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup chunky salsa (I like Pace’s)
1 cup Nacho-flavored Doritos (or any plain corn tortilla chips), crumbled
1 cup frozen corn
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ½ teaspoon crushed chili flakes plus ½ teaspoon sweet paprika)*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

Directions
Take the meat out of the refrigerator a good 20 minutes before you begin. (It mixes better at room temperature.) Preheat oven to 400º.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat and add the onion. Sauté the onion for 3-4 minutes, then add the carrot, celery, and garlic, and continue to sauté another 5 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the vegetable mix cool until it’s just warm to the touch.












Place the meats into a large mixing bowl, and add the remaining ingredients, except the salt and barbecue sauce. Mixing by hand, knead the mixture until the ingredients are consistently distributed. (The KG, as you know, doesn’t do gooey with her hands; she wears rubber gloves. But she washes them well, as you should do with your hands, before attacking the meatloaf mixture.)


Transfer the mixture to a baking sheet, and shape it into a loaf form about 2 inches high and 6 inches wide. Or whatever size you’d like it to be. To improve the air flow and avoid runoff on the bottom of my oven, I use a cookie sheet that I place on top of a wire rack set in a baking pan. Seems like a lot of trouble, but it’s not, and it works well. Sprinkle the top and sides of the meatloaf with the salt, and pour the barbecue sauce evenly over the top.

Bake at 400º for 50-60 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, shoot for 160º internal temp. If you err, make it on the slightly underdone side – there’s nothing wrong with meatloaf that’s medium/medium-rare, but well done meatloaf will be dry.

[Kitchen Goddess note on meat thermometers: After years of limping along with my analog cooking thermometer (for candy and oil) and various cheapo styles (that never worked) for meats, the Kitchen Goddess finally bit the bullet and got this fancy-schmancy digital version: the ThermoWorks ChefAlarm ($59). It’s the favorite of America’s Test Kitchen folks, and you know how they torture a product before they commit. This piece of equipment is amazingly easy to operate, with clear and straightforward labeling of the various functions. Smashing reviews on amazon.com, but as far as I can tell, only available through the ThermoWorks company. And no, they did not give the KG a free one – or even a coupon for a few bucks off – though they certainly should now that I think about it...]

*You may wish to amp up the heat with cayenne or chili flakes, or toss in some chili powder. In my house, we are not big on spicy heat.

One final Kitchen Goddess note: One of the great things about meatloaf is its versatility. If you are out of one ingredient, do not despair. Here are a few substitutions the KG has used in a pinch:
● For yellow onion, use white onion, red onion. If you’re low on onion, fill in with shallots or spring onions. Just remember that shallots and spring onions are more tender and need less cooking time, so maybe add them when you add the carrots and celery.
● Instead of celery, try fennel or even bok choy.
● Instead of salsa, throw in a can of diced Rotel tomatoes.


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