Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Comfort Food

I am trying to decide if having the ability to check the projected path of a hurricane potentially drawing a bead on Central Texas every few hours or so is a good thing for a slightly obsessive gal such as myself.At some point later today I do know Hurricane Ike will have gotten close enough to the Texas coast for a fairly certain projection to be made as to the storm's path over the next two days. At that point we'll know if Ike the weather system is going to treat us more like Turner did Tina, or Eisenhower did Mamie.

The top hurricane story locally so far? There is enough concern that the University of Texas v. Arkansas football game has been postponed out of respect for the potential severity of the weather, and the number of times that has ever happened, especially for a game scheduled to be televised, I can count on the fingers of one hand.

Anyway, to allay the generalized sense of unease I was experiencing with all this waiting and watching - two activities I suck at doing with equanimity - I figured it was time for some good old fashioned comfort food for dinner.In my book, that means meat loaf. Meat loaf with mashed potatoes for dinner, and then the equally delightful prospect of meat loaf sandwiches made with the leftovers for as long as they last.

The recipe I use is one I adapted years ago from an Emeril Lagasse original. And it is the addition of "Essence", which I mix up myself and always keep on hand, that helps move this recipe past ordinary for me. The basic recipe is as follows:

1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork or lamb
1 to 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 large eggs
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Essence

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large roasting pan with oil.

2. Combine the beef, pork or lamb, onion, garlic, eggs, cream, crumbs, salt, pepper and Essence in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands until all ingredients are well incorporated.
3. Pat mixture into a loaf about 9 x 4 inches in the prepared pan. Top with ketchup to cover well.
4. Bake for approximately an hour, or until juices are running clear and a thermometer inserted in the middle shows the loaf has cooked through. Let rest 5-10 minutes, slice and enjoy!I always serve this with a green salad and skin on mashed potatoes. If I am feeling especially decadent I scoop the cooked blood (not the fat) from the loaf that tends to accumulate along the side out of the bottom of the roasting pan and incorporate that into the potatoes in lieu of butter. It does tinker with the color of the mash, but the flavor more than makes up for it.

The unbaked meat loaf mixture will keep covered in the refrigerator for about 24 hours if you need the head start. This makes it an ideal fix-ahead to share with company. I like to take it out and let it sit at room temperature while the oven preheats, and all I have to do then is throw it into the oven about an hour before we want to eat dinner. The smell as the meat loaf cooks is tantalizing and really whets the appetite. I resist going back into the kitchen for seconds because I know it will taste sooooo good if I have leftovers for a sandwich the next day.

Truthfully, that's a toss up for me. Which is better - meat loaf and mashed potatoes hot, or meat loaf sliced into a sandwich, cold? I'm happy to have them both. Well worth the little bit of effort to assemble the few ingredients.

You say you don't want to buy Essence and don't have any sitting around? No worries. In a pinch you could substitute highly seasoned sausage rather than plain ground pork or lamb, and the results will still be delicious.

Or, you can go online and download the Essence recipe - a simple mixture of herbs and spices you probably already have in your cabinet - and make some up on your own.I keep Essence in a plastic tub in my refrigerator all the time and use it like you would any commercial "cajun" seasoning mix.

There are all sorts of ways to tweak this recipe to make it your own. You could add in chopped jalapeño for additional kick.Substitute bacon strips, sliced tomatoes, chili sauce or salsa for the ketchup topping. You could leave off the ketchup, dress it up with chopped mushrooms, and make an amazing pan gravy to serve along with. Entirely up to you. That's the beauty of a simple recipe like this. It is fabulous as is or it can be a springboard for your imagination.

How healthy is this? Ummm, pretty healthy? I used locally obtained, sustainably raised, grass fed beef and lamb. I used eggs from grass fed free roaming hens, also locally sourced. Organic onion, organic ketchup. (thank you, Wheatsville!) The bread crumbs were a commercial blend, yah, I'll cop to that. Once that is used up I'll get around to toasting and processing leftover bread from around here. Pinky swear.

Meat loaf. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm. Meat loaf for dinner is very comforting for me. You are bound to have your own "go-to" dish or combination of dishes you crave when you are stressed. The way I see it, no need to wait until a hurricane is on the way. There is never a wrong time to pamper yourself with some good old home style cooking.

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