The Red Menace

There are three types of people.

There are folks who like brown/mushroom gravy inside, outside, and on the side of their meatloaf.  And there are those who love meatloaf to come sporting a shiny red cap of glaze.

I actually have a Kitchenaid, but other than that, this looks exactly like me when cooking.

But there are the enlightened ones, those noble humans whom, like myself, have love for both varieties.

The Kid?  Not so much.  That child likes red meatloaf about as much as flat beer and the heartbreak of psoriasis.  If it ain’t brown, The Kid ain’t down.

There is one little logistical glitch, though, with red meatloaf.

We can do way better than this…

When I make brown meatloaf, I start by making a nice, rich mushroom gravy.  I then use it in the mix, I ladle it over the top for baking, and spoon it over the mandatory buttermilk mashed potatoes.  And no matter its complexion, with an old school protein like meatloaf, potatoes are in fact, mandatory.

French fries just don’t work.  It’s like black suede boots with a white eyelet dress.  Baked potatoes are an option, but fully dressed is an awful lot of starch and fat.  And red meatloaf isn’t terribly flashy as a main, you don’t want it to disappear completely next to the showgirl that is a loaded spud.

My answer is to serve braised baby potatoes.

Braised Baby Potatoes with Herbs

braised creamers

2 pounds baby potatoes or little creamers, washed
1 cup beef stock
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped herb of your choice (like chives, dill, or tarragon)
Throw everything into a large heavy pot with a lid.
Cover and cook on medium until the potatoes are fork-tender (15-20 minutes), stirring frequently.
Uncover and let the liquid cook down into a thick, buttery sauce.
Right before service, stir in herbs and check for seasoning. Makes 4 servings.

I’ve broken down the meatloaf into small steps.You can do them early in the day; or even the day before, then put it together right before baking.

Red Glazed Meatloaf

Glazed onions:

glazed onions

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ tablespoon granulated onion

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup Marsala wine

Pinch of salt and pepper

Directions:

Heat a skillet and add veg oil.  Put in chopped onion, thyme, granulated onion.  Cook until onions start to brown around the edges.  Stir in tomato paste.  When the paste darkens, pour in Marsala.  Let the wine cook out, then take off heat.

Meatloaf mix:

red meatloaf

4 slices multi-grain bread, ground fine in a food processor

4 eggs 

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons horseradish

2 pounds ground chuck

Salt and pepper

Directions:

In a large bowl, place in bread crumbs, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, and horseradish.  Add cooked onions.  Mix everything with vigor until it is a homogenous mass.  Break beef into large chunks and put in bowl.  Using clean hands or disposable gloves, mix meat and bread crumb mix until it is completely mixed in.  Form into loaf shape.

Glaze:

red glaze

1 cup ketchup, divided

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons horseradish

Pinch salt and pepper

Directions:

Take out ½ cup of ketchup and set aside.  Whisk together the other half cup of ketchup and the rest of the glaze ingredients.  Spread 1 tablespoon of this in the bottom of the dish in which you’re baking the meatloaf.  Using a paint brush, paint the glaze all over the meatloaf.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and pour/paint the plain ketchup on the top.  Return to oven and bake 30 minutes more.

Remove from oven and let rest for 20 minutes before service.  Serves 5-6.

I served this with my cool, crunchy broccoli salad.

Bacon Broccoli Salad

broccoli salad 2.0

4 large stalks of broccoli
4 pieces bacon
1/3 cup grated parmesan, divided
1 cup mayonnaise
Hot water
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Place bacon on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Put it in the oven, then set oven to 350 (if you put the bacon into a hot oven it will seize up and never fully render; it also keeps the slices flatter). Cook for 15 minutes, flip each piece over and cook until it is golden brown and crispy. Remove from oven to a paper-towel covered plate. Reserve ¼ cup bacon grease for dressing.
While the bacon is cooking, cut the broccoli into small, bite-size florets. Place into a large bowl with half the cheese.
For dressing, whisk together mayo, bacon fat, and parmesan. Thin with hot water, a little at a time until it’s the consistency of pancake batter. Mix into broccoli until it’s lightly coated. Refrigerate until service. Makes about 8 servings.

If you have leftovers, the meatloaf makes epic sandwiches.  Just slice and put it in a hot skillet.  Cook until it browns and forms a crust.  Flip and cook the other side then melt a thick slice of horseradish cheddar on it.

You know, I’ve been thinking about that “three kinds of meatloaf people” philosophy, and I think I need to amend it.

What if you don’t eat red meat? Or you like it cheese-stuffed, or bacon wrapped?  Maybe you like it spicy, or Horrors! What if you actually don’t like meatloaf at all?

You know…there is one meatloaf that I could live without.

Thanks for your time.

Flipping a steak…on its ear

Denver steak is one nifty piece of beef.

deners

No…No…Yes.

Even though cows have been domesticated for 5000 years, the cut called Denver steak was only ‘discovered’ in 1990 by meat science professors at the Universities of Nebraska and Florida.

It’s the fourth most tender bovine muscle; just behind filet mignon, the flatiron, and the ribeye cap.  Because it’s a newer cut of steak, it can be hard to find.  Ask your own butcher or try First Hand Food’s Denver steak; they’re a North Carolina supplier of pasture-raised meats (check their website for where to find them).

But as much as I like Denver steak, it’s really the preparation method that’s the star of this piece.  It takes the normal, accepted way of home-cooking a steak, and turns it inside-out.

Reverse Steak

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Served here with sauteed spinach and potato salad.

First dry-age your steak (heavily salt, loosely wrap in paper towel and let rest in fridge for three days).  This will intensify the flavor and get seasoning througout the meat.

When ready to cook, place the meat on a cooling rack on a foil covered cookie sheet.  Insert a probe thermometer (or use an instant-read during the cooking process) set to 120 degrees, and place in a 275 degree oven.

When the steak reaches temp (about 30-45 minutes, depending on thickness) remove from oven, and let it rest while you get a cast iron, or other heavy bottomed pan, screaming hot. 

When the surface is almost molten, sprinkle freshly cracked pepper on each side of steaks.  Drop in some butter, then place in steaks.  Cook until a golden crust is formed, then flip and cook other side.  Let rest for 5 minutes or so, then serve. You’re looking for a final temp of around 125 degrees for medium-rare.

This reverse technique cooks the steak uniformly throughout, with no overly cooked gray ring around the outer edge.  The only caveat is the meat should be at least an inch thick, and the thicker the better.

But beware: you’ll think that you’ve messed up when you take it from the oven.  It comes out looking like a flaccid piece of beef jerky.  It will be ox-blood in color and tired in appearance.  But that’s ok, I promise.

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Sad, isn’t it?  But there’s a happy ending.

Cooking this way cuts down on the smoke and grease-flying of stove-top cooking.  It’s also a more leisurely process, making the preparation of sides a measurably less nerve-racking experience.

Steak night is a big night.  So do it right.  You want to make it memorable because it was so delicious, not because you ruined dinner and ended up dining on Big Macs and Mylanta.

Thanks for your time.

Happy to meet you

Today was a red letter Durham day.

Petey and I ate brunch at Watts Grocery.  I am a huge fan of Chef Amy Tornquist’s restaurant and her brunch is just about the best one in town.

But it was our lunch companions who were the big story.

About three years ago, I wrote about one of the more painful experiences of my life.  It was the night Petey took a friend and me for one of his favorite dishes.  It’s an extremely regional dish called yok.

Yok is basically spaghetti topped with a volcanic, almost caustic sauce in which Texas Pete plays an essentially solo part.  It’s gleefully tortuous entering your body and enthusiastically anguish-inducing when exiting.

yok

After the column appeared, I was contacted by a reader.

Donald Long is the director of solid waste management for Durham.  He is from Elizabeth City and graduated from the same high school that I did.  Confusingly and dishearteningly, he’s also a fan of yok.  I guess like Petey, he enjoys playing practical jokes on his mouth.

We’ve emailed back and forth since then, and last Christmas he reached out to me.  While racking his brains for a present for his wife, Autrice, he had an idea—and it involved me.

Since his wife also reads the column, he wanted to introduce his home girl (me), to his bride (Autrice).  Could I share a meal with them?  I was to be her holiday gift.

xmas list

Until I heard from Donald, I would’ve put myself at the tippy-top of the list above…

That poor woman.  I’d rather find socks under the tree or even a subscription to Cat Fancy magazine.

But Donald assured me that I wouldn’t be the coal in her stocking—he actually thought Autrice would like it.

Frankly, I was taken aback.  Donald knew and acknowledged the request sounded a little out there.  But he assured me that he wasn’t a resident of a mental health facility, he was gainfully employed, and his wife was an actual living person—neither invisible nor a volleyball sporting a wig and lipstick.

I decided to do it, and boy am I glad I did.

They are a delightful couple.  They are warm, interesting, and like me, lovers of food.  We laughed throughout brunch, and practically shut the joint down.  Autrice is a member of the AKA sorority (in college, all my best girlfriends were AKA).  They’re friends with Durham’s cutest couple; Jose and Becky Lopez with whom, a couple months ago, I had a food chat.

Donald belongs to a kind of steak-of-the-month club.  April’s cut is a tomahawk or cowboy steak.  It’s a ribeye steak, usually very, very thick.  The bone is about 6-8 inches long, left exposed, and Frenched (stripped and cleaned), which gives it its eponymous shape.

I gave him my technique for making a cheap steak taste expensive, and taking an expensive cut of meat to a whole new level.

Home dry-aging

Freeze the steak completely.  Three or four days before cooking, heavily salt frozen meat on all sides.  Very loosely wrap in three or four paper towels, place on a plate and put it on lowest shelf of the fridge.  Take it out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking so it can come to room temp.  The meat will look dried out, but that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

This is a dry-aged prime riib, from where the tomahawk comes.  See how the meat is darker and there’s no blood?

Season with freshly cracked black pepper and cook it in some butter in a smoking hot cast iron pan using a weight on the steak so the entire surface will have contact with the skillet and develop a beautiful crust.  Check interior temperature with a probe and flip when it gets close to 100 degrees.  Cook to 135-140 for medium rare. Let it rest 5-10 minutes out of the skillet before serving to let the meat relax and the juices to redistribute.

Sitting on the couch in my sweats this column is written in a kind of a vacuum.  But I love it when readers contact me.  Especially when they are as kind and funny as the Longs.

But maybe he really isn’t the picture of total mental health he said he was, because at one point during lunch, Donald, with a completely straight face, referred to me as a celebrity.

This, Donald, is celebrity.  I think I’ll pass…

I think the man needs to get out more, and maybe watch a little TV.

Thanks for your time.

The magic number

 

Chef James never met a fish he didn’t like.

I’ve been writing food columns for newspapers for almost five years now.  I have hung out with bakers in the middle of the night and listened to a cow’s innards with a stethoscope.  I’ve been taught how to filet a fish by a master (Thanks, Chef James).

I’ve interviewed David Cutcliffe, head coach of the winning Duke Football team.  I’ve gotten to know Vimala Rajendran, an Indian earth mother food activist, and Amy Tornquist, an expert in and lover of Southern food

Chef Amy at her Durham restaurant Watts Grocery.

And I am as excited about sharing this week’s info with you as anything I’ve experienced in my tenure as a food columnist.

A couple weeks ago in Kroger, I picked up a one-pound beef brisket for the low, low, price of $5.

The rule of thumb for tenderness is; the less work that a muscle does, the more tender it is.

The brisket comes from the lower chest area.  Every time Elsie takes a step, or a breath, those muscles are put to work.  Consequently, you can’t quickly cook this meat like a piece of filet mignon.  You’ll end up with beef-flavored bubble gum—and nobody wants that.

It also has a good amount of fat and connective tissue running through it, as well as a pretty healthy fat cap.  Pastrami and corned beef both come from this cut, and neither is known for exceptional leanness.

Every other time I’ve made brisket, I’ve braised it; lowly, slowly cooking in liquid—usually some type of sauce or gravy.  I’ve also cooked it with beans and in pots of barley.

But it was never that tender, unctuous cut that I’ve seen on TV and in good barbecue joints.  It didn’t come out really tough, but it wasn’t meltingly tender.  And it was usually a little dry.

This time, I would travel a different route.  I’d season it heavily and sear it like always.  Then cook it by dry-roasting.  Low and slow.

With the oven set at 225, I took a heavy baking dish, and in it I laid a rope I’d fashioned from tin foil.  I poured in about a half inch of water (this prevents smoking when the fat drips down), and set the brisket, fat side up, in the dish on the foil, to keep it above the liquid while cooking.

Then I inserted a probe thermometer, set to the magic temperature.

At 210 degrees, the connective tissue within the meat has melted, leaving a silky mouth feel, and a tender, juicy piece of meat.

When the brisket came out of the oven, it had shrunk to about half its pre-cooked size.  But the fat cap was a thing of beauty.  It was a crispy, ebony cloak, which when tapped with a knife, sounded hollow and delicious—and it was.

I can’t tell you how long this will take to cook other than to say a long time.  Depending on the size, it could take anywhere from five to nine hours.  Do it on your day off, when you’ve got nothing but time on your hands.

This week, I am also eschewing a sauce.  You could make mushroom gravy, sprinkle it with a spicy vinegar, or slather it with barbecue sauce.  But this cut, cooked dry, low and slow, doesn’t need one.

I may not be your cup of tea (shoot, sometimes I annoy myself), but please, for the love of all that is holy, pick up a brisket and cook this roasted ambrosia.  I pinky swear promise; you will not regret it.

Thanks for your time.