Thursday, June 5, 2008

Journey To The Perfect Meatloaf

I love meatloaf. I know it's passé to admit and it's so very "middle America" and "normal" that you probably can't believe I would eat it much less adore it. But, adore it I do!

Long ago I set out to figure out how to make meatloaf.

My mother, who, bless her heart, has never been a great cook, told me to just take some hamburger meat and mix it with ketchup and some dried onions and make it into a circle in a pie pan that was slightly larger than the loaf and cook it till it is done. This is NOT the meatloaf I adore.

So, I went to the trusty Red and White Checkerboard cookbook and tried their recipe. Nope, not what I was looking for. Some recipes even called for brown gravy and canned, sliced, button mushrooms; which I will not abide. I bought a cookbook called 50 Great Meatloaves! And made about 10 of them before chucking that out.

We settled on a recipe that included a bunch of sautéed veggies, but it never held together well. Which, may not sound like a big problem, but, since the one thing I adore more than meatloaf is meatloaf sandwiches, it's a problem when the meatloaf falls apart. How can you take the cold meatloaf and properly arrange it on the bread so that every bite has just the right amount of meatloaf, ketchup and bread if the meatloaf is all falling apart??!?!

I watched some FOOD Network shows and copied down those recipes. Again, not the loaf I was looking for. I saw Roseanne teach Darleen's class (or was it Becky's) how to make meatloaf by adding corn flakes to the meat mixture, but I can't imagine even trying that! So, I tried using stuffing instead of corn flakes in Roseann's recipe and, well, let's just say I'm sorry -- truly sorry to have put the meat and the stuffing to such a dismal end. Now, I realize that I was pretty desperate trying a recipe that was part of a sitcom.... but, I wanted some meatloaf!

I saw a show on PBS where some guy was showing a second grade class how to make meatloaf and he talked about just knowing when the ratio of breadcrumbs to meat to wet was right by the way it held together. That was promising.... an "un-recipe." I like un-recipes.

A little while after that and totally unrelated at the time, I started making meatballs from a recipe I found online. It included breadcrumbs, eggs, sautéed onions, tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, and, of course, lean meat (both beef and pork). Since I don't do the whole pork thing, I make them with just beef. naturally, being from the south and seeing most food as vehicles for ketchup, I substituted ketchup for the tomato sauce. And, once I accidentally left out the eggs and I liked the way it tasted better, so I kept that. Eventually I started leaving out the milk -- probably because Annie drank the glass I was going to pour in and it worked without that, too.

So, remembering the un-recipe for meatloaf I saw on PBS and pairing that with the altered meatball recipe, I have stumbled on what I think is almost the ultimate recipe for meatloaf.

Meatloaf, Rain Style
  • 1.5 - 2 pounds of lean ground beef
  • Some Bread crumbs (preferably just ground up homemade wheat bread)
  • Some Parmesan cheese (preferably the kind you get at the market that was ground up in the store, but Kraft will do in a pinch)
  • Ketchup (organic, of course, and I like the Whole Foods brand)
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Steak Seasoning (homemade or store bought which includes salt, pepper, garlic and other goodies for beef)
  • An egg for good measure
  • 1 onion, chopped and sautéed
Mix the above ingredients in the amounts you see fit. I tend to use about 1 - 2 cups of bread crumbs and at least a cup of Parmesan and a lot of ketchup. The mix should be moist but not wet and should hold together when you turn it out, but not be a tight blob. Only mix as much as you need to in order to distribute the ingredients evenly.

I put it in a 8 x 8 Pampered Chef stoneware pan, but you can use just about anything that leaves room around the loaf. I make a loaf shape in the center of the pan that stretches from one side to the other longways but is much shorter the other way, so there's plenty of room for the grease to drain out and not get re-absorbed into the loaf.

Cook this for about 1 - 1.5 hours at 350. Make sure the center is at least 157 degrees, minimum. Just before it's done, I brush on a coating of ketchup on the top and let it cook for about 2 - 3 minutes.

Have a better recipe or un-recipe? I'm still looking for the ultimate!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Roast Chicken and Raw Milk

When I was young and lived in what seemed to me to be a BIG house on Roswell Road in Buckhead (before anyone knew where Buckhead was) we used to have a milk box. This was a little tin box that sat outside the back door. From time to time milk appeared there. As an adult looking back, I'm sure there was a weekly delivery schedule and the milk man actually delivered the milk. Sometimes he also brought cottage cheese, which was a favorite of mine. My brother was partial to applesauce, though -- but that's another story.

Anyway, the milk man brought the BEST milk! It came in these beautiful glass bottles and had little foil caps that were fun to sorta peel off. The best part, though, was that you had to shake up the bottle before pouring out the milk. You see, my mom ordered raw milk from the dairy and the cream in raw milk rises to the top and needs to either be skimmed off or shaken up into the rest of the milk. Of course, not long before that you didn't actually have to specify "raw" milk, because it was the only milk. I drank raw milk for most of my young life.

My mom was a sort of very "early adopter" of the health nut craze. From Yoga classes to a largely vegetarian diet, we were health conscious. The first time anyone ever fed me pizza I freaked out and could barely make myself eat it.

My step-mother, Keri, was an even bigger health nut -- edging on health freak status. At her house we had kefir, alfalfa sprout and avocado sandwiches on pita bread and lots of almonds all purchased from weird little food co-ops. This fostered in me a great love for healthy foods. I can eat some junk, don't get me wrong, but I really love the healthier stuff and I think it has to do with the taste I developed for it early on.

So, fast forward to nowadays and I want to give my children the same awesome, healthy things I grew up with. I make them wheat bread and forbid white bread in the house. I buy organic whenever possible and focus on local produce. I cook from scratch and use very few pre-packaged items. I also want to feed my children the same raw milk I was raised on. It's actually the same milk my sons were raised on at their biological grandmother's house in Latvia and at the orphanage where they lived until we adopted them at 13. But, since I live in the state of Georgia, I can't buy raw milk for human consumption. Nope, I can only buy "Pet Milk" that is labeled "Not for Human Consumption." It's still the same thing, just a different label, so, whatever.

If it didn't make me madder than a wet hen, it'd be humorous to me. I can't feed my family milk from a trusted, clean dairy just down the street that uses grass-fed cows who are pastured (free range) and lovingly cared for and not fed antibiotics or hormones but I can feed my family milk that is from cows halfway across the country which are bred to produce massive amounts of milk and fed hormones and lots of antibiotics in order to keep their milk production at extreme levels even though they're fed soy mush or chicken waste or other such un-cow-like foods. Now, if the milk wasn't bad and disgusting enough, we'll just go and cook it and high temperatures to make it safe, because there is massive amounts of e. coli and other harmful if not deadly bacteria spread in these large-scale "dairies."

Did you know that cows at commercial dairies that produce pasteurized milk do not have to pass a health inspection for disease -- after all, the milk's going to be cooked halfway to hades so why bother! According to The Real Milk campaign, pasteurizing the milk "diminishes vitamin content, denatures fragile milk proteins, destroys vitamins C, B12 and B6, kills beneficial bacteria, promotes pathogens and is associated with allergies, increased tooth decay, colic in infants, growth problems in children, osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer." They claim that "Calves fed pasteurized milk do poorly and many die before maturity. " If that didn't gross you out enough, "raw milk sours naturally(which I can attest to) but pasteurized milk turns putrid; processors must remove slime and pus from pasteurized milk by a process of centrifugal clarification." EWWWWWWWWWW (quoted from as of 6/2/08)

Recent advertisements for milk try to make you believe that drinking milk (pasteurized) will help with weight loss due to the calcium. Not so! Drinking Whole Fat Raw Milk from Grass-Fed Cows will help you lose weight and used to be used successfully at the Mayo Clinic as a cure for cancer, chronic fatigue, allergies, skin problems. Want to know more? Click here and scroll down to the comment section where Dr. Mercola comments about raw milk and cites actual scientific studies.

I could go on to talk about the link of heart disease to homogenization, but, well, that's just beating a dead horse... or cow....

I won't settle for that! My family deserves better than that! As I'm always telling my kids, I don't want "normal" for them, they're better than "normal" and "normal" these days is just sorry! So, after much research and even reading the CDC's diatribe about the dangers of raw milk, my husband and I believe that it is the best option for our family. So, we've found a source for raw milk and I have to go to pick it up each week. Yup! We go and get a gallon or two each week and boy is it good. The boys really had refused to drink the pasteurized stuff (a.k.a. cooked milk, as Annie calls it). But the first gallon of raw milk I brought home disappeared quickly.

Now, what does all of this have to do with Roasted Chicken?

Well, I'll tell you. You see, when you start doing "crazy" things like milling your own wheat and drinking raw milk, you start to meet a whole new group of people -- others who share your views of eating the foods that the Good Lord provides for us in a state as close to the way He provides it. So, my wheat lady lets my milk guy do a "milk drop" in her parking lot and, in addition to the milk, he sells raw honey (and creamed honey) from a bee keeper up the road and pastured, organic chickens (when he can get them from his farmer friend) off the back of his truck.

This week my milk guy was running low on milk. in other words, he had orders for more gallons than he actually had. And, rather than trying to force the cows to give more milk to meet the demand, he simply asked folks who ordered multiple gallons if they could spare a gallon. So, last week was a low-milk week in our family and I offered to not pick up a gallon this week. But, since he had chickens this week, I took one of those.

Tonight I cooked it and it was yummy. I use what I think is the simplest recipe possible. You just can't mess up a really good bird. Now, the ones you get at the grocery store that are all yellow and plumped up -- now those take some skill to make taste good. But a free-range, organic chicken just tastes good all by itself. So, here's my recipe.

Roast Chicken
First, in case you didn't get it from the above tirade, start with a good bird that isn't chock-full of chemicals. I'd also recommend using organic everything else, but if you can just get the bird right, the other stuff will probably not kill you today!

  • Whole Chicken (roaster)
  • 5 -6 medium carrots peeled and sliced into large, bite-sized pieces
  • 4 - 5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced into large, bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 medium onions (I use Vidalia) peeled and quartered
  • Adobo or Spike or whatever seasoning you usually like to use

In a roasting pan (I use, and love, the Pampered Chef roaster with lid) scatter the carrots, potatoes and onions. Season. Place the bird on top, breast side down (so it gets all of the fat dripping into it and remains moist). Season the bird with what you seasoned the veggies. Place a lid on the roaster or cover tightly with foil. Cook until the chicken is done -- about an hour and a half, probably. Carefully remove the lid/foil away from you so as not to get burned by the steam. Carve the chicken and put it on a platter, scoop up the veggies from the bottom and put them in a serving bowl. If you want, you can make gravy form the drippings, but I usually don't bother.

How easy is that?

Want more info about Raw Milk? I have found to be a great jumping off point for your research. And, just so ya know. I don't serve others raw milk without a warning and never give it to kids unless I have permission from their parents.