Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Dissertation on Food

I'm not much of a television watcher; the news and occasional documentary (with an episode of Mythbusters thrown in now and again) is about all I ever watch. Unless I have a day off in the middle of the week, that is, when I'm home alone. And then I indulge in my guilty pleasure ... ssshhh! ... The Food Network.

I enjoy cooking and love to try new dishes. Back before we had children, my poor hubby was the willing guinea pig for my culinary experiments. He was completely honest with me, too, which I appreciated. If a dish was a keeper, he'd tell me. If it did little to please his palate, he'd ask me not to make that particular dish again. It made for an excellent learning experience for both of us.

My mother, bless her heart, was not a creative cook. She had a few stellar dishes -- her meatloaf was nothing short of yummy and I use her recipe today to rave reviews -- but for the most part she was caught somewhere between the plain cooking of her Pennsylvania German mother-in-law, with whom she felt a keen competition, and the 1950s housewife whose "convenient" ingredients came out of a can. (Please, don't ever mention Spam in my presence unless it's in reference to Monty Python.) But she tried and, with the exception of her roast beef which I could chew for hours, she succeeded in making most meals satisfying. My own mother-in-law, a farm wife, is also a plain cook, as well, who rarely seasons anything beyond salt and pepper, has never tasted Mongolian beef, thinks Mexican food is just tacos, and thinks Italian meals consist of spaghetti and lasagna. Sigh. She has resisted enlightenment over the years, prefering her tired tried-and-trues, which makes me doubly grateful that her son is so accommodating.

Please believe me, I'm not knocking traditional Pennsylvania German cooking. There's something to be said for a good potato soup, or chicken pot pie with homemade noodles, or beef stew (which is on our menu this evening). Just not every day. I tend to look at food as more than a tasty way to satisfy hunger. For me, food is a way to travel and experience other regions and cultures without having to actually purchase the plane ticket. And given the fact that I am chief cook and bottlewasher to three teenagers (Sam will be 13 next week), traveling isn't in the budget right now. Of course, neither are exotic dishes where the ingredients are difficult to find in a rural area and cost a small fortune once found. Many times, plain dishes stretch further and fill teenaged stomachs faster and better.

Back to the Food Network. Today was my day off, and I was tickled to have a few moments with my sandwich, my knitting and the remote. Now, I have definite likes and dislikes with regards to the personalities on the Food Network. Rachel Ray, as popular as she is, annoys me. Although she has some fantastic party ideas. I love to watch Bobbie Flay in anything, especially in Throwdown. That's how I learned about Liege waffles. I also love the show Chopped, although sometimes the judges can be a bit harsh. It's fascinating to me to watch chefs attempt to prepare something wonderful out of three mystery ingredients. I need to learn how to do that with my refrigerator!

One person I do not normally watch is Paula Deen, not because she bothers me -- she's actually very personable -- but because I'm just not fond of southern American cooking. I'm not a huge fan of fried foods and a lot of her dishes seen 'heavy' to me. (I'm sorry. Fried macaroni and cheese?!?!) And the very idea of using lard makes me cringe.

So who's on Food Network when I take my break?

Yup ... Paula.

Yes, I watched anyway, and I must confess, her first recipe had me captivated: Smoky Portobello Soup. I'm going to have to try it (I'll let you know how it turns out.) The rest of the show was chicken-fried steak with biscuits and gravy and then oyster shooters. No thanks. I will try the soup, though.

And since I mentioned it, my mother's meatloaf recipe:

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ham loaf mixture
1 egg
1 envelope onion soup mix
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mustard
1 cup oatmeal
Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan or oblong baking dish with cooking spray.

Mix all ingredients together. Since it's best if you use your hands to mix, I recomend allowing the ingredients to come to room temperature before mixing.

NOTE: The measurements for the ketchup, mustard and oatmeal are estimates. You may need to adjust amounts -- too dry a mixture (will not hold shape and will fall apart in your hands) may require more ketchup and/or mustard. Too wet a mixture (sticks to your hands and won't hold shape) may require more oatmeal.

Shape mixture into one large two pound loaf or divide into two small one pound loaves. Place in baking dish and cover. Single loaf, bake for one hour, then remove cover and bake 15 minutes more. Two smaller loaves, bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 10 minutes. Also makes great meatballs.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! My grandmother was a Wisconsin German, and although her potato salad was to die for, her pot roast left a lot to be desired!

    I'm going to try that meatloaf recipe sometime, thanks!