There is no one way to create ‘meatloaf’ and it is precisely this capacity for re-invention that has allowed meatloaf to maintain a continued place on our dinner tables. The limitations for the iconic dish are none. The criteria is ground meat primarily and whether it is beef, pork, chicken, turkey or a blend of, doesn’t matter. The meat must be cut with a filler or the loaf becomes to dense. Bread crumbs, oatmeal, crackers, Japanese panko crumbs, rice, minced vegetables are all good choices. Egg and/or dairy of some kind is essential to bind and moisten. Seasoning is definitely a personal choice. The loaf shape is classic but the top can be glazed, sauced, as is, or baked with strips of bacon over it.
At one time, trying to find a casual restaurant that didn’t serve meatloaf would have been like an Italian one that didn’t serve pasta. Some believe meatloaf was born during the Depression of the 1930’s. To stretch the small amounts of meat people had, it was ground and mixed with stale bread crumbs. At times, these loaves actually contained more ‘loaf’ than meat.
Whether you love meatloaf or hate it, the fact that it is still around after all these years is incredible. Today’s entree puts another spin on this old classic. This a recipe that was published in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine in the 70’s. Interesting!
Mashed Potato-Meat Cups with Cheese 'Gravy'
In a skillet, heat oil & saute onions & garlic until translucent. Set aside to cool. In a large bowl, combine ground beef, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan, parsley, cooled onions & garlic, egg, breadcrumbs & milk. Combine well.
On 4 squares of waxed paper, shape into 4 patties with a 5-inch diameter. Shape each over an inverted custard cup; discard paper. Chill about an hour.
Peel & cook potatoes. In a large bowl, combine cooked potatoes, butter, seasonings, Parmesan & a splash of milk. Mash & add more milk gradually until potatoes are desired texture.
In a saucepan, melt butter; whisk in flour, salt & pepper until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil; cook & stir while adding cheddar cheese. Cook, stirring constantly until thickened. Cook frozen peas.
Baking & Serving
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place inverted meat cups on a shallow baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes or until meat is cooked. Lift baked meat cups from custard cups & turn upright; fill with mashed potatoes. Place on serving plates, spoon cheese sauce over filled meat cups & top with green peas.
It goes without saying, eggplant is beloved in many cuisines. It has been considered the ‘queen of the garden’ with it’s almost purple-black, glossy skin and cap-like crown.
Eggplants are bitter when raw but develop a savory and complex flavor when cooked. The texture of the flesh is meaty and easily absorbs sauces and cooking liquids.
Native to the Indian subcontinent and the Himalayan area, they have been cultivated in Southeast Asia since prehistoric times. Cultivars in the 18th century were white to pale yellow in color and resembled hen’s eggs which explains the reason this fruit is called ‘eggplant’. There are dozens of eggplant subspecies grown throughout the world in many shapes and sizes.
The most popular one we see here in North America is the dark purple ‘globe’ eggplant which ranges in weight from 1-5 pounds. When buying them, look for ones with smooth, firm, unwrinkled skin and a fresh looking green stalk or cap. Eggplant is commonly used in ratatouille, pasta dishes, spreads, dips, moussaka or stuffed and roasted.
Today, I’m making a stuffed version with an interesting fresh basil-chicken filling.
Basil Chicken Stuffed Eggplant
Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise; carefully hollow out each half. Roughly chop the removed flesh.
In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil & saute onion until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add the chopped eggplant, mushrooms & garlic. Cook until eggplant is tender, about 7-8 minutes. Add ground chicken, oregano, salt & pepper. Cook until chicken is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
Stir in in roasted red peppers, cooked rice & fresh basil; remove skillet from the heat. Place eggplant halves in a baking dish & fill with chicken/rice mixture. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds; drizzle with remaining olive oil & bake 30-35 minutes until tender.
Remove eggplant from oven & top with grated cheeses.
The word ‘gratin’ or ‘au gratin’ has been given numerous alternative and incorrect definitions. Many think that the term is French for ‘with cheese’, others say that it refers to a dish with a browned topping and some even claim that gratin means a baked casserole.
The word gratin actually derives from the French word grater or gratter, meaning ‘to grate’. Originally it meant something more like ‘scrapings’. This referred to the browned crusty material that forms on the bottom or the act of scraping loose these crusty bits and stirring them back into the dish during baking. However, it now tends to refer to the browned crust that forms on the top of the baked dish. Toppings generally consist of breadcrumbs, grated cheese, egg and/or butter.
The word gratin is also used to identify the types of cookware in which such a meal is cooked. Traditionally, they are oval, but can also be round and come in graduated sizes and are made of clay-based ceramic, metal or oven-proof glass.
This au gratin combines ham and cauliflower in a creamy, Parmesan sauce and is topped with cheddar cheese. We really enjoyed it.
Ham & Cauliflower Au Gratin
Fill a medium pot half full of water & add 1 tsp salt. Bring to a boil. Cut cauliflower into small flowerets & add to boiling water. Blanche for 3 minutes. DON"T OVERCOOK! Pour into a colander in the sink & let drain well- about 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 6 X 8-inch glass casserole dish with cooking spray. Cut ham into small cubes & slice green onions. In a small bowl, place softened cream cheese, Greek yogurt, Parmesan & sliced green onions.
Return cauliflower to cooking pot; gently fold in sauce mixture & ham. Season to taste with black pepper. Pour cauliflower mixture into prepared baking dish, spreading out evenly. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
Bake 30-35 minutes or until the cheese is melted & lightly browned. Mixture should be bubbling & hot through. Remove from oven & allow to stand 10 minutes for any liquid to be absorbed. Serve hot.
Despite our ever present nostalgia for the foods of childhood, tastes and recipes are always evolving. I came across this recipe in a Taste of Home magazine recently. It has all the flavors of a favorite casserole come together in the comfort of ‘mac & cheese’.
During the Great Depression era, the idea for boxed macaroni and cheese was born when a salesman used a rubber band to pair packets of the then newly developed, grated Kraft cheese with boxes of pasta and convinced stores to sell them. In 1937, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (known as Kraft Dinner in Canada) was introduced with the slogan ‘make a meal for four in nine minutes for the cost of around nineteen cents’. It was an immediate success in the USA & Canada.
Traditional mac & cheese is a casserole baked in the oven, however, it may be prepared in a saucepan on the top of the stove. This particular casserole recipe takes the whole idea to a new level. Chicken, bacon, macaroni, three cheeses and Ranch dressing! I had tasted ranch dressing on chicken and bacon pizza so why not? Brion and I loved the end result making it a ‘keeper’ in our meal rotation.
Chicken Ranch Mac & Cheese
In a large pot, cook macaroni to al dente stage; drain & return to pot. Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour, salt & pepper until smooth; gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook & stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cheeses until blended. Stir in ranch dressing. Add chicken & sauce to macaroni, tossing to combine. Transfer to baking dish.
Toss bread crumbs with melted butter; sprinkle over macaroni. Top with bacon. Bake, uncovered, 30-35 minutes or until topping is golden brown. Sprinkle with minced parsley.
One of the supper dishes I remember my mother teaching me how to make was scalloped potatoes. The recipe read something like this:
- Wash, pare and slice potatoes. Put a layer in a buttered baking dish, season with salt and pepper.
- Dredge lightly with flour, dot with small pieces of butter; repeat until dish is almost full.
- Add hot milk until it comes almost to the top layer.
- Cover with buttered crumbs. Bake until soft, about 1 hour. A little chopped onion is an improvement.
Gratins are very popular in Germany. Potato & brussel sprouts gratin is a typical dish during fall and winter season. There are numerous variations such as adding ham or combining it with other vegetables like cauliflower, zucchini, peas and carrots. You could also add an egg to the cream if you like.
I always enjoy looking through mom’s ‘vintage’ recipes. I notice there were definitely lots of casseroles — no wonder they still hold appeal for me. Brion is not big on brussel sprouts but I’m going to incorporate this German specialty into our supper meal and see how it goes?!
Potato & Brussel Sprouts Gratin
Clean brussel sprouts, cut in half. Peel potatoes, cut about the size of your brussel sprouts. Boil potatoes & brussel sprouts for about 10 minutes in salted water.
In a skillet, add a small amount of butter & fry onions with ground beef. Combine cheese with 1/2 & 1/2 cream, (add some milk if needed) & spices to your taste.
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a 9" buttered casserole dish, layer potato/brussel sprout combo & ground beef. Then pour cream/cheese mixture carefully over all. Combine bread crumbs with Parmesan cheese & sprinkle top of casserole. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven & sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese. Serve.