Mini Meat Loaf Dinner

I’m still adjusting to cooking for two or three people instead of four, or more.  It seems like it would be simple enough to divide a recipe in half but, when it comes right down to it, my brain still tells me to keep cooking on a larger scale.  Some dishes lend themselves well to leftovers while some others don’t.  Leftovers are great for lunches the next day but after a few days of cooking too much food, the refrigerator tends to become packed with lots of little storage containers.  I find myself going through the refrigerator every weekend and tossing uneaten leftovers. 

This meatloaf would be perfect for leftovers, if I had made the full recipe.  A meatloaf sandwich, with some potato chips and applesauce might make a nice lunch.

So, here is the modest meat loaf…one that can be shared by two or three people.

Ingredients:

1.25 lbs ground chuck (80/20)

1 egg

1 cup rolled oats

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp salt

½ tsp dried oregano

3 Tbs ketchup

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

For the potatoes and green beans:

5 small russet potatoes

2 cups cooking oil

½ lb fresh green beans

1 garlic clove, smashed

1 Tbs honey

1 Tbs butter

¼ cup water

Directions:

Wash and dry the potatoes.  Cut the potatoes into large, one inch pieces.  Add 2 cups of oil to a large skillet and set the heat to low.  Add the potatoes and let them fry for about 45 minutes.  Frying at a low temperature results in crispy potatoes with creamy interiors. 

Combine the Cajun seasoning,  onion powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt and oregano in a small bowl and mix.

In a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef.  Add the oats and egg.  Mix to combine.

Add the spices, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.  Mix thoroughly. 

Put the meat mixture in a 9” x 5” non-stick loaf pan.  Cook uncovered in a 325° oven for 45 minutes.

While the meat loaf and potatoes cook, wash the green beans and snip off the ends.  Set aside until the potatoes are done.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain in a strainer and reserve the oil for another day.  Keep the potatoes in a warm area until ready to serve.

Put the green beans in the skillet and return to the stove.  Set the temperature at medium low and toss the green beans for a few minutes. 

Add the garlic, honey and butter and stir.  Add the water and simmer, covered for 15 minutes. 

While the green beans steam, remove the meat loaf from the oven and place on a serving dish.  Keep warm.

When the green beans have softened and are cooked to your liking, arrange them on the plate with the meat loaf. 

The amount of Cajun seasoning in this recipe shouldn’t be over-powering.  If you want to add some kick, make a side dish of ketchup and hot sauce (2 parts ketchup to 1 part hot sauce).

Crazy Bread

First things first, this isn’t a copy-cat version of the Little Caesar’s classic. 

But, since I brought up Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread I feel the urge to share my thoughts on that ingenious invention.  Long, long ago, in a past career, I was once versed in food cost and clever marketing.  I remember when Little Caesar’s came out with Crazy Bread.  My first thought was, “Well… some marketing guru just earned a big bonus!”

The idea behind Little Caesar’s Crazy Bread is so simple that it needs no explanation, but really, it does.  Successful restaurants make money when they focus on selling mass produced low food cost items.  Conversely, they run the risk of going belly-up if they dabble too much in high food cost items…especially high food cost items that have a short storage life. 

Dough is cheap.  Little Caesar’s knows that.  That’s why they can sell a large pizza for $5. Throw on a little sauce, some cheap cheese and one topping and sell the pizza for five bucks.  They don’t make a ton of money off of the pizza but they sell a lot of them.  Overall food cost for the pizza is probably between 1 and 2 dollars.

About 20 years after Little Caesar’s came into being, they figured out how to increase their profit margin with a gimmick.  Crazy Bread is nothing more than bread dough with a dusting of dried parmesan cheese.  They’re very cheap to make.  They sell 8 bread sticks for just few dollars.  The ingenious part of their scheme is the sauce.  What’s a bread stick without marinara sauce?  Oh, sure you can eat a bread stick without sauce but wouldn’t it be much nicer to dip the soft bread stick in warm marinara sauce?  Mmmmm.   Is a 4 ounce cup of marina sauce worth 60 cents?  You bet!  And that’s where they make the money.  Here we are, nearly 40 years after Crazy Bread was introduced and it’s still going strong.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Little Caesar’s or their Crazy Bread and I’m all for capitalism.  I just find this sort of stuff fascinating! 

OK, enough of that…let’s dig into some of my crazy bread.

As I have mentioned previously, I have been working long hours and I don’t have much time to make elaborate meals, or much time to document them for my blog!  I came home rather late one night, recently and knew I had to come up with something quick to prepare.  My first thought was to check the refrigerator for things that might spoil, if not used soon.  Raw meat always tops the list of things to check.  I saw a pound of sweet Italian sausage and knew that it had been in the refrigerator for about three days.  A pasta dish came to mind but I really didn’t want to make a big production.  And then my mind went to bread.  I didn’t stop to think.  I started to make a quick, simple bread dough.  While the dough rose I browned the sausage in a pan and shredded some extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Total time to prepare from start to finish:  1.25 hours.   It was worth the wait!

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 packet instant, fast rising  yeast

1 1/4 cup warm water

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

2 tsp sugar

1 Tbs honey

1 lb sweet Italian bulk sausage

1 cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:

Mix 2 cups flour, yeast and garlic powder with a whisk.  Set aside.

Add the honey and sugar to a large mixing bowl.

Heat the water in a microwave or stove top to about 100°.  Add the water to the mixing bowl and whisk to blend with the sugar and honey.

Slowly add flour mixture and stir with a spatula. 

Add the crushed red pepper and garlic powder.  Mix to combine thoroughly.   Slowly add the rest of the flour and mix by spatula and then by hand.

Turn the dough out to a lightly floured surface.  Knead for a few minutes until the dough becomes a firm and forms a ball.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover with foil and keep in a warm place.  Let the dough rise for at least 45 minutes.

While the dough rises, brown the sausage and shred the cheese.

Once dough has doubled in size, add the cooked sausage and grated cheese.

Mix the dough thoroughly and let it rise in a warm place for 5 or 10 minutes.

On a lightly greased baking sheet, form the dough into the shape of your preference.  Since this is crazy bread I decided a question mark shape would be appropriate.

Bake at 400° for about 30 minutes.  Remove and allow the bread to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with a fresh salad.

This is the first time I have made bread this way and I was pleasantly surprised.  I imagine using breakfast sausage next time and serving with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. 

Cambodian Rice Noodle Stir-Fry

Sometimes I conceive a meal by following my instincts, rather than following a recipe.  It makes me feel like I am creating something brand new.

On this particular weeknight, I allowed my taste buds to tell me what I wanted to make and my mind followed.  I knew I wanted to include shrimp, because I’ve been craving shrimp.  I knew I wanted to use Cambodian rice noodles, because I have had some in my pantry for a few months.  From that launching point, my mind quickly assembled the rest of the items that would bring the dish together.  Pork, vegetables, sesame oil, peanuts, fish sauce, garlic, green onions and so on. 

I resisted the urge to look up recipes on the internet.  I’m not saying that looking up recipes on the internet is cheating but I sometimes find that internet searches just affirm what I already know.  Once a person has made several stir-fry dishes, the process becomes instinctive and intuitive.  Deciding what to include in a stir-fry is only limited by the imagination of the cook.  My imagination and creativity runs deep and I have learned not to think about “success” or “failure”, when cooking.  Maybe that’s because I have become more comfortable in the kitchen over the years, or maybe it’s because I pretend to be fearless when I am creating something.  It could be a little of both. 

I approach stir-frying like I approach painting, in an abstract style. 

When I paint an abstract painting I usually follow this thought process:

What is my state of mind?  How do I want to convey my thoughts and emotions?

That leads to, what colors would be best to get my point across?  What sort of shapes do I see?  What will be the focus of the painting, or will there be a main focus?  Etcetera.  The thinking process goes on as long as I need it to and then my hands start working quickly.

Mix the paint on the pallet.  Lay out my brushes.  Act quickly.  Act without thinking.  Let the creative part of my mind dictate my actions but allow the reasonable part of my mind to make critical decisions. 

Is the finished work a masterpiece?  That’s not for me to decide.  The real question I ask is, “does this satisfy me?”

The same goes with cooking, especially stir-fry cooking. 

How am I feeling today?  What kind of meal would complete this day in a meaningful way?

I decide what flavors I want to use.  I decide what meats, vegetables and starches will achieve what I want to convey my thoughts.  I decide how I want the finished dish to look, when it is presented.   

Is the finished work a masterpiece?  That’s not for me to decide.  The real question I ask is, “does this satisfy me?”

Anyone who eats a meal or sees a painting leaves with their own memories, thoughts and feelings.  The intention of the cook or the painter is irrelevant.  I don’t know why that makes me so happy, but it does!

Ingredients:

1 garlic clove, smashed

7 roots of green onion

1 Tbs sesame oil

1 lb lean pork, shaved thin

12 medium sized shrimp, peeled and de-veined

1 tsp sesame oil

5 oz thin Cambodian rice noodles

For the marinade:

¼ cup dark soy sauce

¼ soy sauce

¼ cup Vietnamese chili garlic paste (Sambal Olek works nicely, too)

¼ cup Vietnamese fish sauce (smells funky, tastes great)

For the stir-fry:

2 carrots

7 green onions (just the greens)

¼ head of cabbage, sliced thin

2 Tbs ginger, sliced very thin

2 jalapeños, sliced

1 lime, quartered

For the peanut sauce:

¼ cup soy sauce

1 ½ Tbs Hoisin sauce

1 Tbs peanut butter

1 Tbs brown sugar

½ cup roasted peanuts, crushed

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables:

Slice the garlic, ginger, cabbage, carrots, and jalapeños and green onions.  Arrange separately on a large plate until needed.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to the wok and add the roots of the green onion roots and garlic.  Simmer at low heat.  Turn off heat after 1 minute.   Continue to allow the onion and garlic to flavor the oil.

Prepare the marinade:

Combine dark soy sauce, soy sauce, chili garlic paste and fish sauce in a bowl.

Prepare the pork and shrimp.

Remove the fatty edges of the pork and reserve. 

Use the pork fat to flavor the oil

Slice the pork thinly and store in a bowl. 

Peel and de-vein the shrimp.  Store in the bowl that contains the pork.

Add the marinade to the pork and shrimp.  Store in the refrigerator until needed.

Add pork fat to the wok.  Turn up heat and cook while stirring.  Remove the onions, garlic and pork fat after they char (just a few minutes).  Discard the garlic, onions and pork.  Leave the flavored oil in the wok.

Prepare the peanut sauce:

Add one tablespoon of peanut butter…not in photo.

Crush the peanuts with the broad side of a knife.

Combine soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, peanut butter, brown sugar and crushed roasted peanuts in a bowl.  Transfer to a hot skillet and stir to combine for a minute. Set aside cooked sauce.

Quarter the lime and reserve until serving time.

Prepare the noodles:

Prepare the rice noodles, according to the instructions on the package.  In this case, I soaked the rice noodles in cold water for about 5 minutes until they became soft, but not mushy.  Strain out the water and set the noodles aside, until needed.

Time to stir-fry!

All of the prep work is essential.  Make sure to have everything prepped before you crank up the wok.  Seriously…there’s nothing worse than going full force into stir frying and realizing that you have forgotten to cut some vegetable or meat or realizing that you haven’t prepared a sauce.  Take a moment to review all of the items that you are going to include in the stir-fry and make sure that they are ready to go!  Take the marinated meat out of refrigerator and keep it close, on hand.  Keep some oil near the wok.  Make sure to have your serving plate ready to receive the finished food. 

Now, go!

Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil to the wok.  Cook the shrimp and pork at high heat.  Stir constantly until the shrimp and pork are cooked.  This should only take a minute, or so.  Remove to a bowl and store in a warm place.

Add a tablespoon of oil to the hot wok and add the sliced ginger and a little bit of green onion.  Stir for a moment and then add the carrots and jalapeños.  Stir for a minute, to allow the carrots to soften. 

Add the cabbage and stir constantly.  Once the cabbage has wilted and softened a little, remove all of the vegetables to a large bowl.  Don’t remove the liquid from the wok. 

Add the noodles and stir constantly.  Once the noodles have absorbed some of the liquid in the wok, add the peanut sauce.  Stir to incorporate. 

Return the vegetables and shrimp and pork to the wok.  Stir with the noodles and turn out to a large serving platter.  Top with green diced green onion and lime slices.

Spritz with fresh lime and serve.

Dinner #5: Pizza

If you have seen some of my previous posts you might remember Dinner #1: Spaghetti.  For many years I relentlessly cranked out the same dishes (with some subtle variations) week after week.  Getting kids to eat healthy food was a real trick. 

Pizza was always Dinner #5.  Friday, the last day of the work week, was a day when I knew I could really relax and spend some time in the kitchen. 

I still come home Friday evenings and think, “how about pizza?”  

This time, I made three pizzas. Hamburger with mushroom and onion, Pepperoni and Italian cold cuts with spinach, mushroom, and tomato.

A quick rundown of some of the ingredients and then straight to the pizza…

Ingredients

Capocollo and Calabrese.   These Italian cold cuts are perfect for pizza and many grocery stores sell them packaged together, in 6 to 12 ounce portions.  They are a little pricey by weight but I don’t spend more than $5.00 and they can make two large pizzas!

Pepperoni.  Oh, no!  I accidentally picked up turkey pepperoni at the store.  I don’t like turkey pepperoni but, I put a char on it and pretended I was eating the real deal.

Mozzarella.  I bought “fresh mozzarella” at the store on an impulse.  It’s a step up from the brick of mozzarella but I’m not so sure that it’s worth the cost.  Real, fresh mozzarella is a treasure.  I want to make my own! Freshly grated Parmesan is always a good thing!

If you want to see how I make pizza dough, check it out here

Portions are arbitrary when it comes to pizza.  Put whatever you want on your pizza and use as much as you want, but use some common sense.  My cautionary advice is, if you think you’re putting on too much cheese, you are.  If you think your pizza toppings are excessive, they are.  Simplicity is key to really good pizza. 

Ghost Pepper Rub and Sauce

Well, I couldn’t resist.  I had to try a little bit of the wicked ghost pepper powder that I made a few days ago.

It’s funny.  Normally, when describing a recipe, I might say, use a tablespoon of this and a teaspoon of that but, when it comes to ghost pepper, I think much smaller.

As an example, here is the rub that I used for two large chicken breasts, before breading and frying them.

1 ½ Tbs dried onion flake (crushed into a powder)

2 tsp smoked paprika

1 Tbs salt

2 tsp Tajin seasoning

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp ghost pepper powder

If I did the math right, the amount of ghost pepper in the spice mix is about 13%.  At first thought, 13% doesn’t sound like much but, when that 13% is ghost pepper, it’s impressive.  The curious thing is, when I use a spicy rub on chicken, prior to frying, much of the spiciness diminishes during the cooking process.  So, even though this was a robust amount of ghost pepper, the spice rub didn’t make the chicken unbearably spicy. 

However, the sauce that I prepared for the chicken bumped up the heat, just enough to make me grin with satisfaction.

3 Tbs soy sauce

2 Tbs sriracha sauce

2 Tbs Louisiana hot sauce

1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

¼ tsp ghost pepper powder

See the difference in the ratio of ghost powder in the rub compared to the sauce?

The total amount of sauce is about ½ cup and the amount of ghost pepper powder in the sauce is a mere ¼ teaspoon.   But that’s plenty!  Any more ghost pepper and the sauce would be ridiculously hot.  

I like this sauce.  The overriding flavor comes from the soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  The heat provided by the hot sauces and ghost pepper gives it a nice, spicy kick.

A parting thought…

Tread lightly when adding spice to your sauces.  You can always keep a secret stash of wicked sauce on the table.  Don’t wreck a great meal for others just because you want to push your own taste buds to the extreme.  Same goes with sugar or salt.  Be kind. Be bold. Come back for more when you’re hungry! – The Pick

Ghost Peppers

Of all the peppers that my garden produced this season, these are by far the hottest.  They are insanely hot!  It’s hard to find a way to use them in recipes.  I wouldn’t dare throw one in a stir-fry and I wouldn’t want to take even a small bite of a fresh one.  I like to dry them and crush them into a powder.  Once they are in powder form, I can add a small pinch to sauces or flour dredges when I want a serious kick.

I wear latex gloves when I work with the peppers.  In order to prepare the peppers for the food dehydrator, I cut off the stems and slice the peppers into small rings. 

Then I lay them on the dehydrator tray and I make sure to allow space for the air to circulate evenly.  I put the dehydrator in the garage and ventilate by opening the garage door.  The air that comes out of the dehydrator is nearly lethal.  Seriously.  I take shallow breaths when I am near the chillis. 

I set the dehydrator at 100° and let it run for 12 hours.

Once the peppers are dry and crisp, I put them in a spice grinder and pulverize them. 

I don’t use this spice grinder for anything else because no matter how much I clean it, it still hangs on to some of the oils and residue of the chillis.  I made the mistake of using my coffee grinder once and suffered the consequences.  I cleaned the grinder several times but the coffee beans picked up the heat from the chillis for the next several grinds.  The subsequent coffee brews were painful.

This is a ridiculous amount of spice! It will be used sparingly over the next several years.

Now I’m ready to make some crazy hot wings!