When I think of anything cooked up in a big cast iron skillet, my mind immediately runs to the South. For a gal born and raised in California, my southern roots run deep. Guess I’m just an Okie at heart.
Supper’s ready, I announced to no one in particular. Please get your drinks while I dish it up. This is a regular, one-sided conversation that we have in our house every evening. Hubby did what he usually does, he stood in front of the refrigerator to check our meal planner. Some meals require a tall glass of soda, others milk and others still sweet southern tea. He made a face. What is a French Cassoulet?
I know summer seems to linger. I know, cooking spicy food when it’s still warm outside is seriously crazy, but this recipe from kevinandamanda.com has been on my menu for a while. Life just kept getting in the way – you know, those mundane things like laundry, cleaning the house, and keeping the hardwood floors looking sharp. Excuses, excuses!
Did you know that Spaghetti and Meatballs isn’t an Italian dish? At least not in the way we think of Spaghetti and Meatballs. You know, big, juicy meatballs swimming in a rich red sauce poured over a mountain of spaghetti noodles. In Italy, you will find spaghetti noodles, tomato based sauces and even meatballs of sorts (called polpettes). These are not the meatballs we know and love. They are often eaten plain (as the meatballs alone) or in a soup. The meat is anything from beef to turkey to even fish. Often these meatballs are no bigger than a golf ball. In some regions, there are meatballs no bigger than a marble called polpettines. While polpettes are commonly found at the family table in Italy, they are rarely found in restaurants and never served with spaghetti. If you happen to be in Italy and find “Spaghetti and Meatballs” on the menu, then you have stumbled into a tourist spot that caters to American expectation.
Have I mentioned that Hubby’s all time favorite meal revolves around meatloaf? Somewhere in all the hoopla of birthdays, I always manage to make his favorite meal. Meatloaf, Au Gratin Potatoes and Green Beans has been a birthday tradition for over thirty years. I could be mistaken, but I think making meatloaf at least once a year may have been a part of our wedding vows. A very important part of our marriage vows for a very good reason. I am NOT a huge fan of meatloaf. Growing up, meatloaf made a regular appearance at our supper table. It was cheap to make, filing and we all ate it – even my picky brother. Mom’s was a very basic meatloaf. Ground beef, chopped onions and tomato paste. Bread and an egg were thrown into the mix to stretch the meat and keep everything bound together. If there were ever a meal I could have done without once I was on my own, it was meatloaf. Then one day I met the love of my life – my soul mate. As fate would have it, his all-time favorite food was meatloaf! And not just any meatloaf – his favorite could be found on a box of Lipton Onion Soup – aka Superior Meatloaf. You had to be kidding . . .
I know there are some very complicated recipes out there with all sorts of wonderful ingredients – let’s face it – meatloaf has evolved. And I would hope so, since the first mention of meatloaf can be traced all the way back to Fifth-century Rome. This loaf of minced meat scraps, stale bread soaked in wine and pine nuts was shaped into a large patty that was baked in an oven. Medieval Europe had a meatloaf of scraps of meat mixed with nuts and fruits. Neither of these resemble the meatloaf of today. The modern meatloaf is an American invention with ancestry that spans the globe. Necessity and the Industrial Revolution gave birth to the American Meatloaf. First was the invention of the mechanical meat grinder by German inventor Karl Drais in 1899, and then the hardships of the Great Depression. Scraps of meat could be ground, mixed with fillers and feed an entire family. With the increased strictures of wartime rationing of the 1940s, meatloaf earned its high-ranking position in the housewife’s culinary artillery. Through hardship and difficult times, the meatloaf was a comfort food. Along comes the 50s and 60s, when meatloaf went from a necessity to a liberated food. Women were encouraged to do more with their blobs of ground meats. Sculptures were born. Seasonings expanded the flavor spectrum and meatloaf was no longer our mother’s dish. Still, I don’t care much for the traditional meatloaf.
There are hundreds of recipes out there claiming to be the best. Hubby likes his meatloaf very straight forward without offbeat ingredients. He does not want to find a hard-boiled egg like a giant eye looking back at him. He wants a big loaf of meat that he can happily bury in a bottle of ketchup. It took a while to convince him to let me to deviate even a little in an attempt to bring more flavor and texture to the basic meatloaf. The meatloaf I serve these days is a compromise of sorts. I don’t mind the simplicity of the meal, and he can cover it in a half a bottle of ketchup.
Meatloaf Medley American Style
1 Envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix
1 Lb Ground Beef
1 Lb Jimmy Dean Regular Breakfast Sausage
4-5 Slices of bread, torn into small pieces
3/4 cup Water
1/3 Cup Ketchup
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350-Degrees.
In a large bowl, place ground beef. Place all remaining ingredients, ending with sausage, on top of ground beef. Using your hands, combine all ingredients for meat loaf.
Place in a meatloaf pan (that’s a loaf pan with holes in the bottom inside another loaf pan. It allows the meat to drain rather than sit in its own grease), and bake for 1 hour or until done.
Lift loaf pan from the drip pan, transfer the meatloaf to a serving platter and garnish with a few sprigs of curly parsley.
Serve this simple meatloaf with a side of green vegetables such as green beans or broccoli and cheesy potatoes such as Au Gratin.
I don’t know about you, but I love link sausage for breakfast. I would take sausage over bacon any day of the week. I especially love Johnsonville’s Maple Sausage when serving up anything that involves maple syrup – be it waffles, pancakes or my favorite French Toast.
Now I know there are other maple sausages out there. I prefer the blend of spices and maple of Johnsonville’s sausage. Maybe it’s the Vermont Maple Syrup that makes these links taste so much better. All I know is that I love them. They fries up nicely without creating a skillet of grease. Besides, you get what you pay for, right? The cheaper, store brand sausage just seems to contain a higher concentration of pork fat. I could be wrong, but that’s been my own experience when cutting corners in the pocket-book.
The best way to cook sausage perfectly every time is to steam it first. Once the water has evaporated from the skillet, the sausage is cooked and it’s just a matter of browning off the outside.
Perfect Link Sausage
1 Package Link Sausage
Water as needed
Place sausage in a cold, dry skillet over medium heat.
When the skillet is warm, add about a 1/4 cup of water. The water will start to sizzle as the sausage browns.
Cover skillet with a lid that is just a little smaller than the skillet. This forces the steam to concentrate more around the sausage. Cook covered until all the water has evaporated.
Remove lid, roll sausage with a spatula until browned on all sides. Once nicely browned, remove from skillet and serve.
I know what you are thinking – Gourmet and Banger in the same breath. Gourmet conjures up images of white linens, fine china and fancy foods while Banger brings to mind a pub. Oh, but presentation could transform a simple pub grub into a gourmet dish, right?
Have you ever wondered about the British Banger? I mean, why on earth would anyone call a sausage in casing a Banger? Although some claim that the term “bangers” has its origins in World War II, the term was actually in use at least as far back as 1919. The term “bangers” is attributed (in common usage in the UK) to the fact that sausages made during World War I, when there were meat shortages, were made with such a high water content that they were more liable to pop under high heat when cooked. This “pop” was a bang sound – leading to the affectionate term for sausage as “bangers”.
Much to my surprise, our grocery store carried authentic British Bangers. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Bangers, as it turns out, taste very similar to Bratwurst. If you cannot find Bangers, Bratwurst will work in a pinch.
This dish was very flavorful. The nutmeg in the “mash” gave them a lovely, sweet flavor. The gravy with finely chopped onions and a splash of wine was delicious. About the only thing missing was a pint of ale and a friendly game of darts.
Gourmet Bangers and Mash
Ingredients – The Mash
7 Medium Yukon potatoes, peeled
1⁄2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 Pinch nutmeg
Salt & Pepper to taste
Peel and dice potatoes. Place in a heavy-bottom pot, fill with water enough to just cover potatoes. Season with a pinch of salt.
Cover pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once pot begins to boil, remove lid and continue to boil until potatoes are fork-tender; about 15-20 minutes.
Drain potatoes. Return to pot and allow potatoes to dry over low heat.
Warm milk with two tablespoons butter. Set aside until ready to use.
With a ricer or potato masher, mash potatoes. Once potatoes are mashed, add warm milk-butter mixture a little at time, mashing between additions. Continue to mash and add warm milk until desired consistency is reached. (Smooth and stiff). Season with a pinch of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover and keep warm until ready to plate. (Keeping in a warm oven is a great way to keep potatoes nice and warm).
Ingredients – The Sausage (Bangers)
6 Sausages (British Bangers or Bratwurst)
Olive Oil or Cooking Spray (Pam)
Lightly spray or brush an oven-safe grill-pan with cooking spray. (Just enough to prevent sausage from sticking to the pan.
Place bangers in pan and grill over medium heat until nicely browned, about 6-8 minutes. Rotate bangers and continue to grill until nicely browned on all sides.
Leave bangers in grill-pan and place in a warm oven until ready to plate.
Ingredients – Gourmet Pub Gravy
1 1⁄2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Teaspoon Chicken bouillon granules
1 onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 Cup Red Wine
2 Tablespoons Butter
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat chicken stock with bouillon granules, keep warm until ready to use.
Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until onions just begin to brown.
Sprinkle onions with flour, cook 1 minute. Add Dijon mustard and red wine. Once wine begins to bubble, add warm chicken stock.
Bring to a boil, reduce to low and continue to cook until gravy thickens.
Whisk in 2 tablespoons butter, one 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting for butter to melt into gravy before adding second tablespoon.
Taste gravy, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve: Plate a rounded mound of mashed potatoes on individual plates. Place bangers along side mash. Spoon gravy around plate. If desired, garnish potatoes with a little chopped chives. Serve and enjoy.