Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fantastic Meals. Number 98 of The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals of all Time.

Number 98
Greens-stuffed Meatloaf.

            A meatloaf in my Top 100 Meals? Yes—meatloaf. And, yes, greens-stuffed. First, let’s look at what we have so far. Number 100 in the Top 100 Meals was leftover Shrimp & Eggplant Casserole, and number 99 was the Southern-Style (Chicago) Hot Dog. Yum. Can a measly meatloaf rise to such heights as to be named Number 98? Well, if it’s Greens-stuffed Meatloaf, indeed it can.
When you’re feeding a large family, as I had to do for many years (Our family consisted of two adults and four kids, aged 5, 10, 14, & 15 when my wife and I married and I was named head cook—a story unto itself), finding ground-beef-based recipes that are liked and will be eaten by everyone involved is a necessity. It can also be a chore. As a rule, everyone loves “The Big-Four Beefy Dinners”—tacos, lasagna, spaghetti, and California. (I’ll explain California later. It’s higher on the list. It’ll also be one of your Big-Four Beefy Dinners) Those four are obvious winners, loved by one and all, but meatloaf? Stuffed with greens? It’s difficult enough to get kids to eat greens, no matter how you fix them, but to “ruin a good meatloaf,” as my kids liked to say, is “heresy.” Actually, the greens in this dish are almost tasteless. The hard part is getting kids to try it. That’s why the greens are hidden.
2 cups frozen greens (turnips, mustard, or spinach—2 -10oz. pkgs.). Cooked!
1 onion, chopped.
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ lbs. ground chuck
1 ½ lbs. Italian sausage (ground, or removed from casings)
4 slices whole wheat bread, toasted, torn into pieces
1 teaspoon–1 tablespoon Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
2 eggs
1 jar good salsa (I prefer Jardine’s—expensive, but oh-so-good)
Spray oil. I like canola.

            Cook the greens first. Actually, choose the greens first. Even I wasn’t brave enough to try turnip or mustard greens on our kids. I used spinach. It’s milder in taste and well-known. Ask a kid what mustard greens are, and he’ll most likely shrug his shoulders and pretend you’re from outer space. My advice is—especially, if this meal involves children—use spinach. Once the kids have flown the coop—or have been pushed out of the nest, as must often be done—you can get a little crazy and try the stronger greens. In fact, I’ve never tried collards. I love collards, but I’m afraid they’re too strong for this dish. My advice, therefore, is use spinach the first time you attempt this dish.
My main point is, if you’re trying to plan ahead, and you’re on a schedule, don’t forget this step. Cook the greens. Cook ‘em and drain ‘em. Then preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When I cook, I like to plan the meal so everything comes together just before we plan to eat, and with kids, if you don’t plan to eat at a certain time every night, you’ll be sitting at the table with your mate, and that’ll be it—especially, if the kids find out you’re experimenting with them again. I have a bad habit of scanning a recipe like this one, and missing the precooking part. For instance, I’ll say, “Okay—fifteen minutes prep and one hour to cook. Let it sit five. Giving myself a ten-minute margin of error, I come up with a total of 80-90 minutes.” If I forget the pre-cooking, not only will my “margin of error” disappear, I’ll most likely be ten to fifteen minutes late with the meal. Maybe your kids don’t grumble—mine sure did. Hell. They still do.
            So . . . after you’ve precooked the greens, sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft—about five minutes. Add the cooked greens. Cook three more minutes. The oil will be taken up by the greens so keep an eye on them and don’t let them burn.
            Wash your hands. Wash ‘em good. Combine chuck, sausage, toast, Tony C’s, eggs, and salsa in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Yes—you must plunge your hands into the gooey mess. Be brave. Don’t over-mix but be sure all are well combined.
            Next comes what I call the “cater-to-my-wife” part. You see, my wife, Linda, won’t eat greens. Not now. Not a one. When we had kids in the house, though, she did. I can’t recall her ever complaining when I prepared greens. She now claims it was her “solidarity plan.” She was gonna back me, no matter what I fixed. Well, this isn’t entirely true. Linda was right beside the kids when they mutinied over my many attempts at fish soup. And calves’ liver. I’m sure there were more, but they don’t come to mind right now.
Anyway, Linda’s a native Southerner, born in Montgomery, Alabama, and was raised by a Southern father who grew greens in his garden, loved to eat greens, and tried to feed greens to his children. Yet, I have never seen a collard, mustard, or turnip-green pass my wife’s beautiful lips. She pretty-much bypasses the mustard family. Linda will eat cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, but hides when I fix kale, Brussels sprouts, or kohlrabi. I’ve never seen my wife try horseradish, one of my favorite condiments. In fact, I’m not sure she likes the condiment, mustard. She’s a ketchup woman. She’ll eat spinach, but only as a last resort. And spinach, as any good Southerner knows, is not Southern. Did Popeye have a Southern accent? Have you ever seen what happens to little spinach plants when the first hot day in Alabama in April hits them? They bolt. They bolt like Linda when I fix collard greens. And, most of all, spinach isn’t in the mustard family—it’s a durned old goosefoot. That’s right—spinach is in the goosefoot family. Why would anyone eat goosefoot plants when they could devour mustards?
Therefore, and anyhow, when I make this dish, now that the children are gone and my wife doesn’t feel she needs to set a good example for them by showing “solidarity,” I leave all hint of greens out of her portion of the meatloaf. Even the goosefeet greens. Or is it geesefeet? And back in the days when we were feeding a horde of children, I used spinach, knowing I’d have a war on my hands if I tried to make my wife eat real, as-good-for-you-as-they-taste, Southern greens. Dutifully, my wife ate the meatloaf stuffed with spinach. Nowadays, when I make the dish, I suit myself—I use mustard or turnip greens, or whatever I have in the freezer—for my portion, and I make another pan just for my wife that’s all meat. It gives us fodder for dinnertime conversation. “Feeling a bit superior, are we?” Linda will say. “A bit,” I answer, chewing my greens as distinctly as I can. Let’s face it—ground beef takes little chewing. I prefer the turnip greens with chopped turnips in them—they resemble little potatoes—and I can hoist them up on my fork, waving them about in the air before I shove them into my mouth. I know she can see the little “taters.” And, yes, when I eat my meatloaf with greens in front of my wife, I do act and feel superior. I must. You see, this is the same woman who can work the Thursday New York Times crossword puzzle in the same time it takes me to finish the Tuesday one. She’ll hold it up for me to see. I cheer. I praise her. And I take my own boasts when and how I can.
            So . . . since I must make two different dishes, I divide the meat portions in half. Using two disposable aluminum pans (8”x 3 ¾”x 2 ½” deep), I spray them both with canola oil and put half of the meat from my portion in one pan, and all of the other portion in my wife’s pan. Hers is ready to cook. It is also oh, so plain, so pedestrian. Oh, well.
In my pan—the portion that will taste oh-so-much-better—I add the cooked onion and greens mixture on top of the first layer of meat, then add the rest of the meat. Back when I was cooking for a crowd, knowing they were going to eat the spinach, whether they liked it or not, I used a larger pan—an 11 ¾” by 9 ¼” by 1 ½” deep, or a 9” square pan—for the entire batch. If you are so lucky, so fortunate, as to be able to make a single meatloaf, rather then two smaller ones, use the larger, single pan. 
In mine, I don’t care whether it looks like a traditional meatloaf or not, but in the larger version, you should. In yours, place the greens in the center of the meat, keeping them away from the sides a tad, and place the second batch of meat on top. Once again, stick your hands into it, forming a sidewall and seaming the edges together, so that when you un-pan it, the result looks like it’s an all-meat meatloaf. It’s much more fun this way. Imagine yourself sitting there, watching an unsuspecting child who thinks he’s about to dig into an all-meat meatloaf. He slathers it in ketchup, cuts off a huge bite bigger than his mouth when it’s wide open, and his fork freezes, an inch from being devoured. Oh, the joy. Oh, the laughs. Oh, what a liar I can be. I only wish that you, too, will have as much fun as Linda and I had convincing our children there was nothing else in the house to eat and all the pizza places were closed for the night. Greens-stuffed Meatloaf is not a dish for the timid to prepare.
            Onward! Cook for one hour. Have a beer. Have two or three. You deserve it. Plus, you’ll need the courage beer will give you. The hard part—getting the kids to eat your creation—is just beginning. Take the pan or pans from the oven and let it or them sit five minutes. Using gloves or hot pads (I use a wad of paper towels because my wife gets upset when she has to wash the hot pads, and they’re about to get greasy), pour off accumulated grease. Please don’t pour it down the sink. I save glass jars and tops just for this purpose. Then—over the sink—if you used the small pan, take a wad of paper towels, about four plies thick, enough to cover your entire palm, and holding the paper towels against the top of the meatloaf, flip the pan and shake the loaf loose. If you used a large pan to cook the loaf in, cover a plate with two plies of paper towels and use the plate, not your palm. Holding the loaf in your palm, minus the pan, put a serving plate on top (the bottom of the meatloaf) of the loaf, and flip it back over. If you’ve poured off most of the hot grease, you’ll be okay. If not, and you burn yourself, consider it a part of cooking. Without battle scars and wounds, how can we truly say our job is worthwhile? Knife cuts, hot-pan singes, and stupid hot-grease burns, are the merit badges we proudly wear to show our dedication to the Crazy Cook’s Club—we who slave away for little praise, living in the belief that we are preparing good-tasting meals that are inherently healthy, to boot. We deserve to act superior.
            Okay—it’s time to enjoy the meal. I would place a huge bottle of cheap ketchup on the table for the kids and the wife. On my end I’d have a smaller bottle of Heinz Chili Sauce. I didn’t share the good (expensive) stuff with the kids. Still don’t. The wife? Sure. But only if she asks. They all prefer plain ketchup, anyway. And now the hard part—getting the “others” to try your creation. I mean, seriously, when covered with either ketchup or chili sauce, the greens can’t be tasted. Go ahead, dig in. You can eat while all the others sit and fume, wondering why you’re so mean to them. If I’ve heard “Can’t we just order a pizza? We’ll pay for it ourselves,” once, I’ve heard it a hundred times.
            This dish reminds me of a story. In our house, where I was the cook, our kids were told that they could invite their friends over to eat whenever they wanted, as long as we had a little advance notice. Kids don’t think these things through. Not many kids visited us at suppertime more than once. For one thing we had rules. The first and foremost rule was no telephone calls during the meal. Not even I could rise to answer the phone. I’d turn the ringer down or off, so we wouldn’t be tempted. Nowadays, with hand-held devices, it’s much harder, but we still enforce the rule when the kids visit—we’re having dinner, not a gabfest with strangers. The second rule was that everyone—everyone, even the guests—had to read a newspaper article before we ate. I’ll go deeper into this one at another time, saying only that this rule saved Linda and me from strangling our kids through their teenage years. Well—to continue the story—after three or four of their friends joined us at various times and sat—with a recently read newspaper article in their heads, and the prospect of eating an entire meal without even one phone call, and staring mystified at a mound of greens-stuffed meatloaf, or a pile of braised Brussels sprouts, or a steaming bowl of hot fish soup—we spent most of our meals without the presence of strangers at our table. To tell you the truth, not having strange, unruly teenagers eating with you isn’t so bad—especially when they’re smarmy young boys who are there only because you have a pretty daughter for them to gawk at. Hey—try serving up some Greens-stuffed Meatloaf and see if you don’t feel the same way.

   Here’s good cookin’ comin’ at ya. Earl. 

1 comment:

  1. Our kids hate meatloaf, too. They claim that we fed it to them too often while they were growing up.

    We often have meatloaf on Wednesdays if lean ground beef is on sale at Publix. (I want to use ground beef the same day I purchase it.)

    I use a two-piece loaf pan. The upper part has holes in the bottom and nestles into the lower part. The grease cooks away and drips into the lower part.