The best meatloaf I’ve ever had, and it’s mine!

Meatloaf is one of those unsung crowd-pleasing dishes that nobody ever seems to write about. There are some recipes but many times they try to make it fancier than the simplicity of a block of cooked ground meat can sustain. Meat loaf should be simple, comfort food, but there’s still zillions of variations on it. Tonight I decided I wanted a turkey meat loaf and I decided to wing it, no recipe. I had an idea what I wanted to make but it was pretty much unformed until I started.

The thing with ground chicken or turkey is that it has little flavor on its own but it’s great as sucking up and enhancing whatever flavors you add to it. Get it right and it’s delicious, under-season it and it’s gonna be bland bland bland! Also, it’s very lean which is why its so healthy, but a small amount of strategic fat adds a bit of richness and depth. This came out so well that I just had to write it down before I forgot what I did!

1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1kg (2 lbs) ground turkey or chicken (aka turkey mince)
1 egg
2 inches worth crackers or saltines (unsalted). I used table water crackers but any plain cracker will do. If you don’t have them use breadcrumbs. Stale is fine!
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
120g (4 oz) grated cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp ground savory
1/2 tsp ground sage
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
a couple of twists of black pepper
1/3 cup ketchup

for the glaze:
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup sweet soy syrup (or use teriyaki sauce)
Alternatively use a can of condensed tomato soup and add plain soy sauce and a bit of sugar.

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F, 210 degrees C. In a small frying pan put some olive oil and saute the onion on medium heat until it begins to soften, then add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes before removing from the heat. We don’t want them cooked, just have the edge taken off of them. Add them to the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl and mix well. Don’t add any extra salt, you won’t need it. There’s salt in the cheese, soy, and ketchup and that’s enough. Once combined well put a spoon of the mix on a plate and microwave it for a minute, then let cool and taste. There should be a bit of richness from the cheese, saltiness and umami from the soy, and umami, sweet, sour, and saltiness from the ketchup. If you want more richness add cheese, if it needs more zing add a bit more ketchup, and if it needs salt add more soy. Keep microwaving and testing until the balance is right. If you can’t taste the herbs that doesn’t mean you need to add more, this is because the herbs need more cooking time for the flavors to come out. You want the consistency to be thick enough to hold it’s shape, if it’s a bit too loose add some more crushed crackers or breadcrumbs. The crackers and breadcrumbs have 2 functions: one is to make it hold together, the other is to absorb the juices and keep the flavor from running out.
I prefer to put the mix into a bread tin although any dish will you. You can mold this into any shape you want or just lump it into a blob, just make sure whatever you cook it in has sides as there’s going to be some juice! It’s not huge amounts as this dish is pretty lean but there will be some. Don’t pour it away, it’s delicious! Once in the oven this will need to cook 45 minute to an hour depending on the shape you make it. As for the glaze if you want to get fancy you can brush it on halfway through cooking or if you’re pressed for time add it at the beginning, it’s just going to be a bit more crispy. Don’t be sparing, slather it on! Make sure that you get the meat up to 160F/70C as this will kill any salmonella or other bugs, and underdone chicken is horrible tasting anyway. Serve with your choice of starch and veggies.
Everyone loved this at my dinner table tonight. I gave my 2 year old son a big chunk and it all went down the hatch. I’ve been told that we will be having this again.

Pasta with sausages, spinach, and beans

I often cook without a recipe, throwing something together for dinner using a new ingredient or something special I’ve found. Yesterday I picked up some really good sausages from this market that comes once a month to Wanstead. I’ve had them before and they’re outstanding just grilled on their own but I wanted to do something with them that was more interesting. I also found some good spinach as well. So much of the spinach you get in the supermarket is pre-bagged baby spinach and while it is convenient in that you can just open the bag and throw it into dishes or salads it doesn’t actually taste like anything, and if it doesn’t taste like much it probably isn’t that nutritious either. The spinach I got was real big leaf spinach with real flavor.

The reason I talk about the ingrediants so much is that this italian-style recipe is so simple that the quality of the ingredients hugely affects the end result. If you use flavorless sausages and spinach then the dish will be flavorless too. Whenever you make any italian style dishes, or any simple dish, that’s the most important thing to remember. The ingredients below are what I used, you can change the balance to whatever you like, use greens or kale instead of spinach, or put in brocolli or beans, it’s all up to you.
6-8 sausages, whole
1 medium onion chopped
3-4 cloves garlic chopped
2 big bunches spinach, washed and roughly chopped
600ml water
1 knorr chicken stockpot or chicken stock cube
2 tsp dry italian herbs
1 can cannelinni beans, washed
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour
2 tbsp cream (optional)
half a box pasta shells, penne, or whatever you’ve got.
olive oil
vegetable oil

in a large saute or casserole pan (with a lid ) on high heat add a few tbsp of vegetable oil, not olive oil as olive oil geta bitter and can burn on high heat. We are going to brown the sausages without cooking them through. You can skip this step if you like but the browning causes caramelization and adds great flavor, so brown 2 sides of the sausages and remove them to a plate to cool. Discard the oil in the pan and let it cool to medium heat. Start boiling your pasta now. Add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add your onion. Saute until soft, add your garlic and flour and saute another minute or two. The flour is going to thicken the sauce and you want to cook it a bit. Add the water, stockpot or cube, herbs, and bring to a simmer. Don’t add any extra salt, there’s salt in the sausages, stock cube, spinach, and on the outside of the pasta from the salt in the water, and that’s plenty! Add your spinach and cover. Stir your pasta, make sure it doesn’t stick together. Slice your sausages up. After 5 minutes of simmering add your beans and sliced sausages, stir in, and cover turning the heat down to low. Cook your pasta until it is just a bit underdone and then scoop it out or drain it and put the pasta into the pan. If you do drain it save some of the pasta water, you can use it to add extra moisture to the dish if it gets dry. I use a big strainer I got at a chinese supermarket, they are great for scooping pasta.

Put the heat back up to medium-high with the lid off and add your cream and stir. The pasta is going to finish cooking in pan and so will soak up the flavors of the dish. Here’s where you may need to add some of that pasta water. You want there to be enough sauce to coat all the ingredients but not too much. Taste and season if necessary. Once the pasta is done (should be 1-2 minutes maximum) turn off the heat and serve as it is.

This was a real crowd-pleaser, my son even ate some of the spinach and that’s an achievement!

Chili Recipe

I’ve been asked for my Chili Recipe (chili con carne for those in the UK), so here it is. This recipe serves about 4 hungry people (or 3 hungry musicians when I made this for my mother’s singers). Because this recipe uses ground pork and poultry instead of ground beef (mince to the Brits) I like to add some chewy pasta to give lots of bite. Brits usually like their chili with rice so feel free to leave the pasta out if you like. For those who want their chili with beef I suggest frying up the ground beef separately and draining the fat to keep the grease level down. The beauty of this dish is that it can be made a couple of days ahead of time and it just gets better. Make a huge batch and freeze it for months for those days you want something hearty. This isn’t some new-age fancy fusion recipe, this is bold, spicy, rich stuff to warm the cockles of your heart. As my grandfather used to say it “sticks to your ribs”.

The chili will be as good as the ingredients you put in but there’s no need to be extravagant. Good canned tomatoes and quality chili powder will make a better chili but you use whatever you can find. There’s a hundred varieties of chili powder of varying heat levels or flavors. I like to use some smoked powders but you can’t always get those. Mild chili powder, paprika (paprika is just a mild chili powder which is sometimes smoked, nothing more), dulce pimenton (sweet spanish paprika), etc will make a very tasty dish without much trace of heat. To add chili flavor without the heat you can drop in a couple whole mild chilis and then pull them out before serving. If you like heat then use some chopped fresh chili and some hot chili powders. I’m partial to using some smoked chili as I like the flavor.

Here’s some fresh/dried/powdered chili combinations for varying spice levels. Some you can only find in specialty stores but many of them are available at a good supermarket. I usually start with these amounts and add more later if the dish needs it:
1 whole mild chili
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp paprika, smoked if you can find it, or alternately ancho chili powder

1 medium sized chopped mild chili, or if you can find them, a whole smoked chipotle
1 tbsp mild chili powder
1 tbsp hot chili powder (store bought or something more interesting like chipotle chili powder or cuyanne pepper)

hot (and I mean it):
1 large chopped hot chili or a couple of habaneros or scotch bonnets.
1 tbsp cuyanne pepper
1 tbsp chipotle chili powder (use hot supermarket chili as a substitute for either)

I don’t use bottled hot sauces when I make my chili as they are usually too vinegary and many add flavors I don’t like. Using fresh, dried, or powdered chili is cheaper and gives a better result than bottled sauces.

This recipe is very flexible meat-wise and you can customize it for your taste and available ingredients. In the states I usually use a mix of 1 pound (500 grams) ground chicken/turkey and 1 pound italian sausage which you can find in most grocery stores. In the UK you can’t find authentic Italian sausage many places and most popular british-style sausages are too mealy for this recipe, so I make it using either 2 pounds (1 kilo) of ground turkey or half turkey and half pork and spice it up. I prefer to make the sausage an hour or two ahead of time if possible.

pork/turkey sausage:
1 pound ground turkey/1 pound ground pork, or 2 pounds ground turkey
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp ground savory
1 tsp cumin powder
splash of red wine

get in there with your hands and mix well, then refrigerate for 1 hour if possible.

oil for the pan
1 pinch cumin seed
1 red or vidalia onion, chopped medium
3 cloves garlic, chopped chunky
sausage meat from above, or 1 pound ground turkey, 1 pound italian sausage, squeezed out of casings and crumbled
2 regular cans chopped tomatoes
chili mix from above
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil (or add some fresh chopped basil at the every end)
1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
2 tsp unsweetened chocolate powder (or 2 tsp instant coffee)
ground pepper to taste
1 can kidney beans, rinsed (optional)
1 can refried beans (optional)
1/2 box chunky pasta like shells or fussili cooked al dente. (optional)
small handful of chopped fresh cilantro (aka coriander leaf)
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
grated cheese for the top (optional)

heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid until it is hot but not smoking, add the cumin seed and toast for 30 seconds or so until they start to brown a bit (don’t burn them), then add the onion and saute until they start to soften. Add the garlic and saute until onions are soft and start to carmelize. If you have the space and a large frying pan brown the meat at high heat and then add into the pan with the onions as you’ll get better flavor from the meat, but if you don’t have the space or inclination just brown it along with the onions. Once the meat is browned add the tomatoes chili, cumin, oregano and basil, thyme, pepper, and coco. Simmer for at least 20 minutes as the longer you cook it the better it gets. Taste and add more chili or cumin as necessary. Speaking of cumin, this spice is as important to a good chili as chili powder. Don’t skimp! Don’t add any salt yet as salt can toughen the beans, and you may get some salt from the pasta, instead wait to add salt to taste at the very very end. Refried beans make the chili thick and rich but will also deaden the flavors, so if you plan to add them make the chili more spicy and more pungent than you’d have if you were leaving it out.
I prefer to add the kidney beans at least 10-15 minutes before the chili is done if I add them at all as it softens them. Adding them just before it’s done keeps them chewy. Add the refried beans and mix well. Before serving taste and add more chili or cumin to taste. Definitely add salt at this point. Some canned tomatoes are a bit sour so if it’s too tart add a small spoon of brown sugar or honey and try it again. Once you’re satisfied remove from the heat. If mixing in pasta make sure it’s very chewy, there’s no point in adding soggy pasta. Add the fresh herbs and serve.

Note: when tasting anything spicy remember that the heat is concentrated in the oils that collect at the top of the chili. If you skim the top when tasting you’ll get more spice than the rest of the dish, so always stir and try to get a sample from under the top.

– Without the pasta this chili can be used as a burrito or enchilada filling. A great pot-luck dish is to fill a baking dish with enchiladas, pour some mole sauce on the top, cover with cheese and then bake 15-20 minutes.

– you can use any chopped leftover meats instead of fresh ground meats. Marinated pork tenderloin is especially good.