A brisk midweek January day, and I'm thinking curry, curry with lots of lentils. Lamb, which consistently ranks in America's top ten most-hated foods, will be the anchor. I'm ticking off the ingredients that I'm out of--cilantro, curry leaf, basmati--as I imagine the kitchen filling with warm spicy aromas. I'll make a raita, too.
Then, I get the phone call. In the midst of the usual domestic blather, one offhand comment pushes my dinner nirvana right out the window. You had lamb curry for lunch? Hmm, sounds good. Suppose you wouldn't want it again for dinner, would you?
Scrambling off in another direction, I quickly rejected alternatives: no Asian, no rice, no Italian (had last night). What's left? Those foods that often appear on a real, not chi-chi, diner menu and were once referred to (and far too often) as comfort foods. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes are stars of the genre, and have been mangled beyond recognition by twenty-five-year-old food writers who think everything is made better by writing: "This is not your mother's______." Yep, everything sure sucked before you came along.
Warning: This meatloaf recipe contains a small amount of Lipton onion soup mix. I believe that those patron saints of the eighties food scene, Rosso and Lukins, had to defend themselves from the burgeoning purist movement when they used onion soup mix in their meatloaf recipe. I make fancy meatloaf (also known as pate), odd meatloaf (John Thorne's sauerkraut meatloaf), but I turn to the one that follows most often .
To two pounds or so ground chuck, add a tablespoon of Lipton onion soup mix (be sure to get a good mixed of both dried onions and powder), a finely chopped shallot, two eggs, a splosh of milk, ditto ketchup, a couple of squirts of hot sauce, salt, pepper, and aleppo pepper (optional). Mush together with your hands until you've got an unholy mess.
Sprinkle with dried, unseasoned breadcrumbs, and blend gently. Sprinkle and blend again. It dawned on me as I was doing this for probably the thousandth time, that what the meat should end up looking like is pretty much the ground beef you started with, except with more stuff in it. Not too wet; not too dry. Meatlike and moist, which will make for a meatloaf with the same attributes.
Shape the meatloaf. Mix some ketchup, hot sauce, and aleppo (or a pinch of cayenne), and spread over meatloaf. Bake on a very lightly greased or nonstick baking pan for about an hour, or until the internal temp is around 140, depending on how you've shaped it. I fancied a ring meatloaf for a time. It will continue to cook as it sits, which it should do for about 30 minutes after it's out of the oven.
Serve with mashed potatoes and frozen peas. Hold the raita.
The NYT food section is pretty much incoherent today: Some yogaistas have roast beef; some yogaistas have none. Others like to eat on the sweaty, stinky floor. And that's the top story. Growlers (64-ounce refillable draft beer containers) are declared to be the lastest fad, then to be older than Jesus.
Sam Sifton's review of Le Caprice begins with this:"There is a wonderful story about the punk-rock chieftain Ian Dury crashing through the place, drunk and outstanding on his cane. It ends with Omar Sharif punching him in the face." I don't even know what that means.
Oh, and you can recreate crappy fast food at home. Except that it will still be crappy, just smaller.
In other news:
Ask a Mexican, a frequent contributor to NPR, pays tribute to Glen Bell, founder of Taco Bell, in the Riverfront Times. [via Topix]
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face! Haggis is about to return to the US after a two decade ban, crows the Manchester Guardian. And during Burns weeks, too.
La Focacceria, aka Vinnie's, closed nearly five years ago. Today, while doing a little post-holiday cleaning, I found this menu under my desk. There was always a bunch of menus on the counter at Vinnie's, although I never saw anyone consult one. The specials were written on erasable wall boards, and the spellings were eccentric in the extreme. I usually ordered the sfinciune, a cheeseless onion-and-anchovy Sicilian pizza, that appeared neither on the menu nor on the wall; nor did the cheesy, meaty rice balls. Both appeared randomly from the kitchen and were deposited on the counter, near where spleen was frying for the vesteddi.
There was once a little Little Italy along First Avenue, from around St. Mark's to East 14th Street. All gone. There are tons of pizzerias, but they are slick and shiny whole-pie joints, none of whose clients drove in from Staten Island to pick up a couple of pies for a confirmation party. I miss Vinnie's and I miss Vinnie, even though he once made a grab at my left boob outside Key Food. Hell, he could have a grab at the right one if I could just have once more slice of sficiune.
During Bruce's sojourn in hail- and rain-blighted New Mexico, I realized that even I could grow weary of a nightly diet consisting of wine, cheese, bread, and leftover Christmas candy. I guess I must be growing up. I was ready to expand my single dining horizons to wine, cheese, eggs, and bread.
Bruce taught me everything I know about eggs. I came from a household where eggs--like everything else--were cooked until well done. The eggs were served browned at the edges and topped with ketchup. I loved them. The first time I was confronted with properly made scrambled eggs, I was shocked. They were moist and creamy and buttery--and utterly revolted me. Only love made me choke them down. Now, I can't imagine life without them (or Bruce, for that matter).
This is the quickest recipe in the known universe. Start the toast as soon as the garlic has started to soften. Chop some garlic or shallots. This can be skipped, but the eggs will be poorer for it. Chop some cilantro (or parsley). Grate some cheese (Jalapeno jack that night, but almost any good melter except mozzarella will work, as will parm.) Break the eggs into a bowl. Add the cheese, herbs, salt, pepper, a slosh of some dairy (cream, milk, sour cream, creme fraiche, scallion cream cheese). Stir until well blended but don't give them a nasty beating. [Note: You can add diced peppers, leftover chopped vegetables, or ham or chicken or shrimp. Very hard to go wrong, as long as you don't add a whole turkey leg.]
Heat a good lump of butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the garlic or shallot. Let cook until they soften, giving them an occasional stir. Should take no longer than four or five minutes. Pour in the eggs. Turn off the heat. Fold them gently until they form large, creamy curds; should take a minute or so. Serve with well-buttered toast and a glass of wine. Follow with Christmas candy.