Sunday, February 10, 2013

Playing With Your Food

One thing that I love about what I do as a musician is the downtime between my runs to Nevada and wherever else the music takes me. I'm at home with my wife and family, and I cook for everybody several times a week, basically alternating days with my mother, while my little brother pitches in once a week or so. And I get to make wonderful meals that everyone enjoys, unbeknownst to one little detail: I'm experimenting on them.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not going all Josef "Angel of Death" Mengele on them. No, my level of experimentation is much more subtle than that. I like playing with recipes, modifying and mutating them, seeing how far I can push the envelope before somebody tells me that the dinner I just prepared was too hot/bland/salty/sweet/what-fucking-ever for them. But I don't really hear that very often - except when I bust out the Thai curry pastes I love. But tonight's meal wasn't Thai, not by any stretch of the imagination. Just a simple meatloaf. But if you know me, you know that I'm just not capable of simple. I've just got to fuck with things a little.
My meatloaf recipe is pretty safe and straight-forward: a pound of hamburger, a pound of pork sausage, with some diced onions to add a little crunch, and eggs and panko to act as a binder. sometimes I'll throw something else into the mix, like a package of chorizo. And then there's the Mighty Bacon Bomb, which aside from being king-sized gets its name from the woven mat of bacon that evelops in in wonderful flavor while keeping the loaf moist.
This time around, my variation was adding tiny pieces of salt pork to the mix, left over from when my mother made potato balls for our birthday. Yes, I was my mother's 23rd birthday present. Some present, right? I fried up the salt pork to get the pieces nice and crispy, then laid the lardons, (as the French call it) on a plate that went in the fridge to cool them down before throwing them into the loaf mixture. The loaf goes into a loaf pan (natch), then into a 400-degree oven for thirty minutes. The loaf got pulled from the oven at that point, to be basted with a homemade barbecue sauce before going back into the oven for another fifteen minutes. After that, the loaf is pulled from the oven and very carefully turned out on to a cutting board, and the rest of the loaf is basted with the barbecue sauce and allowed to rest for about ten minutes before serving.
I've got several layers of experimentation going on here all at once, and the next layer is the sauce. The barbecue sauce is make for meatloaf is based on a recipe from of all people, a Canadian internet porn star named Elli. For the record, I'm not a member of her website (NSFW), and I found her blog quite by accident, but I am kinda partial to her stage name (it's my granddaughter's), not to mention the sheer variety of topics she covers on her blog, and the sometimes brutal honesty she puts into it, which in turn inspred me to start the blogs I write. Elli's barbecue sauce recipe was something I discovered while I was still living in Reno, and I've tweaked it enough times to make it into something truly my own. If you want the recipe, I'm pretty sure it's in the archives here, so start digging if you want it!
When I make proper barbecue, like ribs or pulled pork, I make my recipe straight. But when I make meatloaf, I change things up a little bit, primarily by swapping out apple cider vinegar for balsamic vinegar, and reducing the amount of garlic I use, though this time there was no garlic in it at all - kinda odd for me, right? I also tried something else totally new to me, adding a shot of whisky into the mix.
I have to digress here for a minute. If you know me, you know that I don't drink. And when I say that I don't drink, it's not that I started then stopped. I never started drinking. Growing up with mean drunks for a father and older sister, I decided that it was simply easier to not go down the path they followed and not drink at all instead of becoming an alcoholic, and then a recovering alcoholic. The downside to not being a drinker is that there's a lot of good recipes that require alcohol, and since I never allowed my palate to be exposed to alcohol, I really don't know that much about what kind goes best with what recipe. I'm willing to give it a taste, to see what's good with what, but I don't trust my palate all that much because I'm bascially fighting my own aversions to alcohol to try to learn about using it as ingredient, instead of as an intoxicant. Here's more or less what tonight's meatloaf sauce was comprised of:
One 15oz. can of tomato sauce
One shot (1.5oz.) of whisky
One pony shot (1 oz.) of balsamic vinegar
One pony shot of soy sauce
Three to four tablespoons of brown sugar
A few dashes of the hot sauce of your choice to taste - tonight I used plain old Tabasco
Three drops of liquid hickory smoke
In a saucepan over medium heat, add the ingredients in order, then bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about twenty to thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.
Along with the loaf was my first attempt at a cold pasta salad from scratch. The same day my mother made potato balls, I was asked to make an appetizer that everyone in the family loves - homemade mozzarella cheese. Really, making your own mozzarella is piss-easy. Go google 'make your own mozzarella' and you should be rewarded with a good recipe right off the bat. After breaking the loaf of mozzarella I made into little balls (a gallon of milk will produce about a pound of mozzarella), I marinated the cheese and some halved kalamata olives in a mixture of store-bought italian dressing and store-bought balsamic vinaigrette, and that was when the idea of using making a pasta salad with the cheese and olives hit me. So I went to Wal-Mart the next day and bought some rotini (corkscrew) pasta, and figured that I'd have to do this in the next few days, so I wouldn't forget.
So tonight I boiled the pasta long before I started making the meatloaf, then drained the pasta and put it into a bowl that went into the fridge to cool off for a while. Once the pasta was sufficiently cooled, I grabbed my cheese and oilves from the fridge and diced up the lot of it before throwing it in with the pasta and tossing the salad together to make sure the pasta was coated with the marinade, with the bonus action of tossing the salad being breaking up the cheese into even smaller pieces. The salad still seemed kinda dry to me, so I added some more of the balsamic vinaigrette to the salad, then returned the salad to the fridge to let the ingredients marry. While the verdict from the family was that the salad was very good, they agreed with me that it was still a touch dry, and could've used a touch more dressing.
I guess that what I'm trying to say is to never stop experimenting, even if you think your recipe is already perfect. Play with your food - it's always worth the effort. And my family always appreciates my efforts.