Monday, July 25, 2016

"The Northern Exposure Cookbook" (based on the TV show of the same name) - Ruth-Anne's Meat Loaf

Date I made this recipe:  July 19, 2016 – The heat wave is coming, so let's go North to Alaska! (1960 song sung by Johnny Norton)

The Northern Exposure Cookbook – A Community Cookbook from the Heart of the Alaskan Riviera Based on the Universal Television Series "Northern Exposure" Created by Joshua Brand & John Falsey – by Ellis Weiner
Published by:  Contemporary Books
ISBN: 0-8092-3760-1; copyright 1993
Purchased from Barnes and Noble Used Books Online
Recipe:  Ruth-Anne's Meat Loaf – p. 71

And so as is usual and customary, we are now having our annual one-time-a-year-whether-we-need-it-or-not heat wave.  And as always, I remain amused by the Armageddon that has resulted.  You'd think we never, ever experienced such hot temperatures, such the is picture of doom and gloom.

I blame much of this hysteria on local meteorologists.  Whereas once upon a time they just reported whether it would be hot or cold, rainny/sunny/snowy, now they scare the crap out of people reporting the "heat index" in the summer and "wind chill" in the winter. 

In the winter, every weather report tells us the actual temperature – e.g. -10, but oh my, "the wind chill index is going to feel like -50." "Do not go out unless you have to," they report.  "Do not!"  "You may die out there."  "It only takes a minute for flesh to freeze" (I kid you not, that's what they say.)

And so schools close because apparently parents who could normally dress children for  -10 lose the ability to dress their kids for -50 wind chill. 

People who could normally make it to work on time also lose their minds and feel like they have to stay home to warm up their cars when in fact, most "modern" cars warm up just fine in this weather.  The car doesn't know the temperature but the owner sure does.

And folks, it has been a long time since we've had temperatures in the -20's and -30's but the rules for going out in the winter hold no matter what the cold weather brings:  dress in layers.  Wear a hat, wear comfy boots (they can still be fashionable), and wear a jacket.  Avoid bikinis and shorts until the temperature hits 50 degrees in March or April (at which time, I kid you not, you will see people breaking out the summer gear.)

In summer, we have the dreaded and dangerous heat index.  The "heat index" is a thing to be feared.  Where once upon a time we survived just fine if it got hot out (let's say 85 degrees or warmer), now, with the heat index pointed even higher than the actual temperature, we have chaos.

"The temperature today is going to be 91 but it FEELS LIKE 101."  Stay inside.  Get nothing done.  Do not look at the sun.  Take cover!  Take cover!

I will concede that dangerously low temperatures and ridiculously high temperatures can be fatal to kids and the elderly (especially the heat) but honestly folks, this is Minnesota we're talking about here.  Only newbies to the area don't dress correctly and that once included me.   Although I came from snow country (lots and lots of snow), I was unprepared for the bitterly cold negative temperatures when I first moved here and when I missed the bus one cold night and had to wait in boots that were not suitable for cold, I got a minor case of frostbite on my toes.  Lesson learned.  If you take a moment to throw fashion principles aside and dress appropriately, you too, can survive these extreme temperature fluctuations.

Which brings me to Alaska.  I have only a small handful of states to visit in my lifetime, including Washington (state), Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming (I think.  That state may have been a "drive-by" (drive-thru) state), (inexplicably) Alabama and Alaska.  And let me be very clear on this:  while I may, someday, visit the remaining states, there is no way I'm willingly (or unwillingly) going to Alaska.  If I had a bucket list, it would not even make the top 1,000 cut.  

Why? Well for one thing, even though Alaska is often warmer than Minneapolis, it is still a pretty chilly place as some areas really get down into the subzeros, making Minnesotans look like a bunch of pussies for complaining about -10. Plus, they have that perpetual sun problem in the summer and almost absolute darkness in the winter and that just doesn't work for me.  Messes with the mind, it does.  Finally, there's the Nature "problem" and by "problem," I mean there's just too much Nature there for me.  And at the risk of repeating myself, my life mantra is – I kid you not – "Nature is NOT your friend."  I don't do wilderness treks to "Nature," "I don't like to encounter Nature in its natural habitat, and I will be just fine if I don't have a close encounter with a polar bear, thank you very much!

And yet, the praise for Alaska just keeps coming.  "Oh, it's gorgeous, you should go there!" 

"No."  "But..."  "No."  "No, no, no."  Between the weather and the sun/no sun and your overabundance of Nature, it is not for me.  There is nothing fun about a moose on the loose.  Nothing.

Unless, of course, you are watching the opening credits to the hit TV show, Northern Exposure, where a moose strolls through town, all nonplussed about what it sees or doesn't see.  I like "TV" moose as no harm befalls a viewer who is safely ensconsed behind a TV screen.  And can I just say that "Moose and squirrel" i.e. Rocky and Bullwinkle, was one of my favorite TV cartoons?  It was.  (I also adored the evildoers Boris and Natasha.) (Can't forget to mention Mr. Moose and his ping pong balls from Captain Kangaroo!)

And so since TV moose are good moose, you shouldn't have any difficulties cooking from The Northern Exposure Cookbook, based on the hit TV show (1990-1995) of the same name.

The stars of that show, including the moose on the loose, were all residents of the Alaskan town named Cicely, a town that became home to Dr. Joel Fleischman, a newly-minted (and very neurotic) Jewish doctor who moves from New York to tiny town Alaska to work off his medical loans.  In my family, we likened Dr. Fleischman to my brother, (Dr.) Tom, who also paid off med school loans by moving to Gallup, New Mexico to work in a low-income clinic. Unlike me, Tom very much likes Alaska and he and his wife visited there a while back.  Tom loved that TV show, a show that showcased how Dr. Fleischman was such a fish out of water compared to the town's inhabitants who were (naturally) quirkier than all get out. 

In addition to "Fleischman," we have Maggie, the bush pilot; Maurice, who owned half the town and was a former astronaut; Officer Barbara, his no-nonsense law enforcement girlfriend;  Ruth-Anne who owned the local store; Holling and his much younger wife, Shelly, who own and operate the local saloon; Chris ("In the Morning") who is the local DJ and who likes to philosophize about everything, and Ed and Marilyn, two native Alaskans who added much humor to the show.  Ed is the resident jack-of-all trades who is pretty intelligent despite coming across as a dim bulb, and Marilyn is Dr. Fleischman's receptionist who is very quiet, almost eerily so,  but when she speaks, she speaks volumes. Other characters filled in the blanks and some newer series regulars appeared in later seasons, but this was our core group.

Out of this entire group, my least favorite character was Chris "In the Morning," the local radio DJ, played by actor John Corbett.  And I have to say, but I did not warm to his character, Aidan, on Sex and the City, either. (She was meant to marry Big folks, not Aidan.  Period.)

The nod for favorite though, has to go to Fleischman (Rob Morrow) as his attempts to fit his New York personality into small town Alaska were hilarious.  And runner-up for favorite went to Maurice Minnifield, played by actor Barry Corbin, especially after he started going out with Barbara, a serious-as-a-heart-attack officer who gave Maurice (a run for his money. Barry Corbin also appeared years later in the TV show, The Closer, as Clay Johnson, father to the protagonist, Brenda Leigh Johnson.  Loved him in both roles.

So that's the recap about the show and about Alaska and now we turn our attention to the cookbook. But I must say, if you were expecting quirky food, or "native" foods of elk, moose, bear, etc., from this cookbook to go along with this quirky cast of characters, you'd be disappointed (although there is a recipe for Mooseburgers –substitute ground beef).  Instead, we are treated to "regular" food like casseroles, lasagnas, and even a Jell-0 salad, the salad compliments of Joel Fleischman.  Almost all recipes are prefaced with a story, and in the back is a complete list of recipes and the episodes in which they appeared.  I like that.

One observation though:  While I am not saying that food provisions that we enjoy here in the Lower 48 don't get delivered to Alaska, I do feel that securing some of the items needed for these recipes back then (1990-1995) might have been a bit of a stretch.  Blue cornmeal?  (Page 34) Risotto? (Page 128).  I do recall though, that shopkeeper, Ruth-Anne could order almost anything and so I'm going with that.

Today's dinner came down to two choices:  Shelly's Hot Dog and Cheese Casserole (page 78) and Ruth-Anne's Meatloaf (page 71).  Both sounded great, but I to try Ruth-Anne's meatloaf and I was not disappointed. (Ruth-Anne's character was always pretty chill (pun intended) and made me laugh.)  I made half a recipe which was just right for two people.  If, as a kid, you ate your meatloaf with ketchup and mustard, then you'll be happy to know that both of these condiments are included in the meatloaf mix.

This then, concludes my I am not going "North to Alaska" even if it is one of the hottest days of the year.   Unfortunately though, I cannot console myself watching old episodes of Northern Exposure because they don't air on cable – yet.  Life can be so cruel....

Ruth-Anne's Meat Loaf – Makes 6-8 servings (Ann's Note: Also divides well)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup milk
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped white onion
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons catsup
1 ½ pounds ground chuck
1 ½ cups soft bread crumbs
3 strips uncooked bacon

Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat egg lightly in a large bowl.  Add salt, pepper, thyme, mustard, milk, celery, onion, and ¼ cup catsup, mixing ingredients well.  Add chuck and bread crumbs and mix well until thoroughly combined.

Transfer mixture to a 9 ¼-inch loaf pan.  Spread the remaining 2 tablespoon catsup over the loaf and top with bacon strips.  Bake for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and let set for 10 minutes before slicing.

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