Tuesday, October 25, 2016

"Meals in Heels" and "She Cooks to Conquer" - Mini Meatloaf and Peas Penelope--the perfect birthday dinner!

 Date I made these recipes – October 16, 2016 – Happy (Belated) Birthday to me!

Meals in Heels – Do-ahead dishes for the dinner party diva by Jennifer Joyce
Published by Murdoch Books
ISBN:  9781741965520; © 2010
Purchased at The Bookcase (now closed), Wayzata, MN
Recipe:  Mini meatloaves with roasted tomato thyme sauce – p. 91

She Cooks to Conquer by Robert H. Loch, Jr.; Illustrated by Laura Jean Allen
Published by Wilfred Funk, Inc. New York
© 1952
Recipe – Peas Penelope – p. 44

So my birthday came and went and it was good which should not surprise me but it always does because for a long while, I was on a bad birthday streak.  It happens.  This year, Andy and I dined at a newer but extremely popular Minneapolis restaurant, Spoon and Stable, and I got a reservation for us without having to put up our home as collateral, huzzah!  And the dinner was not only great but it didn't cost us an arm and a leg.  Hand claps all around.

Still, this birthday gal likes a homemade birthday dinner and since I don't have family around to make one for me based on my requests, I had to do it all by myself.  And I'm happy to report that "myself" did a pretty good job! (Pats self on back.)

I must have been feeling all "woman power" when I selected these books – Meals in Heels and She Cooks to Conquer (a play on words of the play, She Stoops to Conquer, written by Oliver Goldsmith that premiered in 1773.  As a former English major, I knew all this which was why I bought the cookbook years ago.) And I think those titles are pretty spot on given my interests and personality, to wit:  I love shoes, and I do like playing to my strengths both in business and in cooking.

So, the shoes:  I am a frequent DSW shopper, following in the footsteps (pun intended) of my mother who also adored shoes.  My summer shoe collection although vast, contains fewer heels than it used to since I now like a flat, summer casual shoe (and adore flip flops). Come winter though, I switch to boots although anything that has a heel that looks like a toothpick is out. I'm now getting to the age where a slip and fall on high heels on the ice is a recipe for a hip replacement and I kind of like the hip I have.

I'm also probably getting to the age where I should purchase and use, one of the large gel floor mats that chefs use but dang, they're expensive and so I wear flats when cooking.  Heels, like the "heels" in our title would kill me and my back while preparing all these recipes.  But as soon as I'm done cooking and commence entertaining, I'm back in the spike heel game, baby!

This Meals In Heels cookbook is fun but it was written by a Brit and published in England so you'll see metric recipe measures first and then the American equivalents.  Always a total give-away, those metric numbers (that I still don't understand because I don't want to)! No matter, I coped as best I could although I have to say that dividing ingredients whether metric or not, can be challenging for me; "kitchen" math is not my forte (nor is "music" math and most especially "law math" i.e. billable hours).

The table of contents is divided into "Getting Started;" "Canapés;" "Starters;" "Mains;" "Stews & Roasts;" "Barbecue;" "Sides;" "Sweets," and "Basics."  Each section has a decent amount of delicious-sounding recipes.  My meatloaf recipe came from the "Mains" section (p. 91).

Also included are menus that are divided into seasons -  "Spring," "Summer," "Autumn," "Winter," as well as "Celebrations," and within that group, theme parties.  Sample menus are:  "Spring – Indian spice trail and French brasserie;" "Summer – American barbecue and Scandinavian summer;" "Autumn – Italian make-ahead and Movie night;" "Winter – Chinatown feast and Mediterranean dreaming," and "Celebration – Christmas holiday and Black-tie canapés."

And yet with all that, I narrowed down my choices to lasagna or meat loaf.  I know, I know, but it's the comfort food and the birthday food I crave and I am used to.

I hate to say, but the lasagna lost out at the last minute because of two things:  kale and béchamel sauce.  Over the years, I have expanded my lasagna horizons to include vegetable lasagna or even spinach lasagna but I draw the line at kale.  I know it's good for you and I'll eat it in a salad, but it is a crime against humanity to put it in a lasagna.

And as discussed numerous times in this blog, white sauce (béchamel) is not the sauce of my people and does not belong in a lasagna and so there went that.  And so...meatloaf!

My mother's recipe came straight from the back of the Quaker Oats canister and I loved it.  But it is a basic recipe and I was looking for a little more for my birthday meatloaf so I chose today's recipe - Mini meatloaves with roasted tomato thyme sauce.  Plus, you put the word "mini" in front of me and I'm in like Flynn.  I mean think of it—you get a tiny bite instead of a big one, and everyone knows that the word "mini" is synonymous with "less calories," right?  Unless, of course, you eat a "mini" portion(s) equal to a regular-sized one which is allowed under culinary rules when the first "mini" portion is so mini as to not be satisfying, in which case more minis are necessary!

Why do I suddenly feel like Bridget Jones here?

At any rate, that was the meatloaf saga.

As to the veg, these are my  two auxiliary rules regarding meatloaf:  1) it must be accompanied by potatoes of some sort and 2) it must be accompanied by peas.  Meatloaf + potatoes + peas = my perfect comfort/birthday meal.  Who says I'm not good at math—well, besides me?

But careful readers will have seen already that I did not include a potato recipe so what's up with that?  Simply, I did not like the potato recipes I found in the books I used for the other dishes and I did not have time to go routing around for another potato recipe.  And so, dear reader, I bought some "Fingerling potatoes with sautéed leeks," already prepared, from Whole Foods deli where I shopped for the meatloaf meat.  I must confess though, that I was hoping to buy some mashed potatoes from the hot bar buffet but did they have any potatoes that day?  No, they did not, dammit! That said, they had some mac and cheese and so I took a little bit of those.  They are not potatoes but they will do in a pinch.

The peas recipe came out of the other cookbook I used – She Cooks to Conquer – which is a play on a play She Stoops to Conquer.  The play is about a guy (gotta have the guy) who sets out to "conquer" a gal (gotta have the gal) only she outwits him and manipulates him until he falls for her instead of "conquering" her (whatever that means) because that is how these things are supposed to work out. It's your basic "rom com" formula and one that obviously stood the test of time because the play was written by
by Oliver Goldsmith and premiered in 1773.  Yes, you read that right.  I think it's reassuring to know that while many things change in life, this plot framework still works and works well.

Side note:  As an English major, I have always known of this play and author, yet I cannot recall whether or not I actually read it during my studies.  After a while, all these books and titles start to blur.  I can tell you though, that I have read Jane Eyre a million times (slight exaggeration), Antigone several times, all of Shakespeare's works too damned many times and Moby Dick twice when "none" time would have been sufficient.  I hope we can all agree that six hundred pages about a whale is a bit much.

Anyway, this concludes all I know about She Stoops to Conquer and other "good reads."

As to She Cooks to Conquer, here is what the dust-jacket said which is totally laughable in this day and age:  "Now, for the first time, the kitchen sorcery of Circe, that semi-divine enchantress of classical times, is used to bewitch, bewilder*, and enslave the male animal.  Here is a collection of the most man-appealing, taste-titillating recipes for the successful feeding of the MAN who comes to dinner." ( *I can't believe the author didn't include "bother" when he said "bewitch and bewilder" as Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered is a wonderful song by Rodgers and Hart (1940), a song I've sung several times over the years at various musical events.)

My reaction to those statements, you ask?  "Hahahahahahahaha...."  I think I particularly like "enslave the male animal." All I can say is recall that this cookbook was published in 1952 when women's sole job was to get married then stay at home to raise babies while the "MAN" went out to work...and hunt and trap food for the family. 

And so to help the enchantress "enslave" her man,  recipes are divided into chapters as follows:  "Even Had Only Adam but Circe Really Had'em';" "Initiating the 'Vessel Virgin';" "The Portable Primer for Your Man of Extinction;" "The Man Who Came to Dinner" (also the title of a play by George S. Kauffman and Moss Hart, 1939); "Dinner Quartet;" "Midnight Eatiquette;" "The Man Who Stayed for Breakfast," and "Homeric Recipes in English Translation."

I'll just let you ponder those titles for a minute.  Done?  Okay.  Once again, let me just remind you it was 1952.  Still, is there any excuse for this title – "Initiating the Vessel Virgin???!"

This is one of the few cookbooks I have where every recipe is illustrated.  The artist on this endeavor was Laura Jean Allen who illustrated everything from New Yorker covers to books such as Mr. Jolly's Sidewalk Market, Lots and Lots of Candy, A Dragon in a Wagon and The Thirsty Camel

In this cookbook, she broke down all the recipes and steps into illustrations/icons.  The front inside cover contains measurement drawings, for example a drawing of a big spoon which translates into a tablespoon; a half spoon for a ½ tablespoon; an illustration of a coffee cup for a cupful and so on.  And then for the recipe itself, she's drawn ingredients (like a box of peas for my recipe) as well as salt and pepper shakers and so on.  On the one hand, this method was unique – sort of like a kids' cookbook.  On the other hand, I found these instructions to be lacking in detail and I like details!  "Details, details, details...."

As to the recipe, it was good but I tell you what, if you are trying to watch your waistline, this is not the recipe for you because it calls two tablespoons of sugar and one stick of butter. I have to confess that I could not in good conscience add that much so I skimped, adding a lot less of each and I don't think it made any difference to the flavor.  It's rare that I venture off the recipe but I didn't want to end my week-long birthday party with a heart attack!

In conclusion, I got my meatloaf, I got my peas, I got my shoe fix on (boy did I—DSW offered me a birthday coupon and who am I to pass it up...so I bought two pairs!), and I cooked to conquer.

It was a grand birthday.  Until next year!

Mini meatloaves with roasted tomato thyme sauce – makes 6
Prep time 20 mins/cooking time 1 hour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
10 ½ oz minced beef
10 ½ oz minced pork
¾ cup fresh breadcrumbs
2/3 cup tomato passata* (Ann's Note:  see explanation below)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon chopped thyme leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
7 oz mini roma (plum) tomatoes, halved
3 teaspoons caster (superfine) sugar, for sprinkling

*Passata is a pureed tomato sauce.  Internet research though, showed a wide variety of recipes and definitions.  The most basic ones just contained pureed tomatoes with a bit of salt.  Others wanted you to cook the sauce, adding basil and other spices, which to me says "spaghetti sauce."  I decided to use Pomi Strained Tomatoes "straight up" and think it worked okay.

Preheat oven to 325F.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and carrot, season with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes or until softened.  Remove and transfer to a large bowl.  Add the beef, pork, breadcrumbs, half of the passata, Worcestershire sauce, egg and half the thyme to the bowl, season with salt and pepper and gently mix with your hands until well combined.

Divide among six 4 x 2 inch-sized ramekins and spoon over the remaining passata.  They'll seem very full but will shrink during baking.

Top each with a handful of tomato, ½ teaspoon sugar and season with salt, pepper and remaining thyme.  Bake for 50 minutes or until sauce is thickened.  Top with thyme sprigs to serve.

Peas Penelope – serving size not listed but easily served 4 or more
Ann's Note:  As I mentioned above, the ingredients for each recipe are illustrated rather than listed in the traditional way (e.g. 1 10-oz box frozen peas) and so I had to guess at the peas. 
1 box of peas, frozen
1 large clove of garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons sugar (Ann's Note:  wow, this seemed like a lot!)
1 stick butter
¼ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon tarragon

Cook the peas according to directions on package (use minimum of water).  Ann's Note:  I have to say, I wasn't sure what to do here:  use the amount of water according to the directions or to skimp on that amount so as to use a "minimum amount of water?"  This puzzled.  So I used the amount of water listed on the package and then split the difference and drained some out!  I'm not normally that indecisive!

At the same time you are cooking the peas, add the clove of garlic that has been speared on a toothpick.  Also add the spices and then the butter.  Cook the peas a few minutes longer than the instructions on the package, then remove the garlic and serve.

Ann's Note:  Although this dish was good, I have no idea what the end result was supposed to look or taste like.  But hey, play with it and make it your own!

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