Friday, June 14, 2013

Slow-Cooker Meatloaf

My husband claimed he never liked meatloaf before we met and he tried mine. Since then, I've turned him into a fiend. I had no specific recipe, but I've always been pretty good about "seeing" recipes and pairings. I found out only a few months ago that I apparently inherited that from my 98 year old grandmother, who rarely made the same recipe twice. I often tell Steve we're "experimenting tonight!" but am thankful that very rarely is it inedible.

Today is my wonderful husband's birthday. He is such a large part of my life. I cannot possibly express how I feel about him in a few words on a blog. But suffice it to say that I wanted to try to make tonight's dinner special.  The only problem with our family's birthdays is, depending on the weather, all three can be uncomfortably warm. June; July; September. I wanted to make Steve's favorite meal, but I wanted to attempt it in a manner that would not heat up the house, since meatloaf usually needs to bake for at least an hour. So, I figured I would attempt a slow-cooker version that used less energy and made the house much more comfortable.

I started with attempting to keep this fairly healthy. I didn't want the loaf bathing in grease, but I didn't know what I could possibly use that fit my crock-pot. I dug through pans long since forgotten in the recesses of my cabinet and found this lovely - it is either an expandable hot-pad for dishes on the table, or something to hold a huge roast or bird in the dutch oven. I think it's a stand for hot dishes. Either way, it was this or the steam basket for vegetables, but I thought this would work better.
 Next, I gathered my ingredients. I use ground beef (1 lb), one egg, approximately a cup of oatmeal, and normally large chunks of garlic w/ various herbs. However, I've found these lovely gems by Land O Lakes - these are advertised as saute starters, but they're fantastic to toss into brown rice, saute vegetables before putting into stuffed peppers, or, as I found, to mix into meatloaf. Side note: these do not contain hydrogenated oils or MSG, and I can pronounce every ingredient.
 The only way to thoroughly mix meatloaf, as any chef knows, is by hand. Dig in. Have fun with it.

My finished product rested easily on the hot pad. I added about an inch of water, sprinkled Parmigiano Reggiano cheese on top, put the lid on, and started on high for 10 minutes while I got Syd ready for the park. Right before we left, I switched it to low and left it until dinner time.
What can I say? I meant to take a "finished" picture, but we had a guest for dinner, and in the rush to get everything else done, I forgot. However, it was the most moist meatloaf I have ever eaten. So exquisitely delicious. I don't know if it was the low and slow, the butter mixed in with herbs, or my deft hand at mixing, but there is not even a full serving left over.

Try it out - it was delightful, and a new addition to our summertime repertoire. So, rest easy and know you're saving money on your air conditioning. Let's hope we do not have the joy of triple digits this year.
Bon appetit!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mulberry Cinnamon Jam - Freezer Production

We moved into our house in July, so it wasn't until the following spring that we realized we had a fully mature mulberry tree in the back yard. I loved the idea of making my own jam, but by then I was teaching, coaching outdoor track, and there was absolutely no time for any sort of canning endeavor.

That continued for four years. I just never had a chance to sit down, or when I did, was I passed out asleep. The one year I was determined to make jam, we had a horrible late frost that killed the fruit. Go figure. And then, the baby years hit. And there was not even any thought of attempting jam.

This year, I didn't really think about it, again, until I was mowing last weekend, and I got hit on the head by ripening fruit. Syd was antsy today after his nap and in light of the superstorm that is supposed to be hitting tomorrow, I figured some fresh air and sunshine was a must. We went out to play baseball and ended up picking the berries. When I couldn't reach any higher, we threw his bat at the branches to force the ripe fruit onto the ground. It was an excellent way to wear out a 3 year old!

Before I started with the berries, I washed my jars and left them sitting in scalding hot water in the sink. The lids and rings I rinsed and added to a pot of water sitting on the stove to ensure everything stayed warm (so glass doesn't shatter when the hot fruit is added in).
When you use the fruit, make sure you separate the ripe (deep pink or purple) from the unripe fruit. There are dissenting views in the research I did on the internet, but it seems the unripe fruit can make you ill. It is all so beautiful, though, isn't it?  
I measured about 8 full cups into my large mixing bowl. At this point, put a few inches of cold water in the sink and separate the berry from the stem and drop the berries into the water to wash them. I read that they stain (they do) but I couldn't get the stem off with gloves on. I had to use my thumb nail to snap the stem. I now look like I've been changing the oil in cars for the past month. After you complete this step, very gently lift the berries out of the water. You don't want to bruise the fruit before you have it in the pot.
I tossed the entire collection of washed berries into a large pot and smashed lightly with a potato masher. I then mixed in one cup of sugar (ripe mulberries are quite sweet on their own). I mixed a packet of pectin with another cup of sugar to keep it from clumping, and after another quick mash added this in to the mixture. I then added 4 cinnamon sticks and 2 teaspoons of cloves, put the lid on, and let it simmer lightly for a few minutes.

Chill a spoon in the freezer and dip into the jam mixture. Wait about a minute, and test the viscosity and sweetness of the jam. I loved how the scent of cinnamon came through lightly in the flavor. I can't wait to try this on toast with coffee!

Use a wide-mouthed funnel to help keep from spilling the jam on the rim of the jars. Spoon the mixture in quickly and top with the hot lid and rim. I tightened the lids enough to allow some suction, but let them cool slightly before putting them in the freezer. 
I tasted the remnants as I was cleaning up, and it is delicate, sweet, yet not too fruity. I am also tickled by how viscous the remaining bits were in the pot. I am so happy with what I have here; although I know why it hasn't happened before, I am frustrated that our birds and groundhogs have gotten 8 years worth with no fight from me. If I can manage to get another 8 cups before the season is over, you'd better believe I'll make another batch. 

Let me know if any of you try this out! The cinnamon adds a truly nice spice to the jam. 
Bon appetit!