Monday, January 31, 2011

Cooking as a dramatic sport….sure, why not?

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I like to watch cooking shows; have both Food Network Channel and The Cooking Channel on my television lineup.  One show I have been watching is “Worst Cooks in America”, and this is their second season, featuring last season’s winner, Anne Burrell, and challenger, Robert Irvine.   The premise is average, everyday people, who cannot even boil water, and if they did, they would burn it; they are put on teams (red or blue).  The chefs teach each team member a dish which has to be, usually, replicated; or, for a challenge, each person has to come up with something original.  There is a cash price for the overall winner; one person is chosen for each team, must cook a gourmet meal for judges who determine the overall  winner, and, thereby, the winning chef.   
My problem with the show is, mainly, the recipes; they can be complicated, and for a beginner, I don’t believe they’re given enough time to reproduce the dish, and get it as close to perfect as they can.  A professional can get a dish together, start to finish, in 30 minutes, but a beginner would take more than 40 minutes for sure.  Ah, but that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?  I mean, how can the show be interesting and dramatic if all the chefs did was teaching, and not add pitfalls in?  If all one wanted to do was see recipes done by a professional, all they have to do is watch any of the numerous shows on either channel.
Back in the 1990s, I taught cooking for Adult Education; I enjoyed sharing and teaching.  Some of the students were clueless, so I worked harder with them; some students were know-it-alls, and I wasn’t really sure why they were in the classes at all, since they already knew everything.   Sometimes I would hold a class in my own home for those who couldn’t make the classes at the school, or just needed to learn basics fast (usually brides-to-be who wanted to impress the new husbands-to-be).     When it comes to cooking and beginners, patience is a big virtue; you have to ease them into the techniques and the terminology, or they will be so lost, they’ll never be found.
So, what would be an easy dish to teach a beginner, what about a favorite American comfort food like meatloaf?  Not only is meatloaf easy to make, it is very versatile.  It can be made with any type of ground meat or poultry, even combinations of same.  I remember when supermarkets sold a meat mixture of ground beef, pork and veal (have you seen the price of veal !?!) which was labeled “meatloaf mix”; and while it could be used to make meatloaf, it was, more than likely, used for meatballs.
Then there are the ingredients that go within the ground meat or poultry: vegetables, seasonings, breads, liquids, cheeses, even hard boiled eggs (chopped or whole).  I’m going to be posting a basic meatloaf recipe in this blog today, but it’s what you can do with it that’s the real trick.  Instead of plain diced onions and tomatoes, how about using a jar of salsa for a little extra kick?  Or use the salsa as the topping, instead of a tomato sauce or ketchup.   Thinking Oriental; use ginger and soy in the mix with a teriyaki glaze over the meatloaf.   Don’t like meat, ground chicken or turkey can be used, but they’re bland, so be generous with the seasoning.   Bread crumbs – fresh, dry (ground or soaked in milk), plain or seasoned; and the types of breads available are endless.  Liquids, to help moisten and flavor, could be milk, beaten eggs, wine, broth.    Besides having meatloaf as a meal, served with sides; it makes a great cold or hot sandwich.
Experiment, have fun and find an enjoyment in what you’re doing.  Sure, you might fail, but don’t dwell on that, and you’ll learn from the failures.  Imagine the great meals you will make, and that will keep the ego and inspiration up.

Basic Meatloaf


2 lbs lean ground beef
1 egg
1 small onion, diced
1 (14 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 cup Italian style bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 350F.  Spray 2 qt (oval or rectangular) baking dish with non-stick spray.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except for the ketchup.  Mix thoroughly; remove to baking dish and shape into an oval loaf.  Spread ketchup evenly over top and sides of meatloaf.

Bake for 1 hour, uncovered; remove and spread a second layer of ketchup over top and sides.  Return to oven, bake an additional 1 hour, uncovered. 

Remove from oven, let rest 15 minutes before placing meatloaf on serving platter.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour

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