With the exception of the occasional kofta or vat of chili, it’s not often that you’ll see me using ground meat as a base for recipes- no Hamburger Helper-type menus in this household. But my dad gave me several pounds of ground venison a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through them, trying new things and expanding my ground meat repertoire. My first two installments of the Venison Diaries were more experimental, but this time I decided to go thoroughly retro and make a meatloaf.
A typical “meatloaf mix” usually consists of 50% ground beef, 25% pork and 25% veal, giving a good balance of fat and flavor. For my meatloaf mix, I used 50% venison and 50% pork. I wanted to make sure the leanness of the venison was balanced out with the fattier pork so I didn’t end up with a dry loaf. However, I definitely think I could have used some veal and gone with a 50-25-25 mix as well. The recipe I used, from Cook’s Illustrated, uses a sweet and tangy (almost like BBQ sauce) glaze on the meatloaf, and also has you wrap it in bacon *drool*. To make this meatloaf extra-special, I bought some Nueske’s bacon to do the job. I first heard about Nueske’s via Matthew Amster-Burton in his book Hungry Monkey, and then my local grocery store started carrying it so I gave it a try. I wondered what could be so special about it to justify an almost $9 per pound price tag… until I tried it. Ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary bacon. I typically buy Niman Ranch bacon because of their sustainable practices*, and their bacon is certainly good quality, but Nueske’s is on another level- it has a different texture and “feel” than most supermarket bacon, and it doesn’t shrink up nearly as much as other brands. Finally, the flavor is nothing short of sublime. (And no, I didn’t receive any freebies from Nueske’s to write this blog post… but if someone at the company is reading this, I’ll be glad to take anything you send my way!! )
I figured as long as I was making meatloaf I may as well go totally traditional in my side dishes as well, so I made some mashed potatoes and peas. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve made mashed potatoes, but I do own a potato ricer, which I put to use on some white Michigan potatoes for an unbelievably light and creamy result. The potato ricer is, yes, an extra step and an extra item to wash, but the difference is well worth it. I wish I had made a bigger batch! Even though this wasn’t a typical type of menu for me, Marvin and I both really enjoyed it and I would definitely make it again if and when I get another venison windfall.
*I was disappointed not to find anything on the Nueske’s website about how their pigs are raised. The only info I could find online was that the pigs Nueske’s uses are “raised to their specifications” in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada (not in Wisconsin, where the company is located) and fed a diet of a barley and corn mixture.
1 lb ground venison or beef
½ lb ground veal
½ lb ground pork
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large eggs
½ tsp dried thyme leaves (or use fresh and increase to 1 tsp)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
few dashes Tabasco or similar hot sauce
½ cup plain yogurt or whole milk
⅔ cup crushed saltines (about 16) or quick oatmeal, OR 1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
6-8 oz thin-sliced bacon
½ cup ketchup, preferably organic/ without high fructose corn syrup
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 tsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
Make the glaze: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 350°. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Sauté the onion & garlic over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Mix the eggs, thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire, milk or yogurt, and hot sauce in a medium bowl. Put the meats in a large bowl and combine with your hands (if you didn’t buy a pre-mixed meatloaf mix). Add the egg mixture, onions, parsley, and crackers or breadcrumbs; mix until evenly blended and mixture is not sticking to the bowl. If mixture sticks, add more milk 1-2 Tbs at a time until it no longer sticks. (Note: I chose to go a different route and blend the meat in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. This gave a totally different texture to the finished meatloaf, but one that I personally prefer.)
Place the meat mixture on a work surface. Wet your hands and pat the mixture into a loaf shape, approximately 9″ x 5″. Place the loaf on a foil-coated rimmed baking sheet. Brush the loaf with half the glaze (be sure not to double dip your brush since you’ll be serving the remainder of the glaze). Arrange the bacon slices crosswise over the top of the loaf, tucking the ends underneath.
Bake until the bacon is crisp and the internal temperature registers 160°, about 1 hour. Let rest 15-20 minutes before serving. Warm the remaining glaze and serve on the side.
Christopher Kimball is the publisher of Cook’s Illustrated magazine. He recently wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times which suggested that the demise of Gourmet magazine was related to the groundswell of (inferior) content on the internet. He also just threw down a challenge on his blog that proposes pitting a recipe developed in the test kitchen to a recipe developed “Wiki-style”, with lots of contributors. The following is my reaction and response to his comments and to the debate of what I’ll call ”experience vs. access”.
Dear Mr. Kimball,
As you may know, many food bloggers and other users of the internet are indignant about your recent article on the demise of Gourmet, because of remarks you made suggesting that the general public on the web (bloggers et al.) is unqualified to be acting as any kind of “authority” on cooking or recipe publication.
Although I am an amateur food blogger, you may be surprised to hear that I agree with you up to a point. Certain things are better than others because people have taken time or had training to get them right. I personally do not often search randomly on the internet for a recipe; I prefer, if at all possible, to get my recipes from cookbooks or sources with whose authors I’m familiar, to ensure a degree of success.
I also take issue with bloggers who assume a position of “instructor” when it is not warranted. I recently read an online article on how to be a better food writer. When I looked at the author’s own blog, the writing was completely banal, with sentences such as “The [food items] were very good”. (Incidentally, this person was one of the folks expressing their outrage about your article… oh, the irony!) This is certainly one of the drawbacks of the free-for-all that is the internet. On the flip side of that coin, though, the internet gives access to others’ experience that can be extremely useful. When I wanted to make chicken sausage this summer, for example, I did a web search and came across a blog called Saucisson Mac. I found a recipe as well as a lot of helpful information, and got a great result. The author is not a professional charcutier, just someone who’s made lots of sausage at home and knows the ropes.
Your remarks also fail to acknowledge that many food blogs, perhaps even the majority, are written for a different reason other than to give instruction. The primary focus of my blog, like many food blogs I read, is meant to share and chronicle my personal experiences in the kitchen. I do know a bit more than the average person, not through formal training but through lots of cooking and reading cookbooks and recipes, so I do include “tips” when applicable (some learned from the pages of Cook’s Illustrated!). But I don’t claim to be an expert on cooking techniques, and my posts make it very clear (I hope!) that “this is the way I prefer to do it, but it’s not the only way”.
Another problem with your focus on professional expertise is that it implies that a home cook can’t spontaneously (i.e. without a tested recipe) create something fantastic. I think people with training/ experience like to think they will always create a superior result, because it validates the time and hard work they’ve put into something. But I’ve made lots of wonderful dishes just riffing on a recipe, or with no recipe at all. It’s elitist to suggest one needs specialized training (or to follow a recipe to the tee) to produce good food.
Even if one does choose to follow recipes from prominent chefs and experts, the results are far from guaranteed. A great illustration of this point is a blog written by Luisa Weiss, aka The Wednesday Chef. Luisa cooks recipes culled from the New York Times and the L.A. Times, and blogs about the results. In a recent post, she describes a disastrous coconut barley dish that was all but inedible. This was a recipe written by a “professional”, printed in a major newspaper! And yet, that was no guarantee of success; far from it. This is what I love about blogs: the interaction; the feedback. Luisa’s kitchen is a test kitchen in the truest sense, and when readers leave comments about their own experiences with the same dish, it enhances the content even further. Lastly, I defy you to read Luisa’s latest post (about Gourmet, coincidentally) and tell me the internet lacks its share of ”thoughtful, considered editorial”.
Ultimately, I wish the curmudgeons and the upstarts could all just get along. I feel that there’s room for everyone, and that people will ultimately seek out the type of content that is most useful or meaningful to them. I’m tired of the sniping from both sides of the debate. Can’t we just stop brandishing our rolling pins and get back to what we all love- making and eating good food?