Bring on the Comfort Foods!

Fall has arrived. The evening air is nippy. The leaves are fading and soon will start their tumble from the lofty splendor of the treetops to the ignominy of plastic leaf bags. The last of fall’s harvest has been pulled from the field, and gardens plowed under. Soon windows will be shut, fireplaces lit, and we will each settle in to prepare for the shock of winter’s first blast of cold. Now is the perfect time to find a cozy spot to curl up and contemplate the creation of ….. what else? Comfort food!

The first food I think of whenever someone mentions comfort food is meatloaf. I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a meatloaf I didn’t like, but whenever I get the itch to make one the recipe I almost always reach for is Craig Claiborne’s fantastic Herbed Meatloaf with Fresh Tomato Sauce. It’s packed with fresh herbs, which gives it a flavor unlike any other meatloaf I have ever tasted, and the Fresh Tomato Sauce you serve alongside is the perfect companion to all that wonderful herbiness.

I like to make it up, eat it for a few days, then freeze individual slices topped with some sauce, for a future dinner of “leftovers” that are better than most just-made entrées. It freezes like a dream.

Serves 6

HERBED MEATLOAF WITH FRESH TOMATO SAUCE

NY Times Cookbook

When the tomato season has passed, I find that a 1-pound box of prepackaged tomatoes works just fine for the sauce. The sauce is light and absolutely delicious, and is a perfect complement to the meatloaf, so I think a compromise in using one less-than-seasonal ingredient is well worth it. Also, I frequently just use 2 pounds of meatloaf mix for the meat.

1 pound ground beef
½ pound ground veal
½ pound ground lean pork
2 eggs
½ cup fine bread crumbs
3/4 cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped chives
2 T fresh basil, finely chopped, or 1 T dried
¼ cup green pepper, coarsely chopped
1½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
bacon slices to cover top

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a mixing bowl combine all ingredients, except the bacon slices. Using the hands. blend well; do not overwork the meat or it will produce a meatloaf that is too tightly packed. Line a nine-inch pie plate with aluminum foil and shape the meat mixture into an oval loaf. Place the loaf on the foil and cover with bacon slices.

Bake one and one half hours.

Makes 2 cups


Fresh Tomato Sauce

1 clove garlic
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 T olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped celery tops
½ cup finely chopped green pepper
2 cups finely diced ripe tomatoes
½ tsp. sugar
1½ tsp. salt
½ cup water
1 small bay leaf
4 whole black peppercorns
2 whole cloves
2 T tomato paste

In a heavy saucepan sauté the garlic and onion in the olive oil. Add the celery tops, green pepper, tomatoes, sugar, salt and water. Tie the bay leaf, peppercorns and cloves in a cheesecloth bag and add. (I like to use a metal mesh tea ball for this. It’s easier than tying up a cheesecloth bag.)
Cook slowly, uncovered, twenty minutes. Remove the spice bag.
Press the mixture through a coarse sieve. Stir in the tomato paste and heat.

If I had to name one dinner dish that I’ve never seen a kid turn his nose up at, it’s Shepherd’s Pie. There’s something about all that hamburger goodness and oniony gravy and that heavenly topping of perfectly mashed potatoes that sets the salivary glands of young and old alike at “major drool” mode. Following is my very simple, ultra yummy version of this American classic.

MIM’S SHEPHERD’S PIE

 

1 large onion

2 stalks celery

1 large carrot

3 T olive oil

2 1/2 pounds ground beef

1 10-ounce box button mushrooms, sliced

2 T all purpose flour

1 10-ounce can beef broth

2 tsp. thyme

Freshly grated nutmeg to taste, or a pinch ground nutmeg

1 ½ pounds potatoes

½ stick butter

Milk, as needed

½ cup or more grated Parmesan cheese

Paprika (optional)

Preheat oven to 400º F.

Mince onion, celery and carrot into a miripoix and sauté for about 15 minutes over medium-low heat, until soft.  Raise the heat to medium-high and add the ground beef. Cook quickly, breaking up the meat into small pieces as you go, cooking until the beef is browned, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the flour to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, to cook the flour. Gradually add the beef broth, then the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a 13” x 9” baking dish.

Peel and cut up the potatoes, then cook until tender. Drain and return to the burner to dry the potatoes out somewhat. Add the butter and some milk, and heat them in the pan. With an electric mixer, beat the potatoes, adding milk as you go, until you have them at the consistency you like. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Spread over the beef mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and some paprika for color, if you wish. Here are even more detailed instructions on how to make Perfect Mashed Potatoes.

Bake for 30-45 minutes, or till bubbling, and slightly browned on top. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

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