Monday, March 20, 2006


Wow! I’ve never been that into meatloaf before—OK, I’ve never been into meatloaf at all before, and in fact the concept of a loaf of meat strikes me as both hilarious and disturbing. But when I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, it just sounded so good. Maybe I was iron-deficient that day, but I suddenly craved a big slice of spiced meat. And boy howdy, it tasted as good as it sounded. I always think of ground beef as somewhat dry and bland, but this recipe makes sure to keep it well-seasoned and moistened with tomato sauce, producing a juicy, flavorful meatloaf (even more flavorful the next day) that isn’t too dense and is still pretty lean. And could it be any easier to cook? Plus, you’ve got to love that kitchy ’50s housewife vibe you feel pulling a hot meatloaf out of the oven. (Especially if, like me, you happen to be wearing a retro cherry-printed apron at the time.) This is another recipe I can’t wait to make again.

Note: Usually I abhor garlic powder, because I love the real thing so incredibly much. But Cooking Light usually avoids the powdered stuff, too, so when this recipe called for it, I figured there must be some good reason to go along (also, I usually think it’s best to follow a recipe to the letter at least one time before I go making modifications). And I do think the garlic powder works better here. The garlic flavor gets subtly distributed throughout the entire mixture and melds with the other tastes, rather than just appearing in intense, isolated chunks. And really, it doesn’t pay to try to be too fancy when making one of the ultimate comfort foods.

1 and 1/2 pounds 92% lean ground beef
1 cup canned tomato sauce, divided
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine beef, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Shape beef mixture into an 8-by-4-inch loaf on a broiler pan or baking sheet lined with tin foil and coated with a small amount of olive oil or cooking spray. Brush remaining 1/2 cup tomato sauce over top of meat loaf. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 1 and 1/2 hours, mostly cooking time

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


You'll notice that this white bean soup is not white. That's because I made it with Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye beans, which are mostly white but have tan spots. They are also quite delicious, and I actually prefer the golden hue they impart, even if it doesn't photograph terribly appetizingly.

I am so proud of myself for trying this and loving it, considering I don’t completely love beans. It’s a texture thing—they need to be as mashed-up as possible for me to accept them, and so far in my cooking career I’ve only reconciled myself with black beans (plus garbanzo beans, but only in the form of hummus). But when I saw this in an old magazine someone brought in to work (Bon Appetit, I think), it sounded so savory and comforting, full of ingredients I enjoy, a healthy and hearty winter meal...also, let’s face it, the word “creamy” gets me every time. Making it was a bit of a challenge—very simple, but working with dried beans, you have to be organized and start a few days in advance. On Monday morning before leaving for work, I set the beans out to soak. On Monday night, I cooked the beans (Step 2 of the recipe) and also made chicken broth. (Wow, did that make the apartment steamy-warm and delicious-smelling.) On Tuesday night, I made the actual soup. But you know what? It was worth it. It was awesome, exactly how I’d hoped it would be. Hooray for beans (or at least those properly pureed)!

A few notes: I used the Italian sausage. I didn’t buy any whipping cream, thinking I’d be healthy and just use milk instead, but the soup ended up creamy enough on its own, and just the perfect thickness already, so I didn’t want or need to add any more liquid. Thus, I’ve labeled the cream optional.

Postscript from April 2009: This time I used my new favorite sausage, Trader Joe's chicken andouille, a smoked, spicy, Cajun-style sausage (it has a firmer, more kielbasa-like texture, so I cut it into cubes instead of removing the casing and crumbling it). It was vastly superior to the Italian sausage I'd used before. If you can't find chorizo, I really recommend a good andouille--the spice and smokiness are wonderful with the beans, sort of like a really high-quality grown-up version of franks 'n' beans.

1 pound dried cannellini or Great Northern Beans (a generous 2 cups)
8 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves: 1 smashed, 2 chopped
1 large fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, divided
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 pound fresh chorizo or spicy Italian link sausages, casings removed
1/4 cup whipping cream or milk (optional)

1. Place beans in a large, heavy pot. Add enough water to pan to cover beans by 4 inches. Let beans soak overnight, covered, at room temperature.

2. Drain and rinse beans; return to same pot. Add 8 cups water, 1 tablespoon oil, smashed garlic clove, rosemary, and bay leaf. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer until beans are tender, 60–90 minutes. Season to taste with salt. (Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly, cover, and chill.)

3. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. Discard rosemary sprig and bay leaf.

4. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon thyme; sauté 2 minutes. Add 2 cups reserved bean cooking liquid, 4 cups chicken broth, and beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Cool soup 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, sauté chorizo or Italian sausage in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up lumps with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove sausage from pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.

6. Using a slotted spoon, remove 1 and 1/2 cups bean mixture from soup and reserve. Working in batches, puree remaining soup in a blender until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and stir in reserved whole-bean mixture, remaining 1 and 1/2 teaspoons thyme, sausage, and cream or milk if desired. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour, plus 1 day and 90 minute prep

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Another one from Cooking Light. For some reason, it was described in the magazine as “Warm Asparagus Salad,” which...well, Merriam-Webster’s defines “salad” as “a dish of meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, fruits, or vegetables singly or in combination usually served cold with a dressing,” which is generic enough to makes it sound like salad is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I think of salad as cold, and while this may have a vinaigrette, it’s just a side dish, in my view. Whatever it is, however, it happens to be wonderful. Asparagus and garlic and lemon is, to me, the happiest taste combination on earth, and this recipe executes it masterfully.

I made this as a side dish with another new Cooking Light recipe, which was for two-potato latkes, and which didn’t turn out at all as well as I’d hoped (to add insult to injury, it was extremely labor-intensive too). A liked the latkes fine, but I’m not planning to make them again and won’t post the recipe here, as it had a few major flaws. A ended up eating most of the latkes for dinner, while I polished off my own serving of asparagus plus most of his, meaning that I ate nearly a pound of the stuff. That is how good this dish, or salad, or whatever, is.

I can’t wait to make it again. The only thing I’ll do differently is make the breadcrumbs smaller—I took the word “coarsely” in the recipe a little too much to heart, and my food processor was not being cooperative (or maybe, now that I think about it, my bread, which wasn’t day-old, was too soft to break up properly?), and I ended up with pea-sized breadcrumbs that, when sprinkled atop the asparagus, just made it hard to eat. The topping and the asparagus didn’t blend; you’d pick up a spear of asparagus with your fork and all the breadcrumbs would fall off, and you’d have to take a bit of asparagus and then separately scoop up a mouthful of breadcrumbs...which I really have no problem with, but A found it daunting. I also found the cooking method for the asparagus a little strange—why couldn’t I just have steamed it in my steamer basket? A suggested we could roast the asparagus, which might be fun to try also. What the heck, I’ll try everything—I think I could eat this every day. And since asparagus is already available at the farmer's market here in California (where March is actually spring), I think I will.

2 ounces day-old French bread or other firm white bread, sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup water
1 and 1/2 pounds asparagus

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until toasted. Rub cut sides of garlic over both sides of each bread slice. Place bread in a food processor and pulse 10 times or until bread is coarsely ground into crumbs. Arrange breadcrumbs in a single layer on baking sheet and bake 5 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer breadcrumbs to a bowl and set aside.

3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 1-2 minutes or until butter is lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally; remove from heat. Drizzle butter over toasted breadcrumbs and toss well to coat.

4. Combine vinegar, oil, lemon rind and juice, shallot, salt, and pepper in a small bowl or screw-top jar. Stir well with a whisk (if in a bowl) or shake well (if in a jar) to combine.

5. Bring water to a boil in a large skillet. Snap off tough ends of asparagus and add asparagus to pan. Cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring constantly. Place asparagus on serving platter, drizzle with vinaigrette, and top with breadcrumb mixture.

Serves 2-6