Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Salty Dog Chocolate Bar

The Twin Cities is home to a number of exceptional chocolatiers, chief among them B.T. McElrath. Ever since my friend Colin introduced me to McElrath's elegantly chocolate-dipped ginger-flecked toffee squares, I have had to fight impulse purchases whenever I go to the grocery store. On the rare occasion that I visit The Golden Fig, where McElrath's truffles are available individually, I treat myself to a morsel. I'll admit, it's hard to choose just one when they come in such incomparable flavors as passion fruit, chile-limon, zinfandel balsamic, and lavender-black peppercorn.

Recently, McElrath debuted chocolate bars, and that short time, I've devoured my fair share of Salty Dog Chocolate Bars—70% dark chocolate with butter toffee bits and sea salt. Chocolate and sea salt is one of my very favorite combinations. These bars are pretty sensational and very affordable ($5.50 per bar, where other luxury chocolates are edging up near $8).

From the packaging:
You have a choice. Eat our Salty Dog Bar salt-side up and you're invited into its rich, dark chocolate charms, only to discover the spiky crunch of toffee and sea salt. eat it salt-side down and feel how the sharp pop of salt ushers in notes of chocolate and caramel. So what's it gonna be: mellow or bold? Or both?
Definitely both.

If you can't find these bars where you live, The Chocolate Shoppe ships anywhere.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

comfort food: steakhouse meets diner

Last night, both Hambone and I were looking for a meal that would be homey and comforting, so I whipped up a batch of diner-worthy meatloaf. When I made the first meatloaf of my adult life, I reconstructed my mother’s method. She never used a recipe, having learned to make meatloaf at her mother's elbow, but it consisted basically of ground beef (or, when I was a kid, more likely elk or venison), salt and pepper, and a beaten egg to bind—pretty simple and tasty, if memory serves correctly. I’ve since tried many recipes, trying to find the easiest, most delicious concoction. What I’ve arrived at is quite flexible and very delicious.

In large bowl, I whisked together a couple eggs, 1/4 cup whole milk, 1 teaspoon ground mustard, 1 teaspoon dried thyme*, salt and pepper to taste, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon worchestershire sauce. To this mixture, I crumbled in a 1/2 pound each ground veal, beef, and pork**, as well as 1-1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs***. With my hands, I incorporated the ingredients, until the egg and breadcrumbs were well distributed within the meat. (Typically I also add an onion that has been diced fine, sautéed in olive oil, and cooled slightly, as well as a few minced garlic cloves, but omitted—just this one time—to accommodate the boys' onion phobia. BTW, they’ve asked for the onions to be reappointed.) Then I turned the mixture onto a foil-lined jellyroll pan and formed it into a loaf. A combination of 1/2 cup ketchup and 1 tablespoon each brown sugar and apple cider vinegar was painted on top the meatloaf. Placed in a 375 degree oven, it baked for an hour.

I firmly believe that meatloaf must be consumed with potatoes. Steak can be served with many other carbs—polenta, other root vegetables, or whole-grain pilafs, but meatloaf needs the mealy, starchy potato as a counterpoint to the, well, meatiness. Not to mention that it’s meatloaf’s equal in the comfort department. I had a hankering for
The Palm’s hashbrowns and turned to Julie Child and Jacques Pepin’s pommes de terre macaire.

While assembling the meatloaf, I had four medium-size russets baking in a 425 degree oven, which I then swapped for the meatloaf. I allowed the baked potatoes to cool just enough to be handled (fifteen minutes or so), then removed the skin and, using a round cookie cutter, scrumbled the potatoes into large chunks. During the last ten minutes of the meatloaf’s cooking time, I heated olive oil and butter in a heat-proof skillet, added the potatoes, seasoned generously with salt, pepper, and fresh-ground nutmeg. After a few minutes, I flipped the potatoes to incorporate the seasoning, then pressed down the top and stepped away for six or seven minutes. When the meatloaf came out of the oven, I cranked it back up to 425 degrees and put the potatoes in for 15 minutes.

And what, besides a chewy red wine, goes best with red meat and steakhouse potatoes? Why creamed spinach, of course. A peek into the crisper revealed a lack of spinach but possession of a fine head of lacinato kale. While the meatloaf rested and the potatoes browned, heated 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil in a large skillet into which I tipped a minced shallot and sweated for a few minutes. Next I added the kale, cut into 1/4-inch strips. Before I lidded the pan, I added a 1/4-cup chicken stock. Five minutes later, I seasoned kale with salt and pepper, tossed the wilted leaves with a teaspoon of flour, and cooked another minute before adding approximately a 1/3 cup half-and-half, which was allowed to bubble and thickened. A grating of fresh nutmeg finished the vibrant green side.

And instead of being transported to every great steakhouse meal we’ve ever had, we set our own new standard.

*Almost any dried or fresh herb, such as savory, rosemary, or herbes de Provence can be used to good effect.
**Venison or bison, alone or in combination with beef or pork, makes a stunning meatloaf.
***Dried breadcrumbs or crumbled crackers also work.