Old-fashioned meatloaf.

I still have a peck’s worth of peaches on my counter.  The temperature shot up today and we’ve got the air conditioner rumbling on low.  I sun-tanned this morning.  And ate an ice-cream for lunch.

But despite all that, I’m officially in fall mode.  There’s no going back after you’ve had a few mid-September rains and some cool weather, and the thought of butternut squash soup and apple pies and long, slow braises all enter your head.  I may even be swimming in the bay next weekend if this hot weather keeps up, but I’ll be doing so in fall mode; smores will be required afterward.

To enter fall-mode properly, I made meatloaf.  Not a fancy one, like this French loaf I’ve been eyeing, or one with un-meatloafy ingredients, chiles or what-have-you.  No, I made an old-fashioned meatloaf, with good ol’ Heinz ketchup, store-bought breadcrumbs, and locally smoked bacon.  Because you see, when I say old-fashioned, I mean it.  There was a butcher shop involved.  And ground beef made from the cattle that graze out back.  The vegetables were from the local farmer markets, the eggs from our friends Carla and Harry; only the ketchup and breadcrumbs were, well, nationally produced (is that what we call things that aren’t local?).

Obviously not everyone can buy all local ingredients to make a meatloaf, but getting good meat (preferably from a butcher) will certainly make your meatloaf taste better.  A few things to look for:  you want meat that is not ground to bits but looks like thick, loopy strings of meat.  You want to see bits of white fat throughout.  If possible, try to buy it from a butcher (you can try to find a local butcher here) so you see the meat in the butcher’s case instead of having to buy it pre-wrapped.  The color should either be purple or bright red.  If it’s bright red outside but gray inside, that means that it’s not as fresh as can be, but okay in a pinch.  If it looks gray and dull all over, don’t buy it—it’s about to spoil. If you can’t find good ground meat, buy chuck and ask the butcher to grind it up for you, or bring it home to do yourself.

When it comes to topping, I’m a line-of-ketchup-down-the-middle type of gal, but we had some perfectly smoked bacon and I guarantee that if you do too, it’s impossible not to use it.  I didn’t miss the ketchup at all and I think the bacon kept everything extra juicy.  And we had bacon on the side, a serious plus.

On the side went fingerling potatoes, turnips, and carrots, braised in chicken stock, browned butter, and a pinch of cinnamon.  And boy, oh boy, it declared fall.  Root vegetables will do that.  Cinnamon, too.

If you’d like to celebrate the beginning of fall with this meatloaf, I really hope you’ll make the veggies alongside.  The carrots speak to the subtle tomato sweetness in the meatloaf.  The turnips are both sweet and starchy.  And potatoes and meatloaf are eternal partners; one cannot exist without the other.  And I’m beginning to believe that fall cannot exist without meatloaf.

Old-fashioned Meatloaf

adapted from Gourmet

2 cups finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 celery rib, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup ketchup plus additional as an accompaniment if desired
2 pounds ground chuck
scant 1 cup store-bought bread crumbs
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

4-6 slices bacon

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large heavy skillet cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes. Cook vegetables, covered, stirring occasionally, until carrot it tender, about 5 minutes more. Stir in salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/3 cup of ketchup and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

In a large bowl combine well vegetables, meats, bread crumbs, eggs, and parsley. In a shallow baking pan form mixture into 1 10-by 5-inch oval loaf and lay bacon slices over the top.

Bake meat loaf in oven 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted in center registers 155°F.

Printable Recipe

Braised Carrots, Turnips, and Potatoes with Cinnamon

2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 pounds potatoes, washed and halved
chicken stock
salt, pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound baby turnips, peeled and halved
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into thick coins

In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat until the butter foams and begins to brown.  Add potatoes and saute for one minute.  Add chicken stock to reach halfway up the potatoes.  Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and cinnamon.  Bring to a boil and cover.  Cook for 5 minutes, then add the turnips and carrots.

Cook, covered, for another 15-20 minutes.  Uncover and continue to cook until the liquid boils down and the vegetables caramelize and brown, stirring gently throughout, so that most pieces brown without breaking apart.  Serve with a sprinkling of chives.

Printable Recipe

Pork with cardamom apricot sauce.

We bought a sixty dollar boston butt for the holiday weekend, for the two of us, without so much as a blink.  It’s not that Jim and I have enough to spend money willy-nilly (not even close); but we’ve changed our lifestyles in the past few years to accommodate eating ethically raised meats and buying from respectable fish mongers and local farms.  You remember, Michael Pollen urged us all to do so a few years back, asking  us to change our lives and spend a bigger portion of our incomes on food.  Well, we took that advice and ran with it and I think we now must spend near half of our combined monthly income on food.  It’s pretty delicious.

Once you get over the sticker shock from buying naturally-raised meats, you realize it’s not such a bad price after all.  Like buying a 4 dollar dozen of local farm-raised chicken eggs is really only about 33¢ an egg, our sixty dollar boston butt has already provided us with two dinners, three lunches, and we still have enough for another dinner and at least one more lunch to go; and considering we would’ve resorted to going out to eat on the night we had the first helping of leftovers, we probably saved some money.  And the pig that provided our pork was raised in a bonafide pig paradise (woods, little lake, lots of room).  And he was happy, and healthy, and not overly stressed, and that makes me the same.

What makes me even happier, though, is the cardamom apricot sauce that dressed the meat.  It’s luxurious and creamy because of the pork fat but piercing in flavor, with cardamom, ginger, brandy, orange, and cayenne.  The recipe is Molly Stevens’ with a few tweaks I made on a last minute whim; I ran the sauce through a food mill and then picked out the apricots and blended them into the thick liquid.  You could leave out that part, you’d end up with a stew of vegetables, strewn with silken, tender apricots.

Either way, make sure not to skip the step of hulling the cardamom, and crushing the seeds a bit; it’s an easy task and well worth the pay-off of not having shards of cardamom pods in your sauce.  We had this with white rice the first night, and brown rice for the leftovers, and I was partial to the brown—it’s nuttiness complemented the sweet sauce well.  A crisp white wine went fabulously too; a great Memorial weekend meal, even if there were no hot dogs involved.

Pork with Cardamom Apricot Sauce

adapted from All About Braising, Molly Stevens

1 (7-pound) bone-in pork shoulder roast, preferably Boston butt, preferably naturally raised
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium leek, white and pale green part only, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion (about 6 ounces) coarsely chopped
6 cardamom pods, husks split, seeds lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 strips orange zest, about 3 by 3/4 inches
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons apricot brandy or Cognac
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried apricots
scallions and cilantro, for garnish
brown rice (to serve)

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat surface of pork with a paper towel to dry. Score the fat in a cross-hatch pattern.  Season generously with salt and pepper, rubbing seasoning into the fat.  In a large dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat, add oil.  Place pork in fat-side down and brown, then turn pork to brown deeply on all sides, about 15-20 minutes in all. Transfer to a plate.

Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat and return the pot to medium heat. Add leek, carrots and onions. Stir in cardamom, turmeric and cayenne. Stir to mix everything up.  Add ginger, garlic, zest and bay leaf. Cook for 2 minutes until spices are fragrant.

Pour brandy into the pot. Bring to a boil for about 1 minute, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release any caramelized bits, until reduced in half. Add wine and boil for 4 minutes, scraping sides and bottom with the spoon. Pour in stock, bring to a boil. Add apricots and mix everything up.

Set the pork on top of vegetables in pot. Pour in any accumulated juices from the plate. Bring liquid to an easy simmer and spoon some over the pork. Cover the meat with parchment paper, using enough paper that it extends over the sides of the pot.

Set the lid in place and slide the pot onto a shelf in the lower third of the oven to braise. Every 30 minutes, lift the lid to check that the liquid is simmering gently. Turn pork. If the liquid is simmering too aggressively, lower the oven heat 10 or 15 degrees. Braise until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Remove meat from pot and cover loosely with foil for 10 minutes.

Using a ladel, transfer vegetables to a food mill set with medium-hold disc over a medium bowl.  Turn crane vigoriously, so that the vegetables mash and strain into the liquid to create a thick sauce.  Pick out any apricots from the solids and add to sauce.  Discard other solids.  Blend sauce with a stick blender until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Carve pork into thick slices and serve with sauce, scallions, and cilantro.