notes from maggie's farm
One of the fondest memories I revisit from my childhood is the aroma of my mother's pot roast simmering away in the oven which greeted us upon our return from church.
After I'd spent half the sermon writing notes to my brother on the little white envelopes (bad! bad!), I'd have already likely been the recipient of 'the look'--my mother's perfectly groomed dark eyebrow rising, it seemed, right off of her forehead. I'd be dreading 'the talking to' I was going to be getting the car ride home, and, worse than all, I'd have spent the second half of the service being hungry. Third-world hungry, to my immature thoughts. My stomach would growl. I might pass out, I worried. I was STARVING.
I always marveled to my brother, 'how is it that church makes a person so hungry?'. I was never more ravenous as I was during those last strains of 'Just As I Am'. When I joined the Baptist Church as a young mother, well, my stomach might just growl right over the chorus. 'Just As I Am' could go on for ten minutes, repeating verses as the pastor called out, sure that the spirit was moving someone to be saved, someone who was just being stubborn, therefore, a few more choruses. Maybe launch into 'Lamb of God'. This sort of thing didn't happen at the Methodist church. If it wasn't on the bulletin, it wasn't going to be sung. There were subtle, and not quite as subtle, differences in the Methodist and Baptist churches.
Thirty-five some years later, I neither attend Methodist or Baptist services. I've visited umpteen churches, in 15-20 towns, cities, states, locales. I've joined, and moved from, the ranks of several denominations, but whether Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholic, Non-Denominational, or First Christian, it's still the same--I am always RAVENOUS when I get out of church. And I long for the return home to smell my mother's pot roast. Or any other slow-cooking comfort food she may have had waiting for us.
A hitch in that traditional enjoyment occurred, sadly, just after I married and moved a state away from Mom's Sunday pot roast. We had a fire. My husband and I, married 7 days, returned home one day, to find most of what we had destroyed by a fire. The firefighters said it took 14 minutes from the time they got the call to the time the last flame was extinguished. Fourteen minutes to lose all of our belongings, including those beautiful wedding gifts, along with the comfortable memory of a roast cooking away during church, destroyed. The details of that day, we'll save for another time, but the big picture of it was--trauma. Some thirty years from that day, I can still smell, in my mind's senses, the odor of fire.
It's that memory of the odor of fire that erased the joy of the aroma of pot roast waiting for us when we returned from church. Since that day, I've never been able to leave something cooking the way my mother did all through our childhood, whether in the oven, a roaster, even a crock pot, without fear of returning to a home ravaged by fire. I could never enjoy the service for fear of fire. It's just one of those grown-up things--the practicalities brought on by experiences that teach us to be careful. But careful can be such a bummer.
So why am I going on about this? Well, I'm still ravenous when I get out of church on Sundays! But comfort foods often take longer than I'm willing to wait to eat. Occasionally, I'll get most of the meal made on Saturday evening, and reheat after church, but, often, Saturday takes on a life of its own and the road to hunger is paved with good intentions--but no meal is made. A little trick I discovered years ago, however, has helped get a fresh, aromatic, comfort-filled meal on the table, stat. Enter this little tip for churning out meatloaf, using our roasted tomatoes from earlier in the week along with a little no-chopping helper, in half the time of the traditional prep.
italian roasted tomato and olive meatloaf 'cakes'
yield: about a dozen 'cakes', serving 6
1/2# ground chuck
1/2# ground pork
1 cup olive salad (working double duty from this recipe)
1 cup roasted tomatoes (working double duty from this recipe)
1/2 cup bread crumb mixture (working double duty from this recipe)
1 large egg
silicone baking spray
preheat oven to 375 degrees
Mix ingredients, above. Spray 12 muffin tins with silicone baking spray. With a large spoon or ice cream scooper, create balls about the size of a small softball, about 4" in diameter. Press into muffin tins, allowing a small mound atop. Fill all tins, then place muffin tin on a baking sheet to catch 'run off'. Bake, in preheated oven, until tops are browned and crisped, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, remove from tins, and allow to cool and drain on a cooling rack 5-10 minutes before serving.
What I love about these little babies:
1. No chopping. I love the taste of cooked green olives. Roasting knocks off a bit of the pungency but leaves a smooth, buttery, green flavor, which, along with the carrots, celery, cauliflower, capers, onions, and more, that traditional olive salads contain, give crunch and character, without the fuss. We make our own, but you can also purchase in the market's jarred olive section.
2. CRUST! My favorite part of meatloaf is the crusty edge on top. Cooking individual loaves like this means greater crust to interior ratio, and that suits me FINE.
3. Caramelization--the added tomatoes caramelize where they meat the exterior crust, and the intensity of flavor suits the mixture of pork and beef beautifully.
4. Ease. I mix the ingredients before church, covering and refrigerating. When I return, the extra chilling has enabled the meatloaf to easily form together without a crumbling mess. You might even fill the tins before leaving, but I'm not an early riser, so this extra step may or may not be accomplished before church in my own kitchen. The roasted tomatoes, breadcrumb mixture, and olive salad have all been prepared for previous meals in large batches, and stashed in the fridge to use for meals, following. Like this one. Bingo!
Have a lovely Sunday.