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Thursday, July 16, 2009

For the Love of Meatloaf…

It’s the real deal, folks. The 1st Annual Meatloaf Festival was held Saturday, June 17, 2009, in Paxico, Kansas. To coincide with this event, Paxico also held the first annual Meatloaf Cook-Off, and I was thrilled to be asked to judge.

Though I’ve judged food contests of all types, meatloaf has never been one of them. When Connie Lewis, Event Chairperson, originally contacted me, I quizzed her a bit – was this for real? She shared the story behind the festival: Apparently, Paxico has a café in town that serves a dinner special called Tom’s Famous Meatloaf. Soon another café came to town not knowing about the first meatloaf, and began serving their meatloaf special. The kicker was when a third café came to town touting that they had the best meatloaf! With that, Paxico was declared (unofficially) the Meatloaf Capital of Kansas and the festival and cook-off were born.

When I arrived to downtown Paxico the morning of the festival, activities were already in full swing and people were everywhere. The band was playing as I made my way down Main Street through the vendor booths and concessions toward the big green building I’d been directed to for the contest. Soon I knew I’d arrived to the right place: a decorated apron was proudly displayed across the glass of the front door and the place was buzzing with anticipation. I walked in to find several contestants intently putting the finishing presentation touches on their ‘loaves’, and Connie trying to shoo spectators out the door so we could begin. It was easy to see that this little town took meatloaf as serious business!

I was joined by 3 other judges and together we slowly made our way through the ‘meatloaf maze’, tasting each masterpiece – 23 to be exact. We were to judge on Appearance, Tenderness/Texture and Taste. No dipping sauces allowed! The variety was amazing. There was meatloaf of every kind: stuffed, layered, smoked, frosted (with mashed potatoes!), good, bad, ugly, moist, dry, delicious….the list went on. We appreciated each meatloaf for it’s own individual characteristics. But there was one little meatloaf that really stood out. It’s appearance was fairly typical except for the fact that it was not the usual rectangular loaf, but rather a larger, flatter version, and slightly sunken-in on the top. Average looking, but not average tasting, that’s for sure. This meatloaf was just pure wonderful; moist, flavorful, fabulous. The vote was unanimous – we had our grand prize winner!

The creator of that meatloaf was Betty Schuetz and she claimed the first place prize of $50 cash. Following the contest, I contacted Betty by phone to visit about her winning recipe. Would she share it or was it a secret recipe kept under lock and key? Betty laughed when I asked those questions, explaining that she used the meatloaf recipe from the Lipton Onion Soup Mix box, but embellished it with a few additional ingredients.

As for next year, my suggestion would be to sell ‘Tickets for a Taste’ following the meatloaf judging. Whether you love it or hate it (there’s no in between), I’m betting people will show up in the town of Paxico from miles around to share in the meatloaf mania. I’m in – see you next year!

Betty Schuetz - Meatloaf Cook-Off
Grand Prize Winner
1st Annual Meatloaf Festival of Paxico, June 17, 2009

Betty’s Marvelous Meatloaf
This recipe was taken from the Lipton Onion Soup Mix box. Betty embellished it with her choice of special added ingredients – delish!

Meatloaf1 envelope Lipton Onion Soup Mix
¾ cup dry bread crumbs
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup water
1/3 cup ketchup
½ tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. dried sage
½ tsp. seasoned salt
1 small onion, finely minced
1 med carrot, finely chopped
½ stalk celery, finely chopped
2 lbs. ground beef
1/3 lb. ground pork

Glaze1/3 cup ketchup
2 Tbs. brown sugar
2 tsp. prepared mustard

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients but ground beef and pork. When ingredients are well mixed, gently fold in ground beef and pork. Place prepared meatloaf mixture into greased 9 x 13 baking pan; gently press meatloaf mixture out evenly in pan. Cover pan with foil; bake on center rack of preheated oven for ½ hour. Uncover meatloaf and spread with prepared glaze mixture. Continue to bake, uncovered, for another 35 minutes.

Meatloaf Tips from Betty:
· Handle the ground beef and pork MINIMALLY when working in the other ingredients. This is what helps keep meatloaf moist.

· Key ingredient that Betty has been using in her meatloaf since she got married: Sage

· Her motto when entering a Meatloaf Contest: “Put up or shut up!”

· The one key step that Betty took when entering the meatloaf contest: Sorry, that one’s a secret between Betty and Chef Alli………..

Saturday, June 27, 2009

My Cherry Bowl Runneth Over…..

Arriving home today, I found a huge bowl of freshly picked cherries sitting on my kitchen counter. I also found two sons smiling proudly. I approached their prize carefully; fearful even one wrong breath might send the mounded cherries toppling to their death all over my kitchen floor. The cherries were plump and juicy and it was obvious our little cherry tree had certainly ‘sprung forth’ in earnest this year – our best crop ever! Suddenly I wondered how old our cherry tree was getting to be, realizing the best way to figure that out quickly would be to consult the family photo album. The boys gave me that tree for my birthday and I’ve taken their photo in front of it every season since. The first couple years they simply stood there since there was no fruit yet, but in most of the photos they are each proudly clutching their own prized bowl of cherries, fingers and faces stained red from cherry juice.

Picking cherries is great until you realize you have to pit them; this becomes a very messy job, especially when you have children involved in the process. This year we took turns using the cherry pitter I purchased while the other three sets of hands used chopsticks to push out seeds – it worked like a charm! As we worked, we talked about what we might make with our bumper crop. As usual, cherry cobbler topped the boys’ list, but I was thinking past the ordinary to cherry coffee cakes, cherry preserves, perhaps even a nice cherry sauce for salmon. My what-shall-I-make-first dilemma was solved shortly when my Mom reminded me of Grandma Lucille’s cherry pancakes. At first I didn’t recall them, but as my mouth began to water, I remembered. Her pancakes were extremely light and fluffy and the cherries added just the right amount of tartness. The best part, though, was how she served them: slathered in butter and sprinkled with sugar. I was one happy kid.

Gram’s Cherry Pancakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
2 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg, beaten
1 cup club soda
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
½ cup fresh, chopped cherries

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; make a well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, club soda and vegetable oil; pour this into the well of dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Whisk ingredients until blended, mixture may have a few small lumps; fold in cherries. Heat a lightly oiled grilled over medium high heat. Pour the batter onto the griddle, using approx. ¼ cup for each pancake. Cook until golden on both sides. Serve hot, slathered in butter and sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Now You’re Cookin’,
Chef Alli