|"A Christmas Story" Dinner|
|Right Food for the Season - Early Winter|
|Written by R. Patrick Kent|
'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house... were the sounds of "A Christmas Story" playing on the television. Each year there's a cable channel that delivers 24 hours of Ralphie and his quest for the Red Rider BB gun. At this point I have seen the movie, or at least healthy snippets of it, hundreds of times. After so many viewings you tend to notice many subtle things. One of them is the "in joke" that, other than Christmas Day, the family eats the same dinner each time we see them at the table. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and red cabbage.
The movie is set in Hammond, Indiana sometime in the late 1930's or early 1940's. Given the time and place it's not far off that they might be eating that for dinner many nights during a winter stretch. Meatloaf is American comfort food and even more so, a Midwestern comfort food. The first residents of Hammond were German farmers newly arrived from Europe. These European immigrants brought their culinary traditions with them. Meatloaf is similar to a traditional German, Belgian and Dutch dish; Falscher Hase or "Mock hare" in German. Not only that, but during the Great Depression, cooking meatloaf was a way to stretch the food budget for families so it makes sense that the Parker family would have it often given the backdrop of a post-Depression /pre-WWII Indiana.
At this time of year, what's local in Indiana isn't that different from the Boston area. You'd expect to find cabbage, onions, potatoes, kale, Swiss chard, turnips, squash, Brussel sprouts, etc. Cabbage and potatoes are a great way to stretch a food dollar - one head of cabbage shredded can feed an army. I thought it would be fun at this time of year to re-create the Parker's comfort food staples, with a few updates of my own.
The recipes below are each adaptiations of some of my favorite versions of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and red cabbage. The Cook's Illustrated Best Recipe meatloaf is one I have made for the last few years but it is slowly evolving into my own version. The greatest mashed potatoes I ever ate were at Joel Robuchon's restautrant in Paris. This is not his recipe but I suspect the key is the butter fat content. Lastly, Houston's restaurant in Boston makes a wonderful braised red cabbage as a staple side dish. Sweet and sour, I improvised a version that I think is close. Midwestern comfort food for a cold winter's night!
"Christmas Story" Meatloaf
1.5 - 2 lbs meatloaf mix (ground pork, veal & beef)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar and cognac in a small bowl and set aside. In a small cuisinart or blender, combine the garlic, sour cream, prunes, thyme, mustard, Worcesteshire and hot sauce.
Braised Red Cabbage
One head of red cabbage, cored and sliced thinly
In a large skillet with a cover, melt butter over medium heat. Add cabbage strips and cook until they begin the wilt. Season with salt & pepper and sprinkle the sugar over the cabbage, tossing to coat it. Add the wine, vinegar and water to the pan. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes. If the liquid is completely disappearing, turn to low heat for the last few minutes. Serve sprinkled with goat cheese.
1.5 - 2 lbs of Russet potatoes (or other starchy variety, not waxy - about 4 - 6 potatoes)
Fill a large pot about 1/2 - 2/3 full with water. Add kosher salt and bay leaf. Wash, peel and cut the potatoes into quarters and place them in the pot. Place the pot over high heat until water comes to a boil, turn down to medium high and let simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the potatoes and remove the bay leaf. Using a potato ricer, "rice" the potato back into the warm pot. (If you don't have a potato ricer you can just mash them with a fork; just don't use a blender or food processor.) Chop the butter into small pieces and add to the warm potatoes. Mix it in with a fork. Add the sour cream, cracked pepper and about a tsp of salt. Mix until the ingredients are combined. (If you are going for a less decadent version, cut the butter in 1/2.)