Some people just have an innate sense of direction… I don’t. I’m terrible with direction. If you stop me on the street and ask me for directions to some place, my advice to you would be: listen to me carefully, then dismiss everything I say because it’s probably wrong. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked for directions to a place and, after giving, what I am absolutely sure are, proper instructions, later realizing I should have said it was a right turn at such and such street, not a left. I always felt bad when that happened, because basically, if you were lost before… now, after talking with me, you’re really lost. Eventually even if I thought I knew exactly where something was I would usually apologize and simply say I was unfamiliar with that area. Where this tripped me up a little was with the people who would pull their cars over, lean out the window, and ask me if I lived nearby. Answering, “yes” to that question inevitably leads to a follow up - “How do you get to…” question. Clearly if you live nearby, then you must know where blankety-blank street is, right? When this happened I would look around at my surroundings trying to see any street signs that might give me a clue and I then would hear myself starting to talk… “Blankety-blank street, sure… yeah that’s… oh yeah, it’s um… I think it’s like two blocks down, and wait… no, no, I think that it’s… yeah, that’s actually over by… no it’s… Uh, um, err… no… sorry, no… I don’t know where that is”. Then just five minutes later, there I was crossing blankety-blank street and thinking to myself… oh yeah I knew that sounded familiar… that’s the street just one block up from where I live. Of course if you answer “no” to that question most people just look at you like your some kind of dummy, since they can clearly see you’re walking your dog (and they know most people don’t drive miles out of their way to walk their dogs) so they end up thinking you’re just being rude. Either way it’s an uncomfortable situation for me. Nowadays if someone stops and asks me if I live nearby, I just run around in circles screaming “Stranger danger! Stranger danger!” and they’ll usually just speed off down the road. I’m not sure that makes me look any better but… there are two upsides to this scenario; one is that I don’t give someone bad directions and two, I also don’t look like a complete idiot who doesn’t know his way around town. I still might look like an idiot, just not a complete one!
There are tales of one of my aunts who was also bad at directions and in order to get anywhere she had to start at her house. If she was away from home and needed to go to a place she would have to first drive home and then continue on to her ultimate destination from there. I don’t think I am that bad, but I will say that when I need to go somewhere that I don’t go often, and I am not at home, I usually trace the route, in my mind, from where I am to my house and then to the place I need to be. When I find a crossroad or common area between where I am and the route in my mind I can pick it up from there and be on my way. But here’s a thing, when I am at home and I need to go somewhere, I often will turn the wrong direction when leaving the driveway, making me drive an extra block or two before I can correct the direction, it’s a real pain, let me tell you. I have gone to the same dentist now for about 20 years and just before I walk out the door David will ask me “Do you remember how to get there?” Of course I say “yes”, but in all likelihood…, I really don’t!
If you drive with me and you’re in the passenger seat, you are the navigator. No ifs, ands, or buts. It’s your job to tell me when the exit is coming up, which lane I should be in, and when to make the proper turns. There is a note here for you though, and that is: you can’t simply say turn left at the next street. The proper instruction would be - turn YOUR way at the next street. If I need to make a right turn, the proper instruction is - turn MY way at the next street. When I’m driving I can understand those terms because they have a visual reference. I can see the passenger and turning the wheel that way makes me turn right, turning the wheel towards the side of the car I am on makes me turn left… easy right? If you just say turn left there’s a fifty–fifty chance I will get it wrong. This happened some years back during one of our company’s annual staff retreats. It was decided that we would go wine tasting and since I don’t drink, I was the designated driver. After visiting one particular winery the decision was made to head off to another place nearby, so we loaded everybody up in the big van and set off. When I got to the end of the driveway I stopped to check for traffic before pulling out onto the road (Pro Tip: that’s always a good idea). The person in the passenger seat said, “you’re going to turn right here”. I nodded, and in my head I was thinking - of course I am going to turn here I have no other choice… if I go straight I’ll run into a ditch. “Right.” she said. I nodded again, and this time, to assure her that I indeed was going to make a turn, I added a verbal “OK”, since she obviously didn’t see me nod the first time… after all she had been drinking so.... Anyway, I think she might have said “right” a few more times (like maybe six or seven times) before I pulled out of the driveway of course heading to the left. “um… your other right” she said (with a tone of polite, condescending exasperation in her voice). Instantly it became clear she wasn’t looking for a confirmation that I was turning, as I thought, she was telling me to turn right. Clearly she was not using the proper turning instructions and thusly I had no choice but to hold her completely responsible.
Another thing that confuses me is when people say - head east on a particular street. Well, I don’t carry a compass with me so how am I supposed to determine which way is east? This is an instruction I have never understood. And if you couple that with the fact that so many streets are named west something street or north something street turning east is way too confusing for me. Turn east on Northwest Avenue. What??? How can you turn east on Northwest Avenue… that makes no sense to me. Where we live now, on the coast in southern California, the ocean, which I generally have understood should be to the west… is actually on the southeast side of town. That’s right south-east, and what’s really strange is that means in the winter, I can actually go stand on the shore of the pacific ocean, looking out over the pier jutting into the water, and watch the sunrise over the ocean… yes, you heard me… the sunrise…OVER the ocean, in California! Then later that same day I can cross to the other side of town and watch again as the sun sets… again over the Pacific ocean… in an area where the ocean is mostly due west. This does not help my directional problems at all. So using north, south, east or west directions will most likely cause a 404 error in my brain.
In New York the only way I could get around some areas of town after I exited the subway station was to look up at the street sign and make a mental note of the number. If I needed to be on 14th Street and I exited at 12th Street I would simply walk one block and check the street signs again. If it was 13th Street everything was good and I would continue on my way pretending I knew exactly where I was the whole time. More often than not it would be 11th Street and I would act like I needed to tie my shoe or something, and I would move to the side. As soon as the crowd I was engulfed in had passed completely, I would turn around and walk the other way. Other times when I was in an area that was not numbered or if I were traveling crosstown, I would have to look for landmarks that would let me know if I was going the correct direction. If I was on 42nd Street trying to get to Times Square, I knew that if I saw Grand Central Station I was going the wrong way. Many times I used the Empire State Building (or other equally tall building) as a direction landmark. When exiting a subway station I would simply look for the Empire State Building and then figure out whether my destination was closer to, or farther away from that building, then walk the appropriate direction. I eventually would end up where I was going, but it was usually much longer of a walk than it ever needed to be.
Often, when it comes time for dinner I lose my way as well. That is to say, I can’t make up my mind on what to make. I just stand there in the grocery store wandering up and down the aisles like I have no idea where I am. When that happens, I might just turn to this meatloaf recipe from my “good friend” Alton Brown. (“Alton, you haven’t called or stopped by in like... forever… what’s up with that”?) I like this meatloaf for a bunch of reasons: the texture, the glaze, the flavor of the meat, the glaze, the glaze, the glaze, and finally I can’t forget about the glaze. And it’s not just meat, there are actually some vegetables cooked in there too. Anyway, of all the recipes I learned from the Good Eats shows, this is one of those that I will never lose. It has been in my line up of things I make quite often, since it aired oh, so many years ago. I am a huge fan of this meatloaf and when it’s served along side some garlic mashed potatoes and maybe a bowl of peas… I am in comfort food heaven.
So there are a few things to talk about before getting to the recipe and one thing is the fact that you’ll need a food processor to make this the way it’s described here. Can you make it without a food processor? I suppose you can. The only difficult part will be the fine dicing of the vegetables. Other than that you can purchase pre-ground meat and use seasoned breadcrumbs instead of the croutons and the result will be pretty close to the original, but if you have a food processor, break it out and use it... you bought it - so put it to work! Grinding the meat in the food processor gives you a bit of a different texture than using pre-ground beef from the store and that is really appealing. The next thing is, you’ll need a probe thermometer to know when it’s done. You can use an instant read thermometer, but it means you’ll be opening and closing the oven door a lot, which isn’t great. The next thing to talk about is the fact the original recipe (watch a condensed version of the Good Eats episode here) calls for 6 ounces of garlic-flavored croutons. Like Alton, I can, but choose not to, make my own croutons. I would rather just buy them at the store. Well, where I live the croutons only come in 5-ounce bags and very rarely can I find ones that are just garlic flavored, so what do I do? Well, I use a five-ounce bag of whatever flavor I can find, and I am happy every time. I have used Caesar flavored, garden herb, butter and garlic and even cheese and garlic and never once have I said, gee, this would be better if there was one more ounce of croutons in it or gee, this would be better if it was only garlic flavored croutons… nope, not once. So, if you can only find a 5-ounce bag of croutons and they happen to not be just garlic flavored, don’t sweat it. Lastly, you’ll need a baking sheet, (one with sides on it), and some parchment paper to bake the meatloaf on and if you have a 9” x 5” loaf pan you can use that to mold and shape the meat, otherwise you’ll have to do it by hand.
Here is how I made it today:
For the Meatloaf:
5 ounces butter and garlic-flavored croutons (any flavor will do)
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1¼ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ large onion, roughly chopped
1 medium-large carrot, broken into several pieces
3 cloves garlic
½ large red bell pepper
18 ounce chuck steak (or 18 ounces ground chuck)
18 ounce sirloin steak (or 18 ounces ground sirloin)
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the glaze:
½ cup ketchup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Dash hot pepper sauce (tobacco, sriracha, tapatio – any hot sauce will do)
1 tablespoon honey
Preheat the oven with the rack in the center position to 325°F.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set it aside for now.
Into the food processor bowl, add the croutons, the black pepper, the cayenne pepper, the chili powder and the thyme and pulse the machine until the mixture is fine, then dump it all into a large bowl.
Next, put into the food processor bowl the carrot, the onion, and the bell pepper pieces and again pulse the machine until they are chopped fine. Don’t process them into a puree, but do get them chopped fine. Add the chopped veg to the bowl with the crouton mix.
Cut the steaks into cubes about 1½ inches square, or so, and place them into the food processor next. You will need to do this in two or three batches depending on the size of your machine. Pulse the machine in short (1-second) bursts until the meat is ground nicely with no remaining large chunks. Again you don’t want to make a paste, but you do want it chopped up well. Alton says it takes about 10 bursts to get it to the right consistency but use your judgment here for best results. Add the chopped meat to the crouton and veg mixture. If you purchased pre-ground meat, just add it straight into the croutons and vegetable mixture.
Lightly toss everything together a few times then sprinkle with the salt and add in the egg.
Use your hands to continue tossing the mixture to combine. Avoid squeezing the meat together as you mix. You don’t want to smoosh it together while mixing or it won’t mix properly; just keep tossing and mixing it until the egg has been fully incorporated and everything is well combined.
Take a 9” x 5” loaf pan and line it with a large piece of plastic wrap. This is to ensure that after we pack the meat mixture into the pan and turn it over the meatloaf will come out with ease.
Pack the meat into the pan, pressing it into the corners of the pan. It’s ok to compact the loaf here as you press it into the pan, (you definitely want to avoid any air pockets in the loaf) then turn it out onto the center of your prepared baking sheet and discard the plastic wrap.
Insert a probe thermometer at a 45 degree angle into the top of the meatloaf so that the tip of the probe is in the center of the meatloaf and set the temperature for 155°F.
In a small bowl combine all of the ingredients for the glaze and mix to combine.
Put the meatloaf in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.
At the 15 minute mark brush the glaze over the meatloaf top and sides then continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 155°F, about 1 hour and 15 minutes more, depending on your oven and how packed in your meatloaf is.
When the meatloaf is done remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes before serving. To slice, use a serrated knife for best results (if you have an electric knife – this would be a great use for it).
That’s it, Alton’s meatloaf, in all its glory - and for David and I, only one thing makes this meatloaf better… extra glaze. Do yourself a favor and make a separate, second batch of glaze to serve along side the meatloaf, or to use instead of ketchup on whatever you might use ketchup on. It’s great on fries (and tater tots!)
Until next time…