Thursday, June 18, 2009

Meat Loaf

My first experiences of eating meat loaf were in America early in the war when I was a refugee and not yet old enough to join the RAF. Those experiences were not happy ones.
My kind hosts ate meat loaf about once a week, cooking a rather solid lump of compressed, baked mince.
When I found myself with some frozen minced steak, and wondering what stroke of genius I might apply to it, meat loaf came to mind. Would it be possible to form a recipe that might become a regular and delicious dish for the house menu’s repertoire?
What turned out was quite delicious when hot, but very dull when cold. So the problem was not so much about how to make meat loaf as how to use it up when cold.
Frying it crumbled with mashed potato was not at all bad.
Frying thick slices in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs turned out to be a splendid way, and delicious.
Cooked rather as one would use corned beef in a hash proved to be excellent – especially when the taste of caraway seeds came to the fore.
My sister, who had been to the dentist for an extraction and was advised not to chew solid food for a while, found that the meat loaf melted in the mouth.
And my last experiment was to turn thick slices into a mousseau – by resting them in a vinaigrette with added chopped onion, capers, chopped cornichons, pickled peppercorns and chilli.


You will need:
Minced beef
Bread crumbs
Pepper and salt
Dried herbs and spices with which you feel happy (I used oregano, paprika and turmeric for colour, methi leaves, chilli, celery salt, dill, thyme, caraway seeds and Dijon mustard). The choice was made only because they happened to be handy at the time.

Grease a bread tin and, if you feel like it, line the bottom and sides with something like Parma/Serrano ham or bacon.
Into a large bowl put minced meat (it does not have to be beef. It could be a mixture of minced meats. Add half its volume of breadcrumbs (the bread I make crumbles well, but crumbled crumb from a drying sliced loaf would be fine).
Add dried herbs, with a little turmeric and much more paprika - both for colour. Add a dollop of Dijon mustard, pepper (milled if possible) and salt.
Now add beaten egg (probably two). Stir it well. I start with a spoon and then use the hands. You may need to moisten it all with milk - to form a soft paste.
Place the mixture in the bread tin and flatten it.
Now, apart, press into the heart of the mixture two lumps of ice (about the size of small walnuts). Cover them over. These will keep the loaf moist.
Bake the meat loaf for about two hours in a medium oven - with foil on top to keep in the moisture.
When cooked, turn it out on to a board. Slice it, to be eaten with mashed potato or pasta.
This is a very economical dish.

Making a meat loaf happens to be a giant leap toward making a splendid Paté/terrine. Just substitute minced fat pork and liver for the breadcrumbs. Use thyme, or something else, instead of the herbal mixture, and moisten with a spirit instead of milk and ice cubes. I bake it in a bain-marie (tray of water) uncovered. This is a great dish for a party.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I have been watching cricket at Lord’s ground with two friends. One complained that I had not written a blog recently, except for an update on growing vegetables in pots for those with little space and for the blind (sorry, but I have been on a roll with painting). And they both, I feel, are curious about the vigour of someone of my age (84) and are pleased to see me still alive each year.
I still run to catch a bus (with a rather stiff and creaky gait it is true), am artistically productive and imaginative as I have ever been, do all the cooking in the house, write, and enjoy life to the full. Having written a lot on wine, the drinking of it remains a great pleasure and, in the process, absorbing much healthy goodness from it.
As I think of these matters, it must be stressed that I am an extremely lucky person and, I suppose, possessed of an easy-going nature.
A matter that has been much in my favour has been the ability to chop and change careers, with one leading seamlessly to another. This successful switching depends mainly on having a creative mind.
From schooling (what there was of it) I became a pilot. And when the war ended I started in medicine (scotched by TB), stage designer, landscape artist, traveller and illustrator, sculptor, writer of books and articles, and back to being a painter – with lots of little bits in between.
And all along I have brought up children, run gardens, run houses, cooked for all and sundry, as well as creating two small, experimental vineyards.
And I have been lucky with marriages. In the first I was expected (and delighted) to run the home and family as my then wife fought for fame and fortune, and for the second I found myself with an absolutely lovely person.
I was born (1925) at just the right time. I remember the great depression (which has left me with a sense of parsimony) and how to live through it in the country, where we grew our own food and learned country ways and lore.
In my most virile years, contraception was beginning to be mastered and venereal disease temporarily conquered.
My life at that time might now be termed promiscuous, but it wasn’t. One simply went to bed with girls as a nice way of getting to know them. That was the way of it. I had what others called my mini-marriages.
My sex life has continued unabated, though recently declining with age – Viagra having extended it.
Of course, being my age means that health issues have come and gone. As a young man I had TB, which returned later when I was a medical student. Cure had to be left to nature, which didn’t work for many, but did for me – there being no remedy at that time. And in my later years I had prostate cancer (cured by radiotherapy), heart disease (cured by pills, with digitalis once being the key to success), and one eye going phut.
Since being left to look after myself in a country cottage during school holidays I learned not to be afraid of the dark, to walk silently, and to cook – a skill that continues, with hardly a dish repeated in favour of experiments. Exceptional successes are added to my sizeable computer-held cookbook, to accompany the best from my two published cookbooks.
Besides writing a blog, which is mainly on cooking and travel, I continue with an autobiography, started many years ago when I began writing and had capacity beyond a weekly column and still a good and fresh memory to rely on.
My paintings, done in the 1950s and 1960s sell at Christie’s – sometimes for a lot – and my recent work in bold pastel have started to sell well – mainly through the internet. With these I consider that I am not greedy, with postcard size at £50, up to A4 size at £195 - £250, and A1 at £1,950 – all with reductions for friends and family.
I take less pleasure from travel, hating airports, and great pleasure from my small London garden and the birds who use it (a robin eats from my knee).
So I say to my Lord’s friends: here is a new blog, and being 84 is wonderful (fingers crossed).