Trek to an American Classic: Meatloaf

This school year, my husband and I have been hosting a foreign exchange student from Germany.  For us, the transition has been very easy, as we often travel to Germany and enjoy a fair amount of schnitzel, pretzels, and beer.  And our student has been so accommodating, eating everything I put on the table.

While she enjoys the homemade German fare, I know she wants to try a variety of things.   So I cook up all kinds of Indian, Italian, Polish and Lebanese cuisine.  Whenever I ask her what she wants, the answer is the same:  “Just something American.”

But what is American food?  We’re a land of immigrants, taking so much of our culinary landscape from the variety of cultures.  Pizza?  That’s Italian.  Hot Dogs and French Fries?  Everyone has some version of that.  Or maybe Apple Pie?  That’s basically just German Apple Strudel.

Finally, it hit me:  MEATLOAF.  What can be more American than mom’s classic Sunday dinner?  It has ground meat, ketchup, and a scant amount of vegetable all mushed together in a delicious brown-baked loaf.  Here is my mother’s version, right down to my dad’s hunted venison.

Classic American Meatloaf

Special Tools:  Loaf Pan (9in x 5in), Small Grater/Shredder, Large Mixing Bowl

Time Needed:  10 minute prep, 30 minute baking

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Ground Meat (I used Venison, but any combo with Beef, Pork, or Veal will do)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 1/2 Onion, shredded (I used a Red Onion, but any color will do)
  • 1 clove Garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon Ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Grain Mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Dried Parsley
  • 1/4 cup Sun-Dried Tomato (optional)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Non-Stick Cooking Spray

ingredients

Pre-Heat the oven to 375 degrees

Combine all ingredients except the Breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl.  While you could use a large spoon to fold the ingredients into each other, digging in with your hands is much more effective.  Your hands will help you incorporate everything better, without over-mixing.

mixture

Depending on the moisture of the meatloaf mixture, you will need a varied amount of breadcrumbs. Begin first by adding 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs.  If the mixture feels very moist, gradually add more breadcrumbs.  If the mixture can form a hold a shape, then you have enough breadcrumbs.  As a generally rule, the fattier the meat (pork, veal), the more breadcrumbs you will need, verses the lesser fatty meats (venison, beef).

breadcrumbs

Evenly coat the Loaf Pan with the Non-Stick Cooking Spray.  Firmly pack the entire mixture into the center of the loaf pan, trying to leave about a finger-width gap around the edge of the meatloaf.  This will help with more even cooking, and a golden brown finish.

precooked

Place in the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes.  I like to add a few other items for the rest of dinner while the oven is already cooking.

in oven

When the meatloaf is finished, pop it out of the loaf pan, and use a serrated knife to make slices about an inch thick.

sliced

Meatloaf!  Some mashed potatoes and a green vegetable make the perfect accompaniments to this American classic.

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Trek to German Tradition: Apple Strudel

While we’ve all been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, I’ve been reminiscing on all of my previous journeys to Germany.  As you may know, this land holds a special place in my heart:  its mine and my husbands’ family heritage, we now host an exchange student from here, and we even got engaged at the famed Neuschwanstein Castle.  The food and culture of Germany have been etched into me.

We travel back to Germany often, nearly yearly.  Of course I always make a beeline for beer, pretzels, and bratwursts.  But after dinner sweets are routinely a part of each meal.  Sure, there’s chocolates, tortes, and truffles.  But for me, apple strudel with warm vanilla sauce, is nearly always the choice.

I’ve had many strudels along the way.  But, the one produced by my Bavarian mother-in-law remains my all-time favorite.  The kicker in Elisabeth’s strudel variant is the rum-soaked raisins riding on top of the apples.  After some coaxing, and a few in-person lessons, I finally got the dish into a recipe-friendly written version.

Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel)

Special Tools:  Rolling Pin, Pastry Brush, Silicone Mat (such as SilPat or just Parchment Paper), Baking Sheet Pan

Time Needed:  20 minute prep, 14-18 minute baking

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups Apples, peeled and sliced (about 6-8 Apples)
  • 1/2 Lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoon Flour
  • 1/2 cup Raisins
  • 1/4 cup Rum (optional)
  • 2 sheets Puff Pastry (one box, follow instructions for thawing)
  • 1 tablespoon Butter, cubed
  • 1 egg

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Rum is my mother-in-law’s semi-secret ingredient.  I really think its because she wants to have a toke of it while she baking.  Soak the Raisins for about 30 minutes in a small dish, where the Rum fully covers the Raisins.

Pre-Heat the oven to 425 degrees (or the instructions on the Puff Pastry brand)

Peel, thinly slice all of the Apples, and place in a large mixing bowl.  Juice half of a Lemon and gently fold it into the Apples.  Place the Apples in the fridge while preparing the Pastry; this and the Lemon will help prevent browning the Apples.

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Preparing the dough.  Puff Pastry can be an easy shortcut for pies, but it needs to be worked with quickly and kept relatively chilled.  Place one piece on a Flour dusted surface.  Gently roll out the Pastry until it is 2-3 inches longer than it is wide.  Move the Pastry onto a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat (or parchment paper) and chill in the fridge for a few moments.  Repeat with the other Pastry.

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On to the filling.  Remove the Apples from the fridge.  Gently fold in the Sugar, Cinnamon, Flour, and finely-cubed Butter.

Separately, drain the Rum from the Raisins (Save that Rum for yourself, because Rum-Raisin is delicious!).  Also, beat one Egg with a splash of Water, set aside.

Remove the Pastry from the fridge.  Spoon 1/2 of the Apply mixture and 1/2 of the Raisins onto the lower 1/3 width-wise of each Pastry.

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At this point, turning this into a neat, folded Pastry is the hardest part.  Use the pastry brush to “glue” each of the seams through this process.  Fold each long side inwards.  Then turn the Pastry on the short shorter over the filling.  Finally, turn the last end over, rolling the seam under the whole Pastry.  Repeat all of the with the other Puff Pastry, Apples, and Raisins.

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Brush the remaining Egg wash over the two filled Strudels, and cut a few vents in each to release steam while baking.

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Place the sheet pan into the pre-heated oven.  Bake the Strudels until golden brown, and beginning to ooze juice.

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The most classic way to enjoy Apfelstrudel is a hot, thick slice with Vanilla Sauce.  But, a nice scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream works just as well.  Either way, homemade ApfelStrudel will evoke fond memories of a past or potential German visits.

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Trek to East Berlin: The Fall of the Wall

The Berlin Wall.  The physical landmark and figurative symbol of the Cold War.  The barrier between Western freedom and blue jeans, and Communist constraints and bread lines.  For most of us over the age of 30, we specifically remember where we were and how we felt when East Berliners finally made it over that wall.

The opening of the Berlin borders quickly led to the reunification of Germany, a McDonald’s in Moscow, and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Ahh, the years have gone by so fast, and now we stand at 25 years since the Fall of the Wall.  And now I am reminiscing about my visit to this icon of Communist rule.

Even though we had made many trips to Germany, my husband and I had never been to Berlin together.  Finally, on the occasion of our honeymoon, we decided to we had to visit one of Europe’s greatest cities.  But as children of the Cold War, we also knew the trip had to be a journey into the city’s Communist past.

The first stop in any Berlin odyssey has to be the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate).  The triumphal arch is one of the most widely recognized landmarks in the city.  The TV images of young Berliners standing on the wall near this site are among the most iconic related to the wall.  Not to mention, President Reagan gave his famous “Tear Down this Wall” speech near this spot from the West side of Berlin looking in.

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We continued our Wall journey south, through Potsdamer and Leipziger Platz, where we also saw the moving memorial of columns dedicated to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Although the street signs were not always easily visible, we finally found ourselves on Neiderkirchnerstrasse (which turns into Zimmerstrasse).  Many of the greatest sites in Berlin can be found along this path.

First, one of the largest intact sections of the Wall hugs the property Border of the Topography of Terror.  Here exists some excellent examples of graffiti, so much an artistic legacy of the Wall’s history.

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Then on the way to more sites, we stumbled across another tourist attraction.  While we weren’t quite sure what asisi The Panorama was, but we decided to check it out.  This was truly a great experience and surprise.  Inside a giant cylinder was a painted/lighted display of what it was like to be in West Berlin looking into the East.  The Wall Panorama was incredibly lifelike and even changed as the seasons would.  I felt as though I was actually looking over the Wall, across “no-man’s land”, and into the blocked windows of East Berlin slums.

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As we made our way to the obligatory Checkpoint Charlie, we also discovered Trabi World.  Of course, Checkpoint Charlie is well known as the East-West crossing point for Allied soldiers during the Wall’s stand.  But lesser known in the West is the Trabi (full name Trabant).  This East German-produced machine was the ubiquitous vehicle of any Eastern-bloc family.  Its two-stroke engine (think of a modern lawnmower) and long lifespan made it the parade of vehicles to cross into the West, and a pop culture emblem today.

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Finally, no trip to the former East side of Germany would be complete without seeing and understanding the not-so-secretive State Security of the German Democratic Republic.  The Staatssicherheit (popularly known as Stasi) has been described as the most effective and repressive intelligence agency to have ever existed.  Popularized in the West by the recent movie The Lives of Others, it is legend that 50% of the population was spying and reporting on the other 50%.

Our search for the Stasi led us right into the lion’s former den.  Deep in the heart of old East Berlin still stands the former headquarters of the Secret Police.  Nearly intact of furniture, artifacts, and paperwork, today’s Stasi Museum demonstrates the intricate and invasive measures the authorities were willing to take in order to ensure control over the populace.  While the intact office of the former director was interesting, the real insights into the Stasi mindset were the vast number of dossiers and spy gadgets kept by the museum.  One of the most fascinating was the collections of seat cushion covers kept in jars.  The intent was to keep a scent of each informant and informee, in case the dogs were ever needed to track someone down.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have never experienced a government like this one.

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For us, the journey to Berlin was more than a honeymoon or a vacation.  It was a trip into the past, where we had a defined enemy in the Iron Curtain and the Soviet sphere.  The sites of the former East Berlin last as a reminder of the division the German people lived through for so many years.  But Berlin is also a vibrant city, still rebuilding into a modern place 25 years after The Fall of the Wall.

Berlin Wall route

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Trek to the Past: Childhood Dream Professions

As I have been Blogging, Tweeting, and Instagramming, October had become Blogtober with the DC Ladies.  Today is Day 15, and I am really enjoying today’s challenge topic:  What was My Childhood Dream Job?  As nearly anyone who’s known me would say, my very first dream was to be an Astronaut.

Motorcycle Details

Everyone has that first major historical event that sticks in their memory of “I remember where I was when….”  For my parents, it was when JFK was killed, for my grandparents it was Pearl Harbor, and for anyone between 20-30 years old it was 9/11.  Those of us in Generation X remember one major event so keenly:  the Challenger Space Shuttle Explosion.  I remember watching it live, with every other elementary school kid, because a teacher was taking that flight.

Even though I was young, the event made me want to learn more.  A few years later, my family went to Florida for the first time.  While everyone else was excited about Mickey and Shamu, my highlight of the trip was the 2 days we spent at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.  I climbed the rocket park, read every placard, and even got to have lunch with a real Astronaut.

As the years progressed, I realized I needed a more realistic profession, so I majored in college and subsequently took a position with the Air Force as an Aerospace Engineer.  While, this is a job of fairly similar principals, it doesn’t have quite the same excitement as being a real life Space Shuttle flying Astronaut.

Lucky for me, I have a wonderful husband.  He readily knows my lifelong obsession with space and the cosmos.  Several years ago, he gave me an incredibly thoughtful birthday gift:  a trip to Space Camp at the Rocket and Missile Center in Huntsville, Alabama.  Yes, THE Space Camp, only in an adult version.  We trained on astronaut simulators, the gravity chair, and piloting a mission.  Plus, we had space Jeopardy, which as a good space nerd, I crushed!

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And to cap off my space obsession, I needed to see a real space launch.  The final flight of the Space Shuttle was to happen 08 July 2011, and I had to be there.  Hubby and I decided it was a our last chance, and made the two-day road trip to Florida.  Even though the traffic and weather looked like it would be against us, the skies parted and STS-135 lifted off on time.  It was a truly beautiful and emotional experience for me.

Final Shuttle Launch

Even though I never actually became an astronaut, I feel as though I’ve had some great life events to give me a close experience.  And who knows, maybe Elon Musk or Richard Branson will get me there as a space tourist.

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Advice Trek: What New Bloggers Should Remember

As I previously mentioned, October had become Blogtober with the DC Ladies.  Today is Day 6, and I’m proud to say I have kept up with this challenge through the first Week!

Today’s topic again involves advice, this time on what advice new bloggers need to know.  Considering I’m a relatively new blogger myself, I thought about what I still need to remind myself each day as I develop my own voice through blogging.

5 Tips for New Bloggers

  • Be Consistent:  Use the same themes, photos, and ideas throughout your social media spectrum.  This will help to establish your message, your passion, and YOUR brand.
  • Find Your Rhythm:  You cant blog every day; something will always come up.  Try to find a rhythm for yourself as to when you will create content, write, answer questions, research, comment to others, and dream.   I make every attempt to post original content at least once a week, so I must back schedule the rest of my work to match my weekly goal.
  • Accept Your Numbers:  You will not have 1000s of followers or likes or comments your first live week.  It takes time and content to develop a legion of loyal users who want to read what you are producing.  Use this building period to find your voice and to develop your brand.
  • Embrace Photo-Editing:  Face it, every blog you love has glorious pictures of food, fashion, babies, crafts, or destinations.  You like these blogs because these great pictures and perfectly edited to display the exact image you envy.  You don’t need to buy expensive photo-editing tools, or even a new fancy camera.  But you should spend some time and effort in learning how to make the best use of your personal devices.
  • Have Fun:  Remember, you chose to be a blogger because you have a skill, you enjoy it, and want to share it with others.  Blogging should never be a chore; but if it is, take step back and find the fun in it again.

Blogger Advice

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Trek to Fall Favorites: Fresh Pumpkin Kitchen Tips

The question was posed to me, What’s My Favorite Fall Recipe?  As I thought about my all the foods I love in fall, there was one common item:  Pumpkin.  Not pumpkin spiced.  Not pumpkin flavored.  Food with real actual pumpkin that’s baked, stewed, or souped.

As some of you may now, I’m not one for canned ingredients, especially when its in-season.  Sure, a whole pumpkin can be a bit daunting when your goal is food, and not a jack 0’lantern.  But breaking down a few small Sugar Pie pumpkins into the perfect ingredient for pies, cakes, soups, and stews in under an hour.  Here are simple steps to give your fall recipes the freshest taste of pumpkin.

How to make Fresh Whole Pumpkin

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Tools Needed:

  • Sharp Chef’s Knife
  • Large Cutting Board
  • Potato Peeler
  • Large Pot
  • Strainer
  • Immersion Blender (or Potato Masher)

First, start with the right pumpkin.  The best one is the Baby Pam Sugar Pie Pumpkin.  Sugar Pies are the modern baking pumpkin. The skin is very thin, the flesh is sweeter, and you should be able to find it at your local farmer’s market or most grocery stores (Trader Joe’s, Harries Teeter and Whole Foods have them).

Cut the pumpkin into quarters.0151cb56cedae03d057c08e380dd7f3a5727bfe6ae

 

Remove all the seeds and save for later.  Pumpkin seeds are fantastic roasted with different seasonings and spices.

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Remove the pumpkin “guts”, technically called the fibrous strands, by scraping them out with a metal spoon.  Throw the guts away.

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Next will be the most difficult part.  To remove the tough, outer skin, use a common potato peeler across the ribs.  You may need to cut the pumpkin into small pieces to more easily get to each section.

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Cut the cleaned pumpkin into small chunks, about 2 x 2 inches each.

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Place all the pumpkin into a large part.  Add a few cinnamon sticks and 2 inches of water.  Heat on medium-high heat, periodically stirring.  You may need to do this in a few batches if the pot is not big enough.

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Once the pumpkin is soft and mushy (about 10 -15 min), take off from the heat, drain the water, and remove the cinnamon sticks.

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Place all the pumpkin in a large bowl, or back in the cooking pot.  Use an immersion blenders to puree the pumpkin.  If you don’t have one of these tools (which I highly recommend owning), you can also put some muscle into a potato masher or ricer.

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Please share with me the recipes you’ll be using with Fresh Pumpkin!

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Trekking to Advice: What my younger self needed to know.

As part of the DC Ladies Blogtober challenge, I’ve undertaken a commitment to Blog/Tweet/Instagram each day according to the direction provided by the Ladies.  Today was truly an interesting one for me contemplate:

What is one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?

I instinctively thought about my mother’s constant advice to me, which was “Always Wear Good Underwear.”  But really, who in their right mind doesn’t do that?  Its like my dad reminding me to wear my seat belt, or to put on a jacket when its cold outside.  I think I did pretty good with these things without having to be reminded of them.

Then my mind shifted to my younger, safer self.  While I pushed a few boundaries, I generally did what was expected of me:  went to my family’s favorite college only a few hours from home, majored in consistent field, and took a comfortable job with the federal government.  Sure, life was pretty consistent and safe, but too predictable.

Opportunity hit me in 2004.  The safe and cushy government job asked for volunteers to deploy to Iraq.  After contemplating my grandfather’s WWII service, and a little self assessment, I decided it was something I had to do.  That first taste of the unexpected set me up for a lifetime adventure.

After that, I took vacations by myself, went on 6 or 7 more deployments, and went skydiving.  I think my craziest adventure was planning an entire wedding in 3 weeks.  Needless to say, its all turned out pretty well.  So, to the younger me, and all young women:

Day4 challenge

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