ketchup

Meatloaf is a dish that changes with age: it is often reviled by children and treasured by parents. It makes sense, actually. Kids like to know what’s in their food, and meatloaf is the antithesis of this idea; it’s just a brown hunk of mystery, coupled with a nagging feeling that there are vegetables inside. Adults like meatloaf because it’s a way to eat many ingredients at once, with minimal effort. Personally, I think that a perfectly-cooked meatloaf is appealing to both sides of the coin: easy to make but tasty enough for everyone to enjoy. To ensure a perfectly-roasted loaf, I developed a recipe that uses a water bath to keep the oven moist and cook everything evenly.

Meatloaf has origins in many countries, spread throughout the world. It’s universally considered a comfort food. Some of my favorite variations include Jewish Klops (made with boiled eggs inside), Czech Sekan√° (with pickles and sausage inside), and Austrian Faschierter Braten (wrapped in ham or bacon before baking). The American variation rose to popularity during the Great Depression, when families tried to stretch food out to last longer. Americans typically added breadcrumbs to help bind and add volume to the dish, and the tradition persists today. The truth is that a well-cooked meatloaf doesn’t really need a breadcrumb binder – mushrooms work just fine, and add some great flavor as well.

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It’s funny, but up until recently I assumed there was already a ketchup recipe on my blog. I didn’t discover its absence until I developed Thursday’s recipe (hint: it rhymes with “beet oaf”), when I couldn’t find my recipe online. At first I was confused, and thought the search function of my blog was definitely broken. So…sorry about that, and here you go.

The history of ketchup is pretty awesome. It all started with garum, an ancient fish sauce first used by the Ancient Greeks and later the Romans. It reached Asia some 2,000 years ago via trade routes, and became a staple in many Asian countries, particularly Vietnam (where they later perfected the sauce using anchovies). Vietnamese fish sauce as we know it today entered China about 500 years ago, and the Chinese (particularly those in the Southeast providence of Fujian) spread it around the rest of Asia. The Fujian word for fish sauce? You guessed it, ketchup. In fact, many Asian languages today still use a form of the word “ketchup” to refer to sauces; a common example is the Indonesian word kecap (pronounced “keh-chap”), a catch-all term for fermented sauces.

When Europeans arrived in Asia in the 1600s, they were enamored with fish sauce (they’d long forgotten about garum) and took it back to Europe. Many variations of ketchup existed in Europe for hundreds of years, the most popular being walnut ketchup and mushroom ketchup (the practice of using fish eventually died out). It wasn’t until the 1800s that people started adding tomatoes to the sauce, and H. J. Heinz took it to a new level in 1904 when his company figured out a way to bottle and preserve the sauce using natural ingredients (the mid 1800s were full of horror stories about deadly batches of ketchup made with stuff like boric acid and coal tar). Heinz was also one of the first to add copious amounts of sugar to the sauce.

My recipe still maintains the sweet and sour taste we’ve all come to expect from ketchup, but throws a historical twist in for good measure: a bit of fish sauce.

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