Peace to you, Traveler. Welcome to Kitchen Catastrophes, our oasis against the outside world, where food facts and historical trivia shelter us from the chaos of a world gone mad. I am the Abbot of this place, Jon O’Guin, and I greet you in the words of our great icon Balboa: “AAAAADDDDRRRIIIIIAAAANNNNN!!”
Here is a literal statue of him, in a park in Philadelphia. The city of Philadelphia built a statue to a fictional character. I can't tell if that's great or dumb.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, today on Kitchen Catastrophes, we’re back in the City of Brotherly Love, which we haven’t visited since…well, we were actually just there for the Super Bow- BIG GAME. Shit. Almost left myself open for the NFL's Lawyers to punt my ass into next week. ANYWAY, today, we’re mashing up two American classics, the Philly Cheesesteak, and Meat-loaf. And, as I said last week, we’re revealing the dark secrets of the dishes that explain why they’re not truly American at all! Let’s dive in with the history of meaty munchies.
Philly a Fibber? That’s Freakin’ Ridiculous!!
Actually, Title Jon, you’re right. the Philly Cheesesteak is definitely and completely American, no question about it. I just got a little carried away with the whole thing last paragraph. My apologies. The Cheesesteak was actually invented in America, though it WAS invented rather…piecemeal. And rather recently, too. See, back in the 1930’s a pair of brothers , Pat and Harry Olivieri, ran a Hot Dog stand in Philadelphia. History’s unclear on if the brothers were together on the eventful day, or if only one was working, so I’ll just say they were both there, since the Harry basically disappears from history after it, regardless. One day, they needed lunch, and, for reasons I’m sure most of us can understand, DIDN’T want a hot dog that day. So Harry ran off to the butcher’s, bought some thinly sliced steak, brought it back, and Pat cooked it with some onions. As the brothers were about to eat, a cab driver smelled the sandwich, and ordered one. He liked it so much, he suggested something to the effect of “Why don’t you guys stop selling hot dogs, and make this all the time?” Presumably with at least 4 additional profanities or insults in the sentence.
Cab-driving is an All-American job, voiced with All-American Profanity.
They did, and it did so well, Pat even made a restaurant off of it in 1940. It wasn’t until they had a restaurant, and had another guy as the manager, that anybody actually put CHEESE on a cheesesteak: A guy not-at-all-suspiciously named “Cocky Joe” Lorenza is credited with being the first to put cheese, specifically Provolone, on the steak sandwiches. And not for nothing, but “Cocky Joe” Lorenza is the kind of name that’s DEFINITELY been in a couple shady situations, right? Like, at least a couple bar fights. Sorry, unrelated.
Sometime in the 50’s Cheez Whiz became a popular topping at the restaurant, because it was both new and exciting (Cheez Whiz was invented in 1952) and because it allowed the guy working the flat-top to just spray out sandwiches at a ridiculous rate. Nowadays, “The Whiz”, as it’s unfortunately called, is considered by many to be the true condiment of choice, with even ONIONS, literally the first thing on the damn sandwich, as optional.
There were a lot of unfortunate elements to The Wiz, as well as The Whiz.
Who Wants a Little Champagne with Dinner? Or Maybe A Bottled Scrapple?
So that’s Cheesesteak’s half of the story: Italian-American to the core, just like Philly itself. So what about Meatloaf? Well, as you may recall me mumbling mid gelatinous berry Dessert, Meatloaf DOESN’T have such a true-blue pedigree!
Yes, I too was shocked, random Bulldog I found a picture of, because "pedigree" naturally links to "dogs" in the modern mind.
Or rather, that its storied pedigree is so girthy that it exceeds our modern conception. Because where exactly meatloaf comes from depends on how you count it. People have been mixing meat with bread for…I’m really irritated, because Apicius’s cookbook is from 400 AD, meaning I can’t QUITE say “millennia” here, since it’s only been 1,600-1,700 years. I mean, I COULD, but I’m not a man to exaggerate the girth of my meatloaf’s pedigree. So I guess I’ll have to be content with a pedigree over centuries long. Which, of course, has nothing to do with girth, being a measure of Length. I just find the word “girth” funny to say. And write. Which are…different things…
So Rome had meat-and-bread patties. Then, as I discussed last summer, 17th centure France made Pâté, a dish I’m going to have to go find the goddamn alt-codes for “circumflex lower case a” for, AGAIN. USE LESS DIACRITICAL MARKS, FRANCE. Spain only needed 2, why the hell do you have 5? Do you hate typing? Is that it? What was I talking about? Oh, yes. Pâté. So, yeah, France started making “Meat mixed with veggies, cooked in a loaf shape”…sometime. Look, it’s hard to measure these things. Because pâté literally translates to something like “paste”. Foie Gras was being made into pâté in like, 400 BC, in Ancient Egypt, 800 YEARS before Rome wrote down their meat patties, so I will DEFINITELY say that because of this, we’ve been making pâté for MILLENNIA. Boom, girth returned.
BEHOLD THE GIRTH OF IMHOTEP!
But when exactly they started making more complex pâtés is up for debate. We know that by the 1700’s, they were being made in loaf-shaped pans, because we have cookbooks that started showing up and mentioning “just use a terrine/pâté pan”. And the modern meatloaf can be compared to the pâté de champagne, or "pâté of the countryside". a pâté explicitly of diverse meats, meant to use up scraps. Livers, game, pork, beef, anything. It's also one of the sources for putting hard-boiled eggs into the center of a meat-loaf, a decision I have never seen work, but hold faith that one day it could be good.
So Rome for 1700 years, France/Egypt for 2300 years, both great pedigrees, but if I know one thing about Meatloaf, it’s that he was in the Uwe Boll movie Bloodrayne. And if I know one thing about the FOOD Meatloaf, it’s that the ketchup glaze is a make-or-break component. And if I’m allowed to know MORE than ONE thing about the FOOD Meatloaf, it’s that a large number of people believe it should be constructed with three meats, a mixture of pork, beef and veal, though, in my personal life, I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered meatloaf made with anything but beef. The point is there’s one more component to the history of Meatloaf: The DUTCH!
Yeah, those Cheese-and-Weed loving dicks!
No, not the GOOD Dutch. The American Brand. The Pennsylvania Dutch, you rotten English! (That’s a little Amish vernacular, to make them feel welcome. The Amish, that is. I want them to feel welcome. To my online food blog. Because I see no reason they can’t read it. None springs to mind.) Anywho, the Pennsylvania Dutch, who are actually Germans. (“German” is, as I’ve talked about once before on the site, an exonym. Germans call themselves “Deutsch”. And somebody on Ellis Island didn’t know that fact a couple hundred years ago, and sent all these new “Dutch” immigrants to Pennsylvania.) They created a dish called “Scrapple” in the 1800’s.
Scrapple is…well, if you want to be delicate, it’s an innovative style of breakfast sausage. If you want to be indelicate: It’s pig heads, organ meat and trimmings, boiled to form a porky broth, then cornmeal is cooked in that broth, then the meats are tossed back in after dicing and de-boning everything, you mix a couple herbs in, and pour the resulting meat-meal porridge into pans, where the gelatin produced causes it all to firm up and set. While the process may be a little too involved for most modern Americans, the results are actually completely benign.
Looks a little like a hashbrown, and a little like a sausage patty.
Anywho, shortly after Scrapple made its debut, another important invention hit the stage: the mechanical meat grinder! Within less than 20 years, a cookbook was released with THREE different meat-loaf recipes in it. And America never looked back.
Slathering My Girth With Cheese
We have officially taken that joke too far, as it has hurt even me. Anyway, making the Philly Cheesesteak Loaf. Of all the recipes we’ve done this month, I debated the most with this one. Should I just use ground beef, or try and incorporate steak into the meatloaf? If I try steak, how? Which cheese should I use, and follow-up, can I literally bear to eat a meat-loaf bound together with Cheez Whiz? What veggies should I use? Should I add a splash of pizza sauce? There’s a ton of variety that goes into making cheese-steaks. In the end, I resolved to keep things mostly simple.
-I would include steak into the dish, by thinly slicing some steak, frying it, and dicing it before mixing it with the raw ground beef.
-I’d include semi-caramellized onions and green peppers, since they’re my mental cheesesteak topping.
-I’d also include some sautéed mushrooms, because they’re a common ingredient in cheesesteaks, AND they’ll help account for some of the moisture lost in the pre-fried steak.
-I’d just use provolone cheese, to avoid discoloring the loaf, and because my family just aren’t that into Cheez Whiz any more. (I used to be into it, as a child. I still think it has its place. I just don’t think that place is very common, and I’m still unsure if it should be on a cheese-steak.)
Also, side note: literally EVERY form of “cheese steak” is accepted, whether two distinct words, a hyphenate, or a compound word. I’ve tried to keep it consistent, but I’ve also had to look up diacritical marks in French, and I honestly think it’s kind of endearing: there is no wrong way to put cheese and steak together to make “cheesesteak”. It’s a nice sort of meta-commentary. Anyway, back to the cooking.
I..uh…have a confession. By explaining what we intend to put in the meatloaf, we’ve kind of already revealed how to make the meatloaf.
This is my own fault, I know that meatloaf is, more often than not, a 3-step process: mix loaf, cook loaf, cover loaf in ketchup-based glaze 10 minutes before it finishes. Once you know the ingredients in the mix, you’re…basically ready to go. Also, side note, despite bringing it up twice, there is no glaze on this meatloaf. We’ll talk about that in a bit.
But yeah, prepping the Philly bits was the most intensive part of the process. Slicing steak thin, searing it, and then dicing the seared meat, that was a bit of a pain. I actually sliced the meat the night before we cooked, in a rare show for foresight.
I didn't take any picture of it, because it was a RARE show of foresight.
Then the next day, I thinly sliced an onion, sliced up a green pepper, and cooked those suckers on medium low for like, half an hour. I was really undecided if I wanted to go for caramelized or grilled, so I kind of split the difference by covering the onions for part of the cooking time, to return moisture to the pan. I have no idea if this actually did anything. But, once they were going, we seared up the steak slices, and got to dicing.
Well, SOMEONE got to dicing. I was uninvolved, other than in taking pictures.
In the interest of helping you out, you can totally cook the onions, peppers, mushrooms, and steak the day before, and just mix it all in when you’re ready to make the loaf. We didn’t, but it can be done, probably. What am I, a Loaf Expert? What’s that? I gave you a card with that written on it? Let me see that. Oooh. This is…well, it’s not a typo, but an unfortunate accident. See, this is supposed to say “LoafING Expert”, but, as you can see, someone spilled some beef gravy on the card. Easy mistake to make.
Anyway, we diced and diced and diced, and then, I had an idea: typically, the bread of a Cheesesteak is toasted, to give a little more texture. What if I toasted the breadcrumbs for the meatloaf? This was potentially a valid idea, except in every way that mattered, because I thought ‘should I butter the pan before toasting?” And changed my mind AFTER the breadcrumbs were in it, and I just ended up making Breadcrumb-covered butter balls that didn't really toast.
I turned to my brother for support, having completely forgotten everything I know about my brother and our relationship.
I achieved remarkably little with the attempt, other than wasting time. Anyway, we mixed the veggies, mushrooms, steak, breadcrumbs, eggs, milk and ground beef all together, and formed a decent enough loaf. Then, realizing we hadn’t included any provolone, we tore the top half off like a Monkey’s Skullcap in the Temple of Doom, laid some nice cheesy goodness in that bad boy, and popped it in the oven.
I would love to tell you how long to cook this, but I’m not going to. This isn’t because you’ve disappointed me and need to be taught a lesson in self-sufficiency, but rather because of the insane way MY family tracked the time: We put the loaf in the oven, washed the dishes, made some drinks, and started watching TV. After about 10 minutes, I asked ‘hey, how long is a meatloaf supposed to cook?” To which my brother said “Who cares? I wanna play Bocce ball and drink.” So we did that. Eventually, I got him to set a 30 minute timer, which, after it went off, we waited another 10 or so minutes before I went in to check it.
Semi-miraculously, the thing was only at around 170 degrees, meaning we were only like, 5-6 minutes late in tending to it. It looked worse than it was, since the cheese had flowed out of one end, and the whole ensemble had produced a small lake of grease. I removed the loaf from its liquid location, went back out to finish the bocce ball game. Then we came inside, sliced the loaf, and served with salad.
I'll say this: this looks a lot more like a pâté than most meatloaf.
How was it? Well, there’s two tones you can take with it, because, spoilers: it was not great. Not BAD, but not great. It was a little overcooked, as the temperature already told us, which made the texture just a little too firm. Further, if you’ve made a lot of meat loaf, you may have noticed a problem coming 3 paragraphs ago: we didn’t put in any Worchestershire sauce, which is de rigeur for good meatloaf flavor. And that was a misstep, as the flavor not being deep/bold enough was a common reaction. Honestly, I avoided the Ketchup glaze for fear it would overpower the flavor, but a little sugar and acid would have done this a heap of good. We also did a touch of research and learned that we could have put in as much as quadruple the cheese, which would have given some extra moisture and flavor. In the end, everyone ate 2 or so slices, almost completely finishing the loaf in one sitting, and we had ideas on, if we made it again, how to improve it, so it wasn't a complete loss.
But in terms of effort-to-results, it was a total Catastrophe. But hey, that’s why we’re here: to crash and burn and learn so the next time, we do better. And that’s a fine finish both to a meal, and to Mash-up May. I want to thank you all for- what’s that? I’m being told I miscounted, and Wednesday is NOT the last day of May, Thursday is. So I shouldn’t do an outro today, but then…Well. That’s a pity. Um…Well, maybe I’ll change what I review, maybe I won’t. We’ll just have to see.
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THURSDAY: I WAS GOING TO REVIEW AN ONLINE SHOW ABOUT BURGERS, BUT NOW I WANT TO SEE IF I CAN SQUEEZE ONE LAST MASH-UP INTO THE MONTH.
NEXT MONDAY: JON MAKES SOMETHING TART AND SWEET, FOR SOME BITTERSWEET REFLECTION ON THE PASSING OF HIS FATHER. WARNING: I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS IS GOING TO GO.
Philly Cheesesteak Loaf
1 lb steak, thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 green bell paper, sliced into ¼” strips
3 tbsp butter, separated (2 tbsp for mushrooms, 1 for the breadcrumbs)
8 oz crimini mushrooms, diced
½ cup breadcrumbs, preferably panko
1 lb ground beef
1 large egg
¼ cup milk
*2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
2 oz sliced Provolone, torn in half. *increase to 4 oz
*- Not included in our recipe, but recommended for your production
1. Prepare the Philly components: cook the onions and bell-peppers on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and slightly caramelized, around 30 minutes. Heat a skillet on medium-high heat, and sear the steak strips, 5 or so minutes, until browned all over. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to a skillet, and sauté the mushrooms, about 8 minutes.
2. As each philly component finishes, remove it from heat, and allow to cool. Once cooled, dice the ingredients to under ¼” size. Preheat your oven to 350 degreees.
3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small skillet, and toast your breadcrumbs, if desired, for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
4. Combine all ingredients except provolone, and work to combine. Once sufficiently integrated, form into a loaf shape, and remove the top half of the loaf. Lay the torn provolone in the middle of the loaf, and return the top, working to cover the seam on the outside of the loaf.
5. Place on the lined baking sheet, and place in the oven, cooking for 60-70 minutes, until an internal temp of 160 is reached. Remove from the oven, and move the loaf to a platter to rest 5-10 minutes.
6. Once rested, cut into ½” to 1” slices, and serve