Homemade meatloaf with ketchup icing (recipe)

Gourmet savory meatlof made easy with a great recipe and sweet patience.

Meatloaf goes well with lightly sautéed broccoli and tomatoes, or any fresh veggie and potatoes. By @talesofthecork

It’s time to put aside ugly memories of meatloaf tasting like sand and say hello to one of the best comfort food staples you’ll ever make. Plus, scroll a little further to find my wine recommendations to pair with this meal.

Believe me, while the list of ingredients seems long, the best meals always begin with your choice of ingredients. Before you get started, either open a bottle of one of these varietals or your favorite glass of red wine.

Check out my Instagram Reel to watch the process.

Wine pairing recommendations:

Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Cotes de Rhone blend, Zinfandel or Cabernet Franc. Each wine brings good structure, earthiness, varying levels of pepper and spice and dusty fruit. They’re excellent food wines which will enhance the savory goodness of the meatloaf. Heck even Cabernet and Merlot will work. Drink what you like.

Be that as it may, I chose to drink a Denner Vineyards 2008 Syrah from Paso Robles. I loved the lush, rich mouth feel, fruity characters of cassis, blackberry, and blue fruits. While I would’ve loved to have a little more earthy, leather or stone, the full-bodied and almost mocha taste certainly complemented the spice-driven and earthy meatloaf.

For even tastier meatloaf, prepare the day before to allow the ingredients to marinate in the fridge. The flavor difference is palpable!

@TalesoftheCork gourmet meatloaf for 6-8:

Dry ingredients (I use organic when available):
– 1 1/2 lbs. pasture-raised 15% ground beef
– 12 oz fine chopped Italian-style smoked chicken sausages 
– 1 large fine chopped yellow onion
– 6 shredded medium-sized carrots
– 6-10 fine chopped garlic cloves
– 3 chopped celery sticks
– 1 medium -sized thinly sliced (julienne) potato 
– 3-4 oz roasted tomato paste
– 4-6 oz chopped mushrooms
– 1/2 – 3/4 cup Panko crumbs 
– 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella, cheddar, or Parmesan cheese
– chopped parsley (to taste)

This earthy and rich 2008 Syrah by Denner Vineyards is an excellent pair. By @talesofthecork

– 4 oz chopped dried cranberries
– chopped walnuts to taste

Spice list:
– fresh cracked pepper
– Rosemary salt
– Italian seasoning
– red meat seasoning
– 4 dashes onion powder
– 4 dashes garlic powder
– red pepper flakes to taste

Wet ingredients:
– 12 oz red wine (Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Cotes de Rhone blend, Zinfandel or Cabernet Franc)
– 3 tbls Dijon mustard
– 2 whisked eggs
– 1/4 cup half-n-half
– 4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
– olive oil or avocado oil to taste

Tomato ‘icing’ list:
– 1/4 cup tomato ketchup
– 3 tbls dark brown sugar
– 1-2 dash nutmeg (season to taste)
– 1-2 dash allspice (season to taste)

Instructions: Prep time approx. 30 minutes:

I like to prep everything before I start cooking to make things easier. My recommendation is to start by finely chopping sausage, celery, onions, mushrooms, garlic, shredding the carrots, cheese, and finely slicing potatoes first, but follow your heart.

Pro tip:
Before starting the recipe, preheat a 425° oven to roast 6 oz tomato paste in olive oil and cracked pepper for 20 minutes. Remove when the edges are purple or dark brown.

1. Fresh-chop mushrooms and pan-roast them with 2 tbls of olive or avocado oil 6 oz red wine for 1 minute. Add to meat mixture.

Meatloaf is an extremely simple dish, just requires a trip to the grocery store and patience. By @talesofthecork

2. Use a large mixing bowl to combine ground beef, finely chopped sausages, onions, celery, fresh garlic, shredded carrots, roasted tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, hot mushrooms, a generous spoonful of Dijon mustard, and Panko crumbs.

3. Whisk two cracked eggs and half-and-half or cream until frothy, then add to mixture.

4. And spices to the mixture and adjust amount to your preferences.

5. Now it’s time to get dirty. Pull your sleeves up and, using your hands, vigorously mix all the ingredients until completely uniform.

6. Fill half of a greased loaf pan with the meat mixture, pressing firmly to ensure no empty spaces. Layer Julienne potato slices to cover the half-filled meat loaf pan and sprinkle cheese mixture over top the potatoes. Top with cracked pepper to season. If desired, finish layering with some fresh parsley. 

7. Fill remaining loaf pan with meat mixture to the top of the pan. Again, to ensure no empty spaces, press firmly to keep the meatloaf even.

A thin layer of cheese and thinly slicked potatoes gives a little extra zhuzh. By @talesofthecork

8. Bake loaf pan in a 375°F oven for 30 minutes. 

Pro tip:

It is a good idea to place loaf pan on a cookie sheet to protect against overflow.

9. While loaf pan is cooking, create an easy tomato-based meatloaf topping or ‘icing’ as I like to call it. Mix tomato ketchup, brown sugar, nutmeg and/or allspice to a creamy consistency. Spread mixture to cover the top of the meatloaf AFTER it has cooked for 30 minutes. Spread evenly.

10. Return meatloaf to oven for another 25 minutes or so, until loaf temperature is around 155 – 165°. Be sure to let meatloaf rest at least 10 minutes after cooking time.

Side dish recommendations:

Herb, garlic and onion roasted potatoes and roasted broccolini would complement this amazing dinner!

It is important to ensure that meat is thoroughly cooked before eating. See FDA recommendations.

Meatloaf can be served hot with scalloped potatoes, roasted broccoli, corn and/or a side salad. I know this looks like a lot, but it’s a one pan, one bowl meal. While I won’t be serving and enjoying with my vegetarian daughters, it’s a great family meal, especially in these winter months. 

Bon appétit!

Blackened Salmon with Citrus Wild Rice (recipe)

A combination of high heat, warm spices, and citrus aromas gift the home chef with an easy way to create a blackened wild salmon dinner with simple prep and high expectations.

While this recipe makes two adult servings, it of course can be doubled for a family. Seasoning is always to taste: add what you love!

Two plates of blackened salmon laid over a bed of citrus wild rice and kale. Also on the table, two glasses of red wine and a bottle of Louis Latour 2005 Pinot Noir.
Blackened salmon and citrus wild rice is one of my favorite simple and easy meals. By @talesofthecork

Start your preparation with opening a bottle of wine to air out (and sip on!) while cooking. Many automatically reach for a Chardonnay when cooking fish or salmon. If I had created a lighter salmon with just olive oil and some herbs de Provence, for example, or used a creamy sauce I would do the same. However, considering the depth of flavor and punch in my blackening spice, I went for a Pinot Noir.

A perfect wine for this meal is either from the Santa Rita Hills or Santa Maria Highlands in California or from Burgundy, France. Definitely look for a Pinot Noir as it will have earthy, dark red fruit, with some spices. This will add depth to your dining experience, and perfectly compliment the rich salmon flavors.

Plus, of course, a little wine in the glass while cooking creates for great anticipation. Heck, share a glass with someone who’s assisting or watching you cook. We enjoyed a glass of Louis Latour 2005 Chassagne-Montrachet from Burgundy.

This 2005 Louis Latour Pinot Noir paired perfectly with the dish. By @talesofthecork

While some opt to melt butter over the salmon, I started with avocado oil and fresh citrus as a base, and poured a small shot of whiskey and drizzle of balsamic for depth. Once seasoned to taste with the blackened spices and a little sugar, I let it sit while switching my focus to the rice. That allows your spices, citrus, balsamic and sprinkles of raw sugar to set into the room temperature salmon.

While letting the juices soak into the salmon, I began prepping the wild rice with a 2:1 ratio of liquid-to-rice. For added flavor, I opted to split the liquid with equal parts veggie broth and fresh-squeezed orange juice. After the liquids came to a boil, I threw in a sprig of fresh rosemary and dashes allspice.

When the liquid came back to a boil, I followed bag instructions and turned the heat to low then covered the pot for about 15-20 minutes.

While the rice was cooking, I turned back to my citrus-soaked salmon.

My recipe does not require searing the salmon, but rather roasting it in a 450° oven for 12 to 15 minutes. A medium cooked salmon is about 135°. The goal is to quickly roast the salmon while creating a crunchy layer where the blackening spices create depth notably on top but throughout salmon flesh.

For added punch, fresh cracked pepper and red pepper flakes are a great addition.

The salmon may be done a little before the rice, which is fine since meat and fish both like to rest between oven-and-table.

Serve rice and salmon over a bed of kale. I always first massage kale and other stiff greens with oil to breakup the stiff fibers. For this, I chose a very light dressing of only a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and pepper. 

Take a picture of the final product and dig in!

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

With my citrus trees in the backyard covered in fruit, it’s an obvious go-to, even if the wild salmon in grocery stores is previously frozen. By @talesofthecork

Ingredients list:

  • 2 6oz salmon filets (I always get wild caught)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange
  • 4 tbls of avocado or olive oil
  • 2 tbls melted butter (optional)
  • 1 shot of your favorite whiskey
  • 1-2 tbls of raw sugar
  • 4 tbls balsamic vinegar

Blackening spice ingredients list:

  • Cajun
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • Onion powder (optional)
  • Garlic powder (optional)

Rice ingredients list:

  • 1/2 cup wild rice
  • 2 dashes of allspice
  • fresh rosemarry
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/2 cup vegtable brooth
  • zest from 1 orange

* Always check salmon and other fish and meats to ensure both are cooked to FDA standards.

Did you enjoy the recipe? If you made it, I would love to know! Tag me when you post a picture so I can check it out, or if you’re not the food-posting kind, feel free to send me your thoughts in the comments below, into my DMs or send me an email.


Yacht-life attainable for Vancouver visitors

Despite a bustling city by day– crawling with international tourists, lively young people, and wild hockey fans— Vancouver, B.C. hushes under the moonlight. The quiet and chilly peace hovers under the towering sky scrapers, dancing with mesmerizing colors on False Creek.

The Orianna floats in False Creek, anchored just in front of BC Place.

The False Creek inlet separates downtown Vancouver’s land access, creating an elusive peninsula with a majestic skyline, viewable from all angles. Rainbow-colored water taxi’s tut up and down the creek during the day, carting tourists and locals around to markets, museums, and bars along both sides of the water, weaving between luxurious yachts, fishing boats, and houseboats on dock.

After spending my upbringing visiting Vancouver regularly, I began my search to find a new perspective of a city I know well. Preparing for a weekend trip to my favorite, world-class city, I opened AirBnB.com in search of a fresh take on a city I already love.

While historic hotels or homes for rent create a fun “imagine if I lived here” reality to play in, or cater to nightlife in convenient locations, I ended my search after landing on Orianna’s listing: a stay on her renovated yacht, The Orianna, anchored in False Creek with 360-degree views of some of Vancouver’s biggest attractions.

Orianna’s captain’s hat and some books are a few personal items onboard.

From the moment she picked us up on the Olympic Village dock, to dropping us off at the Yale Town pier to say goodbye, Orianna’s hosting style and service catered to the exact experience we wanted. An out-of-the-box free spirit, Orianna’s candor, demeanor, humor, and spark illuminated our whole visit to Vancouver. Although I’ve been hundreds of times, I felt excitement like it was my first.

Because the yacht is anchored in the middle of False Creek, we relied on meeting up to be transferred between boat-and-land. While she’s prompt in arriving on time, and extremely flexible and accommodating of various and changing schedules, we enjoyed the 10-or-so minute ride with her, and usually sat around chatting longer than necessary. The time spent zipping back-and-forth enriched our visit in energetic and fruitful conversation. Although inconvenient and non-conventional, I imagine the type of visitors who stay with her are also seeking an non-conventional and unique experience in the city: If they choose Orianna’s yacht stay, their understanding of Vancouver will be greatly enriched.

Her two-bed, two-bath Cooper Prowler Yacht is fully quipped with the comforts of home: linens, espresso, kitchen, and gathering space. Orianna herself lived on her own namesake before sharing her love of “Boat Life” with guests through private charter bookings. Leaning into hosting and hospitality, she began operating on AirBnB and purchased a Willard Trawler as well, marketing her fleet as @VancouverYachtLife on Instagram. Although many pass through, her personality and trinkets remain on display, sharing her Italian heritage, photos from sea, and mementos gathered from her lifetime.

Just as with any 36-foot vessel (or home for that matter), the stay has it quirks. Introducing us to marine-living accommodations, Captain Orianna expertly walked us through the “how to’s” and responsibilities inherent to safely living on a boat. However, given the temporary nature of the stay, nothing was complicated or too nerve wracking to master quickly: even for a visually impaired man. She takes care of most things.

Windows on all sides of The Orianna provide sweeping views of Vancouver, even from inside the living room, kitchen, or principal bedroom. The second bedroom, with only port holes, has easy roof access to one of the boat desks. With plenty of outdoor space to lounge, dine, and enjoy, we spent the evening there with a glass of wine, watching the sun set behind BC Place, and lights light up my favorite city. I wish I were better prepared with a cheese board and fresh fruit from Granville Market– to sip and snack- as I witnessed the quiet peace unfold across a majestic city.

Staying at Orianna’s is like taking a train trip or a road trip across the country: it’s not just part of the journey, but the destination.

With two queen beds, The Orianna can accommodate four people; however, the second bedroom is quite cozy. While two adults could use the room, it may be better suited for children, singles, or newlyweds.

The Orianna can comfortably accommodate a family of four, or four adults looking for a leisure and unique experience in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

My only regret was not preparing for a slow morning and not bringing a sweet breakfast on board at night to reheat in the morning. I’ve left sweet crepes on deck during a sunrise to my imagination… hopefully you can make up for that.

Orianna charters her yacht for private groups directly. For overnight overnight stays on her yacht or the Mystic Voyager, her trawler outfitted with a fire pit and outdoor shower, bookings are accommodated exclusively through AirBnB. Although she currently has two operating vessels on False Creek, she aims to expand her fleet to host year-round: while winter docks her boats in Canada, she hopes to anchor new boats in sunny international locations to live and work during British Columbia’s off-season.

If you’re looking for a memorable and unique addition to your Vancouver experience, book well in advance and let her know @TalesoftheCork sent you. Let me know if you’re making your way over, and I’d love to chat– Or you could always tag me in a picture of you on the deck, enjoying breakfast or a glass of wine.

Quail State creates new downtown Fresno hangout

Fresno’s newest rooftop bar and restaurant, is changing the way Fresno and Clovis think about hanging out. And its impact is immediate. With full-service dining and original craft cocktails on the menu, reservations are already highly suggested.

Quail State Fresno is a place where locals gather and assemble with friends or a place to make new ones. Currently open for street-level patio seating of the Pacific Southwest Building in downtown Fresno, Fresno’s newest vibe on the corner Mariposa and Fulton avenues is a controlled rockin’ street party.

While educating its patrons has importance, co-owner Josh Islas says Quail State’s vibe has everything to do with creating a great place to hang out with good community people, a staff who has impeccable attention to detail. 

Islas says Quail State is a neighborhood hospitality junction and does not focus just on being a wine or cocktail bar. 

“I want people to come here to feel cared for, taken care of and loved,” Islas said during an interview with me in the rooftop bar, March 31. “Hospitality, attention to detail, stellar drinks and incredible food are what set us a part.”

With Executive Chef Matthew Lee in the kitchen, Josh crafts cocktails from the Quail State’s rooftop bar, Fresno’s first.

“I believe we can help create the night life we all want downtown. I think there is no such thing as being ready for new things. People from New York, L.A., or San Francisco may ask, ‘Are you sure Fresno is ready for this?’ Of course we are.” — Josh Islas, Quail State co-owner

After working in award-winning restaurants in So. Cal, Quail State co-owner Josh Islas has opened his own Fresno rooftop restaurant and bar in Downtown.

Since 2016, Islas and co-owner and wife, Hayley Islas-Wolf, have been envisioning a Downtown Fresno rooftop location and finally settled on the corner of Fulton and Mariposa, beginning renovations in June 2020.

“I chose a building that is the most iconic to start something successful in,” Josh said. “And while COVID-19 slightly delayed where I thought I’d be today, I think it has been a blessing in disguise.”

Born and raised in Fresno for 20 years, Josh moved to Southern California for 10 years where he worked in cafes and a variety of award-winning restaurants and bars. Through watching and actively working, he saw what worked, and what didn’t work, in the hospitality industry. 

Why downtown Fresno?

“I believe that downtown Fresno is the only top 50 cities [sic] in the nation with no thriving downtown, and that is an abomination to me,” Islas said. “People have said for years and years and years, ‘We need to invest in downtown’. I believe that change comes from the inside and I am tired of people from all over Fresno bag on their own city.”

Islas and his wife both said they take pride in Fresno, and want to be a part of something that Lee and others are proud of.

Chef Lee, former executive sous chef at Botega Italian Restaurant in Napa and Exectutive Chef at Taste Craft Eatery in Paso Robles, designed the menu. Quail State is currently without a full kitchen for its dinner service. However, seeing a creative solution, Lee sought the kitchen of Cocina de Mama, which conveniently only serves for breakfast and lunch, across the street and creates his original dinner menu from there. All of the produce, meats and dairy are prepared from local Central Valley partners.

The Quail State team is already in go-mode despite the pandemic.

Co-owner Hayley Islas-Wolf joins her husband, Josh, to create a bar which specializes in craft cocktails and natural wine.

“Customers keep restaurants and bars popular by coming back,” Islas said, “by writing stellar reviews of staff, atmosphere, chefs, food and drink. I already know our loyal customers continue to return because the staff is welcoming, caring.”

His’s eyes and voice spoke with passion as Islas said he methodically hired a staff that gives back to their customers and community.

“My staff demonstrates they care about providing a legitimate, welcoming atmosphere,” Islas continued. “It’s all about customer service. Without it, you’re not going to last in this industry.”

Future forward — 

As he looks ahead for the next year, assuming COVID-19 continues to wane, Islas believes Quail State will continue to grow. Only open currently for craft cocktails and select natural wines, he said he’s hopeful their proposed full wine bar will be completed by July 2021. However, both co-owners have much bigger plans.

“By next year, I hope to open a second full restaurant and bar in a nearby location,” Islas said. “And as that builds out, I plan on opening a couple more, all in the downtown area. All will be a wine, bar, and restaurant concept.”

Currently, downtown Fresno has only two bar concepts: The Modernist and Quail State. Islas says that is not enough to change the downtown district. According to Islas, he believes Fresno has been a beer city for at least 10 years and now is the time to add cocktail locations to the city.

“I believe we can help create the night life we want downtown,” Islas continued. “I think there is no such thing as being ready for new things. People from New York, L.A. or San Francisco may ask ‘Are you sure Fresno is ready for this?’ Of course we are. Give Fresno more credit.”

Quail State’s Brunch is back! Quail State is now offering two brunch seatings every Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are live!

Thanks to its rich history, The San Joaquin Valley is linguistically diverse with and estimated 40 languages spoken, and is home to cultures representing the globe – each brings with them their own vibrant flavors and unique history. Quail State is striving to celebrate the things that make local dishes different by using fresh, locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients to create cocktails and food inspired by the people who call Fresno home.

After tasting through a few of meticulously crafted drinks and expertly prepared dishes, I want to be one who returns and root for the locals who are reimagining downtown Fresno.

“If you are looking to bring someone to downtown Fresno, the only thing holding you back is you,” Islas said. “Know yourself, know who you are talking to, know your market, your clientele and execute your vision faithfully. This is what we are doing at Quail State.”

For those who want to delve deeper, the Quail State website is chocked full of agave, gin, rum and whiskey reviews as well offering ongoing education for bartenders and enthusiasts alike. Check out the popular “Whiskeys of The World” class, as well as mezcal, gin, and rum tasting events.

Fill out a form to learn more about participating in their specialty classes ranging from bartending basics, advanced bartending techniques, and mixology theory.

Those ready to check out Islas’ craft cocktails can do so via QuailStateFresno.com. Make reservations for a table Wednesday through Sunday to enjoy their selection of craft cocktails, natural wine, California beers, and farm-to-table food. A take out menu is also available.

Be sure to return to TalesoftheCork at a later date for a food, cocktail, and wine review.

In the following quick video, Josh Islas creates a craft cocktail called Left Hand.

Josh Islas put the finishing touches on this Quail State Left Hand craft cocktail creation.

Visit Quail State Fresno in downtown Fresno: 1060 Fulton Mall, Suite 201, Fresno, CA 93721.
They can be reached by phone: 559-999-7727

For reservations, use the RESY system to claim your table via https://quailstatefresno.com.

Be sure to visit TalesoftheCork on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Contact Greg Stobbe at talesofthecork@gmail.com for collaborations and inquiries.

TalesoftheCork Mango Margarita

Fresh-squeezed juice is the key to a stunning margarita. Toss the fake mix, spend time juicing, and rock the party with this TalesoftheCork mango margarita recipe.

Adding mango purée, or any fruit, adds depth and interest. Photo: TalesoftheCork

Items needed:

Blender, cocktail shaker, juicer

· 1 Mango
· 1 Orange
· 1 Grapefruit
· 4-6 limes
· Blue agave
· Tequila (I use Leyendal del Milagro)
· Orange liqueur (I prefer Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
· Ice

· Thai chili or jalapeño slices)
· Rim glass with lime & salt (I don’t)
· Mint or Thai basil for garnish

For two (with top offs) citrus and TalesoftheCork mango margaritas:

Juice a large orange, grapefruit and 4-6 limes.

Important —
· Squeeze citrus juice into separate cups.

Peel a soft, ripe mango, roughly chop, and purée. Set aside.

Of course shake, don’t stir.

Please taste before serving to make any adjustments to your liking. I find that limes are inconsistent with their potency, and are sometimes weak or strong in flavor. Double or triple the portions for more mango margarita servings.

Pour. Add Thai chili or jalapeño, garnish.

Sip, share, sip, enjoy.

Take a photo of your TalesoftheCork mango margarita and tag/hashtag @talesofthecork, #TalesoftheCork on Instagram, twitter and/or Facebook. I would love to see your creation.