May 17, 2006

Meatloaf! Hell Yeah!

I was pondering what to do with the ground beef sitting in the fridge and it occurred to me that I basically do about 4 things with ground beef. I make meatloaf, meatballs (for these sandwiches), chili, and taco or burrito filling. And I hardly ever vary my recipes for those things. Sure, some pizzazz is missing. The wonder and excitement? Both gone. But, c'mon! What dish is equally at home on your best china or a wilted paper plate?!? Meatloaf! Yes, the ugly cousin, the one beaten with the ugly stick, isn't so glamorous, but when all the trendy towering dishes with their zucchini ribbons and 6-inch sprigs of rosemary reaching for the sky come tumbling down, meatloaf, yes, loyal meatloaf will still be there.

With so many meatloaf recipes out there, I guess it is a shame to always make it the same old way, but there is something gratifying about perfecting a classic. I ate the standard meatloaf growing up, all ground beef with a ketchup and brown sugar glaze. My mom always used oatmeal as the filler in her meatloaf and that's the way I like mine, too. I would probably enjoy a bunch of extra veggies or chopped spinach thrown into it sometime, but I can already hear the protests from a certain someone, so I won't even go there.

Tonight, I made a barbeque meatloaf, which is just a slight variation of my usual method. It was good, but I don't think I'd do it that way all the time. Here is the recipe and also my method in general for an easy meatloaf with lots of flavor. Props to Rachael Ray for this one. The girl knows her meat and potatoes. After trying her Mini-Meatloaves with Smashed Potatoes, I haven't made one large meatloaf since. Her recipe for the gravy is also yummy! I enjoy mini meatloaves because they not only cook quickly, but I like the extra amount of crusty exterior you get with each bite! The secret is to cook them just until they are no longer pink inside and no more, just like you do for a good hamburger. Which I never make. Because every time I eat a hamburger I wish it was meatloaf.

Don't look too hard...

Meatloaf is pretty forgiving as long as you don't skimp on the seasonings. Remember to salt the meat generously. I also combine all the wet ingredients first (the egg, milk, seasonings) then add the filler (oatmeal, bread crumbs, etc) and mix well. Then I add the meat at the end and smash it all together just until combined.

Basic Meatloaf Mix

1 pound (.5 kg) ground beef (try substituting out some of the beef for ground veal or pork! It's much more flavorful!)
1 egg, beaten
3-4 Tbsp milk
1/2 cup or more, uncooked oatmeal
1 Tbsp tomato paste, or 2-3 Tbsp ketchup (I used BBQ sauce last time)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp paprika (nice with the BBQ version)
1 small onion, or 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp salt, or more
pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley, optional

Amounts are approximate. Crack the egg in a large mixing bowl. Beat lightly with a fork. Add in the oatmeal, milk, tomato paste or ketchup, and rest of ingredients except beef. Combine well. Mix in the meat gently, until just combined with the wet ingredients. Lightly salt the meat itself as you mix it in. If you like, you can pinch off a tiny tsp of meatloaf, fry it in a pan until cooked through, to taste for seasoning. Makes 4-5 mini-meatloaves.

Stove-Top Method:

Pre-heat a wide non-stick skillet over medium high heat for a few minutes. Divide meatloaf mix into 4 sections. Form each 1/4 into an oval shape, about 1 inch thick. Add to the skillet (you should hear a sizzle) and sear them and let cook for 6 minutes on each side, turning down the heat if they start to brown too much. When you flip them to the other side, loosely tent the pan with some aluminum foil, so they cook evenly and stay moist. I find 6 minutes per side is just about perfectly done but still tender on the inside (but not pink). Remove meatloaves to a plate and cover with the foil until ready to eat.

Oven Method:

I just tried this last night and it worked very well, with a lot less work for the cook, too! Shape meatloaves as you did above and place on a baking sheet or large casserole. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F/180 degree C oven for 22-25 minutes. You can smear on a ketchup glaze over the meatloaves the last 10 minutes of cooking.

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