Monday, January 24, 2011

By The Seat of My Pantry - Meatloaf

Here's another feature I hope to make a regular one. A well stocked pantry is a must for every kitchen. I'll talk more about my pantry itself in a future post.  I often like to challenge myself when it comes to cooking by flinging open my pantry doors (yes, I's all very dramatic), grabbing 3 or 4 items almost at random and then seeing what I can whip up with them. I call it Off-The-Cuff Cooking ™. I am not a recipe guy. Even when I'm using a recipe that I found somewhere I rarely ever haul out the measuring cups and spoons. The exception to that is requires a level of precision that my slap-dash cooking style would ruin very quickly.

Last night while I was at the grocery store ground beef was on sale. Knowing that my stock of pre-browned beef was getting low, I grabbed one of those huge 3 pounders and made my way home. I decided to brown half of the beef for future use and the other half I decided to make into meatloaf.

Meatloaf mechanics are pretty basic. You need meat, spices, something gooey to stick it all together and something to add as a filler. Luckily I had eggs in the fridge (almost out of date, but still good). That gave me my goo. Spices also were not a problem, always a lot of those on hand. I had to go to the pantry for the filler. Flinging open the doors I found I had no bread crumbs, no saltines, no stuffing mix. I started to panic a little. You have to put something in meatloaf of a fiber-ish nature or it comes out rock hard like a giant loaf hamburger. There was cereal, but I didn't think Crunch Berries were the way to go. Triscuits? A little too fiber-ish. My eyes came to rest on the box of Wheat Thins Ranch Flavor. Hmm, filler and spices all in one? I grabbed my trusty rolling pin and pulverized the crackers right in the bag till I had a nice fine crumb.

Into the bowl with everything, and then comes my favorite part of meatloaf, getting in there with your hands and mushing (no technical terms in Off-The-Cuff Cooking™) it all together. It reminds of making mud pies when I was a kid. Some people will tell you not to mush your meatloaf too much when mixing. I find the more you mush the better you incorporate your ingredients and the more even your meatloaf turns out. I mush my meatloaf within an inch of it's life!

Another great debate then begins. Should I throw it in a loaf pan or mound it on a flat baking pan? I can go either way on this one. Mounding provides more crusting, if you like that sort of thing. I went with a loaf pan on this occasion, thereby allowing the meat to cook longer in it's own juices making a moister loaf. I also thought the Wheat Thins might need a little more juice to "sog up" than say saltine or bread crumbs might. The "sogging" of the fiber element is very important in meatloaf. If your fiber element doesn't "sog" then you wind up with grainy meatloaf...ick.

Into the oven it went. OMG, I forgot a sauce! Out of the oven it came. Back to the Pantry I went. Saucing a meatloaf is another opportunity to add flavor. You can go the gravy route, the tomato sauce route, ketchup is often a favorite. Once I even used a sour cream sauce that created a Stroganoff Meatloaf...yummmm! I opted for the ketchup, into which I mixed a healthy amount of garlic powder. I then spread that mixture thickly on top of the loaf.

And back into the oven the meatloaf went. Now lets talk about baking. My general meatloaf rule is 350 degrees and a half hour for every pound of meat you've used. That is my rule for the loaf pan. It gets trickier when you mound the beef on a flat baking pan. Depending on the height of your mound you may need to increase or decrease your baking time. Meatloaf really isn't meant to be served rare. or even medium well. A meatloaf should be done, as in cooked through. I use the convection setting on my oven in order to insure that the top cooks evenly and the bottom doesn't burn. I checked on the loaf about 25 minutes into it cooking and noticed that the sauce wasn't cooking up, so I switched the oven over to broil for a couple of minutes to get the sauce bubbling.

Once done, I removed it from the loaf pan and allowed it to rest while I microwaved some veggies. It's important to let it rest for a few minutes. You'll get less breakage when slicing a rested meatloaf than if you try to slice it hot out of the oven. Here is my rested meatloaf.

I love how the sauce caramelized on the top. Also note the consistency in the "grain". That comes from all the mushing. So here is the final plated dinner. I opted for green beans as my veggie. The Hubby loved it and Molly wanted some too. She really is my true gauge. If she doesn't want a bite then we probably shouldn't be eating it either. And yes, I like a lot of real butter on my green beans...don't judge.

Today, I will be making a sandwich with the leftovers. That really is the best part about meatloaf...the leftovers!


  1. Ritz crackers is my filler of choice for meatloaf!

  2. I believe a monster is created! You will now be thinking of food placement every time you eat. I could turn out to be a great diet plan.

  3. T is a great diet plan?

    I am not a meatloaf fan but I have ONE recipe for it I like well enough, handed down from a gay roomie many moons ago. I do prefer to use lean ground turkey to ground beef tho!

  4. oh and by the way, having your own blog does not mean you no longer have to comment on mine. Just sayin'!

  5. MMMMM that looks good!!! I baked a meatloaf last week that I had premade from a large quantity of ground beef and ended up cracking the ceramic pan in the oven. Thankfully, Hubby smelled something...the juices dripping on the element...and he saved it and transferred it to another pan.

    No special things for meatloaf, but when I bread things I like to add crush goldfish crackers. I do the same thing and just go with what I have.