Can you believe it? Again it’s Monday… how does that happen so fast?
Where I live, Monday is the day the trash goes to the curb, which means, Sunday & Monday is the day I troll the freezer, fridge and pantry to make sure I use all of the local foods I bought or raised.
My thrifty/cheap style of running my kitchen springs from several hard learned tenets. I was not raised this way, but evolved. And once you arrive at a local kitchen approach, if you care about food at all, there are some really strong motivators that will keep you hooked.
Sure, sometimes I slip and fall into poor planning and processed ingredients. But I can assure you, the difference in flavor is remarkable, and good food is important to me, and good food is not cheap.
I don’t make much money, or have much time for shopping, so when I go to the extra trouble and expense to buy directly from local farms, I try to learn how to squeeze out every dime. By purchasing better quality ingredients, I can often save money in other ways. By not needing extra items like soup mix, seasoning packets, or bottled sauces, spices, cooking fats and boxed stocks, dollars not spent are dollars saved. Those flavorful ingredients will work for you if you let them.
Anyway, enough of the why, the situation is this. At the end of the trash week, I have odds and ends that need to be used up. Soups, salads, stews, pies, quiche, hash, any kind of ingredient smash-up is a no-brainer.
Maybe though, you never considered meatloaf to be that sort of ingredient catch-all. But guess what? It is.
Let’s establish a few meatloaf preferences up front. I like my meatloaf to be soft, open and tender, and I like the texture of additions like meat, veggies, tomatoes to be coarse and country-style. You may prefer your loaf to be tight, dense, and have no chunks.
Knowing that will help you choose the basic framework to create the texture you prefer, though beyond that, when you use meatloaf to clean out the fridge, the items you have to use will likely vary every time. Now, I’m about to go on a riff, without a recipe.
If you need a simple, reliable, same every time baseline recipe, this is where I started: The Quaker Oats award winning meatloaf.
The key components of meatloaf are: meat, liquid, binder/extender, glaze. It is after all, a dish of economy; a way to stretch the amount of meat you can afford to satisfy the number of people who need to eat.
Meat: I like an all beef loaf, though a beef/pork is nice, and beef/pork/veal is a classic combo. Ground turkey or chicken can be mixed with beef in place of pork also, and there is also the rich, sweet, ham loaf variation consisting of half ground ham and half ground pork or turkey. And, I use two pounds, cause that’s the way my beef is packaged. I don’t want to mess with that leftover half pound, so I throw it in there and increase the binder.
Of course Musgo Meatloaf uses whatever meat I happen to have. When you are using meat purchased from a local farm and processed by a small facility, chances are that meat has been dry aged and does not contain the amount of liquid that store-bought meat does, so will tolerate more liquid and remain firm. If using typical grocery or high fat mix, cut back on the liquid a bit.
Liquid: Many meatloaf recipes use milk as the liquid. And of course one or two eggs. You can also use canned tomatoes and their juice, beer, stock, or leftover soup. I also use up any veggies that need to go, sautéing until soft, and incorporating into the meat along with the liquid and eggs. For this loaf I used chopped celery, carrot, onion, garlic and parsley, sautéed in my own strained bacon grease. The bacon grease adds a depth of flavor, without screaming BACON!! If you like that, wrap the finished loaf with slices of bacon before baking. Bacon is kind of scarce around here, so I would be more likely to add some bacon jam to my glaze.
Leeks are good, you can go with peppers, squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, leftover broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini. If the veggies are extra juicy, either strain or cut back on the added liquid. The more liquid, the softer the loaf, but be careful to not make it so wet that it won’t hold a loaf shape.
Binder: The binder is where the texture happens. It is also where the gluten is if you are gluten intolerant. It is not necessary to extend the meat, you can make an all meat loaf. However as one of the reasons for the existence of meatloaf is economy, typically the meat is extended with a grain of some sort, usually a form of bread either fresh/stale or breadcrumbs.
You can also use a prepared or leftover cooked grain like spelt berries, rice, barley, or such, or a dry grain. Or more chopped veggies, but again watch the extra liquid. I like to use rolled oats as they are gluten-free and don’t include a bunch of processed ingredients. Rolled barley would work too, but is not gluten-free.
If you have a good loaf of bread – not store-bought commercial bread, I mean the kind that gets hard and stale, not the kind that stays squishy and gets moldy, tearing the bread up and soaking it in milk is a good extender too, and a way to make use of every bit of that great loaf. The already cooked grains or dried breadcrumbs will yield a really dense loaf, the oatmeal or soaked bread will create a more open, soft texture.
I typically free-form my loaves on a foil lined jelly roll pan, but you can also use a loaf pan if you want the shape to be more rectangular. Going freeform allows the fat to strain away from the loaf, but if I put fancy flourishes in the center, I will use a large loaf pan.
Upgrades: Lots of recipes call for grated parmesan. Which is delicious, and makes your meatloaf richer in flavor. I tend to pass on the parm in meatloaf, for reasons of cheap, and unnecessary.
I am using flavorful beef, so the cheese tends to be wasted dollars. If I were using less flavorful supermarket beef, cheese would be good, but with the added expense, why not just buy the better beef? If you are using the parm, Kraft shake cheese is not an equal substitute, use the real deal, or pass.
Though again, this is not a place I would spend my special and precious Parmigiano Reggiano either. Remember. Meatloaf is peasant food.
If you have hard-boiled eggs, forming your loaf in a loaf pan with the eggs in the center is a nice, inexpensive touch, revealing a slice of egg in the middle. Making two layers in a loaf pan with a thin slice of prosciutto, bacon, and/or cheese in the middle is also rich and fancy, and a little goes a long way.
Topping: This is a signature, and often, every topping except the way your mom did it is going to be wrong. I am not rigid about my glaze, so this is often an area I also use whatever mix and match veggies and preserves I have on hand. Ketchup/brown sugar/vinegar/dried mustard powder is a classic, but many variations are equally yummy.
This time, I had a bunch of farm market sweet red peppers and three tomatoes getting a little limp after a busy week. Instead of using bottled ketchup for my glaze, I chopped these all up, and sautéed until the tomato juice had reduced. Added a little brown sugar, salt, black pepper and apple cider vinegar, and when there was about twenty minutes left on the cooking time, pulled my loaf out and spooned on top. Returned to the oven, and the sauce added a really nice mild red pepper flavor. You can also go straight ketchup, BBQ sauce, grated cheese, tomato sauce or salsa if that’s how you roll.
And one last thing. What to do when your meatloaf to use up leftovers becomes leftovers? This article lists some great uses for leftover meatloaf when you have leftover resistant eaters to feed.
And there you go. Musgo meatloaf. I know you have your own meatloaf secrets, meatloaf is one of those highly personal things.
Share your meatloaf secrets in the comments so we can all become better Locavore cooks together, K?