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    Friday, June 11, 2010
     
    Meat Loaf


    I have this theory about meat loaf. It's one of those foods people imprint on, like Thanksgiving stuffing or deviled eggs. Once you've gotten used to "your" version, no other will taste right. I also think it's one of those foods which is better made at home than served in restaurants. For some reason most restaurants serve it drenched in brown gravy, which is absolutely the worst thing you could possibly do to meat loaf. It calls for something tangy, tomato-ey and mildly spicy to balance what is essentially ground meat and breadcrumbs. Also it's best made in bulk; I am immediately suspicious of any recipe billed as "meatloaf for one."

    For all of these reasons I rarely make meat loaf, preferring my mother's version. I have her recipe somewhere but it's rather complex. Recently though I came across a recipe which sounded promising, and I am here to say that it lived up to the promise. It's from Jill Connor Browne's Sweet Potato Queens' First Big-Ass Novel. (Ms. Browne is the head of the organization known as the Sweet Potato Queens, headquartered in Mississippi. Her books are fun to read and, best of all, contain some great recipes.)

    Some pointers: I like this recipe because it calls for ground beef only, as opposed to the esoteric veal/pork/sausage meat/beef combinations you find in some recipes. These combos sound good, don't get me wrong, but to be honest I am not prepared to go to that kind of trouble or to spend extra money on ingredients for meat loaf. Use beef containing not more than 20% fat; 15% would be better, but the 20% was on sale so that's what I used.

    Use a food processor to chop the vegetables. You want them finely minced for textural reasons. Otherwise you will end up, as I did, with little chunks of veg in your loaf. It still tasted good but the texture was a little weird.

    For "breadcrumbs," you can use cracker crumbs, stuffing mix or crushed cereal - use what you have.

    Mix an egg with a little bit of milk - a few tablespooons' worth. Chop about 1 1/2 stalks celery, half a bell pepper (green or red), and 1/2 to 1 onion (depending on the size of your onion). Mix the vegetables, egg and milk with 1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground sirloin. Sprinkle 1 cup breadcrumbs over this mixture and mix all together with your hands, handling meat as little as possible (so it does not get dense and tough).

    In another bowl mix 1 cup barbecue sauce and 1/2 cup salsa - the jarred kind, not the fresh (or you can use 3/4 cup each, depending on your taste - you could also use Heinz chili sauce). Add 1 1/2 T. Worcestershire sauce and 1/4 tsp ground red pepper. Take half of this and mix it into the meat. Then form your loaves and paint the tops with the rest of the sauce.

    The original recipe suggests using a big muffin pan for mini meat loaves. You would bake these at 450° for 18 to 20 minutes. I don't have one of these pans so I formed mine into five loaves (four small, one larger) and froze the small ones. I baked the larger one at about 415° for 45 minutes.

    I think this meat loaf is great. The vegetables keep it moist and lighten it as well as boosting the flavor, and the savory sauce/topping is perfect. It also meets the ultimate test of meat loaf, namely, Does it make good sandwiches? The answer is a definite Yes! Yes, the sandwiches are very good. I don't think this recipe needs additional salt, due to the barbecue sauce, salsa and Worcestershire, which all contain plenty.


    And my freezer is now well stocked with meat loaf for future dinners.

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