Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our Blue Plate Special

Individual meatloaves make everyone feel special.  These are chili meatloaves with cheddar cheese melted on top.  Easy variations like this use a basic meatloaf recipe. 

Every few weeks we have the Blue Plate Special for dinner.  Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans says “diner blue plate” to me but a meal this fine that exactly suits our tastes might be hard to find at just any diner. 

Creating a signature meatloaf that your family loves and may even get passed down to the next generation is not that difficult.  Meatloaf is very forgiving and allows much variation once you understand a few ratios.  It is also one of those dishes that will help you recognize and develop your personal taste.

Basic Meatloaf Recipe
1 cup milk- 1 cup total of liquid could also include tomato sauce, wine, ketchup, barbeque sauce,etc
1/2 cup bread crumbs—try fresh bread crumbs or ground instant oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon each thyme, oregano (other herbs to try: sage, thyme, quatre epice, basil)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (also try 1-3 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce, brandy, soy sauce, anchovy paste)
1 1/2 pounds ground meat (beef or turkey sometimes with veal, pork, lamb combinations are common)

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. 
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix all ingredients except meat.  Let sit 5 minutes to allow liquid to absorb grains and flavoring.  
  3. Add meat and mix quickly but well.  A light hand is useful in meatloaf making.  
  4. Place meatloaf in a 9” x 5” loaf pan or form a free-standing loaf and place in a shallow roasting pan.  If covering with bacon or pancetta, wrap meatloaf at this stage.
  5. Bake 350˚F for 30-40 minutes, then check temperature and carefully drain excess fat. 
  6. If you are adding a topping, drain fat and pour your sauce over the top during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Meatloaf is finished when center of loaf reads 165˚F minimum. 
  7. To allow easier slicing, let cooked meatloaf rest at least 10 minutes before cutting. 
Tomato based: combine 1 cup plain tomato sauce with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1 teaspoon cayenne, ground chipotle chile or paprika.  Spoon over meatloaf. During last 15 minutes of baking.
Meat Gravy based: Retain about 1/4 cup of fat during cooking.  Make a quick roux with 1 tablespoon flour and add 2/3-1 cup beef or chicken broth to create a thick gravy.  Taste for seasoning and add slat and pepper.  Spoon over meatloaf when serving.
Chili Meatloaves: Use a combination of beef, turkey and pork for the ground meat and oatmeal for the grain.  Tomato sauce with cayenne or hot sauce is the liquid and cumin, chipotle chili and oregano plus salt and pepper provide the herbs and spices.  Form individual meatloaves and top with the tomato sauce topping above and thick slices of cheddar cheese the last 10-15 minutes of baking until the cheese has melted. 
Signature Meatloaf
Smart tips for creating your signature meatloaf: Test your mixture—combine all flavoring ingredients first using half the salt.  Combine with liquid and bread or grain. Use a small teaspoon to taste the flavor mixture.  If you like what you taste you are on the right track. Add the rest of the salt and the meat.  Mix thoroughly and scoop out a teaspoon-sized patty to cook in microwave (30 seconds on medium) or small frying pan.  When cooked completely through, taste again.  Sometimes more salt is needed or you may find you’d like to add more of one of the herbs.  Remember if you are serving meatloaf cold, a higher degree of seasoning is needed. 

Go Vegetarian
There is a fun website to help you build your own vegetarian loaf.  These loaves will satisfy big appetites and make really good sandwich fillings.  Once you try it a few times you will figure out the way the ratios work and be able to create more recipes without the guide.