July 22, 2013

Stupid-Easy Meatloaf

It’s recipe time again, kids. Today’s feature: Stupid-Easy Meatloaf. See the dash between stupid and easy? That means this recipe isn’t stupid and easy; it’s stupid-easy, as in, so easy you’d be stupid not to make it. Like most of my “recipes,” this is more a loose guide than a by-the-numbers scientific formula. And also like most of my recipes, it requires no fancy or exotic equipment—not even a meatloaf pan! Yes, I said it – we’re making a meatloaf without a loaf pan. Wanna know how? Read on.

Before we get started, I’ll share two lessons with you:
  1. Meatloaf is delicious.
  2. Meatloaf is not—I repeat, not—photogenic.

But just because my meatloaves haven’t been as pretty as anything on this gal’s site doesn’t mean they’re not worth making. So here goes:

The raw materials:

2 pounds of ground meat*
1 medium onion, diced**
1 egg, beaten
1½  tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp seasoning***
¼ cup almond meal (I did say no exotic ingredients. You can buy this at Trader Joe's, ergo not exotic. If you can't find it anywhere and you're the bread-eating type, just use breadcrumbs. But you can make your own almond meal easily. Just put almonds in a [powerful] food processor and pulverize into a flour-ish consistency.)

*I prefer half beef and half pork, but you can use ground turkey or chicken, too. In fact, the classic “meatloaf mix” is one third each beef, pork, and veal. Makes for a very flavorful and moist meatloaf.
**I put my onion right in raw. For extra flavor (but also an extra and time-consuming step), you can sautee them until starting to brown.
***I like Italian seasonings in mine—basil, oregano, garlic, rosemary.

Use whatever seasonings you like. Took this pic a while back.
It's not the one I made most recently, but the crushed red pepper
flakes were an inspired addition!

The process:

Remove jewelry from your fingers. (Unless you like the idea of scraping bits of raw meat out of the nooks and crannies in any rings you might be wearing.) If you have long nails (or are a delicate and squeamish butterfly), you might want to wear plastic gloves. Why? As any good chef will tell you, clean hands are a cook’s best tool. They’re also often the best tools for mixing, and nowhere is this more true than with meatloaf.

Preheat your oven to 350.

Place a square of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and grease the foil with olive oil, lard, tallow, coconut oil, or your fat of choice. (A very thin layer will do you just fine, since the meat will be creating a lot of its own fat anyway. Greasing the foil is more of an insurance policy.) Depending on how large you make your loaf, 1½ feet on each side should be enough. Fold up the edges on all four sides so that the fat doesn’t run all over the place and create a ton of cleanup work. (This would completely defeat the purpose of the foil, which is to contain everything for easy-peasy cleanup when you’re done.) If you’re using a baking tray with high edges, you don’t need to fold up the edges of the foil (or use foil at all, for that matter) but I still recommend it to make cleanup a breeze.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, it should look something like this: 

This is how you take a flat baking sheet and give it edges. It's also how
you save yourself having to soak and scrape a dirty piece of metal.
Instant cleanup: Step 1: Throw away the foil.
Step 2:  Just kidding; you were done at step 1!

Now’s the time you might want to dice the onion and measure out all your seasonings and the almond meal—before you get your hands into the raw meat. Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way: the time to reach for all those little spice jars (not to mention the knobs on the cabinets or drawers) is not once you’ve got raw meat all over your hands. Yes, the “someone” who learned the hard way is me. What can I say? I took one for the team so I could save you from making the same mistake. You're welcome.

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, trying to make sure the onion, almond meal, and seasonings are evenly distributed. Push it together into whatever shape allows you to lift it all out at once and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Using those super-industrious hands, shape the meat into, well, a loaf. You could also shape it into a heart, a star, dinosaur, or anything else you like; the important thing is to keep the height/thickness even so that it cooks evenly.

Bake at 350 for about 45-50 minutes…more if your loaf is extra thick. I usually make mine kind of squat, so the pieces look more like large pieces of biscotti, rather than tall slices. Like I said, this is more a casual guide than steadfast rules. It’s pretty hard to screw up meatloaf. (The worst that could happen is you overcook it and it dries out a little. If so, no worries. A great opportunity for something like these: PaleoChef sauces & marinades, or George’s BBQ sauce.)

And that’s it! It’s done. (Although you might want to let it rest for a few minutes, unless you like the idea of molten hot meat juices running everywhere and burning your tongue.)

Another great thing about a throw-together meatloaf? It’s an awesome way to use up veggies that are lingering in your crisper drawer, on their last legs, sad and wondering if their days are numbered before they end up in the trash, having both wasted your money and not fulfilled their life’s purpose of ending up in your tummy. What goes well here? Onions, obviously, but also celery (especially the bitter inner ribs and leaves that you probably always end up throwing away), zucchini, yellow squash, and bell peppers. (Although this time of year, bell peppers are insanely sweet and delicious eaten raw, sliced in ¼ inch julienne, either by themselves or with the dip/dressing of your choice. I wouldn't waste 'em in a meatloaf.) You could use carrots, too, but since they’re much crunchier and take longer to cook than the other veggies I mentioned, I’d grate/shred them before adding them to the mix, rather than dicing.

So yeah, stupid-easy, right? Throw ground meat and some seasonings in a bowl, mix, shape into a loaf, and bake. Almost doesn’t even qualify as cooking. And you can make it any way you like. Prefer something spicy or Tex-Mex? Ditch the Italian seasonings and use chili powder, cumin, cayenne, canned jalapenos or other green chilies, and some diced green & red peppers. (I make an exception here, hehheh.) You can even do a Greek-inspired version and use lots of oregano and rosemary, some garlic, pitted & chopped kalamata olives, and diced feta cheese.

This is an easy weeknight dinner—provided you remember to defrost the meat beforehand! Get home, prepare the meatloaf, and while it bakes, do whatever else you need to do: throw in a load of laundry, toss back a cold one and wonder what the heck happened to your life help the kids with their homework, check Facebook  open four days’ worth of piled-up mail, or  change into your PJs and unwind look into those continuing-ed courses you’ve been thinking about.

And best of all? Leftover meatloaf makes a great lunch the next day! (Possibly the next three or four days, plus a couple of dinners, if you’re single like me and make a huge meatloaf anyway. Why not? As much as I love to cook—and I do love it—sometimes when I get home after a long day, instead of making dinner or the next day’s lunch from scratch, I’d rather take advantage of leftovers and use the extra time to indulge my hypochondria and diagnose myself with rare and unlikely diseases courtesy of doctor Google  work on my novel.)

And since meatloaf doesn’t lend itself to pictures (at least, none taken by someone with my still mediocre photography skills), here’s something that does:

My haul from the farmer's market this weekend.
(Including local raw honey. Score!)

Plus these, which I forgot to include in the first pic.

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