Saturday, April 14, 2012

Best Meatloaf Ever

I'm calling this the Best Meatloaf Ever!" for several reasons, not the least of which is how tasty it is. And for its "Make Ahead Magic."

I hadn't intended to make meatloaf, but the weekend forecast for chilly and damp weather put the idea of warm and cozy dinners at the lake cottage in mind. I wandered about peering at the grocery meat cases. Nothing much inspired until I saw the grass-fed ground beef -- On Special!!! I picked up three pounds of 85% lean and another pound of regular ground beef at 95% lean. As long as I was making meatloaf, may as well make three to have a couple stocked away in the freezer for more cool summer nights.

Back in the kitchen I pulled ideas from several family traditions and some healthy-food concepts. I wanted to keep this lean, low salt and satisfying. I began with the binder -- crackers soaked in milk, from my great-grandmother's beef loaf recipe. I added several coarse grinds of black pepper in honor of my grandfather who could never have too much pepper. And a liberal dash of Worcestershire sauce for my dad, who loved it. Mixed in a couple of eggs, although in retrospect I would have used 2 egg whites and one yolk to keep it leaner, and dumped in the beef.

As I started to mix with my hands, I quickly realized this needed some texture. Into the fridge. Out came the jar of medium chunky salsa for a kid-friendly kick. I formed the mixture into three oval loaves and put them in the large baking dish, so they would have room to cook all the way around. I heated the oven to 350 degrees and stirred up the last magic -- the topping. This is straight out of the 1950s and Potluck Paradise -- ketchup, yellow mustard, and brown sugar. I ladled half of it on top of the loaves before baking and the second half midway through. After an hour the loaves were cooked through to a food-safe 160 degrees. I pulled them from the pan juices and let them cool. The next day, I reheated the meatloaf in the oven. YUM! Almost as "beefy" as a perfectly cooked sirloin steak.

A word about the grass-fed beef. It is simply wonderful. Regular hamburger doesn't stand a chance next to the rich flavor of this meat, which is becoming more and more easily available I think the meatloaf would be tasty made with regular beef, but it is so much better giving this taste of our grandparents, or great grandparents, the starring role.

Best Ever Make Ahead Meatloaf

3 pounds 80% to 85% lean grass-fed beef
1 pound 90% lean hamburger
1/2 sleeve unsalted soda crackers, finely crushed with a rolling pin
1/2 to 3/4 cup skim milk
1 teaspoon -- or more -- freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs or 2 egg whites and one yolk
1 cup chunky salsa

For the topping:
1 cup salt-free ketchup
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1/3 cup brown sugar

Mix and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the crushed crackers in a large mixing bowl. Add half cup milk and stir. Add more milk if need to have a nice cracker slurry. Stir in the pepper, Worcestershire sauce. and eggs. Add the beef and dump the salsa on top. Then begin mixing with your hands, making sure to bring up the cracker mixture from the bottom of the bowl. Form into three loaves and place in a large baking pan so there is at least an inch between the loaves. Make the topping mixture and spoon half of it over the loaves. Bake for about a half hour and then spoon the rest of the ketchup topping over them. Continue baking until the center of the loaf reaches 160 degrees F. Remove from pan to drain away the excess fat and juices. Cool and refrigerate. Reheat in oven with about 3/4 of an inch of water in the pan. Or microwave.

Copyright 2012 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Visions of Summer Harvest

Our plum tree is blooming to beat the band. Only problem . . it is weeks ahead of schedule due to unusually warm weather. Alas, the bees in the neighbor's hive seem to be still sleeping. I suspect we will be fortunate to harvest a handful of fruit.

Stalwart rhubarb has started to burst forth as well. At lest I can toss a towel over the plants should the weather take a sudden frosty snap in the days to come. It will be ready for picking by the end of May. In addition to the crisps, strawberry rhubarb pies, and sauces, I think I'll put up some of this World War I-era jam. I haven't made it in a couple of years. It is mighty tasty and will be dandy poured warm over ice cream when we get our June cold spells to "balance out" this amazing early spring.

World War I Rhubarb Raisin Jam

4 cups rhubarb, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins, coarsely chopped
2 cups orange juice

Mix the rhubarb and sugar in a three- or four-quart pot and let stand for 4 to 5 hours. Stir the mixture every once and a while to help the sugar dissolve. Then add the raisins and bring to a boil over medium heat, lower and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the mixture is quite thick. Stir from time to time. Add the orange juice, bring back just to the boil and pour mixture into sterilized jars. Keep in the refrigerator for a month, or freeze, You may also process in boiling water bath according to USDA guidelines