Sunday, April 14, 2013

Not Your Mother's Meatloaf

The unusual hot spell last week in the Mid-Atlantic ended as quickly as it came.  Temperatures dipped back into the 30s at night over the weekend and hardly reached the high 50s during the day in my region of Baltimore County, Maryland.  I bundled up to ride my horse through deep woods both mornings and needed a sweater to run my weekend errands.

When such early spring nip seems to penetrate to my very bones, I tend toward meals consisting of hearty fare. A recent issue of Food & Wine magazine featured a fennel-scented meatloaf that sounded appealing. Soup is good, but I already had two hearty soups awaiting consumption in my freezer. Meatloaf seemed like it would hit the spot. Funny, when I stopped at the supermarket to buy the ingredients, it occurred to me that I had not purchased ground beef in several years, so conscientious have I been about trending away from beef in my diet.

Mire-poix, fresh eggs from my neighbor's chickens, oregano
from my herb garden and fennel seeds ground by hand in a
mortar and pestle combine with other ingredients to form
a freeform meatloaf  
The ingredients were simple enough, but came together to create a medley of subtle flavors that imbued my kofta with far more complexity than the individual elements might invoke. I tend to cook using the mise en place method, meaning that I gather all my ingredients together before I start and I clean up as I go, so that rarely do I find myself halfway through a dish and suddenly without a key ingredient (although it has happened) and, best of all, by the time I sit down to dinner my kitchen is all but clean. I can’t imagine anything less appetizing than trying to enjoy a meal knowing there remains a raft of dirty cookware and messy countertops waiting for me afterward.

This recipe called for a host of wonderful components which I already had on hand. In fact, the ground beef was the only thing I needed to buy. I sautéed onions and carrots and celery with minced garlic, let bread crumbs soak in a little milk, and then molded my meatloaf into a freeform football, as directed by the recipe. No loaf pan for this gigantic klops.

Meanwhile, I pureed a red onion with half a jar of pickled beets to make a tangy salad dressing that, amazingly, needs no emulsifying oil, which keeps the salad course very low-calorie. I tossed some leftover escarole, spring garden mix and fresh baby spinach with toasted pine nuts, crumbled bleu cheese, dried currants and the remaining beets.

When the meatloaf emerged from my oven an hour later, I plated a thick slice with a little cauliflower pureed in almond milk saved from a previous meal and… voila. I enjoyed a hearty stick-to-your-ribs meal in front of a crackling fire, a perfect way to fend off the chill.

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