When I cook meals that traditionally tend to be large, I like to find ways to make them more manageable for a small family. Meatloaf is a good example of that. I love a good meatloaf, but once Aaron and I have had a serving and Niko and Sofia have nibbled a bit, we still have to deal with the rest of the loaf. It ends up sitting in the fridge for a week, at which point Aaron decides it’s probably contaminated with botulism or invisible mold and throws it away. On the other hand, meatloaf is one of those meals that’s just as easy to make in a large quantity as a small batch, and it seems like a waste of energy to spend that time making just a little bit.
So I compromise. I make a full batch, turn half of it into individual cupcake-sized servings, and freeze the other half for later. It’s really nice to be able to just grab it out of the freezer and have a hearty meal forty-five minutes later… and still be able to claim it as home-cooked. The cupcakes cook quickly, store easily and make an easy-to-grab quick bite later. If you’re cooking for a larger group, you could just use two cupcake pans, or you could put the whole batch into a loaf pan. You really can’t do a half batch in a loaf pan – unless you use tinfoil to partition off half of the pan, and put the meat into one half while the other stays empty. That works fairly well, if you’re absolutely committed to the traditional meatloaf shape. It’s hard to keep it moist if you use the whole pan to do a half batch – it’s just too thin of a layer.
I’ve used the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook’s recipe as a gauge for proportions for some time now. Unfortunately, that meatloaf recipe is as bland as vanilla pudding when you’ve run out of vanilla. So I always tweak it a bit, add my own seasonings, spice it up. Nothing fancy. Just enough to make it taste like meatloaf instead of like some ground beef someone tossed into a pan and cooked for an hour. I also increased the amounts proportionately from the original recipe, because the Better Homes and Gardens version never fills my loaf pan as full as I’d like.
A few notes:
- The recipe asks for milk – if you’re avoiding dairy, don’t just leave it out, or the meatloaf will be miserably dry. Use almond or coconut milk. Almond has a milder flavor, but this recipe uses a small enough amount that even coconut milk won’t change the flavor.
- For the onion, I use a chopper I bought years ago at a Pampered Chef party. I like my onion chopped really fine so it doesn’t disrupt the texture of the meatloaf. A quick pulse or two in a food processor should give similar results.
- Herbs: For this recipe, I just use dried herbs. If you want to use fresh, just use about two to three times the amount and make sure they’re chopped very fine.
- Bread crumbs: You can make your own, but if what you need is dry crumbs like I use in this recipe, it’s easiest to just buy them. Otherwise you have to go through the tedious process of cubing bread, drying it slowly in the oven, using the blender to turn it to crumbs, and then realizing you drastically misjudged how much you’d get out of the slice of bread you used, and have to start the process all over again because you’re a tablespoon short. Not that that’s happened to me, of course. It’s just a thought I had.
For the loaf, you will need:
- 2 ½ pounds ground beef
- ¼ cup dry bread crumbs
- 3 eggs
- ¾ cup of milk
- ¼ cup finely chopped onions
- 1-2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- ½ teaspoon sage
- ½ teaspoon basil
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne
For sauce for a half batch of meatloaf, you will need:
- 1/3 cup ketchup, 3 T brown sugar
- 1/8 cup prepared mustard
- ½ T Worcestershire sauce
In a largish bowl, dump all the ingredients for the loaf. You might have a slightly easier outcome if you beat the eggs first and combine the seasonings before adding them; I never bother, and mine turns out just fine. Use your hands to mix everything. This is one of those things for which, unfortunately, hands are just the best tool. I say unfortunately because I detest the sensation of cold meat and slimy eggs. It is my biggest deterrent to making this meal.
Spoon half the meat into a lightly oiled cupcake pan. Put the rest of the meat into a freezer bag, label it, and freeze it for later. Each one should be pretty full, since the meat will shrink as it cooks. Use the end of a wooden spoon, or your finger, or a chopstick…something cylindrical and blunt…to make a little well in each cupcake, making sure it doesn’t go right down to the bottom of the pan. If you’re using a loaf pan, make enough indentations that each slice will have one or two.
Spoon sauce into each indentation. Don’t cover the tops with sauce just yet; only fill the little wells.
Bake them at 350° for about 12 minutes, and then take the pan out of the oven and drain the fat from the loaves. The easiest way to do this is to lift the mini loaves out of the pans and set them onto a plate, then carefully tip the pan over a container for disposal. Replace the loaves, spread them with the rest of the sauce, and bake for another five minutes or so, until the sauce has thickened and browned a bit.
Two loaves makes a good serving for an adult. Niko, who is four, is stuffed after one, though one-year-old Sofia – who is a carnivore – can make it through nearly a whole one on her own, even with just two teeth.