Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CSA week 15 - Swiss chard meatloaf

Meatloaf was on special in the cafeteria today but I didn't like the looks of it (and I'm suspicious of "Jamaican-style" meatloaf although now that I've looked it up I find that a) it's a real thing and b) it uses coconut milk, pineapple and scallions which doesn't sound half bad). On the other hand, meatloaf would be a fine way to use up some more of the chard, so I stopped and picked up some meat on the way home and set to work.

I figure meatloaf is a recipe designed to use leftover scraps of meat and vegetables, but unlike other recipes of that ilk--fried rice, omelets and such--everyone argues about the perfect meatloaf recipe. I don't get that. Clearly, if there is such a thing it's however your mother made it but you still get cookbooks full of variations. What I wanted were general guidelines to improvise within. The closest I found were on the How to Cook Like Your Grandmother blog.

Start with a cup and a half or so of finely chopped starch--I used half bread crumbs and half oatmeal

Add around a cup of somewhat less finely chopped vegetables, generally raw--for the chard I decided to cook them a little to soften. I used just stems and quite a high heat to get a char on them for a little more flavor. I had hoped to use up more chard but I also wanted to include onion, mushrooms and some of last week's green pepper so I still have a whole lot of chard left. I may just blanch and freeze it as I really don't want to deal with it any more. (I used it in some tacos on Sunday too so this is the fourth dish including it this week.)

Then two eggs, 1/4 cup of dairy of one sort or another--I just used plain milk--and plenty of salt, pepper, spices and sauces--I used Worcestershire and a vinegar-less pepper sauce plus a teaspoon of a smokey paprika based spice mix.

All that gets mixed before adding two pounds of ground meat--I used half beef chuck and half pork. Mixing the rest beforehand helps avoid overworking the meat.

Lightly pack the mixture into a loaf pan and upend it into a baking dish or high-walled baking sheet. Room for runoff is important, particularly if you like the dried out end bits.

That goes into a 350 degree oven until the inside reaches 140 degrees. Or something like that. There's lots of disagreement on temperatures. This quite low final temperature makes sense to me since there's going to be a lot of residual heat and carryover cooking in something like this. And undercooked is easier to fix than overcooked. Unfortunately, I haven't got a probe thermometer so I'm going to have to poke in my baking thermometer after a while and hope I don't let it go to long. I'm guessing 45 minutes at least. ... More like an hour, it turns out. And there was no carryover heating or any runoff for that matter so I'm putting it back in the oven until it gets to at least 150. ... And another 20 minutes gets it to 180. Swell. No runoff, though, so all that moisture is still inside. Maybe the overcooking isn't too bad.

Here it is after resting. Lame presentation, but I finished my mizuna and grape tomato salad a good half hour before this was ready to serve. I was hoping to use pan drippings to make gravy, which would have looked nice drizzled over top, but no pan drippings. It's not really dry so no big deal. You can see that I didn't mix it as well as I should have, but I like I said earlier I didn't want to overwork the meat. The texture seems fine anyway: a bit crumbly, a bit meaty, a bit mushy. Meatloafy. It doesn't seem overcooked at all. I shouldn't be surprised that the recipe is so forgiving. That's the nature of these throw-together dishes. , The texture could use a little variation. The firmer and slightly crunchy edges are nice but I find I want a little sauce just for interest even if the meatloaf isn't so dry it needs it.

The flavor is classic meatloaf and a pretty good example of the form. I think maybe you can tell that I used oatmeal and good quality homemade bread crumbs; there seems to be a bit of depth to the starchy flavors. I'm a little disappointed not to have an identifiable chard note; I should have left out the pepper and doubled the chard. There's some slight variation from the meat-marbling so that's kind of interesting. It is missing sweetness; that's what I get for being lazy and not glazing it. But that's easily fixed with any number of sauces so maybe I'm better off with the choice of flavors to pair each slice with.

Right, so your takeaway here is: if you're looking for a way to use up leftover chard stems, meatloaf is a viable choice. OK, time to make the ice cream.


Karen said...

We made "Grits and Greens" with our chard, used up the whole bunch of leaves (still have the stems - maybe chard-stem soup, along the lines of Celery Cream Soup?).

The recipe, from D. Madison's "Vegetarian Suppers" book, calls for chard + spinach, but I used beet greens/arugula instead of the spinach. Recipe calls for dill and parsley - altogether really tasty (assuming you like grits), and an excellent way to clear out a lot of the greens lurking in the corners of the fridge.

Karen (again) said...

OK. I have to add a p.s. -- since chard, once cooked, hasn't got a strong flavor of its own, the greens tasted of the garlic, onions, dill and parsley (there wasn't enough arugula in the mix to matter). I think I prefer more assertively flavored greens, if I have to go to all the chopping/blanching/wilting/sauteing trouble.

We made a "spinach" torta using the callaloo last week and I thought that was a big success; the callaloo stood up to the heat and didn't wilt away to green mush, better than spinach, and didn't have that oxalic-acid flavor that spinach carries, so it was actually better than the original recipe (another D. Madison, "Spinach and Herb Torta in a Potato Crust" from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone [I think this is on the 'net]).

billjac said...

I've been thinking that the chard would work in a quiche too, but you're right, it is quite mild so I'd have to be careful not to overwhelm it with a lot of other strong flavors.

drlindak said...

We're big pasta fans around here - the last of our chard was great simply sauteed with garlic and plenty of olive oil (stems first) salt, pepper, and roasted red pepper flakes. Add a can of canellini beans and al dente pasta, top with reggiano or what-have-you. It's my version of the "beans and greens" soup (without the soup) we used to eat at the Como Restaurant (which except for this and the italian bread was otherwise awful) as kids in Niagara Falls. For me it's serious comfort food,