Introduction: Clean-Out-The-Kitchen Meatloaf

About: If I'm not part of the solution, then I must be part of the precipitate.

This meatloaf helps use up edible odds and ends from the refrigerator and/or kitchen cupboards, and it's pretty tasty, too. :)

I depend on my local Food Bank from time to time, and I sometimes wind up with various  out-of-the-way items that aren't what I usually cook with. Meatloaf is a great way to use them - a variety of good ingredients gives meatloaf extra nutritional value, and generally makes it taste better, too.

Meatloaf is a classic American comfort food, and there are many individual traditions associated with it. I make it the way I do because that's the way my mother made it, and presumably the way her mother made it, and her mother, and so on.

So, this probably isn't the way your mother made her meatloaf (unless you happen to be one of my siblings :), but it's pretty good anyway.

Step 1: Equipment

Mixing Bowl
Roasting pan
Table knife
Functional Oven (not shown)
Clean hands (not shown)

Chopping knife & cutting board (not shown)

Measuring cups and spoons
Kitchen timer
Garlic press (not shown)

Step 2: Ingredients

All that is strictly required to make a meatloaf seems to be:
  • Ground meat.
  • Some starchy ingredient like oatmeal, cooked rice, or bread crumbs.
  • An egg or two.

Optional stuff I used in this 'Ible:
  • Powdered milk (extra protein)
  • Wheat germ (extra everything)
  • Chopped frozen spinach
  • Chopped onions
  • Dried celery leaves
  • Garlic
  • Ketchup (many people consider this a mandatory ingredient)
  • Mustard
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Old Bay Seasoning

Other optional stuff I didn't use here, but could have thrown in:
  • Potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • Carrots, cooked and mashed
  • Cabbage, cooked and minced
  • Other leftover cooked vegetables
  • Leftover cooked cereal
  • Cold breakfast cereal (if not primarily made of sugar)
  • Can of almost any Cream-of-Something-Or-Other Soup
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Salsa
  • Almost any reasonably savory foodstuff

There are only two things I've found to be utterly unsuccessful as meatloaf ingredients: raisins; and apples, added raw in chunks. (I was not the cook in either case, and I suspect that the person who was cooking may have been trying to get out of that job. (Whether he was trying to or not, it worked.))

Step 3: The "Meat" Part

You can use almost any type of ground meat.

What I had on hand was two not-very-reassuring-looking tubes of "mechanically separated turkey," and a stack of frozen sausage patties. Both were items from the food bank. (Now, don't get me wrong here: food banks are a great thing, and most of the food I'm so very glad to get from them is wonderful stuff. But sometimes, some of the things from the food bank can be unfamiliar, obscure, or just not very reassuring looking.)

Fortunately, once I opened up the tube, the contents looked, smelled, and squooshed around just like perfectly good ground turkey. The sausage was fine, too, so I chopped in into chunks and added it to the turkey.

(Note on Ground Turkey: The thing about ground turkey is that it's so very lean that it can be way too dry and flavorless; which is why I wanted to balance it with the rich, flavorful, and not-so-lean sausage. If I hadn't had the sausage, I would have browned the turkey in bacon grease, or else olive oil, before adding it to the meatloaf.)

Step 4: The "Loaf" Part

Without some sort of starchy binder/filler/extender, it wouldn't be meatloaf: it'd just be a big funny-shaped hamburger.

A number of different starches can be used: oatmeal, bread crumbs, cooked rice, mashed potatoes, etc. I like oatmeal myself, partly because it's all kinds of healthy, and partly it doesn't have to be cooked or anything before being added to the meatloaf.

The way I make meatloaf is to throw in a cup of something and see how it does. Here, I had just about a cup of oatmeal left over from my last trip to the food bank and so that went in. But it looked kind of thin in the bowl (see the first picture), so I added a cup of a "multi-grain breakfast cereal" that is essentially oatmeal with bells on. In step 9, I decided I needed even more oatmeal, and added another 1/2 cup.

Getting down to actual proportions, that's 2-1/2 cups of oatmeal for 3 pounds of ground meat.

That's about the minimum. The maximum is probably around 1 to 1-1/2 cups of oatmeal (or other starchy stuff) per pound of ground meat, depending on far you want/need to stretch the meat. If you exceed 2 cups of starchy stuff per pound of meat, it's probably not quite right to call it "meat"loaf any more.

Step 5: The All-Important Eggs

So what's going to hold all this meat and starchy stuff and all together?

Eggs may be nature's best binder and adhesive. Michaelangelo used eggs to get the pigments in his paints to stick to the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, and they're still sticking there five hundred years later.

Meatloaf isn't quite the same as High Renaissance Art, but the eggs don't care: they'll still keep things stuck together. It takes roughly one egg per cup of starchy stuff added in the previous Step: I added 2 cups of oatmeal, and so I need two eggs.

Step 6: The "Clean Out the Kitchen" Part

Okay, here's where the fun comes in. I added:
  • 1 cup frozen spinach, because I add frozen spinach to everything I can sneak it into.
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions, because I add onions to almost everything I cook that's not a dessert.
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ, because it's even healthier for me than the spinach.
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk from the food bank, for the extra protein; and because there's no way on earth I'm going to mix the stuff up and drink it.
  • 1 oz. "Forti-Flax" - this is one of the more random things I've gotten from the food bank. I forget exactly what flaxseed meal is meant to do for me, but I know it's supposed to be great stuff.
Probably about 2 cups worth of additions altogether. I later decided this wasn't enough and added another cup of spinach (see Step 9), bringing the total additions to about 3 cups worth.

Step 7: The Flavor Crew

Not the latest hip-hop happening, but the sauces and spices that will give your meatloaf flavor and zing.

Garlic gives you a nice, deep heartiness along with a goodly dose of zing. The more the better, IMHO: I used about 10-12 medium-sized garlic cloves here. I used a garlic press, but minced garlic will do just fine.

Sauces like ketchup, mustard and barbecue sauce are traditional meatloaf ingredients. A person could make meatloaf without them, I suppose - but why would they want to?

Salt is essential to any meat or savory dish, and I like to add plenty: in this case I used about 2 teaspoonsful of salt for 3 lbs of meat. And about a teaspoon of pepper, too - the "heat" chemical in pepper helps open up the taste buds so that all flavors are tasted more clearly.

Many cooks have a seasoning blend they insist upon with a loyalty so fierce as to be nigh on ridiculous: for me, it's Old Bay Seasoning ( It could be that there are other seasoning blends just as good: you're just not likely to hear me saying so. :)
(Note: Old Bay Seasoning is a product of McCormick & Co., and should be available in most US grocery stores.)
('Nuther Note: I don't own any part of, or have any other personal interest in, Old Bay Seasoning: I just think it's
truly amazingly superlative stuff.)

Step 8: A Note on Celery - Stalks Vs. Leaves

Celery stalks are a nice veggie, handy for crudités and a near-essential for chicken soup.

But lots of people ignore the celery leaves, which I think are the best part. They are like a strong savory herb, with a rich flavor that says "here there be veggies, and serious ones at that." 

A heaping teaspoonful of chopped fresh celery leaves is about right for a meatloaf this size.

Step 9: The Mushy-Gushy Part

I suppose it might be possible to mix meatloaf ingredients together with a spoon or something - I've never tried it myself. I just wash my hands very thoroughly, and plunge 'em on in - a little mixing, mashing, & mushing, and pretty soon all the ingredients are nice and evenly mixed.

After I'd mixed up the ingredients I added so far, I thought the meatloaf was a little too wet & gloppy/gushy, so I added some more starchy stuff (1/2 cup oatmeal) and some more vegetable-ey stuff (1 cup frozen spinach). Another plunging-in-&-mushing-up, and I got a consistency that would form nicely into a loaf without glopping around wetly, or being too dry and falling apart.

Step 10: Baking the Loaf

This meatloaf almost filled my baking pan, so I didn't need to form it into a loaf shape.

I've included a picture of a smaller meatloaf I made to show the flattish shape I like to use. Some people prefer to mold their meatloafs (meatloaves?) much more like standard loaves of bread, sometimes even baking them in loaf pans; but I think the flattish (ciabatta-esque?) shape makes for faster and more even cooking.

I had just a few teaspoons of barbecue sauce left in the bottle, so I used it to "top off" my meatloaf. Not something I've usually done, but it added nicely to both appearance and flavor - I think I'll make it a brand new one of my Old Family Meatloaf Traditions.

I baked the meatloaf at 375 F for 35 minutes, and then tested to be sure it was done.

This is where the table knife comes in. When the knife is inserted deep enough to reach to the center of the meatloaf, it should show you cooked meat and clear juices around a (comparatively) clean knife. If either the meat or the "juices" are still pinkish at all, or there are pinky little bits of meat clinging to the knife; the meatloaf goes back in the oven for 10  more minutes, and then test again in a different spot. (There's a reason that "Meatloaf Tartare" never did catch on.)

This does leave a little knife slice in the middle of your meatloaf, but hey - it's meatloaf: how good do you really want it to look? :)

Step 11: And Serve It Forth

Slice the meatloaf into slices or squares (or any shape you like), and serve.

Meatloaf can be a meal by itself; or is more traditionally accompanied with mashed potatoes and green beans, with ketchup as a condiment. Leftovers make delicious sandwiches (I like to spread both bread slices with ketchup). Even the little crumbs that fall off the meatloaf are a great addition to omelettes or scrambled eggs - you can get your breakfast, lunch, and dinner all from the same meatloaf. :)

Step 12: Just the Recipe, Ma'am.

In case you want the recipe in just plain old recipe form -

Clean-Out-The-Kitchen Meatloaf

2 lb. Ground Turkey
1 lb. Sausage
2-1/2 cups Oatmeal
2 large Eggs
1 cup chopped frozen Spinach
1/2 cup chopped Onions
1/4 cup Wheat Germ
1/2 cup Powdered Milk
1 oz. Flaxseed Meal
1 heaping teaspoon fresh chopped Celery Leaves
10-12 medium cloves pressed Garlic
3-4 Tablespoons Ketchup
3-4 Tablespoons Barbecue Sauce
1-2 Tablespoons Mustard
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
(Optional: 2-1/2 teaspoons Barbecue Sauce)

Preheat oven to 375 F, and set out a large baking dish.

Place all ingredients (except optional BBQ sauce) in your largest mixing bowl.
Mix with both hands until all are evenly distributed.

Transfer mixture to baking dish; and shape into a large, flat loaf.
(Optional: top with 2-1/2 teaspoons Barbecue Sauce.)

Bake at 375 F for 35 minutes, or until done. Slice and serve.