Meat loaf - Meat loaves have gone modern with reduced fat and calories while retaining old-fashioned flavor.

BETSY BALSLEY, Times Food Editor

Whoever would have thought that meat loaf, that ubiquitous budget-watcher's catch-all for leftovers, would make a list of trendy foods at any time? Yet, that's the way it is.

When 72 Market Street, one of L.A.'s better-known restaurants, first put their meat loaf (definitely not a home for leftovers) on the menu several years ago, they really started something. Oddly enough, although one might expect such a simple, homey food to go out of style after a brief fling as a star in the fad-filled world of Los Angeles' restaurants, meat loaf has retained a solid hold on its place in both restaurant and home menus.

Exactly why is certainly a good question. Maybe having trendy restaurants give approbation to such a plebeian dish has given a lot of closet meat-loaf lovers the assurance they needed to admit that they like it. Or perhaps it's because meat loaf is a familiar food in this country of meat-and-potato eaters. Or it could be simply that it's easy to make a good meat loaf.

Meat loaves today only partially resemble the old-fashioned loaf that grandma used to make. She used inexpensive, high-fat ground beef, onions, whole eggs and bread crumbs as the base for her meat loaf, adding bits and pieces of leftover vegetables for flavor.

Modern cooks, intent on lowering the fats and cholesterol (to say nothing of calories) in their diets, as a rule make these meat mixtures of ground turkey or very lean ground beef or pork. Egg whites frequently are substituted for whole eggs and, often, oats are substituted for the bread crumbs to increase fiber content. All of these simple but effective culinary tricks--designed to reduce the fat content of meat loaf yet leave the flavor intact--can be adapted to almost any meat loaf recipe.

One of the nicest things about making a meat loaf is that it's difficult to ruin one, provided you use good ingredients to begin with. As with any food that is based on a combination of ingredients blended together, it is advisable to do the mixing with a light hand. And to my mind, meat loaf is truly a "hands on" mixture. Using a fork or spoon to combine the amount of ground meat needed with all of the other ingredients with is a frustrating experience. I, for one, much prefer to plunge into the mixing bowl with my impeccably clean hands and lightly, but thoroughly, blend the raw ingredients together with my fingers before gently patting them into loaf form. It may not be a neat procedure, but it is remarkably soul-satisfying--and it works.

Some of the meat loaf recipes that appear here are designed for entertaining. The pinwheel meat loaf mixture filled with mixed vegetables, for instance, makes a wonderful buffet offering for a crowd. And the Italian Meat Loaves, which resemble country terrines, can be served as appetizers for a small dinner party. Or they can simply be a hot main dish for a cozy twosome.

Serious cholesterol watchers will find the turkey meat loaf a tasty, worthwhile dish, while those addicted to Mexican flavorings will like the Mexican meat loaf.

Most of today's recipes will serve six to eight hungry souls. That's because meat loaf is not something that works really well when prepared in a small quantity. If you have a small family or are single, to obtain optimum flavor it's better to blend a relatively large amount of meat and other ingredients together, and then divide the mixture into meal-size portions before cooking. Cook and freeze the extra portions for future meals and relax in the knowledge that you have several good meals stashed in the freezer for those nights when there's no time to cook or you simply aren't in the mood.

STUFFED TURKEY LOAVES

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 medium green pepper, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder

3 slices bread

4 egg whites

1/4 cup dry Sherry

Salt, pepper

1 (11-ounce) jar cranberry-orange-relish

Combine turkey, onion, green pepper and 5-spice powder in large mixing bowl. Soak bread briefly in water and squeeze out excess. Blend bread into turkey mixture. Beat egg whites until frothy and add to turkey mixture with Sherry. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide mixture into 8 portions and pat 1 portion each into bottom of 4 (2-cup) lightly greased baking dishes. Top each with 1/4 of cranberry-orange relish. Top relish with remaining turkey portions and press to seal around edges.

Place baking dishes in pan filled with enough water to come half way up sides of cups. Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes or until done. Remove from oven, pour off drippings and let stand in warm spot 10 minutes. Makes 4 to 8 servings.

RIBBON MEAT LOAF

2 pounds lean ground beef

1 pound lean ground pork

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 eggs or 6 egg whites, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

Salt, pepper

2 cups frozen mixed vegetables

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Combine beef, pork, onion, eggs and herbs in large mixing bowl, blending lightly but well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring 1/2 cup water to boil, add vegetables and cook, covered, 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Pat meat mixture into 16x11-inch rectangle on sheet of foil on counter. Combine vegetables and 1/2 cup tomato sauce and spread over meat, leaving about 1/2-inch free around edges. Beginning at 16-inch side and using foil to help start rolling process, roll meat pinwheel style into long roll.

Pinch meat together at ends and along seam to seal. Place, seam side down, on jellyroll pan. With fingers make slight diagonal indentations along top of loaf. Spoon remaining 1/2 cup tomato sauce into indentations. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour 15 minutes or until done. Remove from oven, pour off drippings and let stand in warm place 10 minutes. Turn out onto warm platter to serve. Makes 10 to 12 servings.

ITALIAN MEAT LOAVES

3 or 4 mild or hot Italian sausages

2 pounds lean ground beef

2 eggs or 4 egg whites

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram leaves

1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley leaves

1 1/2 cups cooked rice

Salt, pepper

Pierce sausages in several places and brown lightly in small skillet over medium heat. Pour off fat and set aside.

Combine beef, eggs, onion, pistachios, oregano, marjoram and Italian parsley in large mixing bowl, mixing lightly but well. Blend in rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide meat into 8 portions. Pat 1 portion into bottom of each of 4 (5 3/4x3 1/4-inch) foil pans.

Place 1 sausage over beef in each of pans. Top with remaining portions of beef and press to seal well around sausages. Bake at 350 degrees 40 to 45 minutes or until done. Pour off drippings and let stand in pans 10 minutes in warm spot. Serve hot or cold. (If serving as appetizer terrine, place sheet of foil over each loaf after pouring off drippings and weigh it down with heavy can or some other weight until cool. Refrigerate and serve cold.) Makes 4 small loaves.

Note: If using egg whites in place of whole eggs, beat until frothy before adding to meat mixture.

FRUITED HAM AND OATS LOAF

1 1/2 pounds ground cooked ham

1 pound lean ground pork

2 eggs or 4 egg whites

3/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup mild chutney, chopped

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

Few drops hot pepper sauce

3/4 cup oats

Chutney Sauce

Lightly mix ground ham and pork together in mixing bowl. Beat eggs and stir in orange juice, brown sugar, chutney, dry mustard and hot pepper sauce. Blend in oats. Combine oats mixture with meats, blending lightly but well.

Pat mixture into lightly greased 7-cup ring mold, smoothing top. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour 15 minutes. Serve hot or cold with Chutney Sauce. Makes 6 servings.

Note: If using egg whites in place of whole eggs, beat until frothy before adding orange juice.

Chutney Sauce

3/4 cup mild chutney

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 cup orange juice

Combine chutney, curry powder and orange juice in food processor bowl or blender container and process until mixture is well blended and finely chopped. Mixture does not have to be smooth. Makes about 1 cup sauce.

TERIYAKI BEEF LOAF

3 slices bread

Teriyaki Marinade

2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small green pepper, finely chopped

3/4 cup chopped water chestnuts

2 eggs or 4 egg whites

Black pepper

Hot cooked rice

Teriyaki Sauce

Soak bread slices briefly in Teriyaki Marinade. Squeeze excess liquid back into bowl and reserve marinade for use in Teriyaki Sauce. Combine bread with ground beef in large mixing bowl. Stir in onion, green pepper, water chestnuts and eggs. Season to taste with black pepper.

Form mixture into loaf and place in 9x5-inch loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes or until done. Pour off drippings and let stand in pan 10 minutes in warm spot. Remove from pan to warm platter. Serve with hot cooked rice and Teriyaki Sauce. Makes 8 servings.

Note: If using egg whites in place of whole eggs, beat until frothy before adding to meat mixture.

Teriyaki Marinade

1 1/2 cups low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon minced ginger root

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons Sherry

1/4 cup sugar

Combine soy sauce, ginger, garlic, Sherry and sugar in small pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and let mixture simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Makes about 1 3/4 cups marinade.

Teriyaki Sauce

Reserved Teriyaki Marinade

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Strain Teriyaki Marinade, discarding solids. Combine 1/4 cup marinade with cornstarch, stirring to blend well. Bring remaining marinade to boil in small saucepan and add cornstarch mixture. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens slightly. Makes about 1 cup.

MEXICAN-STYLE MEAT LOAF

1/2 pound chorizo, casings removed

1 large onion, chopped

2 pounds lean ground beef

1 cup soft bread crumbs

2 eggs or 4 egg whites

2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1/2 cup drained canned diced green chiles

Salt, pepper

1/4 pound shredded Cheddar cheese

Chopped tomatoes, red onions and avocado

Crumble chorizo in skillet and cook, stirring, over medium heat about 5 minutes. Stir in onion and continue to cook and stir until onion softens but does not brown. Remove from heat, pour off fat and let cool slightly.

Place beef in large mixing bowl and stir in bread crumbs. Blend in chorizo mixture and eggs. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and chiles, stirring to blend lightly but thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pat mixture into round 2 1/2 quart glass casserole. Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour 30 minutes or until done. Pour off drippings.

Sprinkle with shredded cheese and let stand about 10 minutes in warm place before slicing. Serve with chopped tomatoes, onions and avocado on side. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: If using egg whites in place of whole eggs, beat until frothy before adding to meat mixture.

Food Styling by Minnie Bernardino and Donna Deane

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