Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Spiral Meatloaf

If your childhood was anything like mine you must have experienced meatloaf overload. We often had meatloaf twice a week and then had warmed up meatloaf or meatloaf sandwiches for lunch. I have to admit that I was happy to say goodbye to meatloaf when I went away to college. But a few years later I found a recipe that reawakened my appreciation of meatloaf, the Spiral Loaf. The wonderful thing about the Spiral Loaf is that it can be anything you like, it can emulate many other dishes with just a little imagination.

Spiral Meatloaf - Chicken Cordon Bleu version

• 10 oz. spinach
• 2 lbs. ground chicken or turkey
• 2 eggs
• 1 cup bread cubes or 1½ cups bread crumbs
• 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
• ¼ cup sour cream
• 1 slice of ¼" thick ham, diced (or 4 thin slices)
• ¼ cup Swiss cheese, diced (or 4-6 slices)
• ¼ tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. black pepper
• ¼ tsp. sage
• 8-10 slices of Swiss cheese (for decoration)

• large bowl
• aluminum foil (at least 18")
• baking dish, shallow roasting pan or pizza tray

In a large bowl combine the meat, eggs, bread crumbs, Dijon mustard and sour cream. Mix the ingredients, by hand, until completely mixed. I prefer to use bread crumbs for this but other people like bread cubes - your preference. Use whatever type of bread you like, white, whole wheat, rye, sourdough, etc. I would avoid multi-grain bread with large bits of grain as this can change the texture of the finished dish. If the mixture is too moist or sticky add a little more of the bread crumbs, if too dry add a little more sour cream (a teaspoon at a time).

At this point put a pot of water on to boil. You will be adding the spinach to this shortly.

Once the mixture is ready put it on a piece of 18" x 15" aluminum foil and spread it out to cover an area approx. 12" x 10" (no wider than the pan you plan to cook it on). Try to shape the meatloaf mixture into a rectangular shape. Sprinkle the surface with salt, pepper and sage.

Now place the ham on the the rectangle but staying about ½" away from the edges. If you have chopped the ham into cubes just sprinkle evenly, then press into the meatloaf mixture. If you are using slices lay them out until they cover the same area, leaving ½" around the edge.

Next add the cheese, again either in cubes or as slices, same as the ham.

Now you can put the spinach in the boiling water and leave for 2-3 minutes or until the spinach turns a bright green. Be sure to push the leaves below the surface of the water. Don't over cook the spinach, that will tend to make it taste bitter. I prefer to use baby leaf spinach but any spinach will do, even canned if nothing else is available (you don't have to cook the canned spinach).

If you don't like spinach you can use another vegetable like chopped up broccoli or Swiss chard but I find the spinach works best. Once the spinach is ready remove it from the water and spread it over the same area as the ham and cheese. If you want you can put the spinach into a blender/food processor or chop it up with a knife first. This is why I like the baby spinach, it works fine right out of the pot.

The next step can be a little tricky. Starting with the 10" side in front of you lift up the edge of the aluminum foil and roll the nearest edge of the meatloaf mixture over. Continue to roll into a "log" using the aluminum foil to keep it rolling evenly. The idea is to get a tight, spiral effect so don't be afraid to apply a little pressure as you roll up the loaf. Once you reach the top edge (it should be on the bottom of the roll at this point) shape the ends so that any openings are sealed. Next transfer the roll to the baking dish or other pan you intend to use for baking. Position so that the seam is on the bottom against the pan to prevent the ingredients from spilling out.

Place into a pre-heated 350ºF oven for approx. 1¼ hours (75 minutes). When the cooking is done place slices of Swiss cheese on the top of the loaf and put back into the oven for two minutes until the slices have melted. Take the loaf out of the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing.

Now clearly this isn't really Chicken Cordon Bleu but you might be surprised at the similarity in taste. The slices can be served on a bed of rice, mashed potatoes or noodles.

Now here's my favourite part of this recipe. A Spiral Loaf can contain whatever ingredients you want. The only limit is your imagination. For example here is an Italian version.

• 2 fresh lasagna noodles
• 2 lbs lean ground beef
• 2 eggs
• 1¼ cups bread crumbs
• ¼ cup tomato sauce
• 2 tbsp olive tapinade (ground black olives)
• 6-8 thin slices of prosciutto
• 4-6 slices mozzarella cheese
• ¼ tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. black pepper
• ¼ tsp. basil

Follow the same instructions as the previous recipe, layering the cheese, lasagna noodles, prosciutto, tomato sauce and spices on the meatloaf mixture, then rolling it up. Cook for the same amount of time and top with a couple more slices of mozzarella during the last two minutes. Let it rest on a heat proof pad for 10 minutes and then serve. This version is particularly nice with a few slices of polenta fried in olive oil and topped with a little tomato sauce.

But you are not limited to the two Spiral Loaf recipes above. You can make up any number of variations. Maybe a Mexican version where the meatloaf mixture uses hot sauce and salsa along with the meat, eggs and bread crumbs. Then fill that with a tortilla, refried beans, salsa, Montery Jack cheese, diced tomatos, avacado and hot sauce. Or a Pizza Spiral with an uncooked pizza dough shell (this would become the outside layer), then a meatloaf mixture (same as Italian) topped with cheese, tomato sauce and your favourite toppings. The Spiral Loaf options are almost endless.

If fact I would love to hear about your creation. If you give this a try and experiment with your own ingredients why not post your version in the comments section below. Who knows you might just make someone's day, or at least their meal :)

Haven't made Polenta before? You can usually buy rolls of Polenta at any market that carries European food (they are not very expensive) but you can also make it at home. Here's how:

• 2 cups coarse ground corn meal
• 4 cups boiling water
• 1 tsp. salt

Bring the water to a boil and add the salt. Pour the corn meal in slowly (you don't want to cool off the water and stop it from boiling) and stir constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to stir every minute or two (more often if it seems to be sticking) for about 25 - 30 minutes, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides, until the corn meal has the consistency of mashed potatoes and begins to pull away from the side of the pot.

Spoon the polenta onto a piece of aluminum foil spreading it out with a flat spoon or spatula, top with another piece of foil then flatten to about ¼ - ½ inch (you can use a rolling pin for this just don't press too hard). Allow to cool to room temperature (without remove the foil). Once it is cool you can remove the foil and use an empty tin can (or simple cookie cutter) to cut out round sections. You can store these in the fridge until a few minutes before you are ready to serve. Put the polenta circles into a hot pan with olive oil and heat through. The edges should become slightly golden. Serve immediately.

Polenta can also be cut into smaller portions for frying or it can be served directly out of the pot much like mashed potatoes or porridge. Polenta is best with cheese and tomato sauce. Polenta can also be put into containers and stored in the refridgerator for several days. I usually cut the polenta into circles, squares or smaller pieces for storage.