Most people think first of soups and stews when they think of slow cooking, but your crock pot is also a good way to make meat loaf! As you may recall, I posted a recipe previously about meat loaf (Meat Loaf on a Bed of Potatoes) and said that one of the major difficulties was in trying to get the meat loaf out of the crock pot. Well, I tried meat loaf again not long after I moved into my new apartment, back on June 28 of last year, and did much better. The key is making a foil cradle (like in the picture to the left), which you will use later to take the meat loaf out.
I got this recipe, for Salsa Meat Loaf from the Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, the same one I got the previous meat loaf recipe from. Interestingly, when looking for where I had found this recipe originally, I looked in several of my cookbooks and not a single other cookbook that I own has a meat loaf recipe in it, while this one has five in the "Beef, Veal, and Venison" chapter and another one, made with ground turkey, in the "Poultry, Game Birds, and Rabbit" chapter.
To make the meatloaf, you mix together ground beef, an egg, oats, salsa, red onion, marjoram or oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. I'm pretty sure that I used oregano because that's what I had already. And as most people know who are regular readers of this blog, I left out the salt. Then you place it into the crock pot in one big lump, before shaping it out into a loaf shape that fills the entire bottom of the crock pot, as you can see in the image to the left. Then it cooks on low for about 6 hours. The cookbook says to cook it until "an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meat loaf registers at least 160° to 165°F" so this would be a great recipe to do with my new crock pot which has the cook by temperature option, but as you can see, I made this recipe before I had that one so I don't know how well that would work.
Now, toward the end of the cooking time, about 30 minutes according to the cookbook, you mix some more salsa with some olive oil and then spread it over the meat loaf. Now, this probably wouldn't work if you went the temperature route so you could also just wait until it was done cooking and then spread the salsa mixture on the meat loaf. Regardless, you should cook it for another 30 minutes on low after adding the salsa mixture.
Now, the taking the meat loaf out of the crock pot process is really a two-person job, but with the foil cradle it is much easier than it was to take the meat loaf out in the first meat loaf recipe that I tried. In this case, you use the foil strips and handles to get the meat loaf out of the crock pot in one piece. Now, the cookbook says that you should slide out the foil strips and throw them away, but I find when you first take it out of the crock pot, the meat loaf is too soft to do that. I just ended up serving it as it was and then taking away the strips when I was packing up the leftovers.
The good thing about my previous attempt at meat loaf was that it cooked over potatoes so you just needed to add a vegetable and/or a salad to have a complete balanced meal. In this case, I didn't have that option, so I made baked sweet potatoes in the second crock pot I have (the dual one, but I only used one side in this case). It seems a little ridiculous, of course, to make baked potatoes in the crock pot because they take 6 to 9 hours on low to cook and in the oven they'd only take about an hour. However, I often think that I'd like to have a baked potato with dinner, but I tend to work up until dinner and by the time I get around to cooking at all, I'm really hungry and so I just go with something that is quicker. So the crock pot baked potatoes are really good to start in the morning and then by the time you're ready to eat, they're already done!
It's also really quick and easy (as are normal baked potatoes too, I guess). You just wash the potatoes, stab them a few times, wrap them in foil, and throw them in the crock pot. In this case, I actually prepared and started the potatoes first because they take longer and then started making the meat loaf. When it was time to eat, I made some broccoli to go on the side (I suspect this was cooked from frozen because I don't have fresh broccoli listed on my receipt for the shopping trip prior to making this) and dinner was served! The meat loaf was good too! Not like the meat loaf like my mom used to make, but the salsa is a nice touch!
Now, in terms of all my calculations, here's the thing: I have no idea how many servings we got out of this. The cookbook says 6 to 8 but this is another case where it all depends on how thick you slice it. So, for sake of calculations, I'm going to assume that we got 8 servings out of it because I know that I tend to serve thinner slices. In that case, the meatloaf alone only comes out to about 243 calories per serving. The broccoli and the sweet potato are only about 115 calories total, so the whole meal is only about 358 calories. So if you're like my husband, you may want to have more than one slice of the meatloaf, making it up to 601 calories. In terms of cost, this is a little bit pricey (well, in comparison to other crock pot meals I've made, not in comparison to eating out) if you needed to purchase all the ingredients. I calculated it at about $5.15 per serving if you needed to purchase everything, including the sides (it's $4.63 for the meatloaf alone). Of course, I had almost everything (includin g the sides) so it was only $1.83 per serving -- really good on my grad student budget.