Meatball mania

by Donna Berry
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These bite-sized, cupcake shaped meatloaf balls from The Meatloaf Bakery are available for mail order.

Americans are eating more meat than ever. From 2014 to 2015, US per capita meat consumption grew 5 percent, the largest increase in the past four decades, according to data from the research and advisory firm Rabobank. The average American now eats approximately 193 lbs. of beef, pork and chicken a year, which equates to more than 3.7 lbs. a week.

A contributing factor to the growth is consumers’ appetite for flavor adventure. Americans are not necessarily grilling more steaks or frying more chicken. They are exploring new formats and recipes, with such applications as ground meats gaining traction.

“This is being driven by the trend in street food,” says Zak Otto, technical R&D manager with the protein division of Wixon Inc., St. Francis, Wisconsin. “Ground meats make the perfect canvas for flavorful ingredients. And, they can be formed into convenient portable foods.”

Think meatballs, mini meatloaves and gyros skewers. Flavorful toppings and creative sides may turn the most basic meat into a culinary journey.

Meatloaf is an under-appreciated food. That is what St. Paul, Minnesota-based Carol Falkowski explained in her new book, “Meatloaf Outside the Pan.”

“Many people have fond memories of eating meatloaf around the family dinner table,” Falkowski says. “It’s a long-standing and immensely popular comfort food. But even though it tastes amazing, it rarely looks amazing. There’s so much you can do with meatloaf to engage a new generation in eating meat by making it a stunning main course.”

Chicago-based Cynthia Kallile knows this well. In 2008, she opened The Meatloaf Bakery, a counter-service café featuring cupcake-shaped meatloaf with all the sides and trimmings in a single-serve portion. This past year, she decided to close the retail business to focus on mail order, which ships half-dozen packs of approximately 7-oz. portions in dry ice to anywhere in the continental US.

Her most successful product is The Mother Loaf, a classic blend of beef, pork and veal with vegetables, seasonings and herbs, all topped with buttery Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Other favorites include a bacon cheeseburger variety complete with chopped pickles, mustard and a Greek recipe using lamb, feta and olives.

Kallile explains how she is always trying to recreate other foods into a meatloaf.

“I’ll go out for Chinese and the next day be making Chicken Mu Shu meatloaf, including identifiable pieces of chestnuts and topped with rice noodles swirled in plum sauce,” she said.

Holy Moly Chicken Frijole came to fruition after a Southwestern dining experience. It is a blend of chicken, corn kernels, cilantro, bell peppers, black beans and lime juice and topped with fajita-style peppers. Many innovations are detailed in her book, “The Meatloaf Bakery Cookbook.”

Getting granular

Many meatloaf systems readily form the meat into balls. Sauces may add extra flair. Think ground lamb and chicken blended with red bell peppers, diced onion and feta formed into meatballs served over a bed of rice with an oregano-infused olive oil drizzle.

Wixon’s Otto says: “We recreated kefta meatballs using chicken and pork instead of the traditional lamb, which can be cost-prohibitive in the US. A larger grind size provides particle definition, and combined with diced onions and mint leaves, yields a more authentic kefta.”

Chris Hansen, corporate executive chef with OSI Group, Aurora, Illinois, agrees meatballs are a growing trend.

“We’ve created an array of flavored meatballs,” he says. “For example, think Buffalo wing meatball. This is ground chicken loaded with celery, carrots and bits of blue cheese. The glaze is Buffalo style. Think (about) French onion soup, but in a meatball format. We recreate that same caramelized onion and browned, bubbling cheese taste in a meatball format that can be served on a hoagie. It’s the sandwich version of the classic baked crock soup.”

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