Slow Cooker Elk Meatloaf

First of all, our kitchen remodel is going well overall. We are beginning to realize our dreams as it relates to having more storage, counter space and lighting. The quartz countertop was installed successfully last week, though they rattled something loose on a couple of the drawers which will require adjustment. I am already excited about this five-foot long stretch of counter space, which will likely become my husband’s primary spot for prepping when we work together in the kitchen. Everything about our new plan is designed to give us more freedom to be in there at the same time, without bumping fannies or otherwise getting in each other’s way. We especially can’t wait for Thanksgiving in this new kitchen!

Our microwave will be housed in the open cabinet above this counter, and the base cabinet is a pull-out trash/recycling station.

There have been a few snags, of course, many of which I suspect could have been avoided, but what do I know? As I write this, an electrician is spending a second full day working to achieve our wishes for under-cabinet plug molds and lighting, a tricky proposition because some of the old outlets and junction boxes were capped off and covered by new cabinets before these guys had a chance to do their “rough-in.” While they have wrestled with that, I’ve been holed up in our home office with our nervous-about-noises dog, Nilla, listening to the soothing intonations of Melody Gardot. If you have never heard of her, it’s time you did. Click play on the video below and you will understand at once why I play her music during high-stress situations. Go ahead and subscribe to her YouTube channel while you’re at it—you can thank me later.


One of the hardest things for me to endure amid the ruckus of this remodel is not anxiety for the renovation itself—our general contractor has been very responsive to our concerns—but mainly for not having enough time to keep my usual schedule of posting here on Comfort du Jour. I had more than a dozen completed recipes in archive that I wanted to share with you during this time, but I haven’t had time to write them up, send them to Les (my talented copy editor/husband), edit and caption the photos, format the whole thing on WordPress and hit “publish.” Whew. A lot goes into maintaining my blog, and I love every second of it, though I have not had enough consecutive seconds lately to manage it all. Unexpectedly, I have appreciated these two days of electrical work for giving me a bit of time to catch up. And breathe.

When I originally sat down to contemplate how to cook without a kitchen, I expected we would make a lot of soup-and-sandwich meals, and that has been true to some degree. But I also wanted to stretch myself to explore other methods of cooking, and this recipe is one of the resulting meals. My shopping list recently included ground beef, as I wanted to try making meatloaf in the multi-purpose slow cooker, otherwise known as my new best friend. But then, right next to the packaged grass-fed beef I was reaching for, this caught my eye, and I thought, “why not?”


Elk is naturally lean, and similar in flavor to beef but richer. It is not a strong flavor, as venison or lamb.

A few years ago, I tasted elk for the first time in a restaurant burger, and I found it delicious—similar to beef but richer and more flavorful. Elk is a very lean meat (91%, as noted on the package I bought), but I had a few ideas in mind for keeping the meatloaf moist and they all worked together perfectly. First, I used a more generous glug of olive oil than usual to sauté my onions on the “browning” feature of the slow cooker. Some chunky sautéed mushrooms created pockets of moisture throughout the mixture. The egg I used as a binder also added moisture, thanks to the natural fats in the yolk. Finally, the glaze on top helped protect the surface from drying out during baking, which is true for an oven meatloaf as well.

I can’t say for sure that meatloaf would be successful in every kind of slow cooker, but I’ve seen some evidence on Pinterest to support that idea, and most of those recipes involve lining the cooker with foil and pressing a double batch of meatloaf mixture into the shape of the cooker insert. Our Cuisinart slow-cooker, which is quickly gaining major respect in my eyes, also has a “roast” feature that is said to function just like any oven, so I gave it a try. See for yourself how it turned out—looking so sexy on our fancy Chinet plates!

My elk meatloaf sliced beautifully, and we served it up with simple steamed green beans and homemade applesauce that Les had made a few days before…also in the slow cooker! 🙂

Ingredients

1 lb. lean ground elk (or any other ground meat with similar fat content)

1/3 cup panko crumbs

1/3 cup whole milk* (see notes)

4 Tbsp. olive or canola oil

1/2 large sweet or yellow onion, chopped

About 5 cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, minced

1 large egg

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup bbq sauce, chili sauce or whatever you like as a meatloaf topper*


*Notes

I used whole milk to moisten the panko crumbs, but if you are dairy-sensitive, I have also had good luck using aquafaba, the liquid drained off a can of garbanzo beans. The purpose of the milk is to help convert the crumbs into a sticky binder to hold the meatloaf together, and the aquafaba is a fine stand-in.

My sauce for this meatloaf was left from the kielbasa bites I made from that crazy “Chopped” challenge. It was chili sauce mixed with grape jelly, so it had a tomato base with a bit of heat, onions and spices, plus the sweetness and stickiness of the jelly. I enjoyed the combination so much that I saved the sauce after we finished the kielbasa. And of course, now I want to re-create it, just not with three pounds of kielbasa.


Instructions

  1. In a bowl large enough for combining the full meatloaf mixture, moisten the panko crumbs in the milk. I usually eyeball the amounts, but it is approximately 1/3 cup of each. Give the mixture (called a “panade”) enough time to hydrate, then push it to one side of the bowl.
  2. Crumble the ground elk meat into the other side of the mixing bowl, so that blending with the other ingredients will not require a heavy hand.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat (this was 350° F on my slow cooker setting). Add onions and cook until softened. Add the rest of the oil, plus the mushrooms and garlic, and sauté until everything is golden and caramelized, but not so long that the mushrooms dry out. Turn off the slow cooker and transfer the mixture to a bowl to cool several minutes.
  4. Add the onion mixture to the bowl with the meat and panade. Add the egg and chopped rosemary, and season with salt and pepper. Combine everything as evenly as you can without mixing too heavily. My method is to plunge both hands into the bowl, twisting away from each other as if adjusting faucets or stereo knobs. It seems to get the job done quickly and it’s also a good way to work out any aggression you may have over your kitchen remodel. When the meat mixture is sufficiently blended, shape it into a log on a large piece of plastic wrap and twist the ends up like a sausage chub. Tuck it into the fridge (or a lunchbox with some ice packs, if you can’t sneak past the electricians that are taking for-freaking-ever) and let it chill for about an hour. I do this for any meatloaf because it seems to improve the structure and texture during baking. Plus, it gives me time to clean up my workspace before the next steps.
  5. Prepare your slow cooker if you’re using one, or preheat the oven to 350° F. The notes from Cuisinart suggested turning the insert rack upside down for roasting, and I laid down a piece of folded parchment paper to keep the meat from oozing through the mesh rack. Unwrap the meatloaf and place it on the parchment, tucking extra paper edges underneath.
  6. Spoon the sauce topper over the meatloaf. Bake on roast setting for one hour, then reduce temperature to keep warm until you’re ready to serve.

It’s a winner!

Slow Cooker Turkey Chili Soup

Can someone please explain to me how time works? Because it has only been nine days since my last post, but it feels like 29. Some of the days have been a blur, as we have had non-stop activity in the kitchen during the demolition of the old and especially the arrival and installation of the new. And then, other days it has been so quiet it seems that even the crickets are on vacation. This morning, I literally had to ask my husband, “what day is today?” because amid the ruckus, I couldn’t quite remember. Only one week down and at least five to go—oy, vey!

It would be premature at this point to show you the progress of our remodel, given that we don’t yet have a countertop and the floor is covered in protective cardboard and there is new and ongoing discussion about how much we can configure our backsplash for a couple of design features I’ve been desperate to have. Well, OK, maybe just a few quick photos, but I want to save some for the big reveal!


There is much more to be done, and some of the details our contractor is working through are special enough to be considered “fussy,” so we are fine with some intermittent slowdowns. As far as we know, and barring any future catastrophes, things are still on track for us to be back in the kitchen by mid-November!

The biggest challenges have been exactly as expected—keeping the pets calm and cared for, which has been manageable so far because the weather is nice enough for our cat to chill outside (which she loves anyway) and our next-door neighbor has generously invited me and the dog over for some peace and quiet whenever things get wild over here. The other obvious challenge has been cooking without a kitchen, and today I’m sharing the first real, “cooked” recipe I’ve made since we started the remodel project. Breakfast doesn’t count because we are mainly just using the toaster. And until Friday of last week, we had relied on take-out and sandwiches for lunch and dinner. And (of course) cocktails for me, but that will be another post. 😉

Our first real meal could not have been more perfect for the fall season, and it also could not have been simpler to make, despite the fact that I did not have a stove, a microwave, a sink or a countertop. How did I pull it off?

It’s my multi-purpose friend, the slow cooker!

Say hello again to our multi-purpose slow cooker, the same one I used for our final “Chopped” challenge when Les tricked me into cooking all that kielbasa. The “browning” setting on this 7-in-1 appliance saved the day for my new adventure of “cooking without a kitchen.” I browned the ground turkey and onions, then added all the other ingredients, switched it to the slow cook setting, and let it simmer until Les walked in the door at the end of his workday. I was so excited to have actually cooked, and there was something very comforting about having the aromas of that chili soup filling the house. We needed a good, home-cooked meal at the end of such a crazy, noisy week. And, because it all came together in one pot, even the cleanup was easy.

This original recipe is one of my favorites, and it conjures warm and fuzzy memories for me. A few years ago, on a gloomy February day during another crazy time in my life, I’d scrambled through the cabinets for something to make that did not require a trip to the grocery store. I didn’t have a whole can of tomatoes, but I did have a small can of salsa, plus some roasted green chiles, half a bag of frozen corn, a can of beans and a carton of chicken broth. When I settled in with a bowl of this delicious concoction, which is not quite chili and not quite soup, I loved it so much, I took time to write it all down, and I’m glad I did because it was just right for such a crazy time as this. And there’s another benefit to it—easy leftovers!

Of course, you don’t need to have a special slow cooker to make it. Feel free to use a soup pot or Dutch oven. I’m pretty sure that’s what I’ll do next time—you know, when I have a shiny new kitchen!

If I had an oven this week, I would have made a batch of cornbread to accompany this tasty chili soup!

Ingredients

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 small sweet onion, chopped

1 lb. ground turkey (or turkey breast, if you prefer leaner meat)

3-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. sweet Spanish paprika

1/2 tsp. ancho chile powder

Salt and pepper

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth (this is equal to 1 large carton)

7 oz. can roasted green chiles, chopped

1 small can Herdez salsa (about 8 oz.)

1 1/2 cups frozen roasted corn

1 can black beans, drained

Tortilla chips for serving


Instructions


  1. Add olive oil to the slow cooker (or pot), on a medium heat setting. Saute the onions until they are soft and translucent, then push them to the outside of the pot.
  2. Add the ground turkey, about half at a time, breaking it up into bits with your fingers as you go. When you brown ground meat, it’s a good idea to cook a small amount at a time to maintain a steady heat. Otherwise, the meat will just steam. When all the turkey is browned, add the chopped garlic and the spices, plus salt and pepper, and cook about one minute until the garlic is fragrant.
  3. Sprinkle the flour over the ground meat mixture and stir it around to evenly coat all the meat. It should seem a little dry on the surface of the meat; add a touch more flour if needed to get this appearance. Cook the mixture two minutes, add the green chiles and cook two more minutes.
  4. Add the chicken broth to the pot all at once. Stir gently to mix the broth with the roux-covered meat mixture and cook until it reaches a slight boil, then reduce the heat and simmer about one hour. At this point, I switched the slow cooker setting from “browning,” which is essentially the same as cooking on a stove top, to “high slow cook.”
  5.  Add the roasted corn, black beans and salsa and stir to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. Simmer on low setting for two hours or more, until you’re ready to serve.

For our first “cooking without a kitchen” meal, I served this comforting turkey chili soup with tortilla chips, but it’s really delicious with a fresh batch of skillet cornbread.