Dear Barbara: I have a problem with meatloaf. I use the best meat that I can buy and the freshest ingredients, but for some reason, it’s always too dry. Are there any tips you can give me to keep it moister? — Annie from Lodi
Dear Annie: It is great that you want to use the best ingredients, but meatloaf is not the place to use your fine quality meat. The “best” meat is usually very lean and does not have enough fat content to keep your meatloaf moist. When you look for a steak, you look for the nice marbling of the fat in the steak because you know it will be juicier. The same theory holds true for the ground beef. I would recommend ground chuck, or something that has a 20 percent fat ratio. You can also add a little milk or half-and-half to your recipe.
If you are using breadcrumbs, don’t use the dry stuff in the package. It doesn’t hold the moisture that you want it to. It must be fresh breadcrumbs. Just tear up your fresh bread and toss it into the food processor, and you’ll have instant breadcrumbs. I personally use rolled oats (not instant). If my recipe calls for 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, I use about 1⁄3 cup of rolled oats. In my opinion, it holds the juices in the meat better. However, there are some that would argue the point! It would be just a personal preference.
One last tip: Keep the meat “loose” when you add your ingredients. People tend to pack a meatloaf into the pan or when forming it. Keep it as loose as possible and it won’t be so dense that it seems heavy. Good luck, and let me know how it turns out!
Dear Barbara: We have some prickly pear cacti starting to come up, and I wondered how can we prepare it? I’ve never eaten one before but I hear they are very good. — Debbie from Lockeford
Dear Debbie: I have to confess that I have never eaten them either! Prickly Pear really aren’t native to the United States, but are gaining in popularity. They are native to Mexico, Central and South America.
Two parts of the plants are edible, the cactus pads and the fruit, or “prickly pear.” I assume you are asking me about the fruit. From what I have read, the fruit has a melon-like aroma and a sweet but bland taste. You can just chill, peel and eat them that way, or they can be added to fruit salads. Some people make jam from them. If you go to GourmetSleuth.com, you will be able to find some recipes there. Let me know how you decide to use them, it sounds like an interesting fruit!
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.