Tag Archives: Dexter cattle

Saucy Meat loaf- with Paleo options….

BushSpicesMeat loaf should take me back to my childhood years but it’s not really a part of Maltese cuisine- unless you sort of stretch Bragoli as a kind of unctuous meat loafy thing-(Beef olives in Maltese they’re called Bragoli)

But when I started to develop recipes while working on cook books and television for the manufacturing industry, no book passed the editorial team without at least one, and preferably two meatloaf recipes (yeah ok. it was the seventies and eighties last century after all….).

My time at National Panasonic and Sharp in particular gave me the opportunity to develop so many really interesting variations on traditional comfort food, reconfigured to suit microwave cooking. The film crews favourite was a saucy meatloaf simmered in a thick tomato-y Bar-b-acuey sauce that resulted in the tastiest loaf and it never lasted long. When Josh was little I used to make meatloaf cooked in a sauce of homemade tomato, maple syrup and Worcestershire sauce spread on top of the loaf while it was cooking to give it an extra touch of sweet and salty taste, especially good cold for sandwiches the next day. Remember Joshie?

So,after a post on Facebook,  I had a lot of requests for my recipe. so here it is.

I would love to say that this recipe originated generations ago in my family; however, if it did, it would contain ingredients such as flour and bread-crumbs, things not suitable for my health and my new found focus on a Paleo lifestyle.

For the meatloaf, the two bad ingredients that are in there are usually gluten in the form of  bread crumbs and any commercial bottled tomato sauce or ketchup. It’s not great to just leave the breadcrumbs out because it really changes the texture of meatloaf for the worse, especially if you then cook it in a microwave. So what I do is substitute minced mushrooms and some other small amount of moist vegetable-minced zucchini, minced carrot or additional onions for the breadcrumbs.

To get a nice sweet tomato topping without using a commercial sauce, use one small can of crushed tomatoes, add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, and simmer it on the stove until it thickens up or use a good quality passata. Of course you can make a great fresh tomato and red capsicum salsa from scratch too. This way you get the great tomato smokey taste, but with fewer empty carbohydrates and more nutrition.

The challenge is finding ingredient(s) that can be used as the bonding agent for the loaf. In traditional recipes, these ingredients would most commonly be flour and eggs.   As we know, there are many healthy substitutes to wheat flour that we could use successfully like almond flour for example; however, I know that some of my friends struggle with nut allergies as well, so in that case I suggest you omit the binding agents altogether and substitute finely minced mushrooms.

I dont stress about the egg at all- but if you need to omit eggs, this recipie can cope because you’ve added in the extra moisture in the form of the finely minced mushroom and vegies. You may be surprised how successful and very tasty this is.

If you can add an egg so much the better to hold it together, and the result is a delicious and juicy meat loaf.

Worcestershire sauce often contains some soy sauce and honey is high in fructose, but the amount used is small enough not to be an issue. If you’d prefer to stay away from those two items however or if you just don’t have them handy in your kitchen, feel free to only use some homemade tomato sauce or other tomato based sauce to spread on the loaf for an equally pleasing result.

The whole point with this paleo thing is to just relax and enjoy- be aware of what you’re eating, but it’s not about slavishly following some strict guidelines every single mouthful- not for me any way.

The question to ask yourself is would my grandmother have eaten this? (or is it a post war abomination distilled in a laboratory by Nestle, masquerading as food?)

And using grass fed pastured animals that we’ve raised ourselves makes this humble economical mince meal a real treat.

Meat loaf


  • 1 Kilo ground beef (grass fed Dexter beef of course-I prefer the flavour of half pork mince and  half beef mince- and we farm both so…..);
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt;
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper;
  • 1 egg;
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped;
  • 2 cups white button mushrooms, very finely chopped (or substitute half a cup of finely ground almonds);
  • Half a cup of other finely grated moist vegetable (carrots, zucchini, sweet potato, cauliflower)
  • 1 very finely chopped mild chili ( or not- I like to substitute a generous teaspoon of dried McCORMICK Bush Spices- my favourite ‘commercial’ spice at the moment);
  • 3 tsp fresh herbs of your choice (I prefer parsley but you can use the leaves only of  thyme, oregano or coriander finely chopped);
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped;

Sauce ingredients

  • ½ cup tomato sauce as described above;
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup or raw sugar, optional;
  • ½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce, optional;
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp  cooking fat*
  1. Preheat your oven to medium hot (175 C /350 F).
  2. In a medium sized skillet placed over a medium heat, melt the cooking fat, add the mushrooms and onions and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, or until soft but not coloured.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the meat, salt, pepper, egg, onion, mushrooms, herbs, garlic and nut flour if used. Mix well, making sure to break-up the meat. Add the cooked mushrooms as well. It’s very important that the mushrooms are evenly distributed to ensure the loaf bonds well.
  4. Lightly grease a suitable sized pan (a loaf pan is easy) with additional cooking fat and fill it with the shaped meat mixture. Place in the hot oven and cook for approximately 15-20 minutes. (The loaf should start to shrink up and any excess fat or moisture will drain into the dish)
  5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine tomato sauce, stock, sweetener and Worcestershire sauce to make the sauce for the top of the meatloaf.
  6. After cooking for 15 minutes, drain the collected fat from the loaf if required, then pour the sauce on the top of the loaf.
  7. Continue cooking for another 40 minutes, or until juices run clear when tested with a skewer.

Ok a note about the fat.  I always always cooked with either butter or virgin cold pressed olive oil or a combination of butter and olive oil. But Rebecca has switched me onto coconut oil. Coconut oil is 92% saturated fat which makes it really stable under heat and solid at room temperature. If you buy the virgin coconut oil, it well leave a great yet subtle coconut taste and smell to your dishes. The taste is something I like in almost any situation except cooking eggs, where I prefer cooking with pure home rendered leaf lard or butter.

You’ve probably realised by now that I don’t believe that good fats make you fat and that saturated fats are in the good fat category.

In fact, fats make you happy, and their absorption by our bodies is way more complex than you imagine. Coconut oils main fatty acid content comes from Lauric acid (47% to be more precise). Lauric acid is a rare fatty acid that is a medium chain fatty-acid, which is supposed to be the easiest fatty acid to digest. Lauric acid also has natural antimicrobial and antifungal properties.

It’s really hard to find Virgin Coconut oil in country Australia-(try Costco- OMG I just said Costco….) let alone Malta or other places- so for the amount of greasing you are doing here- don’t stress. A light smear of oil is fine- once the meat has its first cooking the loaf shrinks back and you can drain off any fat that’s accumulated and it won’t need to much else. The sauce will bake on -no matter what you do anyway.

what you are trying to avoid is using any vegetable oil high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and Omega-6, they’re the ones that will end up killing you! Example of those include corn oil, peanut oil, soybean oil and grape seed oil. and the myth of oil high smoking points is moot- once a hydrogenated oil had begaun smoking its already very bad for you…. Even olive oil overheated breaks up into compounds you don’t want to know about. If this subject is all new to you, I suggest you read this great article on the importance of fats.

To convert this to microwave (1000w oven). Cook shaped loaf in glass loaf dish on medium-high 10 minutes , drain, top with sauce ingredients and continue cooking covered on medium 30- 40 minutes or till firm. Stand covered 20 minutes before serving with reduced sauce over.

When it all doesn’t go according to plan……

Anyway.  Sometimes I question why it is so hard, why am I doing all this ,but then I look out the window and I look at my grandkids and I know why.  It’s all good.

Well,  not today- I can’t look out the window and feel good today- there are marauding pigs tearing up my kitchen garden……..At least I won’t have to dig.

But I will talk about the piggies another time- just have had the hardest day……

You know, when everything-and I mean everything- is harder than it logically should be.  That was my day.

Ah! a day at home- was going to garden and paint- but escapee pigs took over and hyjacked my plans. Still got lots done, and felt really buggered when I finally got to the last task of the day- hook up the bike trailer and collect feed from the hay dude, 20 minutes away.

It’s expensive, but a choice I have made for the sustainability of this piece of country and the welfare of my cattle. Quatré Saisons has magnificent native pasture-precious little left in New South Wales- so we have a limited pasture grazing program in place to protect the native grasses, which entails alternate or hand feeding the stud cattle over the late summer, autumn and winter period to allow the grass seeds to mature and resow.

There are a few things we do, and bringing in lush silage from further up the valley is one thing the cattle appreciate during the winter.

And what a cold snap we have had- down to minus 5 and a heavy snowfall over the weekend, but after a slow and very foggy start the days have been spectacular, with a stunning moon each night.

I have had a birds eye view from my bed each morning for about a week and a half now of Mercury, Mars and Venus slowly rising in the cold still sky and welcoming the dawn. What a sight!

Anyway, about today….

With late calves due for a few stragglers and lambing about to begin, the feed requirements are building up fast. So need to haul in that hay!

Called my ever obliging hay dude- always has a happy greeting and makes me welcome on his farm, even when he is flat out- which is always.  Must be a pest having to bring out the tractor and muck about for half an hour for someone who drops in every few days for just a few rolls at a time …

I  asked for 2 rolls of silage- only had the bike trailer with me- and no ute back- (that’s a tale in itself-later) so we talked a bit and compared the weather to this time last year, and concluded that at least it wasn’t as cold as another village further towards the coast, and laughed. As always.

I could see he was itching to ask me where the Hilux was, so I let him ask and watched his face contort as I explained the fate of the mighty Toyota ute.

Hay dude does that you see- enquire about the family each time I see him-only it’s the cars and the cows he wants to know about, not the kids……

Anyway, the silage bales are loaded, we chat a little more, he tells me to take care on the road and off I go- slowly, carefully across the sheep paddocks, over the little bridge and out onto the dusty road. Each turn in the road I check the mirror to be sure the heavily loaded low trailer is following along behind- and it is.

Over the very bad old bridge and on the tar now, I relax a bit and start to fiddle with the radio- why can’t I work this silly radio out?

Then the noise starts- a strange squwooshing noise- like the trailer sounds when it is being dragged sideways because I am jack-knifed again in the driveway trying to do a 44 point turn.  But I am not turning, and I am not jack-knifed and the trailer is there, in the mirror, following along…..

Then I see the smoke.

This bloody road- that bloody council- there is no shoulder to pull over, nowhere to stop but right in the lane of the roadway.  I limp on a little further- just want to get over the crest so I see the truck that swoops over the hill to kill me ….

Over as far as I dare pull up- I hop out and go around the front of the car and drop straight into a drain, full of something slimy, very stinky and overgrown with metre high grasses- so it looks like all the ground around it.

Great. Well. At least I didn’t drop the car and trailer into that bog- so let’s count our blessings here.

The front bale has dislodged itself a little and is sitting just a fraction on the wheel arch.  Just enough to push the metal down sufficiently that on this rough road the tyre is now rubbing on it and dragging rather than turning freely on the axle.

OK. Other side is close but manageable- heavy bales of silage this time Hay Dude!

So I let the tyre pressure down just a bit to see if that compensates for the lack of room under there, and yes, it gives a little more clearance,so I potter off very cautiously.

Off  the tar again just 50 metres on and again the wheel is complaining and I realise that I just am not going to manage 25 kilometers like this and the dusk is falling fast too.

So I have to call.

I hate to bother him, but I have to call Hay Dude because there is no way I can roll off two 350kg silage bales on my own, on the road  with no shoulder and night falling fast. It’s a wipeout waiting to happen.

But Hay Dude is on his way out to a fire brigade meeting, and he is the Captain, so he has to go- “pull into a driveway and leave the trailer there and I will sort it in the morning for you”, he says.

I am silent and nervous. OK. Will do….

I spy the closest house to the road- at least it is visible. My house is more than 2kms from the front gate-so this is actually convenient really.

I knock on the door after making my way through myriad gates that are getting higher and higher the closer I get to the house, and as the sound of my knocking resonates through the house I see why. Six or eight huge dogs come bounding from all parts of the house converging on the door. The noise of their barking echoing through the house is deafening!

A man comes to the door, pushing his way through the dogs and squeezes out the narrow opening onto the verandah.  I apologise and explain my predicament, and ask could I please leave my trailer on his driveway overnight. And would he have a jack we can use to help lever the heavy trailer loose from the car so I can get home please?

This lovely man, who I have never met, doesn’t hesitate- he gets his coat and torch and goes via the garage to get his trolley jack and we wander down the driveway in what is now a dark moonless evening.

Back at the car, I warn him about the drain, just in time, as he walks around assessing the extent of the problem (no man ever says straight out that they are going to check it out for themselves, because after all women don’t know about cars and things do they? Usually they are very polite, and then say- often with a tone of surprise-“You’re right-this trailer/car isn’t going anywhere in a hurry”….).

We exchange thoughts on how little the council appears to do to keep this road passable and how the best thing would be to get the trailer off the roadway before a double tandem cattle truck comes hurtling over the hill.

I hand over the keys so he can negotiate the car back 20 metres and right into his driveway-it’s very dark now and he knows his gates best. And I am not up to reversing the stricken trailer in the dark, up a hill anyway.

But alas!!  the car won’t start- the hazard lights have flattened the battery.

Patiently my knight in shining armour heads back up his driveway and fetches his car and jumper leads. Phew!

A 64 point turn on the narrow roadway lines up the two engines and we start the car after just a little time holding our collective breath.

No Double B yet- so a quick dash back and around and we have both cars and the trailer back at 662.

A little more maneuvering, after first testing if we can dislodge the front bale- no way-and the trailer is off and stowed for the night.  His cattle start milling around the fence as the sweet heady smell of the silage reaches their nostrils on the cold night air.  I ask about his dogs- wonderful beasts-Salukis, Wolfhounds and Afghans. And I discover, he knows about my dogs- heard about Donatella on the local network and so we chat about Maremma, and break-ins and how challenging it can be settling into a country community- we have both been here about the same length of time.  We have never met but he knows just what to say about my recent loss.

What can I say to thank this kind stranger?

I am grateful that he would open his door and help someone he had never seen before, and extend the safety of his property to me.

I am grateful that Hay Dude just matter of factly slotted in the time to have a rescue tractor organised for the next day.

What can you say about wonderful people like that who will lend a hand?

As I walk back down his drive toward my idling car, I watch the moon suddenly rise over the river and bounce over the old church roof, now a house, across the road from 662.  It is glorious and round.

Yes. Thank you universe. I am grateful, and tomorrow is another day……

What am I doing?

How hard can it be?  A few cows, a few sheep, some little piggies  and lots of untamed forest…….. 

Well, it seemed like it would be easy- move to the country and live a simple,  self reliant life.

Well, I haven’t stopped running yet!

Hang on, it’s ok!

There is a plan!