Fun with Leftovers: Philly Meatloaf Skillet

Writer

Whether via broadcast media, print media, or social media, everybody likes to showcase their best dishes. And in that regard, I suppose I’m not much different from anybody else. I’ve made no secret about a book I’ve been working on, which includes a fair amount of cooking, but few if any actual recipes. One evening I was discussing some aspect of my book with my friend (and fellow foodie) Ann when she pointed out that I seem to have a lot of fun with leftovers—not just reheating my dishes but in many cases, repurposing the stuff. “You may have an interesting theme there,” she suggested. Well, I thought about it a little bit and realized that, as usual, she was probably right. I really do try to have fun with my leftovers and odds are you won’t find another cookbook showcasing some of the things I’ve done on day two—or day three, for that matter—after the original dish has been prepared, served, and eaten.

Onions

For me, reheating leftovers is fine, but why not have a little fun with it and enjoy something just a little bit different than what you ate the night before? This is my premise for the whole “fun with leftovers” premise. All this requires is a sense of what ingredients go together, a little creativity, and a willingness to accept that not every experiment will end well—but that sometimes you will win. May I demonstrate?

Assume a meatloaf. It was a good meatloaf, prepared recently (no horror stories, please), and everybody has already had a meatloaf sandwich for lunch the following day. Now all you have left is this butt of a meatloaf, maybe enough for two modest slices, but you don’t want another meatloaf sandwich and if you make another one for somebody else, there’s gonna’ be trouble. So you scour the fridge and pantry, and you gather the following items, in addition to the foil-wrapped butt of meatloaf.

  •  at least half an onion
  • a good bell pepper of any (edible) color
  • one or more cloves of fresh garlic
  • two slices of sandwich cheese (American, Provolone, Swiss, etc.)
  • a little oil or butter (I prefer olive oil for this particular example)
  • salt and spices

Armed with nothing more than a cutting board, a sharp knife, a skillet, and a flipper of some sort, we are ready to begin. Heat up your skillet while you slice at least half an onion to the thickness of your choosing. When the skillet is warmed, add some oil and swirl it around. The oil will become thinner as it heats up. If it begins to smoke, quickly reduce the heat, unless you are into pyrotechnics and have a self-contained breathing apparatus handy. Otherwise, once ready, toss in those onions, season them to your liking, and toss/stir/flip them about  Then lower the heat so that the onions can clarify and caramelize a bit while you cut up your pepper and garlic.

PeppersMeatloaf

Toss in your sliced pepper and garlic, season a little more if necessary, and give it all a toss or stir. If the skillet loks a little dry, you can do one of two things—either add a little more oil/butter, or toss in a bit of water, wine or brandy, to loosen things up. Once loosened, toss and/or stir the contents of the skillet, then cover and set it aside. As the peppers cook a bit, you will need to toss and/or stir one more time. You will also need to cut up your meatloaf.

Ready for Cheese

At this point, everything in the skillet has already been cooked, so it largely becomes a matter of heating or browning the meatloaf pieces. This is also the time to introduce your cheese.

Cheese

What you add depends on what you like and/or what you have handy. As a rule, I use only cheese and not “processed cheese food,” but I should point out that the original Philly cheese steak was made with cheese whiz and not some genuine cheese. To melt the cheese, simply cover the skillet. if you are concerned that the contents are too dry, dribble a bit of water (or wine or brandy) into the skillet before covering. Then wait a bit.

Finis

The steam melts the cheese and gets everything warm and cozy. As the melted cheese hits the skillet, it begins to bubble and brown a bit, which changes the flavor and texture of the cheese. Once that happens, this baby is done—and it looks nothing like the original dish you served a day or two ago.

At this point, you can serve this skillet dish on a roll or bun, or you can serve it up on a plate and enjoy it as is. The flavor is such that it stands on its own.

Needless to say, you could pull this off with chicken, with sandwich steaks, leftover beef, or (big surprise here) leftover meatloaf. Just imagine the possibilities and let your imagination be your guide.

Thank you for hanging with me.

Fun with Leftovers: A Philly Meatloaf Grinder 

There are times when I’m home alone and just don’t want to make myself a meatloaf sandwich or a bowl of ramen. So I get creative. Here is what I started with.

  • leftover meatloaf (my wife usually makes a good one)
  • sliced provolone
  • a small red bell pepper
  • part of a sweet onion (does not have to be sweet)
  • a clove of garlic
  • some sort of rolls (French, hard, soft, etc.)
  • olive oil
  • seasoning (I used salt, pepper and a dash of Italian seasoning blend)
  • wine (optional, does not go into the food this time)

Heat up a skillet while you clean and cut up the pepper. How big or small the pieces are is a matter of personal preference. Add some olive oil to the warm skillet. When the oil gets hot enough (hint: after it becomes thin but before it starts to smoke or bursts into flames), toss in your pepper pieces and season to taste. Stir or toss the peppers occasionally while you cut your onion and slice or mince your garlic. Again, let personal preference prevail.


Just as the peppers begin to soften up, add the onion and garlic. If you didn’t add enough seasoning when you started the peppers, you may add a little more now. Be careful to regulate your heat so that the onion doesn’t brown too quickly, nor does the garlic scorch. If you burn the garlic, you’ll be sorry.

While the pepper and onion are cooking down a bit, cut up your leftover meatloaf. Note that I could have done this exact same thing with leftover steak, roast beef (not in gravy), chicken, Italian sausage, etc. Any of the things I just mentioned would go fine with the pepper and onion mixture.


How big or small do you cut the meat? How did you cut the pepper? How did you cut the onion? As long as you like it, there is no right or wrong answer. This isn’t even a recipe, really. Did you see me measure anything for you? Me, neither.

Add the meat to the other stuff in the skillet. Let me caution you now about seasoning the mix every time you add something. Can you? Sure, as long as you add very little each time. Me, I can pretty much feel my way through this aspect, but when in doubt, taste it.

Now depending on what just went into the skillet, you will either heat it up a little, brown it, or whatever. If you’re using leftovers (see the title of this blog post), whatever meat you used was already fully cooked. Don’t ruin it. For meatloaf, I like to heat things u until the edges of the loaf pieces brown a little. That’s personal preference.

While the skillet mixture finishes, prepare your bread. Go ahead, talk to it if you like. On this go-around, I used prepackaged French rolls, which tend to be on the soft side. I don’t much care for soft bread, but I was making grinders—aka oven/broiler roasted subs—so I knew my soft rolls would come out toasted, nice and crisp on the outside, while still chewy on the inside. If you start with a hard roll or a very crusty baguette, your gums might not enjoy the experience when you bite into the result. Don’t ask me how I know this. Select a pan or tray that will support the sandwich(es) in the oven or under a broiler.

Distribute the mixture from the skillet onto your roll(s). In my opinion, if the bread soaks up a little bit of the now-seasoned olive oil, you will have committed no injustice. Just imagine the underside of tha roll, warm and crispy, yet releasing a bit of that seasoned oil for you when you bite into it. You’re welcome.

Heads up! The cheese is what makes your sandwich an oven grinder. i used provolone, which browns nicely and imparts a fair amount of flavor. Other cheeses work well, too, depending on what’s under it. Seek balance. Imagine pepper jack on chicken, mozzarella on meatballs drenched in tomato sauce. Get the idea? If you think/feel your way through this process, you won’t need a recipe. And that’s good, because I’m not giving you one.

Into the oven and/or under the broiler. The purpose here is twofold: toast the bread and melt/brown that cheese layer. A word of caution: Don’t open the oven/broiler door every ten seconds or you’ll be there forever. But by the same token, don’t ever just walk away from it, either. When working beneath a direct flame or heating element, things can change very quickly. Stay close. In between peaks in, use your nose to gauge the progress. But always be ready to stop the process—kill the heat source, yank the pan/tray out, whatever—when perfection has been attained.

In all candor it took me longer to write this blog post than it took to create my Philly meatloaf oven grinder. When your sandwich comes out, it will be too hot to eat. Don’t ask me how I know that, either. So let it cool , but don’t let the darned thing get too cold either. You worked too hard for this. Enjoy!

I do enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I actually put some in the food. This wasn’t one of those times. One of these days I will publish a book filled with things like what I just shared with you. The working title of this book is What Recipe and in all likelihood, it will not contain one conventional recipe. Some readers will become upset about that. Others, in time, will “get it” and grow exponentially from the experience. But first I gotta’ write the book. Ha!

Thanks for hanging with me.