Pulse the crackers or oats in a food processor a couple of times. You don't want to see whole oats in the end.
In a clean bowl, mix all ingredients except meat and oats (or crackers) well. Then add ground meat and mix only as much as is needed to incorporate all ingredients. Try not to overmix because this tends to make your meatloaf mixture more dense than is necessary. Mixing gently with your hands, mix in the oats or crackers until mixture is no longer runnuy. If it is, add more crushed crackers, oatmeal and/or pasta, remembering that the pasta will absorb excess liquid only as it cooks. Important: when right, the mixture should retain a shape made by your hand. If you don't get this part right, your meatloaf will not retain its shape when cooked. If you get the mix right, it will cut nicely and likely lose a crumble or two when transfering from the pan to plate. For that reason, I do this in mini muffin pans too and they come out just right, not crumbling.
Put mixture into a loaf pan. Pat lightly to smooth out top of loaf. Cover loaf pan with foil and put in oven. Prepare topping by mixing ketchup with the 1 tsp of brown sugar and set aside.
After 45 minutes, carefully pour off excess grease (place something on top of loaf so it doesn't fall OR use a turkey baster to suck out the juices) and thn spread topping over meatloaf. Put back in oven, uncovered. Cook for 5 more minutes and check to see if loaf is done by using a thermometer reading. If not done, check every five minutes until done. It is done and safe to eat at 160 degrees, but you can take it out at 152 and let it rest for five minutes and the temp will rise to a safe temperature.
I do not trust the it's done if it aint pink no more method because ground meat products can both look brown long before they are safe to eat and look pink long after they are actually done. A thermometer is just easier to use and safer too. So, you use your own judgment on cook time. I pulled mine out of the oven after 52 minutes of cook time and it was 161 degrees and DELICIOUS.
If you are making mini muffins, start your initial cook time at 30 minutes and keep checking with your temp till the center of the muffins reach at least 155. Also, you still have to remove the excess grease from the pans during cooking. For that reason, when making meatloaf muffins, I put a baking sheet under the pan to catch drips.
A word of warning: This recipe is not friendly to subbing out the pasta or the lean ground meat. If you omit the pasta, the loaf will not be moist and hold its flavor. If you use higher fat ground meat, your pasta will be cooked in grease and the loaf will be mis-shapen, swimming in grease and unappetizing. Believe me, I know - I've tried both. When you have both ingredients, just try it as it's written and most of all:.