I was born in the Midwest. We used to call it meat & potatoes country. That was what was on the menu at home most nights. That's what
I grew up on, and that's the kind of food I still love to this day. One of my childhood favorites was meatloaf. My mom would make it fairly
regularly and I always loved it. When I got older, I started paying attention to how she made it, so I'd be able to do it myself. It is one
of my comfort foods, that takes me back to a simpler time and place. It is
a fairly quick and easy entree to make. With the addition of some side dishes, (my favorites are mashed or baked potatoes and green
beans), it will easily feed a family of four.
This recipe will make 2 small meatloaves, or one large loaf. Here are the necessary ingredients:
Meatloaf was originally created as a low-budget dish to feed a family. It was already a staple food of German and Dutch immigrants, in the 19th and early part of the 20th century, and was not too different from how Italian immigrants made meatballs. During the great Depression meatloaf became quite popular across all facets of American society as people tried to do more with less. That popularity never waned. Even today, meatloaf is often voted people's favorite food in polls.
Meatloaf was traditionally made with inexpensive cuts of ground meat, (beef, pork or lamb, or any mix of the three), it was heavily spiced and had lots of inexpensive fillers added to stretch it and add bulk. Some traditional stretchers are bread crumbs, corn meal, oatmeal and crumbled saltine crackers. It is often painted with a glaze made from ketchup or BBQ sauce, or served with brown gravy (I prefer the latter).
Naturally I have tweaked this recipe a little over the years. It isn't quite my mom's meatloaf anymore. I found ways to make it even quicker and easier to make. The main change is that I use all dried ingredients, aside from the ground meat, Worcestershire and egg. The meatloaf cooks quicker and retains more of it's juices since they get used re-hydrating the dried ingredients.
There is lots of room for experimentation with meatloaf. You can vary the types of meat used, the types and amounts of fillers used, the types and amounts of spices used, and the type of glaze used. You could have meatloaf every night of the year and never make it the same way twice. I admit I like to experiment. So sometimes I try out new things with my meatloaf. When I am in a hurry to get dinner on the table though, and the result has to be predictable, I stick to this basic recipe.
I like to start by getting the oven preheating to 400 degrees. Then, while my hands are still clean, I set out a metal baking pan and put a small wire rack in the bottom that I will bake the meatloaf on. I also put out a sheet of aluminum foil on the counter that will be my work surface for shaping the loaves.
Add all the ingredients except the bacon to a large mixing bowl. The best tools for mixing the ingredients together are your own two hands. Fold and mix everything together very thoroughly. You will get very messy. That's why I do all my prep work up front while my hands are clean.
Dump the mixture out onto the aluminum foil and form it into two roughly equal sized loaves. You could make one big loaf, but two
smaller loaves cook quicker, and I always seem to be in a hurry. Place the loaves on the wire rack in the baking pan.
After an hour, cut into one of the loaves just to be certain it is done all the way through. Remember, if you made one big loaf
instead of two small ones, it will take longer to cook simply because it takes longer for the heat of the oven to penetrate
the thicker loaf.
An alternative method of cooking meatloaf is to cook it on the grill? ON THE GRILL??? That is the kind of response I get from a lot of people when I tell them that I sometimes cook my meatloaf on the grill. I don't know why they are so shocked by the idea. It makes perfect sense to me. In the summer, when it is hot, who wants to fire up the oven and heat up the house? Cook on the grill instead. Plus there is less cleanup since there are no dirty oven pans or wire racks with baked on mess. Meatloaf works well with either gas or charcoal grilling, but you really can't beat the smokey flavor imparted by charcoal. Build a low fire in the grill. Try to keep the heat down to no higher than a 400 degree oven. Cook with the lid closed. I like to cook he meatloaf on the top rack of the grill and use an aluminum foil boat on the bottom rack to catch the drippings so there are no flare-ups. A meat thermometer is always handy for grilling. Give meatloaf on the grill a try sometime.
Add a couple of easy side-dishes like mashed or baked potatoes and a vegetable like green beans. My mom used to bake potatoes wrapped in
aluminum foil in the oven with the meatloaf. When I bake potatoes I usually do them in the microwave wrapped in plastic wrap. It is just so quick and
easy. Au gratin potatoes were another family favorite side dish. we always loved it when mom made those. If you have kids who are finicky
eaters, mac & cheese is a side dish is sure to bring them running to the dinner table.
There you have it, a meal to warm the heart, (and fill the belly) of any Midwestern boy. You might not even need seconds.
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