Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Meatloaf: a culinary chameleon
Every home cook, it seems, has a slightly different method for preparing meatloaf, the ultimate comfort food.
Meatloaf can be stuffed with a tasty surprise, such as vegetables and cheese or mashed potatoes.
Food writer Lindsey Nair
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A while back, I took my husband to lunch at Le Bistro in downtown Roanoke, where he ordered a delicious lamb meatloaf. It was molded into an elegant, single serving square and served with potatoes gratin.
When I make meatloaf at home, I often toss in a bunch of odds and ends from the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator, pack it in a pan and squirt ketchup on top, and it is equally satisfying.
Meatloaf is a culinary chameleon. If it were a person, it would be one of those folks who can change from jean overalls to a tuxedo and be perfectly comfortable in either.
Maybe that's why so many of us adore meatloaf. It doesn't hurt that it's delicious and a cinch to make.
Anyone who can chop a vegetable and crack an egg can make a meatloaf. Ladies and gents who consider themselves disastrous cooks but want to impress a date with a homemade meal should go with meatloaf -- it is almost impossible (note I said "almost") to screw up.
Even children can help an adult prepare meatloaf by plowing little hands into a huge bowl of ingredients and smashing them all together to finally yield a plump, juicy hunk of savory meat.
Although meatloaf is very simple, it is also incredibly adaptable. It can be molded into various sizes -- mini loaf pans and muffin tins yield perfect single-serving portions, and the most famous meatloaf cousin of all, meatballs, are delicious in so many applications.
Meatloaf can also be fancied up with impressive ingredients such as ground lamb or veal, or can be stuffed with a tasty surprise, such as vegetables and cheese or mashed potatoes.
Additionally, although this dish is not generally considered a diet food, it can be lightened up with ground chicken, turkey or venison. When using fattier meats, consider placing the loaf on a broiler pan or on a metal cooling rack fitted inside a baking dish, which will allow the grease to run off as it bakes.
Some cooks like to line the bottom of their baking pans with slices of bread, which soak up much of the grease as the meatloaf bakes. Do a quick Internet search for Crock-Pot meatloaf and you'll find myriad recipes that call for suspending the meatloaf inside the slow cooker so the grease gathers in the bottom, away from the loaf.
Once you've mastered a basic meatloaf recipe, it's fairly easy to start adding your own unique touch. When I made my most recent meatloaf, I used a mixture of ground beef and pork. Then, I found a half-bunch of asparagus in the refrigerator and decided to stuff my loaf with asparagus and cheese. It was delicious.
Recently, readers of my blog, Fridge Magnet, chatted about meatloaf and the ideas flowed in like gravy over mashed potatoes. Every home cook, it seems, has a slightly different method for preparing the ultimate comfort food:
"When I make meatloaf ... I make a big batch of mashed potatoes first. Then I put my meatloaf mixture together. I pat it out on a cookie sheet, then I 'ice' it with mashed potatoes, and add a can of vegetables, generally French-cut green beans or corn. I start at one end of the cookie sheet and roll it like a jelly roll. I do top it with ketchup, cover and bake. A meal in one." -- Susan Selvage
"I make a meatloaf with ground turkey. I stuff it with cornbread stuffing and serve it with a cranberry sauce. It's like Thanksgiving all baked up in a loaf." -- Todd
"My dad used to make meatloaf with spinach and other veggies mixed throughout. It's still my favorite." -- Angela
"My mom made her meatloaf with a twist. Instead of ketchup, she used Heinz 57 sauce. But she mixed it into the meat, rather than putting it on top." -- Jennifer
"We like to add a can of mixed vegetables to a 'normal' recipe. I also made one with zucchini, tomatoes and Italian seasoning that I really liked. Added a little mozzarella cheese instead of ketchup. Wonderful!" -- Ginny
"I layered a meatloaf once with feta and spinach. I made it with a combination of ground veal, pork and buffalo. ... It was delicious but possibly the most expensive meatloaf I've ever made." -- Kristen
"I make a wonderful meatloaf that is topped with crescent rolls. This makes it like a beef Wellington. ... Serve with a salad and you have a very nice dinner." -- P.T. Thomas
"I wrap a loaf in bacon and glaze it with a mixture of ketchup, cider vinegar and brown sugar. It's awesome." -- Seth
"I really love the Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf [from a Food Network recipe]. I use lower fat ingredients to make it semi-healthier (I actually use ground venison, which is much leaner, turkey bacon, 2 percent cheese and omit the mayo called for in the recipe). -- Lauren
"From an old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook: meatloaf glaze consisting of ketchup, brown sugar and ground mustard, spread on with 10 minutes left to bake. The ground mustard really makes it." -- Dave
"I love to smother mine in baked beans." -- Ray J.
With so many possibilities, it's easy to see why meatloaf is one of the most popular blue plate specials. Heck, some folks actually prefer a cold slab of leftover meatloaf on white bread to the previous night's hot meal. Another great option for leftovers is heated meatloaf chunks on a sub roll with marinara sauce.
All this talk of meatloaf raises one final question: Are you a ketchup person, or a brown gravy person?
That's probably a meaty enough debate for a whole other column.
Lindsey Nair's column runs Wednesdays in Extra.
Do you have a creative meatloaf recipe? I'd love to hear about it on the Fridge Magnet blog at blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet/