Now that it has begun to cool off I begin thinking of different dishes to eat. Hearty belly warming type meals. The other day the thought of meatloaf came to me; probably the change of the seasons. Meatloaf sometimes gets a bad rap but I love it. I should say instead that I love the way my Mom cooked it. We had it a couple times a month at least while we were growing up. She made the ketchup/tomato paste glazed variety and for me it is the only way to go.
I have tried many other variants from store bought frozen to something a neighbor whipped up that had brown gravy and then a few takes on it from restaurants. All I can say is no thanks; Mom’s was best. Brown gravy on meatloaf – really? Might as well have Salisbury Steak.
So anyway, it has been a good couple years since I have had it and I decided to take up the challenge and prepare meatloaf for the first time ever. I have a wide range of foods I like to make but strangely enough I have never made meatloaf and I have been cooking for quite a while. If for some strange lapse of memory I did try and make it some twenty some odd years ago it must have been pretty bad and I blocked it from memory. Otherwise this was the first time out of the chute for me.
I didn’t want to just copy the way Mom made it. I wanted to make it mine so to speak and see what I could come up with. It didn’t take much research to find that there is no end to the varieties of meatloaf out there. In fact here I was thinking that this was a typical family style meal unique to America and it is but it is also prevalent all over the world. Different meats, spices, binders and sauces but still meatloaf. From what I could discover, the unique nature of American meatloaf is that it common to have a tomato/ketchup type glaze on top. As it finishes in the oven that glaze will caramelize and concentrate all that good flavor. Lots more information on meatloaf here on Wikipedia. So I had my work cut out for me but I like this sort of challenge.
How was mine going to be different? Four things primarily.
- fresh ground meat – not the factory ground that is so common now
- more vegetables
- cheese - yep
- bacon – that’s right I said bacon
So, I am going to try to relay to you how I put this thing together. I am not a great recipe writer and I can get a little long winded because I am more technical by nature. But, I understand if you need to take a break and maybe get a cup of coffee while going through this.
It goes a little something like this.
- 2.5 lb beef chuck rib skirt roast – had the butcher grind it for me
- 3 tablespoons fresh thyme – more or less to taste
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 large red bell peppers
- 1 package shitaki mushrooms – fresh
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 3 large stalks celery
- 1 cup dried Italian bread crumbs
- 1 package thin sliced bacon
- 1 small can of tomato paste
- salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 medium can fresh summer corn
Finely mince one red bell pepper, 3 stalks celery and half the yellow onion. Also mince about 1 cup of the shitaki mushroom and the three cloves of garlic. Saute this mixture with a little oil or butter until the onions are slightly translucent; season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
In a very large bowl add your 2.5 lbs of ground chuck. Add 3 eggs, 1 cup of Italian bread crumbs, 1 cup of Parmesan cheese. To this you will also add about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of chopped flat leaf parsley, your thyme leaves and 2/3 of the vegetable saute now that it has cooled. Now is a good time to wash your hands again and pre-heat the oven to 350F while you are at it. With your fingers lightly incorporate the ingredients. Never squeezing or pressing. Just mix well using the two giant forks you were born with. Pressing and squeezing will make a denser meatloaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Now that ever thing is well mixed you can move the meatloaf mixture to the baking sheet and begin to shape it. I chose a longer, wider and flatter shape to insure even cooking. Once in the shape I wanted I then laid the strips of bacon across the top going from side to side. I think I used about 10 to 12 strips of center cut bacon. Ready for the oven and in it went.
Next, in a small bowl I added about 2/3 of the can of tomato paste, 1/3 cup ketchup, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, a dash of soy sauce and about a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves. About 15 minutes into the cook time I took out the meatloaf and spread the tomato paste mixture over the top and added it back into the oven.
While the meatloaf is cooking you can work on your sides. I cubed up 2 large russet potatoes and set them to boil in salted water. I also cut the remaining red bell pepper into quarter inch wide strips and cut the last 1/2 of the onion into strips as well. Melt about two tablespoons butter in a skillet and then saute your peppers, onion and corn. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
When the potatoes are fork tender you will drain them and return them to the pot. Add butter – I used about 1/3 stick but could have used more. I also added fresh chopped chives and about 1/2 cup milk. Just add a little at a time until you get the consistency you are looking for. Season with salt and pepper to taste and use a fork or large spoon to mash the potatoes and mix everything together.
In a sauce pan I added the remaining 1/3 of the sauteed vegetables, 4 tablespoons butter, 3 beef bullion cubes and 2 cups water and also added the remaining tomato paste and about 1/4 cup ketchup, some thyme leaves and salt and pepper. Bring it to boil and then let simmer. This will hopefully result in what my Dad likes to call tomato gravy which can be used on the potatoes and the meat.
The meatloaf cooked to moist perfection (I am so glad it wasn’t dry on my first attempt at making it) after about an hour and ten minutes in a 350F oven.
As for the sides and the gravy – you will have to work out the timing so that everything can be plated piping hot when the meatloaf is ready.
Well, that’s about it – how was the coffee?
It turned out very good, I was pleased with it. The ingredients for the meatloaf above made a good amount of food. Could have easily fed nine adults or leave you with a good amount of leftovers that can make some delicious meatloaf sandwiches for the days ahead. It also freezes well.
To give you a sense of scale I will post a snapshot I took with a point and shoot camera right after the meatloaf came out of the oven. This is on a full sized baking sheet and 1/3 of the meatloaf had already been cut away from the back end…. why? because the folks were hungry, that’s why.
You often hear complaints about a dry meatloaf. Well, this one was incredibly moist, flavorful and had a nice texture. It stayed together, didn’t crumble and all the while being light and not dense.
The point and shoot camera and poor lighting where I prepared the meal was just not doing the meatloaf justice so after dinner I took the leftovers home and photographed after it had a chance to properly age (like fine wine) for a day or so. Mainly though so that I had a chance to photograph the meatloaf with my proper camera gear and under controlled lighting. Yeah – that’s how I am.
Finally what you might see right before you realize you are going in face first without regard for forks, knives or spoons.
Final thoughts. At first I wasn’t sure if the bacon was worth it. However, I think it was key in keeping the meatloaf moist. It just was not a strong flavor profile initially. In hindsight I feel better about it. After having some of the leftovers over the next two days the bacon goodness is there in just the right amount.
Thanks also to my Mom. If it wasn’t for her good home cooking while I was growing up, I would have had a foundation upon which to build. Seeing as she only kicked me out of the kitchen about half the time while I was pestering her I would say it turned out about right.