Few foods evoke images of June Cleaver and an iconic “Leave It to Beaver”-style family dinner more than meatloaf.
There is no denying a thick slice of meatloaf, dripping with brown gravy and nestled next to a mound of mashed potatoes, is an American classic.
Meatloaf takes us back to simpler times. We suddenly remember, or at least long for, a dinner lovingly prepared and delivered to the table on old blue china or green melamine plates, with Mom, Dad and loved ones seated beside us.
But meatloaf has a pragmatic side.
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Meatloaf was popular in the 1930s when the stress of the Great Depression stretched family food budgets to the breaking point. Thrifty homemakers turned to the humble loaf as a way to stretch a costly protein.
Meatloaf has remained a staple in good times because it tastes great. Today, meatloaf is hot, fresh and trendy. Swanky restaurants feature a signature loaf. College dorms serve it, and grocery stores feature meatloaf to go.
While buying meatloaf when dining out may sound good, making your own is an easy way to customize dinner to suit your family’s taste preferences. Many families have a favorite recipe, but there’s no reason not to change that up to create a more modern flavor profile.
Meatloaf recipes fuse deliciously with ethnic flavors, so Mexican, Italian, Cajun and others are common themes. Add more vegetables or spice it up with minced jalapeno peppers, chili powder, or other herbs and seasonings. Make it from just ground beef, from a combination of meats, or even no meat at all if a loaf from lentils or beans is the one you want.
Meatloaf recipes are also very forgiving. The exact ingredients are up to you: If mushrooms are a family favorite, you can add them, but if you want to avoid them, leave them out.
Meatloaf is no stress; while it bakes, the cook is free to loaf or relax, or to do take care of some of those demanding tasks. To check for doneness, insert a meat thermometer into the center. Meatloaves made of beef or pork are done when the thermometer registers 160 degrees. Those made of ground chicken or turkey should be cooked until 165 degrees. Let the meatloaf rest 10 minutes before slicing.
Individual size meatloaves, baked in muffin pans, cook more quickly, but larger loaf pans serve a crowd. Planned leftovers also are an option because there’s nothing that tastes better than a meatloaf sandwich the next day.
So toss those June Cleaver pearls aside because modern meatloaf is no longer just a comforting trip down memory lane.
Kathy Moore and Roxanne Wyss are Kansas City-based professional home economists and cookbook authors. They create recipes for The Star’s Chow Town and our Eating for Life column.
▪ Use ground chuck for a flavorful meatloaf. If you use very lean ground beef, the meatloaf may taste dry.
▪ Mix the ingredients until combined, but not overmixed. Your own clean hands work the best. (For easy cleanup, slip on a pair of food-safe plastic gloves.)
▪ When shaping, don’t compact the meat. Packed meatloaves are often greasier and pale. Shape the meat easily into a free-form loaf.
▪ For easy cleanup, line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray, or line with nonstick aluminum foil. Or simply line the pan with slices of bread and place the shaped meatloaf on the bread. Bake it, and when done, lift the meatloaf off the bread for slicing and serving; discard the bread.
▪ Let the meatloaf rest about 10 minutes once removed from the oven before slicing. It will be juicier and will slice more attractively.
▪ Meatloaves freeze beautifully. You can double a recipe, shape it into two loaves, bake one and freeze one. You will have the best flavor if you freeze it unbaked. Just mix, shape and wrap the unbaked meatloaf tightly in plastic wrap, label and freeze.
When ready to bake a frozen meatloaf, remove the wrapping and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the frozen meatloaf in a pan and bake it until the meat thermometer indicates it is done. Remember to allow extra time when baking a frozen meatloaf.
Italian Stuffed Meatloaf
Makes 8 servings
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
2/3 cup dry Italian-flavored breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1/2 cup tomato juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
4 thin slices prosciutto (each slice about 7-by-3½ inches)
4 thin slices mozzarella cheese (each slice about 4-by-4 inches)
3/4 cup marinara sauce
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a half sheet pan with 1-inch sides with aluminum foil. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine ground chuck, Italian sausage, dry Italian-flavored breadcrumbs, eggs, tomato juice, garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Blend well.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter. Pat and form the meatloaf into a 14-by-7-inch rectangle. Layer prosciutto and mozzarella down the middle of the rectangle. Use the plastic wrap to help roll the meatloaf into a long roll. Use fingers to seal seams of meatloaf. Place on prepared pan. Spoon marinara evenly over the top of the meatloaf. Bake, uncovered, 60 to 70 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 160 degrees. Allow meatloaf to stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing carefully with a serrated or very sharp knife.
Per serving: 477 calories (68 percent from fat), 35 grams total fat (14 grams saturated), 154 milligrams cholesterol, 11 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 1,268 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
A food processor is a great way to quickly make fresh breadcrumbs. Generally, 2 slices of firm textured white bread will make the 1 1/4 cups of crumbs needed for this recipe.
If desired, do not sauté the onion. Omit the butter, chop the onion very fine and stir into the ground beef. Proceed as recipe directs.
Make meatloaves in a muffin pan to trim the baking time. Mix the meatloaf mixture as directed. Spray 8 wells in a standard muffin pan with nonstick spray. Spoon the meatloaf into the wells and press lightly to shape. Fill the remaining empty wells about half full of water. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Spoon the sauce on top of each and bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 160 degrees.
How about a meatloaf sandwich? Slice the meatloaf into 1-inch slices and place them on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high for 45 to 60 seconds or until hot. Stack the hot meatloaf on toasted bread and add, as desired, sliced pickles, ketchup, sliced cheddar cheese and/or crisp, cooked bacon. Top with a second slice of toasted bread and enjoy.
Makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons milk
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 pound ground chuck
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line an 11-by-7-inch pan with aluminum foil. Spray foil with nonstick spray.
Melt butter in a 6-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Whisk together milk and egg in a mixing bowl. Stir in breadcrumbs and cooked onion. Add the ground beef, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon, salt and pepper. Blend until evenly mixed.
Divide the meat mixture in half. Shape each half into a rounded oval and place in the prepared pan. Bake, uncovered, 25 minutes.
Topping: Stir together ketchup, brown sugar, Dijon and hot sauce in a small bowl. Spoon the topping evenly over the loaves. Continue baking, uncovered, 20 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted into the center registers 160 degrees. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
Per serving: 426 calories (61 percent from fat), 28 grams total fat (12 grams saturated), 147 milligrams cholesterol, 18 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams protein, 566 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.
Source: “The Newlywed Cookbook, Cooking Happily Ever After,” by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore (St. Martin’s Press, 2014)
Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Meatloaf
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
1 cup soft breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 slices bacon, halved, not cooked
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a half sheet pan with 1-inch sides with aluminum foil; spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
Melt butter in a skillet over low heat. Add sliced onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are caramelized and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has almost completely evaporated. Set onions off heat and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, chop onions and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine breadcrumbs, eggs, Worcestershire sauce and milk. Add ground chuck, salt and pepper to taste and chopped onions. Stir lightly to combine. Add blue cheese and stir gently. Shape into a loaf and place in prepared pan.
Stir together remaining 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Brush all of the mixture over the outside of the meatloaf, covering completely. Arrange bacon pieces in a single layer over the meatloaf. Bake, uncovered, 60 to 70 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 160 degrees. Allow to stand 10 minutes before slicing.
Serving tip: If desired, reserve 2 to 3 tablespoons caramelized onion rings to use as a garnish. Chop the remaining onions and proceed as recipe directs. Arrange reserved caramelized onions over the top of the meatloaf before serving.
Per serving: 438 calories (68 percent from fat), 33 grams total fat (14 grams saturated), 174 milligrams cholesterol, 9 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams protein, 302 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.