The website Serious Eats has proclaimed October 18 National Meatloaf Appreciation Day and because I was about to make one anyway, I decided to participate. For more on the whole meatloaf-blogging thing, you can look here .
At our house, meatloaf is a standard. In fact, at times Joe is known around here as Mr. Meatloaf. This isn’t the version I grew up with, which is deeply Anglo-Saxon Depression-era, with lots of bread to stretch the very cheapest grade of hamburger. I found this in Cheryl and Bill Jamison’s Texas Home Cooking, where it’s called Milagro Meatloaf. As happens to most such recipes, it sort of evolved, and this is pretty much my standard version:
1 Tbs. cooking oil
1/2 c. minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. freshly-ground pepper
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 lbs. ground chuck or a mixture of beef and pork
1 1/2 c. dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup tomato-based barbecue sauce plus more, if desired
3 Tbs. plain yogurt plus more
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until they’re softened. Stir in the black pepper and cayenne, salt and cumin and cook an additional 2 or 3 minutes.
Spoon the vegetable mixture into a large bowl. Add the meat, bread crumbs, barbecue sauce, yogurt, Worcestershire sauce and egg. Mix well with your hands.(This is a good job for kids; squooshing things around is infinitely satisfying.) Add as much more yogurt as necessary to make the mixture moist but not soupy.
Put the mixture into a greased loaf pan or a 1 1/2 quart casserole. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Raise the oven temperature and continue baking another 20-30 minutes. If you wish, brush with additional barbecue sauce the last 10 minutes.
Serves maybe 6 people; also makes great burgers to go on a grill.
But you know how things go. Sometimes you go with what you have. And what I had when I walked into the kitchen was 1.87 pounds of ground round, and the only onions on hand were red. Well, that’s okay, I thought. I minced the garlic and chopped the onion. As I heated the skillet, I began to assemble the dry seasonings in a coffee cup. Salt, pepper, cumin, and–oh, look, I’m nearly out of cayenne. A quarter of a teaspoon was all that was left. We like the meatloaf spicy; otherwise I’d’ve just left it at that. A trip to Penzey’s this weekend, for sure, but what to use tonight? I had Aleppo pepper, which is milder. A teaspoon of that, plus the remaining cayenne.
No yogurt. I substituted skim milk. The barbecue sauce is always around. Here in St. Louis, the local tradition is always a sweet-spicy tomato sauce. I use either Gates (which, yes, is from Kansas City, www.gatesbbq.com ) or Super Smokers Championship Sauce (which is quite local, www.supersmokersbbq.com )
Bread crumbs? Short on those, too. Crackers in the food processor for the rest of the required amount.
I’d put a couple of large Yukon Gold potatoes in the oven as I started to preheat it. (In our house, meatloaf always arrives with baked potatoes.) After I put the loaf in, I whacked the top off a couple of heads of garlic, sat them on a square of aluminum foil, poured a little olive oil over them, and added oregano, salt and pepper. I closed the foil fairly tightly and stuck it in the oven to cook for 40 minutes or so. When the meatloaf had been baking for 60 minutes, I grabbed my meat thermometer. I once pulled this out of the oven still pink and sloppy inside, and the meat thermometer, a wise and relatively inexpensive purchase, is now part of the meatloaf routine. 120 degrees. Nope, not yet. I gave the meat another 15 minutes. Rare is fine for roast beef, not for meatloaf that’ll be made into tomorrow’s sandwiches.
Given all those substitutions, what would happen?
You know, we’re not talking about the precision of pastry-making here. You can be a little more relaxed about recipes and substitutions. It was swell. The spice-heat was less than what it is sometimes, but the texture was excellent. The top and edges where it touched were chewy-rich. Mr. Meatloaf was beaming in extra-high, especially given the roasted garlic.
The following day, an open-faced sandwich on toasted 5-grain bread had warm meatloaf topped with some red pepper-and-artichoke tapenade and kept the fun going.
Another worthwhile meatloaf.