Meatloaf: Classic Comfort Food

Meatloaf: Classic Comfort Food
Homemade Meatloaf and Roasted Potato Gnocchi
While it has history and origins going way back, modern meatloaf is an American dish that is comfort food for good reason. It's warm, filling, delicious, and adding breadcrumbs and veggies to ground meat extends the meat so that the dish is budget friendly as well. It signifies to me the classic American kitchen. While the subjects of the famous Norman Rockwell Dinner celebrated with a roast turkey, you can easily imagine meatloaf on that dinner table. It is commonly served alongside other American comfort classics like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, etc. Many families treasure their Grandmother's meatloaf recipe, and yet it seems the humble meatloaf is falling out of that standard American repertory. Fancy restaurants can make a darn good meatloaf, gussying the humble dish up with interesting ingredients, but these versions lack the simplicity I crave, and cost an arm and a leg for what should be a humble dish. Countless diners across the country serve dense dry slices, or super greasy and salty meatloaf, both of which need ample gravy or ketchup alongside. And as Americans spend less time in the kitchen (which makes me very sad) it seems many children in this country are more familiar with the hot dog than the meatloaf.

When I began my culinary journey, meatloaf was one of those recipes that I thought I knew, just add some eggs and breadcrumbs to ground beef, raid the pantry to season it up, slather it with ketchup and bake. I always found something missing though, the texture was often too hard or too dense, the meatloaf seemed greasy on the outside, but dry on the inside, or it crumbled and turned into chunks of seasoned ground meat, not a respectable loaf. The good news is that all of my practice versions as I created this recipe yielded edible results, it's hard to mess up meatloaf that much, but equally hard to get that perfectly moist, flavorful, sliceable loaf. So after several attempts, I finally came up with a basic recipe and technique that can be played with and changed up however you like. It does take time to make, but most of that time is in the oven, so it doesn't require much from the cook as far as effort, and since I like my meatloaf simple (and simply delicious) it doesn't require any fancy or expensive ingredients either.

Boozy Epicure's Classic Meatloaf Recipe
I have no idea if the techniques I use are ones that a grandmother would use, but my meatloaf tastes classic, and that's all I care about.

1.5 lbs ground meat*
1 tblsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 rib of celery
1 tblsp tomato paste
1 tblsp chopped parsley
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I always have panko, but any breadcrumbs will work)
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1/4 cup chili sauce (ketchup substitutes well)
Worcestershire sauce (I don't measure it, maybe a tblsp?)
Salt/pepper to taste
Cheese, optional**
Extra ketchup to brush on top

*I like to mix beef, pork and veal, but this recipe works with one or all three, and ground chicken or turkey work just as well. If you use all ground beef, see the note below on cheese.

**I often don't use cheese in my meatloaf, but sometimes I play around with seasonings and decide to add a tblsp or 2 of grated parmesan or romano. When I make all beef meatloaf, I do like adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese to the meatloaf, it keeps the meatloaf really moist and light.

Preheat you oven to 350 F and pull out a big bowl. Line the inside of your broiler pan with aluminum foil (makes cleanup way easier) and spray the top surface with non-stick spray.

Place the onion, carrot and celery in a food processor and pulse until it is a fine mulch. I like my meatloaf to have a uniform consistency, and I find the processor gets the mixture way finer than I have the patience for by hand.

Add the oil to a non-stick skillet. Put the minced veggies in the pan along with the tomato paste and salt/pepper and cook over medium heat for about 8 to 10 minutes. You are cooking out a lot of the water content for the vegetables which will concentrate their flavor in the meatloaf and help the texture since the veggies won't weep water into the meat while it's cooking. If you decide to play around with the recipe and add other veggies, make sure to cook them in this step. I've added mushrooms to this mixture before as well and that is a very tasty addition. Just make sure you cook down as much of the moisture as possible.

Place the cooked veggies in the large bowl. Add all the rest of the ingredients except the eggs and the meat and mix well. This will cool down the cooked veggies so you don't scramble your eggs. Add your eggs and mix well. All you have left is to combine your seasoning mixture with your ground meat. I like to do this by hand and once it is thoroughly combined, mound it directly on the prepared broiler pan and shape it into a loaf.

Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. It won't be done, but after 30 minutes, glaze/brush the top with ketchup and stick in a probe thermometer (I like the kind with the cord that you can leave in your food in the oven.) Put the meatloaf back in the oven, turn the oven up to 400 F, and finish baking the meatloaf until it reaches an internal temp of 160 F.  At this point, if the top/outside isn't brown enough for you, you can pop it under the broiler for a minute or two.

Before baking
Take out of the oven and let rest 5-10 minutes before you slice and serve.

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