I love to experiment with old favorites in the kitchen. This doesn't always turn out well - my family can describe, in detail, the appalling Purple Chicken episode (coq au vin gone wrong) and still get an occasional chuckle at Easter over the Green Ham Incident. In my defense, whenever a recipe calls for that many tablespoons of majoram, what other color could it be?
However, meatloaf is one of the experiments that I've perfected. Some people have fond memories of meatloaf; others cringe in horror, remembering greasy, flavorless meat. But done right, this little bit of down-home cooking packs homey-ness and comfort in each bite. It's easily my most requested meal. Last month, I had old college friends visiting the area from Italy; they wanted my meatloaf when asked over for dinner. I was cooking a celebration dinner for my in-laws, and they requested the meatloaf.
The secret is to use fresh vegetables, coarsely diced, inside the loaf. The flavors of the vegetables cook through the ground beef, and the tomato sauce on top adds another savory layer. The primary utensil in my recipe is my hands: to get a good meatloaf, you have to knead the spices, bread crumbs and vegetable chunks in with your hands. People who don't like touching raw meat can use gloves, and mix the non-meat ingredients together thoroughly in a separate bowl to cut down on their meat contact. I also recommend using a baking bag. I started using one to cut down on mess, but I also found that it keeps the moisture locked in to the meat. I use the leanest ground beef I can find. For this preparation, I used 93 percent lean ground beef. Using the baking bag balances out the dryness of the lower-fat content meat. For those with wheat allergies, rolled oats can be used instead of the bread. Whenever possible, I use peppers and onions from my garden.
Tribune Chronicle photos / ?Amanda Smith-Teutsch
Meatloaf is one of the culinary experiments that I’ve perfected.
To round off the homey meal I made an original recipe my family and friends call Decadent Smashed Potatoes. To cut down on some of the calories and fat in the side dish, I used turkey bacon, low-fat sour cream and fat-free cheddar cheese. There's still enough butter in it to make it rich, and around the holidays I tend to make the wholly decadent version of the dish.
To balance out all of the richness, I used the remainder of the peppers and onions from the meatloaf recipe in a simple summer salad with olives and a light dressing. This meal easily feeds four or five and can be stretched to six or more without difficulty.
2 or 2.5 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 cup nonfat or lowfat milk
Two slices of wheat bread, diced
One green bell pepper, or one half green and one half red bell pepper, coarsely diced
One small white or yellow onion
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
Or, your favorite package of premixed meatloaf spices
One 8 oz can plain tomato sauce
Preheat oven to 350F.
Arrange opened baking bag in 13x9-inch baking pan or dish. Mix beef, spice mix, onions, peppers, egg, milk and bread in large bowl until well mixed.
Pat meat mixture into a rectangular loaf. Slide it into the cooking bag. Pour can of tomato sauce over top; seal bag and cut vents.
Bake approximately one hour it sometimes takes more, depending on the leanness of the meat. Let stand 5 minutes before serving; if desired, serve with pan juices.
Decadent Smashed Potatoes
3 pounds red potatoes
At least one tablespoon minced garlic
Half stick butter
Half-cup sour cream
4 ounces Cheddar cheese
Eight slices cooked bacon, crumbled.
Parsley and black pepper, to taste.
Clean potatoes. Boil, in skins, until soft.
Using a potato masher or wooden spoon, smash potatoes, leaving them chunky.
Add garlic, butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese and bacon until well mixed. Season, to taste with parsley and black pepper.