Story and photos by Angie Sutton
There’s no doubt, a good meatloaf deserves a spot on your regular rotation of menu items. It is often referred to as “comfort food” and is typically paired with mashed potatoes to fill the tummies of hungry families in households across the world. Would you believe this culinary creation can be traced back for centuries?
An ancient Roman cookbook featured a meatloaf combination, as did 17th-century French cooking and the culinary works of the 18th-century Pennsylvanian Dutch. It was the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the mechanical meat grinder that was the key to meatloaf’s longstanding place on our dinner table. During the years of the Great Depression, serving meatloaf was a way to maximize the food budget using inexpensive types of meat and leftovers, along with spices and fillers, to stretch the dish. Fast forward through the 1950s and 1960s when disposable income allowed for creative experimentation in the kitchen and Depression-era meatloaf was spiffed up. Then 50 years later meatloaf cupcakes become the new trendy treat.
There is no specific way to create meatloaf. It’s the ability for re-invention that has kept this a favored dish in kitchens over the past century’s challenging times and advancements.
Meatloaf is characteristically ground meat mixed with a binder like eggs, breadcrumbs, small pieces of bread soaked in milk or oatmeal. This binder allows it to be shaped into a loaf and soaks up any liquid that the cooking meat might create. Chopped vegetables such as onions, green peppers and celery may be added for flavor and nutrition. Seasonings like salt, spices and herbs are added to develop the taste. Once the basic ingredients needed for the loaf are selected, you may get creative with fillers. Meatloaf may be filled with eggs, cheese, vegetables and mushrooms. The American version of meatloaf is often topped with some kind of sauce or relish to form a crust during baking. One of my favorite recipes calls for the addition of bacon strips on top.
The best way to mix your meatloaf is to roll up your sleeves and use your hands! Over mixing can cause your loaf to be too dense so be cautious! Most home cooks bake their meatloaves in a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan. However, you can free form a mound in a baking dish, make mini loaves, cook it in a microwave oven or prepare it in a slow cooker. Check the internal temperature to ensure it has reached 160 degrees F.
The modern meatloaf has come a long way from its label of tasty, honest fare for hard-working folks to being considered “comfort food with a trendy twist” on a swank restaurant menu as a $20 item.
These are a few of the more creative recipes we adapted and tested that made the cut. I did not use the word “surprise” in the title of any recipe, although it was tempting! A few more recipes are posted on www.mothersapronstrings.com and I’d love to swap recipes with readers!
This recipe uses a trilogy of ground meats with a basic meatloaf recipe but the kicker is the mashed potato “frosting.” If I have leftover mashed potatoes I use those, otherwise, I whip up some instant mashed potatoes. I’m tempted to double the recipe and make it in two 9-inch round cake pans and “frost” it for April Fool’s Day!
1 egg, beaten
2 c. hot mashed potatoes
In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg, milk, bread crumbs, onion, salt, pepper and paprika. Add ground beef, pork and ham; mix well. Pat meat mixture into loaf pan. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until internal temperature reaches 160 F. Drain. Invert meatloaf onto a heat-proof platter. In a bowl combine frosting ingredients. Cover top and sides of meatloaf with the mixture. Place under a preheated broiler; broil 3 minutes or until lightly browned. Slice into 8 servings.
Juicy Italian Meatloaf
If I have spicy vegetable juice, I use that to add some zest to this simple recipe. We like to open a jar of marinara sauce to dip the meatloaf in.
1 egg, beaten
In a large bowl, combine egg, oats, vegetable juice, 1/2 tsp. oregano, salt, pepper and onion. Add ground beef and mix well. Place mixture on a piece of waxed paper and shape into an 18-inch by 7-inch rectangle. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese evenly over rectangle. Starting at the narrow end, roll up the meat, jelly-roll style. Seal the ends and place seam side down in a loaf pan. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour. Remove loaf from oven and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and remaining oregano. Return to oven and bake 15 minutes longer and internal temperature reaches 160 F. Slice into 8 servings.
Peppy Pizza Loaf
Sometimes my kids will look at the traditional shaped meatloaf and decide they “aren’t hungry after all.” This is one that I make in a 9-inch square pan and add the name “pizza,” so it’s a hit!
1 egg, beaten
In a large bowl, mix egg, pizza sauce, cornflakes, mushrooms, onion, salt and pepper. Add ground beef; mix well. Pat half of the meat mixture into a 9-inch square pan. Arrange a single layer of pepperonis and sprinkle half the mozzarella cheese evenly over the top. Cover with the remaining meat mixture. Bake at 350 F for 60 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 160 F. Drain if needed and sprinkle the top with remaining cheese. Let sit for 10 minutes and cut into 9 squares.
Pot Roast Loaf
This one-dish meal packs a nutritious punch on a budget!
1 (5 oz.) can evaporated milk
In a large bowl, combine milk, ketchup, cracker crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Add ground beef and mix well. Shape meat mixture in an 8-inch by 4-inch by 2-inch loaf and place in a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Arrange onions, potatoes, carrots and green pepper around loaf. Cover dish with foil and bake at 350 F for 1 1/2 hours. Meat should reach an internal temperature of 160 F and vegetables should be tender. Remove foil during that last 15 minutes of baking. Sprinkle parsley on vegetables before serving. Provides 6 to 8 servings.
Stuffed Loaf A-Roma
This meatloaf has a great flavor with the hot sausage and steak sauce. We used the leftovers slices to make sandwiches the next day.
1 1/4 lbs. lean ground beef
In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, sausage, stuffing, egg, 3 Tbsp. ketchup and 2 Tbsp. steak sauce. Mix well. Pat half the meat mixture into a loaf pan. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Layer tomato, onion, green pepper, mushrooms, ham and Swiss cheese evenly. Cover with remaining meat mixture; press down firmly and seal edges. Combine remaining ketchup and steak sauce and spread evenly over the top of the loaf. Pan will be full. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour and internal temperature reaches 160 F. Drain if needed. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing into 8 servings.