Meatloaf is one of those foods that people either love or hate. It can be wonderful – moist, tender, flavorful… or it can be dry, tasteless and boring. it depends more on the cook than the ingredients, really. Meatloaf is a pretty standard formula of meat, vegetables, liquid, spices, and binder. If over baked it will be dry, it is as simple as that.
My mom did not make meatloaf very much but back then, in the final days of classic diners, I discovered the dish on a car trip and i instantly fell in love.
If you are of the younger generation I feel sorry for you in so many ways. Yes, you grew up with computers, color tv, and two car households but you missed out on red vinyl and chrome swivel stools, real malted milkshakes, and coca cola made with sugar and so fizzy when they were served that the bubbles floated out of the glass and tickled your nose before you took that first sip that caused your tongue to vibrate with the rhythm of the carbonated dance going on in your mouth.
I grew up in the decades of food with real flavor, no worry about GMOs and little concern for chemical additives. Food tasted different. It’s more than nostalgia when those of us who remember those days say that the flavors were cleaner and more intense. They really were. I don’t know if we will ever be able to get any of that back – I hope so.
It was a different time, a different world. It certainly wasn’t perfect but we knew that the bad guys always wore the black hats and that if you got in trouble at school you were sure to get in trouble at home. School lunches mimicked the foods you ate at your house and McDonalds had a choice of 2 burgers. Cheese or no cheese. there weren’t stacks of patties, fat filled sauces, or weird substances… The Big Mac was the first really huge burger I can remember and I remember not being able to eat the entire thing.
Always take a teaspoon or so of your meat mixture and cook it before you put your meatloaf mix into the pan. This way you can taste and adjust seasonings to ensure your recipe is delicious when it is done.
You drank milk at dinner time. Without fail there was a glass of white milk at your place at the dinner table until you were big enough for coffee (usually after you graduated from high school – coffee was not a drink for children…and you were classified a child until at least your 19th birthday). I was allowed cokes on the weekends, one per day. Never during the week though, like the beer that my dad drank, cokes were weekend fare to be enjoyed by the pool.
People could eat anything and were rarely overweight – at least the people I knew. It was because the portions were smaller and activity level was higher. No one that I knew just sat and watched t.v unless they were sick. Tv during dinner, phone calls during dinner… well! Those things did not happen. Meals were ritualistic part of the day and preceded by copious hand washing, clean clothing, and combed hair. They ended with everyone waiting until the last person was finished, a polite “May I be excused?” and a quick clean up of the kitchen so everyone could settle in for family time in front of the Ed Sullivan show (or Combat, or Bonanza, or…) until it was time for bed.
Simple. Sweet. Healthy.
You may not be able to return to those times but you can implement much of the goodness of it in your own family. Homecooked meals, a no technology zone during the dinner hour, everyone at the table as many days a week as possible… These rituals may seem controlling compared to the more casual lifestyles of today but they built a family strength that you just don’t see anymore.
Meatloaf. The word will create nostalgic visions in almost everyone’s mind. Since this one has that Mexican-Texican twist to it I like to serve it with grilled corn with a little lime butter rather than the more traditional mashed potatoes and gravy. Leftovers are delicious in sandwiches the next day.
The ingredients that give it that special flavor are basically the onions, cilantro, chilies, and cheese.
The onions need to be slowly cooked until they are caramelized. This makes them have a uniquely sweet flavor that really adds depth to the flavors in this dish. The onions in this picture are almost there, a few more minutes will give them a caramel brown color.
Mix the ingredients with clean hands. This will allow you to kind of knead the meat mixture and get the spices more evenly distributed. When I put the meat mixture into the pan I like to pack it down gently. It gives it a bit more structure when it is cooked and is easier to slice.
Remember not to overcook it. Like most meats you will take it out just a few minutes before it is done and let it stand on the counter for 5 to 10 minutes. Learn to use a meat thermometer. You will want to take the meatloaf out at 155F. It will rise to 160F (the suggested “safe” temp) as it rests. Mmmm…. perfect.
This pan is awesome for meatloaf because it allows you to remove the fat easily. Your dish will be less greasy, healthier, and have better flavor.