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The Recipe Vault #3: Meat Loaf

When I was growing up, I loved meat loaf days. Even more, I loved lunch the day after meat loaf days, and to this day meat loaf sandwiches are a special comfort food treat. My mom wrote out the basic recipe, but she was being a rascal – she left out the key ingredient. More about that in a moment.

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The recipe calls for ground beef or a beef and pork mix. Let me say that my mom would never use just beef. Almost anytime ground meat was called for, she would use beef and pork. Today, when I make meat loaf at home, I often use beef and ground chicken or turkey with excellent results.

She always used some chopped onion, but in my mind’s eye, I can see her adding in chopped up celery and green or red peppers too, and when I first started making meat loaf, I added those ingredients because she did.

The recipe calls for bread shredded into milk or stock. I don’t think it’s necessary to trim the crusts and I certainly wouldn’t bother doing that. Alternatively, you can simply add bread crumbs instead of mushed up bread and that will work just fine.

Without exception, my mom placed slices of bacon on top of the meatloaf before roasting. In fact she would totally cover the top with bacon. However, reading the recipe, you would think the idea was to then simply roast the meatloaf. Oh no, no, no. There is a secret ingredient she neglected to add to the recipe.

I wish I could give you a complex recipe for the glaze Mom put on the meat loaf, but I’m not going to lie. She slathered on a secret ingredient – a product called Heinz Chili Sauce.

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I have no idea what else people do with this product. For me it was, and remains, the stuff you put on top of your meat loaf. We also used it as a condiment on meat loaf sandwiches the next day. I’ve never used it for anything else. When you generously coat the meat loaf with chili sauce, it fuses with the bacon as it cooks in the most remarkable and delicious way.

Now a couple notes on your left over meat loaf. Always make a big one so you will have plenty left over. The best meat loaf sandwiches use the loaf cold. We would never heat it up. Perhaps if we had a mircowave at home back in the day we might have been tempted, but if so we would have been wrong. Cold meat loaf makes the best sandwiches. The other thing is you need to have is good crusty bread or a crusty bun for your sandwich. Slice  your meatloaf good and thick. The basic straight-up meat loaf sandwich doesn’t mess with a lot of ingredients, but if you want to fancy up your lunch, fry up some mushrooms or try raw sliced red onion or fresh picked tomatoes from the garden. Back in the day, Dad always grew way more tomatoes than the family could ever consume.

When I make meat loaf today, I almost always make it the way my mom did. It turns the kitchen into a time machine and transports me back to my youth. Occasionally I change it up, especially when I’ve been successful in foraging choice wild mushrooms. On those occasions, I chop mushrooms into the loaf, start with a roux, add stock and loads of wild mushrooms and braise my meat loaf in what becomes mushroom gravy.  I’m sure my mom would consider braising a meat loaf to be blasphemous, but I love it this way too.

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