Meatloaf

Friends, I have a confession: I’m 29 years old and I’ve never made a meatloaf.

I decided that that situation needed to change. Tonight. Marc started a new, physically demanding job this week and he’s been coming home very tired. And while my normal meals tend to run semi-vegetarian (mostly to save money), I decided that tonight my man deserved meat. And since we don’t have a barbeque, I’d try something else.

After hunting around some of my favorite food blogs, I found this recipe from The Kitchn. It looked promising, and moreover it looked pretty simple. I decided to try it.

But oh, nothing that be that simple, can it?

I had a red pepper hanging out in my fridge that really needed to be used, so I figured I’d throw it in there as well. And if I’m already throwing in a red pepper, how about some of the onions I’ve got lying around? Or maybe some celery? The problem: I have no idea what ratio to use when it comes to this sort of thing. The good news is that I have friends who do. One of my knowledgeable facebook cooking friends told me that if you’re using vegetables, you want about 1/4-1/2 cup per pound of meat. I had two pounds (1 beef, 1 turkey), so I was aiming for about a cup. (Meanwhile, I omitted the 1/4-cup of dried onions, on the assumption that I was going to have fresh ones and wouldn’t need them. Next time, I may add some lipton onion soup mix.)

She also told me — and this is the important bit — that if you’re using celery, you really need to saute it first, or it will still be crunchy when it cooks. To the stove! I decided that if I was already sauteing the celery, I might as well do the red pepper and the onion at the same time. So into a pan went a diced half-onion, one stalk of diced celery, and about a third of a red bell pepper, also diced. (In fact, it worked out to somewhat more than a cup uncooked, but I figured it would all reduce to about the right amount.) I sauteed it in some butter and olive oil, on medium-high heat for five minutes. She also told me — and this is the other important bit — that you need to let them cool off, or the meat around the hot vegetables will be too tough. So I put them into a bowl while I got everything else ready.

I had a bit of a hairy situation part-way through, where I’d started mushing everything together with my hands and only then realized I hadn’t put in the vegetables. And, sad to say, they weren’t cool yet. So I washed my hands (in fact, I washed my hands many times tonight) and did some dishes. About 15 minutes after taking the vegetables off the stove, they were cool enough to use. In they went! Mush with the hands! Yay!

Instead of most meatloaf recipes I’d seen, which have you form the meat into loaf shapes and then maybe drape bacon over it, this one was a little different. Instead, you were supposed to find a glass or plastic container about the size you wanted, layer it with bacon, put half the meat into the container and press down, drape the bacon over the bottom, and turn the whole thing out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Kind of like an upside-down cake, but made with meat. The only tupperware I had on hand that was approximately the right side turned out to be a touch too big, so the final loaves are only about an inch high. But no matter! Meat is meat! Bacon is bacon! Both are tasty!

I put it in the oven for a half-hour at 350 F, only to discover my next confusion. The recipe says to brush some ketchup, brown sugar, salt, pepper, etc. on the finished loaves, but most recipes I’ve seen say to do this during the final stage of cooking. Also, it gives absolutely no sense of proportions. So it was back to the internet! I got a general sense of proportions and mixed up a half-cup of ketchup, a tablespoon each of brown sugar and apple cider vinegar, and a dash of salt and pepper. I didn’t have a brush, so instead I used the back of a spoon to spread it around on top of the loaves. Then back into the oven at 450 F for another 15 minutes.

The recipe says you’re supposed to get an internal temperature of 170 F, and while I do have a meat thermometer, it was remarkably difficult getting a reading because the loaves were so narrow. I did it in the end, and the cooking time seemed to be just about right. Some of the bacon was nice and crispy, especially on the sides. And while the loaves were sitting in a small puddle of grease, I figured that was just par for the course.

I let them sit for about 40 minutes before eating. I was only planning for it to be 15 minutes, but Marc still wasn’t home from work and I decided to wait until 7:00 to see if he’d be home yet. (I really must get that boy a cell phone.) He wasn’t, so I ate without him.

The verdict:
It turns out that they were quite tasty! Dense, but I like my meatloaves pretty dense. No outright crunchy bits from the vegetables, though I may try a friend’s suggestion to blend or puree them before mixing them in with the rest of the ingredients. I wasn’t thrilled with the topping, though, and will have to play around with it. It’s too acidic. Any suggestions?

I found that a quarter-loaf (remember, I made two loaves, so this is about 1/8th the recipe) was just about the right serving size for me. Marc will probably want more than that. On the whole, I expect leftovers for at least tomorrow, which will be good.

For my first attempt, I think it came out pretty tasty. Now I’ve just got to figure out what to do with the leftover raw ingredients. In one container, I have a half-onion and two stalks of celery, all diced up into tiny pieces. In another, about two thirds of a red pepper, sliced pretty thin. I’ve also got six strips of bacon and about seven stalks worth of celery cut into small 2-3″ sticks. Anyone have any thoughts? Stir fry everything but the celery sticks? Or could I do something better?

Edited to add: Marc liked it as well, so I think we have a winner here. I’m still going to experiment with it a bit, but this is definitely a good start.

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