One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to cook simpler food more often. This was great news for my fiancé, who is a real meat and potatoes guy. (To be fair, he'll also happily eat pretty much any vegetable you put in front of him.) My first attempt at going back to the basics involved making a shepherd's pie (my first ever) for Christmas Eve. That went over well, so next I decided to try my hand at meatloaf. I really enjoy a good meatloaf, and of course I'd made it before, but not for many years. Knowing that my fiancé's mother's meatloaf is pretty much his favorite meal in the world made me more than a little nervous, so just to be safe, I turned to a recipe written up by Jonathan Reynolds in an article about his friend, the actor (and excellent home cook) Oliver Clark.
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It is only on rare occasions that I'm able to stick to a recipe, and this was not one of those occasions. I didn't have the portobellos and green peppers that Oliver Clark's original recipe calls for, nor did I have any Cajun seasoning, onion powder, whipped cream cheese or bacon on hand. And I had bought the "meatloaf mix" at Fairway, which included veal, beef and pork instead of just beef and pork. Not one to be deterred by such trifling details, I forged ahead, skipping the veggies and bacon altogether, substituting dried thyme, dried basil and a pinch of cayenne for the Cajun seasoning, and using creme fraiche in place of the whipped cream cheese. I also ramped up the garlic a little.
The resulting meatloaf was certainly the most tender and juicy of its kind that I have ever produced, and I was assured that it almost -- but not quite -- lived up to my future mother-in-law's famous version. The sweet caramelized garlic and onion perfume the entire meatloaf, and the combination of the three different meats makes for a really nice, nuanced flavor. If you too are looking to simplify your time in the kitchen in 2010, this meatloaf could be a way to start!
* Note: the second time I made this recipe, I used the whipped cream cheese. I think the texture was better with the creme fraiche, but I'll leave it up to you to choose.
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a large pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has begun to soften and lightly caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook until both the onion and garlic are soft and golden brown (be careful not to burn the garlic), about another 5 minutes. Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except for the eggs. Add a few good pinches of salt. Then, as Jonathan Reynolds recommends, "paw at it with two forks, combining thoroughly but not overmixing." Gently stir in the eggs and the browned onions and garlic, mixing just until combined.
3. Gently shape the mixture into a rough football and nestle it into snugly into a loaf pan, patting it down so the top is fairly flat. Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, brush the top lightly with ketchup and return to the oven for 10 to 20 more minutes. The meatloaf is done when the internal temperature reaches about 145 degrees. Let the meatloaf rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).