While at the Curves Fitness Center working on a story, my good friend K.G. Ariagno asked me about putting the olive oil into my first meatloaves. I thought more about it, and decided that it was probably a step that could be omitted for a meatier and less greasy meal.
A few days later, while I was shopping at the supermarket, I saw my friend Dottie running a checkout line. She said that she had saved my last recipe and planned to cook the meatloaf that evening. I shared K.G.’s advice. She asked what she could use instead of the marinara sauce. I thought a jar of spaghetti sauce would give the desired effect for an Italian meatloaf.
This time out of the gate, I decided to make a much more traditional meatloaf. Some people buy sauces to top their meatloaf with, while others opt for ketchup. I decided to make my own sauce for the meal Hawkins and I planned to enjoy.
The sauce was not particularly complicated, more or less resembling homemade ketchup. I began by finely dicing one-half of a red onion and sautéing it in a medium saucepan with a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of minced garlic. When the onions were tender, I poured a 16-ounce can of tomato sauce into the pot and blended it with the onions.
The sauce was on its way, but at the moment, little more than tomatoes and onions. I decided to experiment rather than follow a recipe, so it felt like working without a net. To give the sauce a ketchup-like tang, I added three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. With a taste, I knew I was on the right track, but the sauce needed something sweet to balance the vinegar’s bite. Four tablespoons of brown sugar seemed to adjust the flavor almost perfectly. The sauce needed a little spice, so I added a half-teaspoon of salt and pepper, a teaspoon of paprika and a tablespoon of parsley.
Let the sauce simmer for maybe 20 minutes with the lid on to trap heat and steam. Stir it about every five minutes to keep it from sticking, just in case you have a hot stove.
Now we have to start on our meatloaf. In many ways, it is similar to the last meatloaves we made. The seasoning is much different, as we’re making no attempts to give it an Italian flavor.
That night, only Hawkins and I sat down to eat, so I made only one loaf. The meal began with about a pound and a third of lean ground beef. This time out, I used ground round. I can’t say enough about using lean ground beef when cooking. Recently, I purchased some regular ground beef for sloppy Joes. I had to drain the fat about three times and ended up with about a quarter-pound of lard from it. Nobody needs to be eating that. Spend a dollar more and get some lean meat, especially when meatloaf has no chance to have its fat drained while cooking.
The “oatmeal experiment” for the first meatloaf had to be a keeper, so I did the same this time. Take a ¾ cup of oatmeal and “soften” it in a quarter cup of red wine. Add the meat and blend it slowly. A diced green pepper and other half of our diced onion from the sauce can be combined with the meat as well. Add one, well beaten egg to the mixture.
Like Yogi Berra said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” To use another baseball term, we’re going to give our recipe a changeup right now. Rather than all the Italian seasonings from last time, I tried to vary the flavor as much as possible. To match the sauce, I added a teaspoon of paprika. Worcestershire sauce is one of beef’s best friends. Add a tablespoon to the meat. A teaspoon of salt and pepper will give the meatloaf plenty of life. Lastly, add a quarter cup of our new sauce to the meat and blend everything well. I still, firmly believe that the best tools for blending meatloaf are a pair of clean hands. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.
With a bit more meat than last time out, I realized that the meatloaf would never fit in my third and final aluminum loaf pan. The situation could be a problem, though I improvised a solution. Take the meat and roll it into a ball, and then place it on a lightly greased baking sheet. Flatten the ball into a roughly lozenge shape. The first time out, the pans had room at the top to hold the sauce. Now I was out of luck. I suspected that if the sauce was poured over the dome of meat, it would mostly run off and burn on the sheet.
Maybe I should call the dish “volcanic meatloaf.” To hold the sauce, I pressed a depression into the top of the loaf, large enough to hold about half the volume of the sauce. It did look like a volcano’s crater, simmering with lava. Make a centimeter-high “lip” around the edge of the loaf to catch all that sauce. Bake it in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 45 minutes and check the temperature with your thermometer. Remember, all ground beefs should be cooked until well done.
To serve with my roast, I had plenty of bacon-cheddar mashed potatoes with whole cloves of roasted garlic and some green beans. We ate well as Hawkins and I watched the 1990 classic TV show “Twin Peaks.” I thought back to that year, and how the theme song was such a comfort to me, signaling the beginning of something I anticipated all week. Watching it now was like a visit from an old friend that I had not seen for 18 years. Hawkins and I devoured the meatloaf like a pair of carnivorous owls as Agent Cooper began to sort out the clues in the death of Laura Palmer. As we returned to my teenage years with classic TV, and enjoyed a new variation and improvement on a recent dish, a good time was had by all. Good eating.