It seems every year we turn on the heat pump and fire up the woodstove a little later in October. Inevitably, though, we go to bed one night comfy in mild temps and with all the windows open, and wake up seeing our breath in the chill morning air. The mercury dropped lower than we thought it would during the night. Will the green beans be zapped? The last of the basil we were counting on? These first cool days send me and most home cooks to the kitchen in search of comfort food ... and the joy of smelling it simmer, steam or bake.
Why meatloaf? If you're eating locally, our area's grass-fed, naturally raised ground beef and pork are blessed frozen regulars at the farmers' market. For the budget conscious in these times of rising food prices, it's a great way to stretch a pound of meat. While we're at it, why not make a generous recipe that can serve for two or more meals—leftovers for the office or a planned-ahead second dinner?
Even the most cholesterol-conscious households can enjoy a little lean red meat once in a while, and of course, mixed with "the other white meat," as lean pork is called, plus whole wheat bread crumbs and a wholesome local egg, we're talking about a different loaf altogether than what our grandmothers might have made.
Still, those old recipes are savory and nostalgic. Reproduction boxcar diners everywhere offer meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes, a juxtaposition of textures that calls to even the pickiest eaters. The mashed potatoes I made to go with the meatloaf below used local red storage potatoes that had been harvested in July and dusted with lime to control mold (funny, the powdery white coating looks like mold), so they continue to appear in the markets. Because of the lime, I peeled them before mashing (well, my husband Jim did the mashing with a handheld potato masher, throwing around his upper-body strength with aplomb). Plenty of cooks would dig out the bad spots with a paring knife, scrub them free of lime, and keep the rosy skins on—mashed, roasted or scalloped.
Meatloaf and mashed potatoes might be considered a 1950s, labor-intensive Leave it to Beaver dinner that nobody has time for. But I assembled the following, plus the potatoes and a side of late-season garden green beans, in less than half an hour and went back to grading papers while it all simmered, steamed and baked.
Every meatloaf lover has flavor preferences. Some swear by Italian herbs, but no ketchup; others are adamant that there must be ketchup but not barbecue sauce and never plain tomato sauce on the top (to seal in the juices). I often make it with barbecue sauce, leaving out peppers for my son's sake, but fresh herbs and scallions or onions are a must, as is some kind of sauce for the top.