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 my meatloaf 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.
Farmers Market Meatloaf
Every ingredient here, except for the salt and condiments, can be found at your local farmers market.
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 cup scallions, including best of the green parts, chopped (more if you like it onion-y)
Two small (or one large) red or green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 cup bread crumbs (I used a day-old whole wheat baguette, ground in the food processor)
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup best quality (high-fructose-corn-syrup-free) ketchup, mixed with 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Put bread crumbs in the bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Add eggs, herbs, seasonings, onions and peppers. Pulse briefly to combine. Add beef and pork, and run processor 30 to 60 seconds until ingredients are mixed, being watchful not to over-process. We don't want a raw meat puree! The lightness of the loaf when sliced is determined at this stage, which is why some folks ditch the Cuisinart in favor of hand mixing, but in the day-to-day locavore reality, a bit of efficiency is welcome to encourage us to go on and fix it anyway, it won't take that long, and we don't even have to change out of our office attire. Turn meat mixture into a large bread loaf pan and gently pat -- don't push or mash -- into place so that the shape is smooth. Baste top with the ketchup/ mustard mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and test for doneness. If even slightly pink in the middle, cook another 10 minutes or until there's no trace of pinkness. Edges should be brown and the top glossy burgundy, but not too dark. Before slicing, allow to cool for the few minutes it takes to get everybody to the table. Serves six to eight, depending on your slice sizes, and makes a very popular leftover for sandwiches or take-to-work lunch.
This story originally appeared in The Independent Weekly.