21 January 2011

Memories and Meatloaf

Food is a curious thing. My first memories of food are fleeting, full of the foot stomping and whining about what I didn't like (lima beans, kidney beans, wax beans, beans in general, tomato soup, fish, soup in general, the list was extensive) and the smells from the kitchen of the things I did love: pastas, roast beasts, cookies - this list really was more extensive than the dislikes.

My relationship with food is in some ways a story of my relationship with my family. Memories of my fathers mother, Margaret - or as she was known to us on better days, Nonie - are often unpleasant (such is the joy of alcoholism) but the few memories I have of her that are good I keep close. 

Nonie was the kind of cook who was more battle-proven in the kitchen than she was neat. Every pot and pan, every spoon (every spoon), all the little tea towels and pot holders would be used in the process of making one pot of homemade spaghetti sauce. Splatters coated the cabinets and counters, cooking on to the stove top while the day long simmering went on. She was a walking disaster, but her sauce was pretty damn good just the same. 

The first memory I have of really helping with dinner is making meatloaf. It was one of the grossest things I had done at that point in my short life because it involved getting my hands into the dish and squishing every thing around with my fingers. As an eight year old with texture issues? Massive Ick. 

Yet the memory remains. The recipe remains. Nonie passed away several years ago and it feels like only just in the last few months that enough time has elapsed that the sting of what life was like with her is not so biting and the lessons that were buried in the dark are coming to light. It's never about forgetting the things that hurt, but instead about taking all of the things that make up who we are - who I am - and honoring those pieces as they make the whole. 

So in honor of that, I give you my version of my grandmother's meatloaf. 

Ingredients - all portions are ... eyed and not necessarily exact.
Ground Beef - one good sized package. 2lbs ish.
Sausage - I use spicy Italian sausage, poultry if I can find it because it's leaner meat. Pork works in a pinch though. 5-6 normal links.
1 egg
1/4-1/2 cup of breadcrumbs. (if you have stale bread, or almost not usable bread, you can make your own)
1 medium yellow onion
garlic - I use approx 2 tablespoons of the pre-diced garlic
salt - to taste. 4 cranks of a salt mill, 2 tsps
pepper - as above
red pepper flakes 
Worcester sauce - 1 tablespoon
bacon strips - approximately one package.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9x5 bread loaf pan. Add all the ingredients to a large mixing bowl. For the sausage, you'll need to extract the meat from the casing... There is really no neat way to do this. Just grab an end with one hand and squeeze down the casing with the other. Don't use my onion chopping as an example of what your onions should look like. My grandmother is tsking right now, I chop poorly.

And then you mix. Hands in, squish it all around. I've tried to make this before using a spoon - several in fact - and it doesn't mix the sausage and beef like you need to to make the texture consistent. I recommend removing all rings and things before this procedure - and obviously, wash your hands. See my onions? not so fabulous with the chopping. I should note Nonie used a food processor. She was really amazing at using all the dishes and things in the kitchen. Really.

Some people add ketchup to their meatloaf, but I'm of the opinion that particular condiment is disgusting. If you feel that your meatloaf needs to be moist, I suggest adding spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, or even a can of diced tomatoes - approximately 1/4 - 1/2 a cup should keep it nice and moist.

Once everything is mixed and you're satisfied with the consistency, shape the meat into a ball and put it in your loaf pan. If you have a lot more than the pan, just pile it up on top like a muffin. I usually have enough so that it is a bit more than just level with the pan.

My grandmother would then slather ketchup on the top of the meatloaf unless I protested, in which case she'd put some more spaghetti sauce on it. This layer helps keep the meatloaf moist because after cooking for an hour, a lot of the moisture will bake out. My particular addition to this loaf of meat is bacon - because everything is better with some oink in it. I also think she would have approved of this like she approved of my eventually stuffing the meatloaf with cheese and spinach. (FYI - cheese stuffed meatloaf is not stuffed, it melts out but leaves a fantastic flavor. Someday I'll try this after freezing the cheese and rolling it in something.)

Lattice work looks amazingly complicated but it is very very easy to do. Take four strips of bacon and place them longways across the pan. Then take one strip of bacon, cut it in half, and place it on top of one end of the bacon. Slip it under every other piece of longways bacon. This begins your pattern. I find it is easier to take the pieces that are then going to be on top of the next piece of short bacon and flip them back so they're out of the way and then just laying the bacon down and repeating until you're done.

Tuck the edges of the bacon into the pan so it's all nice and neat.

Bake at 350 degrees until a thermometer reaches 160 degrees internal - about an hour and a half in my oven. The meatloaf is done (or very close to) when it pulls away from the sides of the pan (like bread! hence loaf!) The bacon doesn't keep it as moist as sauce on top and does add to the fat content, but it is very, very yummy anyway.


As I go through the year more stories of Nonie will find their way in - I hope for the better. She was basically the only grandparent I had in my life until I married into a family that had grandparents alive and kicking - which is a whole other story for another day.

1 comment:

  1. One tip about removing sausage from the casing - take the sharp point of a knife and slit the casing lengthways, then just 'unwrap' it. Easy to do and not quite as messy as the squeeze-and-pop method.