The Meatloaf Rivalry
"I bet your meatloaf will be different from mine," my mother pronounced over the phone last night.
"Why do you say THAT?" I asked, a little indignant, wondering how linguistics expert Deborah Tannen would comment on the exchange, which suddenly felt fraught with a competitive edge. Earlier this year, Tannen published her latest work, "You're Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation," a book that I devoured in a just a few days.
Given my line of work, it's a rare occurrence that my mother and I would be preparing the same dish for supper, but yesterday's dreary weather felt like a meatloaf Sunday. (Besides, the beloved co-habitant was hankering for comfort food.)
"So, how do you make yours?" she barked. Was that a challenge I was hearing? This coming from the same woman who used to make meatloaf cement when I was growing up. I think she cooked the thing for two hours.
"Well, I don't do much," I replied, almost feeling defensive. "Salt, pepper and olive oil."
"That's it?" she asked. Was she mocking me?
"Well," I argued, "Salt is most important. For every pound of meat, you need a teaspoon of salt." Pause.
"Well," I added, " I DO buy my meat from a local farmer." There. She won't be able to top that.
"So does Jim," she countered. (Jim is Mom's significant other). "He gets it from Amish country."
Touche, mamacita. "Well, how do you make yours?" I volleyed.
"I add salsa to mine," she stated proudly. "And breadcrumbs. It's very good."
"Why don't you use filler?" she asked, returning the volley. More like a backhanded serve.
"You don't need it," I replied, now feeling very small and unsure about meatloaf and perhaps everything else in the universe.
"How does it stick together?" Now this was an offensive tactic.
"Well," I replied, "There's enough fat in the ground beef to hold it together. The only time I ever use binder is when I'm making a turkey loaf." Oh, brother. I was actually defending my meatloaf method before my own mother!
"Enjoy your dinner," she said. Was that a snicker I heard in her voice?
We hung up, and I went straight to the kitchen.
Maybe it is time for a change, I thought.
I added finely minced onion (which in hindsight would have been nice grated), a few finely chopped cloves of garlic, a small handful of chopped fresh parsley and a teaspoon or so of Dijon-style mustard. Salt and pepper followed, and then with my hands, I mixed the meat.
But as with hamburgers, I try to handle the meat as little as possible. Ground beef does not like to be fondled.
In response to my mother's concern about keeping the loaf together without filler, I employ the simple trick of placing the loaf (in roasting pan) into the fridge for at least 15 minutes. A short chilly reprieve in the fridge helps to retain its shape.
Before going into the oven, the meatloaf gets a light brushing of olive oil.
Knowing my mother, that meatloaf (even with its salsa update) , probably would stay in the oven for at least an hour, until done all the way through.
In contrast, my version was ready after 35 minutes or so, when the internal temperature reached about 145 degrees (medium doneness). There was a hint of pink in the center.
I let it rest for a few minutes and then sliced my loaf (without it crumbling, I might add), serving it with rice and stir-fried tatsoi. Flavor and a tender bite were front and center.
Much as I didn't want to admit, my little chat with Mom was a force for change . . . for the better.
Do you have a favorite way of making meatloaf? Or maybe you've got a similar kitchen rivalry tale to share. Do so in the comments area below!
Not Mom's Meatloaf
1 pound ground beef (preferably pasture-raised, free of antibiotics)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Â½ medium onion, finely minced or grated
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
black pepper to taste
Place meat in a large mixing bowl and add remainder of ingredients, except for olive oil.
With clean, dry hands, mix until ingredients are well combined. Do not knead meat.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place onto a roasting pan and shape into a free-form loaf. Place roasting pan in refrigerator and chill for at least 15 minutes.
Remove from refrigerator and with a pastry or silicone, brush top of meatloaf with olive oil
Place pan in oven and bake about 35 minutes, or until instant-read thermometer reads 145 degrees (medium). Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Slice and eat immediately.
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