Friday, March 12, 2010

Mom's Best Meal

Remember that article in old Taste of Home magazines? Mom’s Best Meal. It was usually a meal made up of those old classic home-style comfort foods that don’t sound interesting or look super appealing in photos. You know… pot roast, meatloaf, roast chicken… sometimes something real wild like a shepherd’s pie or pork chops. I always looked at those articles with disdain… like, c’mon people, your mom’s best meal of all time, the one you chose out of hundreds to write about… is a meatloaf and plate of mashed potatoes!? Wah wah wah.

Growing up, I didn’t want that boring old crap… I didn’t want pot roast, or roast chicken and ‘mixed vegetables.’ I wanted smoked salmon. I wanted crab legs or artichokes dipped in salty, melted butter. I wanted soy marinated barbecued chicken liver, shrimp stir fry, enchiladas, crepes, hot and sour soup with big, exotic mushrooms. I was a young foodie in the making, and I didn’t want to waste my time on average, everyday, American fare. Yet, now that I don’t get many “mom’s best meal” style dinners, I kinda see what they were talking about.

Now that I live in the big city, I have sushi, Thai food, Puerto Rican cuisine, Indian, Greek, Vietnamese, Falafel huts, and Spanish tapas joints right out my front door, available every night of the week. I cook whatever I want for dinner, not adhering to the ol’ 1950’s style protein, vegetable, and starch dictum. But sometimes, I get so caught up in wanting to try the best Cuban sandwich, or wanting to make the most delicious carnitas and frijoles, that I forget how good a slab of ketchupy meatloaf and side of mashed potates can be. Good thing I shacked up with a real meat n’ potatoes kinda guy, one that brings me back down to earth, and reminds me how delicious those basic, simple, meals can be.

Meatloaf certainly isn’t Mel’s best meal of all time…I mean, that gal’s kitchen skills far exceed meatloaf! But, it is pretty damned good. When I was a kid, she made two kinds, but I only remember the super sweet, tangy, ketchup coated one, served with her perfect fluffy mashed potatoes, usually a vegetable side, and salad. Apparently she made the sugary sweet one more often, because it guaranteed I would eat it. Evan and I, feeling a little nostalgic for childhood, decided to have a retro throwback style dinner: Mel’s sweet meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and spinach-bacon salad (which actually was not on the menu in my house growing up).

With every bite, I remembered those high school years flipping through Taste of Home, picking out recipes with Mel; middle school, helping roll tamales at Christmas; Elementary school, with my homemade lunches everyday that made other kids jealous; and even younger, when I wasn’t such a foodie, and Amanda would help me scatter my vegetable medley around on my plate to make it look like I ate it, when bedtime would roll around and I’d still be sitting at the dinner table because I hadn’t finished my dreaded glass of milk, and when I got to eat dinner in the living room (instead of at the dining table) for the first time… sitting on floor to ceiling newspapers and drinking a Smarty Artie Orange Squeeze-It. We were probably eating meatloaf and potatoes.

Mel’s Sweet Meatloaf

1.5 pounds ground beef
3/4 cups diced onion
1 cup bread crumbs ( I use seasoned)
1 egg- beaten
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian (sweet) paprika
1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Combine meat, onions, crumbs, and egg- mix well (I use my hands). In a separate bowl, whisk to combine ketchup, brown sugar, lemon juice, paprika, dry mustard, and salt and pepper (taste to adjust). Add half of ketchup mixture to meat and mix in, reserve other half, set aside. Put meat into ungreased loaf pan, and tuck down to form solid loaf. Bake for 1 hour. Remove loaf from oven, and pour off juices. Coat top with remaining ketchup mix, and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Enjoy with classic mashed potatoes and spinach bacon salad!
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