Making the best meatloaf

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There is nothing new or hip about meatloaf. It isn't fancy. It isn't showy. It doesn't put on airs. In terms of dining out, it is decidedly downmarket. At home it can be considered downright dowdy.

And yet, many of us crave meatloaf. Why? Because a good meatloaf is invested with nostalgia and a love for Mom's cooking, one of the most crave-inducing meals in a home cook's repertoire. A thick slice of meatloaf with mashed potatoes and corn (or peas or green beans) is a blue-ribbon meal that any mother can be proud of.

Or father.

In our quest for the best meatloaf recipe, we received a surprising number of recipes from men. Single guys and dads, apparently, are pretty proud of their meatloaf recipes.

We tested nearly a dozen meatloaf recipes from about 150 submitted by readers. A great number of them had nearly identical in composition. The recipes that caught our eye were those with unusual or assertive seasonings and good glazes or toppings. It was clear that the basic math of meatloaf -- ground meat, seasoning, egg, binder -- yields incredibly varied results. Some great, some not so good.

The meatloaves we liked best were those draped in bacon or coated with a thick, tomato glaze, both of which kept the loaf moist and provided additional flavor. Our favorite, from Richard Levesque, was a delicious loaf larded with sausage and topped with a flavorful tomato sauce and bacon.

Any meatloaf lover would love to sit down with a big slice of Levesque's version.

MEATLOAF WITH

TOMATO RELISH

From Richard Levesque,

Houston

Tomato Relish

Olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and finely diced

1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes with herbs, drain well

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 1/2 cups ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Meatloaf

3 slices of white bread, crusts removed and torn into chunks

1/4 cup milk

1 1/2 pounds ground chuck

1 pound ground pork

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon dry thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 bacon slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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For the tomato relish

Coat a skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place over medium heat.

Saute the onion, garlic and bay leaves for several minutes to create a base flavor, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Add the red peppers and cook them for a few minutes to soften, then add the tomatoes. Adding them at this point allows them to hold their shape and helps keep them from disintegrating.

Stir in the parsley, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and black pepper. Simmer the relish for a minimum of 5 minutes to bring all the flavors together.

Remove the relish from the heat. There should be about 4 cups of relish

For the meatloaf: Place the torn bread in a bowl and add milk just to cover the bread. Stir the bread in the milk and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground chuck and pork with 1 1/2 cups of the relish, eggs, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and add the soaked bread to the meat mixture. Combine the ingredients (clean hands work the best).

Lightly oil a rimmed cookie sheet. Lay a piece of parchment paper onto the cookie sheet. Transfer the meat mixture to the center of the parchment paper and form into a 4x9 rectangle.

Form a slight depression on top of the loaf and fill it with 1/2 cup of the remaining tomato relish. Lay the bacon lengthwise across the top of the meatloaf.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the bacon is crisp and the meatloaf is firm, rotating the pan while baking so it will brown evenly. Serve the remaining relish on the side.

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ADA CROOM'S MEATLOAF

From Melba Marrs, Houston

Meatloaf

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1 chopped onion

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 ounces tomato sauce

Glaze

12 ounces tomato sauce

1/2 cup water

3 tablespoons vinegar

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all meatloaf ingredients. Shape into rectangle in a shallow baking dish.

Combine all glaze ingredients and pour over the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, basting occasionally.


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