Sometimes you just have one of those days. The kind of day that you need a hug from your mom. You just want somebody to wrap you up in comfort and love.For most of us, snuggling up with Mommy isn’t really an option. Mom’s not around, or being a grown up human being, you feel kind of silly snuggling up in someone’s lap. As a woman, sometimes my relief comes from food. There is something soul-satisfying about tucking into a plate of old-fashioned, homemade, comfort food. On the top of most lists of soothing foods is meat loaf. It’s retro, cheap, and a good meat loaf can leave you feel like a freshly bathed toddler, tucked into warm pajamas. Somehow, my own recipe became a family favorite. My mom, who makes a pretty mean meat loaf herself, likes mine better than her own. Her meatloaf is red based. Tomato sauce in it, and red sauce on top. I like my sister’s-in-law red version, she puts ketchup on top, that, in the oven, carmelizes into a sweet sticky glaze. But, my own is a mushroom gravy based. Petey loves it, and The Kid will fight over red versus brown. My child likes the brown better because then there is thick, rich gravy to ladle over the obligatory mashed potatoes. There are jars and envelopes of stuff in the grocery store that one can mix into ground meat, which makes a meat loaf-like product. But for a food that has the power to make a bad day into a good one, take the trouble to make it from scratch. It’s the difference between okay, and oh my gawd.
It’s not a painless process, there is a little work to it.
Debbie’s Brown meat Loaf
2 pounds button or cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, or 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon grated horseradish
1/2 cup sherry
1 quart beef stock
salt and pepper to taste (so taste it, please)
1 stick butter
1/2-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Melt butter and stir in flour. Cook on low until it has browned to the color of peanut butter.
Into the hot fat, put mushrooms, and cook until the liquid is cooked out, and they begin to brown. Add onions, and cook until they soften and start to lightly brown. Add garlic, and when you can smell it, pour in sherry and let it reduce until it almost dry. Pour in beef stock and the herbs and flavorings. When it comes to a boil, slowly stir in roux, a bit at a time until the thickness is to your liking.
Put about 1 1/2 cup of gravy into a small vessel and let cool. Refrigerate the rest for dinner.
This is a basic gravy that can be used for many other dishes.
Panade (The goo that will flavor the meat and keep it moist):
1 cup bread crumbs (try making your own from ground, leftover bread, they’re much less sandy)
In a large bowl put about 3/4 cup of cooled gravy, eggs, and bread crumbs. Stir it all together until it is completely mixed. It should be the consistency of loose, wet oatmeal.
You’re now ready to make meat loaf.
2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
In the bowl of panade, break the meat into smallish pieces. Gently mix hamburger and pande. You don’t want to mix it too much, or it will get rubbery while baking. You should still see bits of meat and goo in the final mixture.
Firmly press the mixture down into the bowl bottom; this will keep it together, while not overworking it.
Turn out into baking dish and shape into a meat loaf shape.
Cover the top with the reserved gravy, and place into oven heated to 350 degrees. Bake for one hour and twenty minutes.
While it finishes cooking, reheat the gravy on gentle heat on the stove top.
Slice and serve, topped with a little of the gravy.
We like ours old school, with mashed potatoes and peas. Grill slices and it also makes a terrific sandwich, on a hearty bread, with melted cheese, and a little arugula (you can even go nuts, and add a couple slices of bacon).
Life can really be a stinker sometimes, and everybody needs a little succor from time to time. It won’t balance your checkbook, or help you understand your teenager any better, but a yummy, comforting plate of meat loaf can dull the pain a bit.
And sometimes, that’s the most you can ask for.
Thanks for your time.