I Want It All: Meat Loaf

As an only child I wasn’t deprived of much. I had an enviable dollhouse and all the scrunchies and hair bows a girl could ask for (it was the eighties, after all). I had a loft bed with Laura Ashley sheets, and was not reprimanded for drawing on the walls in my room. I had white gloves to wear to Sunday school. I amassed an impressive sticker collection. I had several Snap Bracelets that I snapped with pride at Spence until they became contraband. I had clogs, which I wore with a crushed velvet Betsy Johnson babydoll dress, and Doc Martens that I thought looked cool with my ludicrously short uniform kilt.

I was spoiled and lucky, but I never had meat loaf.

My mother made me veal picatta, calves’ liver with sautéed apples, pork chops with shallots and a madeira reduction, salmon with dill sauce, and a surfeit of other delectable grub for my dinners, but certain—shall we say, “normal”—fare was not part of her culinary vernacular. Most kids eat lasagna, mac ‘n cheese, spaghetti with meat balls, tuna melts, chicken fingers and stir fries—and when I had sleepovers with my friends I ate those things too, but meat loaf never found its way to my lips.

Not so long ago I complained to my mother about my meat loaf deprivation and you can guess what happened next. My mother made me meat loaf.

Of course, it wasn’t just any old meat loaf that my mother “slapped” together (her word choice). She found a recipe in the New Basics Cookbook for Meat Loaf un, deux, trois that combined ground pork, veal and beef, carrots, celery and spinach, which looked a helluva lot more like a terrine légumes than any meat loaf I’d dared dream up.

Of course, it was delicious: herbaceous and hearty. Of course—between mouthfuls and smiles—I reprimanded her for keeping this secret from me for thirty odd years. Of course, no meat loaf I’ve tried since can cut the mustard.

Here’s a recipe for meat loaf that is better suited to a dollop of Dijon than a smear of ketchup, so for heaven’s sake, don’t mar it with that.

ingredients (serves 8 if you aren’t greedy)

4 oz. fresh spinach leaves
1 ½ lbs. ground beef
1 lb. ground veal
¾ cup chopped onion
6 T. fresh bread crumbs
5 T. milk
1 egg
1 ¼ t. salt
freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ c. minced celery
½ t. dried thyme leaves
½ c. shredded carrot
½ t. ground cumin
1 T. chopped fresh dill

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Rinse the spinach leaves well and place them, with just water clinging to the leaves, in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat heat, covered, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Drain thoroughly, and then squeeze dry to remove as much moisture as possible. Chop the spinach and set aside.

In a large bowl, gently toss the beef, one fourth of the veal, ½ cup of the onion, 4 tablespoons bread crumbs, 4 tablespoons milk, the egg, 1 teaspoon of the salt and pepper.

Divide this mixture in half. Into one half, stir the celery and thyme. Into the other half, stir the carrot and cumin. Set both mixtures aside.

In another large bowl, toss the remaining veal, ¼ cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon of milk, ¼ teaspoon salt, the chopped spinach, pepper and the dill.

Use olive oil to generously oil a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Pat the mixture containing the celery into the loaf pan. Cover it with the spinach and veal mixture, and then top with the carrot mixture. Round the top, slightly.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and pour off some of the fat. Invert the loaf onto a platter and cover it loosely; let it stand for 15 minutes. Garnish with parsley and mustard as I did, or embrace that meatloaf is not supposed to be pretty and just get on with gobbling it up.

Because I am uniquely advantaged by my parents’ food and wine obsessions, the last time my mother made this meat loaf my father opened a 1966 Chateau Pape Clément Bordeaux to enjoy with it. Just a typical Saturday night in Millbrook!

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4 Responses to “I Want It All: Meat Loaf”

  1. Sally Branson Lynch says:

    Ah- the much maligned meatloaf! Must try this one soon ( though people who claim not to care for it always love mine!)- it sounds wonderful.
    Don’t ever stop your writing– you do such amazing work. Thanks as always.

  2. silver cat says:

    A great bottle of wine exalts prosaic nourishment yet again!

  3. samg says:

    Oh, yum…can we make this together sometime???

  4. sallytomatoes says:

    Oh Ms. Lovage, this made me laugh, it made me cry. It made me love your mother and father, as if I didn’t already. Here’s to Saturday nights in Millbrook! This is heaven. You are indeed an incredible writer and appreciative daughter.

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