Why go to this trouble, simply to understand the founding flavors to get a better of idea how to riff off of it in the future.
A lot of meatloaf recipes these days call for wrapping the loaf in bacon — an inspiration from the Internet-sensation recipe for Bacon Explosion. But I find bacon wrappings unwieldy, usually sliding off the loaf on the first slice. But I like the flavor, so I included cured bacon in the meatloaf mixture. The bacon also helped infuse the lean beef I used with smoky flavor.
When it came time to put the loaf in the oven, I decided to go sans loaf pan to get a better crust. I placed the raw meatloaf on a foil-lined rack perched on a foil-lined baking sheet with ridges. The result was a meatloaf with a crusty outer shell but juicy on the inside.
When it came time to pair a side, I opted against potatoes. If I'm going to eat mashed potatoes, there will be brown gravy, or at least white gravy. My sweet and fiery glaze is better served with macaroni salad.
So, I summoned inspiration from the late, great Anne Ferlo of Nonny's Holiday Harvest Loaf fame. She made the finest mac salad I ever ate, and this rendition is as close as I've ever come. The trick is no light mayo, and not too much of it and plenty of fresh, crunchy, fine-diced vegetables.
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2 pounds lean ground beef
3 slices bacon, roughly chopped
1 cup diced onion
½ cup diced green pepper
2 to 3 cloves garlic, mashed in 1 teaspoon salt
1 carrot, skinned and diced small
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup tomato-chile juice
1 egg, loosely beaten
1 slice of bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sweet Heat Glaze
3 ripe tomatoes
3 to 5 red jalapenos or Fresno chiles
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Worcestershire
½ cup brown sugar
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
• Start by making the glaze.
• Fill a large pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Cut an X on the bottom of the tomatoes and add to boiling water. Add onion, garlic and chiles. While the vegetables are blanching for 5 minutes, prepare a small mixing bowl with ice and water.
• After 5 minutes, use tongs or a spider to remove tomatoes and plunge in ice water. Transfer chiles, onion and garlic to blender. Peel the tomatoes, core and add to the blender.
• Blend until smooth then strain through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid. Place the strained pulp in a mixing bowl and whisk in brown sugar, Worcestershire, cinnamon and cloves.
• Heat a small sauce pan over medium high heat and add tomato mixture and vinegar. Reserve ½ cup of the tomato-chile liquid and put the rest in the saucepan. Bring sauce to a boil, and reduce heat to low. Simmer up to 30 minutes to combine flavors and reduce sauce.
• Place slice of bread in a food processor and pulse 10 seconds. Add ground beef and bacon and grind until fine, about 3 minutes.
• In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once oil is heated, add onion, bell pepper and carrots. Saute two minutes and lower heat to medium and add garlic and two tablespoons of the reserved chile-tomato liquid. Simmer until mixture thickens, 1 to 2 minutes.
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees with rack in center slot.
• Add mixture to food processor with fine-ground beef, bread and bacon. Pulse four to six times then transfer mixture to a medium mixing bowl. Fold in beaten egg with a wooden spoon or your hands.
• Cover a baking sheet, with sides, in foil, and cover a standing rack with foil. Form loaf on foil-covered rack, six inches wide and three to four inches tall.
• Roast for one hour or until loaf has an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
• Remove meatloaf from oven and set on counter. Move oven rack to second rung from the top and preheat broiler.
• Cover top of meatloaf with sauce, brushing evenly across the top and dripping off the sides.
• Broil meatloaf 3 minutes then remove and let stand 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
• Serve with macaroni salad, baked beans, fresh greens salad and extra sauce.
I've become fascinated with this heaping hunk of comfort food and all its possibilities.”