Meatloaf: Versatile Kitchen Standby

I once read that ten basic recipes are the foundation of a cook’s repertoire. With variations, these recipes are the dependable standbys of a weekly menu plan. They take away the repetitious and sometimes draining question: “What should I prepare today?”

Photo: Amanda Stiver

Just like a good restaurant with an enjoyable, but predictable menu, you know what to expect. Novel culinary adventures are fun, but there is also something to be said for the pleasant contentment of predictability, knowing what’s coming and looking forward with anticipation to a familiar and delightful dish.

One dish that fits the bill for the 10-recipe repertoire is meatloaf. It is a jack-of-all-trades recipe that has enough built in flexibility to allow variation without sacrificing form, ie. mushy meatloaf.

Let’s touch on versatility. Prudence in the kitchen expects a recipe to have easy variations. Meatloaf can facilitate this requirement with a variety of spices, or added vegetables, or sauce on top, maybe even cheese as a component. The possibilities are many.

It’s also a multi-purpose dish, and can have a place at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. If ground beef is low, meatloaf can take the form of any ground meat, poultry, or canned fish. Salmon loaf, well executed, is a delicious dinner option.

Meatloaf is also a budget friendly dish. It can be made economical, meat being the most costly ingredient, by cutting down on that component and increasing the oats, crackers, breadcrumbs/cubes, or other starchy carbohydrate component. Also, vegetables can be increased to a degree to make up for a decrease in meat. Beans would be especially effective in this way because they preserve some of the protein content.

Meatloaf in various forms is found in a many cultures. The Scottish have Haggis (using offal-organ meats from sheep, minced, mixed with vegetables and oats and cooked in a sheep’s stomach), in France and England there are dishes like terrine, which may include whole eggs, and whole vegetables layered in the meat, and sometimes the carbohydrate component is included or left out. There are meatballs from the Scandinavian cuisines, and kefta from the Persian/Middle Eastern historical cuisine. The list could go on. Many interesting flavors to explore.

Meatloaf even has cousins, shepherd’s pie, stuffed peppers (or other vegetables), or ground beef pie. Wherever inspiration strikes.

As a recent article I read (see below) made note of, meatloaf became an American culinary staple during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, for many of the reasons listed above. Versatility, economy and stretching a dwindling meat supply due to high prices.  

When you look through your repertoire of recipes, as a prudent consumer, keep an eye out for recipes like meatloaf, that offer ample variety and can save a penny here or there. Cultivating these sometimes humble and predictable recipes gives you economical allies when times are tight!

Please share your meatloaf variations and memories in the comments below or below the Facebook post of this article!

Keep a shiny penny and a positive thought!

Sources: “A History of Meatloaf, Long May It Reign,” by Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer, March 6, 2017.

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