Comfort Food for a Momma's Aching Heart

Photo by Sarah Bork photography
My eldest child moved 1760 miles from home a few weeks ago.
I am so proud of this person. I am well aware how lucky we are to have this exceptional human in our lives. I realize that going away to college, flying the nest, was always the goal. I know that we are among the fortunate few to have a child ready, willing and able to grow in to the next life stage. I am so grateful and proud and thrilled and honored.
But that does that mean that my heart does not ache. It is not grief. It is not anger, or disappointment, or fear. But it is a very real heartache, even if it is borne of truly good fortune. I miss Nico profoundly.

And so tonight, I am making meatloaf. Nico hates meatloaf. Even before Nico became a vegetarian, meatloaf was not a favorite. I, on the other hand, love meatloaf, and so does my husband Brit. Not only do I love meatloaf, but it is one of my favorite comfort foods. I love making it. I love eating it. It is a true comfort food in that it really does comfort me.

Meatloaf leaves lots and lots of room for variations. I like one with lots of diced veggies for moisture and flavor, made with relatively lean meats. And yet! And yet! I add fatty meats too, also for moisture and flavor. My meatloaf, like my missing of that kid, is full of contradictions.

If you are making meatloaf at home, use what you like. If you use a mixture of ground pork and ground beef or bison, you won't need the bacon or pork fat. I had ground beef and ground bison on hand, so that is what I used.

Meatloaf to Mend an Aching Heart

1 diced medium onion, about 1/2 - 3/4 cup diced. (Does not need to be exact - give or take is fine.)
1 diced red, yellow, green or orange bell pepper, or a mixture of any of those. (I have been using the little packages of sweet peppers lately, because they are cheaper and I can easily mix the colors, which I  like.) Also about 1/2 - 3/4 cup, inexact is fine.
3 - 4 cloves garlic, diced.
Optional: 4 - 5 slices of bacon diced, or 1/2 cup of ground pork fat. (I make homemade pate, okay? So I often have pork fat in my freezer. You will use bacon, and that will be yummy and fine.) This is truly optional - I recommend it if you are using particularly lean meats like turkey or bison. If you use ground pork, or other fatty ground mean, skip this bit.
1 TBSP Minced fresh herbs - whatever you have on hand. Parsley is good. A little sage works. I use a combo of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Both for the obvious reasons (I love that song) and because I have all 4 growing in my herb garden. If you use any sage, use it sparingly - a little goes a long way. Just parsley works fine. You just want the brightness that fresh herbs bring, so any savory herb will work.
Salt and pepper
2 pounds ground meat - I usually use a mixture of bison, beef or pork (2 of the 3) but you could also use turkey
1 TBSP worcestershire sauce
2 eggs
3/4 cup bread crumbs (you can use fresh bread, stale bread, crushed saltines, canned breadcrumbs, whatever. This is a binding agent, and any crumb will do.)
2 tsp paprika, plus more salt and pepper and any other spices and herbs that strike your fancy.

Pre-heat oven to 375°
Place a skillet on the stove on medium high heat
Finely dice the bacon, and set aside.
Finely dice the onion and peppers. Place the diced bacon in your pre-heated skillet and render the fat. When the meaty bits of the bacon start to crisp up, and the diced veggies. Saute until the onions are translucent 2 - 3 minutes. While those are on the heat, very finely dice the garlic (to a paste, if you can. If not, a garlic press or finely diced is absolutely fine) Add the garlic, minced herbs and salt and pepper to the onion and pepper mixture and saute for another minute or two.
Remove the mixture from the heat and reserve.
In a large bowl, mix the ground meats together. In a small bowl, mix the eggs with the worcestershire sauce and add the paprika, salt and pepper. Add this and all the remaining ingredients (bread crumbs and sauteed veggies) to the meat mixture. Using your hands - really squishing stuff around - thoroughly combine all the ingredients until everything is well incorporated.
Transfer the meatloaf mixture to a 9 x 13 baking pan and shape in to a loaf - you can make a circle, an oval, a heart, a square, whatever. You want the mixture to be about 2 -3 inches high - it should be a uniform width and height for even baking. I know - many recipes have you bake this in a loaf pan. You want a loaf shape, but form it by hand in a larger pan, and give the loaf some room around it. This will give you a nice "crust"  on your meatloaf.*
Bake for 75 - 90 minutes, to an internal temperature of 160 °.
Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes (let those juices set!) before serving.

*Optional: If you like your meatloaf with a nice tomato frosting (I don't - I prefer a nice crust, and some gravy) go ahead and add that before you place the meatloaf in the oven. The easiest is good old ketchup, but you can also make your own by combining a few shakes of worcestershire sauce, a couple tablespoons of barbecue sauce, 1 TBSP brown sugar, salt, pepper and a small can of tomato sauce. Mix well, and cover your loaf with this mixture before placing in the oven

Best served with a fresh green salad, mashed or roasted potatoes, and a nice red wine. Enjoy! And hug your babies. They grow up faster than you think!


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