It's still chilly in Northeast Ohio. Some area residents saw frost on the ground this morning, after all. Once the temperature rises (and my temper along with it) months will pass before I'm willing to turn on the oven in my non-air-conditioned home.
But for now, I'm craving comfort food, and meatloaf fits the bill.
After my husband and I stopped eating red meat at home (for the most part) I embarked upon a quest to find a turkey meatloaf that reminded us of our childhoods. One where we wouldn't think about the fact that it was made with turkey and not beef.
Turns out all I needed was my mom's old recipe.
There are numerous reasons we rarely eat beef or pork these days. My personal beliefs lean more toward the humane treatment of animals; my husband would likely cite environmental concerns. We both believe that saving such foods for special occasions is better for our health.
But we're not dogmatic, nor do we judge.
We implemented our dietary change gradually and realized, after a while, we hardly noticed anything was missing. Our palates expanded as we discovered just how many wonderful vegetarian and vegan dishes exist.
Years ago, when we first moved in together in a dusty Chicago loft, I was thrilled to have someone to cook for. I missed the restaurant I'd co-owned in Athens, Ohio, and had quickly discovered that cooking for myself was not all that rewarding.
With a captive audience, I clipped recipes from magazines, read cookbooks like other people read novels, and spent hours poring over food blogs. I prepared a turkey meatloaf during that time and we both hated it (highly unusual for us, as we're typically not picky eaters).
It just tasted...wrong.
As we phased red meat out of our diet, meatloaf fell by the wayside. I'd prepare it occasionally when we had a craving, but it wasn't a regular part of our meal rotation.
A couple of years ago, chatting over a beer one night, we decided it was time to remedy that situation.
My husband and I both grew up eating the old Quaker Oats (or Mother's Oats, which Quaker acquired in 1911) meatloaf recipe. It's simple and delicious, a staple during my 1970s childhood. I decided that recipe, which I'd acquired from my mom, would be the base.
We made a few notes, jotted on a Post-it that same night: fattier meat, maybe add grated butter if needed, see how it goes, tweak from there.
We assumed the turkey would be dry, that it would need doctoring up.
Eighty-five percent lean ground turkey isn't always easy to find, as grocery stores tend to assume that if you're eating ground turkey it's because you want the leanest, driest stuff you can find. News flash: not true. But I did manage to scrounge up some 85% lean, and that's what I used the first time around.
I decided to skip the butter, figuring if my meatloaf was dry or flavorless, I'd add more fat for the second test.
As it turned out, additional fat would be completely unnecessary. The meatloaf was juicy and delicious and we both swooned over it.
Given that I am health-conscious (but unwilling to sacrifice flavor) I decided to make the next meatloaf with 93% lean turkey, just to see what would happen.
The difference between the 85% lean and 93% lean wasn't even noticeable.* (Believe me, I tried to notice. I was going for delicious, here, not a compromise meatloaf!)
I've been making it that way ever since.
Bon Appetit, fellow Northeast Ohioans, as you dream of warmer days.
*I do not recommend going any leaner than 93%. From my experience, the 99% lean is pretty much inedible.
Mother's Oats Classic TURKEY Meatloaf Recipe
I'm not sure when the original version was first published, but I think my mom's recipe was clipped from a box label.
It is not a fancy meatloaf. Plenty of gourmet meatloaf (is that an oxymoron?) recipes exist; maybe someday I'll try them with ground turkey. But for now, this version is delicious, easy, and makes me feel nostalgic for my childhood home.
It doesn't get much simpler than this. Combine the ingredients, dump everything in your loaf pan, and pop it in the fridge. After work, preheat the oven and bake it.
We love meatloaf with crispy roasted potato wedges and a green salad or garlicky sauteed green beans.
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey (93% lean)
3/4 cup uncooked rolled oats
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper (or more, to taste)
1 cup tomato juice (we use V8)
1 egg, beaten lightly
Preheat oven to 350 and place rack in the center.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly, but do not over-mix.
Pack the mixture into an ungreased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 loaf pan (I don't think I've ever owned this precise size.)
Bake 1 hour 15 minutes. Let stand for five minutes or so before slicing.