For a brief, glorious week here in Michigan, the snow got high enough for my neighbors to build a kid-sized igloo in their front yard (as impressive as it sounds). We nestled beers into the snow banks on the porch, and I got my excuse to make my dad’s meatloaf.
In the deep winter, I want to make chicken chili in a slow cooker, oatmeal cookies, meatloaf, and Swiss Miss hot chocolate. I revert to Michigan grandma mode. This is possibly linked to some ancient instinct to insulate my insides for winter, even if I have a Nest thermostat at my bidding. And so I text my dad: “Can you send that meatloaf recipe?”
My dad’s meatloaf recipe is a photo of a page from Real Simple magazine, plus a handwritten sticky note for his glaze. The whole point of the Real Simple recipe is to make an impressive meatloaf out of ground turkey. The turkey is the star. It’s joined with a handful of parm for some added fat and flavor, onion for whatever, parsley, and my favorite detail, chopped roasted red peppers, which bring moisture, pops of sweetness, and a little something-something. My dad knew what would make this meatloaf even better, though. Beef. (And yes, like a lot of dads, mine has his eye on his cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and the climate, so it’s a special occasion meal. As they all are when we’re so rarely together!)
The entire reason this recipe was developed was to showcase an actually good turkey meatloaf, and I appreciate my dad for being like, that’s so nice of you, thanks, but I’ll like it more with beef. A Michigander who’s lived in Texas for decades, my dad has absorbed a Southern accent and strong opinions about barbecue. He likes to make me a Texas martini when I visit, which is a margarita in a martini glass with a jalapeño-stuffed olive and another garnish: a stick of bacon, and right when you’re like, This is a bit much, he asks, “Do you want it with, or without, the popsicle?” (Reader, yes, he adds a lime popsicle to the glass.)
Food is his love language. With a slice of meatloaf, and a drink with a popsicle bobbing out of it, he’s silently telling me all those things we never say aloud — “you should visit more often,” and “I’m proud of you.” Instead, we lower our eyes and send well-worn words up to the sky above, and then we stuff our faces, discussing instead the most important thing: who would you choose as your coach on The Voice?
I don’t make this meatloaf often. I like to think of my kitchen as a diner run by a salty waitress who’s seen it all, who whips up a few winter specials when the snow is just right. If you stop by when she’s in the kitchen and the meatloaf’s on the chalkboard, order it.
My Dad’s Meatloaf
Adapted from Real Simple
1 ½ pounds ground beef (or turkey, I’m sure it’s great!)
1 small yellow onion, chopped (any onion, or leftover about-to-wilt scallions, will do)
¾ cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped (or what’s leftover in the fridge, even if a few specks)
1 7-ounce jar roasted red peppers, chopped (or however much is left in the jar)
Salt and pepper
For the glaze:
½ cup ketchup
6 tbsp. brown sugar (jeez dad, sometimes I cut this down to 4)
2 dash Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. dry mustard
Preheat the oven to 400° and dig out your long lost loaf pan. Combine the chopped onion, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan, mustard, parsley, and roasted red peppers in a bowl and season with a good teaspoon of salt and a few cranks of pepper. Then mix in a handful of the ground beef to get things going before adding the rest of the beef. (This was a trick I learned at Bon Appétit to help keep from overmixing meatballs, which can turn out dense.)
Smush it into the loaf pan, and bake for 40-60 minutes, depending on your oven. The beef fat will bubble up alongside the edges—remember this is a winter special—and the top will brown. You could measure the internal temp to see if it’s 165°, or press the top center to make sure it’s not squishy and soft. When in doubt, a few extra minutes won’t dry out the loaf. It’s so full of fat and moisture. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving, during which time you can make the glaze in the final 5 minutes: throw ingredients into a small saucepan and simmer until harmonious. Grab a beer from the snow porch, say thanks, and then slice the meatloaf, spooning glaze over as desired.
Make ahead and/or freeze: I’ve made the mixture several hours before baking and it’s great. I also love to freeze the leftovers in individual portions to pull out later for emergency dinner.
Thank you, Alex!