What a comfort it can be

On cold and chilly winter nights, there's nothing better than meatloaf

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"Comfort food: any food eaten, not only for its pleasing taste but also for a sense of contentment, nostalgia, etc. that it provides."

—Webster's New World College Dictionary 4th edition

The above definition really was listed in the dictionary and the only thing missing was an example — meatloaf — the ultimate comfort food.

Whenever winter weather hits, nothing brings contentment like meatloaf. It is the perfect food not only because it tastes good but it also provides a smidgen of warmth in the kitchen as the oven is turned on for baking it.

During the sub zero temperatures my husband requested meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy for dinner. Being a Sunday afternoon and not wanting to get out in the cold, I decided to look for a recipe I could use that I had not tried before. I don't usually make meatloaf following a specific recipe but thought it might be fun to see a new version of meatloaf. I also asked a couple of friends to share their recipes and the following is what I learned.

After perusing at least 12 of my most frequently used cookbooks I found there is no shortage of meatloaf recipes. Most cookbooks — especially church or community cookbooks — had multiple recipes. Recipes used ground beef, turkey, pork, pork sausage and ground venison. Usually it was a combination of meats.

Recipes used cracker crumbs, bread crumbs, oatmeal and wheat chex cereal as a filler. Tomato sauce, tomato juice, milk, condensed soup and lemon juice along with eggs were used for combining ingredients. Spices varied greatly. Allspice, dill, taco seasoning mix, chili powder, garlic powder, horseradish, ketchup, brown sugar, honey, salt, pepper, grated carrots, onion, ground mustard, worcestershire sauce, celery and green peppers were some of the added ingredients for flavor. Almost all topped the outside with a ketchup based sauce and some used bacon strips. A wide mixture to please every palate.

The meatloaf I made that Sunday afternoon pleased Tom very much. He said "write that down" and make it the exact same way. I wrote it down and will make it again the same way — maybe.

One of the best cooks I know is Norma Nelson, a friend of mine, who lives in the Grace Lutheran Village. She graciously shared this recipe called Amish Meat Loaf. Norma loves people and has cooked for family and friends for decades and any food that is created by her warms the body and spirit.

A few years ago I stopped by my friend Sue Anne Casey's to drop off something for Altrusa. She said to stay for dinner as she was cooking that day. Sue Anne will tell you herself that she prefers to eat out and is a great supporter of local restaurants. Her meatloaf, however, was delicious. I loved the way she cooked it with potatoes, onions, and carrots, pot roast style. She claims she only uses fresh ground premium beef from the Front Street Market in Hume and it really makes a difference. Sue Anne is truly a great hostess and even a simple cup of coffee shared with her is — in my opinion — comfort food.

My favorite meatloaf is leftover meatloaf casserole.

Cut slices of meatloaf 1/2 inch thick and line a square glass baking dish. Cover with savory mashed potatoes — even instant work well with this dish — and bake uncovered in oven for 30-45 minutes at 350.

Savory mashed potatoes are the kind made with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. The combination could be called "heart attack on a plate" but sometimes you just have to indulge. Serve with a salad and you have a quick dinner.

While discussing meatloaf with another friend, Sue Stine she said she thinks of meatloaf as a great comfort food especially if there is a death in a family. She told me she recalled helping her mother make a huge batch of meatloaf that would have fed a large extended family. It had at least seven pounds of ground meat and eight eggs. She said her mom always counted one egg for the bowl and one egg for each pound of meat when making meatloaf. Sue is an excellent cook and I have been privileged to eat many delicious creations she makes. She said her go to comfort food still is meatloaf.

If you can't escape the cold weather warm your kitchen and make some meatloaf. Share it with friends and warm their hearts too.