Sweet & Spicy Mini Meat Loaf (Loaves)

Becky’s Sweet n Spicy Mini Meat Loaves

(Becky, the Mama)

One of my longtime friends and I share private joke between us: “I’ll bring the meatloaf.”

It all began when a major crisis dropped into my friend’s lap one day, and on my way out the door to meet her at a restaurant, I looked in my fridge and grabbed what I had on hand – some leftover meatloaf.  Others might have stopped to pick up flowers, or a card, or perhaps a book to encourage their hurting friend. Leave it to me to grab leftover meatloaf.  Someone is hurting? My auto-response is to feed them.  When people are in pain, I turn into a character not unlike the mothers from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “You no feel happy?  No worry, I make you meatloaf.”

I listened emphatically as my dear friend shared her heart-wrenching dilemma, hopefully creating a soft, safe space for her pain to land.  As we were parting, I reached down in a little bag and pulled out a Tupperware container.  “I’m so sorry you are going through this. With all my heart, I wish I could fix everything.  But since I can’t, and I brought you some meatloaf.”

We both laughed, even through the misty tears.  And that’s how “meatloaf” became a symbol of tangible caring between us.  As in most friendships, my friend and I have taken turns being in crisis, so it wasn’t long before something tough happened in my life, and I was the one in emotional agony. This time she brought the “meatloaf”—which evolved to mean comfort food in any form: from a bottle of wine, to a home-cooked meal, to guacamole and chips at a favorite Mexican joint.

When words fail me, giving gifts of home-cooked food has always helped fill the gaps.   And when it comes to sharing a dinner of comfort, few dishes hit the mark like my homemade sweet n’ spicy mini meat loaves.  The great thing about meat loaf is that it is one of those meals that keeps on giving. There’s nothing like a meatloaf sandwich for lunch, the day after its debut as dinner’s entree.  It’s tasty hot, warm or cold.

This meat loaf is a take-off on the best Old School Meatloaf Recipe in America’s History:  the one on the back of the Lipton Onion Soup Mix box.  I tweak it a bit, using soft bread, and less water.  I am not normally a big fan of packaged mixes, but there’s something about the Lipton soup in this recipe that makes it taste like the best meatloaf of my childhood memories.  It is never mushy, always firm, flavorful and slices beautifully.

To me, most meatloaf never has enough sauce.   So I am generous with the rich sweet and spicy topping, and by cooking it in an oblong Pyrex pan, rather than a loaf pan, you get a more generous sauce-to-meat ratio.  When you separate the seasoned meat into small sections before baking into mini-loaves, it also cuts the cooking time in half and the meat is cooked uniformly, all the way through.

This is a meal that stays on permanent rotation at our house, one of our top favorite dinners.  I make it at least once a month, year round. Twice, if a friend is in crisis.

Sweet n’ Spicy Mini Meat Loaves

Becky’s Sweet n’ Spicy Mini Meat Loaves

Serves six to ten people

Ingredients:

1 package of dry Lipton onion soup mix

2 slices of soft wheat bread

2 eggs

¼ c. water

1/3 c. catsup

2 lb ground bison or lean beef (preferably organic, grass-fed, no antibiotics)

Sauce Ingredients

2/3 c. catsup

1/3 c.  chunky bottled chunky style salsa

1/3 c. brown sugar

Directions:

Into a blender or food processor, put the first five ingredients.

Pour this mixture into a big bowl along with 2 pounds of ground beef.

Using your hands (I put little disposable sandwich bags on them), work the seasoning-bread mixture into the beef.

Pat into a large, oblong Pyrex pan.

Using the side of your hand or end of a wooden spoon,  “cut” the flat loaf into equal “mini loaves.” It will look like little irrigation ditches alongside the  mounds of meat.

Bake twenty to thirty minutes or until loaves are cooked through, draining off any grease as the meatloaves cook.

While meat is cooking make the sauce: put catsup, brown sugar, and salsa in sauce pan; heat and stir until sugar melts

When meat loaves when they are done, ladle the sauce over the top.  (If you have some leftover, save it and serve with the meal for those who want extra.) Put loaves-with-sauce back in oven and turn to broil. Broil until sauce is thickened caramelized.

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