There are certain events and moments in your life that, when they occur, change everything you thought you knew. It may be an enlightening visit to another country, an inspirational teacher, a parent or grandparent, the death of someone close to you. For me it was picking up a copy of “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seasoned America.” A seemingly ordinary occasion that wasn’t marked by thunder or lightening, but it initiated a quiet awakening of something in my heart.
I was bored with what I had been making and wanted to try something different for dinner. Without a lot of money, I went to the library to borrow some cookbooks. The minute I saw Chef Paul’s book and started riffling through it, I knew it was just what I was looking for.
I had met Chef Prudhomme when he brought his restaurant staff to San Francisco in 1983 and was infatuated with his story. He had temporarily duplicated his renowned New Orleans restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, in the Old Waldorf nightclub in the Embarcadero. People swarmed to it, fascinated at the wildly different Cajun cuisine being served. This was the early 80’s and cajun food was just beginning to sweep the country. The moment people tasted his Blackened Red Fish they had to have more. I credit Chef Prudhomme with being a major player in that movement.
Chef Paul is the youngest of 13 children and grew up on a farm in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana and he learned to cook by standing next to his mother at the stove, the same way I learned from my grandmother. He loved presenting his family and friends with his interpretations of classic dishes. When he grew up he followed his passion for cooking, training in restaurants all over the world. In 1979 he opened K-Paul’s and it wasn’t long before world travelers and locals alike were lined up around the block waiting to eat his creations. When I visited New Orleans I tried to eat at his restaurant, but it was closed. One of these days I am going to eat there and experience his cooking first hand again!
In “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Seasoned America” he took a simple concept and opened my eyes to a whole new world. He realized that he could put his own spin and style on any of the classic dishes served around the country. So he did some research, figured out what the specialties were for each area and went to work changing them into something he would serve in his restaurant.
Up to that point I had carefully followed each recipe precisely as it was written, exactly as my mother had taught me. As I read his words, I realized that every single recipe was open to interpretation and wasn’t limited to just the way it was written. I started looking at recipes with a whole new appreciation and curiosity. Now I was asking myself, “If I make this, what would I change?”
From that day on I never approached a recipe the same way. I wasn’t afraid to make substitutions or change up the seasoning blend. I learned a lot about how important seasoning is to a dish and discovered a whole new world of flavors. Herbs and spices make all the difference. These days I have an entire cabinet stuffed with bottle after bottle of sweet and savory seasonings and I love discovering new ones all the time.
Mom’s Meatloaf was one of those meals that we pretty much suffered through. My mom, bless her soul, couldn’t make a decent one. Hers was always soggy and bland. She never used anything except salt and pepper and very little of them. The one and only time I liked her meatloaf was when she burned it and the outside actually got crispy!
Today’s recipe is my interpretation of Chef Paul’s interpretation of a Chicago favorite. Is that confusing? Don’t worry about it, one bite and you will be a convert too! The main difference is there isn’t a lot of filler in this version. I also use a variety of meats which you can change to suit your tastes. I love a blend of beef, pork and turkey which gives you a lot of flavor but is a bit healthier than the old-fashioned hamburger version.
The other distinction is sauteeing vegetables first with the seasoning mix and mixing them with the meats before baking. This adds tremendous flavor and a wonderful texture to the final loaf. Again, you can make this as simple or as complex as you like, adding whatever suits your tastes. And don’t bother with a loaf pan. Just mix everything together and form it into a loose loaf shape on a baking sheet. Without the surrounding metal, the meat will cook all the way through and not leave you with a mushy center like my mom’s.
I have also included a recipe from Food and Wine for their Red Wine Glaze. It is a wonderful “adult” coating for the meatloaf that takes the place of the traditional ketchup topping. If you would prefer, absolutely feel free to slather on the ketchup or even salsa and pass extra at the table for a more traditional flavor.
So as we head into the cooler months and the family craves comfort foods of winter, this meatloaf will become one of your family’s favorites. And while you’re at it, make two loaves and freeze one. That way you always have a delicious meal waiting for you whenever you are having a family dinner.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are chopping an onion, if you are careful you can create a natural “handle” from the peel. Slice the onion in half and peel back papery covering and one layer of the onion. Set it on your cutting board, flat side down. Use the peel to hold onto the onion, curling your fingers under so that your knuckles are closest to the knife. Make several cuts perpendicular to the root end and then turn it and slice parallel to the root. You will automatically have chopped onions!!
- Seasoning Mix
- 2 tsp dry mustard
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 1-1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1-1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 8 slices bacon
- 1-1/2 cups finely chopped onions
- 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup spicy V-8 juice
- 1 lb 90% lean ground beef
- 1/2 lb ground dark turkey
- 1/2 lb ground pork (or any mix of ground meats to equal 2 lb)
- Red Wine Glaze (from Food and Wine Magazine)
- 1-1/4 cups dry red wine
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tomato, finely chopped
- 1 tsp unsulfured molasses
- Pinch of ground allspice
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine seasoning mix ingredients thoroughly in small bowl. Set aside.
- Cook the bacon in a 10-inch skillet over med-high heat until brown and crispy, about 7 to 9 minutes. If the fat starts to smoke before the bacon is brown, lower heat to medium. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, place on paper towel-lined plate, crumble and reserve.
- Add onions and peppers to the same skillet and cook on medium, stirring often, until the onions are golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add celery, bay leaves, shallots and 2 tbsp of the seasoning mix. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom occasionally, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tbsp seasoning mix and cook, stirring often, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat; remove the bay leaves and discard. Spread vegetables on a baking sheet to cool.
- Make Red Wine Glaze: In a medium saucepan combine all the glaze ingredients and bring to boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil until the glaze is thick and syrupy, about 15 minutes.
- When cool enough to handle, combine the tomato juice, cooked bacon and the cooked vegetable mixture; blend well. In a large bowl, gently combine the meats. Add the vegetable mixture and incorporate everything thoroughly.
- Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray. Turn the meat mixture onto the pan and mold it into a free-form thick loaf. Brush about half of the glaze over the top. Bake 30 minutes, spin the pan front to back, brush with remaining glaze and bake another 15 to 20 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in the center registers 160°F to 165°F.
- Remove from oven and let cool slightly before slicing. Cut into slices about 3/4-inch thick and serve with roasted red potatoes and steamed broccoli, or mashed potatoes and peas.
- Yield: about 6 servings