The Metaphorical Meatloaf

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By Andrea Goto

I don’t like meatloaf.

My issues stem from my childhood. I came of age during the school hot-lunch era that operated on the premise of quantity over quality. It was a decade of fillers. Cooks hid chunks of bread in the mac-and-cheese and stuffed gigantic marshmallows anywhere they’d fit. Friday’s meatloaf was last week’s reconstituted leftovers.

At home, my parents insisted on off-brand cola and generic cereals—the kind sold in bags the size of pillowcases instead of colorful boxes with cartoon characters and a maze on the back. When Dad went on strike, Mom took a lesson in conservation from the lunch ladies, regularly serving up Spam—the queen of all composites—and her close cousin, meatloaf. Consequently, my palate is still uneasy when it comes to conglomerates.

My husband, however, has a healthy relationship with meatloaf. Hailing from a more financially secure past than I, he finds deep comfort in particlemeat glazed with tangy ketchup. So when I came across Paula’s recipe for Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf, I saw my opportunity to give him some happy while possibly making my peace with geometric meat.

You see, some people dream in black and white; some dream in color. I dream in bacon cheeseburger. And while I prefer purebred to hybrid—I like my coffee black and my hotdogs all beef—I am willing to bet that if I close my eyes and chew, Paula’s Bacon Cheeseburger Meatloaf won’t disappoint. Even a pureed bacon cheeseburger reformed into a brick is better than no burger at all.

With this in mind, I easily (easily, I say!) combine the ingredients, and begin massaging the gooey clump. It’s oddly satisfying to squish the stuff between my fingers. I even take time to sculpt a head with snowman-like features—smiling, of course. I think about running it through my daughter’s Play-Doh Fun Factory, but my fingers numb too quickly.

The recipe doesn’t come together without incident. When I forget to toast the breadcrumbs, I spend 30 minutes picking them from the mixture grain by grain, which is like trying to de-lice an alley cat with chopsticks. I don’t think to spray the loaf pan, so the cheese burns to the edges, making extraction nearly impossible. I spoon out what I can salvage in clumps, reducing the four-serving dish to a two-person hors d’oeuvre.

I reluctantly take a bite (my entire portion) and discover that it’s not bad, and would probably be much better had someone else made it. It’s at this moment that I realize that meatloaf is so much more than the trash compactor I had imagined it to be. Back in the day they stuffed it with eggs, crumbs, dust and pebbles, but Paula’s forward thinking has helped this dish evolve. Her meatloaf serves as a catchall for all things good in this world—like bacon cheeseburgers.

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Reader Comments:

I have made this meatloaf and it was a big hit so when we were have my son-in-law and his family for dinner I made this in a supper size portion… 5 pound meatloaf thinking I would have left overs for a week…never under estimate how much 5 growing boys and six adults and 2 little ones can eat… my granddaughter who was 1 1/2 at the time couldn’t get enough and my picky 4 year old actually ate seconds…it is so yummy and has become a family favorite!!

By Christina Scott on March 30, 2010

I am with Andrea on the meatloaf front - not my favorite dish.  But put bacon and cheese on ANYTHING and I am pretty sure I will love it.  And if Andrea can come this close to success, I bet I could manage wink!  Thanks for the recipe - we have a freezer full of ground beef looking for a purpose!

By Erica on March 01, 2010

I have always felt the same way bout meatloaf.  My husband and everybody else says ymmm, but I always think about that taste from the past.  I will surely try this and make everyone happy.

By Jackie Butler on March 01, 2010

oh my lanta!! I LOVE meatloaf ... and I LOVE cheese!! i am absolutely gonna make this for my roomies on friday!! <3

By courtney on March 01, 2010

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love the table paula would look good on my new patio. so glad you are back. I hope to get there to see you in person one day.i will start tomorrow to find the patern form the tablecloth.
Gladys Rainesl in Savannah Style: A Spring Table for Two on April 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

I just want to say this I don't even know if is the right page all I ever wanted to say to Paula Deen welcome back I have missed you. You are my favorite home down girls keep your head up and hang on and feel the love. P.S. from a woman of color.
in Chicken Salad: A Southern Staple on April 13, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I just love love love the table and flowers and am so glad that I can still access all of Paula's recipes, her family life, Bobby's lighter versions and Brandon's beautiful work. Truly thankful to see such beautiful tablescapes. You guys are my heros.
Patricia in Savannah Style: A Spring Table for Two on April 13, 2014 at 9:14 am