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.