Meatloaf and fork on plate

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1. The Ultimate Throwback Ingredient
Onion soup mix: Those packets are handy for making many dishes, from the perfect chip dip to spiced-just-right roasted potatoes, to yes, savory meatloaf. Some brands contain MSG and corn syrup, but Simply Organic French Onion Dip mix does not.

Mix 1 envelope with 2 pounds of beef, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, 1/3 cup ketchup and 1/3 cup water. Form into a loaf on a lightly greased baking sheet with a rim, and bake at 350° for about 1 hour and 15 minutes (until the internal temperature is 160°). As with any meatloaf, let the dish rest for 15 minutes before serving to help keep slices neat and prevent all the juices from running out as soon as you cut in.
Slices of meatloaf on plate with peas and carrots and mashed potatoes

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2. One Meatloaf, Many Ways
When Sam Sifton, the former restaurant critic for The New York Times, was charged with making meatloaf for Nora Ephron, who had her own famous recipe, he learned one very important lesson: "Do not make Nora Ephron's meatloaf for Nora Ephron. This is a sucker's play and remains true even if you're cooking for someone's aunt on a Saturday night in Fort Myers, Florida: Don't make a person's signature recipe for that person, ever. Instead, take it as a starting point."

Here are a few ways to riff on Nora's meatloaf (or your aunt's): Instead of the usual onions and carrots, try bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, zucchini or mushrooms (sauté the vegetables in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until they're soft before adding them to the meat mixture). And while bread crumbs are the traditional filler, panko (Japanese bread crumbs); rolled oats; or crushed corn flakes, tortilla chips or crackers (Cheddar Goldfish, no joke!) work great too.
Meatloaf, biscuit and Brussels sprouts

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3. The $64,000 Ketchup Question
For many people, a red glazy, gooey topping, preferably brushed on in smooth, linear strokes, is indispensable. The new gourmet ketchups—such as Sir Kensington's Gourmet Scooping Ketchup, made from pear tomatoes and apple cider vinegar, and Stonewall Kitchen Country Ketchup, which gets a zesty kick from red bell peppers and crushed red pepper flakes—really do make a difference. Ketchup-phobes can try this basic mushroom gravy instead. (Bonus: It's divine over mashed potatoes.)
Slow cooker

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4. Meatloaf Meets Crock-Pot
Put these two American dinner stalwarts together, and magic can happen—if you follow a few key steps. While 85 percent lean ground beef works perfectly for meatloaf cooked in the oven, you can get away with using an even leaner blend of beef—or ground turkey or chicken—in the slow cooker, since the steam keeps the food moist. To avoid a greasy meatloaf and a difficult removal from the Crock-Pot, make a sling out of aluminum foil. Internet tutorials abound, but the gist is to first line the inside of the slow cooker with a foil "collar" and then press in two large sheets, perpendicular to one another, with the extra hanging over the edges. When the meatloaf is finished cooking, lift it out by holding on to the foil overhang. Grease will stay behind, and the loaf will be intact.
Small meatloaves topped with mashed potatoes and guacamole

Photo: Dennis Brekke

5. The Saturday Night Meatloaf
Mini loaf pans aren't just for diminutive pound cakes—you can make party-ready meatloaves in them, too, and either serve them as individual entrées or slice them for a first course or a side dish to mac 'n' cheese or another comfort food main. Any recipe works, but dice the vegetables finely. Lightly grease the molds and spoon a quarter cup of meatloaf mixture into each; bake for about 30 minutes. Or try muffin tins—extra points if you top each one with mashed potatoes.
Meatloaf sandwich

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6. The Real Reason to Make Meatloaf
Even thrown between two wimpy slices of white bread, leftover meatloaf tastes good. Make that toasted sourdough or crusty ciabatta, and you're in best-lunch-ever territory. While sliced onions and ketchup or mayonnaise are delicious toppings, we also love sour, crunchy pickles; sharp Cheddar; and coleslaw (which is especially good with barbecue sauce) to punch up the flavor.

Next: Healthy sides to try with meatloaf


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