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In & Out of the Kitchen: Meatloaf and potatoes

Autumn has arrived, so I’m loafing around the house.

And getting smashed just about every other weekend.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. While bachelor living permits libations aplenty without comment or criticism from significant ones, I’m not all that heavily into the buttermilk. Ask me again when winter arrives.

For now, as fewer hots and hamburgers go on my charcoal grill — cooking outdoors in darkness and chill is never much fun — I’m returning to my top comfort foods of autumn. That means meatloaf and smashed potatoes.

Anything goes

Both are “anything goes” kinds of dishes around my house. I have used meatloaf mixes to clear out refrigerator inventory in the past, so neglected onions, peppers, salsa, eggs and half-full bottles of ketchup and barbecue sauce become the usual suspects for oven heat. Diced tomatoes, bread, croutons, sliced sausage and spices are also fair game.

The process is simple. Two pounds of ground beef are the key components, and I generally buy the leanest beef I can find. Less fat, fewer drippings. I haven’t mustered the courage to try ground turkey; turkey meatballs are OK, but real meatloaf must start with real ground beef.

I put the peppers and onions into a small dice, crack a couple of eggs, toss in the croutons, salsa, ketchup and sauce and mix everything with large metal spoons. No set amounts for anything — there never are, not in this bachelor’s cookbook.

With salsa, ketchup and tomatoes all on the team, this is one moist meatloaf. Once the loaves are in the oven, they bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. I check to make sure the tops are nicely browned — and not blackened — and will grab my oven mitts to grab my pans and pour excess fat into an empty saucepan or diced tomato can.

Once in a while, I top the loaves with tomato sauce or mushroom gravy for the last 15 minutes of cooking time. It gives my main course that fresh-from-the-diner look. And I let the loaves stand for 30 minutes or so before cutting into them; the extra time gives them a chance for more solid footing on plates. Like I said, this is one moist meatloaf.

Back to the spuds

While the loaves are baking, I’m making mashed potatoes. The recipe is simple. I wash five pounds of red potatoes and use a sharp knife to hack off any imperfections. Most of the skins remain, I want to use as much potato as I can. The skins also provide some extra flavor.

My friends at the culinary arts department at Schenectady County Community College have advised me that 20 minutes or so is time enough for the boil. Once the spuds are fork-tender, I drain the water and begin the smashing.

Once the potatoes are mashed, I toss in a stick of butter and liberal shakes of spice. Some people splash in a little milk, but I prefer a couple splashes of blue cheese dressing. You get the dairy components, and a taste twist with the blue cheese. Sometimes I mix in four ounces of light cream cheese, garlic and chive flavor. And a few dashes of the spice turmeric, which gives the potatoes a real, home-cooking, deep yellow color.

You’ve got to have some vegetables with this dish, and I generally choose broccoli or sliced carrots, something that a cardiologist would not quibble with. The heart doctor could lecture me all day about the caloric catastrophes that come with loaded meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Some day, I’ll cut back. Or maybe try ground turkey. For now, these favorites are autumn comfort foods at their finest.

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