In my experience, meatloaf is a highly polarizing dish. Many people associate it with suffering through sub-par childhood dinners, wolfing it down as quickly as possible in order to get back outside for night games with the neighborhood kids (or maybe their moms just made bad meatloaf). I’m in the opposite camp: meatloaf was one of my very favorite dinners as a kid and it continues to be high on my comfort food list. For me, the side dishes are just as important as the main event. Meatloaf must be served with mashed potatoes and peas, plus a little bit of ketchup on the side. No substitutions or variations. No need to get creative. Just make sure you make enough for sandwiches the next day.
If you’re pro-meatloaf, you know that it can easily go so very, very wrong. You probably make it the way your mom did and have never thought about changing it up. I know I never considered messing with my standby meatloaf recipe. Until tonight. It all started with last week’s chicken enchiladas. When I was grocery shopping for that meal, I could only find a quart-sized container of jalapenos. I knew I wouldn’t use more than one, but the full container was something like $1.08, so I didn’t feel too bad about buying it and possibly wasting most of it. Those jalapenos have been plaguing me a little ever since. So tonight, I did the unthinkable: I chopped one up and threw it in my meatloaf.
It was not without many mixed feelings and conflicted emotions and deep discussions with my husband that I took such a leap. Not because I thought it would taste bad, but because I was afraid it would taste good. Too good. Thereby shifting the paradigm of meatloaf as we know it in our house. I was already shaking things up with the vegetable, which was corn on the cob (instead of the traditional peas). I had an ear leftover from my tomato and corn pie that I had to make before it went bad. I guess tonight’s dinner was all about not wasting leftovers, and that’s probably a more noble aim than trying not to alter any slight detail of a comfort-filled meal.
So it is with that lengthy and conflicted preface that I bring you jalapeno meatloaf (jalapenos optional).
The jalapeno ended up adding a surprising amount of heat to the beef. It was just the right amount–on the edge of too spicy, but not crossing the line (therefore, perfect in my mind). One note about the frozen spinach: I thawed it in the refrigerator for about 12 hours, so it was crumbly enough to work with but still frozen. You could thaw it completely, but I find that the extra water helps keep everything soft inside when your loaf begins to cook up its crispy outer shell.
Another note–I recommend finding fairly bland crackers to crush up (bludgeon-like meat tenderizer for cracker crushing is optional). I use the kind pictured below (from Trader Joe’s). Whatever you do, don’ t substitute bread crumbs for the crackers. The bread crumbs will make your meatloaf too heavy.
I also recommend finding a husband who likes to eat the ends (or the middle, if you’re an ends-lover). I like the middle pieces. The meat itself is just so tender and moist. Bonus points if your husband will also clean up the kitchen after dinner.
- 1 lb ground beef
- about 8 bland, low-salt crackers, crushed
- 1 c frozen spinach
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 of a fresh jalapeno, chopped (optional!)
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper, plus extra for outside
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Throw all ingredients into a large bowl and use your hands to combine. Continue to work with the ingredients until everything is well combined and you can form a loaf shape.
- Arrange your loaf in a small glass baking dish. Add any extra onions that may remain in the mixing bowl.
- Bake for 80-90 minutes. The outside should be dark and crispy, and the inside should be barely pink.
- Allow the finished meatloaf to rest in the baking pan for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Please, for the love of all that is good comfort food, serve this with mashed potatoes and peas. Or corn.
I’m curious to know, if you’re reading this blog, what meatloaf camp do you fall into? If you’re a meatloaf lover, how would you feel about mixing up your classic recipe?