The first time I ever had meatloaf, I was 10 years old. I was at a friend’s house for dinner, and when the menu was announced, I was overcome with curiosity. Meat - what? My friend rolled his eyes, disgusted. “Not again,” he murmured before collecting himself. He took the debate to the kitchen floor. A point of parliamentary procedure: Could we have a frozen Mama Celeste's pizza instead? His mother - eggs and meat coating her hands like gory mittens - stopped kneading and announced that if I also didn't want the meatloaf she was making, we could have frozen pizza.
I blurted out "I want the meatloaf!" I then shrugged at my friend, my best friend forever, the guy who I was sure would end up an astronaut exploring the crater and crannies of Mars alongside me - even if his name currently escapes me.
I was familiar with homely staples like mashed potatoes and peas, but what was this "meatloaf," this dish that combined two of my favorite words into one, namely "meat" and "loaf?" The next most mind-blowing combination would have been the words "cheese" and "cake," but my young mind knew that such a godly fusion could never be realized on this plane of existence.
My mother is Mexican-American, and my dad was of good ol' boy stock. We ate a lot of what was on my mother's table when she was a kid growing up in El Paso, Texas: border food, which is more "Mex" than "Tex." Her standard rotation featured flautas, huevos rancheros and enchiladas. In fact, huevos rancheros was the dish that my mother would most likely whip up after a long day of work. The mere mention of it would make my tongue tumble out of my mouth like a helicopter's rope ladder. I hated it. Of course, today, whenever I visit Texas, I beg my mother to make me this simple meal of fried tortillas, fried eggs, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro and a warm, spicy, garlicky salsa, with fresh avocado and jalapeño on the side.
When I was served those tombstones of spongy beef drenched in gravy by my friend’s appreciative mother, I was in awe. I couldn't possibly imagine anything more exotic. Slabs of burger! There was no masa, cumin or flamboyant red sauces - just ground meat, patted into a loaf. It was an ideal armature for big, broad flavors, like "juicy" and "brown." This was one of the first of many culinary experiences that would force me to reexamine my definition of “delicious.”
I ran home and told my mother about my discovery. I excitedly described to her the meal, and asked why we had never had that. Why were we always eating boring old chiles relleños, and sopa and charro beans with bacon? She kissed me on the forehead and sent me to bed. That night, I could hear her in the kitchen pulling down cookbooks from top shelves and leafing through the pages. The next night, we had meatloaf. And it had chili powder in it - her own flourish. But, there was also a hard boiled egg inside the meatloaf itself. How was such a thing possible? It was an amazing trick I would speak about for weeks, much to the quiet joy of my mother. Meatloaf became one of our house specials, along with tacos lingua, chicken mole and huevos rancheros.
The DeVore Family's Tex-Mex Meatloaf
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
Hard boil eggs, set aside.
Mix all ingredients.
Form a loaf with your hands; punch three small indentations into the bottom of the loaf.
Pop the eggs into these indentations. Close the meat around the eggs, sealing them in.
Lay the bacon strips across the meatloaf.
Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 and cook for 40 minutes.
Care to share your tales of meatloaf loves and loathes? Perhaps your family's tasty tweaks? Serve 'em up in the comments below and we'll round up our favorites to show off in a future story.
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