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Originally published Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Recipe: Classic Meat Loaf

Easy techniques and tips on how to make an ideal meat loaf from Scott Peacock, an executive chef and Better Homes and Gardens expert on American Classics.

Better Homes and Gardens

More how-to tips

LEARN MORE ABOUT MAKING MEAT LOAF — as well as other American Classics from Scott Peacock — at better.tv. For videos and more how-tos from Peacock, go to BHG.com/americanclassics.

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Great meat loaf is moist, dense and satisfies with a rich flavor that's meaty and lasting. Scott Peacock, Better Homes and Garden's American Classics food expert, shares a recipe and the basics of how to make a meat loaf that you can adapt as you please.

Peacock says the ideal meatloaf has the following qualities:

• Is well-seasoned yet not overwhelming. No one flavor should stand out or be distracting.

• Uses ground chuck and a bit of ground pork. The chuck has more fat and flavor and marries well with ground pork for rounded, satisfying flavor.

• Has a texture that is tender yet firm. The vegetables should be finely chopped, not chunky.

• Has minimal bread crumbs and eggs — just enough to bind and lighten, but not enough to stretch or fill the loaf. Soaking the bread crumbs with half-and-half ensures easier blending and adds richness.

Top techniques, from Peacock:

Pick the right baking dish: "Baking the meat loaf in a dish that is larger than the loaf improves browning and lets the excess fat escape. A shallow indention along the edges keeps the delicious glaze on top."

• The finer the better: "Rubbing the garlic into a fine paste helps transfer its flavor throughout the loaf. Finely chop the cloves first, add a pinch of kosher salt, then use the side of the knife to mash and pull the garlic pieces into a paste."

• Choose small pieces: "Sauteing the onions, mushrooms, and celery in a bit of butter softens them and develops their flavor. Chop all vegetables into pieces that are about ¼ inch in size."

Mixing by hand is a must: "Using your hands to mix the meats is the most effective and efficient method. Fingers aerate as they blend, rather than mash, making a lighter loaf."

Add a proven topper: "A ketchup-based sauce is delicious. It caramelizes and intensifies during baking. And meat loaf wouldn't be meat loaf without a sweet, tangy finish."

Grate for success: "Grating the carrots ensures they soften during cooking and don't provide too much texture or crunch. The technique also distributes their sweetness throughout the meat loaf."

Go light on filler: "Meat loaf filler — bread crumbs or cubes — lightens the loaf's texture. Hand-cut pieces of white bread and soak them with half-and-half. This adds richness and helps evenly mix the bread and meat together."

CLASSIC MEAT LOAF

Prep: 40 min. Bake: 60 min. Oven: 350 degrees

Servings: 8

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 ¼ cups onion, finely diced

1 ¼ cups portobello or desired mushrooms, finely chopped

½ cup celery, finely diced

½ tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. finely chopped garlic

½ cup grated carrot

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

½ cup half-and-half or milk

2 eggs

1 ½ lb. ground chuck

½ lb. ground pork

4 slices bacon, finely chopped

1 ¾ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

½ cup ketchup

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 tsp. cider vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large skillet heat butter until melted and foaming. Add onions, mushrooms, and celery. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Cook 3 minutes, being careful not to brown.

2. Sprinkle thyme over onion mixture. Rub garlic and pinch of salt into paste; add garlic. Cook and stir until onions are tender and translucent. Stir in grated carrot; remove from heat. Cool completely. Meanwhile, soak bread in half-and-half. Lightly beat eggs.

3. In large mixing bowl combine ground meats, bacon, cooled vegetables, and bread crumb mixture. Sprinkle the 1 ¾ teaspoons salt and the pepper. Using hands, mix until well blended.

4. Turn mixture into rectangular baking dish. Using hands, shape into a 9 by 5 inch loaf. Make shallow indention around sides.

5. Ketchup Topping: Combine ketchup, brown sugar, and vinegar. Spoon over top of meat loaf. Bake on middle rack for 1 hour or until meat thermometer reaches 155 degrees. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 8.

Nutrition information per serving: 518 calories, 38 g fat (15 g saturated fat), 160 mg cholesterol, 1,013 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g fiber, 26 g protein. Daily Values: 32 percent vitamin A, 10 percent vitamin C, 8 percent calcium, 17 percent iron.

Scott Peacock is executive chef at Watershed Restaurant in Decatur, Ga., and was named Best Chef in the Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2007.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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