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Stretch dollars with comfort food favorite

There are few foods more comforting than good old-fashioned meatloaf. I’m always surprised how much my family loves this humble dish, especially the kids. Who knew happiness could come in such an unassuming little package?

There are several delicious reasons to make this recipe. It’s moist and tender, packed with flavor and sneaks in a serving of vegetables. (Shhh, don’t tell the kiddies.) It stretches a buck and this same recipe makes burgers and meatballs, too.

Leftovers make the most amazing grilled meatloaf and cheese sandwiches, ever. Oh, Stretchy Beef and Veggie Meatloaf, where have you been all my life?

Here are some tips for meatloaf lovers. Substitute Parmesan cheese for bread crumbs for gluten-free meatloaf. Don’t over mix because that makes meatloaf dense, dry and tough. Since shapes of meatloaf vary widely, cooking times will vary as well, but the rule of thumb is 35 minutes per pound. Mini meatloaves made in a muffin tin take 20 to 30 minutes total.

This recipe makes six generous portions, but I always make a double batch. There’s never a crumb gone to waste. Serve with mashed potatoes, peas and carrots to make your own blue plate special.

STRETCHY BEEF AND VEGGIE MEATLOAF

What you’ll need:

2 carrots, shredded

2 stalks celery, finely minced

1 medium sweet onion, minced

2 clove garlic, minced or pressed

3/4 cup bread crumbs

2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef

2 eggs

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt and a several grinds of pepper

4 ounce block cheddar cheese, optional

Glaze:

Combine 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 tablespoon mustard.

Here’s how:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 5x9 loaf pan or 9x13 baking pan.

In a skillet on medium-high heat, sauté the onion, carrot and celery in butter or oil until the onion is soft. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and stir it all around until it’s softened and smells divine.

In a large mixing bowl, place vegetables and let cool for a minute. Add bread crumbs, beef, eggs, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Use your very clean hands to gently mush it all together.

If you’re adding the cheese, mix the meatloaf mix with small cubes of cheese and place into the loaf pan or shape mixture into a loaf in a baking pan.

Make the glaze then brush meatloaf with half the glaze.

Bake for 45 minutes. Remove meatloaf and spread the remaining glaze (because it’s all about the glaze). Return to the oven for 15 more minutes. Test for doneness; your meat thermometer should read 155 degrees.

Let meatloaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing to retain juices.

For burgers: Shape the meatloaf mixture into burger patties and barbecue, pan fry, broil or bake. Top with a slice of cheese and let that melt. Then pop it on a bun with the usual fixins’. You’ve got yourself a scrumptious little sneaky vegified burger.

For meatballs: Roll small amounts of the meatloaf mix into meatballs. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until a meat thermometer reads 155 degrees. Serve with pasta and marinara or make meatball subs. These also make a great snack or appetizer.

Want to know why I always make a double batch? Because I need leftovers in order to make irresistible grilled cheese and meatloaf sandwiches. Put a schmear of ketchup on the bottom slice of bread, top with meatloaf and cheese slices and the second slice of bread. Spread butter on the outside of both pieces of bread. Heat a skillet and cook the sandwich on both sides until golden brown and delicious. Oh, yes. Come to mama.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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