Our daily bread – and meatloaf cupcakes

Posted on December 8, 2010


Karen, who visits Torch Lake Views on a regular basis and blogs over at Karma’s When I Feel Like It Blog, asked for my advice.  Oh joy!  Someone wants it!  OK, she asked for advice from anyone who happened to drop by her blog that day.  And then I got busy and went away for Thanksgiving and . . . well, here was my opportunity to give advice that was actually requested and I blew it. 

What Karen wanted to know was how others who were in charge of putting dinner on the family table day in and day out managed to get out of The Rut.  You know, come home from work tired and still put a good meal on the table fast enough to keep the kids from dying of hunger and creative enough to keep from boring everyone to death.  And covering all the other Momly bases: make it tasty, make it nutritious, make it fast, don’t bust the budget.  For once I have useful knowledge to impart!  But I went to North Carolina instead.  OK, this is late–but it is still potentially useful.  It is based on the assumption that if you are a Competitive Cook with a kitchen that cost more than my entire house you will not be reading this anyway.

I was going to make the meatloaf cupcakes so that I could take a picture of them to decorate the post.  The Cowboy was quite looking forward to it.  However, we decided it would be more fun to play and so we did.  You’ll just have to imagine them.  Alas, so will we.  

Trusty Meatloaf, adapted from Quaker’s Prizewinning Meatloaf


  • 1-1/2 lb. lean ground beef
  • 8-oz. can of tomato sauce, or a cup of tomato puree
  • 3/4 cup uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion, sauteed in a bit of butter and olive oil until lightly browned if you have time and inclination
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil, or 1 tsp. of fresh chopped basil
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or ground mixed peppercorns


  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Combine all ingredients, mixing lightly but thoroughly.  Press into an 8×4-inch loaf pan. 
  • Bake 1 hour or until meat is no longer pink and juices run clear. 
  • Drain.  Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.

Options (um, you don’t want to do all of these at once):

  • Saute some fresh mushrooms with the onions
  • Add 1/4 cup of chopped sweet or hot pepper, or chopped olives
  • Use enchilada sauce in place of tomato sauce and cilantro in place of basil
  • Add a few drops of hot sauce
  • After draining, spread leftover mashed potatoes over the top, sprinkle with grated cheese, and put back in the oven for 5 minutes to let the cheese melt

Makes 8 servings.  You cannot ruin this meatloaf unless you completely forget about it and burn it to a crisp.  Even then you could probably scoop out the middle and salvage that.  It makes great leftovers and I believe Rob the Firefighter still likes it.  Perhaps I am deluding myself. 

Very fun alternate preparation as Meatloaf Cupcakes:

  • Preheat oven to 350° F.
  • Combine all ingredients, mixing lightly but thoroughly  
  • Spoon into cupcake tin or into individual custard cups
  • Bake 30 minutes or until meat is no longer pink and juices run clear
  • Meanwhile, prepare mashed potatoes in your usual fashion*
  • Drain excess fat from “cupcakes” 
  • “Frost” with hot mashed potatoes
  • Decorate with your choice of shredded cheese, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced olives, paprika – whatever looks appealing and tastes good 

I suppose this sounds really silly, but I had a lot of fun making the “cupcakes” and some Exceedingly Proper Friends had a rousing good time eating them.

*My usual manner of making mashed potatoes is to peel and cut up some baking potatoes, steam them until tender (about 15 minutes in the steamer insert for my 3-quart saucepan), drain, and mash the hot potatoes with milk, butter, and an old-fashioned potato masher until they’re a satisfactory texture.  I like lumps.  If you don’t, your nice smooth mashed potatoes will undoubtedly make more attractive “frosting.”

Really Fast Suppers, no recipes required

  • Bake Idaho potatoes or sweet potatoes or both, one per family member.  While they’re baking, rummage around and assemble toppings from whatever is on hand: butter, sour cream, chopped vegetables (avocado, onions, scallions, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes), shredded cheese, cherry tomatoes, olives, crumbled bacon, sauteed mushrooms, chopped hardboiled egg, salsa, hot sauce.  Whatever you like.  It’s all good.  It’s a Potato Bar.  Add some fruit, a little green salad, it’s dinner. 
  • Buy one of those roasted chickens from the deli.  Make rice (or steamed redskins or noodles), steam a vegetable, toss a salad.  The kids can do some of these things. 
  • Same roasted chicken.  Shred it, moisten with a bit of salsa, add whatever bits of vegetables you have, roll it all up in some tortillas, top with shredded cheese and bake until bubbly. 
  • Same roasted chicken.  Cook a package of plain couscous-takes 5 minutes.  While it’s finishing, shred the chicken, add raisins, pinenuts, plain yogurt to moisten.  (Or take a look at the suggestions on the package.)  Mound the cooked couscous, make a well in the center, put the chicken mixture in there.  Arrange sliced fruit around the edges. 

Some of my favorite cookbooks:

  • The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery: An Encyclopedic Handbook for the Homemaker covering Food and Beverages—their Purchase, Preparation and Service (New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co., Inc., 1949).  I bought it at an Indiana farm auction in 1970 and it has been good for countless hours of entertainment and eating pleasure. 
  • James Beard’s American Cookery (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1972) contains the best recipe for chicken soup I’ve ever made, but it takes four hours minimum and who has that much time anymore?  (If you do have that much time, you want Beard’s recipe.)  However, it is a reliable guide to ways to fix different cuts of meat, and all kinds of vegetables, and five varieties of muffins from one simple recipe. 
  • Carole Eberly’s Our Michigan: Ethnic Tales and Recipes (East Lansing: Shoestring Press, 1979).  You get a story to go with the recipe.  ‘Nuff said.
  • It is my firm belief that any recipe book compiled by Methodist Church Ladies or Temple Sisterhoods is good. 
  • Many of my favorite recipes come from packages or booklets produced by food purveyors.  No one else has more motivation to help you make something tasty out of whatever it is they grow or make.
  • I found many excellent meal plans in the old Family Circle magazine.   I am no longer in the Family Management Industry and therefore no longer purchase this particular professional journal, but it might be a good bet even today if you can manage to get past the astonishing cake and cookie recipes. 
  • The Lady Alicia swears by Cooking Light magazine.  Judging by the results, it is an excellent source.