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The most-requested recipe, meatloaf has many variations

(ran NP edition)

Meatloaf is the most-requested recipe on Quaker Oats 800 consumer request line.

It's a big favorite with kids back in school when cooks don't mind turning on the oven again during cooler evenings. You can make up the meatloaf mixture hours ahead of time, covering and chilling it, then bake it after work to have supper on the table in an hour or so after returning home.

The old diner duo of meatloaf and mashed potatoes never loses its appeal, but there are so many supper time variations on that theme.

At its most basic, meatloaf is very simple: ground meat or poultry, milk or another liquid, eggs, seasonings, chopped onion and a form of binder _ cracker or bread crumbs, crushed cornflakes or uncooked oats.

A loaf made with oats is soft and moist, and the oats don't mask the flavor of the other ingredients.

Classic Meatloaf is pretty close to what most families favor in a basic recipe. Hand-shaped into a traditional loaf, it is delicious all by itself or perhaps with chili sauce spread over the top or baked with a simple sweet-and-sour glaze of ketchup, mustard and brown sugar. Add either the last 15 minutes of baking.

A garden meatloaf is a moist and more healthful twist: Add cup shredded carrot, { cup finely chopped green pepper and 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley to the recipe for Classic Meatloaf. Bake as directed for a 10- by 6-inch loaf on the rack of a broiler pan in a 350-degree oven for about 50 minutes.

Heat a 10-ounce can of diced tomatoes with green chilies and top each slice of garden meatloaf with the tomatoes for a little zing.

The same Classic Meatloaf recipe can be custom-modified with family-favorite flavors, from Caribbean to Italian.

To make the Italian Mini Meatloaves with pasta, add a shredded Italian cheese blend and dried Italian herbs to the Classic Meatloaf mixture. Baked in a muffin tin, the mini loaves are ready to serve in 15 to 20 minutes, making this meatloaf variation ideal for busy weeknights.

You will have just enough time while the little loaves bake to boil rotini with a frozen blend of Italian vegetables.

Set the mini loaves on top of the pasta and vegetables and sprinkle with more Italian cheese for a pretty platter presentation.

Meatloaf pointers:

Mix ingredients with a sturdy kitchen fork or granny fork to keep from packing the meat mixture.

For a crustier surface, hand-shape the meat mixture into a loaf and bake in a shallow baking pan or on the rack of a broiler pan, not a loaf pan. If the meat mixture is pressed into a loaf pan, drain any liquid that accumulates in the pan before slicing.

Check meatloaf doneness with an instant-read meat thermometer pressed into the center of the loaf after 50 to 55 minutes. Those loaves made with beef should be cooked to 160 degrees and those with ground turkey to 170 degrees internal temperature.

Because of the natural nitrate content of some ingredients, including onion, celery and bell peppers, a meatloaf containing any of these may still be slightly pink in the center even when it has reached medium doneness.

For easier slicing, let a meatloaf stand 5 to 10 minutes after removing from pan.

Turn leftover meatloaf into next day's lunch

Here are some memorable meatloaf sandwiches you can make:

Greek pitas or mock gyros: Line pita pocket-bread halves with fresh spinach leaves and thin cucumber slices. Stuff with warm or cold meatloaf slices, thin red onion rings, pitted black or kalamata olives and crumbled feta cheese. Serve a dish of plain yogurt for dolloping on each bite.

Barbecue meatloaf sandwiches: Serve warmed slices of meatloaf in crusty rolls topped with barbecue sauce and deli coleslaw.

MLT sandwiches: Lightly spread toasted multigrain bread with mayonnaise. Top with slices of warm or cold meatloaf, lettuce leaves and tomato slices.

Tex-Mex meatloaf wraps: Wrap warmed slices of meatloaf in burrito-size flour tortillas with chunky salsa, shredded lettuce, diced avocado and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Italian meatloaf sandwiches: On focaccia or crusty Italian bread, layer slices of warm or cold meatloaf, roasted red bell peppers drizzled with Italian dressing, chopped fresh basil leaves and thinly sliced provolone or mozzarella cheese.

Meatloaf melts: Lightly spread toasted English muffin halves or rye bread slices with Dijon-style mustard. Top each half with a slice of cold meatloaf, a thin slice of tomato and a slice of cheddar or Swiss cheese. Broil untilcheese is melted and meatloaf is hot.

Classic Meatloaf

1{ pounds lean ground beef or turkey

} cup uncooked oats, quick or old-fashioned

} cup finely chopped onion

{ cup ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 garlic cloves, minced

{ teaspoon salt

\ teaspoon black pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, using a sturdy kitchen mixing fork or a granny fork. Mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape meatloaf mixture into a 10- by 6-inch loaf on the rack of a broiler pan.

Bake 50-55 minutes or until meatloaf is of medium doneness (160 degrees for beef; 170 degrees for ground turkey). Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check internal temperature for food safety.

After baking and proper internal temperature has been reached, remove broiler pan from oven and let loaf stand 5 minutes on a serving plate before slicing.

Cover and refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 2 days or wrap airtight and freeze up to 3 months.

Preparation time: 20 minutes. Baking time: 50-55 minutes.

Makes 6-8 servings. Nutritional information: [ of recipe made with lean beef has 230 calories, 13 gm. fat (5 gm. saturated fat), 75 mg. cholesterol, 390 mg. sodium, 18 gm. protein.

Italian Mini Meatloaf Supper

Ingredients for Classic Meatloaf (see accompanying recipe)

1{ cups (6 ounce) shredded, reduced-fat Italian cheese blend, divided

2 teaspoons dried Italian herb seasoning, divided

8 ounce rotini pasta

1 (16-ounce) package frozen Italian vegetable blend

2-3 teaspoons olive oil

Salt (or grated Parmesan cheese) and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 (14{-ounce) can Italian-seasoned diced tomatoes

Heat oven to 350 degrees. To Classic Meatloaf ingredients, add 1 cup cheese and 1 teaspoon of the Italian herb seasoning. Mix well and press about cup meatloaf mixture into each of 12 medium muffin cups.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until centers are no longer pink.

Meanwhile, boil pasta according to package directions, using salted water, gradually adding the frozen vegetable blend during last 6 minutes of cooking. Drain well when pasta is al dente; toss with olive oil, remaining teaspoon of dried Italian herb seasoning, salt (or Parmesan) and pepper.

Spoon tomatoes into a microwave-safe bowl; cook on full power until heated through.

Remove meatloaves from muffin pans; top with tomatoes and remaining { cup cheese. Serve with the pasta mixture.

Preparation time: 35 minutes. Baking time: 20 minutes.

Makes 6 servings. Nutritional information: 1/6 of recipe (no Parmesan) has 570 calories, 22 gm. fat (9 gm. saturated), 110 mg. cholesterol, 1,020 mg. sodium, 39 gm. protein.

Caribbean Meatloaf Supper

Ingredients for Classic Meatloaf (see accompanying recipe)

2 teaspoons Caribbean jerk seasoning (or use Mexican seasoning and add ground allspice)

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple in juice

1 (9-ounce) jar mango chutney

1 jalapeno, finely chopped, optional

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint or cilantro

Baked sweet potatoes or mashed winter squash

Brown rice (see note)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. To Classic Meatloaf ingredients add the jerk seasoning and mix well. Shape meatloaf mix into a 10- by 6-inch loaf on the rack of a broiler pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Drain pineapple, reserving juice for another use. Combine pineapple, chutney, jalapeno pepper and mint; mix well, chopping any large mango pieces.

Remove meatloaf from oven; spoon { cup pineapple mixture over top of meatloaf. Continue baking 20-25 minutes until meatloaf is of medium doneness (160 for beef, 170 degrees internal temperature for turkey). Let stand 5 minutes on a serving platter before slicing. Serve with the remaining pineapple-chutney mixture.

Note: For a side dish, saute quick-cooking brown rice in 1 tablespoon bacon drippings or butter about 4 minutes over medium-low heat. Add a pinch of allspice, currants or chopped raisins, then hot chicken broth or water plus the leftover pineapple juice from the meatloaf recipe. Cover and simmer until rice is done, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Preparation time: 30 minutes. Baking time: 20 minutes, plus 20 more.

Makes 6 servings. Nutritional information: / of recipe, without sweet potatoes and brown rice, has 430 calories, 17 gm. fat (6 gm. saturated), 100 mg .cholesterol, 940 mg. sodium, 24 gm. protein.

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