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Meatloaf

Meatloaf is a dish of ground meat formed into a loaf shape and baked or smoked.  The loaf shape is formed by either cooking it in a loaf pan, or forming it by hand on a flat baking pan.  It is usually made from ground beef, although lamb, pork, veal, venison, and poultry or a combination are also used.

History
The meatloaf has European origins; minced meat loaves were cooked already in the 5th century, and were mentioned in the famous Roman cookery collection "Apicius".  Meatloaf is a traditional German, Belgian and Dutch dish, and it is a cousin to the Italian meatball.  American meatloaf has its origins in scrapple, a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal served by German-Americans in Pennsylvania since Colonial times.  However, meatloaf in the contemporary American sense did not appear in cookbooks until the late 19th century.

The dish
Many meatloaf recipes are interchangeable with meatball recipes, the distinction coming from shape and from the accompaniments or choice of sauce.  Sometimes tomato sauce or ketchup is in the meat and baked along with the meat. Meatloaf is a versatile dish. The ground meat may be mixed with a binder such as eggs and breadcrumbs, small pieces of bread soaked in milk (or red wine or another liquid), or wheat germ, finely ground almonds, or oatmeal, to make it more dough-like.

Salt, spices and herbs (such as parsley), as well as chopped vegetables (such as onions, green peppers and celery), may also be added.  Some recipes add strips of bacon on top.  Meatloaves may be filled with eggs, cheese, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, or a combination of these ingredients.  Some meatloaves can be made by adding meat and sometimes also eggs to a meatloaf mix before baking.

A regular oven is not required.  Meatloaf can be cooked in a slow cooker or in a microwave oven.  To ensure even cooking in a microwave oven, it is best cooked in individual portions (for instance, in a mug) or as a small loaf.

United States
In many parts of the United States, meatloaf is a popular dish. In 2007, it was voted the 7th favorite dish in the United States according to the Good Housekeeping website.

During the Great Depression, cooking meatloaf was a way to stretch the food budget for families, using an inexpensive type of meat and other ingredients as leftovers; along with spices, it was popular to add cereal grains to the meatloaf to stretch the meat. The tradition lives on with the merits of producing a lower-fat dish with superior binding and consistency.

The meatloaf is typically eaten with some kind of sauce or relish.  Many of these recipes call for pasta sauce or tomato sauce to be poured over the loaf to form a crust during baking.  The tomato-based sauce may be replaced with simple brown gravy or onion gravy, but the meatloaf is prepared in a similar manner. Barbecue sauce, tomato ketchup, or a mixture of both tomato ketchup and mustard may also be used. American meatloaf may be garnished with ketchup.

Another variety of meatloaf is prepared by frosting it with mashed potatoes, drizzling it with a small amount of butter, and browning in the oven.

The meatloaf is normally served warm as part of the main course, but can also be found sliced as a cold cut.  Meatloaves can also be considered as a typical Midwestern comfort food, or even soul food.

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