Food has a way of making us all thankful, but it is the month of November (and into December) that really brings out the sentiment in folks. I recently made the trek to Florida to visit my mother's side of the family. It was an important trip; it had been seven years since I'd last seen these aunts and uncles. Yes, seven very long years.
I consider myself quite the "family girl," so that number kind of baffled me. Too many excuses had been made over the years: I moved across country, I started a new job, I got into a serious relationship, blah, blah, blah. All those little things called "life" kept getting in the way. But enough was enough. I needed to see my people. And my boyfriend needed to finally meet the rest of the folks that make me, well, me. So we got in the car and made the six hour drive to Jacksonville.
We arrived late in the evening, dreary from the road. My Aunt Cissy cheerfully greeted us in her pajamas. She had homemade pie ready, and cold beer. It felt like I had seen her just yesterday. We gabbed in the kitchen for a minute before she shuffled off to bed. The warmth of her house hugged me close. Nothing had changed. I slept like a rock that night. It's not hard with the sounds of crashing waves linger outside your bedroom window.
My mother's two sisters conveniently live next door to each other, so the morning was spent casually fluttering between the two — a coffee here, a nibble of a zucchini muffin over there. We were on beach-time now; no need to hurry. As morning crept towards noon, the whispers for lunch grew louder. It would be a leftovers kind of day.
But you see, one of the perks of being neighbors is that delicious "leftovers" simply pass from house to house, new to the lucky recipient (and to me). My Aunt Fran warmed a Hawaiian-style meatloaf in the oven. She raved about the dish; apparently it had been a family favorite for years. The recipe came from a cookbook acquired during her time living in Maui, and it had since made it's way into the hands of all who have tasted it.
We enjoyed our meal family-style; I taught everyone the glories of a "meatloaf and mashed potato" sandwich. (Seriously, if you haven't done this you are majorly missing out!) It was a hearty lunch, perfect for the football marathon that was about to commence. The rest of the day was a blur of food, fun, and a little friendly SEC rivalry.
By the time the sun had set, it was time for another meal. We devoured my Uncle Rooster's spicy seafood gumbo — based off my grandmother's recipe, straight from Louisiana. It was paired with macaroni and cheese and smoked corn off the cob. There was even quiche, and a kale and tomato soup for the vegetarians. To finish it off we enjoyed chocolate pie (the one based from the movie The Help) and a scrumptious pumpkin sheet cake. Amidst all of the wonderful fellowship I thought to myself, "What took me so long to get here?"
So you see, I have a lot to be thankful for. I don't need a certain Thursday in November to remind me of that. Because on any given day, I've got an amazing family that loves me. My family shows their love by preparing and sharing food, and because of this I now show my love by preparing and sharing food. I may not get to see them enough, but when I do, it reminds me of who I am. In the meantime, I've always got their recipes to get me through until next time.
This meatloaf is inspired by the one I enjoyed in Florida. The original recipe made five loaves, so I lowered the quantities a bit. It also called for beef (which was delicious), but I've lightened it up by using turkey instead. The barbecue sauce yields a large batch, but I love having homemade sauce in the fridge (it lasts for ages) so I kept its quantities the same. The sauce does take a couple of hours to simmer; I made it the day before to save some time.
What are you thankful for this month? Any family recipes that you are proud to have?
Barbecue Turkey Meatloaf
For the meatloaf
2 pounds ground turkey (or beef/pork)
1 cup barbecue sauce (recipe below)
1 onion, chopped fine
1 large carrot, chopped fine
1/2 cup bread crumbs
3 - 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Additional barbecue sauce for topping
For the barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 onions, chopped small
2 1/2 cups (32 ounce bottle) ketchup
1 1/2 cups (12 ounce bottle) chili sauce, such as Heinz
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup prepared mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Juice from 1/2 orange
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°
To make the meatloaf, combine turkey, barbecue sauce, onion, bread crumbs, garlic, and eggs in a large bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. Pour turkey mixture into an aluminum foil-lined loaf pan.
Cook the meatloaf for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 350°. Top with additional barbecue sauce and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160°, about 35 more minutes. Allow the meatloaf to cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan by lifting out the aluminum foil. Drain the excess grease. Slice and serve with additional warm barbecue sauce. Pair with mashed potatoes.
To make the barbecue sauce, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Saute the onions until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally. This sauce can be made in advance and keeps well in the refrigerator.
Related: Craving: A Really Good Meatloaf Sandwich
(Images: Nealey Dozier)