cooking the books 01


Normally when I set out to write one of these posts, I locate some broad issue in my life and try to solve it with a cookbook. Hurried week? Pick up a quick, easy meals cookbook (we have at least 50). No time for shopping? Go for a cookbook that promises maximum flavor with minimum ingredients

This time, however, I had a different problem, a very specific problem: my mother sent us home with an armload of leftover mashed potatoes on Sunday, and I needed to make something that would pair nicely with them. I knew I already had ground turkey, so I decided on turkey meatloaf. 

Here’s my beef with ground turkey: you can’t just use it as a straight-across substitute for red meat. On its own, it’s bland and soft and sad. It lacks the body (but also the calories) of ground beef, and so if you just try to substitute it without making some modifications, you will be disappointed. Fully aware of this, I decided to seek out a recipe intended for ground turkey instead of one intended for beef. 

I will spare you the minute details of my search for a delicious-sounding recipe for ground turkey meatloaf, a search that found me sitting in the library stacks reading cookbook indexes for longer than I’d care to admit. I thought of all the reasons one might use for substituting turkey for beef, scouring diet cookbooks and budget cookbooks and clean eating cookbooks (Gwyneth Paltrow was of no help here, though I did ask her by way of her cookbook. Aside: Why does Gwyneth Paltrow have a cookbook?). Finally, it was my friends at Cooks Illustrated that came through for me. 

A word about Cooks Illustrated cookbooks: they test a ton of recipes so you don’t have to. Before giving you a recipe, they walk you through that process, explaining why you should take the extra time to sauté onions and garlic. Also, there will come a point when it tells you to mix the meat mixture with your hands. Do it. It's gross and squishy and really satisfying, and it's absolutely the best way to make sure that you've distributed the bread crumbs evenly so you don't find yourself with a large clump of bread crumbs in the middle of your loaf. 

The resulting meatloaf was moist and flavorful and reminded me of the meatloaf I ate growing up. My mom always served meatloaf with a bottle of ketchup next to it, and I thought the ketchup glaze was really yummy. This is not a quick meal, but it's that kind of satisfying, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food that leaves you thinking that all is right in the world. Even if you used ground turkey. 

best light recipeTurkey Meatloaf with Brown Sugar-Ketchup Glaze
by the Editors of COOKS ILLUSTRATED

Do not use ground turkey breast meat (sometimes also labeled as 99 percent fat free) or the meatloaf will be very dry and grainy. 




1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk or plain yogurt
2 large eggs
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 lbs 93% lean ground turkey
1 1/3 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 tsp cider or white vinegar


1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a wire rack on top; set aside. Fold a piece of heavy-duty foil into a 10 by 6-inch rectangle; set aside. 

2. Combine the onion, garlic, oil, and 1/8 tsp salt in a medium skillet. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the onion has softened, 8 to 10 minutes; set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, eggs, thyme, mustard, Worcestershire, hot sauce, pepper, and 1/4 tsp salt together. 

3. In a large bowl, mix the turkey, bread crumbs, parsley, cooked onion mixture, and egg mixture together with your hands until uniformly combined. Press the mixture together into a compact mass, then turn it out onto the foil rectangle. Using your hands, press the meat into an evenly thick loaf about 2 inches tall and 1 inch smaller than the foil on all sides. 

4. Transfer the foil and meatloaf to the center of the prepared wire rack. Stir the ketchup, sugar, and vinegar together, then brush half of the mixture evenly over the meatloaf. Bake the meatloaf for 45 minutes. 

5. Brush the meatloaf with the remaining ketchup glaze, and continue to bake until the center of the loaf registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 15 to 20 minutes longer. Cool at least 20 minutes before slicing into 1-inch-thick pieces. 


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