One of the most common questions I get from friends and family is “How do you come up with your recipes?”
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
It’s not as difficult as it looks.
Coming up with my own recipes is all about knowing which flavors go well together, which flavors I like the best, and knowing or having a resource for a lot of basic recipes.
It’s kind of like when Brad and I (well mostly Brad) taught Rascal all of his tricks. It didn’t happen overnight. He figured out Rascal’s incentive to learn tricks (this used to be playing, but now it’s food or treats) and then he taught Rascal some basic tricks: sit, lie down, shake, stand up. By learning these basic tricks, Brad was able to teach him more complicated tricks, which he taught by building on the basics. From lie down, Rascal learned roll over and play dead. From stand up, Rascal learned patty cake (My absolute favorite! So cute!) and eventually how to balance a treat on his nose while standing up.
So what does this have to do with how I learned to cook and eventually develop my own recipes?
Well first, I had to find my incentive for cooking. That was Brad.
For the first time, there was someone who I wanted to cook for and someone who really encouraged me to cook. Brad was my biggest fan, long before I had any idea what I was doing in the kitchen.
Next, I had to learn some basics. I did this by looking at recipes online, recreating my family’s favorite recipes, and being an adventurous eater, then recreating the things I tried. After I knew a lot of basic cooking techniques and a lot of classic recipes, I began to adapt recipes, make adjustments based on personal preference and what ingredients I had on hand. Then came more complicated adaptations of recipes that eventually turned into my own creations.
This recipe for caprese meatloaf is a perfect example. Meatloaf is a classic recipe and every family has their go-to version. I’ve made meatloaf several times, but this time, I shook things up a bit.
Several weeks ago, Brad and I had no air conditioning. We actually had no working air conditioning when we moved into our house last October, but had no need for it at the time. Then summer weather snuck up on us in May and there were a few weekends that were pretty miserable. I can’t stand being sweaty and uncomfortable unless I’m exercising.
When my dad and a friend of his came over one evening to install our new air conditioning system, I offered to treat them to dinner. I wanted to make something that was stick-to-your-ribs hearty. But I also wanted to make something just a bit different. My dad is typically up for trying new things, so I like to cook something new and interesting for him when I get the chance.
I’m a big fan of caprese salad, mostly because I’m in love with basil and fresh summer tomatoes. I’m not exactly sure where I got the idea to use these same flavors in a meatloaf, but that’s how my recipes come together. I take something basic and give it a small twist, typically based on flavors I already know that I like together.
For this particular recipe, I used my grandmother’s meatloaf recipe for inspiration, then stuffed it with the classic flavors of a caprese salad, made a special sauce that incorporated a balsamic reduction.
CAPRESE MEATLOAF (serves 6)
1 pound grass fed beef, 90% lean
1 16 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 roma tomatoes, sliced into 3-4 slices each
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine all of the ingredients for the meatloaf in a large bowl and mix well. Take half of the meatloaf mixture and press evenly into a loaf pan.
Make the filling:
Place tomatoes slices evenly over the mixture in the loaf pan so tomatoes completely cover the meatloaf. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the tomatoes, then the basil. Top the filling with the other half of the meatloaf mixture, pressing evenly into the loaf pan.
Place loaf pan in oven and cook for 1 hour.
Make the sauce:
Bring balsamic vinegar to a boil in a small pot on the stove top. Lower heat and continue to cook until vinegar has reduced by half. Add 1/2 cup of tomato paste, salt, and garlic powder, stirring well. Remove from heat and set aside.
When meatloaf has cooked for one hour, remove from oven and spread sauce evenly over the top of the meatloaf. Place back into the oven and cook for an additional five minutes. Slice and serve.
*You can use other varieties of tomatoes, but small romas are easier to fit evenly in the loaf pan. Buffalo mozzarella would be amazing if you want to opt for the good stuff over shredded mozzarella; but shredded was what I had on hand. Lastly, you’ll notice in the photo that my basil isn’t “chopped” as I dictated in the recipe — this is because I used fresh basil from my herb garden and the leaves are so small they didn’t need to be chopped.
This version of meatloaf has everything you love about a the classic American comfort food, but it’s just different enough to be creative and new. But do you know how I know my dinner guests loved my take on meatloaf? The second helpings they ate, of course. That’s the true test of a new recipe.
Do you make up your own recipes? Where do you get your ideas?