A comforting classic reborn

Chef Laura Frankel's mushroom meatloaf served with a peppercorn sauce will spruce up an average weeknight meal.

mushroom meatloaf 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank.)
mushroom meatloaf 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank.)
When the weather turns chilly, I crave warm and comforting meals like this delicious meatloaf. This is not your average weeknight meatloaf though. I grind up whole mushrooms in my food processor and add it to the mix. The mushrooms add a deep earthy flavor and the extra moisture keeps the meatloaf from drying out.   
Then, instead of the classic tomato/ketchup glaze for the meatloaf, I top the loaf with this savory and delicious peppercorn mushroom sauce. The sauce is loaded with caramelized onions, mushrooms and toasted peppercorns. This sauce will take your weekday meatloaf and turn it into a treat worthy of company. Leftover sauce can be frozen and served over steaks, brisket or poultry.
Olive oil1 large Spanish onion, finely chopped2 garlic cloves, chopped2 cups chopped mushrooms1 medium carrot, peeled and grated on the coarse side of a box grater3 pounds ground beef or turkey2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves2 tablespoons tomato paste1 cup fresh bread crumbs (leftover halla works well for this)2 large eggs, lightly whiskedKosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Place a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally, until translucent and very limp. Add the garlic and cook for three minutes more. Place the onions and garlic in a large mixing bowl to cool completely.
2. Place the mushrooms in a food processor and pulse until they are ground up completely. The moisture from the mushrooms will keep the meatloaf from drying out.
3. Line a 9 -inch loaf pan with parchment paper, with 3 inches of paper hanging over each side to cover the meatloaf.
4. Add the carrots, ground beef or turkey, ground mushrooms, parsley, thyme, tomato paste, bread crumbs, and egg to the onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Gently mix everything with your hands.
5. Place the meat mixture into the loaf pan. Do not pack the mixture tightly, or the meatloaf will be tough. Cover the top of the loaf pan with the overhanging parchment paper.
6. Place the loaf pan in the preheated oven and bake for 35-45 minutes.
7. Remove the meatloaf from the slow cooker and cool slightly until you can comfortably touch the loaf pan. Turn the loaf pan upside down on to a platter. The meatloaf will come out easily. Remove the parchment paper. Slice and serve with Peppercorn and Mushroom Wine Sauce.
Peppercorn and Mushroom Wine Sauce
This delicious sauce is perfect over slow-cooked pieces of meat as well as quickly grilled or pan-roasted steaks or chicken. The secret is the slow extraction of flavors from the onions, peppercorns, and mushrooms.   
1 tablespoon whole black peppercornsOlive oil2 pounds peeled onions, sliced thinly3 ounces cremini mushrooms with their stems, cut in half (about 1 cup)3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced1/4 cup tomato paste1/4 cup balsamic vinegar1 ounce ([1/4] cup) dried porcini mushrooms1/2 cup brandy2 cups dry red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon2 cups Chicken Stock 6 thyme sprigs1 bay leaf
1. Toast the peppercorns in a small dry sauté pan over medium-high heat until they have darkened and are slightly smoky and very fragrant, about seven minutes. (This helps mellow the peppercorns and gives them a deeper, smoky flavor. I recommend opening a window for this process as it can be smoky.)
2. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Cook the onions until they are browned, about 3-5 minutes.
3. Add the cremini mushrooms to the sauté pan. Add more oil, if necessary. Brown the cremini mushrooms about five minutes. Add the garlic toward the end of cooking the mushrooms and cook for three minutes more until the garlic is slightly softened and very fragrant.
4. Add a little more olive oil to the sauté pan. Add the tomato paste and brown it, stirring constantly. This will take only about three minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and simmer the mixture until the balsamic is reduced to a glaze.
5. Add the porcini mushrooms, brandy, wine, stock, thyme, and bay leaf to the pan. Simmer until the mixture is reduced by 1/2 and the sauce is thick and resembles a glaze.
6. Remove the thyme stems and bay leaf before serving.