Learning to Cook: An Oven Meal

My friend, a young man who is learning to cook, came over to make dinner with me today. When I asked him what he wanted to make, he said, “Something hearty.” I planned an almost-all-in-the-oven meal with a basic, homey, HEARTY meatloaf as the star. Go-withs are roasted potatoes, balsamic-glazed carrots, steamed peas (the out-of-the-oven part), and apple crisp for dessert.

This meal is a nice choice for a beginning cook who is ready to move beyond making a single dish at a time because there is little to do at the last minute, and all of the oven dishes will taste fine if they have to stand (outside the oven) for a few minutes while the last few jobs are completed. The key to success is having a timetable worked out with all the steps in chronological order.

Working with a more experienced cook for the first time makes for a relaxed shared time of learning and fun. Don’t rush – allow 30 minutes or so at the beginning to read through the recipes and the plan and a good two hours for the cooking part.

Now, get up and go cook something good.

Almost-All-in-the-Oven Dinner Prep Plan
serves 6-8

This is a great cool-weather menu. Start cooking 2 hours before the meal. You will have a little time to relax once everything is prepped and in the oven.

–Crispy Roast Potatoes
–Balsamic-glazed Carrots
–Steamed Green Veggie (peas, green beans, or broccoli)
–Apple Crisp

2 hours ahead:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the two racks so the oven space is divided into thirds.
2. Mix the meatloaf and place it into the loaf pan. Set aside until 1 ½ hours before the meal.
3. Prep and parboil the potatoes; set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
4. Prep the carrots.

1 ½ hours ahead:
1. Meatloaf in oven on top rack. If your loaf pan is quite full, set it in a slightly larger pan in case of escaping meat juices.
2. Continue prepping potatoes – scraping and brushing with butter mixture steps.
3. Mix topping for meatloaf; set aside.
4. Begin prepping apple crisp.

1 hour ahead:
1. Move meatloaf to one side of bottom rack. Potatoes in oven on top rack.
2. Finish prepping apple crisp.

45 minutes ahead:
1. Carrots in oven beside meatloaf.
2. Finish prepping apple crisp, if needed.
3. Clean kitchen.

20 minutes ahead:
1. Top meatloaf; return to oven for 10 minutes.

15 minutes ahead:
1. Prepare a frozen green veggie according to package directions.
2. Set table and pour drinks.
3. Salt potatoes, slice meatloaf, and serve everything.
4. When main dishes come out of oven, rearrange the oven racks so the top one is in the center of the oven, and put the apple crisp in to bake for 1 hour. It will bake while you eat the main course.

A Few Tips for Success:

–Remember, c. = cup, T. = tablespoon, t. = teaspoon
–Brown sugar is always packed tightly into the container, whether it be a measuring cup or spoon.
–For a happy cooking experience, start with a clean kitchen and end with a clean kitchen. Clean as you go during pockets of time while you cook. Fill a bowl or one side of the sink with hot soapy water before you start your work and drop dirty dishes (except sharp things) into it as you finish with them. They will almost wash themselves!
–If you are confused or unsure about something, pause and read the directions again. If you still don’t know, ask for help.

Hearty Meatloaf
serves 8


2 lb. ground chuck (85% lean)
2 t. salt
1 c. milk (1/3 c. dry milk powder + ¾ c. water)
2 eggs
1 c. quick or old-fashioned oats
¼ t. pepper
1 small onion, small dice

¼ c. ketchup
2 T. brown sugar
1 t. dry mustard powder (or 1 T. mustard)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, lightly but thoroughly mix the meatloaf ingredients. Turn into a loaf pan. (Or, form eight oval mini-loaves and place in a 9” x 13” casserole.) If your loaf pan is very full, place in a slightly larger baking pan to catch any escaping meat juices.

3. Bake, uncovered, for 1 ½ hours. (For individual loaves, bake approximately 30-45 minutes or until no longer pink in the center.)

4. Meanwhile, stir topping ingredients together in a small bowl. Remove meatloaf from oven and spread topping evenly over the top. Return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Let stand 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Meatloaf is delicious served with baked, roasted, or mashed potatoes and a couple of other veggies. Instead of the ketchup topping, meatloaf is also very good served with beef gravy. I sometimes plan my meals so I have pot roast with gravy sometime before I make meatloaf. I freeze some of the leftover gravy to spread on top of the meatloaf.

Crispy Roast Potatoes
serves 6-8

8 russet (baking) potatoes of about the same size, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 T. olive or vegetable oil
¼ c. butter or margarine, melted
salt (kosher or sea salt is nice, but regular table salt is fine, too)

1. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan. Add cold water to just cover them. Bring to a boil over high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes or until slightly softened. (This is called parboiling – partially boiling or cooking the ingredient.) Drain. Place in a single layer on a paper towel-lined cookie sheet. Set aside for 30 minutes to cool.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

3. Combine the oil and butter in a small bowl.

4. Use a fork to scrape lengthwise grooves on the curved side of each potato. Place in a single layer, cut side down, on the prepared cookie sheet. Brush with half of the butter mixture.

5. Roast in the oven, brushing again with the butter mixture halfway through the cooking time, for 50 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with salt just before serving.

Make ahead tip: These can be made ahead up to several hours ahead, such as before worship on Sunday morning to be served for lunch. After roasting, place the potatoes in an oven-proof serving dish and set aside, lightly covered. Fifteen minutes before serving time, uncover them and place the dish in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes to reheat. (You can do the same with any roasted veggie, so long as there is no ingredient like dairy products in them that require refrigeration.)

This is Kyle. He sports a very strange, but much-loved, apron. Hi, Kyle.

Balsamic-Glazed Carrots
serves 6-8

6-8 large carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1” chunks
2 T. butter or margarine, melted
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 T. balsamic vinegar
½ t. salt
grinds pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Lightly grease a 2 quart casserole. Place the carrot chunks in it.

3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and stir to blend well. Pour over the carrots. Toss to coat.

4. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes, tossing occasionally, or until carrots are tender.

Apple Crisp
serves 6-8

4-5 c. peeled, sliced apples
about ¾ c. granulated sugar (you can use less if you want a less sweet dessert)

Topping ingredients:
1 ½ c. quick or old-fashioned oats (not instant)
½ c. brown sugar
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. chopped pecans or walnuts, optional
½ c. melted butter or margarine

1. Lightly grease a 2 quart shallow baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a rack in the center of the oven.

2. Place the sliced apples in the dish and sprinkle them evenly with the granulated sugar.

3. Mix the topping ingredients in a medium bowl until well-combined. Sprinkle the topping over the sugared apples.

4. Bake, uncovered, for 1 hour until the fruit is tender and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm with ice cream, if desired.

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    My son wanted to learn to do some simple meals while he was home so that he could entertain at his apartment. Alas, he never was around when it was dinnertime, so we’re going to have to do what you just did and type out the directions step by step. I am thinking a simple meal of meatloaf, roasted potatos, carrots, peas is a good one to start with. 🙂 Sounds fun.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted January 16, 2008 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    BTW, Google won’t let me sign in, so I had to do “anonymous”. This is Renita.

  3. Posted January 16, 2008 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    I came to your blog after reading your comment to Juline on Pleonast. This is didow. What a great blog. I need to bookmark it and come by to visit.

  4. Posted January 17, 2008 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    Oh, don’t he look cute in his cow apron?

  5. Posted January 26, 2008 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    That looks great! I really like your blog, Lori. I hope to see many more recipes.

    I’ve never made potatoes like that and I’m not sure why because they look yummy!

  • Your comment is the best part of this blog! Share what’s on your mind here.

  • In My Kitchen, In My Life is a place where women (and the odd male) can be encouraged, nudged, and occasionally kicked in the pants toward living their lives on a higher plane. Oh, and readers get plenty of chances to laugh at the author's foibles, which is always worth a click.

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