If meatloaf is in your comfort food category then most likely you grew up with it. Comfort foods are like that. They bring back the memories of childhood and the great smells and tastes from Mom's kitchen.

In all probability my Mom's meatloaf recipe, that is comforting to me, is not the same as your Mom's.

That's what's so great about meatloaf. There's not a definitive recipe.

It's a blank canvas. One of the most versatile meat entrees there is. It can be anything you want it to be.

It's actually more of a food category than it is a food item. In the same manner that soup is a food category.

Meatloaf Basics

Great meatloaf should always be juicy but never greasy. It shouldn't fall apart when sliced. It should not be bland but it should also not be so heavily seasoned that it looses its meatiness.

Even though there's not a definitive recipe there are some basics to every meatloaf recipe.

Naturally it starts with meat. Most recipes call for ground beef but it doesn't have to be all ground beef. You can use a combination of meats including veal, lamb, pork or sausages. The meat is a basic but still versatile.

In addition to the meat you will almost always have some type of binder such as eggs and a starch such as bread or cracker crumbs. Some recipes also include vegetables.

The crumbs help to bind along with the eggs and also serve as an extender for the meat. Vegetables are also an extender and will help to keep the meatloaf moist.

To add to the versatility you can use store bought flavored croutons for the crumbs. Just pulse them in the food processor. You can also buy flavored breadcrumbs.

Vegetable variations make meatloaf even more versatile. I know a lady that cleans her refrigerator of leftovers each week with meatloaf. Her meatloaf is never the same but always good.

You will also see meatloaf recipes that have a topping put on before baking. A favorite is bacon strips. Tomato products are also popular. My Mom used catsup.

Seasoning is a matter of taste. Use whatever you like. If there were anything basic I would say just salt and pepper. Beyond that let your taste buds be your guide.

Want a Mexican meatloaf? Try chili powder and cumin. Use ground tortilla chips as the starch and a taco sauce topper.

How about Italian? Then it's oregano and basil. Garlic croutons or Italian breadcrumbs are good for the starch and of course a good Italian pasta sauce for the topper.

Do you want a meatloaf with an oriental slant? Add in a can of oriental style vegetables and use soy sauce to taste.

Do you see what I mean?

Of course you should still prepare the one that is comforting to you. But you can travel the world from your kitchen with meatloaf and all its variations.

Meatloaf truly is a versatile comfort food.

Jim Bolding is a freelance writer and the Webmaster at http://www.beef-cooking.com where you can find many meatloaf recipes.