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What’s Cooking in Illinois: We’re thinking comfort foods like meatloaf and roasts and cakes, and we’re taking them to the grill.

Charlyn Fargo Ware

May 15, 2020

4 Min Read
grilled meatloaf
GRILLED: Comfort foods like meatloaf — cooked over charcoal, for a twist — will get us all through these strange quarantine times. Charlyn Fargo

We’ve missed many things about ordinary life these past weeks.

Leisurely wandering the grocery store aisles. Hugging people. Ordering a peppermint mocha from your favorite coffee shop and spending time chatting with a friend. Taking time to shop for something you think you need.

All things we used to take for granted.

I realized the other day when I took a deposit to my bank that it was the first time I’d driven my car in a couple of weeks. My husband, Brad, has taken over the grocery shopping, and we agreed it’s best if just one of us does chores like that.

My job at Southern Illinois University Medical School has allowed me to work from home, as many of you are doing now. I have an entirely new routine. Some parts I like, and some parts I really miss about my past ordinary life.

But I’ve found a bright side. There are many new routines that make this shelter-at-home situation much better. For one, I’ve been cooking a whole lot more. It’s a very rare thing now to pick up something at a restaurant. And what I find myself whipping up in the kitchen are comfort foods.

I find myself cooking many of the dishes I grew up eating when my mom cooked on the farm, three times a day, every day — comfort foods such as roast and potatoes and carrots or a meatloaf. My friend Susie agrees. Her mom lives nearby and comes over for Sunday dinners. This past week, she made a family favorite called Chicken Perlo, a chicken and rice dish that’s famous in the South.

My friend Vicki thinks of sweets when she thinks of comfort foods. She made a soda cake — a lemon cake mix that is mixed with 12 ounces of Sprite — and then frosted it with vanilla frosting. This week, she plans to make a chocolate fudge soda cake with 12 ounces of Cherry Coke and chocolate frosting.

“I’m doing food I haven’t done in forever,” Vicki says. “It’s back to our roots.”

I think comfort foods keep us grounded during these times, when all around us there’s uncertainty. These are times when we go from thinking everything will be OK to thinking life like we knew it will never really return, all in the span of five minutes or less.

And while it’s certainly important to include lots of fruits and vegetables at every meal, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, it’s also important to realize our parents went through much worse and survived. My father grew up during the Great Depression and survived the Korean War. And he survived the rough farming years of the 1980s. Mom lost her mother at age 6 and her dad when she was in college.

They made it, and we will too. It may just take some comfort food to get us through.

Here’s our favorite meatloaf recipe, adapted from the Weber’s Real Grilling cookbook, and cooked over charcoal for the best flavor.


1 portabella mushroom, finely chopped
1 cup oatmeal
¼ cup milk
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
⅓ cup barbecue sauce

Prepare grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium heat (350 to 450 degrees F).

In a medium bowl, combine the oatmeal and milk; mix well and let stand while combining the rest of the ingredients. In a large bowl, combine the meatloaf ingredients, including the mushroom and soaked oatmeal. Using your hands, mix the ingredients thoroughly, but do not overwork.

Form into a loaf about 9 inches long and 5 inches wide. Place the loaf in the middle of a disposable aluminum pan. Grill over indirect medium heat, with the lid closed, for 45 minutes. After 45 minutes of grilling time, brush the barbecue sauce over the top and sides of the meatloaf and continue to grill over indirect medium heat, with the lid closed, until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, 40 to 45 minutes more.

Let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Cut into 1-inch slices and serve warm. Serves 6 to 8.

Fargo is a registered dietitian with SIU Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at [email protected]. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

About the Author(s)

Charlyn Fargo Ware

Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois University Medical School in Springfield, Ill. Email recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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