Jennifer Valenza was just a kid when she realized different families have different takes on the same meal.
Growing up, Valenza was so used to her mom’s Cracker & Cheese Meatloaf that it didn’t occur to her that not all meatloaf recipes were made with melted cheese until a friend asked her to stay for dinner. When dinnertime came, Valenza was surprised to see the meatloaf there actually was a loaf of meat with tomato sauce on top and no cheese.
“I thought ‘Where in the world did these people come up with this recipe?’” she said, before her mother, Barbara Eyler, explained that what she had eaten was what most people thought of as meatloaf.
“I’ll stick with mom’s Cracker & Cheese Meatloaf any day,” said Valenza, who lives in Peckville.
The recipe, which earned Valenza a $50 gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore, also doesn’t call for tomato sauce.
“No one else that we know outside of our family has ever made this style of meatloaf, and there isn’t a family member who does not love this dish,” she said.
Valenza’s mom grew up eating the meatloaf for dinner. Eyler was one of six kids, and her mother always looked for an affordable, filling and delicious meal for the family. Eyler then made it for her family, and special occasions in their home always meant meatloaf, mashed potatoes and Harvard beets, Valenza said.
When Valenza got married and had a child of her own, the recipe came in handy again because both her husband and daughter were picky eaters. Everybody liked ground beef, cheese and crackers, though, so Cracker & Cheese Meatloaf turned into an instant staple in the family.
The recipe is pretty straightforward, said Valenza, who recommended cooks throw a sleeve of Saltines in a Ziploc bag and crush them with a rolling pin before mixing them with the other ingredients.
“That makes it so much easier,” she said.
Valenza considers herself more of a baker than a cook (“I like to follow a recipe. I like that structure,” she said) and has an arsenal of recipes for such goodies.
The family also added some new favorites after her daughter, Alyssa, brought home recipes from her cooking classes at Valley View High School. Valenza has made a Parmesan Ranch Chicken recipe as well as a recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies that’s to die for.
“These recipes have become staples in our home,” said Valenza, who creates different dishes around the holidays with Alyssa. “It’s pretty impressive that they’re teaching them how to make these foods.”
For Valenza, cooking and baking are about family and relaxation.
“It’s therapeutic,” she said.
Jennifer Valenza’s Cracker & Cheese Meatloaf
- 1 1/4 pounds ground beef
- 1 cup finely crushed Saltine crackers
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- 8-ounce block sharp cheddar cheese, chopped into small cubes
Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine crushed Saltines, salt, celery salt, paprika and pepper in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the egg and milk together. Add ground beef to milk and egg mixture and mix with hands until wet ingredients are incorporated into the ground beef. Add Saltine mixture to beef and mix thoroughly with hands. Add cubes of cheddar cheeses, mixing it and finally shaping into a loaf. Place in a 13-inch-by-9-inch cooking pan sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT