Back to School Bounty

Suddenly, one moment very soon, your days of racing the kids to this playdate or that swim practice or this camp will come to an and. And you’ll sit there, facing their eyes across the dinner table, and just know they know that you know – school starts tomorrow.

Sometimes this is mostly a happy moment. Summertime, and even summer vacation, were never meant to last forever. If your kids’ favorite friends are most easily encountered at school, that’s all the more reason they will welcome the one thing they think they’re never supposed to welcome. And you’ll welcome not having to drive them across the country to play for an hour or two. You’ve had enough of this freeform “vacation” to be exhausted, looking forward in spite of yourself to the return of routine.

Still, in most households, one thing that doesn’t get easy with Back to School is fixing dinner. There often are after-school activities that keep you out of the kitchen later than you wish, and then everybody marches in, tosses dirty clothes in this direction and that, and declares that it must be time to eat already. And then it strikes you, the almighty truth: It’s going to be this way, more or less, Monday through Friday, until the end of the school year.

One thing we don’t want you to do in response is subsist on drive-thru fast food. Even beyond the quality (or lack of same) associated with institutional burgers, fries, tacos, chicken nuggets and the like, the fact is they are really bad for you. As a treat, now and again, nobody should throw a fit. But not every day, or even many days. There are products now that step right into your oldest family recipes, delivering more and better flavors with less effort in less time. That’s an equation even your kids’ math teacher can get behind.

We really like it when families make dinner together. Besides the bonding that comes with it, putting their minds on cooking or chopping or shredding or grating takes their minds off eating, and you will appreciate that. We have two sets of products that especially should become your special friends – the Mom’s line of pasta sauces and other comfort foods, and our collection of Tex-Mex salsas. Happily for your family and ours, the Salsa a la Charra isn’t especially pepper hot – we leave that to our Hot Habanero – even if it does pack a lot of lightly smoky goodness.

The No. 1 lesson we want you to learn in THIS school is that pasta sauces aren’t only for pasta and salsa isn’t only for tortilla chips. They are, like color and shape in abstract art, the essential flavor building blocks sure to make your Back to School family dinner awesome.  

MEATLOAF A LA CHARRA

Of course, you can replace the seasoning profile suggested here with a pack of storebought taco seasoning, but for our money that’s beating you over the head with a taco, which is never unpleasant. We like this more subtle spice blend better, in that it tastes like both a taco and a mainstream meatloaf. And we love both. The salsa and the molten cheese on top are very nice touches.   

½ pound lean ground beef

½ pound ground pork

½ pound ground veal

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon lemon pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt and black pepper

1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

1 egg

1 jar Fischer & Wieser’s Salsa a la Charra

2 cups Mexican cheese blend

½ cup pizza cheese blend

Mashed potatoes

Fresh green beans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the three kinds of meat (or 1 ½ pounds ground beef if you prefer) with the onion and parsley. Season with garlic powder, onion powder, lemon pepper, cumin, paprika and salt and pepper. Add the breadcrumbs and eggs, mixing with your hands to incorporate. Mix in the salsa and about half the Mexican cheese bland. Form the mixture into a loaf in a loaf pan or on a baking tray with sides. Set in the oven until cooked through, about 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and top with the remaining salsa, the pizza cheese and the remaining Mexican blend. Return the meatloaf to the oven until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Serve with homemade mashed potatoes, preferable red potatoes with the skin on, and steamed fresh green beans. Serves 6-8.

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