BY EMILY CHAPMAN
Jennifer Laske, assistant professor of theology at Mount Mary University, believes that God lives in meatloaf. Four times a year, Laske gathers the ingredients for making mass quantities of meatloaf, then spends hours in the kitchen molding hamburger meat, egg, vegetables and spices into perfectly formed loafs.
Once baked, she delivers them to her parish, Holy Apostles Catholic Church in New Berlin. From there, they are delivered to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Milwaukee, an organization dedicated to eliminating hunger in the community.
“If you believe God is creator of everything, then God would be in and through everything,” Laske said. “And so everything in the whole universe is sacramental. That just means that it mediates God’s presence. So meatloaf is sacramental.”
Every year, Laske’s parish, Holy Apostles Catholic Parish in New Berlin, asks for volunteers to help keep the various parish-supported ministries going, such as the meal programs. Six years ago, she signed up to be a meatloaf maker.
Today, she is one of 38 meatloaf makers for St. Vincent de Paul. Each meatloaf maker is required to prepare a minimum of four bread-sized pans of meatloaf, using a recipe that is provided to them. It is a plain meatloaf recipe because of possible dietary restrictions. Laske will usually make at least seven meatloaves. One year, she was feeling extra ambitious and made 12 meatloaves.
“I just love to cook,” Laske said. “If I am having a hard day or if I am tired or if I have a lot of stuff going on, I just soften butter. That’s therapeutic for me, and then I bake things with it.”
Laske is responsible for buying all of the ingredients. She likes to go to Sam’s Club to buy the meat because it is cheaper to buy it in bulk, so she is able to get the leanest meat possible. She wants her meatloaf to have as much protein as possible, and lean meat will shrink less when it is cooked.
The meatloaf is for anyone in need of a good meal. Each time it is served, about 200 people come from the surrounding neighborhoods to eat. Along with the meatloaf, fruit, dessert and potatoes are also served.
“Anytime that we do something loving for another person, it’s liked we are helped just as much or even more maybe because it makes us into more loving people,” Laske said. “The more that you do it, the more it becomes who you are.”
Aunt Helen’s Meatloaf
1 ó pounds of lean hamburger
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced onions
1/3 cup finely diced green pepper
3 tablespoons finely diced parsley
2 tablespoons A.1. Steak Sauce
1 cup bread crumbs
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
3 or 4 pieces bacon, or to taste
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If you can, process the vegetables in a food processor (or finely dice). Mix together meat, vegetables, egg, A.1. Steak Sauce, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and two spoonfuls of the canned diced tomatoes. Mold into a loaf and place in a 9×13 pan (or casserole dish). Place bacon on top of meatloaf lengthwise. Cook for 25 minutes. Pour the rest of the diced tomatoes on top. Cook for another 30 minutes. Let cool for about 10 to 15 minutes before slicing. Use drippings from pan for gravy. Serve with salad and mashed potatoes. Enjoy!
“The meatloaf can be cooked in a bread pan but will be greasier. Much better to use the 9×13 dish to avoid this (and also to have drippings for gravy),” Laske said. “Another tip is to slightly cook the bacon in the microwave before covering the meatloaf with it (about two minutes) – then the bacon is less greasy.”