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Thursday, March 15, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.

Mitt Romney's blue-collar birthday meal: Meatloaf cakes

By ASHLEY PARKER
The New York Times

Ronald Reagan had his jelly beans, Poppy Bush had his pork rinds and Mitt Romney has his — meatloaf cakes?

"Meatloaf cakes," Romney affirmed from the back of his charter plane as it idled on the tarmac in Ohio last week, explaining to the traveling press corps the special birthday meal his wife prepares for him every year.

"She makes these little meatloaf cakes about that big," he said, widening his hands to the size of a saucer, "and covers them with this sweet sauce."

"It's ketchup, cinnamon," he continued, before his wife, Ann, cut him off.

"The reason he likes it," she said with a laugh, "it's brown sugar and ketchup."

The traditional birthday meal, the Romneys added, includes mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and carrots.

"And that's what I like," he said happily.

But when Romney turned 65 on Monday, he did so without his usual dinner — a hazard of life on the campaign trail. Ann Romney assured him that his beloved cakes would be waiting the next time he was home long enough to enjoy a proper meal.

Mitt Romney is not a fussy eater, often fixing his own peanut butter and honey sandwiches on his campaign bus. Ann Romney has been known to supplement her husband's diet on the road, which includes cold cereal and fast food, with homemade goodies.

Around the holidays, tins of her famous Welsh cookies made the rounds, shared with Romney staff members and reporters. And someone who worked on Romney's presidential bid in 2008 remembers Ann Romney bringing those meatloaf cakes on the trail.

For politicians, food can also be a laced with potential land mines. Take John Kerry visiting Philadelphia and asking for Swiss on his cheese steak rather than Cheez Whiz — a moment that was used to portray him as out of touch with the common man.

Ann Romney's meatloaf cakes are less fraught. Though the subject of her husband's favorite birthday meal came up as a part of an off-the-record session with the news media, the Romneys quickly agreed to share their story and the recipe with The New York Times.

Denise Landis, who has tested recipes for The Times for over 20 years, made the Romney meatloaf but declined an invitation to tweak the recipe.

That would be beside the point, she said.

"Every family has its favorite recipe for meatloaf," Landis said, and those recipes should be respected. "My dad always added a generous handful of sunflower seeds," she said, to stretch the meat and give it texture.

But she couldn't resist asking for a suggestion or two from Benjamin Hasty, the chef of When Pigs Fly, a restaurant in Kittery, Maine, that specializes in charcuterie made from meats from local farms.

He said the trick to making flavorful meatloaf is to treat it like a terrine or sausage. Keep it as cold as possible during the mixing process, he said, so that the fat in the meat stays well chilled.

His recipe for meatloaf, which he uses in sliders or meatballs, includes ground beef, ground veal and ground bacon. For home cooks using 1 ½ pounds of ground beef, as Ann Romney does, he recommended adding ½ cup chopped onion to the meat, as well as 3 tablespoons panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), 2 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons powdered milk, 1 tablespoon ricotta, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon grated Romano or Parmesan, 1 teaspoon chili flakes, 1 teaspoon dried oregano and some chopped fresh parsley.

MEATLOAF CAKES

Adapted from Ann Romney

Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6 small meatloaf cakes (3 to 6 servings)

For the meatloaf cakes:

1 ½ pounds ground beef

4 slices bread, crumbled into small pieces, or ¾ cup dried breadcrumbs

1 large egg

¼ cup chopped onion

¼ cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons seasoned salt

For the sauce:

¼ cup ketchup

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1. For the meatloaf cakes: Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, crumbled bread or breadcrumbs, egg, onion, lemon juice and seasoned salt. Mix lightly but thoroughly and shape into six small loaves. Space evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes; meanwhile, prepare the sauce.

2. For the sauce: In a small bowl, mix together the ketchup, brown sugar, mustard, cloves and allspice. When the meatloaf cakes have baked for 15 minutes, brush each loaf with sauce and return to the oven. Continue to bake until the meatloaf cakes are 165 degrees in the center when tested with an instant-read thermometer, about 20 more minutes. If desired, serve with scalloped potatoes and steamed vegetables. Pass additional sauce separately.

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