Italian Meatballs

What today seems to be a dinnertime staple for busy families, spaghetti and meatballs (or meat sauce) was not something found on my childhood dinner table (see Snow and Spaghetti). And, technically, since I was a farm kid, it’s “supper table”, not “dinner table”.

In college, spaghetti with marinara sauce (usually the cheapest jar of spaghetti sauce I could find) was a once-a-week, affordable, and filling meal. As a splurge, my roommates and I might scrape together a couple of dollars to buy a pound of Italian sausage to add to the sauce. Usually, the smell of the sausage cooking would have the added bonus of bringing the cute guys who lived in the upstairs apartment down for a visit with stomachs growling. Why didn’t I think of subsidizing my college expenses by cooking for other students? Talk about entrepreneurship!

After we were married and had kids, spaghetti with meat sauce was one of the meals my husband would make. He would always mention how his mom would make meatballs and let them simmer in spaghetti sauce for hours and how much he loved breaking apart those tender meatballs.

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Shortly after a good friend gave me the recipe for her Sweet & Sour Meatballs, it dawned on me that this recipe could easily be adapted for Italian meals. I realize there are tons and tons of Italian meatball recipes out there but, in my defense, this was before Pinterest (gasp!) and modifying a tried-and-true recipe is always great place to start.

This recipe has become a family favorite, not only for spaghetti with meatballs but also for meatball hoagies, minestrone-style soups, pizza topping, and amazing appetizers. One batch will make about 120 small meatballs (about 1 1/2″ diameter) which means I have enough for a big Italian dinner and plenty to freeze for future meals (or for my boys to steal on their next trip home).

No, I am not above bribing my kids with food.

 


 

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Italian Meatballs

1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 pound Italian sausage
2 eggs
2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning*
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1-2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine all ingredients and half of the milk in a large bowl. If the mixture seems dry, add the rest of the milk. The only reason not to add all of the milk is if the mixture is already “soupy” or looking like it may not hold its shape when rolled into balls.

Using a cookie scoop (or just your hands), form into equal-sized (1 1/2″ diameter) balls and place on cookie sheets. Bake for 20 minutes or until edges brown and center of meatball is no longer pink.

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You can make the meatballs any size you want. Just make sure you make them equal in size and adjust baking time accordingly. If you are making them larger than 2″in diameter, drop the oven temperature to 350° to avoid drying out the outside and undercooking the inside.


Tonight, I will surprise my husband with the smell of spaghetti and meatballs when he walks in the door. I have no idea how my meatballs compare to hers and I’m not concerned. I know that they will bring back happy memories of his mom and that, in turn, will make me happy.

That, and the fact that I have more meatballs in the freezer!

Come on home, boys!


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Thanksgiving Meatballs & Cranberry-Mustard Sauce

Photo Credit: Mary Kuster-Shell

November. Halloween is over and everyone is jumping right into Christmas. Music, movies, decorations, shopping …

Not me. I’m a Thanksgiving girl. I love everything about this holiday. I love the hymns we sing at church, the story of the Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal to celebrate the bounty of the land, getting together as family and friends without feeling like you have to exchange presents, and the anticipation of the feast to come.

I don’t complain about “slaving over a hot stove” to prepare a meal that is much too much for one family or making everyone’s favorite dishes. The greatest disappointment for me is that it’s over too soon and another year must pass before the smell of turkey, sage dressing, and pumpkin pie fill the house again.

I just couldn’t wait that long this year. Why not have a simpler version of a Thanksgiving feast to tide me over? So, how do you get the flavors of turkey, sage dressing, and cranberry sauce into a simpler form?

Meatballs, of course!

What goes into sage dressing? Bread, onions, celery, sage … it’s the perfect set up for a meatball. No brining, no basting, no defrosting or carving involved. And, since every meatball needs a sauce, we will be serving these with a simple cranberry-mustard sauce.

Print Recipe
Thanksgiving Meatballs with Cranberry-Mustard Sauce
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Saute the onion and celery in the butter and olive oil until tender.
  2. Add half the salt, half the pepper, the sage, and the bread crumbs; stir until well combined and bread crumbs are lightly browned. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
  3. In a large bowl, combine turkey and sausage and add the bread crumb mixture, eggs, Worchestershire Sauce, and remaining salt and pepper. Add just enough milk (start with 1/2 cup) to hold the meatballs together but not too much to make the mixture soggy.
  4. Scoop out meatballs with a large cookie scoop (about 1 1/2″-2″ in diameter).
  5. Place in a baking or roasting pan. If you have fresh sage, place several leaves between meatballs.
  6. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and discard fresh sage leaves (if using).
  7. Serve with Cranberry-Mustard Sauce.
Recipe Notes

1. Not all bread crumbs are created equal. Different brands have different textures and different textures will change the texture of the meatballs. Look for "flaky" breadcrumbs rather than coarse or dense kinds.
2. Add the milk last and in moderation. The different types of ground meats vary greatly and some will require less/more milk than others. Start with 1/2 cup and add more if the meat mixture is not holding together well when meatballs are formed.
3. Meatballs can also be made on the stove top. Start by adding a light layer of olive oil/butter over medium heat. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides. Reduce heat to medium-low to finish the cooking process.

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Special thanks and credit to Mary Kuster-Shell for the recipe photos!

Since my favorite accompaniment to turkey is cranberry sauce, I decided to experiment with the combination of cranberries and BBQ sauce. When I went to the refrigerator to choose a sauce, I noticed this Georgia-Mustard Sauce from Famous Dave’s as well as a bottle of apple cider. Cranberries … mustard … apples …

Print Recipe
Cranberry-Mustard Sauce
Cranberry Mustard Sauce
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Cranberry Mustard Sauce
Instructions
  1. Bring cider to a boil in a sauce pan; add honey and cranberries. Return to a boil; reduce heat to simmer and cook cranberries 10-15 minutes.
  2. Cranberries will pop/break as they cook. Smash the cranberries against the side of the pan with a large spoon, if needed.
  3. Add Georgia-Mustard (or BBQ) sauce and stir to combine and heat through.
  4. Stir in a little more honey if you like a sweeter sauce.
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There are always so many sides to choose from when deciding on a Thanksgiving menu. Celebrating a little early allows us to have some of those sides that don’t make it on the official holiday table. To kick off November and the season of gratitude, here’s a simple menu for a special meal:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Meatballs
Cranberry-Mustard Sauce
Fried Apples
Parsley-Mustard Glazed Carrots
Cornbread Muffins
Pumpkin Parfait Cups

Now, if I could just get the Hallmark Channel to make more Thanksgiving movies. Until then, I’ll stick to Charlie Brown … never underestimate the power of popcorn, jelly beans and toast!



 

 

Breadcrumbs

I think there is going to be a meatball renaissance. Call it a hunch. In fact, we’re going to launch the campaign now. Let’s #MakeMeatballsGreatAgain.

A lot of people hear the word “meatball” and instantly feel like yawning. Not me. My first thought is “What kind of meatballs?” I have seen how hamburgers have become the latest craze for creativity. What is a meatball but a ground up burger, bun and all? Why shouldn’t it be as trendy as its cousin?


What are breadcrumbs good for?

Hansel and Gretel used them as a way to mark their return route (resourceful but not particularly effective … one smart chipmunk and all that effort is wasted); children and adults alike are entertained by feeding them to birds; and apparently, they aid us as internet users to identify where we are and where we have been on the web.

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But their true purpose for existing? Meatballs.

It is the breadcrumbs and the egg(s) that hold the meat together and give them their texture. I don’t think I’m revealing anything to anyone with this statement. What I do hope to make clear is something I just learned while making the Cuban Meatballs for my post earlier this week.

I try to always have breadcrumbs in my freezer. They are usually homemade from bread that has gone a bit stale, leftover garlic bread, or the heels of a loaf that no one wants to eat. Sometimes, I buy bread crumbs for a recipe if I don’t have any homemade on hand and then I freeze what I don’t use to keep them fresh.

As I opened the container of breadcrumbs I had purchased at the grocery store, I saw that I had picked one that was labeled “fine”. They weren’t the flaky type I usually use but had more of a granular texture. No big deal. They are breadcrumbs. I measured them out, made the meatballs and they were delicious. But, they were much more dense than usual.

Written this way, I realize it sounds obvious and you might be rolling your eyes and thinking “great discovery, Einstein”. It’s not like I was trying to write a blog on this subject. I just didn’t realize how big of a difference the texture of the breadcrumbs would make on the texture and size of the meatballs. Using the more dense crumbs, means more will fit in the measuring cup and take leave less room in the meat mixture for “air”.

The point of this is not that one type of breadcrumb is better than another. The point is you can change the texture of the meatball by the type of breadcrumb you use.

FOOD TIP: If you like a denser meatball, use a more powdery, fine breadcrumb. For a lighter, softer meatball, use a flaky-style breadcrumb like Panko or make your own.

Tear leftover bread pieces into cubes and place on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on the cupboard and allow the bread to dry out for 2-3 hours. Place cubes in a food processor (do this in batches rather than overcrowding the bowl) and pulse until the cubes are evenly sized crumbs. Store in a Ziploc baggie or airtight container in the freezer. If you want to season the breadcrumbs, add seasonings to food processor right before pulsing.

Closing Thought: Is it any wonder that in this technology-driven era, the foodie culture is also booming? Do you suppose it has anything to do with the use of words like:

breadcrumb
cookies
byte
spam
Macintosh

That darn subliminal messaging … now I’m hungry for cookies …

and apples …

funny … still not hungry for SPAM.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Cuban Meatballs

Cuban Meatballs

I think there is going to be a meatball renaissance. Call it a hunch. In fact, we’re going to launch the campaign now. Let’s #MakeMeatballsGreatAgain.

A lot of people hear the word “meatball” and instantly feel like yawning. Not me. My first thought is “What kind of meatballs?” I have seen how hamburgers have become the latest craze for creativity. What is a meatball but a ground up burger, bun and all? Why shouldn’t it be as trendy as its cousin?


Cuban Meatballs
What you love about a Cuban sandwich is in this meatball recipe … pork, ham, pickles, mustard, cheese and, yes, even the bread!

For the past 10 days or so, we have been in the middle of a very typical Iowa July weather pattern … HOT and HUMID! Today is one of those days that allows me to make it through another Iowa summer. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon,the temperature has dropped to the high 70’s, and the breeze is light. I know most people dread winter in Iowa but it’s the summer humidity that gives me Seasonal Affective Disorder.

And yet, when I want to complain about the heat and humidity, I only have to think about my relatives in Miami, and I could just kiss my air conditioner. Whenever I start thinking about them, I also start craving Cuban food. I have become a big fan of the Cuban Sandwich. Ham, pork, swiss cheese, mustard, and dill pickles all layered between slices of Cuban bread. It’s not easy to find Cuban bread here in Iowa, so I usually end up using a French or Italian loaf. I was curious though … what makes Cuban bread, Cuban?

Wikipedia says “Cuban bread is a fairly simple white bread, similar to French bread and Italian bread, but has a slightly different baking method and ingredient list (in particular, it generally includes a small amount of fat in the form of lard or vegetable shortening); it is usually made in long, baguette-like loaves.”

Did you catch that? LARD!

It makes everything better!

As much as I love and respect lard, there is a time and a place for its use. This is not the time or venue. This is the time for meatballs. As I’ve mentioned before, what is a meatball but a ground-up sandwich? Therefore, I give you …

Print Recipe
Cuban Meatballs
Cuban Meatballs
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 20-30 Minutes
Servings
Meatballs
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 Minutes
Cook Time 20-30 Minutes
Servings
Meatballs
Ingredients
Cuban Meatballs
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Combine all ingredients, except oil and pepper, in a large bowl by hand.
  3. Roll mixture into balls about 1 1/2" in diameter or use a cookie scoop.
  4. Place on baking sheets. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes.
  6. Turn meatballs over, return to oven, and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until fully cooked.
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These would be great with a side of black beans, sour-cream and dill cucumber slices, sweet corn, and/or sliced fresh tomatoes. I plan to eat the leftovers (as pictured) as an appetizer with a side of Mojito!



 

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

I think there is going to be a meatball renaissance. Call it a hunch. In fact, we’re going to lead the parade. Let’s #MakeMeatballsGreatAgain.

A lot of people hear the word “meatball” and instantly feel like yawning. Not me. My first thought is “What kind of meatballs?”

Swedish meatballs … Porcupine meatballs … Italian meatballs … Spaghetti and meatballs … Meatball subs … Meatball soup … Baked meatballs … Fried meatballs … Crock Pot meatballs …

I have seen how hamburgers have become the latest craze for creativity. What is a meatball but a ground up burger, bun and all? Why shouldn’t it be as trendy as its cousin? I started thinking about how versatile meatballs are and ended up channeling my inner Forrest Gump! “I know everything there is to know about …” meatballs.

WingSauceWhen we go out to eat, someone invariably orders buffalo chicken in some form: wings, sandwich, salad, etc. It is a major crisis at our house if the bottle of hot/wing sauce in the refrigerator is empty. Years ago, I started making homemade hot wings using only two ingredients: wing segments and Cookies Wings ‘n’ Things Sauce. We have tried a lot of hot-, wing-, buffalo-sauces and this is, by far, our favorite. And, being the good Iowa girl that I am, the fact that it is made in NW Iowa is a bonus!

And this is where meatballs start getting attention again. Let’s face it. After you say “buffalo” people don’t care what form of chicken you serve them! Okay so maybe that’s just my house, but I doubt it!

And what is the best part of ordering wings at a restaurant? It’s that everybody gets to choose their sauce! Mild or hot, tangy or spicy, barbeque, or buffalo, they’ve got us covered. So we are going to start with a basic chicken meatball with three different sauce options: buffalo, sweet-sour/schezuan, and honey-bbq.

BUFFALO CHICKEN MEATBALLS

1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or beer
2 pounds ground chicken
1 pound ground pork 
2 eggs
2 cups bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dry ranch seasoning (or dressing mix)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°. Saute celery, onion and garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until tender, 5-6 minutes. Add vinegar/beer to pan to deglaze the pan (i.e. get all the yummy brown bits off the bottom). Remove from heat and allow to cool. 

In a large bowl, combine ground chicken and pork, cooled celery/onion/garlic, eggs, bread crumbs and seasonings.* Gently, mix by hand until evenly distributed. Form into balls and place in 9″x13″ pans that have been lined with aluminum foil (for easy clean-up). This recipe will make about 60-70 meatballs. 

* Please note that unlike most other meatball recipes, this one does not add milk. The moisture from the ground chicken that I use is enough to create a consistency that will form into balls. If your mixture is too dry, try adding milk, a couple tablespoons at a time, until the mixture holds together.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, turn meatballs over, and drizzle sauce over meatballs. Increase oven temperature to 400° and return pans to oven for 15 minutes. Turn meatballs again to coat with sauce and return to oven for 5-10 minutes or until sauces are bubbly.

SAUCES

Since I was making 3 different sauces, I divided the meatballs into 3 pans. For the buffalo meatballs (top left on the plate of meatballs pictured above), I used the Cookies Wings ‘n’ Things sauce. This sauce does not thicken up like a lot of sauces that have sugar in them but the flavor is awesome. You could probably add a couple tablespoons of honey to it to make it thicker. It will, of course, take some of the heat away. Some of you may appreciate that but we’re sticking to the hotter version.

For the Honey-BBQ version I mixed one cup of our favorite BBQ sauce (a sweet and zesty version) with 2 tablespoons of honey. This one created the prettiest meatballs (top right on the plate of meatballs pictured above) simply because it got thick and glossy.

Lastly, I tried to make an Asian Zing style sauce by combining 1/2 cup Sweet and Sour Sauce (I think I used La Choy) and 1/8 cup of Schezuan Sauce (House of Tsang). The meatballs turned out beautiful (bottom on the plate of meatballs pictured above) but my guys said right away that it wouldn’t be fair to call it “Asian Zing” because there just wasn’t enough “zing”. They were delicious but needed extra Schezuan sauce, or maybe some sriracha. 

If you are wondering why I added ground pork to a chicken recipe, it is because the ground chicken is such a lean meat that it needs a little extra fat (even though pork is extremely lean itself it still has more than chicken). It seems that in meatballs, choosing more than just one meat makes for a better texture and flavor as well.

Experiment with the sauces your family likes most. Check out menus on-line to get ideas for other sauces. Make sure you have some fresh veggies and ranch dressing to go with your meatball buffet. Even though this recipe makes A LOT of meatballs, it has been proven at our house that there will not be as many leftovers as you think!


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Sweet & Sour Meatballs

I think there is going to be a meatball renaissance. Call it a hunch. In fact, we’re going to launch the campaign now. Let’s #MakeMeatballsGreatAgain.

A lot of people hear the word “meatball” and instantly feel like yawning. Not me. My first thought is “What kind of meatballs?” I have seen how hamburgers have become the latest craze for creativity. What is a meatball but a ground up burger, bun and all? Why shouldn’t it be as trendy as its cousin?


In a previous post, “A Reintroduction to Meatballs“, I gave a basic meatball recipe which can be easily adapted for personal preferences. Changing the types of meat, the seasonings and/or the sauce will produce a completely different flavor profile. Italian, Asian, Mediterranean, Hungarian … mild, spicy, sweet and sour …

This particular version comes from a good friend of mine who made these for potluck dinners at our church. My boys, who were pretty young at the time, just loved them (they still do). Never ever be afraid to ask someone for their recipe. It is a compliment. It’s really a compliment when you tell that person that it is still a family favorite 20 years later!

Print Recipe
Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Servings
meatballs
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325°. 
  2. Mix above ingredients (by hand is easiest) until well combined.  Form into meatballs (see note below). 
  3. Place in two 9"x 13" metal pans that have been coated with cooking spray.
  4. Combine all sauce ingredients. 
  5. Pour over meatballs. 
  6. Bake meatballs, uncovered, for 20 minutes. 
  7. Turn meatballs over to coat with sauce.  Return to oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. 
  8. Remove from oven and serve.
Recipe Notes

Note: Some grocery stores have ham loaf instead of ground ham. This is fine to use. It probably has more ground ham than pork but that is okay. You can either buy two pounds of ham loaf and add the pound of pork sausage or you can buy a pound and a half of ham loaf, a half pound of ground pork and add the pound of pork sausage.

A cookie scoop is a perfect tool to mold meatballs to a consistent size. For this recipe I used a 1.5" cookie scoop.

These meatballs freeze really well. After they have cooled, place them in a resealable plastic bag, eliminating as much excess air as possible, and freeze. When ready to use, remove the desired amount and thaw to room temperature. Mix up half of a recipe of the sauce and warm it in a pan on the stove until steaming. Add the meatballs and slowly heat through. Too hot a temperature will tighten up the meat and cause it to be tough.

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If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!