Friday, November 5, 2010

Comfort Food: Southern Style Meatballs

Another title for this could be "Do as I say, Not as I Do", but we'll jump off that bridge when we get there.

How much do you love a meatball? I love them a LOT.  I could easily eat them at least once a week, if only they didn't seem so limited. Most meatball recipes I've come across are either italian or meatloaf-like, and I was wanting something different. I thought, "what could go wrong with a southern-style meatball"? You'd be suprised. My first attempt at developing this recipe ended in Epic Meatball Fail, but it was an easily solved problem and I can now share with you the more successful and delicious version. Make no mistake, this is some full-fat, get cozy on a cold night, comfort food. (You may want to follow it with the fiber-rich Pumpkin Oat Muffins as atonement for such a dietary sin.)

Time to get out grandma's cast iron skillet kids! (And preheat your oven to 400)

Southern Style Meatballs with Smoky Country Gravy

1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound pork sausage (like the log of breakfast sausage)
1 teaspoon Sylvia's Seasoning
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, minced
1 egg
1/4 cup dry whole wheat bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the gravy:
1/3 cup fat from pan (you'll get this browning the meatballs)
1/3 cup flour
4 cups milk
1/4 tsp liquid smoke (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix very well. The best tool for this is your clean hands, so get in there and get dirty. I'm not going to put up a picture, because quite frankly smushed up raw meat is just not that attractive.

You know how I'm always telling you to taste your food as you're cooking? Well you have to do it with meatballs too, but obviously you don't want to go munching on a raw beef/pork mixture. So what do you do? How do you know if they are seasoned well? You make a test patty.

I actually forgot to take a pic of the test patty before I cooked the meatballs,
so I got an extra snack :)

Heat up a pan, form a tiny hamburger and cook it - it will only take a couple minutes. Then enjoy your snack and decide if you need to add anything.

Once you're happy with the seasoning, heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Barely film the bottom of the pan with oil (you won't need much, the meatballs will render out fat while they brown, which is what you want). Form the mixture into 1 1/2 to 2-inch balls - you'll get about 12 - and drop into the hot pan in batches, turning every few minutes to brown evenly. You'll know when to turn them when they release from the pan - they won't want to stick when they are ready.

Aren't they cute? How do you not love meatballs?
As they finish browning, transfer them to an ovenproof dish. Place the meatballs in a 400 degree oven to finish cooking through while you make the gravy. They'll need about 20 minutes - just cut one in half to see if they are no longer pink inside.

(This is where the Meatball Fail came in. Instead of putting them in the oven, I made the gravy then finished the meatballs in the sauce. The long cooking time turned the gravy from creamy delight to grainy, gloppy mess. I cried, took out the meatballs, whisked the daylights out of the gravy and it was better, but not perfect. So I cried some more and decided I would instruct you all to bake the meatballs instead of simmer them like I did.)

For the gravy you want about 1/3 cup of fat in the pan, along with all the crusty brown goodness stuck to it. If you have more than that, remove a couple tablespoons. If you have less for some reason, add a little vegetable oil (or for huge bonus points, reserved bacon grease). Sprinkle the flour over the hot fat in the pan and start whisking like crazy till smooth. You don't want color here, so as soon as it's smooth start slowly adding the milk, whisking the entire time. Add The liquid smoke, salt, and pepper to taste. When it starts to come to a bit of a simmer and is thickened, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and keep warm until the meatballs are ready. Whisk occasionally to keep a skin from forming.

This is a lot of pepper, but I like it that way.
Pull the meatballs out of the oven and drop them into the gravy, rolling them around to coat, and serve.Your family will fall into a coma shortly after this meal.

oh yeah...
I took this over the edge and served it with equally sinful mashed potatoes loaded with cream cheese and bacon. I mean, if you're going to do this thing, do it all the way. Would you want this with a salad? I didn't think so. I DO think this would be fun as breakfast with some biscuits, though. Which is exactly what I'll be doing the next time I make this. Enjoy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Changing It Up: Pumpkin-Oat Muffins

I thought I'd interrupt the fat-fest that is this site with a little healthy something I came up with at about 4 o'clock this morning. I was wide awake and bored, so you all get to reap the benefits.

Most folks know that you can substitute applesauce for oil or butter in a muffin recipe to reduce the fat and amp up the nutritionl value. Did you know you can do the same thing with pumpkin? I was inspired by an oatmeal muffin I saw, but I wanted to make it a little more seasonal and a little more figure-friendly. Let's face it: I'll be doing enough damage to my hard-earned waistline over the next two months, I need all the fiber and vitamins I can get.

Two fun facts before we get on with the recipe:

1) The secret ingredient here is Chinese five spice powder, and you need to try it. It adds great depth of flavor to savory AND sweet foods. It's become common enough that you'll find it in the spice aisle of most major grocery stores.

2) This recipe makes one dozen standard muffins plus one dozen mini muffins. It's also safe for your incredibly spoiled dogs to eat, so save the minis as dog treats.

Because he didn't get this awesome on puppy chow alone...

So here we go


2 1/3 cups oatmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup oat bran
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon chinese five-spice powder
1 cup of buttermilk
1/2 heaping cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
1/2 cup water, heated to boiling

Preheat the oven to 375. Generously coat a standard size muffin tin and a mini muffin tin with cooking spray (I like baker's joy), or use muffin papers.

Combine the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, oat bran, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and pumpkin till smooth. Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients and stir just till combined. Quickly beat in the boiling water then let stand for about 5 minutes. Divide evenly among standard muffin cups, filling 2/3 full, then divide the remaining batter among the mini muffin cups. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes (they won't rise a whole lot).


Serve warm, or let cool completely and store in a ziploc bag in the freezer. Then just thaw them out and warm in the microwave for a few seconds when the muffin mood strikes. To really put these over the top, sweeten softened cream cheese with honey to taste and slather all over a warm muffin. That may cancel out some of the healthy on these, but it's soooo yummy!

Hope you like them!

Perfect for Mondays: Quicky Chicky Casserole

Hi, my name is Christy and I have the tendency to behave like a small child. Hence, the name of this recipe.

All of the recipes I've posted so far take up a little more time than the average family has on a weeknight, so I thought I'd share one of my favorite faster dinners. Serve this puppy up with some salad and crusty bread and you have a meal!

Can I toot my own horn here? I mean, look at that crust!

In all honesty, this casserole was born out of pure curiosity. I saw Campbell's cream of onion soup at the store and grabbed it, wondering "what on earth can we do with THIS?!?!" Then, one night when I was far too tired to hang out in the kitchen much longer than it takes to pour a glass of cheap Shiraz, I raided my pantry and went to work. I was kind of craving chicken and macaroni and cheese, but wanted to take the interstate route to the flavors instead of back roads. There it was, collecting dust in the cabinet- the cream of onion soup. I knew I'd found a use for it.

Can I confess something here? I LOVE onion with a good sharp cheddar. This is no casual affair, though. I will take a slice of cheddar, put it on a cracker, and top it with a piece of raw onion. It is divinely funky, and you should try it. Unless you want to kiss your spouse within the next 24 hours.

This is a great use for leftover cooked chicken*, or the leftover turkey that will invade your fridge near the end of this month. I am usually not a fan of bagged shredded cheese -- so do yourself a favor and don't use it here. You can grate cheese while the noodles cook.

Anyhoo, cheese + onion + chicken + noodles = delicious. So here's the recipe:


1 ten-ounce package egg noodles
1 lb chicken breast, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 can Campbell's condensed cheddar cheese soup
1 can Campbell's condensed cream of onion soup
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon Lawry's seasoned salt
salt and pepper to taste

4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup panko (japanese bread crumbs)
2 tablespoons butter, melted

 Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly coat a 3qt. casserole with butter or cooking spray.

Cook the noodles in boiling salted water for about 8 minutes. You want them just barely underdone, since they'll be going into the oven. While the noodles cook, mix up the topping; just toss the cheese, panko and melted butter in a small bowl till the crumbs are well coated in butter.

A match made in processed food heaven. Notice my "cookbook" - currently only available in raggedy handwritten form.

Drain the noodles and return them to the pot. Stir in the soups, milk, Lawry's and chicken. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Hey, look! It's NOT my Le Cruset! (but it IS my Paula Deen cookware)

PLEASE taste this concotion before you go all willy-nilly with the salt. The soups are high in sodium, the Lawry's has salt, and if you are using leftover or rotisserie chicken it may already be seasoned. You may not need to add any at all!

Dump the mixture into the prepared casserole dish and sprinkle the topping evenly all over. You should get a nice thick layer. (Optional -  sometimes I'll top the topping with some fresh ground pepper and a little fresh or dried thyme)

Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, till hot and bubbly. To get the topping a nice crispy brown, I'll turn on the broiler for about 2 minutes before I take it out (just be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn). Let it stand about 5 minutes before serving.

* "but Christy, I don't have any leftover chicken!" HOGWASH! Theres no excuse to not have chicken ready to go! The next time you cook chicken breasts for your family, cook 2 extra pieces. Then cut them up and toss them in the  fridge or freezer, depending on when you plan to use them. It doesn't add a lot to that night's cooking time, and it takes a lot off of the next night's!

Hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think ~ and as always, please share on facebook and twitter!