Balls of Meat (aka, Meatballs)

Dec 28 2011

My son is a carnivore. Ian’s ideal meal is meat wrapped in meat with a side of meat.

Ian, in fact, had a brief flirtation with a life of meat-centered crime when he stole BBQ ribs from my friend, Leanne. It’s probably not entirely his fault. I mean, he did ask if he could have some, and Leanne, who was making the ribs for her extended family get-together later that day, had the audacity to say no. I know. It’s hard to believe I’m friends with a woman who can look an 8-year-old boy in a face like this


and still say no.

Leanne has a heart of stone.

So, really, the boy had no choice but to turn to deceit and trickery to meat his needs. (Get it? Meat his needs? Ha! And my sincere apologies.)

And the next thing Leanne knew, there was a stack of clean bones in her bathroom sink and a sticky-sweet, BBQ-sauce-covered boy-child playing ecstatically in another room.

Leanne: Ian? Did you eat some of the ribs?
Ian, eyes wide, face pale (except for splotches of sauce) : Nope.
Leanne: Are you sure, Ian?
Ian: Yep. I’m sure.
Leanne: Let’s go look at the bathroom sink.
Ian, suspiciously: Ooookaaaayyyy.
Leanne, pointing to the pile of bones that spontaneously grew in her sink: What are these, Ian?
Ian: Uuuummmm. I don’t know.
Leanne: You? The King of Meat? You don’t know?
Ian: Noooooo… well, maybe bones?
Leanne: Yes, Ian. Bones. And how do you think they got here?
Ian: Uuuummmm. I don’t know.
Leanne: Maybe you can think about it. And while you think about it, you can look in the mirror at that brown stuff on your face. And while you look at that, you can consider the fact that kids who steal and then lie about it don’t get to have any of the chicken nuggets I’m making for lunch, whereas kids who come clean and tell the truth DO get chicken nuggets.

Leanne has big, huge, chicken-nugget guns, y’all, and she’s not afraid to use them. I love her to infinity.

It’s three years later, and Ian’s experiments with living on the dark side have been few and far between. I think we’ve convinced him that he has no giftedness when it comes to life as a criminal, but when he’s in doubt, I use “Bones in the Bathroom Sink” as Exhibit A.

Last week, I told you about my easy-peasy recipe for FAST homemade cinnamon rolls that even a mama of five rambunctious kiddos can make from start to finish in 1.25 hours. And I’ll tell you a secret… I felt very vulnerable in its posting.

See, I used to cook like I meant it. I was creative. I perfected and honed my kitchen skills. I planned ahead. I selected recipes and – get this – I shopped for groceries with a list. In other words, I made cinnamon rolls that took HOURS.

These days, I only have time for 1) easy, 2) quick, and 3) delicious. And, quite frankly, I pat myself on the back for the fact that delicious still makes it into the Top Three. I regularly spend my food preparation time pretending I’m a Top Chef assembling a brilliant meal with only the surprise ingredients placed in front of me. It makes me feel like I’m cooking this way intentionally, as opposed to pathetically.

After I posted my cheaterpants recipe for cinnamon rolls, though, you guys made me feel OH-SO-much better with your lovely responses. And reader Kristen J. commented on the Five Kids Facebook page: “Ooh, hey, if you have any other easy, quick, and for bonus points, cheap recipes, I’d love to read about them!”

Dear Kristen,

Almost everything I make is easy, quick and cheap. You just opened yourself up to a whole world of recipes.

Since you asked – and because I’m busy making my son’s meat-eating dreams come true this Christmas break – I’m writing today about Balls of Meat.

You have yourself to blame. (And thanks!)

Beth

……….

Balls of Meat

Oh, sure. Some of you call them meatballs. But “Balls of Meat” is far more entertaining when you’re a 14-year-old boy trapped inside of a 38-year-old woman’s body.

Hey. I am who I am.

Now, here are my problems with looking up recipes on the internet: 1) They’re complicated. 2) They’re long. And 3) there’s inevitably at least one ingredient I don’t have on hand. Red pepper flakes? Fresh parsley? Meh. Toss that recipe right out.

These days, I use recipes that allow for improvisation, delay (“I said to stop hitting your brother, so now really is timeout time, mister; just because I’m cooking doesn’t mean you don’t get one.”), and a wide margin for error. Clearly, I’m using the word “recipe” loosely. The good news is, you can, too!

Here’s what you need for 24 large balls of meat:

  • 2 lbs. ground lean meat - use any kind or combination of meats. I used beef and pork above. I prefer turkey. I’ve also used breakfast sausage which is DEEEEElicious. If it’s ground-up meat, you’re all set. (If it’s preseasoned, like breakfast sausage, decrease your salt below.)
  • 2 cups of some kind of bread or grain – you can use bread, cooked rice, uncooked oats… or leftover cornbread, garlic bread, croutons, pancakes, waffles, etc. (I freeze any leftover bread-type thing for just this reason. I know; I’m cheaper than cheap.)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of hard-ish cheese, shredded – any type you like. I’ve used Parmesan, cheddar, jack, mozzarella, Mizithra, and Romano, all with great results
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce (you can substitute 1 cup of milk if you don’t have spaghetti sauce; I use the sauce because I’m a big believer in using lots of flavor in my balls of meat), which is a neat trick because it totally infuses the “simmering in sauce” flavor without, you know, taking the time to actually simmer them in sauce.
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic salt (or plain salt if no one’s looking)
  • Optional: other stuff. Seasonings, fresh herbs, diced onion… really, the options are endless. See “variations” at the bottom or invent your own.

Step One: If you’re using bread, tear it into tiny bits. (FYI, standardish store-bought bread as your grain, then 4 bread slices = 2 cups.) If you’re looking for a way to involve your kids, have them tear the bread into tiny bits. I station my dog under the table for this step, as bread inevitably flies everywhere. Honestly, some days I don’t know how our floors would survive without the dog’s tongue to mop it.

If you’re using cooked rice or uncooked oats, you can leave them alone. Or, if you’re looking for extra work, you can grind them into tinier bits in a food processor. Sometimes, I just need to work my feelings out with the aggressive “OBLITERATE” button on that machine. It’s WAY cheaper than therapy, and I would know.

Step Two: Dump everything in a bowl.

Yep. Ignore that picture and put everything in. Except the eggshells. Because that would be gross.

Step Three: REMOVE YOUR RINGS. (I almost always forget. And then… ew!)

Step Four: Spray two muffin tins with oil spray. I always forget to do this step, too, and then I’m left with meat-and-egg-infected hands and I have to wash them an extra time. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I make meatballs, I always forget.

Step Five: Gently combine everything with your hands.

Step Five, Part B: Carefully choose a victim to threaten with your brains-covered hands. This is an opportunity, folks, to run a family drill in case of the zombie apocalypse. You do NOT want to screw this up.

For example, if you choose the wrong person, you will get no reaction at all, almost as if this guy has known you for 18 years and has seen all of your gross tricks already.

And that would be a sad, unsatisfying waste of time.

No, you want to pick someone young (but not too young) and impressionable (but not too impressionable).

Twelve-year-old boy-child? Perfect.

Step Six: With those two muffin tins that you totally remembered to spray with oil before you stuck your hands in raw meat, shape 24 balls of meat and drop ‘em into the muffin cups.

This is my FAVORITE tip! No more frying meatballs on the stove and then baking in the oven. Nope! Muffin tins + a screaming hot oven = a nice crust on the balls with a fully cooked, moist center. Perfection without splattered grease or a mama slaving over a dangerous cooktop? Yes, please!

Step Seven: Steal meat from the rest of the balls…

… to fill that one remaining muffin cup that always, no matter how well I think I’m portioning, is left over.

Step Eight: Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes (mine take 17-20 minutes) until a nice, golden brown crust forms.

Step Nine: Eat ‘em hot over pasta, on rice, in a Hoagie roll, over spinach salad, with or without sauce, or straight out of the pan.

Mmmm!

……….

Balls of Meat:
The Quick Directions

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. ground lean meat of your choice
  • 2 cups of bread or grain in small pieces
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of hard-ish cheese, shredded
  • 2 cups spaghetti sauce (or substitute 1 cup of milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic salt
  • Optional: other stuff

Directions:

  • Combine all 6 ingredients ’til the mix resembles zombie food.
  • Divide evenly (ha!) into 2 greased muffin tins (24 balls).
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 18 minutes.
  • Try not to burn your mouth on the pan.

Variations:

The possibilities with this recipe are endless! Consider using ground chicken, cheddar cheese and substituting 1 1/2 cups applesauce and some diced apple chunks in place of the spaghetti sauce. Add a tiny dash of cinnamon, and you have Apple Cheddar Chicken Meatballs. Over egg pasta or with a salad? YUM. (Thanks to Victoria S. on Facebook for the apple idea!)

……….

P.S. If you enjoy recipe posts, please do let me know. I’m considering whether to make these a regular (weekly?) part of the blog, and your feedback is important to me. And THANK YOU for all of the feedback you provide through comments, on Facebook and via e-mail. Your encouragement means the world to me.