When I was growing up, my mother was a decent cook, but it wasn’t her passion. She loved gardening, knitting and shopping – not necessarily in that order. She had five meals that she made when company was coming to dinner, but she was a tremendous hostess and threw fabulous parties. She made what she knew would be delicious every time without a lot of stress or last minute fussing. She always made everyone feel special. She may not have been the best cook, but she was an amazing friend. When she passed away, 25 women called me to tell me she was their Best Friend. I can only hope to be half as good a woman as she was.
My mom also had a habit of collecting recipes from all of her friends. Anytime she was served a great dish, she came home with the recipe and many of them became family favorites over the years. One of her most prolific friends was Vida – a wonderful cook who always had a hearty meal on the table for their rambunctious gang of children.
Vida and my mother met when both of their husbands were overseas with the military. They were young mothers with a lot in common. Their friendship lasted over 40 years, never dimming with time or distance. Whenever they got together is was as if they had just seen each other recently.
Today’s recipe is one of Vida’s most beloved. As most mothers do, she was always looking for ways to increase the amount of vegetables that her children ate, and whenever possible, would sneak them into things her kids loved. By adding chopped carrots and celery to these meatballs, she not only increased the nutrition, but it also helped stretch the meat further. Our military families have to survive on meager salaries and utilize creative ways to stretch their budgets.
When you hear “sweet and sour” you probably think of Chinese food, but it doesn’t have to be limited to just that cuisine. This very simple sauce can be used in a number of ways. It would also be good used as a glaze for baked chicken, pork chops, or grilled sausages.
I have modified the recipe over the years to make it a bit healthier and less fatty by using ground turkey meat in place of the typical hamburger. You can certainly substitute beef in its place, but try this version first and see if you don’t love it as is. Dark turkey has more flavor and stays much moister during cooking than white meat. If you have non-meat eaters in your family, you can use all turkey. If you own a KitchenAid mixer, you can buy a meat grinder attachment and grind your own! It is a terrific way of controlling both the quality and the fat content. And it is surprisingly simple to do.
Vida always served her meatballs over cooked white rice, but you could also serve these as appetizers at parties. Use a chafing dish or crock pot to keep them warm and serve with toothpicks for spearing them. This combination would also make a delicious meatloaf. A fun way to cook that is to roll the meat mixture into large balls and place them in oiled muffin tins. Bake them in the oven and serve two per person for individual servings with more crispy topping than normal – my favorite part!
You can make these ahead and freeze them. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze solid. When frozen, transfer to resealable plastic bags and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. They can then be served for a quick dinner or kept on hand in case you have unexpected guests for dinner. I always like to have a few things on hand just in case.
These meatballs are filling and comforting, a nice old-fashioned meal for a quick mid-week dinner. You could also include the meatballs in soups and stews. Have fun getting creative!
Kitchen Skill: Browning Meats
Browning meats is one of the reasons that the foods we get at restaurants tastes so much better than what we make at home. They know that by getting a good sear on meat, the cuts remain moister and the caramelization adds tremendous flavor.
There are two main factors; working with high heat and not moving the meat once you set it on the cooking surface. Whether you are cooking on a grill, in a skillet, or on a griddle, the technique is the same. Always start with dry meat. Pat the surface with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Use a heavy stainless steel or cast iron surface, not a non-stick one, heat over medium-high heat until very hot, and once you place the meat on the surface, do not move it until it releases on its own. Using tongs, try to move the meat, if it is easy, then it is time to turn it. If it sticks to the pan, leave it alone longer; it will release when it is ready. And make sure there is plenty of room or you will wind up steaming the meat.
- 3 slices of white bread, crusts removed, and torn into pieces
- 3/4 cup slightly warmed milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 3/4 lb ground dark turkey
- 3/4 lb ground pork (not seasoned sausage)
- 1/2 onion, peeled and grated
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 cup minced carrots
- 1/2 cup minced celery
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 cup catsup
- 2 tbsp plus 1 tsp packed brown sugar or honey
- 4 tsp white vinegar
- 4 tsp soy sauce
- In a bowl, soften bread slices in milk; stir in beaten egg. Set aside. In a pie plate or other flat container place flour. Season to taste with a little salt, pepper, and the onion powder. Set aside.
- In another bowl mix meats together, and then add onions, garlic, herbs, vegetables, and salt and pepper to taste. With your hands, combine meats with milk mixture. Form into balls about the size of a walnut (a spring-loaded ice cream scoop makes this really easy). Roll each meatball in the seasoned flour and set aside.
- In a large skillet, heat oil. Working in batches, brown meatballs on all sides. Pour off fat. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in a very low oven, about 170°F.
- To the same skillet add sauce ingredients, whisking until smooth. Simmer 30 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors and thicken slightly.
- Return meatballs to the saucepan and toss with the sauce until evenly covered and warmed through. Serve meatballs with the sauce over noodles or rice.
- Yield: about 6 servings