Monday, April 14, 2014

Meatball Stew

Captain's Log

Hi you guys! 

How's it going??

I've been embroiled with work (a promotion!) and a FitBit battle and thus my free time has been somewhat… absorbed… by exercise and resting and whatnot. As always I'm still cooking, though. This morning I plugged in the ole camera to load my food photos and I discovered meals and photo sessions I had totally forgotten about. You see, I always intend to write blog posts, it's just my execution that needs work.

Anyway, my goal today was to type up an amazing pinto beans 'n' ham soup, but instead I'll do meatballs because, lo and behold, I had the whole cooking venture all photographed and ready to go. These are from February.

When I finished college, I was 20 years old and I immediately went to work at a nonprofit publishing company. I moved into a tiny apartment and lived by myself. My parents gave me a wonderful old crock pot and, to go with it, my mom gave me one of those recipe books you buy at the grocery checkout:
I haven't made a lot of these because, being sponsored by Lipton, many of the recipes involve soup mixes. Even at 20 I was avoiding soup mixes… another indication of the sodium-awareness in my household growing up. There's an amazing recipe in here, though, that I've made several times and it's always awesome. The recipe is for Meatball Stew. You can slim it down (turkey only!) and crusty bread, while a perfect accompaniment, is totally optional. It makes a large quantity. It's very filling. It freezes beautifully.
Can you tell this is an oft-used page?
I opted for three meats: high-quality low-fat pasture-raised beef, slightly fattier more "normal" beef, and some turkey. The rest of the ingredients are easy and obvious: carrot, celery, onion. Parmesan, milk, egg. Canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Beef broth. Breadcrumbs. Salt/pepper. Oregano/basil/herbs of your choice.

The recipe says to mix all the meatball ingredients together, but every meatball recipe in the world warns against over-mixing so I prefer to employ some strategy rather than dumping everything into a bowl. I like to mix the wet ingredients (milk, eggs, parmesan, salt, pepper) in one group…
Then pour the liquid into a large bowl and add the breadcrumbs/herbs next…
I'll give these guys a mix so they form a loose paste, and THEN I add the meats.
I mix by hand, then pull off a small amount so I can cook it and test for seasoning.
Through this test I discovered: I forgot a splash of hot sauce! And the recipe says to use garlic salt, so of course I just added a little more salt and a garlic clove or two. The garlic is cut using a microplane so it's instantly pureed and thus mixes in more easily.
I like to form all the meatballs ahead of time and arrange them on cookie sheets. Then I can brown them a few at a time and focus on other things, like veggie prep, while they sizzle in the pot.
This is a crock pot recipe, after all, so there will be plenty of time for the meatballs to cook through. For now the goal is to develop that lovely brown crust on all sides. Add more oil as needed. I use a tall pot to reduce the amount of stovetop splatter, but of course a large skillet would be fine for this step as well.

While the meatballs brown…
And mix the veggies with a can of tomatoes and some tomato paste.
Since I'm using Better Than Bouillon for the beef broth, I went ahead and "made" the stock:
When the meatballs are all browned, they can go in the crock pot. They need to be mixed with the broth and the veggies/tomato mixture. Meatballs can be pretty delicate, though, so what I prefer to do is layer each of these items so I don't have to get in there with a big spoon to distribute the components. Know what I mean?
I'm pretty sure slow-cookers are never supposed to be more than 2/3 full. So… oops.

Then I just let this cook on low (or high) for hours and hours. Definitely at least three hours. Maybe 4-5 depending on your choice of heat and how large you cut the veggies. You're looking for a cooked down, cohesive soup, with tender vegetables and fully cooked meatballs.

I like to use a small mug for serving. This was maybe 2-3 meatballs and lots of broth/vegetables. As I mentioned, bread is awesome with this, but if you skip the bread (and choose healthy proteins) it's actually a pretty light meal! And quite filling.

Thanks, parents!

1 comment:

  1. This was quite interesting. I recently made some spaghetti & meatballs...but I went whole hog & used a mix of lean beef & hot sausage. Again....this makes me hungry! Good job, girl.