Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"The Meatball Cookbook Bible" - Beef Meatballs with Mustard and Dried Apricots & Pork Meatballs in Apple Cream Sauce - Holiday Party Food!

Date I made these recipes:  December 4, 2016 – Holiday party food!

The Meatball Cookbook Bible – 500 Mouth-Watering Variations on One of the World's Best-Loved Foods by Ellen Brown
Published by Cider Mill Press
ISBN: 978-160433097-7; © 2009
Purchased at Half Price Books, St. Paul, MN
Recipes:  Beef Meatballs with Mustard and Dried Apricots – p. 130-131; Pork Meatballs in Apple Cream Sauce – p. 183-185

You probably know this, but cooking is dangerous.  You have hot burners, hot liquids, and sharp knives, and many a chef has injured themselves while attempting to bang out fantastic food.

In my case, my "industrial" accident happened when I was trying to move a metal bookend so as to take this cookbook off my shelf.  My pinkie finger connected with the bookend and ow, ow, ow!  Who knew that those suckers were so sharp?

And just like that, the roll I was on writing and publishing my holiday party food blogs came to a screeching halt.  My apologies.

Happily nothing dire happened in the kitchen while I was making these recipes except for a lot of swearing over the lack of explicit instructions.

I mean what the hell folks, are there not editors making more money than me out there who are supposed to catch this stuff?  Because I found an error in each recipe and it always involved "what am I supposed to do with the rest of these [insert food item here]?" I looked at each recipe several times and then had my husband read it and we remain perplexed.

Now nothing that was or wasn't in the recipes made a difference to the outcome which is always a good thing, and the end results were tasty but of course, there were a few issues of note which I will cover in a minute.

In general, the beef meatballs were good but seemed a little mushy in the middle, whether from the breadcrumbs, the apricots or a combination of both we don't know.  We do know that our guests enjoyed them so perhaps it was our palate?  Anyway, we doubled the recipes, baked them off and then froze them, sans sauce, a couple of weeks before the party.  We added the sauces just before serving.

As to the pork meatballs, be warned that you will end up with a ton of sauce.  A ton. In retrospect I realize that doubling the meatball mixture does not always mean to also double the sauce.  In fact, it usually ends up being just the opposite.  But what they hey, they are going to be your meatballs so if you want lots of sauce, go to it.
Be warned though, that the pork meatball sauce calls for applejack brandy and since I knew a couple of kids were coming, I decided to pass on that option as I really didn't want to get the stink-eye from their parents.  Not that the parents would have noticed but we would have.  Responsible hosts let their guests eat responsibly!

As you might imagine, a cookbook with the title The Meatball Cookbook Bible is loaded with meatball recipes and so finding some for our party table was not the problem; eliminating some was the problem!  It took us a while to cull the herd to the two recipes listed here and while they were good, we shall likely explore other options next year as we like to mix things up a bit.

This "bible" of a book also gives you a wide variety of options in these categories: meat (beef, pork, lamb); poultry; fish and seafood; vegetables, herbs and grains; cheese and even dessert meatballs (a/k/a " chocolate truffles"). There's a section for meatballs in broth and also a variety of "international" meatballs from which to choose.

Before I get to the recipes though, I have to dialogue with you about the incomplete instructions I mentioned above.  Faithful readers knows that nothing sends me over the edge more than missing or incomplete instructions.  And specific to this year's kitchen efforts is the definition of the word "divided" – as in (for example) "1 cup apple cider, divided."

Perhaps it is just me, but in my head, the word "divided" suggests an equal division of ingredients and so a directive of "I cup apple cider, divided" means two, one-half cups each, one to be used now, one to be used later.  At least this is what I (barely) understood in my grade school math class.

And believe it or not, most recipes I've made that called for a "divided" ingredient have been an even split.  If they haven't though, they usually indicate somewhere in the recipe's narrative what I am to do with the remaining amount.  And the remaining amount is usually mathematically correct, i.e., if one cup of an ingredient is to be divided into ¾ cup for the first round, it stands to reason that ¼ cup is what you have left, right?

Not always so.  So let's parse the instructions that drove me crazy:

#1 – The beef meatball recipe called for 1/3 of a cup of mustard, divided.  The recipe goes on to say to use ¼ (of 1/3 cup) for the meatballs and the remaining for the sauce.  Okay, fine, but I would have preferred it if she would have spelled out the "remaining" in measurement form which breaks down roughly into 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon.  Now, was that hard? (Answer:  yes, which is why I sent this "equation to my husband to figure out for me!)

And this is perhaps also a "me" thing, but when I look at an ingredient list, I want to see every ingredient I am to use and I want it spelled out.  Why?  Because the ingredient list also becomes my shopping list.  I photocopy the list, head to the grocery store, and we're done.  Here, the ingredient list for the sauce said "apricot preserves and red pepper hot sauce," but no mention was made of the remaining mustard except in the narrative.

And look, if I was making this up for just the two of us or a few guests, perhaps I would not have been so irked, but I was making mass quantities for our party and I want to know exactly how much to have on hand and where it all goes. 

#2 – The pork meatballs called for you to chop one onion and then add half of it to the meatballs mix.  But what to do with the rest of it?  We will never know because the recipe does not say.

Also annoying was the directive to "divide" (there's that word again) 1 cup of apple cider.  Three quarters (3/4) of the cider is used in the meatball sauce recipe, but the remaining ¼ is never accounted for.

Why then, dear reader, why then direct me to pour a whole cup when ¾ of a cup will do?  This drives me absolutely nuts.  Nuts!

So as I am fond of saying, I am going to have to ding this author for these two boo-boos. The flavors were fine and our guests ate them up (pun intended), but I hate incomplete directions and I really hate them when I am cranking out copious quantities of these meatballs for our party table and don't know what is going on with a recipe.  Sad to say, but I imagine I'll have to keep an eagle eye out for further errors if I make more recipes from this cookbook. 

By the way, we were a little nervous about how the beef meatballs would go over (apricots and mustard, what?) but then we remembered that many moons ago, we invited some friends over for dinner and made a chicken pot pie and a meatloaf with mustard and dried apricots.  That recipe was similar to the one below, and I believe we got it from either Bon Appetit or Gourmet.  At any rate, one of the men at the dinner is a straight-up meat and potatoes guy and yet he loved the meatloaf so much, he asked for the recipe.  And he quite enjoyed the beef meatballs at this year's party so the dish is a winner (as is the pork) even if the making of them was almost my undoing!

Beef Meatballs with Mustard and Dried Apricots – makes 4 to 6 servings
Ann's Note:  the author indicates that these are one of her favorite appetizers to serve because the combination of dried apricots with sharp mustard makes each bite flavorful.
For the meatballs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg
1/3 cup Dijon mustard, divided (Ann's Note: into ¼ cup for the meatballs and the rest of the sauce)
3 tablespoons whole milk
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage or 2 teaspoons dried
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 ½ pounds ground chuck
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce
½ cup apricot preserves
½ teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
 (Ann's Note:  add remaining Dijon mustard)

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil, and spray the foil with vegetable spray.

Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until shallots are soft.  While vegetables cook, combine eggs, ¼ cup mustard, and milk in a mixing bowl, and whisk until smooth.  Add breadcrumbs, dried apricots, sage, and cilantro, and mix well.

Add shallot mixture and beef, season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix well again.  Make mixture into 1 ½-inch meatballs, and arrange meatballs on the prepared pan.  Spray tops of meatballs with vegetable oil spray.

Bake meatballs for 12 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through.  While meatballs bake, combine remaining mustard, apricot preserves, and hot red pepper sauce in a small mixing bowl, and whisk well.

Remove the pan from the oven and serve immediately accompanied by the bowl of apricot mustard sauce.

[Author's] Note:  The beef mixture can be prepared up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered.  Also, the meatballs can be baked up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated, tightly covered.  Reheat them in a 350F oven, covered for 10 to 12 minutes or until hot.

[Author's] Note:  Since Japanese panko breadcrumbs are fluffier than Western breadcrumbs, they produce a lighter and more tender meatball.  Substitute them for plain breadcrumbs in any recipe in this book.

Ann's Note:  I made this up three weeks ahead then froze them.  We added the sauce when we reheated.

Pork Meatballs in Cream Sauce – makes 4- 6 servings
For the meatballs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg
2 tablespoons whole milk
½ cup plain breadcrumbs
1 ¼ pounds ground pork
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil spray
For the sauce
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cup apple cider, divided
1 cup chicken stock
¼ cup applejack brandy
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat the oven boiler.  (Ann's Note:  I baked these—so much easier!).  Line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy-duty aluminum foil, and spray the foil with vegetable oil spray.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes, or until onion is translucent.  While vegetables cook, combine egg and milk in a mixing bowl, and whisk until smooth.  Add breadcrumbs to the mixing bowl, and mix well.

Add ½ of onion mixture* and pork, season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix well again.  Make into 2-inch meatballs, and arrange meatballs on the prepared pan.  Spray tops of meatballs with vegetable oil spray. (*Ann's Note:  Missing from these instructions is what to do with the remaining onion mixture and since I made the meatballs in advance but the sauce the day of, I believe I ended up throwing the rest out.  Pity.)

Broil meatballs 6 inches from the broiler element, turning them with tongs to brown on all sides.  Remove the pan from the oven, and set aside.  Ann's Note:  I baked these at 450F for about 20-25 minutes; check them after 15.

Add apples, ¾ cup cider*, chicken stock, brandy, and mustard to the skillet, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Simmer sauce, uncovered, for 10 minutes, or until volume is reduced by 1/3. *Ann's Note:  Despite the fact that the recipe called for you to use 1 cup apple cider, "divided," you only end up using ¾ of that cup. 

Add meatballs and cream to sauce, bring to a boil, and simmer meatballs, covered, over low heat, turning occasionally with a slotted spoon for 15 minutes.

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