Kindred Cookbook: Ode to the Original Meatball

There’s a childhood memory I fall back on when I think about meatballs. Like many other 1990s Millennials, Disney heavily influenced certain aspects of my youth including, oddly enough, meatballs. You may remember the now classic scene in “Lady and the Tramp” where Tramp oh-so graciously nudges the final meatball to Lady, where she bashfully flaps her long eyelashes up at him (seriously though, those lashes should get an endorsement from a makeup brand. Those puppies are thick).

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And then she doesn’t eat the meatball. All romantic notions are squashed and stomped on in this moment. Thusly, my young self determined the “meatz-a-ballz” Tony served up to his four-legged clientele left something to be desired.

Conclusion – My mom’s meatballs were far superior, a thought I continue to stand by today. Disney has yet to prove me wrong.

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My grandma was the first to actually create and record this recipe for the collection and its a dish I’ve long enjoyed. Often advertised as a quick and easy meal (though by my standards it takes a slight bit more effort), Mom would throw this meatball dish together between teaching guitar or piano lessons, popping them in the oven just as her next student walked through the door to play another halting rendition of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” My mom’s patience clearly stretched beyond the kitchen.

Paired generally with a baked potato and frozen sweetcorn (one of the many benefits of having a farmer’s daughter background and access to a garden rivaling Adam and Eve’s), this is a true Kristiansen family classic. Yes, that was the alternate title to this blog series.

I paired my meatballs with boiled colorful potatoes and fresh parsley.
I paired my meatballs with boiled colorful potatoes and fresh parsley.

I must note I’ve never once eaten these meatballs with spaghetti before, which may unintentionally categorize them as Swedish meatballs (the brown sauce listed below may also assist in that labeling). I chalk this up to my mom and grandma never being big fans of pasta in general. Upon further reflection, the only hot pasta I’ve ever seen grace my grandma’s table is buttered noodles with breadcrumb topping. Yes, it is as caloric and beautifully buttery as it sounds. My mom has always said she doesn’t see the point of paying for pasta in a restaurant because it’s a cheap food people dish out too much for (the true secret to success for Olive Garden and Noodles and Company).

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Grandma’s Original Meatballs

Ingredients:

1/2 lbs. ground beef

One medium sized onion chopped fine

2 T. “catsup” as Grandma wrote

Dry bread crumbs as needed

1/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 t. salt and pepper

Directions:

Just combine all the ingredients. You can make the size of the meatball as you wish. Do take care not to handle them too much in the “ballin'” process to avoid making them tough.

The words “as needed” are as terrifying to a new cook as “10% battery remaining” are to anyone else. But for the bread crumbs, it really is all about touch. The consistency of your meatball should be moist, but not fall apart.

You can also brown on the stove top or just put in a dish and cover with either of the sauces listed below.

Alternatively, you can bake the meatballs in a casserole dish or (as Grandma directly writes) “the old-time way is in a cast-iron skillet.” Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the meatball, at 350 degrees.

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Sauce option number one:

Ingredients:

1 can of cream of celery or mushroom soup

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

1/3 of the soup can full of milk

Optional: A few drops of brown gravy sauce

Directions:

Mix and spread over meatballs when about half way cooked.

Sauce option number two – Tomato (as pictured)

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Ingredients:

3 T. brown sugar

1/4 cup “catsup”

1 t. dry mustard

3 T. vinegar

Directions:

Combine and spread over meatballs a bit before they’re completely cooked. Grandma notes this sauces is more than needed for 1/2 lbs of meat, but it keeps and you’re able to just save for later. Though I’m unsure what this would be a good addition to…Ideas, anyone?

Overall

I must note I find it fairly hilarious this sauce is labeled as a “tomato sauce.” That’s giving catsup higher praise than it probably deserves and falls into the Congress-esque thinking that a form tomato puree constitutes a vegetable. Perhaps this falls more under the category of a glaze?

Meatballs, I feel, are continually undervalued. For their quick preparation (not counting photo time, prep took me about 20 minutes for both meat and sauce/glaze) and overall taste, why have we limited meatballs to play the unloved sidekick to spaghetti or to be consumed when visiting Ikea?

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Easily frozen or just sorted into various meal-prep containers, the meatballs are a great and simple supplement to a winter dinner. Warm, moist, and hearty, they fill that special section of the stomach only meat and potatoes can satisfy.

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