My kids, ages 3 and 16 months, aren’t very good at eating their vegetables. Fruit, cheese, bread, french fries, ice cream, cookies, chocolate? No problem. But vegetables are another story. Carson will eat a baby carrot from time to time, and Betsy will eat a few green peas if I mix them up in her macaroni. But that’s as good as it gets around here. So in an effort to get them to eat more vegetables I decided to hide them in meatballs. Both of my kids are pretty good at eating meatballs, so I figured this was a genius plan.
The first night I gave them the meatballs plain without sauce, and they weren’t the biggest fans. And I felt like a failure. I went to all that trouble and they didn’t want them!? But the next night I heated them in some pasta sauce and we had much better results. My kids ate vegetables! Without gagging!
These meatballs are simple and geared towards a picky kid’s palate. Not a lot of spice or heat. If your kids are more daring than mine (or if you’ve done a better job of exposing them to spices!) add what you like to the mix. You could also use half beef and half Italian sausage for a more interesting meatball. I used jarred sauce, but if you have a great recipe, then use it…and then share it with me! Do you have any great meals that are healthy and delicious that your kids enjoy? I’d love to hear them. We need all the help we can get!
Meatballs with Zucchini and Carrots
Makes 24-30 meatballs
1 pound ground beef (85/15)
3/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup shredded zucchini (pressed between paper towels to remove excess moisture)
1/4 cup grated onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl and let soak for a couple minutes. Add in beef, egg, vegetables and seasonings and mix (clean hands are a great tool here) until combined.
Form into balls (around golf ball size) and place in a greased pan.
Bake for 30 minutes. You can pour on some sauce in the last 10 minutes of baking or heat the sauce separately.
Balls of meat stuffed with cheese and covered in a chunky marinara sauce?! I am all in. And I’m not sure if it’s being pregnant or the change in the seasons, or maybe both, but this kind of meal is right up my alley right now.
These meatballs are total comfort food and will leave you full and happy. Just like food should when it’s cold out. Who in their right mind is eating salad right now, anyway? I guess maybe I should be…but instead I’m eating meatballs, pasta and rosemary rolls. And I’m ok with that.
Like most meatballs you will end up with a mess in your kitchen. BUT you can form the meatballs ahead of time, refrigerate them, clean up that round of dishes, then fry and bake them for dinner that night, or even the next day. You can probably get away with not frying them at all and just putting them straight into the oven. Maybe just add 10-15 extra minutes, especially if you’ve refrigerated them. Regardless of the mess you make though, they are definitely worth it!
You have a few options with these meatballs. Pair with some spaghetti or other pasta (I made this spaghetti with simple garlic sauce and thought it was a nice combination) or load them onto some substantial crusty bread for meatball subs or sandwiches. One of the greatest things about these meatballs is that both of my kids LOVED them! So not only did Ben and I eat 2 dinners with them, but the kids had at least 4 meals of meatballs and ate them up. Carson asked for more! Rarely do they eat the food we do and enjoy it. This is definitely going into my kid friendly meal file.
One tool I use for cookies and meatballs and to get them to be uniform in size is a scoop like this. I have a small one (about 1 inch in diameter) and a larger one that is closer to 2 inches. It’s something I’d recommend you have in your kitchen if you do much cooking and baking. Get a sturdy one. It will be worth the money, work better and last longer than the cheaper ones will.
The original recipe simmers the meatballs in the sauce in the same pan they are cooked in. I finished them off in the oven and the only thing that wasn’t great about that was that some of the cheese escaped, which in the end was not a big deal. There was still plenty of cheese inside the meatballs! No need to worry. Enjoy!
1 pound ground sweet Italian turkey sausage (or mild or hot)
1 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 small white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup milk
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 27 cubes (or how ever many meat balls you get)
1 jar simple marinara sauce
Mix meat, breadcrumbs, seasonings, onion, garlic, eggs and milk. Clean hands are the best tool for the job, but a spoon or spatula is fine. Mix until everything is combined but not overly mixed.
Divide into balls of equal size, 1 1/2 to 2 inches. Place on a foil lined baking sheet, then take each meatball and press one cube of cheese into the center and form the meat around the cheese so that it is sealed. Place back on the foil lined baking sheet. At this point you can cover and refrigerate the meatballs for later.
Preheat oven to 350°F and heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Put 1/2 cup of flour into a bowl. Dredge each meatball lightly in flour, then place in the pan. Repeat until pan is full but not overly crowded. Cook for a minute or so on each side (I know this is hard to do with a round shape, but it’s not super important to get every bit of it cooked just the same. Just make sure the majority of the meatball is browned.) Be careful not to burn them. If they’re browning too much, turn down the heat. As the meatballs finish, move them to a 9×13 inch pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Repeat with the remaining meatballs until they’ve all been browned, adding more oil if needed.
Pour the entire jar of marinara sauce over the meatballs. Add about 1/4 cup of water to the jar, screw on the cap, shake it up and pour it over the meatballs also. Spread it out as evenly as you can. Put into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes (a little longer is you did not fry the meatballs or if they were refrigerated). Cut open a meatball to be sure they’re cooked thoroughly, there shouldn’t be much if any pink.
Enjoy on top of pasta, or on some nice crusty bread.
Goodness, blogging has certainly taken a back seat to mothering lately! As it should, of course. I kind of feel like I’ve fallen off the face of the earth in some ways, though. I am beat. I have permanent dark circles under my eyes and I can’t always form complete and comprehensible thoughts. I almost always feel foggy headed. And I hear this doesn’t get any better as your children get older…
Baby Betsy is 7 weeks old now and we are all alive, which is really saying something. If you want more details, then check this out. We love our sweet girl and are so very blessed to have our two beautiful and healthy babies.
A few weeks ago we had a group of friends and family at our house to watch an Aggie game. We’d planned on grilling, but with rain chances that day being 100% we decided to make chili and have Frito pie instead. It ended up only raining in the morning, so we could have grilled, but I am glad we changed our plans. Chili and football just go together, don’t you think? Now if only we could have a football Saturday under 80 degrees. I am so ready for that.
I don’t know about you, but when I decide to make something I rarely get to say, “I have the best recipe for _____!”. I start searching around online and in my cookbooks for a new recipe. I don’t know how many times I’ve made chili, but except for this chicken chili, I have never used the same recipe twice. I can stop searching. I can print a hard copy of this recipe and put it with my keepers. Thanks Jimmy Fallon and Martha!
The recipe for Jimmy Fallon’s chili is made in a crock pot. I made it in a big stock pot since I was making 1 1/2 times the recipe and my crock pot isn’t big enough. (And I needed my crock pot to make a batch of Velveeta and Rotel queso!) And honestly, if you’re already getting a skillet dirty I don’t see the point in moving everything to the crock pot and getting that dirty too. I guess the “set it and forget it” aspect is nice, but there is enough prep work that I don’t think it would be that helpful. I did everything in one pot and that meant fewer dishes to clean which made my husband happy. And that is good.
Beef and Bean Chili
From Martha Stewart courtesy of Jimmy Fallon
Feeds 12 generously
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 pounds ground chuck beef, ground for chili
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1-2 large white onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped fine
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons chile powder
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
3 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped with their juices
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for serving
3 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Green onions, chopped
In a large stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add beef and cook until no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper; drain on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a thick layer of paper towels and set aside.
Add remaining tablespoon olive oil to skillet and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, garlic, and jalapeno; season with salt. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add beef to the onion mixture, and mix in chile powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Add tomatoes, cilantro, beer and beans. Stir together and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1-2 hours.
At this point you can either serve the chili or take it off the heat, let it cool off and put the pot in the fridge overnight. The next day, reheat the chili over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until hot.
Serve over Fritos, topped with cheese, sour cream and green onions or your favorite chili toppings.
With baby countdown at 2 weeks and 1 day I felt it necessary to make some freezer meals for those days (of which I’m sure there will be many) that I don’t have time to cook a real meal. I searched quite a few websites for recipes that would freeze and reheat well. I cannot attest to their post-freezer goodness , but I did some taste testing along the way and I was pleased with the flavors and a little upset that I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy the food for dinner that night.
I didn’t want to make typical freezer meals. Lasagna, chili and casseroles that use cans of cream of whatever soup were just not the kind of meals I was looking for. Yes, I like to make things difficult for myself. Yes, I am a bit of a food snob. Ask me a year from now, and I think my love of convenience foods will have grown. But since I have the time now, why not make something extra good?
Here is what I ended up with in my freezer. Click on the meal for a link to the recipe. The pastitsio and shepherd’s pie include freezing instructions. I added my own for the chicken pasta.
Pastitsio – a layered Greek noodle dish with ground beef, tomatoes and bechamel sauce. The beef layer is spiced with olives, oregano, cinnamon and oregano.
Shepherd’s Pie – Turkey, tomato, peas, corn and mushrooms topped with mashed carrots and potatoes.
These are not the quickest meals to get prepped for the freezer. But the time you spend now will be time you save in a few weeks or a couple months when you go to enjoy the results of your hard work. I made the pastitsio the other afternooon, I think it took me about an hour and a half to cook and clean up. I made the chicken pasta and shepherd’s pie Saturday morning, and I think my total chopping, cooking, boiling, packaging and cleaning time was 3 hours. Here’s my kitchen during its worst moment on Saturday.
I know some of you have now decided that I am crazy to have spent that much of my Saturday morning on this project, but it’s something I’d planned to do…and so I had to do it. I also kind of like spending that time in the kitchen and having something to show for it. It makes me feel productive, and it’s a lot more fun that organizing the stacks of paper on the desk in the office. And look at my fully stocked freezer! Two 9×13 pans and two 8×8 pans of food waiting patiently to be eaten. Why does this kind of thing make me happy?
Here are a few quick notes and changes on these recipes. Some changes were made because of personal preferences, others because I forgot to or chose not to buy an ingredient. I am becoming more and more comfortable with improvising in the kitchen. It makes life so much easier, and it saves money too. A jar of sun-dried tomatoes was going to set me back $5.99…so I used some sun-dried tomato pesto that I already had. It makes me feel so resourceful when I can do things like that.
Left out the red wine
Used green olives instead of Kalamata
Used only 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of milk and 1 egg in the pasta mixture
Use a LARGE and DEEP pan, I did not have room in a regular 9×13 to fit all the sauce. It broke my heart to pour that creamy bechamel down the drain.
Chicken Florentine Artichoke Pasta
Cooked 2 chicken breasts in a skillet and chopped it up to make 2 cups
Used a 12 ounce package of pasta instead of 8 ounce
Used 2 tablespoons of sun dried tomato pesto instead of the chopped sun dried tomatoes
Freezer Instructions: Bake without bread crumbs for 15 minutes, then with bread crumbs for 5 minutes. Let cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and a couple layers of foil. When ready to bake, let it thaw in the fridge overnight, then bake @ 350 F covered with foil for 20 minutes and without foil for 15-20 minutes or until nicely brown on top.
Used 6 carrots and 4 large baking potatoes which was enough to top 2 8-inch pans
Made one of my pans with cheese, and one without
Used 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, 1 1/2 cups peas and 1 cup corn in addition to the meat and tomatoes
When Ben and I get around to eating these over the next couple months I will give some feedback about how the thawing and re-heating goes. If you try them in the meantime and bake them right away, please let me know how they turn out!
This was not restaurant style chicken fried steak with the thick, crunchy exterior and white cream gravy. This chicken fried steak had a thinner crust and the gravy was not the thick white kind with specks of peppercorns that I am used to. The gravy I made has a thinner consistency and a darker caramel color with specks of thyme. So, this is not exactly what you get when you order chicken fried steak at Lone Star Cafe like I remember getting as a kid. I remember it looking something like this.I always ordered the kids meal version, or a half order, but it always came out looking huge and daunting. Somehow I managed to scarf down every bit along with the buttery Texas toast which I used to sop up the extra gravy. Oh man. Those were good times.
This chicken fried steak is a bit different. It is homemade. It is comforting. And it is delicious. I got the recipe from a woman I met here in Amarillo. She grew up here and remembers having this at least once a week if not more often when she was a kid.
This is beef country, people. A great deal of the economy depends on it. I wake up on many mornings and can smell the feed lots when I let the dog out. My grandpa Marvin appropriately calls it the “money smell”. Texans love their beef, but Amarillo-ans LOVE their beef. This may be a stereotype, but it’s a stereotype that is true and in no way negative. Beef is good, and so is chicken fried steak.
The gravy recipe is not all hers, she admits. She once watched an Alton Brown show where he added fresh thyme to the gravy. Intrigued, she used it the next time she made her gravy and hasn’t gone back since. You can’t help but love Alton Brown. He stays true to what a dish originally was and only adds to it if it really and truly makes it better. You wouldn’t catch him adding something weird like lavender to a chicken fried steak gravy, but I am sure some ridiculous chef out there has.
Cheryl wasn’t very specific in her measurements, but I think it all turned out OK. I am a big fan of recipe following, so the term “some flour” kinda freaks me out. But really when you think about it, the ingredients in chicken fried steak are simple and do not require a lot of measuring. If it sticks to the steak, then that’s how much you need. If there are naked spots, then you need more. Pretty easy.
I served this with mashed potatoes and steamed green beans. A few slices of buttered Texas toast would have been a good idea, but I was not quite on top of things enough to get Texas toast when I was at the grocery store.
Here is Cheryl’s recipe for the steaks and Alton Brown’s Gravy.
Cheryl’s Chicken Fried Steak
4 pieces of tenderized round steak, pounded thin
2 cups flour
1-2 teaspoons salt
1-2 teaspoons black pepper
2-3 eggs, beaten
Whisk the flour, salt and pepper in a large, wide dish.
Whisk the eggs in a seperate large wide dish.
Dredge steaks in flour, then eggs, then flour once more.
Let the steaks sit for a few minutes while you heat enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet over medium high heat.
Cook steaks in oil for about 5 minutes, flip and cook for about 3 minutes more. Transfer to a plate and keep warm in a 200° oven while you cook the remaining steaks.
Alton’s Creamy Gravy
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
After cooking the steaks, heat the remaining cooking oil and tasty bits left over medium heat.
Whisk in 3 tablespoons of the flour left over from the dredging.
Add the chicken broth and deglaze the pan.
Whisk until the gravy comes to a boil and begins to thicken.
Add the milk and thyme and whisk until the gravy coats the back of a spoon, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. S
eason to taste, with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve the gravy over the steaks.