Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Baked Meatballs

  With the cold weather of this time of year, hearty appetites are brought to the table.  One of the favorite recipes around our house is meatballs.  But honey, before you get the idea these are run of the mill balls o' meat, let me fill you in on a couple of things.  This is a slight tweaking of Alton Brown's recipe, and I got to say, these are a step up from the norm.  First thing that's different - they are baked.  To elevate them a bit more, they are baked in a mini muffin pan.  Why?  It keeps the meatballs from sitting in grease as they cook.  And then to ratchet it up a bit more, they are rolled in bread crumbs before they are baked.  When all these factors come together, you get a nice meatball with a slightly crisp exterior that is just wonderful to sink your teeth into.

Baked Meatballs
Approximately 20 meatballs; 5 servings

1 pound ground round (80/20 ground beef)
1/2 pound ground pork or pork sausage
10 oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup bread crumbs, divided (may need more)

  Here's a quick starter note - you can prep the meatball mixture up to 24 hours before you plan on baking them.  When you get ready to make these, preheat the oven to 400°F.

  In a large mixing bowl, add in the ground round, pork, spinach, Parmesan, egg, basil, parsley, garlic, salt, red pepper and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs.  With clean hands, combine everything thoroughly.  (If you are making the meatballs later, cover with plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator at this point.)   

  At this point, we are ready to form the meatballs.  Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs in a shallow bowl, and set aside.  Keep the bread crumbs out, because you may need a little more.

  I'm going to give you two ways of divvying up the meat to get even-sized meatballs.  Method 1 - Pat and Cut: On a clean surface, pat out the meat mixture into a rectangle that's about 1 inch thick.  Cut lengthwise across the middle, making 2 equal halves.  Repeat this cut on each half so that you have 4 even rows.  Then make 4 cuts width-wise, creating 5 equal columns.  You should now have 20 squares ready to be rolled into meatballs.  Method 2 - Scoop and Weigh:  With a spoon, scoop out some meat and weigh it on a kitchen scale.  You are shooting to make the meatballs 1 1/2 (1.5) ounces.  I wrap the removable top of my scale with plastic wrap before weighing out the meat to keep it from sticking, and well, to keep raw meat off the scale.

  Once the meat is portioned to the right size, roll the mixture into balls.  Then roll the meatball in the bread crumbs. Place the meatball in a cup of a miniature muffin tin.  Repeat until all the meatballs have been rolled and coated in bread crumbs.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until they are cooked through.  Serve with your favorite marinara and spaghetti noodles or slap them on your favorite hoagie buns and make meatball subs.

Helpful Hint - If you have a potato ricer laying around, it makes quick work of draining the thawed spinach.  Just load up the ricer and squeeze; you'll end up with nice, dry spinach that won't water down what you are making.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pizza Dip

Here's an easy tried and true recipe I need to pull back out for Game Night at our house soon.  Make sure you serve this with some hearty crackers or breadsticks!

Pizza Dip
Serves 10

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (8 ounces), divided
1/2 cup pizza sauce

  Start by preheating your oven to 350°F.  Using an electric mixer, combine the cream cheese, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder.  Beat until well-blended.  Spread the cream cheese mix on the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate.  Top with 1 cup of mozzarella, spread on the pizza sauce, and sprinkle on the remaining cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and everything is heated through.

Tip - Feel free to add in your favorite pizza toppings to customize this dip to your tastes.  I'd put them on top of the pizza sauce before the final layer of cheese.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Stuffed Mushrooms (like Olive Garden's)

  When I was in high school, we took a family vacation to Disney World.  On the drive home, we stopped in Lakeland, Florida to eat dinner at the Olive Garden.  Mom ordered one of those appetizer samplers where you could pick three things.  I remember the platter being placed on the table, and looking at Mom sitting across the table, telling us what she ordered.  My brother, who was in elementary school at the time, looked at me and we started to add things to our plates of things to try - there was fried zucchini (oh, how I love thee...), fried mozzarella (I still contend cheese is a most perfect food), and stuffed mushrooms.   I had no idea those little suckers could taste so good.  But they did.  It was one of those tastes that haunts a mushroom lover; randomly in the years after that trip my mom, my brother, or I would just be hit with a craving for those mushrooms.  Being a good hour and half away from the nearest Olive Garden, it wasn't something easily rectified.

  While hunting for a different stuffed mushroom recipe for Mom, I ran across this one.  This recipe is floating around on many cooking websites online, and with excellent reason.  This copycat recipe produces the best stuffed mushroom that has ever passed my lips.  Actually, if you ask me, I find them to be better than those from Olive Garden - high praise coming from someone that loves the OG as much as I do. 

Stuffed Mushrooms (like Olive Garden's)

12 or more fresh white button mushrooms (depends on the size of the mushrooms)
6 oz. can clams, drained and finely minced
1/4 cup clam juice (can be reserved from the canned clams or purchased separately - I used the bottled juice)
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon  minced garlic
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon oregano leaves
1/2 cup Italian style bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon finely grated Romano cheese
2 tablespoon finely grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated mozzarella, for topping
1/4 cup melted butter, for topping
Optional - finely chopped parsley for garnish

  Begin by preheating your oven to 350°F.  Clean the mushrooms and remove the stems.  Save the stems for another use. (Sauteed in a little butter, served over rice is fantastic, if you ask me.)  Lightly grease a baking dish, and set aside.

  In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the clams, green onion, garlic salt, garlic, 1 tablespoon of melted butter, and oregano. Once that is well blended, add in bread crumbs, beaten egg, and clam juice.  Stir until it is well mixed, and stir in the Parmesan, Romano, and 2 tablespoons of mozzarella.  Stuff the mushrooms, slightly mounding the stuffing mixture.

  Place the stuffed mushrooms to the baking dish.  Pour the 1/4 cup of melted butter over the mushrooms, and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil.  Place the dish into the preheated oven to bake for 35-40 minutes.  Remove, sprinkle the 1/4 cup of mozzarella and return to the oven until the cheese melts.  Sprinkle with parsley before serving, if desired.

Notes- This dish is great for the holidays.  You can prepare the mushrooms and place in the baking dish (don't pour the butter over yet), cover with foil, in the morning.  Stash in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake them that evening.  Preheat the oven, then pour over the melted butter at this point and continue the recipe from there.  And pssst - I don't think too many folks would notice if you just use Parmesan for both the Parmesan and Romano.