11 October 2010

Magic Meatballs

I realize the ol' blog has been pretty food heavy lately.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, I am obsessed with food.  You know that statistic about how men think about sex every eight seconds?  Well, I think about food at least that often.  When I'm not thinking about food, I'm sleeping, or thinking about Matt--and the next thing we'll cook together. 

Second, this is a really uneventful time of year for us.  It's not bad, but it's not terribly interesting.  My days consist of getting up way too early, arriving at school twenty minutes later (which actually can be eventful, but I'm not supposed to blog about school), coming home and eating too much, napping, talking to Matt, making dinner, ellipting, and watching television.  I know, I know, it's pretty glamorous.

Finally, Mitch hasn't been blogging much because all he ever wants to do anymore is lie in his dirt spot in the back yard.  He does this for hours a day.  It's really weird.  Also, I'm kind of wishing that he'd choose a more tidy place to lie than a DIRT SPOT, you know, since he sleeps in the bed with us and all.  (Is this an excuse to buy more sheets??)

And the weekends have been pretty quiet, too, since I spend much of my time trying to catch up with stuff around the house: laundry, house cleaning, reorganizing, etc.  Sometimes I'll take on small projects.  This weekend, for example, I was determined to use the meat grinder attachment that I received when I got my KitchenAid mixer.  I've had it for almost two years, and been intimidated by the meat grinder the whole time.  We had some boneless chicken thighs in the freezer, and Matt is grossed out by chicken thighs, so I decided that I would grind them up and make meatballs.

Oh, and remember that my KitchenAid is really old--from the sixties or possibly seventies.  So the attachments are old, too.  My meat grinder attachment is slightly newer than this one.  It looks kind of like a medieval torture device [for chicken].

So I set out to grinding.  It seemed like a good idea at the time (Kind of like how that one time it seemed like a good idea to let Chloe's stroller roll down the hill while I ran beside it.  Sorry about the fall and the busted up face, Sister.  My bad.). 

Now, I'm not squeamish or easily grossed out, but grinding this chicken made me want to puke all over the kitchen.  Not only did I have to squish the chicken down this little hole, but the chicken, as it came out, kept making this wet, lip-smacking, disgusting spitty sound.  It was as though Halloween had come early and I was grinding up human brains.  I'm not really sure why the meat grinding was such a disgusting disaster--perhaps I should have found myself some directions or made sure the blades were sharpened--but I do know that I was about two chicken thighs away from becoming a vegetarian.  I took pictures, but I'll spare you.  Just picture a human brain being pressed through a screen and you'll get the picture.

Anyway, I was thoroughly disgusted by the whole meat grinding endeavor, and didn't even know if I would want to eat the meat because the very thought of it made me squirm.  But then I found this recipe, and decided that it was high time to buck up, to get back up on the horse if you will.

I'm so glad I did.

These meatballs were so good!  Sure, it's a little deceiving to call them chicken meatballs when they have 1/4 lb. of pancetta in them, but I don't care.  I think that the step that really made them incredible was where we broke up Italian bread and soaked the pieces in milk before adding them to the meatball mixture.  The Smitten Kitchen lady, Deb, said that the greatest thing about the meatballs was how they tasted cheesy, even though there was no cheese in them.  She was right.  So, basically, we need to rename these Magic Meatballs.  (Next up: making celery taste like cookies.)

I stole her picture because I forgot to take my own, and because hers is really pretty.

Moral of the story: make yourself some Magic Meatballs, but buy the chicken already ground.

Magic Meatballs (Baked Chicken Meatballs from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 4, or more as appetizers or sliders

3 slices Italian bread, torn into small bits (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped (you can swap in Canadian Bacon if you can’t find pancetta)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided*
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.
Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in one tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. (Alternately, as in “I thought of this after the fact”, I’d bet you could render the pancetta for a couple minutes and cook the onions and garlic in that fat, rather than olive oil.) Cool slightly.
Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan (I used a 9×13 roasting dish).
Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs (the paste/oil does not mix in any cohesive manner, but just smoosh it on and run with it) , then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes (though mine took a good 5 minutes longer).
*Smitten Kitchen lady accidentally added a heaping tablespoon of the tomato paste into the meatball mixture the first time she made it, and ended up liking it better than without it. She’d use the tomato paste on top too. It’s good both places.

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