Cabin Fever Spaghetti and Meatballs

spaghetti-and-meatballs
Mid-blizzard spaghetti & meatballs (oh, and salad)

Grouchy much? I am — and I’m not alone. I had (rare) brunch plans with friends yesterday and the chief topic of discussion was how crotchety we’ve been lately — it turns out a lot of us are snapping at spouses and kids with abandon this winter. Saturday was one of those days. We went out to run errands under a clear, blue sky and then — bam — within an hour a mini blizzard had us heading for home. That left me with the task of coming up with dinner and a way to entertain a restless child until bedtime. Diet be damned — this strain of cabin fever was calling out for a little comfort. The solution? Pasta (the answer’s always pasta, usually with cheese). I left some of the serious calorie- and fat-slashing efforts for another day and blog post. The kiddo helped me add the ingredients to the food processor, roll the meatballs, and then count them (over and over — because counting’s huge when you’re four). We ended up with juicy meatballs that were bursting with flavor and a sauce that was like buttah, because, well, there was butter in it.

Melt-In-Your Mouth Meatballs

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion (or 1/2 large), diced
1 pound lean ground chuck
3 Tbsp panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup of milk (whatever you have — skim, 2%, whole)
1/4 Tsp salt
A few turns of fresh cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and drag out the food processor (insert clanging noise here as everything explodes from the cabinet). Chop the onion in half and peel the garlic, throw it in the processor and pulse until they’re broken down. Add the breadcrumbs, milk, and basil leaves and pulse for about a minute until incorporated. Then, add the meat, pulsing again until everything is evenly distributed. Shape the mixture in small golf ball-size meatballs and place them on a baking sheet.

Bake uncovered 15 to 20 minutes or until no longer pink in center. While the meatballs bake, whip up this quick sauce:

Like-Butter Tomato Sauce

I love Marcella Hazan‘s tomato sauce — it’s incredibly simple, yet incredibly delicious. I adapted it slightly based on what I had in the house (a little less butter and a few grape tomatoes thrown into the mix). It’s SO good.

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion (or 1/2 large), diced
1 28-oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 cup grape tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened and lightly brown. Throw some grape tomatoes in, piercing them with a knife (so that the juice and seeds mix with the onion and keep it from burning) until they’re soft. Add can of San Marzano tomatoes, plus salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer. When the meatballs are done cooking the oven, add them to the sauce and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Will these spaghetti and meatballs blow up your Instagram feed? Maybe not. But they might just save your sanity.

Love,
The Lunch Lady

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The Secret to Moist, Reheat-able Meatballs (Psst…They’re Perfect for School Lunches)

Spaghetti and Chicken Meatballs
Hot lunch: A slightly messy thermos of spaghetti and chicken meatballs

Last week, the kid and I made a tray of chicken meatballs for school lunches. It turns out that working with raw poultry is a preschoolers’ dream — so many opportunities to wash your hands!  While I’m a former vegetarian and often choose veggies (and, yes, I admit it, carbs) over meat a lot of the time, my daughter is all carnivore, just like her dad. The only thing that trumps meat in her personal codex of dietary laws is chocolate, which reminds me that I really should order mole next time we go out for Mexican.

When my in-laws were in town a few weeks ago, I made a big pasta dinner  — and I struck meatball gold with a recipe I came up with based on what I had in the fridge. I prefer to use ground chicken or turkey in my meatballs, but the meat often dries out because it’s so lean so I improvised a little. The secret to these amazingly light, moist, reheat-able meatballs is the combination of three simple ingredients I always have on hand: milk, bread, and pesto. Here’s my recipe for foolproof chicken or turkey meatballs that are as easy as they are delicious:

Chicken or Turkey Meatballs
1 pound ground lean chicken or turkey
2 slices of whole grain bread, torn into bits
1/2 cup of milk (whatever you have — skim, 2%, whole)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp pesto
1 Tsp olive oil
1/4 Tsp salt
A few turns of fresh cracked pepper

Chicken Meatballs
Chicken meatball supply is quickly being siphoned off by Dad

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Ask your kid to make a (controlled) mess by tearing up both slices of whole grain bread into tiny pieces in a small-to-medium size bowl. Pour the milk over the bread until every piece is coated; set aside for 15 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the milk. Add 1 Tsp of olive oil to a skillet on medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook until golden brown. In a large bowl, combine ground meat with the bread mixture, prepared pesto, onions, and garlic. Use a spatula or your hands to incorporate all of the ingredients into the meat. Shape mixture into 20-24 small meatballs and place 1 inch apart on lightly greased baking sheet.

Bake uncovered 18 to 22 minutes or until no longer pink in center.

I serve them with what I call my “basic marinara” — one can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes, a little sauteed garlic or onion, salt and pepper. If I have pesto on hand, I’ll throw that in, too. Pesto is one of my favorite flavor short cuts and just having a little jar of in the fridge inspires me to use it in everything from pasta to rice to sauces to egg dishes.

What’s your favorite flavor shortcut?

Love,

The Lunch Lady