Chris Kimball comes through again!


Because of a need to go lower fat, I was looking to substitute the foods we love with lower fat versions.

Spaghetti and meatballs is a meal we have in the rotation regularly-for years I have just been buying a bag of frozen meatballs, and microwaving a dozen or so while the pasta water boiled.  Then I read the label, and was astonished by the amount of fat.  This was low-hanging fruit- surely I could make meatballs with less than 12 grams per serving!

I borrowed a low fat cookbook from a colleague, and made calculations and adaptations for a meatloaf recipe. I was so proud- it was only 1.5 grams of fat for an entire serving of 6 meatballs. I used texturized vegetable protein, and 95% lean ground beef, and…Ummm…yeah. They were….really…I should have taken pictures of people eating them- glum. We did eat the whole batch, but not happily.
The thing is, the good people at Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchens have done the math, and done the experimentation, and come up with a recipe for meatballs that aren’t as crazy lean as my experimental meatballs, but they are really tasty.
Because that is the thing- at only 1.5 grams of fat per serving, no one wanted to eat them. So, what’s the point?
The two secrets of CI’s recipe are buttermilk and gelatin. The buttermilk totally makes sense to me- tang and richness and mouthfeel. The gelatin was a surprise- they explained that sometimes meatballs are made with veal, which I guess naturally has more gelatin, so you get a creamy texture. It gives a velvety feeling without being greasy.
I tried them, and they are so good. The original recipe called for 2 pounds of beef, and 1 of ground pork. I didn’t want that many meatballs floating around the first time I made the recipe, so I used just 1 pound of 93% lean beef. Another modification was to use leftover Christmas ham rather than the finely chopped prosciutto called for in the original. This was pure laziness- we had the ham, didn’t want to go out for specialty deli meats.  I think the ham also adds saltiness and umami, without adding fat.  The original recipe would make around 120 meatballs, which seems like really a lot- more than my oven could handle, but I suppose if I were having a big spaghetti party, I might make that many.

(Weird note about Cook’s Illustrated/ America’s Test Kitchen- I had a dream that Chris Kimball lived in our town, and all his quirky small town New England stories were really about here, and he was giving cooking classes and we went and he wore his little bow tie and everything.)

Meatballs- based on Cook’s Illustrated, with adaptations

3/4 cups bread crumbs

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup egg beaters

1 pound 93% lean ground meat

2 oz chopped ham

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons italian seasoning

1 clove pressed garlic

1 packet unflavored gelatin dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

Dissolve the gelatin in water according to directions. In a large bowl, mix the buttermilk, egg and the breadcrumbs. Add the other ingredients, and mix together by hand, thoroughly incorporating the gelatin.  Form into balls- you could weigh them…I guestimated and came up with about 40 of them that seemed about the right size. Place on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  At this point, you can bag them and put them in the freezer, or simmer some in sauce until the pasta is ready, and freeze the rest, or maybe you are having a big enough party, or you have a big enough family, to serve all of them at once.  Go for it.

Sorry, no photos…every time I cook something, I find myself admiring the photographers who take pictures of food. My photo shot of this recipe just turned up pink pasty stuff, then, you know, brown balls…of meat…

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Self watering pot- a goldfish story.


Frozen Hillbilly Goldfish Pond.

Frozen Hillbilly Goldfish Pond.

I pinned something on Pinterest that was repinned more times than anything else I have put up. Then, my brother found it somewhere and sent it to me, as well.  It is a tutorial for a mini pond in a pot, with divisions for a wetland area with more soil and cattails, and a pond area, with a water lily. It is honestly adorable.

I have worked my way up in mini-ponds- from a 10 gallon tub, to a 20 gallon half barrel, to my current one, a 100 gallon horse trough, aka the Hillbilly Goldfish Pond. I have learned that the more water, the better the pond works. The fish like it better, (although there is some…attrition). The plants like it better. This experience tells me that the little patio pond depicted probably wouldn’t work, but it is adorable. People like adorable.
It makes me think, though, about adding more “wetland” area to my pond. And with that, it makes me wonder about combining the idea of a self watering pot and my pond. A self watering pot is a porous pot  with a reservoir underneath that holds a constant source of water. Roots are always able to access the water they need, so they tend to grow better than they would in regular containers. Earthbox is one brand. They seem expensive and  ugly. (that’s one way you can tell I don’t make money from these links.   If they were affiliate links, I would say, “kind of expensive, and kind of ugly.”)

In a six foot long pond, what about putting in some cinderblocks, and some pots that would keep the roots wet, but the tops dry, so the plants don’t rot? Or islands, out of floating styrofoam, for lettuce and spinach? Or grow bags with squash, and the vines could drape over the sides of the trough? I would still want enough open space for fish, and I wonder if the goldfish would wind up eating the roots?
That’s what’s great about winter- I can imagine these ideas all day and night, waiting for the pond to thaw.

Beet Greens- you can grow that!


When C.L. Fornari, the genius garden blogger behind “You Can Grow That” suggested that for the month of February, we pick a plant related to the theme of love, I had to think about it.  I considered the plants I love, or the plants that symbolize romance, and I was kind of stumped.  February is a tough month for planting, around here anyway.  So, I decided to be contrarian, and write about beets.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don't heart them, but I like them.

We heart beet greens! Well, I do. Well, maybe I don’t heart them, but I like them.

I have to confess that we don’t love beets at our house.  When we had a CSA membership, I tried to like them. I roasted them, which is my favorite with most veggies, and I threw them in stir-fry (which made everything weirdly pink) and I marinated them…not popular. I did learn that I liked beet greens, though. A friend insists that beet greens taste just like beets, but I disagree. Or maybe it’s the texture. Anyway, when I saw directions for forcing root crops in a pot, I thought to myself, that’s a good way to get greens without having to actually eat beets.

The directions come from Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, which is a funky combination of a book- part how-to garden tome, part we-went-to-the-south-of-France-and-drove-around-looking-at-gardens-in-winter travelogue. My kind of book, in other words.

Coleman describes  taking beets, or turnips, or celeriac, putting the roots in damp sand in a sunny window, and eating the greens that sprout.

I decided to start the experiment with beets. I bought a cute bunch, and cut off the leaves that they came with to sautee, then eat in garlic soup (really tasty- follow this link!)

I then filled a 6 inch pot 1/3 of the way with potting soil, then put in the roots, then covered with soil and watered.

BIrd's eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

Bird’s eye view of 3 beets in a pot, before another layer of soil is added.

The roots won’t get any bigger- storage crops are biennial. During the first summer, they put energy into the root. When they send up leaves again, they use the energy store in the root to prepare for blooming. This means you don’t have to worry about leaving room in the pot for root growth.IMG_0056

We haven’t gotten enough for a big salad, but there should be leaves to add to stir-fry or soup or whatever.  I’m adding some to Quinoa salad tonight.  I hope it doesn’t turn weirdly pink.

 

Seriously. Good. Guacamole.


So, for each avocado, about this much sauce- I know it says 1/2 teaspoon, but this is the kind of spoon we use, and it's just on the edge...

So, for each avocado, about this much sauce- I know it says 1/2 teaspoon, but this is the kind of spoon we use, and it’s just on the edge…

Just in time for some sort of big game that may or may not be happening this weekend, the Associated Press put out a food feature on guacamole. They suggest adding bacon and brown sugar. Seriously? A 12 ounce jar of roasted red peppers? Bleah.
DH has developed the sine qua non (wait, is that what I mean? something Latin, anyway) of Guacamole. He invested many years of experimentation into it, and every batch has been worth it. I say that as his primary taste tester. When he dared to show up at a New Year’s Eve party without a bowl of his signature guac, he was sent home. I was like- “look, I made homemade marshmallows?” No, not enough. DH went home and returned later with a bowl that was gobbled up immediately.
We can eat guac guilt-free around here, because even though it is high fat, Kate doesn’t like it, so we don’t have to worry much about her pancreas. Or her puppy eyes- whenever she catches me having something she wishes she could have, she looks unutterably sad….
So, I will share with the world (well, the world of my little corner of the interwebs) the recipe so that you won’t have to use any weirdo AP recipes. Seriously, they want you to add mango?

The secret ingredient is rooster sauce. Also known as Sriracha, which is chile puree found in the Asian section of your grocery. Get the kind with chilies and garlic. DH has been know to play Johnny Appleseed with rooster sauce, bringing guacamole ingredients to the homes of friends and relatives, making a batch of guac and leaving the jar of sriracha there.
This is a proportional recipe- you can expand as much as you like, but you can’t contract it much beyond 1 avocado- I guess you could make it with half an avocado, but then you have a half of an avocado left that you know would be better as guacamole.
1 ripe avocado
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic paste
1 teaspoon lime juice (bottled is fine, unless you have limes lying around)
1 tablespoon of chopped purple onion
Mash avocado in a bowl,add remaining ingredients. Taste test. Remember, you can add more lime,chili and onion, but you can’t really take it away. It should taste balanced. You should feel blissful.

I realize that there may be people who are unfamiliar with guacamole- it is a puree of avocado, used as a topping on tacos or other Mexican dishes, or as a dip eaten with corn chips.