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…

Pancreas don’t care


We have had a rough fall with health problems for Kate, my baby girl, who resents it highly when I call her my baby girl.
She had a severe stomach ache back in October, with vomiting that wound her up in the hospital. She was diagnosed with pancreatitis, which is unheard of in 12 year olds. They sent her home, and she trick-or-treated on Halloween, but didn’t feel 100%.
A virus bounced her back into the hospital- not the pancreas this time, but dehydration. They chalked it up to her immune system being worn out from the pancreatitis, and an overreaction. When her brother got the same virus, but milder, we felt oddly reassured.
She was better, still not 100%, but we went into Thanksgiving break feeling good- she could catch up on missed schoolwork, sleep in and get better. Then the Saturday after thanksgiving, she got another stomach ache, started puking, and was generally miserable. When we took her to her pediatrician, he told us to get in the car and drive to the Children’s Hospital in Aurora, about an hour away. Our pediatrician didn’t have the authority to admit her, but he had been talking to a GI specialist, and they would be expecting her.
A week of driving back and forth, rating pain on a scale of 1-10 and watching cable TV. She was better, but still not well. x-rays, ultrasounds and an MRI followed, then a procedure scheduled. ERCP (huh?) a tube to look down and remove a stone from her pancreatic duct, turns out it wasn’t a stone, just a stricture, a narrowing, that was preventing the digestive enzyme from draining into her small intestine. Essentially, her pancreas was digesting itself. No wonder she had tummy aches.
The pancreas does 2 main things, I have recently learned. It makes insulin, so the body can use glucose, and it makes lipase, so the body can use fat. All that stuff you know about saturated fat versus unsaturated? Pancreas don’t care- fat is fat, and when fat goes through the stomach, pancreas releases lipase.

Before thanksgiving she had chicken fried steak and onion rings. Thanksgiving day, rolls and butter and
pie with whipped cream. Black Friday, a McDonald’s hashbrown and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Saturday, chicken Parmesan and shiny breadsticks.  So delicious. But agony for her almost-maybe-healed pancreas.

So, they placed a stent, and for the first time in months, she is pain-free.

And, on doctor’s recommendation, on a low fat diet- less than 15 grams of fat per day.

All these years I have been keeping sugar out of the house, we hardly ever drink pop, we eat plain, unsweetened cereal. It turns out I have been fighting the wrong demon. It was the fat that was hurting her.

So, how do we change our diets, lifestyles, to have much less fat than we were previously, much less than most people in the US eat? I am not cutting fat out of my diet entirely- my hair would fall out, for one thing. But to show solidarity, we are switching to skim milk, and nonfat cheese, and I don’t know what else, yet. The puzzle is, how to keep a girl going through her growth spurts healthy and happy on 15 grams of  fat a day.  Most advice on low-fat cooking is also low-calorie cooking. She needs to learn to love fruits and veggies, I know that much.

So, I will have to experiment with low fat stuff- some I can just substitute out, but some I will need to work on.

I was going to post a lowfat meatball recipe…but it needs work. A lot of work. Like…I’m not even going to put the pictures in.  Any tips? America’s Test Kitchen has a “healthy” cookbook, so I’ll try that. What else?