Thursday, August 30, 2012

Porcupine Meatballs

This post is celebrating a special occasion - my wedding anniversary!  34 years on August 31st!  And why THIS song of all songs?  Because it's the very first song we heard as we finally got into our car after the morning ceremony and a wedding breakfast.  My new husband started up our little orange Datsun B210 5-speed hatchback and the radio filled the car with Exile's tormented wish list of what they'd like to do "'til the night closes in."  Are you serious?!  Yes, this blushing young bride felt a little awkward and suddenly very shy.  We both laughed - my husband not quite as nervously as I, I noticed.  It was a busy day and I don't remember every single moment, but I have several favorite mental snapshots and this is one of them - the look on his face as he looked over at me.  It doesn't matter when or where - play this song and a little smile will find it's way to the corners of my mouth - I might even blush a little.  It's one of those stories that drive our kids just a little crazy - which makes the telling even more fun.  Yes - we were young once - and still are on the inside.  And I'm still absolutely insanely crazy in love with that man.

Thursday, August 31, 1978
That was the beginning of our married life together.
We spent our wedding night at the Snowbird Ski Resort and enjoyed a bowl of Froot Loops 
together as our first breakfast as man and wife.  Then we traveled across the country in our little Datsun for an open house at my parents' home in Pennsylvania.  We got about 45 mpg and gas cost about $.68/gallon.  So, if my calculations are correct, for a round trip of 4000 miles, it cost us a little over $60.00 in gas.

We returned to Utah a little over a week later so my husband could start his fall quarter classes at Weber State College.  We moved into a little home that we had helped fix up in exchange for a reduced rent rate.  I set up my kitchen with the few items we had received as gifts and set about planning the first meal I would make for my husband and I.

I found a recipe for Porcupine meatballs in a cookbook - a gift as well - and it sounded like something I could handle.  Up to this point I fancied myself a cinch at the domestic stuff.  I'd had alot of responsibility as the oldest girl in a family of 9 children.  I'd spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen.  The brutal fact, however, was that I had always been told what to do and most of it was prep work.  I was suddenly overwhelmed with the fact that I knew nothing about planning meals, grocery shopping, or what to do with all that food after it was prepped.  I could do laundry, I could clean like the dickens, and I could chop veggies and do the dishes.  But, alas, I really didn't know much about how to cook.
But how hard could it be, right?  

I read the instructions and assembled the meatballs.  I baked the meatballs.  I heated up some canned vegetables, no doubt.  Then I called my husband to the dinner table.
We blessed the food and gave thanks for it.
Then we began eating.

There wasn't much conversation.  It took most of our concentration to chew the raw rice.
Crunch, crunch, crunch.  That's pretty much all you could hear.

I'd never had Porcupine meatballs before.  They're meatballs that are filled with rice and when they cook, the rice is supposed to stick out of the ball like the quills of a porcupine - hence the name.  Were they supposed to be this crunchy?  Something deep in the pit of my stomach told me that, no, they were not.  

My husband didn't say a word.  Like a good sport, he sat there and ate his meatballs and even brought himself to dish up a second helping.  I, however, was miserable.  I fought the tears of embarrassment - not able to find the humor in the situation yet - it would take years.

I began a quest to find out more about Porcupine meatballs.  Was I supposed to cook the rice first?   All the recipes I found said no.  What did I do wrong then?

In developing today's recipe I think I may have finally figured out the errors of 34 years ago.

I was all about shortcuts at the time, which is fine when you understand the mechanics and science behind cooking.  I did not.  So, chances are: 
1)  the meatball recipe called for a sauce
2)  we didn't have/couldn't afford the ingredients for the sauce
3)  I figured the sauce was just an unnecessary embellishment so nixed it altogether
4)  meatballs were baked without a lid or cover because I didn't have a baking dish with a lid or materials with which to provide cover (aluminum foil)
5)  meatballs, therefore, were baked in dry heat, with no moisture to cook the rice
6)  meat cooked but rice did not.

I'm so happy and proud to share this version with you today.  I've been on an Asian flavor kick lately.  Can't quite get enough.  So these Porcupine Meatballs reflect that current craving.

Porcupine Meatballs
makes 12 - 15 meatballs
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/3 c. long-grain rice
1/2" fresh ginger, grated (I like to use a zester and keep my ginger root peeled and frozen)
2 green onions, sliced thin
1 t. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T. hoisin sauce
1 lg. handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 egg
1 small can of crushed pineapple (8 oz.), drained, juice reserved (optional)

1 c. tomato sauce
1/2" fresh ginger, grated
4 oz. pineapple juice, or reserved juice from canned pineapple if used in meatballs
1/3 c. hoisin sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large sturdy bowl, combine the beef and pork with the rest of the ingredients and stir well with a spoon until the ingredients have thoroughly combined.  My husband preferred the meatballs without the pineapple.  I like the idea of using the juice for the sauce and utilizing the fruit in the meatballs.  The only difference is textural - the fruit acts as a tenderizer so the meatballs are a little softer with the added crushed pineapple.

Scoop a scant 1/4 c. of meat mixture and form it into a ball.  Place in a sprayed casserole dish.

In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and stir well.  Pour the sauce around the meatballs and jiggle the dish to evenly distribute it.
Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Uncover and bake another 10 - 15 minutes.  Serve with the sauce.  If the sauce has become too thick, simply thin it with some water or pineapple juice if you have extra.

Note:  Most ground meat comes packaged in 1 lb. units.  Go ahead and make a double recipe and freeze the extras to have on hand for a busy night - you know there's going to be some now that school has started again!