Chicken Meatballs

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I know I’ve been AWOL for a week or so, but I have a really good excuse.  See, I had to make these meatballs.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I had to cater a baby shower…and these were on the menu. So technically that is true.  As soon as I get my pictures in order I will be posting about the shower, including some other yummy-scrumptious recipes.  But seeing as how I made these twice in three days (they are that good), I figured it was my duty to share them first.  But I feel I should warn you that they are made with ground chicken.

Gasp.  I know, right.

I’ll be honest: I never thought I’d ever buy ground poultry.  I mean, I make fun of folks who eat turkey burgers, because, really, what’s the point of eating a burger (B is for beef, people.  Or possible buffalo. Or bison.  Not turkey.) otherwise?  No judgements here – eat what you want – but for me personally, I like my ground meat red, and previously on the hoof.   So, when I was hunting for a killer meatball recipe, no one was more surprised than me that I chose one with ground chicken.  They also have pancetta, which helped make them more legit – let’s be honest, I’d eat a tire if you put pancetta on it.  And the recipe described them as tasting “cheesy”, even though there is not a single shred of cheese in them.   By that point in my research I was fully on board, and trying to think of which Publix I can go to where no one I know will see me buying ground chicken.

yes, I know that's bacon and not pancetta, but I used it all up in another recipe and had to use it's only slightly less awesome relative in my second batch.

yes, I know that’s bacon and not pancetta, but I used it all up in another recipe and had to use it’s only slightly less awesome relative in my second batch.

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The first batch I made for the shower I didn’t photograph, so you’re seeing my second batch which I made for dinner last night – much to Jacob’s delight.  He claimed they were awesome, and that’s a high compliment for someone who usually just says “Meh.  It’s OK.  I’d eat it again.”  Seriously.  He’s like the least excited eater ever.  Also, almost everyone who attended the shower requested the recipe, so I feel pretty good declaring them the Best Meatballs Ever.  They only take about 20 minutes to put together, and then another 15-20 to bake, depending on how large you make them, so it’s not a huge time investment, and are you really still here?  Why aren’t you out at a grocery store where no one knows you buying ground chicken (unless you routinely use ground poultry, in which case feel free to shop at your usual place).  They really are good people.  They don’t taste very chicken-y to me, more a general savory flavor, and they are very tender and moist.  I made the ones for the shower small, around 25 of them baked for 16 minutes, and the ones for our dinner were larger, only 12 and baked for 22 minutes.  So you can tweak them to suit your needs, but either way, you’ll be glad you tried them.

Baked Chicken Meatballs
Adapted from Gourmet via SmittenKitchen

Serves 4 as a main course, or more as appetizers

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

Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs (I had to use a whisk to get it to mix) , then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes.

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Ding Dong Eight Alarm Chili

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Let’s just start off with a disclaimer:  This is not eight-alarm chili.  At least not the way I made it.  In all fairness, it would have been had I been able to find anything I was shopping for at the grocery store last week.  Let me just say, Publix, that I’m really disappointed in you.  You’ve never let me down like this before.   But I’m over it, because it was still delicious.

I found this recipe on Epicurious a while back (like 2 years, actually).  It was originally published in Gourmet magazine back in 2003, and it’s supposed to be the famous chili from the Cosby show (I dunno.  I didn’t watch the Cosby show, but I hear the chili was like a big deal or something).  I just thought it looked like a pretty good recipe so I saved it, and when I had my little impromptu dinner party last weekend, it seemed like a good time to dig it out.  You can never go wrong with a (mostly) one pot meal that you make a day ahead for a dinner party.  It gives you plenty of time on the day of to do any last minute house-cleaning, dog de-hairing (that’s the technical term for the removal of dog hair from miscellaneous surfaces and/or seating areas), or decorating.   I’ll admit it.  I did all three of those things.

Back to the chili.  Please, please, please don’t buy packaged stew meat for this.  They just like to trim off any random leftover bits from whatever they’ve been working with in the meat department and you never know what you’re getting in there.  Buy a shoulder or a chuck roast and cut it yourself.  It only takes a few extra minutes, and you can be sure of the cut of meat you’re getting.  Also, since you’re cutting it yourself, you can make sure that your pieces are all similar size for even cooking.  Once you’ve done that, you brown your meat – get a good sear since that is where all the flavor comes from.  Set your meat aside and throw some onions and garlic in there, then some spices, then your sauce (we’ll talk about the sauce in a moment), and that’s it.  You cook it down for a while, let it cool, and stick it in the fridge.  Let it sit around for a day or two, then heat it back up and voila’,  chili.  Yummy goodness chili.

Now the reason mine didn’t turn out super spicy is because I couldn’t find the right sorts of peppers.  All my Publix had was jalapenos and “long hot peppers”.  I’m not sure what a long hot pepper was supposed to be, but I tasted it and I’m pretty sure it was just a funny shaped bell pepper.   I wasn’t going to inflict habaneros on dinner guests, so I just used the jalapenos and then added some extra chili powder and aleppo pepper.  It was faintly spicy, but not robustly so, so if you like a good scorching chili, you need to make sure you get peppers with some heat.  Also: the sauce.  When you puree your peppers, etc, the recipe has you add a half cup of cilantro.  When I took the top off my food processor I was immediately hit with the smell of cilantro.  Jacob actually said that I had ruined the chili, because the smell was so strong, and I was a little worried myself that it would be overpowering, but don’t fear.  Add the cilantro!  Once you cook it for a couple of hours, it disappears into the background, leaving just a slight herbal note that you really need to balance out the other heavy flavors.

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This made a great chili that wasn’t overly difficult to make, and turned out to be a good, hearty, warming meal.  If only I had winter weather deserving of such a dish…alas, you can’t have everything.

Oh! Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope yours is going splendidly!

Ding Doing Eight Alarm Chili

2 oz dried ancho chiles (4 large), stemmed and seeded*

6 large garlic cloves, 3 of them finely chopped

1 tablespoon salt, or to taste

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder (not pure chile)

4 lb well-marbled beef brisket or boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces

3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice

1/4 cup canned chipotle chiles in adobo

1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

1 1/2 lb white onions, chopped (4 cups)

1 tablespoon dried oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled

1 to 4 fresh serrano or other small green chiles, finely chopped, including seeds (1 is fine for most tastes; 4 is the eight-alarm version)

1 (12-oz) bottle beer (not dark)

2 cups water

2 1/2 cups cooked pinto beans (optional; 30 oz), rinsed if canned

Soak ancho chiles in hot water to cover until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain well.

While chiles soak, mince 1 whole garlic clove and mash to a paste with 1/2 tablespoon salt, 1/2 tablespoon cumin, and 1/2 tablespoon chili powder. Pat beef dry and toss with spice mixture in a large bowl until coated.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wide 6- to 7-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown beef in 3 or 4 batches, without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch (lower heat as needed; spice mixture burns easily). Transfer beef as browned to another bowl. (Do not clean pot.)

Purée anchos in a blender along with tomatoes (including juice), chipotles in adobo, cilantro, remaining 2 whole garlic cloves, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon salt until smooth.  Add enough oil to fat in pot to total 3 tablespoons, then cook onions and chopped garlic over moderate heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits from beef, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add oregano, remaining tablespoon cumin, and remaining tablespoon chili powder and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add chile purée and 1 chopped serrano and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes.

Stir in beer, water, and beef along with any juices accumulated in bowl and gently simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally and checking often to make sure chili is not scorching, 2 hours.

Taste sauce, then add more serrano if desired and continue to simmer, partially covered, until beef is very tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 hours more. (If chili becomes very thick before meat is tender, thin with water as needed.)  Coarsely shred meat (still in pot) with 2 forks and cool chili completely, uncovered, then chill, covered, 1 to 2 days to allow flavors to develop.

Reheat over low heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until hot, about 30 minutes. Add beans (if using) and simmer, stirring, 5 minutes

* I think it’s safe to say that if you can’t find dried anchos, or any of these specific peppers, the world will not end and the chili gods won’t rain hellfire down on you.  Just use whatever chilies you like, or whatever suits your taste heat-wise.