When was the last time you stumbled across a blog that sucked away your afternoon? One that was so witty and entertaining that it caused those three loads of laundry you swore you were going to get through to remain in a crumpled heap on the floor two days later (and counting...)? My friend Hannah recently suggested that I visit The Pioneer Woman. (Yes, I gave you the link, but don't blame me if you click on it and then fail to accomplish even half of what you had planned to do today. You have been warned.) Hannah thought I would particularly like reading The Pioneer Woman's love story, Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, so that's where I started.
Let's pretend, for my sake, that I didn't plow through the first 31 chapters of Black Heels to Tractor Wheels in one day. (It makes me feel better if you think I accomplished more than just gluing myself to a computer screen on Wednesday. I also went to a karaoke bar.) It's just so easy to read, and as my friend C pointed out ("You and this woman -- you are the same person!"), there are some striking similarities between Pioneer Woman and me. Like our serious and sudden attraction to men in Wranglers and cowboys boots. And the sense of Everything is Right With the World that comes from climbing into the cab of a big pickup truck for a date. And probably also our unfortunate tendency to find ourselves in potentially mortifying situations. (I would like to tell myself that this last example isn't quite true, but yesterday I walked face-first into the door of our office. No, it is not made of glass.) Pioneer Woman's blog is worth visiting (over and over and over again), but if a gazillion hours of online reading is a bit more than you can handle at the moment, you'll be heartened to know that the published version of Black Heels to Tractor Wheels is scheduled for release around this time next year and plans for a movie are in the works as well. Apparently I'm not the only fan.
Sweet Betsy From Pike, were they ever good! So filling and so savory, and really not too difficult to make. In order to speed the day-of prep along, I did my chopping and meat-mixing ahead of time. I also got a little help from The Athlete, who has finally come to understand that assisting me in the kitchen is not a perfect slice of hell (as she once thought), but a rather nice way to spend a little time together around the holidays (just a little, but we're working on it). She was kind enough to form the meat mixture into balls and dust them with flour while I prepared the picada. Huge help! Sautéing the meatballs in the skillet was the most time-intensive task. I had to do small batches since our large skillet was being put to another use at the time, and it took quite a while since I was making a double match of meatballs in the first place. However, I made these in my parent's kitchen (ahem..."my" kitchen), so I had the benefit of a warming drawer to keep the already cooked meatballs toasty. A large pot set over very low heat can serve a the same purpose if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Meatballs in Almond Sauce
(Albóndigas en Salsa de Almendra)
A recipe from Williams-Sonoma
Serves 6 as an appetizer
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork*
2 slices bread, about 2 ounces total, soaked in water to cover and squeezed dry
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 tablespoons finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons ground blanched almonds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
A few saffron threads, crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Olive oil for deep-frying or sautéing
Flour for dusting
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup minced yellow onion
1/2 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup meat or chicken broth
To make the meatballs, in a bowl, combine the beef, pork, soaked bread, onion, garlic, parsley, egg, paprika, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Knead with your hands until well mixed. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, as the mixture is easier to work with when cold.
To make the picada, in a mini food processor or mortar, combine the garlic, almonds, parsley, paprika and saffron, and process or grind to a paste. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Once the meat mixture is well chilled, form it into 1-inch balls and dust them with flour, coating evenly. In a deep-fry pan over medium-high heat, pour in olive oil to a depth of 2 inches and heat to 375 degrees F on a deep-frying thermometer. Working in batches, slip the balls into the hot oil and fry until golden, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. (Alternately, in a large fry pan over medium heat, warm a little olive oil and sauté the meatballs until well browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes.)
To make the sauce, in a large fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the wine, broth, and meatballs and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the picada and cook for a few minutes more to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot.
* You may not be able to find this pre-packaged, but fear not -- the helpful person behind the meat counter at any standard grocery store can grind pork for you.