I might have a problem. Every time I happen to think about these meatballs–or worse–I happen upon a picture of them as I organize my photos, I immediately, desperately, need to make them again. I might be obsessing over these meatballs (or, more specifically, these meatballs doused in this gravy). Actually, considering the bubble of joy that swells in my mind at the prospect of making a big batch of these meatballs to freeze now and pack later for those quickly-approaching camp lunches, I am certain that I am obsessing over these meatballs. That is fine with me. I think you might obsess over them too.
So, Swedish meatballs. In this day and time, I would guess that many people’s minds would immediately think of Ikea’s famous take on this dish. I have certainly heard about Ikea’s glorious swedish meatballs time and time again. But I have never tried them. My first trip to Ikea was less than a year ago, well after I gave up gluten. So the gluten-filled meatballs and creamy gravy were definitely out of the question.
I have no idea if these meatballs taste like Ikea’s. If you have some ground pork and would like to weigh in, I wouldn’t be opposed to an informed opinion. I do know that these little roasted parcels of chicken and pork swimming in this dreamy gravy make a dinner that lingers in my memory and kickstarts cravings at the mere thought. Honestly, I am sharing this post so that I can take the photos out of my To-Be-Posted folder and limit my encounters with the visual reminder. I am having a hard time preparing a convincing argument with myself as to why I can’t just have meatballs for dinner every night.
Swedish Meatballs & Gravy
Adapted from The Londoner
Serves: 3-4 | Prep time: 20 min | Cook time: 30 min
For the Meatballs
- 3 slices Udi’s white bread, thawed and untoasted (you may only need 2 if you use larger slices than Udi’s brand)
- up to 6 Tbsp. milk, divided
- 1 sm. yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- 3/4 lb. ground pork
- 3/4 lb. ground chicken
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp. allspice
- 2 tsp. sage
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne, optional
- 1 Tbsp. butter
For the Gravy
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp flour (rice flour, a blend, any kind that is not pure starches)
- 2 c. chicken stock
- 4 tsp. dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp. worchestershire sauce
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 c. sour cream*
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 2 tsp. parsley (dried flakes, or chopped fresh)
- Cooked pasta or mashed potatoes
- 1 small lemon
- Fresh parsley
Make the meatballs
Remove the crusts from the bread slices and roughly chop into small pieces. Tear or chop remaining bread innards. Add all bread pieces to a large bowl. Add 4 Tbsp of milk and allow to soak for several minutes until bread softens and absorbs most of the liquid. If portions of the bread are still dry, add up to 2 additional tablespoons of milk, one tablespoon at a time. While the bread is soaking, add butter to a large saucepan and cook onions until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant–about 1-2 minutes. Add onion mixture to the bowl. Add meat, sprinkle over all spices. Mix well, until all ingredients are incorporated. Form meat mixture into 1 1/2 inch wide balls.
Cook the meatballs in the large sauce pan used for the onions, turning gently, until all sides are browned and meatballs are firm, about 7-10 minutes. Do not overcrowd the pan–cook the meatballs in batches if necessary. Place in oven on “Warm” or lowest setting.
Make the gravy
After the meatballs are all cooked, melt the butter is the large saucepan used for the meatballs over medium heat. Sprinkle over flour, whisking constantly. The butter and flour will come together. Cook for 3-5 minutes until the roux begins to turn golden. Add a large splash of the chicken broth. Keep whisking. The roux will bubble and hiss and clump, but that’s okay. Just keep whisking. When the mixtures smooths out, add another big splash of chicken broth. Repeat. Whisk some more. Keep up this cycle: a little broth, whisk until smooth, more broth, whisk again; until all of the broth has been added into the smooth gravy. Measure out the sour cream in a separate container. Stir in the vanilla extract and the sugar. These ingredients are both to take the edge off of the sour cream, so you get a delightful rich, not-too-tangy gravy. Stir the mustard, worchestershire, and sour cream mixture into the gravy in the pan, stirring until thoroughly combined. Stir in nutmeg, parsley, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Add a little water if it is too thick.
To serve, plate up the mashed potatoes or pasta, add meatballs and top it all off with delicious gravy. Sprinkle parsley over top. I also like a squeeze of lemon juice. Enjoy the meal and try not to obsess over these meatballs!
Early on in my college career, I saw a lot of my mother. Though I lived on campus, I was only about 30 minutes away from home. My sister had jumped across state lines, so I got the brunt of parental visits as my mother adjusted from having three to just one child at home. (To be honest, I also did my fair share of calling up mom to come visit/take me home for the weekend as well). On one such day trip with my mother, we went to Applebee’s for lunch. Applebee’s was the standard dinner out during my early years, especially when we visited my grandfather in Colorado. For many years, I stubbornly refused to sample anything beyond the chicken fingers and the hot dog that huddled safely on the kids menu, until I was well past the age limit able to access that menu. Faced with the wide, unknown expanse of the regular menu, I chose the only meal that seemed safe: the boneless buffalo wings that my mother nearly always ordered. Just as my childhood restaurant visits were filled with chicken fingers and hot dogs, my early-teenaged years were now ruled by a devotion to hot-sauce-smothered chicken and blue cheese dressing. With my luck, I was choosing dishes that could be found at nearly every restaurant we visited. I think part of the reason for my steadfast devotion to eating the same dish time and again was due to my stomach troubles in my youth (as previously mentioned). The short list of “safe” dishes may have truly been better for my stomach, but honestly, I think I was just less nervous when I ate those, and thus, less likely to decide that I felt “sick” after eating out.
Through high school, I started to slower expand my list of acceptable foods, and, on this particular visit to Applebee’s, I was in the height of my obsession with tomato-basil soup. I had also never been to the restaurant at lunch time. They were advertising a new lunch menu: a “you-pick-two” idea of pairing soup, salad, or sandwiches for lunch. The concept was quickly becoming popular and I felt ever-so grown up as I eschewed my usual choice of sandwich for my favorite soup (tomato-basil) and a salad that I would never have touched just a few years prior: Spinach with Shrimp topped with a “warm bacon vinaigrette”. I am so glad I picked that salad. It was incredible–crisp spinach just beginning to wilt with the heat of the smoky-sweet, tangy vinaigrette with plump, sweet shrimp intermingling with sharp shards of onion and soft bits of roasted red pepper. This was the first salad that seemed to stick in my memory. I had to have it again, and spent the next few months trying to convince my friends to do dinner at Applebee’s whenever we went out off-campus. This was a monumental task, since my new best friend had worked at Applebee’s before coming to college and sworn off the restaurant completely. Finally, once, I managed to get the group to go there for dinner since the restaurant was right beside the movie theater. I was happy to see the salad was still on the menu, and ordered the full portion. I was not disappointed. It was just as good as I remembered. That was the last time I went to Applebee’s.
Nowadays, there isn’t much there that M and I can eat, and, if my friends group is going to any of the run-of-the-mill American restaurants, TGI Fridays’ happy hour specials trump all the rest. But even now, six years later, I occasionally find myself thinking about that salad. And, for a few weeks here, I was on a serious salad kick: unable to not pick up buckets of greens and lettuces in the store and at the farmer’s market. In the last few weeks, I have finally tried collard greens (cooked greens! I liked them!) and dished up several full-sized salads for dinner, including this remake of the memorable Applebee’s salad. Unfortunately, a truly terrible take-away-salad-induced bout of food poisoning has cooled my fervor for salads, at least for the time being. But this Shrimp and Spinach salad might just be the dish that can restore my love and trust in leafy greens. I checked Applebee’s menu and they no longer offer this salad with shrimp, so that is now one more reason to make this at home! I served these full sized salads with garlic bread and called it a night. Quick, easy, and delicious dinner!
On a quick side note, I do use tomato jam in this recipe. E & A made a huge batch at the end of last summer and I have loved finding dishes to add the sweet-and-spicy jam into the mix. This is one of the best so far–if you can get your hands on some tomato jam, it is absolutely worth the purchase. If not, you can leave it out of the vinaigrette. I mention some ideas for substitution in the recipe below.
Shrimp & Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes
For the Salad
- 1 1/2 lbs medium-size, raw, de-veined shrimp (thawed if previously frozen)
- 8-10 c. fresh spinach
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 c. (packed) roasted red peppers, diced
- 4 Tbsp. raw, unsalted almonds
- 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese, shredded/grated (optional)
- 4 slices cooked bacon, chopped (drippings reserved)
For the Bacon Vinaigrette
- Reserved bacon drippings (should be about 2-4 Tbsps, depending on the thickness of your bacon. Don’t stress about it)
- 2 Tbsp to 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. tomato jam*
- Ground garlic, optional
- Ground black pepper
*Tomato jam gives sweetness, depth, and a bit of a kick to this dressing. If you cannot get a jar of it, you can substitute an extra tsp of honey, and 1 tsp. of chili flakes to get the basics of the flavor. If you are able to add a touch (1/4-1/2 tsp) of tomato paste as well, that can round out the flavor.
Prep the Salad
In a dry pan over medium heat, toast the almonds. This should only take a few minutes, so stay close to the stove, stirring or shaking the pan frequently. The nuts are toasted when you begin to smell the almonds and they barely darken in color. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then chop.
Add a little oil to the pan to prevent sticking. Wash shrimp and pat dry. Cook the shrimp over medium heat, in batches, if necessary to prevent crowding the pan, for 2-3 minutes per side, until pink, firm, and opaque. I like to use Easy-Peel shrimp in the shell as it helps prevent overcooking. Shrimp that have already been peeled/are not in the shell will take even less time. (An easy way to watch for overcooking is to look at the ridge of the shrimp where the vein has been cut away. If this edge thickens or starts to curl and turn white, the shrimp are on the edge of being overcooked. Remove from the heat and cool as quickly as possible.) Remove cooked shrimp and allow to cool, then peel and remove shells and tails.
Divide the spinach onto 4 plates and sprinkle each plate with the divided sliced onion, chopped peppers, shredded cheese, and cooled, chopped almonds.
Make the Vinaigrette
Reheat the bacon drippings if cooled. Over medium heat, whisk olive oil into the bacon fat. Continue whisking as you add the mustard, then the vinegar, and finally the tomato jam (or substitutes). Add a dash or two of garlic powder and ground black pepper. Whisk and cook until the jam has melted into the vinaigrette. Remove pan from heat and whisk in honey. Now, off the heat, is the time to taste the dressing to see if it need a bit more seasoning (pepper, salt, garlic) or more oil or more vinegar. I tend to like a higher, more equal ratio of oil to vinegar, so do check to make sure the dressing taste good to you. Give a final, brisk whisk to fully incorporate all of the ingredients. Slide the shrimp into the warm pan, and turn to coat. If needed, to warm the shrimp through, place over low heat until steaming.
Assemble the salad
Divide the shrimp among the plates and pour the hot vinaigrette over top of the salad. Serve immediately.
All of this sunshine, rain, fresh air and renewal had me on a roll. Spring performances had finished, and I was happily tidying up all of the neglected tasks in my life as we began to prepare for summer camps until food poisoning knocked me flat on Wednesday night. This was the first time I’ve had food poisoning, and I have to say, what really kept me entirely incapacitated was all of the joint pain. Yuck! It was terrible! Luckily, M is the best person to be taking care of anyone sick, and I managed to get to work on Friday (slowly and carefully, but in sympathetic company since my boss got the same bout of food poisoning) and today I almost feel normal. The majority of joint pain is gone, and, while I’m not yet up for heavy foods, I can eat again.
My saving grace was actually my well-used and well-loved Popover recipe. It is the quickest, easiest way to tasty bread– exactly what I needed on Friday night when I had some appetite, but couldn’t handle much more than soft, plain bread. Lately, I’ve been treating this Popover batter like Yorkshire Pudding, because, as far as I can tell, they are just about the same. Yorkshire Puddings are baked in pans greased with bacon grease or meat drippings, and popovers are baked in small buttered cups. Otherwise (especially when both are converted to gluten-free) I would venture to stay that these two eggy breads are one and the same. I’ve been meaning to try adding sweeter additions to the popover batter, but in the meantime, savory Yorkshire pudding is becoming my go-to for a quick, tasty dinner. Add gravy, meat, and veg and you have a delicious comfort meal in no time. I’ve even cooked the batter in a cast-iron skillet and topped it like pizza crust on days when I have not pre made dough, and can’t be bother with more than a 30-minute bake time.
I do not change anything to my original Popover recipe, except that I pour the entire batter in a baking pan (usually 8″ x 8″ or 9″ x 9″) or my 12″ cast iron skillet. I cook according to my usual recipe, but I start checking about 5 minutes earlier. Sometimes, it can take 10-15 minutes longer for cook time. You are looking for a crispy , golden brown top. Pierce and peek inside (be careful of steam!) and the inside should be soft, but not gooey.
If you really want an easy dinner, fry up some sausages and place the fully-cooked sausage links in the uncooked batter. The batter will cook up around the sausages and make “Toad In The Hole”. I’ve also done this with sautéed mushrooms. While the batter bakes, make up a gravy in the pan where you cooked the sausages. Add a vegetable or two, and dinner is done! It is also fantastic for breakfast as leftovers, but also quick enough to whip up fresh for breakfast on a day off (with or without the gravy).
The versatility of this batter has really earned it a place in my heart and often on my table. Keep an eye out for some sweeter twists on this Popover batter in the future!
Servings: 6-8 | Prep Time: 5-10 minutes | Cook time: 25-45 minutes*
- – 1 c. milk
- -4 eggs
- -1/3 c. tapioca starch/flour
- -2/3 c. white rice flour
- Pinch xanthan gum
- -Dash salt
- Up to 1/2 tsp. dried herbs of choice (thyme, rosemary, garlic, etc), optional
- Bacon grease, pan drippings, or oil
- Optional: 6 cooked sausage links or 1 1/2 c. sautéed mushrooms for “Toad in the Hole”
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place a 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ pan or 12″ skillet in the oven to preheat. Keep the pan warm until you are ready to pour in the batter. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until well blended. Add tapioca starch/flour, white rice flour, xanthan gum, herbs (if using), and salt. Whisk until combined and smooth. Carefully remove hot pan from oven. Grease with drippings or oil. Pour batter into hot pan. If making Toad in the Hole, lay sausages or mushrooms into batter. Place pan in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then turn the temperature down to 375 degrees for the final 15+ minutes. It may be my old, finicky oven, or knowing my mother’s tried-and-true recipe also necessitates a temperature change, but this is the trick that works best for me.
*Start checking between 25-30 minutes, but if using a smaller pan (thicker batter) or adding sausages/mushrooms, the cooking time may be long–up to 45 minutes.
It has been a long, hard winter. The cold has lingered and clung, with our last snowfall in April. April. The dark cold days and the stress of work and an arduous moving process left me with little motivation to do much of anything. I felt like March was trying to drown me in gloom, with snowfalls almost every week. But after this long winter, it finally seems like summer is hurrying in. These past few weeks have been mild and usually sunny. Last week, the temperature nearly reached eighty degrees. I have finally put on my first sun dress of the season and the weekend before Easter, I spent the entire evening in my backyard with a dozen friends. Even after sunset, we could pull on a sweater and stay out to enjoy the night air. Spring is finally here. I needed it. I think a lot of us needed it.
I’m starting to wonder about the new year. Yes, of course, even when it is miserably cold in January, the days are (slowly) getting longer. But sometimes its so hard to look ahead past the cold gray days. With these last month of warmth, I am finding the motivation and energy that has been lacking. I didn’t make New Year’s Resolutions this year. I think I will be making May Resolutions and taking advantage of the initiative that this beautiful weather encourages in me. Even now, with a couple of post-graduate years under my belt, I feel a little unsteady in this “adult”, “real-world”, “job-based” life. I’ve spoken before about my ingrained sense of cyclical time: in school, I would have 4-6 busy weeks and then have a break. If some sort of responsibility came up, I could usually make it wait until that time where I was not busy–this was the time to finally catch up on what I had ignored. I getting closer to breaking these cycles. But as I started to merge these six-week spans in several months, and then into a full year; I found myself getting more and more disorganized. I didn’t have a plan for long-term. I didn’t have routine.
That is my main goal for these May resolutions. To find routine and organization. I realized that, somehow, after graduation, I stopped using a planner. My planner use has never really been as an appointment book: my phone’s calendar app can take care of that. In fact, I survived the year of 5 jobs by only scheduling in my calendar app without much trouble. But now, with my primary job at full-time hours, I have tasks and projects, lists and assignments to do. And that is what I have always used a planner for–a place to store my To-Do lists directly next to a schedule. I like planners that lay out a week over two pages, with a calendar by month to track important dates. I then use each day as a daily To-Do list, allowing me to mark future tasks on the appropriate days, or look back to see what was not finished on previous days. After more than a year adrift, trying to keep track of countless post-its and scraps of paper, I knew I wanted a new planner. I also knew I wanted more. I wanted something pretty, with options for meal-planning and grocery lists. I’ve been toying with the idea of meal-planning for a long time, and knew a pretty new planner with spaces to fill would prompt me to make a plan and stick to it.
I launched a full-scale search in December. But I never found a planner I liked. It seemed like the only planners with meal plan space were Mom Planners. I don’t need the space to keep track of four people’s schedules. I looked at options on Etsy, but still couldn’t find any I liked that seemed worth the money. I did find several “Print Your Own” planners on Etsy which gave me an idea. If I couldn’t find a planner that I liked, I could just make one! (I think I was still riding out on the tail-end of my Christmas crafting binge) Between all of the vacations and deciding what I wanted, I finally finished up designing my planner at the end of January. All-in-all, with my exceptionally basic Photoshop skills, it probably took me around 5-6 hours to actually make the design (with some time spent catching up on this newer version of PS that M has). This included: a 2-page month calendar spread, a 2 page weekly spread, a meal-plan/grocery list page, a 2-page notes spread, and a cover page. I left the dates to be filled in, so I simply had to organize it month, then the number of weeks+a notes/menu combo for each week. I planned for the months to rotate through colors.
At this point in the process, though I much prefer 5″ x 8″ inch-or-less planners (so that I can hold onto the deluded hope that it will fit in my purse), I had given up on that desire and designed my planner for a full 8.5″ x 11″ size. I thought that trying print and chop in the correct order on half pages would be far too difficult. I looked into online printing and binding for my design, but that was even more expensive than the Etsy planners. M offered to pay for it as a Valentine’s day gift and I refused. The printing cost really was not worth it. Just when I was about to condemn myself to a giant planner, M sprang into action (probably because his girlfriend has spent a week staring at a design file in utter hopelessness) and figured out that with an In-Design file and Adobe Reader’s printing options, we could make this planner happen in the correct order (in a way that did not require me flipping and feeding each individual page) and would allow me to print them on the half sheet! He really is amazing. So finally, one night while everyone was at work, I set up my old printer and let it go. After about an hour of bated breath, I was finally able to be certain that it worked! I chopped the pages at work, where I have access to a straight edge trimmer, purchased an Levenger hole punch and accouterments from Martha Stewarts Discbound system, and after a morning of paper-punching, I had my planner.
I spent the first first weeks giddy with achievement, and, happily, I’m been using it religiously. Since it was made to fit 8″ x 11″ pages, the Daily columns are now a little thin. Certainly still workable, but I’m already working out little fixes because you can bet I’ll be making my own planner again for 2015! #PlanningForTheFuture. Ahem, anyways, I am thinking that I will make the day spaces horizontal across the page. I soon realized that I forgot to put day titles in the monthly calendar. I also, now, several months of meal planning in, have realized that the weekly column on the Grocery page is enough for my meal-planning–writing my meals out twice uses more time than it saves me. In next year’s, I may devote that space to a daily cleaning planner or a workout planner or something like that. In the meantime, I do like my “Goals” on the month pages. Since my daily categories are really To-Do lists, each day/week already gets ‘goals’ in the tasks. But the the over-arching goals for a month help me stay on track with bigger projects and also all of those “I-Really-Should-Do-This” sort of tasks, like researching classes or planning to clean out my car. The “Inspiration” section on my weekly pages usually gets a quote. Again, I like being reminded to actively look for something positive and/or inspiring each week.
This planner has certainly been a life-saver and is getting even more use as I try to sort out my life after winter and after our students’ performances. I’ve got six weeks before the crush of summer camp begins, and many tasks to catch up on. Luckily, now, I have a way to keep track of it all.