The Kosher Gastronome

Livin' the kosher dream

Meatballs…oh and, buckle up because this is gonna be a long post

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Howdy fellow internet peoples. 3 months…it’s been about 3 months since I’ve last posted, and while it’s been pretty hectic, I know that you have been waiting with bated breath for me, and I would like to let you know I’m still alive. Well, over the last few few months, I had some time to think about this blog and where it’s headed (and no, I’m not stopping, just keep on reading). You see, when I started writing my thoughts on this here website, I wasn’t really sure where it would take me. Heck, I’m still not sure, but there are a few things that I’ve realized along the way.  So here goes.

I’m a “food blogger” there, I said it. Some might even call me a “foodie.” But, I’m really not. Sure I really enjoy food, and I happen to write about it also, but ultimately what I view what I “do” is I enjoy taking the time to understand the food I make and eat. I know that sounds lame-azoid, but it’s true. You see I think that when it comes to “foodies” (it pains me to write them words) there are really two flavors. There are those that enjoy the “pizzazz” and flashiness of a given food. These types of people are more interested in stuff like presentation of food, artistic renderings of food, and the such. Then there are people that enjoy the inner working, the background, and the ancillary stuff. These individuals are more into how things work, and possibly the history behind a given dish or food. Now obviously a person is not exclusively one and not the other, but I think you can usually associate more with one than the other.

That being said, I think I’m more of the second type. I like understanding food. You might be asking yourself…what exactly does this have to do with meatballs? And um, how much longer, because you see, I got this thing…So kind of in a round about way, I made meatballs over the second days of Sukkos, and it made me think about this whole blog thing that I do. Lemme splain. You see people know I like food, and I’m always talking to people about food, and I really like doing that, but inevitably people ask me what I made, and I feel like (and I can be way off on this one) they’re thinking all right, let’s see what the “foodie” did…And I kind of found myself embarrassed to say “meatballs,” as if, “meatballs? That’s it? where’s the pizzazz? What made it different from run-of-the-mill meatballs that everyone else made…nothing?…boring…”

Am I talking Greek here? Does anyone else know what I’m talking about?

Anyway, it made me think. Like I said earlier, I don’t “do” the whole pizzazz thing, that’s not really my food modus operandi. I like understanding what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and expounding on that understanding.  I like to write, and I like to discuss food, especially when it comes to ideas about food, explaining how things work, and that sort of stuff. But, what I’ve come to realize is that by writing a food blog and being a “foodie,” over time I’ve kind of strayed away from that mindset. Lately, I’ve felt the pressure of having to conform to what a food blog is supposed to do..namely – supply recipes so people can make food, and go on with their lives. But, I’m not about that…so basically what I’m trying to say is that I’m going to try and change things up…I’m going to try and go back to what I think defines me as a “food blogger” a little better. So from a practical standpoint, I might have less practical “recipes” (oh by the way, did I ever tell you that I hate the institution that are “recipes”??…that’s for another time…), but I will hopefully have more ideas, and more sharing of what I try to do. And as always, I like discussing food…so please feel free to comment, feel free to give me your 2 cents, it makes me feel special.

Anyway, let’s move on to the meatballs, finally.

These were hands down the best meatballs I’ve ever made, and most likely ever eaten…and -gaspI didn’t even follow a recipe! Would you believe it?? How you might ask? Well it comes down to understanding techniques, and how and why they apply.

First thing I did was grind my own meat. Grinding your own meat makes worlds of a difference (yeah I’m that guy) from store bought ground meat. You obviously need a meat grinder (around $40 if you have a kitchen aid, you can even do it in a food processor if you own one, but I don’t pasken shaylos about the fleishig status), but it also requires patience, and know-how.  The main thing is – Keep everything as cold as possible. This prevents the fat in the meat from melting too soon, and pretty much clogging up the grinder. You also don’t want to go too fast in the meat grinder, and you’re going to need to nudge the meat every once in a while, but not be too forceful. I’ve done it around 6 times now, and it took me at least 3 times to really get the hang of it.

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I cut up the meat (which by the way, was some left over boneless short ribs thanks to my mom) into roughly 1″ pieces, and placed in the freezer,

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and then went to work on the spices/aromatics, so I could grind them all together.

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For the spices, I started by toasting dry whole cumin, black peppercorn, fennel, brown mustard seeds, and whole dried Japones chilies. Toasting it at this point, allows some of the essential oils to start developing more flavor. It only takes about 3 minutes, and doesn’t even dirty the pot.

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Once they were done, I put them in to a spice grinder along with three dried shiitake mushrooms, and ground it up to a fine powder. I’ll get to why I added the mushrooms in a second, but before that, let’s focus on the aromatics.

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On low heat, I sauteed shallots, garlic, and tomato paste, until everything was nice and translucent, like 5 minutes. The shallots and garlic lend flavor, and you want to do it on low so they don’t burn. The tomato paste lends a deep “umami” flavor that’s heightened by toasting it also.

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Umami is this word that gets thrown around a lot, but not really something well understood. For all intents and purposes, umami is really kind of like depth of flavor. Things that are “umami” are really intense, but not in a burnt type of way. Think of meaty stuff, or mushrooms. They’re “heavier” and more intense of a flavor. Now I know that’s a really crappy way of describing it, because at it’s core it is really a different taste, but the real beauty of the taste is that it deepens flavors. A perfect example is MSG, aka monosodium glutamate. Studies have shown that MSG is harmless, and in fact present in many common place foods we eat (tomatoes, mushrooms…) and what MSG really does, is hold food particles longer on your tongue, so you taste it more. (Now, I’m definitely not an expert in anything, and to be honest I’m not 100% sure if what I said was accurate, but that’s my understanding, if you know something I said was wrong, lemme know).

Anyway, recently more work has been done on glutamates (ala monosodium glutamate), and using it in cooking, and without getting too into it, it’s been shown that there are really two different parts to cooking umami stuff, there are the afformentioned glutamates, and something else called nucleotides, and they both work synergistically (whoa, big word…it means they work together). The glutamates in our dish come from the tomato paste, and the dried shiitake mushrooms are a great source for nucleotides. So what does that mean practically speaking? Well, both of these things work together to give us a deeper more umami oomph of flavor to our final product. And more flavor=happier patrons=more compliments=you feeling better about yourself=happier life…you can’t argue with math…it’s really quite simple.

After the spices and dried mushrooms were ground to a fine powder with my old coffee grinder (which by the way, I know most people don’t have a dedicated spice grinder, but that goes in that same category of “you can really taste the difference” and if you can you should definitely give it a try), and then added it to the aromatics to “bloom” which is yet another way for the essential oils to develop flavor in the presence of fat, and low heat.

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Once that was finished, I added it to the meat and then tossed it all together, and then sent through the meat grinder. To the ground meat, I added some salt and panko bread crumbs. By the way, if you ever were in this situation, and you wanted to see how everything tastes, you can take a little of the meat mixture, and cook it up, and taste it now to see if it needs any tweaks.

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Once the meat was ready, I formed medium sized meatballs, and placed them on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, and placed into my preheated 425 degree oven, for about 30 minutes, rotating once.

While the meatballs were doing their jig, I started on the sauce.

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I happened to have a pot of stock going on the burner, so I took about 1-1.5 cups of the chicken stock, placed over medium heat, and added some ketchup, brown sugar, habanero sauce, and I think mustard. I let that cook for a little, and when the meatballs were ready, I placed in the sauce, and simmered for about another 20 minutes or so.

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I served this over some basmati rice, and in my lamest of opinions, it was actually purdy dern tasty.

All right, so that’s that, I’m not going to post a recipe because I’m a bad ass bruh…but in all seriousness, as always, do you want to know more of what I did because I didn’t really do such a great job explaining? Do you want to know how I cooked the rice (hint: that may or may not be a future post…)? Or do you just want to tell me I’m a huge dolt??? Let’s shmooze.

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27 responses to “Meatballs…oh and, buckle up because this is gonna be a long post

  1. Avi Ganz November 4, 2013 at 8:21 am

    Recipe? Of course no recipe! Keep doin your thing Nos……but you’ll never top a pastrami burger.

    Like

  2. akivapickwickparent November 4, 2013 at 9:18 am

    you know how I love cumin
    but I love you

    Like

  3. Batsheva November 4, 2013 at 9:57 am

    sheesssh when did you become so pretentious? :)

    Like

  4. Zahava November 4, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Sounds & looks delicious! Keep on writing about background & interesting facts about what u r making

    Like

  5. Sarah Klinkowitz November 4, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I am afraid I must either disagree with your definition of a foodie, or I must add another category. I am a food blogger, and while I do not consider myself a foodie, I suppose if the spoon fits.. At any rate, there are a good few people who also give themselves not just to the pizzazz ( that’s not me because I tend to be contrarian in nature), not just to the dissection,(which I do, to a degree) but also to the experience and the marvel that comes from a particular food at a particular time. The very first taste of fresh basil in the spring, the first bite of tomato in the summer. The satisfaction of pasta you hand-rolled your self. I feel as your definition of a foodie keeps it in the intellectual and does not reflect the earthiness, the raw, natural sensuality and sensibility that food can, and does, inherently possess. Sorry for the long comment, just need to share my tablespoon!

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    • thekoshergastronome November 4, 2013 at 11:24 am

      No need to apologize!
      I definitely agree with you. I guess what you’re saying is that food inherently has an emotional component that one experiences. Whether it’s the experience of an accomplishment, or an experience of taste. And while “foodies” might find more and broader food situations as “experiences” which will in turn make them “enjoy” more foods for various reasons, I find you’ll be hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t “enjoy” foods. But what I find that separates why someone gets the connotation of a foodie vs someone that doesn’t is in the ability to understand why that particular experience is elevated.
      I guess what I’m trying to say is, the fact that you appreciate tasting fresh basil in the beginning of spring as opposed to pre-frozen chunks of basil; or being able to appreciate the work involved in making fresh pasta, and still want to do it again, when it’s quite easy to just buy a box of pasta, to me means that there’s an inherent experience that is more rewarding to you when you do those things, because it matters to you, so you’ll take the extra step to do them. You understand that you can’t compare the taste of fresh basil to the other stuff.
      So does that make us foodies? I hate the term, because all I say to myself is: anyone who tasted fresh basil and cared to make sure their dish tastes the best it could would use fresh basil (as an example)…so I’m not a foodie, I just took the time to understand what it is I do in the kitchen, and why certain things matter and certain things don’t, and I want my food to taste the best it could, so I do what I can within the confines of my kitchen to ensure that..that doesn’t make me a foodie…but I’m not sure what that does make me

      Like

  6. phoenixfresser November 4, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Vunderbar!
    Please explain “left over boneless short ribs”.

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  7. phoenixfresser November 4, 2013 at 11:21 am

    And one more thing —- by adding fennel to any recipe, you automatically become a “foodie”.

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    • thekoshergastronome November 4, 2013 at 11:28 am

      Ah ha, so you define “foodie” by the ingredients one uses.
      we’re going to have come up with a list then…unless of course a “recipe” calls for fennel, then you’re not a foodie, you’re just a drone following orders correct?

      Like

      • phoenixfresser November 4, 2013 at 12:33 pm

        No. Most people reel in revulsion at “fennel”. “foodies” have determined that it tastes good and use it as a litmus test to see if one has joined their snobby ranks.
        Example:
        Normal Gastronome: “Hmmmm, that rib-eye steak looks perfectly cooked! What method did you use to get such a beautiful sear yet keep the interior perfectly rare?”
        Foodie: ” I seared it on slate on top of my grill. I fired it up using Hickory logs (smart) and sprinkled it with Maldon sea salt (rather pretentious), Botswanan Black pepper (made up and totally pretentious), from my pepper mill, and then i sprinkled it with fennel seeds (the litmus test to see if you will nod approvingly or pucker in revulsion).

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      • thekoshergastronome November 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm

        I see..I think you’re idea of a “foodie” is the pizzazz idea…throwing out words, and “things” that has the aim to impress the other party. Those things die pretty quickly…kind of similar to what soy sauce was 20 years ago, and tell someone you’re using soy sauce today, they wouldn’t bat an eye….so yeah you might not like fennel seed, which is fine, but if you ultimately are adding fennel seeds to impress someone else, then it’s a problem. I think ultimately the problem is this: food has a pretension problem. People perceive “foodies” as pretentious. If I make my coffee by grinding my own beans, and weighing out the beans and water every day, people might scoff and call me a coffee snob, but if I say that I can actually taste the difference, and it matters that I have a better cup of coffee, does that make me pretentious? I don’t think so. So back to fennel, I get what you’re saying (although I wouldn’t necessarily agree with fennel..) but I hear that there are certain food items that have a “pretension factor” to it…truth is, every facet of food has it…coffee, wine, beer, vegetarian food, bbq…literally every facet can have that, and it’s defined differently, but ultimately in my opinion it comes down to the raw basics of the food, and understanding it…so if I could explain why maldon sea salt is a good idea, then it loses it’s “pretension factor” and now makes sense, as opposed to “it just needs to be done because I think it goes best..” you know what I mean?

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      • phoenixfresser November 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm

        Some might ask (like the overabundance of Haber therapists) when things cease to be pretension and enter the land of OCD…

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      • thekoshergastronome November 4, 2013 at 3:34 pm

        ha, I’m assuming you’re including the non-licensed therapists as well? Although it is a good question, and one you have to speak over with your individual Haber-ist…My assumption is, if it’s getting in the way of your daily life, then it most likely is OCD…but don’t tell me that it’s getting in the way of my life when I want to sit outside, drink beer, and smoke a piece of meat for 12 hours…right?

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      • phoenixfresser November 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm

        Oh, are we trying to touch a nerve here?
        For the record, OCD would apply to excruciating detail with minor payback. As my smoked brisket is MAJOR payback, and the best piece of cow that you have ever eaten, it is well worth 12 hours of loving TENDER care.
        And make that beer a dark one please.

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      • thekoshergastronome November 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm

        I’m all for it…but i guess it’s all in who’s defining “excruciating detail” and “minor payback” speaking of dark beer…are you planning on coming in to baltimore any time soon? If so, give me advanced notice and I’ll try and reciprocate the hospitality

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  8. Sarah M. Lasry November 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    As a person who has been in the food business a darn long time…writing, development, consulting, restaurant & dare I say “blogging”….there is one thing that I have found to be the ultimate key to success.
    It’s all about the food….(period) :)
    Sarah Lasry

    Like

  9. baruchfogel November 4, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Looks great.
    i can’t believe that i was last to comment.
    I noticed you baked the meatballs first , an important step that needs to be explained, and did not only cook them in sauce.
    Keep up the great work (and writing)

    Like

    • thekoshergastronome November 4, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks baruch. I cooked them first in the oven on high so I can roast them, so that we can get some of that infamous maillard reaction for the meat. Essentially in order for the maillard reaction to happen, it needs to be upwards of 250 ish degrees, and anything waterbased (such as the sauce) has a really hard time getting to that temperature. So first we roasted to cook and obtain flavors that other wise wouldn’t have been there. (You could technically do this on the stove top, by searing each meatball on a hot skillet, but I find this to be easier)

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  10. Barbara November 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Aunt Leona always baked her meatballs first and then made her world famous spaghetti sauce and by the way, it’s baited,( had to sound like a mother)

    Like

  11. Barbara November 4, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    I’m impressed, but then again I always am impressed with you, I hang my head in shame

    Like

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