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