A hot, homemade meal.

Sounds weird, but I missed making dinner and eating home cooked meals while we were away. Sure, sure – we had some home cooked meals at our parents’ houses, but most of it was festive food vs. the comfort of laid-back day-to-day meals. (And, of course, Mom and Mom-in-Law, everything was delicious as always. 🙂 )

To be honest, I am *quite* sure I will tire of the dinner making routine and the chorus of little cherubic faces asking “What’s for dinner?” at least 22 times daily by say…Thursday. (And yes, that’s 22 times daily even though they are in school full time. What can I say? They are inquisitive and super-focused on dinner, but apparently not focused on retaining the answer, hence the 22 asks a day – haha. My answer at 6 a.m. (and 6:41 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 3:22 p.m. and so on…) can set their tone for all the hours to follow until we sit down at the table. It’s awesome. No pressure at all.) To illustrate: Grace asked four times on a four-hour plane ride on Saturday night what was for dinner, as if I was going to hop off the plane, speed home and whip up some tasty (!) morsels the second we pranced through the front door after 11 hours of travel and 18 days away. I told her we’d “grab something on the go today, but we could cook dinner tomorrow (Sunday)”.  Her hesitant-at-the-thought-of-more-restuarant-food smile grew to a grin as she realized she could get in front of this one and sweetly ask me to make what she wanted…”Can we have noodles and meatballs?”

Sure. And that’s what we had.

I am forever on a quest to find the perfect meatball recipe. It took up a lot of meal focus throughout 2013, and we’ve finally found one that is consistently a winner. I have used this recipe – Rao’s Meatballs – as a starting point at least five times now and we’ve loved the results each time. (Side note – Food52.com is an interesting food site if you’re in need of some inspiration!)

I make a few tweaks according to our family preferences – like I throw in more minced garlic (fresh) and typically use dried breadcrumbs and spices (the horror!) because I always have those on hand and rarely have the foresight to grab bread to stale three days before Grace craves meatballs. (In the summer, we grew our own parsley, so I used that. But off season, dried it is!) I also typically use all organic ground beef because until yesterday, I hadn’t been able to find ground pork. (Yes, for real. In two years, I hadn’t stumbled upon ground pork in the meat case despite looking each and every time I entered a food store; Kenny trots into one store yesterday and they were practically throwing packages of ground pork at him – three different kinds! This is akin to my search for square cheese when we first moved here, only I had the satisfaction of finding the local haunt that carries American cheese in the deli case. Not so with the ground pork. You win this time, Kenny! Who knows – maybe it’s me and I am literally the worst food shopper in all of Oregon. Quite possible.)  We really don’t eat veal – ground or otherwise, so I’ve never looked for it, but I assume it’s equally as evasive as ground pork. So, last night’s batch was a 50/50 mix of ground pork and ground beef. Good stuff.

I also bake our meatballs for 20 -25 minutes in a 375 degree oven vs. the recommended pan-frying. Mainly to save some calories. (Ok, ok, fine – it’s also to lessen the risk of me setting off the smoke alarm yet again…with a side benefit of the whole house not smelling like fried meat for days.)

Finally, the recipe calls for you to simmer the meatballs with your favorite sauce for a bit. We’ve tried the one they recommend in the recipe – it’s good. But I typically go with my old very simple standby so I can sneak some extra veggies in. So, last night, I took a container of Trader Joe’s mirepoix (that’s fancy for chopped carrots, celery, onion), added tons of garlic cloves and chopped it all up small in the blender, then sauteed them in a splash of olive oil. (In lieu of pre-chopped mirepoix, I use two carrots, two celery stalks and an onion. I have also – in a pinch (which is a lot of the time!) used two or three handfuls of baby carrots if I don’t have whole carrots on hand. As you are probably gathering, I am a very precise cook. Hahaha.) After about 10 minutes or so, I add four 15oz cans of whole tomatoes, which I have pureed in the blender. I get this going while I bake the meatballs, so the veggies have time to mingle before I add the meat along with salt and pepper to taste. Once the meatballs are done, I let everything simmer together happily on low heat for about an hour and half.

All-in-all, this method seems to work – the kids frequently ask for meatballs and the whole house smells awesome while it’s cooking. I love the way it tastes. And the smoke alarm never goes off with this particular meal – so I imagine it’s also at the top of Kenny’s list.

Last night, however, it was even better than usual because it was our first home cooked meal in a very long time. Woo hoo!