Monday, March 24, 2014

Becoming Fearless

There are a lot of things that hold us back from becoming what we want to be. Sometimes it's a lack of ability or training, sometimes we just aren't ready to move forward, sometimes we get stuck in situations and just can't seem to free ourselves. But I think the root of most of these limitations, as we see them, is just our own fear. 
I didn't actually want to cause fear with this image that is supposed to represent fear. 
And there are so many things we can be afraid of—spiders, aliens, failure, developing a gluten allergy, rejection, pain, and supernatural creatures that move in that creepy jerky horror-movie fashion, just to name a few from my List of Scary Items. (Incidentally, I don't recommend googling images for "fear" because there are lots of twisted things on the internet.) 

But what holds us back most is the fear of failure. We all want to succeed, to do well, be accepted by our peers, and feel like we've accomplished something worthwhile. I definitely want that. I want to do things that I can be proud of that make me a better and stronger person. Blog things and job things and travel things and life things and maybe even running-long-distances things. But I get scared. Like, hide-under-the-covers scared, sometimes. And it's holding me back. 

So I've decided to become fearless. 

Me, being fearless on a beach in India
This is a lofty goal, and will probably take awhile, but I've got a bit of a head start. A few months back, I'd coerced my husband into watching "Julie & Julia" with me again. While watching the scenes that detail Julia Child's first experiences at Le Cordon Bleu, I realized that I already had an area in my life where I am fearless—the kitchen! I've decided to use this kitchen fearlessness to conquer other fears, like blogging again after a year of not much.

I love trying new recipes, hardly ever don't make tweaks of my own, and often cook and bake without even using a recipe. I love the triumphant feeling when I make something new and it turns out exactly how I'd hoped: delicious. And I want to share that feeling of triumph. 

I know cooking can be a rather fearful thing for those who don't love it. I mean, there are knives and fire involved and things can go awfully wrong. But when you've figured out a few basics, the next step to being a fearless home chef is having a few "wow-factor" recipes in your back pocket. It takes a bit of courage to make dishes that go a bit beyond the realm of normal weeknight dinners. Often, those recipes take a bit of finagling or are things that are always better at a restaurant. For me, one of those things were meatballs. But I tackled it anyway, and the results would make an Italian grandma proud. 

If anyone has an Italian grandmother that I can test this recipe on,
please let me know.

This was a recipe that I finagled with for a while, but conquering and creating the perfect meatball felt like quite a feat. I found that using real bread instead of dry breadcrumbs made a huge difference for the texture of the meatballs, and using a sourdough loaf added a nice little tang. Substituting the Canadian bacon for the various types of ground pork suggested by most recipes gave the meatballs greater depth of flavor and a very porky punch without a lot of extra fat. When it comes to parsley and basil, I always feel that fresh herbs trump dried, but the dried version will do, if you can't easily get them fresh.

Making meatballs is a bit of a labor of love, but it's worth the time. Things go much smoother (terrible pun) with a food processor or powerful blender, but you can do the chopping and dicing by hand, too. 

Without further ado, 

Fearless Italian Meatballs

For the breadcrumbs, I recommend using a few thick slices of day-old sourdough or another type of rustic bread. French bread would also work well. Trim off most of the crust, cut into cubes, and pulse in a food processor or blender until, well, crumby. Also listed among the ingredients is a mediterranean spice blend that I love, from Dean & DeLuca. You can use a similar Italian blend with red pepper, rosemary, oregano, and lemon, or skip it all together. If you have a food processor, this is an excellent time to put it through its paces!

1 lb. ground beef
1/3 cup ground parmesan cheese
5 oz. Canadian bacon
1 cup fresh bread crumbs 
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp mediterranean spice blend
1 tsp oregano
pinch red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 to 3 cloves of minced garlic, to your taste
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup fresh basil

2+ tblsp warm water, as needed 

olive oil, for frying

1. In a large bowl, whisk together parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, salt, black pepper, and other dried spices. In a food processor, pulse Canadian bacon until finely ground, and stir in to bread crumb mixture. I also use my food processor to finely dice the onion and garlic before adding them to the bread crumb mixture. Finely chop the parsley and basil (you can use the food processor here, too), and set aside. 

2. Add ground beef to bread crumb mixture. It's easiest to use your (clean!) hands to thoroughly mix the bread crumb mixture with the beef. Add the finely chopped parsley and basil, and mix well. Add egg and warm water by 1/2 tblsp until all ingredients come together smoothly. Now wash those hands! 

3. Cover a baking sheet or portion of your countertop with waxed paper. Shape meatballs to desired size by hand; I prefer meatballs about the size of a golfball, as they cook well but are still hearty. I find rubbing a bit of olive oil on the palms of my hands helps prevent the meatball mixture from sticking. As you finish each meatball, place it on the waxed paper. Letting the meatballs rest a bit before cooking or frying helps them keep their shape a bit better. 

4. You can add the meatballs directly to a bubbling pot of your favorite red sauce to cook them, but I prefer to give them a quick sear first, as this not only adds a lot of rich flavor, but also will help preserve the shape of the meatballs. If you are going to be adding them to your sauce for part of the cooking time, you needn't cook the meatballs all the way through, as they'll finish cooking the the sauce. 

5. If searing first, heat a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat until shimmering slightly. Cook meatballs in small batches; using long tongs, turn each meatball every minute or so, rotating so most of the surface browns. LONG TONGS are needed, as the hot oil will splatter. If you aren't finishing the meatballs in a sauce, cook them until there is just a hint of pink in the center of the meatballs. (You might have to eat the one you cut in half to check. Bummer.) Remove cooked meatballs from pan and drain on a large plate or cookie sheet lined with paper towels. 

6. I love to serve these meatballs with a yummy marinara over a pile of spaghetti, and garnish with basil and plenty of parm. Since making the meatballs is a bit time consuming, I usually cheat and use a jar of Tomato Basil Marinara from Trader Joe's.  

So cook these up, eat up, and be fearless.


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