Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thank You For Being A Friend - Meatballs As Big As Your Head

Thank you for being a friend
Traveled down the road and back again
your heart is true you're a pal and a confidant
And if you threw a party
Invited everyone you knew
You would see, the biggest gift would be for me
and the card attached would say,
Thank you for being a friend
I'm not ashamed to say
I hope it always will stay this way
My hat is off, won't you stand up and take a bow
And when we both get older
With walking canes and hair of gray
Have no fear, even though it's hardly here
I will stand real close and say,
Thank you for being a friend

Today's ear worm, second only to "It's a Small World" in its ability to stay stuck in your head and drive you slightly batty, came not from the misfiring nerve endings in my slightly addled brain, but from a Perfect Stranger.  He was indeed, perfect at being a stranger, because I do not and will never know who he is, but he left his lasting mark.

Picture it - September 1970, New Paltz, New York. A bunch of freshman, kids (seriously - half of us were still underage) are randomly thrown together in dormitories and in classes like freshman English with Professor Anthony Robinson, that snarky pseudo-intellectual.  Now jump ahead, oh maybe 45 years, give or take a decade. Still hanging out together (sort of); still 18 (in our heads).  Still friends.

We try to get together when we can - some of us live in Florida, some are snowbirds, others have an annual time share or visit the Central Florida area when possible. We've never been able to get all of us together in one room at the same time, unfortunately (but it gives us something to aspire to in our declining years.)

Saturday evening some of us got together for dinner at the Orlando Ale House on I-Drive.  If you've never been to the Orange County Convention Center vicinity of International Drive, you have managed to bypass an experience akin to Times Square.  Crowds, you know. I hate crowds.  Having said that, Orlando's answer to Bright Lights, Big City has the best non-Disney hotels and a fantastic selection of restaurants. Parking is only for the patient, but it is possible.

We were waiting outside for our table, when Mark and Robert decided to take a picture of the three ladies on the bench. At some point, a youngish man, the aforementioned Perfect Stranger, surveying the tableau, called out good-naturedly"say Golden Girls!"  So we did.

Big smiles and a couple of unladylike guffaws. And the start of a truly fun evening.

Oh, okay. Here's the meatballs:

2 3/4 - 3 pounds ground beef (I use Publix market beef or you can use ground round)
1 - 1 pound roll hot sausage
4 extra large eggs
1 - 15 oz. container whole milk ricotta
1 medium onion, grated
1 small carrot, grated
1 small or 1/2 of a large zucchini, grated
4 garlic cloves, grated
1 - 5 oz. package herb croutons, crushed
1/2 cup Heinz 57 Sauce
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons parsley flakes
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 1/2 tablespoon dried basil
1 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
crushed red pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons ground mustard
3-24 oz. cans Hunt's garlic and herb pasta sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and lightly spray the bottom of three casserole dishes, preferably the aluminum 9x13 size with deep sides, with olive oil spray.

In the order given, combine all the ingredients except for the pasta sauce, in a very large bowl. Start mixing with a large metal spoon, breaking up the meats and ricotta cheese. Take off your rings, and mix thoroughly, dispersing all of the ingredients,evenly, especially the seasonings and the eggs.  When everything is well mixed, take a small portion of the meat, form a very small patty and cook it in a pan.  Taste the cooked meat and make any seasoning adjustments to the meat mixture in the bowl.

Using a 1 cup measure, divide the meat into 12 or 13 portions.  Form the meatballs, and divide them between the prepared pans.  Spray the tops with the olive oil spray. Place in the oven, uncovered, for 25 minutes.  Remove, carefully turn the meatballs over, and return to the oven for another 25 minutes. Remove the pan and turn the meatballs over one last time, so that the most rounded side faces up.

Pour one can of sauce into each pan of baked meatballs; add a little water to each can, swish to capture any sauce clinging to the sides, and pour into the pans. Cover with aluminum foil, lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and return the pans to the oven for 55 minutes.  Check for doneness with a thermometer - it should register 165 degrees internal temperature.  Add more time as needed to finish the meatballs.

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