Here’s how I made my grandmother’s beloved sweet and sour meatballs… then gobbled them up with crushed matzah
A couple years ago, Rich and I had a two-day staycation on Orcas Island. Having taken the first ferry to the island, we were hungry when we arrived, but didn’t want a sit-down breakfast. Instead, we wandered into Brown Bear Baking in Eastsound, and purchased a kalamata olive and rosemary bread. Tearing off chunks in-between sips of coffee, we discussed purchasing whether we should purchase one of their delectable pastries or another bread. In the end, we opted for an apricot and fig bread, which I used the following week for open-faced sandwiches with poached eggs on top, along with tomatoes, kale, and other goodies.
What makes Brown Bear Baking’s breads so amazing are their round shape with a chewy crust, and soft, tangy inside. I asked the bakers how they make their breads, and they shared the dough is proofed in baskets, and then baked in heavy cast-iron pots with lids.
Months later, when wandering through the Bellevue Goodwill, I spotted a large ceramic pot with a lid. The only problem was it had several small holes in the bottom for use as a berry strainer. Nevertheless, I couldn’t resist buying it.
The first bread I made in the pot was ghastly. I used parchment paper to cover the holes on the bottom, and the light coating of olive oil I rubbed on the loaf, dripped through the holes, and smoked when it hit the heating element in the oven. The smoke made the bread taste terrible.
My second attempt was marginally better, but the crust was soft, and the inside of the bread wasn’t overly tasty.
Disgusted, I placed the pot in the living room as an art piece. This week, however, I did research on cooking bread in a ceramic or iron (dutch oven) pot. I found a simple recipe and gave it a try, placing a small piece of foil inside my pot to cover the holes, and a length of foil beneath the pot, just in case any oil drizzled out.
The result was nothing less than “wow!” Below is the recipe for what I’m calling my victory or “I finally figured it out” bread! I made some revisions to the recipe, using one-third whole wheat flour, and adding McCormick Everything Bagel Seasoning from Costco.
Mix and knead until smooth
- 2 cups white flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1½ cups of lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon everything bagel seasoning (coarse salt, dried onion and garlic, sesame and poppy seeds)
- 1½ teaspoons yeast
Shape into a round mound, and place on a well-floured counter or marble slab. Dust with flour then cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 8 to 18 hours.
Punch down, knead lightly, and then form into a mound. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Place ceramic pot and lid into a cold oven. Heat to 450°. Remove pot and carefully lift up dough with floured hands and place in pot. Drizzle oil over the top, and sprinkle on additional everything bagel seasoning. Cover the pot, and bake in oven for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid, and bake for another 15 minutes until brown.
Turn out onto a rack and enjoy!
I suspect my grandmother, Rose Ridnor, didn’t have a recipe book to flip through for ideas on what to fix for dinner. She therefore had lists on index cards, such as this one for meats, which provided ideas. Because my grandparents grew up in the tenements in New York, they were always very frugal, eating little meat, and supplementing main courses with bread, potatoes, pasta, kasha, and other grains.
For the most part, my grandparent’s subsisted on lower quality cuts of meat, cooked for hours, and subsequently labeled “pot roast.” My grandmother would always add potatoes and carrots an hour or so before the roast was done to make a more substantial meal.
My also routinely roasting or boiling chicken. The broth from the latter was turned into chicken soup with carrots, celery, onions, homemade noodles, and kneidlach (soft matzos balls).
For special occasions, my grandmother made tiny sweet and sour meatballs, which were eaten with crushed matzos. The sauce was made from ketchup, brown sugar, and white vinegar.
I don’t recall her ever making lamb, veal, steak, or fresh fish. Maybe my grandfather didn’t like fish so it was disguised as gefilte fish, lox, herring, kippers, and canned and smoked salmon. Below is her recipe for scalloped salmon, which was showcases how a can of salmon can ended up serving several people, possible for multiple meals.
- Pot roast
- Swiss Fried
- Pan fried
- Chicken fried
- Meat balls
- Sweet & sour
- Tamale pie
- Barbeque sauce
- Ground pepper loaf
- Ground patties
- Ground balls
- Chops fried
- Chops pan fried
- Breast stuffed?
- Sweet & sour
My grandmother was a list-maker so it was no surprise when I found a stack of index cards among her papers, containing lists of how much to tip someone (bellboys 25-50₵ per bags), painting and household advice, uses for vinegar, and what to make for meals. Below is what she wrote down for appetizers, followed by her recipe for deviled eggs.
- Kippered salmon
- Bismarck [herring]
- Sweet & sour meatballs
- Sweet & sour chicken
- Chopped liver
- Liver and eggs scrambled
- Brains [beef, boiled, mashed, and mixed with onions]
- Chopped egg
- Deviled egg chilled
- Eggplant [Russian caviar]
- Fruit cup
This recipe came from Taste of Home, and was a hit when I made it for Thanksgiving.
- ½ cup of butter, softened
- ½ cup of sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
- 1 package (8 ½ ounces) corn bread/muffin mix
- ½ cup milk
- 1 can (15 ¼ ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
- 1 can (14 ¾ ounces) cream style corn
Preheat oven to 325◦. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream. Gradually add muffin mix alternately with milk. Fold in corn.
Pour into a greased 3-quart baking dish. Bake uncovered 45-50 minutes or until set and lightly browned
Before we married, one of Rich’s favorite dishes was a plate of rice with a Marie Callender chicken pot pie turned upside down, and plopped on top. For years, he’d slowly wheel past supermarket freezer cases, reminiscing about the “good old days” of heating up frozen pot pies, taquitos, breaded shrimp, and fish sticks.
Whenever we were apart, due to travel or attending events, Rich would sneak off and purchase his old standby, a Marie Callender pot pie. A few years ago, I decided to make a batch of mini chicken pot pies. While they looked lovely in pretty ramekins, they were a culinary failures. I had invited a friend over for lunch, proudly serving my pot pies. However, she found them tasteless with too much crust, and a mediocre filling, sadly missing salt.
While disappointed, I reconsidered my use of salt. Because my father had a heart attack when I was nine, and it was believed high blood pressure had led to his condition, I got used to cooking with little or no salt. In reality, his arteries narrowed with cholesterol.
Nevertheless, my tasteless chicken pot pies, coupled with Rich’s proclivity for hiding his food under a layer of fresh ground pepper, pushed the issue over the edge. I needed to start using salt!
Last week, with a bin full of vegetables, and time on my hands, I decided to give pot pies another try. Happily, it was a success, with Rich declared my pot pie every bit as good as those made by Marie Callender!
Since I don’t use recipes, here’s an approximation of what I did:
- Red potatoes (don’t peel)
- Walla Walla onion
- Frozen peas
- Bouquet garni: sage, oregano, parsley, rosemary
- 12.5 ounce can of chicken (or cooked chicken)
- Rice or tapioca flour
- Worcestershire sauce
Cut the red potatoes and onion in chunks, and place in a pot along with the fresh herbs, salt, and pepper, and enough water to cover. Cook until the potatoes are slightly hard. Add chunks of carrots and celery, along with frozen peas, and enough water to cover. Cook a few minutes longer to soften, but retain the color of the vegetables.
Drain the vegetables in a colander, over a bowl to catch the broth. Remove the herbs.
Strain the broth back into the pot, and add the juice from the can of chicken. Bring to a boil. Mix rice or tapioca flour with enough water to make a slurry. Add to the boiling broth, stirring constantly to make a gravy. Taste, and adjust flavoring and color by adding Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and finely ground herbs.
Gently simmer to cook the flour, and stabilize the consistency. If you want the gravy to be thicker, add a bit more flour (always blend with water beforehand, and slowly pour in, stirring constantly to avoid lumps). If the gravy is too thick, add a bit of water.
- 1 cup of whole wheat flour
- 1 cup of white flour
- 1 cube of butter
- Finely chopped fresh herbs
Make the crusts by combining the flours, chopped herbs and salt. Blend in the butter. Add a few tablespoons of water, and use a fork to blend. Continue adding tablespoons of water until the dough forms a ball. Place on a floured board and lightly kneaded.
Divide the dough in half, and roll-out to fit a deep-dish pie pan. Trim the dough so it doesn’t overhang the pan. Roll-out the rest of the dough, including the scrapes from the bottom crust.
Pour the cooled filling into the pie pan. Place the second dough over the top. Trim and press the edges of the two crusts together to seal. To ensure they’re sealed, flute the edges or use a fork to mash the two crust together.
Use a sharp knife to cut a few slits in the top. Place the pie on a foil-lined tray (to catch spills), and place in a 375◦ oven. Back for 30-45 minutes or until the gravy bubbles out of the slits on the top.