I can honestly say that realizing at that particular moment that we do not own a fire extinguisher was not only less than ideal, it sent sheer terror into my heart. Do I grab Lilly and run? Do I stand here and keep an eye on it to see if it will go out? Do I get a bucket of water ready? But there’s some grease there and you should NEVER put water on a grease fire! All of these thoughts flew through my head in a mere fraction of a second. The HOURS (okay what FELT like hours) that followed were extremely tense. The entire bottom of my oven was on fire!
Let me back up for a moment. There are some days where I just decide “Today is a cooking project day!” It makes me ever so happy to plan, shop and then spend hours on a sheer labor of love. That is how this day had started. I have a meatball sandwich recipe that I love, but I recently saw a recipe on another blog that had me wondering: When something takes that much more time to make, and has that much more um….”richness” we’ll call it (think butter, cheese stuffed inside, and 85/15 beef instead of extra lean ground turkey!) does it REALLY make that big of a difference in taste? Can it possibly be worth the extra time and calorie count? I decided it would be fun to find out.
What followed was an afternoon where everything seemed to just fall into place….except maybe the cooking! Trinity got invited to a friend’s house for an afternoon playdate and Lilly took a very rare afternoon nap. I had some serious, quiet, kid-free time to play. And this is how it all happened:
- 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1.5 lbs ground beef (85/15) (OR 3/4 lb ground beef, and 3/4 lb ground pork)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (optional)
- 2 large eggs
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- Mozarella cheese chopped into roughly 36, 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 28-oz whole peeled tomatoes in juice
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil (optional)
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 1 tsp sea salt
- For sauce: Combine the tomatoes with their juice, butter, onions, garlic, chili flakes and salt in a large pot. I took this picture so there would be photographic evidence that I made something that had chili flakes in it! Anyone who knows me knows my aversion to spicy foods often leads me to omit ingredients like this…I’m trying to branch out. 🙂
- Bring to simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season well with more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat.
- Using an immersion blender OR ladling into a food processor, puree the sauce until desired consistency. I wanted a slightly rustic sauce with some texture to it so I left it mildly chunky. Using the food processor made this easier. If you like yours more smooth, puree to your heart’s content. Pour back into the saucepan and add the fresh chopped basil (if using).
- For meatballs: Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl. Let stand for about ten minutes.
- In a large bowl, mix the ground beef with pork (if using. I didn’t this time.) Add the Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil, eggs and garlic. I would like to point out that the original recipe called for half of a BULB of garlic to be chopped both for the sauce AND the meatballs…Really?! An ENTIRE bulb of garlic for one meal?! I like garlic, but this seemed excessive. I cut it in half…which still seemed like a lot to me…but I’ll share more on that later. My ingredients list above is much more conservative on the garlic.
- Add the breadcrumbs to the mixture. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix until the ingredients are evenly combined. Chill the mixture for at least 15 minutes and up to an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray lightly with cooking spray.
- Use a small ice cream scoop to form each meatball. Push one cube of cheese halfway into the meat mixture, then eject the meatball and mold the ball around the cheese so it is completely enclosed. I had just under 1.5 pounds of beef and this recipe yielded 37 meatballs.
- Place meatballs in oven and bake for 12 minutes.
This is where it all started to go downhill. As I opened my preheated oven I noticed it was a bit smokey inside. My brother-in-law had baked a cheesecake for us when he was here and it appeared as though it had leaked. “I’ll have to clean my oven tomorrow to burn that stuff off.” I thought to myself. But in the mean time, I had dinner to make and I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal.
At about the 9 minute mark I thought I would check on the meatballs and see how they were doing. As I opened the oven, smoke came pouring out and flames erupted in the bottom! There was MUCH more spillage from the cheesecake than I had realized and the entire bottom of my oven was in flames! “I need to get the fire extinguisher!” I thought to myself….Only to realize that we DON’T. OWN. ONE! I slammed the oven door shut and turned the heat off. It is silly and embarrassing to admit this but in the middle of thinking “Should I grab Lilly and run outside? Wait and see if it goes out? Call 911 pre-emptively in case it spreads?” These thoughts also crankily crossed my mind “I bet my good baking pans are totally ruined. Those flames are probably really damaging the bottom of them!” It’s amazing how many thoughts can go through your head at once within fractions of a second.
I decided to wait and see if the flames would go out. As long as the meatballs didn’t catch fire (I WAS worried about the fat cooking out of them catching on fire!), the cheesecake stuff should burn itself out fairly quickly. I didn’t want to open the oven again to take them out for fear of the added oxygen causing the flames to grow again. I can’t venture a guess as to how long it took because it FELT like an eternity but the flames did die out. I was shaking.
It took me a few minutes to even think about taking the meatballs (which I was certain were TOAST) out of the oven. You know what? They actually looked good! In fact, they needed another minute or two. Eyeing the charred remains of cheesecake on the bottom of my oven very carefully, I decided they had, indeed, burned themselves completely out and there was nothing but ashes left. I cautiously turned the oven back on, placed the pans back in the oven and stood staring at them baking until they were done. (Just in case.) As I opened the oven to remove them again another wave of smoke came out. I was confused because there were no flames and it was not coming from the bottom of the oven. There was slightly sweet smell in the air…It turns out that when I put the pans back into the oven, one of the cork trivets they had been sitting on on the counter had stuck to the bottom and parts of it were now charred. Seriously?!? Can’t I catch a break today?!
Apparently not. Remember the garlic? I went to taste my sauce and the garlic flavor just about knocked me over. I KNEW I should have trusted my instincts! Half a bulb was still too much! “Well, at least we’ll be safe from vampires tonight” I thought, “even if we DO live in Utah where people are obsessed with that Twilight series.” In a last ditch effort to redeem myself, I added a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes to the sauce, hoping to dilute the overpowering flavor.
Because I now had much more sauce than I needed, I put 4 cups of it in a tupperware to freeze. I then added the meatballs and hoped for the best! We served them open face (why waste stomach space on too much bread?), on ciabatta buns and I served Kale Chips on the side. The meatballs were DELICIOUS! (Thought I don’t recommend you try today’s cooking methods). They certainly had much richer flavor than my normal recipe and while the garlic flavor was undeniable, it was not overpowering as it had been. Are they worth the extra work and calories? Not all the time but maybe now and then. They were so excellent that I think we’ll have leftovers tonight. That may mostly be due to the fact that I’ll be too busy to cook. My afternoon will be spent shopping for a fire extinguisher.
*This recipe is modified from a blogger “eatandbehappy” who modified it from Bon Appetite.
**Special thanks to Patti Maas who made this recipe shortly after I first posted it and found that 3 cloves of garlic in both the sauce and the meatballs was just right!