The lovely folks at blackberries for me to play with in my kitchen. While their original invitation involved dessert and treats, I kept imagining the winsome combination of blackberry and sage having their way with meatballs. Cocktail meatballs are noted in the annals of party hors d’oeuvres and involve grape jam, so the idea wasn’t entirely farfetched. Rather than using commercial jam, I kept imagining rotund balls of beef or ground turkey slathered in a just-made glaze still kind of chunky from the slightly muddled blackberries mingling with tawny Port.sent over some
We eat with our eyes, don’t we? The first batch was a far cry from what I envisioned in my mind’s eye and resembled a practical joke. That first batch ended up finding their ways into the mouths of some food friends who were being kind and tried my “purple meatballs.” All the while, I heeded a warning that they looked weird but tasted reminiscent of meatballs in a purple tomato sauce. The disquietingly purple hue left much to be desired. Steph gave a thumbs up on the flavor but let’s be honest, no one outside of an alien planet in the outer reaches of the Milky Way would serve these at a party.
Back to the drawing board I went, tinkering with the ingredient proportions. This time, I struck gold.. One down the hatch became four in a mere shadow of minutes for Beck.
Oh yes, shellacked purple gold.
NOTE: Driscoll’s sent me the blackberries for free and all opinions about the culinary dexterity of blackberries are mine.
Blackberry Sage Glazed Meatballs
I didn’t use breadcrumbs in the meatballs. To be frank, I wanted to see if breadcrumbs are an imperative in meatballs. No is a good short answer here. Then again, I know there are purists who chafe at the idea of a meatball not involving pork, beef and veal, but we don’t eat two of those meats. So I encourage you to experiment and use the meat combination that most appeals to your sensibilities and consider ground turkey as another alternative. Batch one didn’t have anything other than the egg and spices for a binder which turned out okay, but I prefer them as laid out below with the almond meal. I think of it as an extra touch of protein and a bit of textural intrigue, not to mention they’re gluten free.
YIELD: 20 meatballs
TIME: 45 minutes
- 1 cup blackberries
- 1 shallot (4 tablespoons, minced)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 inch ginger (1 tablespoon, minced)
- 1 tablespoon evoo
- 6 sage leaves, minced
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- ½ cup tawny Port
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 egg
- ½ cup almond meal
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Add ½ tablespoon of minced ginger, 1 tablespoon of minced shallots, egg and almond meal to ground beef. Mix with hands until well combined. Then form into small meatballs and place on lightly greased roasting pan. There should be 20 meatballs. Place in oven to cook for 25 minutes, turning meatballs halfway through their cooking time.
- Saute the remaining shallots, ginger and garlic in a pan with the olive oil until lightly brown. Then add the sage and cook for another minute. In a large glass with a muddler, slightly muddle blackberries not until they are mushy. Then add muddled blackberries to pan and add the port. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Stir in chicken stock after about five minutes and let cook on low heat for about five minutes more or until thickened.
- Remove the meatballs gently with tongs. Place them into the large pan with blackberry sage glaze. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs and let simmer for five minutes, turning the meatballs gently.
- Serve hot and make sure to scoop any remaining sauce from the pan onto the meatballs in your serving dish or bowl.
The note read “I lost my voice. You’re number three.”
Frank, the k-jay smiled his broad toothy grin as he sashayed back up to the stage. Gone were the days of him shooting me a look laced with small steel blades. Last time he had hugged me as we began waving goodbye. Christmas lights twinkled in the background and in the foreground a girl shimmied and swayed her hips while rapping along with Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. I sipped my grapefruit sparkler and waited. A group of young hipsters made the space between the stage and my table into a dance floor, letting their hips show solidarity with the performer. In my hands, I held the fat book of songs listed by artist, thumbing my way from AC/DC to Yes! Hoots and hollers commenced as the rapper’s song died down. She welcomed the next performer, a regular named Chrissy, up onto the stage.
“Frank, what did you pick for me this time, hmm?”
Her face congealed into an expression of intensity accented by dramatic eyebrows. She dipped down into the low notes and scooped up to match the high notes of this Kelly Clarkson standard. Behind her, lights flashed as if in collusion. She stood her ground, looked out at the audience, at us, to the blue screen perched high above the plot of tables filled by an office holiday party, singing along.
A friendly face showed her ID to the bouncer, waved and waltzed into the main room. Elizabeth arrived hours after our celebratory lunch led into this celebratory evening outing.
She asked, “Do you know what you’re going to sing yet?”
“I put in a song already. I’ve never sung it here before…”
Kelly Clarkson finished her song and as the audience cheered, she bellowed, “Coco, come on up!”
I scooted my way to the stage, two parts indecision and one part sheer moxie as strains of Lindsay Buckingham on guitar began to wash over me. Verse one into “The Chain” down solid and then came the guitar solo, a mere 23 bar measure break.
Let’s just say this chain is not meant for karaoke.
A few more friends, Kenny and Alan, found their way into the room and the party officially had kicked off. As soon as I saw Alan enter the bar, I walked the song request up to Frank while a man sang a spirited version of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.” Followed by another regular, an older Asian man best known for selecting Old Blue Eyes songs. Tonight he opted for a John Lennon tribute and sang “Imagine.”
Before long, Alan and “Coco” meandered their way onto stage and into the arms of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time.” His rich tenor welcomed my mezzo voice as we hit the chorus in harmony and musical gesticulations. At the close of the song, we began whispering “Time after time” all well rehearsed from years of practice. Beyond the gratification of time spent with friends came the joy of surrendering to a melody and then working into a harmony. There is something so scintillating about singing.
In a time quite far from the present and not so distant in the past, this stage had been my stomping ground. Walking to the bathroom, I waved my hellos to regulars seated at the far end of the bar away from the people we lovingly had called “the tourists.” Back in the day, we would get off work and head over to karaoke, knowing if we showed up early enough we could sneak in a few extra songs before the hipsters arrived. Tiffany would croon her soulful selections of jazzy R&B while the other Tiffany would ready her latest Chaka Khan performance of “To the Limit.” Frank would sometimes grab the mic and sing.
We knew Frank to be very discriminating in his affections. If he liked you and your performance, he might turn on the “flames” to the sides of the stage, small orange-hued banners that lit up from inside and would sizzle up from small fans at their base, just like flames. If he really liked you and the song’s rhythm made people want to move, he would turn on the strobe light and pulsing colored lights above. He could just as easily try to help the inebriated work their way back into a tempo that had gone awry or roll his eyes at the group of girls who only knew two lines in the chorus of “Real Slim Shady” and fell mute the rest of the song. Frank is the k-jay king.
And in this kingdom of karaoke, there was a little bit of everything. A twenty-something shyly walked on stage and stayed glued to his small plot of stage, eyes never leaving the television prompter. His version of “You Say It Best When You Say Nothing at All” really said it all. Adele seemed to be the singer most emulated in a place usually clogged by Journey and 80s songs. Two hipsters sang “I’ll Be There” and mocked the song but showed singing chops even in their mockery. Kenny described singer A as a “karaoke shark” and sure enough, her version of “Rolling in the Deep” later on got the bar’s attention. A couple sang “I’ve Got You Babe” in a pitchy duet with a force of confidence.
After the bust of “The Chain” earlier on, I held up two other songs and let Frank decide. Coco made a reappearance on stage in the guise of Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” and much later, because Frank is the quintessential k-jay, was called up for a song I hadn’t turned in but he remembered as the other song I’d been considering.
Up, onto the stage Coco became Ann Wilson as a synthesizer streamed overhead. Sinking into the first verse of “Alone,” I became the coquette toying with the heartstrings of the audience and then in time for the chorus, I let go of the audience, wailing. By the end and the final bridge of “alones” I found myself happily alone as I do every time the song nears this point- my voice, the synthesizer, the pull of a five letter word punching the air and then slowly tapering into a ribbon blown away by the quieting wind.
We noshed on gluten free gingerbread cake with chili infused chocolate frosting. We drank another round or three before the evening culminated in friends going separate directions. A taco truck emerged from the darkness out front and my rumbling belly soon found satiation in a shared chicken burrito. Onto “Strangelove” by Depeche Mode and Alan’s opus of “Open Arms” only later to hear Alan say he’d been “out-Journeyed” by a man who blew us away with his rendition of “When You Love a Woman.”
Children sing without the pretension of perfection and at some point this came naturally for most of us. Under the guise of Girl Scouts or Disney films, even tone-deaf singing was smiled upon. It occurs to me now, that beyond church or temple, the shower or the car, there is no forum for letting a song rip right out of you acceptably. Try singing out the lyrics to “Deejay Got Us Falling in Love Again” when you’re walking down the sidewalk in the financial district. You might get a few or more likely a lot of sour looks.
In the karaoke underworld, it’s a different story.
You go for the gusto because you can. You check your inhibitions at the door. You sing the sad F.M. song because it’s what your soul is beckoning to hear aloud. You can almost hear the karaoke stage raise its anthem: “Give me your pitchy, your tone-deaf, your passionate. Give me your jilted auditions, unrealized dreams and bad days. Give into the moment, the music and melodic imperative.” Sometimes that verve of karaoke, that joy of living in the moment translates to the kitchen. Sometimes, you hanker for something that’s equal parts pragmatic and party-inducing but doesn’t really belong on a typical dinner plate. And in those moments, consider making meatballs in blackberry sage glaze, while listening to something that gets you singing along with great abandon.
I spied the Buddha’s Hand sitting on my friend Andrew’s counter. Amid the happy cacophony of food bloggers sprawled out in his house and front patio, I caught the words, “take one.” He didn’t have to say it twice. Off I went to survey the boxes of buddha’s hands brought by Melissa’s. Eschewing those with fingers extended, I found a single gnarled citrus that would be travel-friendly. Irvin said it looked like the buddha’s hand was shooting me the bird. I finagled it into my bag shortly before heading to the airport. There was no surprise that security pulled my bag aside to pilfer its depths as I said, “you’re looking for the buddha’s hand.”
That first buddha’s hand sucked me in and made me a fan with its intoxicating aroma similar to a lemongrass candle that burns in Mama’s kitchen. On to buddha’s hand two and three and our house has been smelling pretty great as of late. This citrus is primarily pith, that white fibrous material that clings to the peel. Unlike oranges, lemons and numerous other citrus, there is no fruit inside. You can zest it and substitute for lemon zest or you can make marmalade using Karen Solomon’s recipe or the one in the Blue Chair Jam book.
And you can candy it… which led me to think of my favorite Parisian treat that Olga introduced me to many years ago. Wrapped in a sophisticated hot pink and black lacquered box and under gold wrapping, matchsticks of candied orange rind enrobed in dark chocolate waited. Oh Fauchon, you fool with my affections! I’ve tried other orangettes and they just don’t taste quite right. I think part of it includes the stroll up la Rue des Capucines and basking in the history of La Madeleine. Ambience plus exclusivity result in such a delicacy.
In my kitchen, I’m not usually a stickler for perfection. With making these buddhettes, you really do want to use matchstick shaped buddha’s hand peel. Don’t throw away the oddly shaped bits of buddha’s hand though. We are going to use them too. Set them aside until after you’ve finished dipping your buddhettes and then we can tackle them there in the note following the buddhette recipe. So hang with me and we’ll use as much of the fragrant citrus as we can. Waste not, want not, right?
- 1 buddha’s hand
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup good quality bittersweet chocolate
Carefully with a knife, cut the fingers off of the buddha’s hand making it easier to cut off the peel from the white pith. It’s okay if you cut off some pith with the peel since you can trim it later. As you’re cutting off the peel from the buddha’s hand, try as much as possible to cut long strips. Once you’ve cut off all the peel from the buddha’s hand, cut the long strips into matchsticks.
Let strips rest in a bowl of water on your counter overnight.
The next day, add buddha’s hand to water and let boil for 10 minutes, making sure the water is covering the citrus sticks. Drain in a colander. Let dry.
In a heavy pot, heat 1 cup sugar and ½ cup water until the sugar is dissolved. Then add the buddha’s hand matchsticks and set to simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove the matchsticks and let dry. Set out a sheet of wax paper onto a countertop. Set liquid aside for the simple syrup recipe below.
In a double boiler, add in chopped bittersweet chocolate and stir until completely melted. Take off the top of the double boiler and set the bowl of melted chocolate by your candied matchstick peels and wax paper.
Dip and swirl the buddha’s hand peels into the chocolate until completely coated and then place on wax paper. Repeat until all buddha’s hand matchsticks are enrobed in chocolate. Let cool.
Keep in a tightly sealed container and in a cool location. They should keep for a week if you don’t find yourself sneaking one or a few of them at a time.
Buddha’s Hand Candied Ginger Simple Syrup
NOTE: Those bits of buddha’s hand odds and ends that you saved above? Chop them up. Take about an inch of ginger and then skin it and mince it. Add an additional cup of sugar and 1/2 cup water to the simple syrup leftover from simmering the buddha’s hand matchsticks above. Stir and cook over low heat until sugar disappears. Then add your newly chopped ginger and buddha’s hand to the pot and simmer and stir for 15 minutes. Begin scooping out the newly candied ginger and chopped buddha’s hand onto a plate with a paper towel, letting them dry.
For the last remaining bits use a lemon juicer as a way to save the candied bits and contain the simple syrup easily. If you don’t have an apparatus like this, you can use a vegetable steamer in a bowl. Store the simple syrup in a covered container for up to a week in the fridge.
As for those newly candied pieces of minced ginger and buddha’s hand, use them in this recipe for Gingerbread or mixed into homemade scones. Go crazy and stick them in your homemade Stöllen or fruitcake. I have a hunch you’ll find this ginger / buddha’s hand combo equal parts festive and fragrant.