An oldie but goodie: hang tough, I'll be back soon.
Rabid foodies, beware: what you're about to read will revolt you and utterly destroy any shred of respect you might have had for my culinary acumen. You're better off clicking over to Chocolate & Zucchini and seeing what Clotilde is up to these days. This post is an exercise in pure, unapologetic nostalgia for a time before a lot of my readers were even born.
But don't you wish you were born in the sixties, you youngsters? I know you do; you yearn for the days when a four-year-old and her mother could sing "Feelin' Groovy" without irony, and when "Leavin' on a Jet Plane (Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again)" sounded like the height of sophistication (I want to ride on a jet plane!). You'd beg your mom for candy cigarettes and drive home from the grocery store without a seat belt pretending to flick your imaginary ash out of the front-seat window just like your mom was doing that very minute.
Kellog's Frosted Flakes with an additional spoonful of white sugar on top were part of a balanced breakfast, and later on, if your mom would let you back in the house (come back when it gets dark!), you'd guzzle Kool-Aid by the pitcherful. And that same beautiful mom would talk to guys at parties with enormous mustaches and a compulsion to clash patterns and stripes in the most annoying way possible while your dad snapped photos with his Instamatic.
It was fun and kind of dangerous to be a kid in the sixties. Our parents were way too young to have children and, looking back, we're all lucky to have survived to adulthood. Although my mother experimented with Julia Child and went through a long, long love affair with a box of curry powder she found god knows where, she also served a lot of beeforoni casserole (don't ask) and my all-time favorite, Swedish meatballs.
I think my mom first started making Swedish meatballs as party food but it quickly became a staple at our house. It was a big Sunday night dish, and she inexplicably served it with mashed potatoes instead of noodles, which just ramped up the richness factor. Only three or four of these meatballs each, swimming in their thick, creamy, salty gravy and topping a mound of fluffy mashed potatoes, would send the entire family reeling to the living room, where we children would collapse, stomachs distended, full-length on the floor to wait for The Wonderful World of Disney to come on at 7:00.
It's still a sure-fire recipe for kids. I've lightened it a bit and injected a modicum of healthiness into my mom's recipe by replacing the evaporated milk with fat-free evaporated milk (you can't tell the difference), reducing the amount of sodium-laced beef bouillon, and sneaking in 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup of shredded zucchini (children will think the green flecks are parsley--especially if you tell them that's what they are).
And although I love the mountain of mashed potatoes with a crater of pooled sauce and meatballs, whole wheat egg noodles (tossed with a little butter and fresh Parmesan) are a healthier choice (I hope). My 21st century Swedish meatballs still retain their sixties' glamor, however, and they put me right on a jet plane back to childhood with the first bite.
Recipe after the jump.
Somewhat Healthier Swedish Meatballs You Cannot Help But Love
1 lb. lean-ish ground beef (or ground turkey)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons milk
1/2-3/4 grated zucchini (my grater has very small holes on one side and those are the ones I use)
1/4 cup minced onion
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1-2 tablespoons the vegetable oil of your choice
Sprinkle the bread crumbs with milk and mix in the grated zucchini (I use the full 3/4 of a cup). Add the ground beef or turkey, onion, egg, and seasonings. Mix together thoroughly. The mixture will be a lot wetter than you're used to, so carefully form into 1-inch meatballs and plop onto a plate. Keep your hands wet to keep the meaty goo from sticking to them. Heat the oil in a big, heavy frying pan, preferably one you lugged home from your mom's house when she got newer, more expensive nonstick pans. Drop in the meatballs and brown thoroughly on all sides until cooked through. Remove meatballs to a clean plate.
Dissolve the bouillon cube in the water. Pour evaporated milk into a large two-cup measure. Melt butter in the same pan you cooked the meatballs in, scraping up all the bits stuck to the pan. Whisk in the flour and over medium-low heat, cook about two minutes until thick and bubbly. Slowly add the beef bouillon, whisking constantly and allowing to thicken. Dip about 1/4 cup or so of the bubbling mixture out of the pan and whisk it into the evaporated milk (this will keep the sauce from breaking--it still will tastes good even if it does, but it's more attractive if it doesn't).
Slowly add the evaporated milk mixture to the pan, little by little, until you've used it all up and you have a thick sauce simmering away. Now, for a truly authentic touch, add 1/2 teaspoon of Kitchen Bouquet to color it all brown and imbue it with a certain je ne sais quoi, as Julia would have said if she'd made Swedish meatballs, which she didn't. Add meatballs back to the pan and heat through. Serve with noodles or mashed potatoes, and afterwards, light up a candy cigarette and blow imaginary smoke rings across the table while your six-year-old fixes you a cocktail. Serves 4 with leftovers.