Itsa’ Spicy Meatball

meatbalsSo this past weekend I hosted a baby shower for a couple of friends.  It was actually the first baby shower I’ve hosted in my life.  I took it very seriously.  We booked the date in August and I started ordering decorations and supplies and planning things down to the tee.  If you’d like to see the entire Pinterest board, just click here.

What I want to share with you today is one of the recipes from the party that turned out to be a huge hit:  sweet and spicy cranberry meatballs.  I have never seen a pot of meatballs completely disappear, but the slow cooker was filled with about 3 pounds of meatballs, and not a single one was left.  Not one!  

I’ve been to parties where they served slow cookers full of meatballs.  Everyone brags about the fact that the secret ingredient in them is grape jelly.  And they are good, I’ll give you that.  But this recipe?  Oh it is soooo much better than those!  If you’re a grape jelly meatball fan, please give this one a try.

The main base is whole cranberry sauce.  Then you add in some ketchup, hoisin sauce, and an assortment of spices.  The end result is a very sweet, tangy concoction that apparently cannot be resisted.

Now before I post the recipe, I have a secret to confess:  I used store-bought meatballs.  The recipe has you make your own, but I didn’t have time so I went to the local warehouse club and bought a big bag of “Italian style” meatballs.  I wasn’t too sure how those would go with this sweet and tangy sauce, but now I know how they go–fast.  They go very fast.

Next time, I hope to make the meatballs from scratch, but just know that you can get away with using a good quality store bought meatball!

Here are the ingredients:

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 22 saltine crackers crushed
  • 1/3 cup dry minced onion
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoon garlic powder
Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce
  • 1 can whole cranberry sauce 14 oz. can
  • 1/4 cup quality hoisin sauce like Kikkoman or Lee Kum Kee
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Franks Buffalo Hot WINGS Sauce to taste*
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

And here are the instructions:

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Place a baking rack on top of a baking sheet. Set aside. (If you don’t have a baking rack, line baking sheet with parchment paper.)

  1. In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients, mix until well combined. Roll meat mixture into desired meatball size**. Place meatballs onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  2. Meanwhile, add all of the Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce ingredients starting with just 2 teaspoons hot wings sauce to a bowl and mix to combine. You can add more hot sauce to taste at the end of cooking.
  3. Line the bottom of your slow cooker with meatballs, then a layer of Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce, then the remaining meatballs followed by the remaining. Sauce. Gently stir meatballs an hour after cooking.
  4. Cover and cook on low heat for 2 hours. Taste and stir in additional hot wings sauce (I use a total of 2 tablespoons which is spicy) Keep warm until serving.

Again, as I mentioned, I didn’t make the meatballs by hand.  I just dumped all the ingredients in on top of frozen meatballs and stirred occasionally as they cooked.  No worries about “layering” your meatballs or mixing the sauce in a separate bowl.  Why dirty up a bowl you’ll have to wash when it’s all going to combine in the slow cooker anyway?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Oh, one more thing.  The photograph above shows the meatballs on toothpicks.  Don’t do that.  They are best served hot, and that means straight out of the slow cooker.  It’s not as elegant of a look, but we must preserve food quality over appearances, right?  So put the slow cooker out on the table with a big spoon in it and be prepared to watch meatballs disappear!

A Year of Meatballs

baked-italian-meatballs-tsriI like good homemade meatballs with my pasta.  I prefer homemade to those tasteless things you buy in the frozen foods section.  Homemade taste better and you know exactly what’s in them if you make them yourself.

I came home from work after a VERY long day on Friday, and I needed to get in the kitchen to make something for dinner.  I also needed to get in the kitchen to relax.  I made myself a lovely cocktail, turned on “The Chew” and I set out to use up the pounds of ground beef and Italian sausage I had bought earlier in the week at my warehouse club.

What I didn’t realize is just how many damned meatballs that much meat would make.  It was three hours later that I finally finished, and when I did I had a year’s worth of meatballs for the freezer.  I thought you might like my recipe?

A Year’s Worth of Meatballs

  • Olive oil
  • 4 small onions, or 2 very large onions.  Can be white, yellow, or sweet onions.  Diced small.
  • 8 cloves of garlic, minced very fine
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper (omit if you use hot Italian sausage)
  • 4 pounds of ground chuck (80/20)
  • 4 pounds of mild or hot Italian sausage, removed from its casing
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup of finely minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • Kosher salt (or sea salt) and black pepper


  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil to medium.  Put the onions in and salt them well.  Saute the onions until they are soft and just starting to get some brown color to them.  Add the garlic and red pepper (if you are using it) and saute for one more minute.  Remove from the heat and let cool.
  • In a very large bowl, combine the beef, sausage, eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, thyme, fennel and cooled onion and garlic mixture in a bowl.  Add a reasonable amount of salt and liberal dose of black pepper to season.  Get down in there with your hands and mix thoroughly.  Really work it over with your hands so all the ingredients combine.  This will take awhile!
  • Make a small “test” patty of the meat and cook it in a skillet over medium heat until it’s cooked through.  Taste it.  You will probably find that it needs more salt.  Add more salt to the meat mixture if you need it.
  • Now it’s time to make’a’da meatballs!  I like to use a small 1″ ice cream scoop to portion out the meat so the meatballs are all approximately the same size.   Then I round out their shape with my hand.  You can use a full size ice cream scoop if you like and make them really big, if you prefer.  Or you can freestyle the size and just measure out the meat with your hands.
  • As I make them I put them in large disposable aluminum pans.  The food service tray (full pan size) works great, and I use three of them for this size batch.  You can layer them by separating your layers with waxed paper or aluminum foil.  Make all the meatballs first before cooking any of them.
  • Clean out the large skillet and put more olive oil in it.  Heat it to medium heat.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • In batches, brown the meatballs on all sides.  If they start to turn black or dark brown really fast your pan is too hot, lower the heat.  If they aren’t browning after a few minutes your pan is too cold, turn the heat up a notch or two.
  • Turn each meatball at least twice so you get browning on three sides.  Once brown on the outside, remove them from the pan and put them back in the disposable aluminum pan.
  • When you have a full pan of meatballs, put them in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes to finish cooking the inside.  Do NOT overcook them!  They are going in the freezer and when they come out they will be reheated which will finish cooking them, so it’s better to leave them a little undone rather than over cooking them, which will dry them out.
  • Let the meatballs cool, then put them in a gallon freezer bag or container.  Use two containers if you have to.
  • If you have neighbors you like, take them a small batch.  (Don’t waste these little gems on neighbors you don’t like).  Oh, and keep a few out for dinner tonight and serve with some marinara sauce over pasta.  Freeze the rest!