grass-fed sweet and tangy meatballs

My family’s never been big on annual traditions.

I mean, sure, at Christmastime, there’s a tree and presents. We mail greetings and watch movies that come on TV, like most people do. We eat cookies (but then we always eat cookies). And then there are a few other recipes we associate with the season, you know, things that sometimes get made, sometimes don’t, from fudge to cream cheese to the gem I bring you today: sweet and tangy meatballs.

sweet and tangy meatballs

But these meatballs aren’t just for Christmastime, and they’re not always with Christmastime—with my family, few things are. In fact, some of you may remember seeing them at our (hot and balmy) blog party last August, where 32 people managed to eat over 100 in the space of a few hours. There were so many requests for the recipe afterwards—Mom gets all the credit there—that I had to post a quick version over on our Facebook page, with plans to give these year-round appetizers better treatment later on.

Now’s that time. Because while these meatballs aren’t just or always for Christmas, I usually think of them now, at the end of December, when I remember holiday parties and buffet tables lined with snacks, from chips and dip to cookies to that enormous glass bowl of tropical punch we always had. I remember decades of Christmases, filled with a decorated world of twinkling lights and celebrations at school or work or with friends.

That’s what traditions are supposed to do, I guess, even the ones we practice sporadically.

meatballs on the buffet

Because whether it’s an Advent calendar or the annual reading of Luke 2, we can build rituals into our lives to create reminders, tangible illustrations of something we don’t want to forget, something we want to hold onto in the future. Like birthdays reminds us to express affection for our loved ones, like Thanksgiving, to give thanks, so Christmas points at memories and meaning, in the midst of a crazy festive season.

plated meatballs

Meatballs—and cookies and pies and comforting pot roasts—are nice in that way, too. They serve as hallmarks of this season that comes every year, in which many of us will do traditional things: find time to be with family, try to think of gifts to give, talk about the greatest gift: that the Creator became creation.

individual meatball

And while some may argue our traditions aren’t that meaningful, as Christmas trees come from pagan religions and stockings from tales of Saint Nicholas, I like to see things another way: the truth is, I love tradition, even the irregularly practiced kind.

used toothpicks

If traditions are valuable for what they remind you of, then what we’re reminded of is what makes the tradition. Ornaments remind you of your grandma. Christmas cards of your friends faraway.

And meatballs, of the good gifts you’ve been given, this year and every year before it, from sweet and tangy things to eat to loved ones to share it with.

Merry Christmas!





Sweet & Tangy Meatballs
Between 50 and 60 meatballs

Some people call appetizer-style meatballs “barbecue,” but I think that way undersells the flavor and appeal of this version. I like eating them with some hot garlic bread or a salad, or you could make a meatball sandwich. Whatever the case, they’re hearty, tangy and, hello, hard to stop eating. You’ve been warned.

Ingredients:
2 pounds ground beef (I used organic grass-fed ground chuck)
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (I used some spelt bread, toasted and ground in the food processor)
2 eggs
1 onions, minced
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups organic ketchup (alternative: chili sauce)
18 ounces (1.5 12-ounce jars) organic grape jelly (alternatives: red currant or apple jelly)

Directions:
Combine first eight ingredients and form the meat into 50 to 60 same-sized meatballs using a rounded teaspoon for each (or hands covered with plastic gloves). Brown meatballs lightly in oil. Take the chili sauce and the jelly and boil in a saucepan.

Pour a little of the sauce into a dutch oven (or a crockpot to be set on low for 2 to 3 hours), then add some meatballs on top of that, then add some sauce, more meatballs and so on. Cover, cook over a low flame for about 3 hours, until sauce has thickened considerably. The slow cooking for several hours is key—that’s what gives transforms the sauce into a rich glaze and creates the wonderful sweet and tangy flavor.

Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Niki

    Mmmm…. I love any sort of appetizer meatballs. I made a Hawaiian version once, and I had to do my best not to eat them all before the guests got there.
    I LOVE the addition of jelly in there. That has got to add such an interesting flavor… Especially if you use the chili sauce instead of ketchup… Can’t wait to try them!

  2. Jacqui

    “If traditions are valuable for what they remind you of, then what we’re reminded of is what makes the tradition.” Love that. What a nice post to sit down to this morning, and to kick off this holiday weekend.

    Also: I must try these meatballs. I can’t say I remember them from your blog party — maybe they were already gone by the time I got there? Thanks for the recipe, though. Merry Christmas, friend!

  3. Vicki

    I remember these meatballs from your blog party. Yum! This has been added to my list of recipes from your blog to try.

    And as a head start to my new year’s resolution to live more in the present, I have decided to start “assigning” myself recipes from your blog, my recipes folder in my e-mail and a half-organized stack of recipes pulled from magazines. The someday I’ve been waiting for to try these is now. First up from your blog are the balsamic chicken, roasted red potatoes and roasted asparagus from a post last December; and those awesome cheddar garlic biscuits and chicken fingers you recently wrote about.

    Merry Christmas Shanna!

  4. redmenace

    Meatballs trump all other traditions. I adore them! I made some earlier this week as well. Tucking this one away for another day. Thank you! I hope you’re enjoying the holidays. How did the puff pastry work out?! xo

  5. Shannalee

    Gabby, Well then you know! : ) Great appetizers indeed.

    Niki, Hope you enjoy!

    Jacqui, Thank you, as always, for your sweet words. Merry Christmas to you and Murdo–here’s to new, married traditions for your little family. : )

    Vicki, I’m so glad you remember them! And girl, your list of to-try recipes is such a good one. I heartily approve and can’t wait to hear what you think! Merry Christmas!

    Redmenace, The puff pastry was amazing! I learned it’s better to cut it thick, so as to allow for maximum puff…but Ashley’s advice is stellar. Can’t wait to hear about your little bun arriving, btw! Merry Christmas!

  6. The Food Hound

    SO EXCITED I just found your blog!! First of all, those meatballs looks fabulous. Second, I love your writing style! I think it’s great that you do freelance writing– I’d love to do that someday. My 2011 resolution is to send out writing samples :)

  7. Shannalee

    Julie, Merry Christmas to you guys, too! Hope you enjoy these meatballs. : )

    Tim, Thanks!

    Kamran, Ha! Thanks, friend!

    Caitlin, I know! Also great with a big slab of garlic bread.

    LimeCake, Thanks and happy holidays to you!

    Food Hound, What a sweet comment. Thanks for the encouragement and best wishes to you and your writing career in the new year!

  8. Dana

    We always have meatballs at Christmas, and quite similarly prepared too. Meatballs are my misters favorite food (or at least very high up on the list) so I’ll have to make these for him. He’ll be so happy!

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