Not the post I expected to write today.

I took the day off yesterday from blogging – and think it might be nice to keep weekends blog-free moving forward, after experiencing my first NaBloPoMo. Something about stepping away and giving myself a little room to think about what I want to share, prepare more, that sounds right. Whether it is right remains to be seen.

So yesterday, I had a great time with a couple of friends on a progressive tea being hosted by a group of historic B&Bs in a nearby town. Gorgeous old houses that you can snoop around in? Lovely little goodies at each stop? Time to sit and chat about anything you want with your friends? I’ll sign up for that any day of the week.

I planned a meal of porcupine meatballs for dinner last night. Even posted a little something over on Facebook about it, but made what I now choose to call a Freudian slip: referred to them as “porcupine balls” rather than “porcupine meatballs.” My subconscious may have already known what dinner was going to taste like.

Over the summer my husband started getting nostalgic about this particular dish from his childhood. He even called up his mom and asked for the recipe, which she wrote down on an index card and mailed to us so we could make them whenever we wished to. So, I tried it out.

The recipe itself was very simple: a pound of ground beef, a box of Rice a Roni beef flavored mix, and a pan. You mix the ground beef together with the rice, and brown in the pan before adding a couple cups of water with the flavoring packet mixed in to the pan and let everything simmer together for a bit. It didn’t look that impressive on paper, but I thought there was the chance that it could surprise the palate.

It did not. In fact, it was pretty much what Rice a Roni beef flavor with some ground beef tossed in would taste like. But according to my husband it tasted just like Mom’s, and he enjoyed it. Our son enjoyed it too, but I think it’s because we were having meatballs.

I was left wanting to find more substance to this recipe, and started searching around the Internet to see what people have done with this idea. And I had to make many, many promises to my husband that doing so would not mean I would never make Mom’s porcupine meatballs again, nor burn the index card on which that recipe is written. Yesterday I tried a recipe that seemed to embody the basic tenets of the rest of the world’s idea of porcupine meatballs: beef, rice, a little chopped onion, celery salt, garlic powder, all mixed together and then simmered in a diluted tomato sauce that was mixed with a little brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce.

The verdict? Meh.

I love my husband. I will make the porcupine meatballs according to his mother’s recipe when requested. I love my mother-in-law. She is a good person who raised a family that enjoys all kinds of foods. But I also feel compelled to find a better way to create a porcupine meatball that’s visually interesting, and a little more complex in terms of flavor without overwhelming the palate.

So, rather than writing a post about finding a winning porcupine meatball recipe, I’m setting myself a challenge to find a way to improve upon it. (Some people build a better mousetrap. Me? I guess it’s porcupine meatballs.)

A prickly subject, to be sure.

I’ll probably work on this during a little break we get between the Christmas and New Year holidays, but have started collecting a few initial thoughts/questions that will form the first steps of this tweak.

Stuff about porcupines that could inform the recipe: they’re herbivores. Some people will eat them, but the meat isn’t as prized as their quills. Their name roughly translates from Middle French into “spined pig.” And they’re salt addicts. Lumped together, and my own mental random ingredient generator starts spitting out ideas like:

  • Wild rice instead of white rice?
  • Mix in a little ground pork with the ground beef?
  • What other herbs and spices would help boost a more robust/earthy sense to the dish?
  • What if the onions were sauteed along with perhaps some finely chopped mushrooms?
  • Simmering sauce: calling for a hit of madiera or port?
  • Cheese? What about cheese?

So there it is: the beginning of what may be a traumatic, bile-inducing experiment in the kitchen. But one I’m driven to do, not to replace anyone else’s favorite recipes, but to see if I can find one that I like too. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them!

(I don’t pretend to have a universal palate. I can be a pretty picky eater, at times. This has earned me both incredulous looks and empathy. It’s even sparked a “more for me, then!” grin. We’re none of us perfect.)



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