I am not always the best pre-planner. If I am headed on vacation, I am the one packing my bags thirty minutes before we are scheduled to leave. I tend to forget essentials, you know, like my tooth brush. I do not know why I have to wait until thirty minutes before our scheduled departure to start preparing for my trip, but I do it every time. And every time, as I am realizing I don’t have any clean socks to pack, because that would require a pre-check of my dresser drawers to ensure there are socks available for my trip, I curse myself for procrastinating. You would think I would learn my lesson. Arriving at your destination without pants to wear can be quite unfortunate. But every vacation, no matter what, I still find myself packing that bag thirty minutes before jumping in the car and hastily roaring away, most likely with a pair of dirty socks, no toothbrush, and pant-less.
This incredible skill of procrastination is also useful in other situations. This past New Year’s Eve, I was invited to a late night celebration. I was invited well over a week in advance, and was told to bring three simple things: myself, a drink to share, and an appetizer dish to share. Guess what was ready with an hour before party time? Nothing. Not my drink to share, not my appetizer dish, and certainly not myself.
Realizing people would probably not care if I stopped at the store and grabbed a bottle of some drink to share and that I was dressed like a slob (with dirty socks of course), I did think people would notice if I arrived with no appetizer in hand. I contemplated buying one of those pre-made vegetable or meat and cheese trays, but I figured my fellow procrastinators would also devise this plan and arrive with the same appetizer.
I opened my refrigerator in search of something to throw together, and luck would have it, there was a pack of elk chunk waiting to become my quick, throw together New Year’s Eve appetizer. I quickly ran the chunk through my meat grinder. It resulted in about a pound of ground elk. To the ground elk, I added a cup of panko bread crumbs, some fresh chopped parsley, and a little nutmeg. I also seasoned generously with salt and pepper. I also added in one beaten egg and two tablespoons of milk.
I find the best tactic for mixing meatballs is to just dig right in with your hands. This gets everything incorporated really thoroughly. Also, it allows you to test the consistency of the meatballs. If the meatballs feel too wet and things aren’t really sticking together, add more panko bread crumbs. If things feel to dry, add in more milk.
Since this was a quick throw together appetizer, I used what was available in my pantry to make my meatballs. If you don’t have, or maybe you don’t like, panko bread crumbs, traditional bread crumbs will also work. Also, I don’t always have fresh parsley on hand. I actually never have it on hand, but for some reason on this particular evening I did. If you don’t have fresh parsley, dried would also work. You would only need a tablespoon of dried parsley instead of a quarter cup like with the fresh.
Roll the meatballs into balls using about a tablespoon of the meat mixture. Place them on an ungreased baking sheet. For easier clean-up, line the sheet with aluminum foil. Bake the meatballs in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes. The meatballs should be slightly browned and your kitchen should smell delicious!
While the meatballs are roasting away, pull out a crockpot. Set the crockpot on low heat.
To the pot, add 3/4 to 1 cup of hoisin sauce. I started with 3/4 of a cup and then added more at the end of I wanted more of the hoisin flavor to stand out. A beautiful dark amber color, hoisin is a sweet and salty sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine. It is a pungent sauce packed with a ton of flavor, so start with less and you can always add more.
To the hoisin, add one tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of sesame seed oil, two cloves of minced garlic, and a teaspoon of ground ginger. To help liven up the flavor of the spices in the hoisin sauce, add a tablespoon or two of rice wine vinegar. Give everything a stir and a quick taste. The sauce should taste salty and a bit spicy. Now it is time develop the sweetness of this sauce. I always taste things before I start adding my sweetener to see where things are at. This is important with the hoisin because it also adds sweetness to the dish, and you don’t want the meatballs tasting like lollipops! Anyway, slowly add the honey in a drizzle at a time, tasting as you go, until the sauce is where you want it. If you desire a bit more salt, add a little more soy sauce. If you want more hoisin flavor, drizzle some more of that in. I ended up with about a tablespoon of honey at the end.
After the meatballs are done cooking, add them to the hoisin sauce, making sure to coat all the meatballs with the sauce, and you are ready to party! I took the entire crockpot to the gathering with me, this way everything stayed nice and warm. To serve the meatballs, sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top.
Meatballs are a great party appetizer. A pound of meat and a few simple ingredients make a deliciously quick treat. They can be served using only toothpicks, so there is no need for utensils or plates. They can also be made in advance and then just added to the crock-pot to heat back up.
These salty and sweet Asian-style meatballs received lots of praise at the party, and no one suspected they were a product of procrastination.