Secret Savory Meatball Stew Recipe

Fall is in full swing in the Pacific Northwest, and few meals warm the heart and body like a fresh, steaming bowl of Savory Meatball Stew. Find my recipe below.

Three elements are required for a recipe to fall into my gold standard category of favorites, and my Savory Meatball Stew has all of them. First, it must be consistently delicious every single time. Second, it must be easy to make, because let’s face it, a fabulous recipe on a piece of paper is never going to bring joy to anyone’s mouth or body. And third, it must be shared – the dish and the recipe – and here’s why: The reason we consume food, at its basic level, is for nourishment. I’d love to be able to cook for all my friends and family, but since practical resources do not allow for that, the next best thing is to share photos and recipes and feel amazing knowing that my recipes are simple for others to replicate and enjoy.

Every recipe has secrets. Secrets are basically those awesome ingredients or set of steps that were discovered by accident, or lessons learned that make the next batch better. Listing a set of ingredients, without the “secrets” just sets the next person up to possibly get it right and possibly not. I love this recipe and I want you to, so since I’ve made it six times this year already, and I finally hit an absolutely perfect home run, I’m going to share what I learned so your first time is perfection.

Part of an easy recipe for me is something that is simple – that most people could make – possibly with a kitchen shared with little hands. The first secret to this dish is that “less is more.” For vegetables, I only use one small onion (or half a large onion), celery, carrots, potatoes, one small section of garlic, and I like to add one zucchini at the end for color.

You could certainly make this vegan by leaving out the meatballs and using a vegan broth, but my version includes one pound of beef meatballs and beef bone broth.

Now for the true secrets that make this dish to die for! My first secret to perfect Savory Meatball Stew is using beef bone broth for the base. You can buy chicken bone broth, beef bone broth and yes, even vegan bone broth (although, I’m not sure how exactly that’s made). You can make your own, and I have friends who do, but I actually just buy it in a box. It’s a little over $2 a quart at Wal-Mart or about $17 for six quart boxes at Costco. If you don’t feel like fighting the crowds, most grocery stores carry it for about $5 a quart.

My second secret is high quality extra virgin olive oil. This is not about snobbery, but the sad reality is that a lot of olive oil is a mixture of random oils or even rancid. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, but look for a brand you have tasted and trust, or at least comes in a dark bottle, which keeps it fresh longer. For special flavor, I buy artisan oil, but for basic cooking, I buy the big bottle at Costco, and put it in smaller jars with herbs from my own garden. The secret is to add no more than two flavors – lemon peel and rosemary or just garlic. You can Google artisan olive oil for ideas of what to add.

And my third secret for Savory Meatball Stew is truffle zest seasoning. A small amount turns a dish from average to wow! This is especially true when you keep the ingredient list simple enough to use your vegetables for texture and your meat, broth, garlic and truffle zest as the flavor foundation for the stew. You won’t need salt, pepper and whatever random dried herbs are stored in your kitchen cupboard. Now that you have my secrets, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients and directions: (gluten-free and can be modified to be vegan)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

½ large onion, chopped

  • Sauté onion in olive oil to caramelize.

2 cups celery, chopped

1 clove garlic

1 pound of beef meatballs

1 quart of beef bone broth

  • Add celery and minced, peeled clove / section to pan with onions. Continue to sauté.
  • Add one pound beef meatballs. (You can use basic hamburger crumbles but meatballs look and taste better). Brown along with onions, celery, and garlic. Use high heat and turn constantly to get a nice brown without cooking the vegetables to death. This step is all about infusing flavor.
  • Add one box (32 ounces) or one quart of beef bone broth. You can make it or buy it, but try to use bone broth as it’s much more flavorful than regular broth – and it’s healthier. Bonus!
  • Turn down to simmer for about 45 minutes. You want the pot barely bubbling the whole time.

½ teaspoon truffle zest seasoning

  • After 45 minutes add about 2 cups of potatoes. It looks nice to use baby red potatoes but chopped up russets will do the same. I like to add large pieces of potato so they don’t fall apart. This is when you add ½ teaspoon of truffle zest seasoning. There are five flavors our taste buds distinguish: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savory). The best way to think about umami or savory is in the terms of richness. Essentially, the truffle zest adds a savory complexity (which is why you want to keep the other ingredients simple.)

1 zucchini, sliced

  • Five minutes before I ladle up my stew, I like to add thin slices of fresh zucchini. This is as much for color as anything else but also adds a delightful texture to glide your tongue over.

You’re probably wondering about the red wine. It’s completely optional. You can change this recipe to taste more like a beef burgundy by adding red wine – and that too is delicious. Instead of trying it with the entire pot, just add some to one bowl and see what you think. It’s a nice twist. But honestly, I prefer to enjoy my red wine by the glass alongside my Savory Meatball Stew recipe shared above.img_5600img_5599img_5596img_5612img_5602

Embracing the Detour – On the Road & In Life

Like life, road trips don’t always go as planned. But here’s to finding the beauty and value in the detour.

I had a life plan and I absolutely expected to achieve great things. Over the last four decades, I’ve learned that a life plan is not all that different than commencing a road trip using GPS (global positioning system). Without a plan/map, one could drive in circles. With a plan (GPS) what could go wrong?

Driving from Central Washington to the Washington coast during late fall presented two options for the 260-mile trip. The first option was to take a major interstate, across the mountain pass, through the Greater Seattle area, down through Olympia and west to the ocean beaches. The second option included a two-lane highway, more scenic, through a host of small towns, and according to the app on my phone, it was ten miles shorter and ten minutes longer – all roads being perfect and traffic free.

So I decided to take the scenic route, not knowing there was a 20-mile detour around Rimrock Lake, and not knowing the speed limit on the detour was 35 MPH instead of 55 on Highway 12. At first, I enjoyed the detour. The myriad of trees and shrubs beside the lake offered a full rainbow of fall foliage hues. I enjoyed a waterfall, deer, birds and mountain vistas. (I’ve included pictures below.)

At one point, with no cell service, I had no idea if I missed a turn and stayed on the route. There was no one to ask. Just before the detour around the lake ended, I was feeling stressed, impatient and frustrated that the road was so long. I wasn’t even a quarter the way to my destination and I was suddenly asking, “Why did I take this route? I can’t even call anyone or figure out where I am.” And once the detour concluded, I still didn’t have cell service. At one point I almost turned off to Mt. Rainier because the road wasn’t marked well. I started to worry about things that hadn’t happened: what if my car breaks down? What if I hit a deer? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What time will I arrive?

An hour later I stopped at a little motel in a tiny town with no cell reception and asked the clerk if I was on the right road. She confirmed I was and I would be able to access cell service a few towns ahead. GREAT! I totally should have taken the interstate through Seattle, I thought. But then, a mile down the road, I pulled over to find a family of deer. They were magnificent.  I’ve never been so close to large wild animals in their natural habitat. I was awestruck by their beauty.

I did actually get lost in Aberdeen, Wash., and I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to reconfigure my GPS, where I flagged down a police officer. I explained to him that I was lost, and he gave me back road directions straight to my destination.

To make a long story short, none of the things I worried about happened. I enjoyed the most incredible views and took some beautiful fall pictures. I had time to think, pray and cry (which is sometimes very cathartic, especially after what happened this past week at home.) I enjoyed my downloaded music and sang along. And with all my stops, and even getting lost, I arrived in two hours less time than my parents who took the I-90 interstate through Seattle and down I-5. You see, they hit rush hour traffic from Bellevue to Olympia, and crawled more than half their trip.

Twelve years ago, my life took a detour. At first, it was awesome. I enjoyed the slower pace. I enjoyed time with my family and life in a small town. I touched a lot of lives, and honestly, that felt good. It’s affirming to make a difference to someone else, especially someone who is not in a position to return the favor.  But over time, I felt like a hamster on a wheel, spinning and going nowhere. None of my great plans came true. My dreams were dying and while I knew my prayers were heard, I certainly didn’t see or hear any answers. God used me to help others but I didn’t think there was any way I could ever get my life back on track. Doors closed left and right on me, and my personal GPS stopped working. I felt panicky and hopeless. I was surrounded by loads of advice but no one who actually took my hand and said, “Here, let me help you.”

Then it occurred to me. What if my life wasn’t off track?

What if my destination was the same – and I could have taken the back roads with the great scenery, time with my family, the chance to make wonderful friends, and the inspiration to write my first novel, with my personal GPS disabled – or I could have taken the city route and sat in traffic, with my GPS working? What if this life detour that I have been lamenting was actually a hidden treasure?

The truth is – I don’t know how my story turns out. I haven’t arrived at my destination. I’m still traveling. I have faith that God sees and knows a future for me that right now doesn’t look that bright. I have hope that doors will open that right now are still closed.  I trust that my life has mattered beyond just the measure of achieving my own personal/professional goals, plans and hopes. And beyond that I just breathe and stay on the road – pulling over occasionally to marvel at our beautiful world, or to cry. Because even in the midst of struggle, loss, disappointment, and uncertainty, there is beauty. There are reliable friends and kind strangers. There are open windows and indelible views.

We are all traveling. As long as we’re alive, we’re traveling. And the truth is, everyone has detours and most people spend at least some time with their personal GPS disabled. I don’t even know what today holds, let alone tomorrow. But my faith is in the One who does, and I choose to trust that while I may not be able to live the life I planned, I can still live a life that matters and makes a difference. One step and one mile at a time.

Taking In Fall & Toasting Mom

There are moments in life when we hang onto every minute.  The first time I experienced this, I was 19 years old, and leaving my hometown for Washington State University. I had worked part-time at the tennis club since I was in high school and through a year of community college, and it was time to transfer as a junior to WSU. I remember going to the tennis club where I worked, standing out on the balcony where I had stood so many times, and gazing out at the tennis courts on which I had played hundreds of hours of tennis over the years.

I was super excited to go away to college and finish up my Bachelor of Arts at WSU, but a part of me knew that opening one door meant closing another. And I remember breathing in that moment so completely that now, more than twenty years later, I can still close my eyes and conjure up exactly how I felt that day.

The Pacific Northwest is known for our four distinct seasons – although not always equally divided up among the calendar year. Some people love them. Personally, I resonate better with a climate where I can wear shorts and swim outdoors year around. But right now, as summer has ended and fall is in full swing, I know winter is coming. Winters in the Yakima Valley can be severe. Snow. Ice. Unimaginably cold temperatures. Last winter was especially rough.

And so those days when the upper temperatures hit the upper sixties in October, it’s worth drinking in. It’s worth capturing physical and mental pictures, because like the days before I moved to Pullman, I sense life is about to change. And so here in the fruit and vegetable bowl of the nation, when the fall days are sunny and warm, and the evenings require only a light windbreaker, it’s worth appreciating.

Life has seasons too.

Today is a particularly special day for me. I finished the first draft of the final chapter of my first novel. Now the editing begins. It started out as a trilogy, but the books nestled so perfectly and they were on the small side. So instead of three small books, three shorter stories, I’m pulling them together to create one epic story of a how one family transformed in four years. I’ve been working on it since January 17, 2015, although I still do not have a name for it. The book is a special nod to my mom.

Mom and I are in many ways opposites. We see and experience life from very different lenses and that hasn’t always made for agreeable conversations. I wanted to get to know my mom better, and appreciate her more. I wanted to experience life with her in a way that would ensure I wouldn’t live with regrets if the day came where I didn’t have her. So I created one of my protagonists loosely based on her. It would have been impossible to make Harriet so likable and relatable without developing a better understanding of my mom.

Just tonight I called my mom for advice about some pie crust dough that had dried out due to inattention. “How long did you step away from it?” she asked.

“Well, it’s actually for the book,” I said. “Isabelle asks Harriet’s advice and I wasn’t sure how the dialogue should unfold.”

Without missing a beat, mom jumped in: “Throw it away and start over. That’s what Harriet would say.”

I smiled and savored the moment.

Mom and I are still very different, and we still get under each other’s skin from time to time. But I appreciate her and what drives her in a way I never could have without this book. And so, tonight’s wine is a toast to a dear lady who still drives me a little cra-cra, but who I have come to respect, accept and like as much as I’ve always loved – my mom. Here’s to you, mom. And to the changing seasons of life.Patio dinner 2