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'Miracle' meatballs shake up the routine

Thank you, Alton Brown.

Sure, The Food Network chef may be geeky -- weird, even -- but he is my new favorite person. Well, my new second-favorite person, right behind that Super Nanny woman on TV.

No, he didn't convince my 3-year-old to stay in the cart at the grocery store. It's bigger than that. He tricked my kids into eating a vegetable.

To be honest, it was only a small amount of a vegetable. A very, very small amount. And, since Brown wasn't actually at the table with us, he didn't do the tricking. But my kids consumed something green and I am happy.

What was the miracle dish?

Meatballs. Not just any meatballs. Brown's version of this old standby is anything but routine. His recipe calls for a mix of ground pork, lamb and beef, plus half a box of frozen spinach.

Yes, spinach. It sounds like an odd addition, but it's just one of several seemingly strange things that make this recipe work.

I chose these meatballs -- Brown dubbed them Great Balls of Meat -- because they seemed like something the whole family would eat. For once, I wouldn't be stuck preparing two or even three separate meals, catering to everyone's likes and dislikes. (Yes, I know, Super Nanny says not to do this).

Shopping was a breeze. I went to the store and bought everything the recipe called for, right down to the dried herbs, which I normally don't like to use. I figured I had better stick to the recipe. After all, this is the dish that would save my children from scurvy (or whatever it is you get when you don't eat vegetables).

I didn't have trouble finding the ingredients, but some of our testers did. One even resorted to grinding his own lamb. I found ground lamb in the freezer case of O'Brien's Market.

Some testers questioned the recipe's quirks. Why weigh the meatballs on a scale? I used a tablespoon measuring scoop and it worked out fine.

I did come to appreciate the beauty of cooking the meatballs in a mini-muffin pan, though. It keeps them from rolling around on a baking sheet. Why didn't I think of this?

Another unusual thing about the recipe: coating the meatballs with bread crumbs. It's a little different, but I suspect it helped them stay moist in the oven. It also made for a nice crunch.

We served the meatballs without sauce (the recipe didn't call for one -- another odd thing), alongside rice pilaf and broiled tomatoes. Yes, I knew there was no way the kids would eat those. But they did eat the meatballs, spinach and all.

Now, if Super Nanny would just help me with the shopping cart ...

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at kmccray@modbee.com.

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