Waikiki Meatballs

I didn’t make a Barbie recipe this week, but I did make a vintage one. When I use my old recipes, I feel connected back to another generation of women. One for whom work was staying at home and keeping house. In another of Cynthia Lawrence’s Barbie novels, Barbie’s New York Summer, Margaret Roberts (Barbie’s mom! She has a name!) says to Barbie, “You’re the one who has an exciting career ahead of you. This is my career.” while gesturing to her attractively furnished living room. On reading that, my heart sank and I shared Garfunkel and Oats’ horrified realization about the moms.

I miss work. I miss coffee and cleaning the whiteboard each morning and meetings. And all the things you do and say to people every day without thinking about it.

 It’s week two of social distancing. Week two of being home and getting dinner on the table every night, unromantic and unexciting. Just a job, like I imagine it was for my grandmother’s generation. For the job of cooking today, I decided to make one of my favorite workaday Betty Crocker recipes. You need ground meat, pineapple nibs, a green pepper, and about 45 minutes.

“Waikiki” Meatballs


For the Meatballs

      • 1 lb ground meat (My grocery store had a “meatloaf blend” in stock this week, but I’ve use ground beef and ground pork on their own with equal success.)
      • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
      • 1/2 small onion, minced
      • 1 egg
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
      • 1/4 cup milk
      • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • For the Rest
      • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
      • 1/2 cup brown sugar
      • 1 eight ounce can of pineapple chunks, juice reserved
      • 1/3 cup vinegar
      • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
      • 1 large green pepper, chopped small. 
      • Rice (for serving, if you want)

Mix meat, breadcrumbs, onion, eggs, salt, ginger, and milk. Shape mixture into balls just a little smaller than the palm of your hand.

Set heat to just over medium and melt the shortening in a large skillet. Arrange meatballs in a single layer on the pan with space in between. (You will probably need to do this step in batches!) Brown one side of the meatball until it ‘releases’ then turn and brown another side. Put a lid on the skillet, reduce heat, and let the meatballs cook through. (You can gently turn them once or twice more during this process if you like.) Remove meatballs and pour off grease. 

Mix cornstarch and sugar. Add pineapple juice, vinegar, and soy sauce. Whisk until smooth. Pour mixture in skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and boiling. Re-add meatballs plus green pepper and pineapple chunks. Stir until warmed through. 

Serve over rice. 

Lately I’m more focused on making meals that are easy, healthy, and good tasting than on broadening my culinary horizons. Cookbooks from the 60s and 70s are the perfect tool toward that end. I love the whole farm to table thing, and I love having adventures with unfamiliar ingredients, but I can’t trust that the grocery store is going to have potatoes in stock right now. I’m definitely not focused on what’s In Season or whether I can approximate za’atar with the spices I already have in my kitchen. I need something reliable and, to be honest, a little boring.

Waikiki meatballs fill that role nicely, as is evidenced by the fact that the recipe can be found replicated on so many cooking blogs (and in so many people’s memories of growing up in the 70s!) If you missed that experience, they’re worth trying out. They’re filling, and they have a nice sweet and sour flavor. Making the balls takes a little effort, but after you’ve done it a few times, it’s not really a big deal.

Extra Tips:

  • Yes, yes you can make extra meatballs and freeze them to use on days that you actually do have a day job and so lack the energy for meal prep. And you should.
  • The meatball recipe is pretty forgiving and flexible. I wrote the recipe as I made it, which was adjusted for a pound of meat and not the 1.5 lb Betty Crocker calls for, and as I mentioned above, any ground meat will do. Her recipe also has cracker crumbs in it, but I substitute bread crumbs because I don’t keep crackers on hand.
  • Also, do you like how the recipe just says “vinegar”? I’ve used white wine, rice wine, and apple cider. I don’t think you can go wrong.
  • I’ve never actually had or used shortening before this go at the recipe! And I only had some because it was leftover from another Barbie recipe. It made absolutely no difference at all, but hey. I was following directions AND not wasting.
  • I cringe a little at the name. The poke bowl place in my local strip mall with the blonde cashier who says poky for poke? Probably more authentically Hawaiian than Waikiki meatballs.

Final Thoughts:

As I was adjusting the recipe to account for having less meat, I realized that I’m probably in a rare minority of adults. I rely on common core math to do basic calculations rather than the algorithms taught while we were in school. I really do miss work.

A sketch of multiplying fractions
It’s visual! It’s easy! It makes the math make sense! (I rounded to 1/2 because measuring cups come in that size.)

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