A month or so ago, my mom and I went to the big city 😉 (Tyler, TX — http://www.tylertexas.com/) for some shopping…and, of course, we also treated ourselves to lunch while we were out. While we both try to eat healthily — who do you think I got the “eating healthy” and cooking and baking bugs from? 😉 — we do sometimes indulge. So when we stopped for lunch at Applebee’s, I found myself unable to resist the decadent deliciousness of what their menu described as one of their new offerings:
Stuffed Meatball Sandwich
Provolone stuffed meatballs braised in marinara sauce with a hint of crushed red pepper and served on a toasted hoagie roll with a rich Parmesan cheese sauce. Served with spicy marinara on the side for dipping.
Oh my word, it was decadently good. But alas, it’s not nutritionally the best thing for me, coming in at a whopping 1,090 calories, according to the nutritional information on their website (http://www.applebees.com/).
I won’t scare you — or myself — any further with the details of the nutritional components that comprise those calories. All I can say is, I’m very, very, VERY glad I’d eaten a light breakfast that morning and that, according to my pedometer, I logged in nearly 11,500 steps that day.
And by the way, I’m not knocking Applebee’s — they have other choices that are more nutritionally sound; I just decided to “indulge” on that particular day.
Ever since that lunch, I’ve been craving that delicious cheesy meatball sandwich, but I don’t want all those calories. So I’m going to try and replicate those great flavors that I loved while shaving off as much of the not-so-good for me calories from fats and carbs that I can. I plan on accomplishing this through my tried and true method of controlling the quality of the ingredients and implementing lean cooking methods.
Toward that end, I’m making our meatballs from 93/7 lean ground turkey (160 calories, 8 grams of fat in a 4 ounce portion); 93/7 lean ground beef (170 calories, 8 grams of fat in a 4 ounce portion) will work just fine, too — it’s just that I already had some ground turkey that was thawed, but my ground beef is frozen. I’m adding in some finely diced/chopped veggies in the meatball mixture to add moisture, texture, flavor, and a bit more nutrition to the lean meatball mixture. One can stuff the meatballs with cheese and/or simply add a thin slice of smoked provolone cheese on the sandwich (80 calories per slice of cheese). I just finished making up 16 meatballs, and it only took a couple (as in two!) ounces of cubed part-skim mozzarella cheese to stuff them — meatballs are relatively small, so you can only fit a small cube of cheese in the middle.
I’m baking the meatballs in a lightly sprayed or oiled pan. The buns I’m using tonight are Oroweat Specialty Steak Rolls (180 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, and 34 grams of carbs per roll). Good quality French bread, Italian bread, or baguettes, sliced into sandwich portions, could also be used. To keep the bread from getting soggy, I’m going to spread a very thin layer (a teaspoon or maybe two) of Country Crock calcium-fortifed Shedd Spread (soft tub margarine) on the roll and lightly toasting it.
I’ll heat up some seasoned tomato sauce (basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, parsley, sprinkling of onion and garlic powders and red pepper flakes, splash of Worcestershire sauce, and maybe a wee splash of red wine — but NO ADDED FAT) to use as the “marinara” sauce. I also plan on sautéing some sliced onion and green bell pepper strips in a lightly oiled or sprayed non-stick skillet to go on top of the sandwich. If I had some mushrooms, I’d add in a few of those, as well. Add an optional sprinkling of grated Parmesan, and I’m hoping I’ll think “Mamma Mia! Now that’s a meatball sandwich!” Served with a simple green salad, we’ll have a tasty, satisfying meal sans many of the calories, carbs, and fat of the restaurant version — but that smells yummy enough that even Joey from “Friends” will like it 😉
Cheesy Meatball Sandwich (Will make 4 to 5 sandwiches, depending upon the appetite being fed)
For the meatballs:
- 1 pound lean (93/7) ground beef or ground turkey
- 1 egg or equivalent in egg substitute, lightly beaten
- 1/2 to 1 stalk celery, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- 1/8 to 1/4 onion, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- 1/2 to 1 carrot, finely chopped or whizzed up in food processor
- NOTE ABOUT THE FINELY CHOPPED/DICED VEGGIES: Use any combo of what you like and have on hand. If you have some mushrooms on hand, add in some of those. If you don’t have celery or carrot, don’t sweat it.
- Splash of red wine or milk
- Bread or cracker crumbs as needed (I used one slice of sandwich wheat whole grain bread and some Italian bread crumbs)
- Seasonings to taste: basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, parsley, garlic powder and/or minced garlic, red pepper flakes, splash of Worcestershire sauce, and a wee sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, if desired
For the Sandwiches:
- Sandwich rolls, French bread, or baguette
- Warmed tomato sauce, seasoned to taste: basil, oregano, Italian seasoning, parsley, sprinkling of onion and garlic powders and red pepper flakes, splash of Worcestershire sauce, and maybe a wee splash of red wine (NOTE: You could also use some of your favorite canned or jarred pre-prepared spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce)
- Cheese, sliced or shredded (or cubed, if you want to include in the center of the meatball, ‘though the center could be filled with shredded cheese or part of a slice of cheese, folded to fit in the center) — suggest smoked provolone and/or part-skim mozzarella
- Sautéed sliced onion, green bell pepper strips, and/or mushrooms, if desired
- In a medium-sized bowl, lightly beat egg. Add in bread crumbs/cracker crumbs (start off with less than you’ll think you need — say the equivalent of a slice of sandwich bread — you can always add in more), seasonings, finely chopped/diced veggies of choice, and splash of wine or milk.
- Gently mix in meat. Add in additional seasonings, liquid, and/or bread/cracker crumbs as needed.
- Shape into 16 meatballs. To fill meatballs with cheese, flatten out the meat in the palm of your hand, fill the center with less than 1/4 ounce of cheese (a cube, mound of grated, or folded sliced cheese), and shape meatball around cheese.
- Place meatballs in lightly sprayed or oiled pan. Bake at 350F/375F until done, anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. If needed, turn meatballs just about halfway through baking to ensure they are browned/crisped on all sides.
To assemble sandwiches:
- Season and heat sauce.
- Slice and sauté veggies in a lightly sprayed or lightly oiled non-stick skillet. OR, you could even grill the veggies, if you wanted to.
- Spread sandwich bread lightly with a wee bit of margarine or olive oil and toast or grill lightly (this will help keep the sandwich from getting soggy).
- Place meatballs on sandwich. Top with some warmed tomato sauce and sautéed or grilled veggies. If there is no cheese in the meatballs — or if, like my hubby (who is a tall, slender drink of water with a healthy appetite), you just want extra cheese — include some grated or sliced cheese (suggest smoked provolone or part-skim mozzarella) along the bottom of the bread, before putting on the meatballs, or on top of the meatballs, or on top of the veggies and sauce — whatever makes you happy.
- Sprinkle sandwich with a wee bit of grated Parmesan, if desired.