The Little Engine that Could is an illustrated children‘s book that was first published in the United States of America in 1930 by Platt & Munk. The story is used to teach children the value of optimism and hard work. Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.
The story’s “signature phrases” such as “I think I can” first occurred in print in a 1902 article in a Swedish journal. An early published version of the story, “Story of the Engine that Thought It Could“, appeared in the New York Tribune, 8 April 1906, as part of a sermon by the Rev. Charles S. Wing.
I thought of the little engine that could when I took my first-ever (and thus far only!) trip to an Ikea store last year with our son, daughter-in-law, and perfect little granddaughter. After having heard many friends wax rhapsodic about the Swedish Meatball lunch available in the Ikea cafeteria, that is what I ordered — and after two deliciously yummy bites, I knew then and there I was going to have to try and replicate this yummy-ness at home.
As Wikipedia tells us:
A meatball is made from an amount of ground meat rolled into a small ball, sometimes along with other ingredients, such as breadcrumbs, minced onion, spices, possibly eggs and herbs. Meatballs are usually prepared and rolled by hand, and are cooked by frying, baking, steaming, or braising in sauce.
In Sweden, köttbullar (meatballs) are made with ground beef or a mix of ground beef, pork and sometimes veal, sometimes including breadcrumbs soaked in milk, finely chopped (fried) onions, some broth and often including cream. They are seasoned with white pepper or allspice and salt. Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with gravy, boiled potatoes, lingonberry jam, and sometimes fresh pickled cucumber.Traditionally, they are small, measuring one inch in diameter. In the United States, there are a number of variations, based on the assimilation of Swedes in the Midwest.
Like the little train engine, I just kept telling myself “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” 😉
From my experience in the Ikea cafeteria, I was fairly certain I could replicate the yummy, rich-tasting gravy by adding in some light sour cream. I also thought it would be equally tasty made with either extra-lean ground beef or turkey.
After some Googling, I came across two recipes that, I felt, could serve as a springboard inspiration for me to replicate those yummy flavors on my own — one is an Alton Brown recipe and the other is a delightful account and recipe posted at Simply Recipes by Elise Bauer.
But I never got around to making them.
Several weeks ago, ‘though, I was craving something different, yet comforting, and I decided to give Swedish Meatballs a try. I used a combination of extra lean (93/7) ground turkey and ground turkey sausage because that’s what I had on hand, but it would be equally yummy made with extra lean (93/7) ground beef and reduced fat pork sausage.
I prefer to bake my meatballs in the oven because 1) it’s a leaner cooking method, 2) for me, it’s easier to ensure the meatballs keep their shape, and 3) once they’re shaped and in the oven, I can tend to other things while they bake.
Do these taste exactly like the meatballs from Ikea? Neigh 😉 of course not. (Forgive me, but I simply could not resist the punny opportunity.)
But are they yummy?
Oh, you betcha!
So go on, next time you’re wanting some Swedish Meatballs, give this recipe a try — it’s so yummy, you’ll feel happy inside! (Go on, take 60 seconds from your day and watch — you know you want to!)
Swedish Meatballs (Serves 4 to 6)
- 1 pound extra lean (93/7) ground turkey (or ground beef)
- 1/2 pound lean ground turkey sausage (or reduced fat pork sausage)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Splash (tablespoon or two) of milk
- Splash of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 slices sandwich bread, finely torn or whizzed through a food processor (I used slices of WhiteWheat bread because that’s what I had on hand, but virtually any soft sandwich bread will do)
- 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
- 1/4 to 1/2 finely chopped onion
- Coarse ground black pepper to taste
- Light sprinkling of allspice (just a hint!)
- Light sprinkling of nutmeg (just a hint!)
- 3 cups (eyeball it) beef stock* (If you prefer to use chicken stock, add a beef bouillon cube to the stock to enrich the flavor and enhance the color)
- 3 – 4 tablespoons all purpose flour shaken/whisked until smooth with about 1/4 cup water
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup (eyeball it) reduced fat sour cream
*Note: Through reading labels, I’ve realized that I can get a beef or chicken stock that is lower in sodium than even the reduced-sodium broths. Read nutrition labels and compare!
- In a non-stick skillet (the same one you’ll finish the meatballs in), melt the butter over medium heat and cook the onion until it’s softened. Let cool slightly.
- While the cooked onion cools, in a medium to large bowl, lightly beat egg. Add in bread crumbs, splash of Worcestershire, and splash or two of milk. Season to taste with some coarse ground black pepper, nutmeg, and allspice. (Remember, go easy on the seasonings, most especially the nutmeg and allspice — you want just the barest hint of their flavor in the background. You can always add in more seasoning, but you can’t take it back out!)
- Stir onion into bread crumb and egg mixture.
- Mix the ground meat and ground sausage into the bread crumb mixture. Add additional seasonings if needed. (Alton Brown uses a mixer to combine it all.)
- Lightly oil or spray a baking sheet. Shape the meat mixture into small meatballs (Alton recommends they be approximately an ounce in size, which is small, but not minuscule.)
- Bake meatballs in oven (no need to preheat) until they are browned and cooked through (about 30 minutes at 375F, 45 minutes at 350F, or an hour at 325F; your oven may vary).
- In the same skillet in which you sauteed the onion, bring three or so cups of stock (broth) to a boil. Whisk/shake together the flour and water (I shake mine up in a small jar saved just for this purpose.) Stirring vigorously and continuously, pour the flour/water mixture into the stock. Boil for one minute. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring as needed to prevent sticking, to thicken. (Remember that gravy will also thicken some more upon standing.)
- Steadily whisk/stir in reduced fat sour cream (you need to whisk/stir steadily to keep the sour cream from curdling). Add in meatballs and enjoy! Traditional accompaniments are mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce, but cranberry sauce can do in a pinch.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
God aptit! 😉