Generally speaking, I despise chain restaurants. I hate the idea of all that sameness turning America into one big Land of the Bland. It's depressing. I have no desire to ever visit a Ruby Tuesday or a Panera Bread or a Chipotle. Twice I have resorted to Boston Market take out in a pinch, and I felt dirty after. Once, many years ago, I ate at a Red Lobster, and I am still trying to scrub the greasy memory of that overcooked scampi out of my soul. I don't think I'm a food snob (well, maybe a little), but mainly I just don't want to be able to get the exact same thing wherever I go. It's boring and lame.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, for all that ranting I just did, there is one chain restaurant meal I get a guilty jones for now and then, and you have probably guessed it from the title of this post: the Swedish meatballs with gravy and lingonberries at Ikea. There is something so attractive and weird about that plate of pellet-like balls, all nestled together, smothered in flavorless gravy. Maybe it's the novelty. I mean, how many other cafes at big box furniture stores can you think of? Or maybe it's because the whole thing is so darn Swedish. But kind of not. (For the record, they make Poppa Trix sick to his stomach.)
Partly because it annoys me that I like it, and partly because going to crowded stores like that always puts me in a wretched mood, I decided to make my own version of Swedish meatballs in gravy, with a summertime twist. And so I came with these lamb and mint meatballs with saffron cream sauce, topped with dried cranberries and pea shoots. By Jove, I think I've done it:
But I do have a confession to make: I made these so long ago that I meant for them to be called "Springtime Meatballs," and I did that thing ... you food bloggers know that thing I'm talking about. That thing where you say: "Oh, I'll write all the amounts and things down later. Anyway, I'll totally remember what I did." And then you don't write it down, and weeks later when you go to write up the post, you find that the memory ... she ain't what she used to be.
Which is to say that this recipe is very approximate.
I roughly followed Michael Ruhlman's ratio for meatballs: 1 pound of meat (lamb), 1 egg, .25 ounces salt, 1/2 cup diced onion sauteed with a few garlic cloves, 2 slices of bread soaked in milk, squeezed dry, and shredded, a few grinds of black pepper, and 1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs - in this case I used mint. Loosely form the meatballs and dust with flour. In a cast iron skillet, fry them over medium heat in high smoke point oil until brown on all sides.
Remove the meatballs from the skillet and set aside. Deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup white wine and simmer until reduced. Add 1/4 cup chicken stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add a tablespoon or two of butter and 1/4-1/2 cup heavy cream, along with a very healthy pinch of saffron. Taste for seasoning, and if the sauce is too thick add some more chcken stock; if it's too thin keep simmering to reduce. Add the meatballs back into the sauce and baste them, cooking until the meatballs are cooked through.
Serve with a garnish of dried cranberries and pea shoots. Ikea's got nothing on me!