Blackberry Sage Glazed Meatballs

APPETIZER RECIPES- Blackberry Sage Glazed Meatballs

The lovely folks at Driscoll’s sent over some blackberries for me to play with in my kitchen. While their original invitation involved dessert and treats, I kept imagining the winsome combination of blackberry and sage having their way with meatballs. Cocktail meatballs are noted in the annals of party hors d’oeuvres and involve grape jam, so the idea wasn’t entirely farfetched. Rather than using commercial jam, I kept imagining rotund balls of beef or ground turkey slathered in a just-made glaze still kind of chunky from the slightly muddled blackberries mingling with tawny Port.

We eat with our eyes, don’t we? The first batch was a far cry from what I envisioned in my mind’s eye and resembled a practical joke. That first batch  ended up finding their ways into the mouths of some food friends who were being kind and tried my “purple meatballs.” All the while, I heeded a warning that they looked weird but tasted reminiscent of meatballs in a purple tomato sauce. The disquietingly purple hue left much to be desired.  Steph gave a thumbs up on the flavor but let’s be honest, no one outside of an alien planet in the outer reaches of the Milky Way would serve these at a party.

Back to the drawing board I went, tinkering with the ingredient proportions. This time, I struck gold. Purple gold. One down the hatch became four in a mere shadow of minutes for Beck.

Oh yes, shellacked purple gold.

NOTE: Driscoll’s sent me the blackberries for free and all opinions about the culinary dexterity of blackberries are mine.

blackberry sage glazed meatballs




I didn’t use breadcrumbs in the meatballs. To be frank, I wanted to see if breadcrumbs are an imperative in meatballs. No, is a good short answer here. Then again, I know there are purists who chafe at the idea of a meatball not involving pork, beef and veal, but we don’t eat two of those meats. So I encourage you to experiment and use the meat combination that most appeals to your sensibilities and consider ground turkey as another alternative. Batch one didn’t have anything other than the egg and spices for a binder which turned out okay, but I prefer them as laid out below with the almond meal. I think of it as an extra touch of protein and a bit of textural intrigue, not to mention they’re gluten free.

YIELD: 20 meatballs
TIME: 45 minutes

  • 1-inch knob ginger root, minced and divided (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 shallot, minced and divided (4 tablespoons)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 sage leaves, minced
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1/8 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ cup tawny Port
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • Pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Add ½ tablespoon of minced ginger, 1 tablespoon of minced shallots, egg and almond meal to ground beef. Mix with hands until well combined. Then form into small meatballs and place on lightly greased roasting pan. There should be 20 meatballs. Place in oven to cook for 25 minutes, turning meatballs halfway through their cooking time.
  3. Saute the remaining shallots, ginger and garlic in a pan with the olive oil until lightly brown. Then add the sage and cook for another minute. In a large glass with a muddler, slightly muddle blackberries not until they are mushy. Then add muddled blackberries and salt to the pan and add the Port. Stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Stir in chicken stock after about five minutes and let cook on low heat for about five minutes more or until thickened.
  4. Remove the meatballs gently with tongs. Place them into the large pan with blackberry sage glaze. Spoon the sauce over the meatballs and let simmer for five minutes, turning the meatballs gently.
  5. Serve hot and make sure to scoop any remaining sauce from the pan onto the meatballs in your serving dish or bowl.




costa rica recipe for gallos

On this particular day, we decided to head to Playa Guiones.

The sun felt like it had been high in the sky for hours as it poked through the slats of the wooden shutters at 8:30 a.m. Outside, the chitter and chirp of birds filtered in with the sunlight, letting us know morning had descended. We swung our legs out of the bed and pattered down the cool tiled staircase. Before settling into a bowl of yogurt and muesli, I assaulted the front door, my bare feet slapping the tiles. Costa Rica gives a cheery good morning in technicolor sight and sound. Breakfast tucked in, my book and I settled into the porch hammock, lazily swinging as my foot kicked off the sturdy wooden column. Soon, Nathan joined me on the porch, in a neighboring rocking chair with a cup of coffee and his book. Then came Tia Berta, Mama, Michael.

The first few days we stayed close to our house, venturing out to find the local internet cafe run by an Italian expat and his grandmother. Playa Pelada with its rock shelves to the west and gentle waves was a short walk from the house. We had found body-surfing to be our new beck and call, even as our skin went from sun-kissed to sun-sore. Out we would walk onto the graveled path, turning left and walking by a row of bright pink hibiscus bushes in bloom. On the left ran the large family farm with wild chickens and turkeys running the grounds, inside of the makeshift fence of barbed wire and cacti. Sometimes we’d find a black buzzard or two sitting atop the large communal garbage tins near the mouth to the beach, perched to dip down into the refuge. It was on this same path, we caught a sight of monkeys hurtling from branch to branch, deep in the treetop. That day, we had stopped to watch them scratch and call, their long tails wrapping around branches as leverage.

Through the mouth to the top of the beach, the roar of the surf invited us in. The sight was too beautiful for words, one of those heart-achingly beautiful examples of color and creation. Michael , a few days prior, had begun exploring the tide pools and proudly dangled a large slug on his forefinger as part of his findings, later to be replaced by a stick with an inky blue slug flecked with turquoise and goldenrod.

Here, we surrendered to those childlike tendencies to discover and be fascinated by the natural world. Here, we turned off the regular world and became appraiser and appreciators of all that we encountered.

And this day, we decided to go to Playa Guiones.

Just on the other side of our part of the island, this beach was known for its surfing, for its waves and the teeming humanity. Off we set with beach bag on shoulder, floppy hat on head tracing our way along Playa Pelada, past a popular tica soda and then past the more posh La Luna restaurant. We walked in the wet sand watching the black buzzards in the barren tree right before the secret passageway to Playa Guiones. It wasn’t really secret, but you sure had to look for the topsy-turvy rock steps cutting up the hill. Up we walked through a path in the middle of a field with flowering plants and tall grass. We continued walking until we caught sight of the surf through the low branches of the trees clinging to the sandy earth.  Days later, this would be my eye-foraging ground trying to capture on film the scuttling sand crabs with little success.

In the distance, we could see pinpoints of color, the peopled places to which we began walking. All of us commented how much busier this beach was in contrast to Playa Pelada. We set up camp inside a hut made of wooden planks and thatched roof of palm branches- a refuge for those not wanting anymore sun. Michael and I ventured out into the water with Tia Berta and found the water temperature at first startling, but soon comfortably warm. We jumped as the waves rolled our way, letting them carry us out further. For the larger ones, we dove into the wave, often feeling the power of their pull only slightly. I had successfully overcome my little known kid fear of open water, of what might be lurking underneath, wooed instead by the fun, becoming a salty girl.

The water, the people nearby also taking on the ocean surf contributed to my growing excitement of getting into the water, but part of it also included the conversations Michael and I had, that Tia Berta and I had. In the water, we spent hours talking and hopping up, letting the water wash us with round upon round of its own slobbery kiss as the sun shone down on us in assent.

At some point, our hunger became more than our need to stay in the water, so out of the ocean we walked, each step dripping into wet sand, then dry hot sand and into the soft brushiness of terry cloth.

Hat back on head, tunic covering up, we began our trek into the town off of the playa. We agreed that this part of the island was much more touristy as we began passing a stand of handmade wooden baubles an American expat put out to sell. The streets sprang up with dust anytime a car would careeen by on those uneven streets. We passed the Harmony Hotel, later a vegan cafe, a yoga clothing store, an ice cream stand. We found ourselves in a bustling expat haven. Up the road we walked toward a restaurant Tia Berta had heard about from an Argentine woman named Lucretia of the inky blue slug discovery the day before.

Many times in life, you’re headed one place and end up some place you didn’t expect. This was certainly one of those days. The sun at this time felt scorching in temperature and brightness. As our stomachs rumbled, the sticky clothing and my burned skin singed as a reminder to get out of the sun. Up ahead we saw a giant lodge to the right that boasted of its mixed drinks and to the left, we saw a small casual restaurant, Rosi’s Tica Soda with a friendly and somewhat Cambodian feel of a carved wooden roof. Our curiosity piqued, we headed toward Rosi’s to check out their menu. This open-air restaurant was small and populated with table upon table of plates of food that inspired our hunger to speak its approval in low rumbles. We sipped cool drinks and ordered our food from a woman wearing a smock and knowing smile as she listened to us ask our questions and point out our selections. On the menu, I found something called a “gallo” which means rooster in Spanish, but which she described as tortilla with your choice of filling, lettuce, tomato and special sauce. She had sold me.

When my gallo came out, it resembled a taco with more of a party inside. Two corn tortillas are required to hold the contents, and actually make it easier to hold than a taco with its typical dripping. In the Mission district in San Francisco, most taquerias serve tacos with two tortillas stacked on top of each other, small in size but juices dripping every which way, leaving fingers sauced. How ingenius to stack the tortillas slightly askew! I ordered the Gallo con Carne con Salsa and a Gallo con Pollo. I shared one of the Gallos with Nathan and found myself sufficiently full.

But not too full to take in a dip of homemade Chili Chocolate ice cream for the long walk back home. Playa Guiones did not disappoint and would call us back for more soon enough.

COSTA RICAN RECIPES- Gallos de Carne con Salsa Lizano




YIELD: 4 Gallos

  • Carne con Salsa
  • 8 corn tortillas
  • 1 head of green lettuce
  • 2 Roma tomatoes
  • Salsa Lizano or Salsa Alfaro

1. Prepare the carne con salsa according to the recipe. Omit the potatoes when making your gallos. You can enjoy them on the side or at another meal.

2. Chop your lettuce into short strips and chop up your tomatoes.

lettuce and tomatoes
3. Gather your tortillas and begin warming them right before the Gallos are ready, keeping them covered by a folded napkin to keep warm. The trick to warming tortillas are several. Here are several I use with ease.

corn tortillas
a.) Microwave- if you have a microwave, get two paper towels and sprinkle them with a bit of water. Do not drench the paper towel with water, but you do want to make sure it is somewhat wet. Place your tortilla inside so the slightly wet paper towels are covering both sides. Heat for 30 seconds and you’ll have a pliable, steamed tortilla.
b.) Toaster Oven- ours has a toast feature that I turn onto medium toast, since we don’t have a microwave.
c.) Range top- you can always put your tortilla on a pan over medium to low flames. Make sure you’re staying attentive as the tortilla will start to smoke a little bit when it’s time to turn it over.
d.) Mama has a nifty grate especially for heating tortillas. The slits in it allow different parts of the tortilla to crisp. A little bit of steam or bubbling in the tortilla let you know it’s time to flip it to the other side and do likewise.

(See which of these work for you. You do want to stay vigilant though, so don’t wander away from your tortilla-warming. If you have a preferred tortilla-warming technique, please share it in the comments section.)

4. After the tortillas have been warmed, place the tortillas slightly on top of each other on a plate and then add either 1/4 cup lettuce strips down first or 1/4 cup of meat down.

gallos from costa rica

5. If you spooned on the meat first, then go ahead and add the lettuce and tomatoes. Don’t forget to drizzle salsa Lizano or salsa Alfaro on the gallos (or you can serve at the table).
6. Enjoy immediately.




Tita’s Carne con Salsa

MEXICAN RECIPES- Carne con Salsa

“My memories of Tita are unfortunately fuzzy.”

I made this comment to Mom as she drove me to the airport last weekend.

“I don’t think it’s that you’ve forgotten them completely, but you went through a lot early on in your life and sometimes that’s the body’s way of living through the difficulties. The memories will come back to you.”

I come from a long line of women who have learned to make lemonade from lemons.

My grandmother, Tita, which is short for abuelita in Spanish, stepped into her father’s role as director of the telephone company after he passed away, something rather unheard of at the time. While most women took care of hearth and home, she became a working woman. Yet deep inside of her, she longed to marry and have children of her own. And the story of this dream coming to fruition is for another day. When she and Tito journeyed up north to the United States, they found themselves in somewhat dire straits. Their story of survival and adjustment is probably woven into the fabric of most immigrant stories just as their sacrifice could be associated with that of most parents.

Mom, their eldest child was a bit of a terror. Headstrong and stubborn from a young age, she was every part the neighborhood rabble-rouser and leader of adventures and escapades. Not much has changed in that regard. She gave her parents a run for their money and Tito doted on Mom. I think in her he saw his own headstrong thread which bound them together. Living in South Texas during this period, the opportunities for immigrants were not many and they scraped by, living off of love and resourcefulness.

This carne con salsa recipe is testament to that plucky attitude of Tita’s. Mom told me Tita used to make this on a weekly basis. She would use whatever meat was stickered on sale as the foundation for this easy, filling entree. Recently when we were in Costa Rica, eating Gallos con Carne con Salsa, Mama remarked the flavor of it reminded her of Tita’s recipe.

If you think about the place taste holds in the memory, it might be the second most powerful way to remember after smell. That said, smell ties into taste as best evidenced when eating with a cold. One bite of this mixture of beef with tomatoes, of sweated onions and grilled peppers and Mom was transported back to a dinner table in a place not so far but quite different from this Central American lunch table.

My interpretation of Tita’s recipe actually doesn’t use peppers, though you can add one in if you so choose. In the few times that I’ve made this at home, Beck has gone back for seconds. That’s when I know I’ve found a keeper.

You’ll find this something easy to throw together on a Sunday afternoon and the flavors get better the next day as they coalesce. The sauce in my version is more sticky than a traditional salsa and I admit you could add in more water to get a thinner consistency, but the current version will have you licking the spoon for those errant stray bits.

carne con salsa recipe


Tita’s Carne con Salsa

  • 4 small potatoes
  • 1 medium Spanish onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil
  • 8 ounces can tomato sauce
  • 1 pound meat (I go for grassfed & organic when possible)
  • Dash of cracked black pepper
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/3 cup water plus 1 tablespoon

1. Dice the onion and the garlic. Pour the oil in a wide mouthed pan and set on medium high heat. Add in diced onion, garlic, cracked black pepper and salt. Saute for 4 minutes or until onion begins to look translucent.

onion flower

diced onions & garlic
2. While the onion mixture is cooking, wash the potatoes in a colander. Then slice them into rounds.

sliced potato rounds
3. On another cutting board reserved for meat, slice the meat into bite-sized cubes.
4. Add the entire contents of the tomato sauce to the onion mixture.
5. Brown meat and half cook it for about a few minutes.

carne con salsa

6. Add in water and place a potato round atop each meat chunk. The steam will cook the potatoes. If you have extra potatoes and no more meat, just scatter the potatoes in the sauce below. Cover. Cook for 25 minutes over medium heat.

7. Serve with warmed corn tortillas.

~ Makes 4 servings


carne con salsa over mashed potatoes

Serving Variation: You could serve this over carrot puree or mash the cooked potatoes with stewed carrots & leeks for a tasty winter variation on a roast or stew. (Note the photo of the variation above used 1/3 cup water instead of 1/2 cup for a thicker sauce and slightly charred consistency. We liked it just fine, but you want to make sure you get the liquid proportioning to your tastes.)