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Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

I believe that childhood should be magical.

I want my children to believe in Santa Claus and feel a swell of excitement when they walk into the living room on Christmas morning. That’s a feeling that gives me eager goosebumps to remember.

I want my children to eagerly await the tooth fairy and to believe that Mommy has to power to banish monsters from their room. I want my children to believe that wishes can come true.

Because I believe there is magic all around us.

I’m not talking about magic in the Harry Potter sense or even in the pulling a rabbit out of a hat sense. But magic in each of our abilities to make unbelievable things happen for each other. Magic in surprises and unexpected treats. Magic happens because we make it happen.

So, when I showed my son how to make a wish on a wishbone, and he wished for a motorcycle, I decided I would make his wish come true. And when he comes home to find the large metal motorcycle decoration hanging on the wall above his bed, I’m going to pretend to know nothing about it. Let him believe in granted wishes and a little magic.

Someday my children will reason these things out for themselves. They’ll realize that it was Daddy who meticulously scattered cookie crumbs on the kitchen table; not Santa’s sloppy eating. They’ll know it was Mommy who purchased and hung the motorcycle on the wall; not some mysterious wish genie. They’ll discover that the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and Santa Claus don’t exist; at least not in the physical sense.

But in return, I hope they’ll learn that the spirit of giving, generosity, and hope they represent is very real indeed. We’ll teach them to share the spirit of those myths in their lives, the way we shared it with them. We’ll teach them to spread the magic.

This chicken salad is the product of the chicken leftover from making the Italian Wedding Soup broth. It’s a fantastic way to use leftover chicken, but would be totally worth cooking a chicken from scratch just to make! Sweet, savory, crunchy…magically delicious!

And when you get to that wishbone in the chicken, don’t forget to make a wish! Who knows…someone may be waiting to make your wish come true!

Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 1/3 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pecan, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients until well blended. Serve on thick, doughy slices of sourdough bread.

Snickers Caramel Apple Dip

Last year, I wanted to be a bumble bee for halloween. I was a few months pregnant at the time and thought it would be cute to be a big, round bumble bee. But the only costume I could find was for a “sexy bumble bee”. When did bumble bees become sexy??

So, I let the boys pick my costume instead. They picked out a cowgirl costume. It didn’t say it on the package, but it was a “sexy cowgirl” costume. I had to wear it with a pair of jeans underneath.

Seriously, when did Halloween become a holiday for dressing in expensive, provocative clothing?? I object! Bring back the cheap, plastic ET, Darth Vater, and Strawberry Shortcake masks or the homemade scarecrow, bum, and clown costumes (the funny kind of clown…not the creepy kind).

The older two boys are dressing as ghostbusters for halloween. They know the theme song. I giggle every time they sing it and wait with eager anticipation for the part when they scream, I ain’t afraid of no ghost,which follows an extended period of them singing, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do.

My husband has been assigned the role of “ghost”. If I’d been thinking, I would have ordered myself a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costume…the regular version, not the “sexy” one.

While my husband takes my two little ghostbusters around the neighborhood to collect their treats, my sister will hang at home with me and my littlest munchkin to pass out candy to the ghosts, ghouls, and miscellaneous sexy bugs who come to my door. We’ll be dining on Connecticut Supper and snacking on this sweet dip; a perfect way to use up some of those extra Snickers bars you may have on hand after tonight’s festivities!

Happy Halloween, my friends!

Have fun. Be safe. And by all means, eat more candy than you ought to. 

Snickers Caramel Apple Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce bar cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons prepared caramel dip
  • 1/4 cup finely diced nuts (walnuts or peanuts)
  • 6-7 fun-sized Snickers bars, chopped
  • Sliced apples

Directions

Combine the cream cheese with 2 tablespoons of caramel and the chopped nuts, until well-blended. Spread the mixture into the bottom of a serving dish. Spread the remaining caramel on top of the cream cheese layer. Top with chopped Snickers. Serve at room temperature with freshly-sliced apples.

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

My dog is regressing in his old age. Only his behavior is becoming so much worse than when he was a puppy. And it’s a lot less cute.

Amongst an assortment of other undesirable hobbies, which he has taken up in his senior retirement days, my dog has become a garbage-picker. He first taught himself how to nudge open the lid of the can in order to drag out each item, tear it into shreds and scatter it throughout the house. And let me tell you, the last thing you want to find when you walk into the house with 15 bags of perishable groceries and three cranky children, is a house covered in shredded bits of garbage.

So, we bought a garbage can with a lever-controlled lid, which he taught himself how knock over in order to complete his garbage scavenging mission.

We then decided to abandon the garbage can completely, in lieu of a plastic bag hanging on the doorknob, which we could easily throw into the garage before leaving the house. (He never fails to notice if we forget to throw the bag in the garage.)

In the absence of garbage to go through, he jumps up and pulls items out of the sink to lick clean; glasses, storage containers, cookware. You name it. I had to see it to believe it. This massive dog, with bad hips, jumping upright to pick through the sink. The force of motivation is strong within this one.

So, we learned to become diligent about making sure the sink is empty before leaving the house. But, as you may have guessed, he finds other mischief to get into, namely wrapped packages of food on the countertops. Say, an entire package of hamburger buns or a string-tied box of bakery cookies. Or perhaps a clean wooden spoon from my cookware canister. Are you beginning to understand how time-consuming it’s become to leave the house for even the simplest errand?? And this is on top of preparing three young children!

And now, his acts of mischief have become so brazen, or perhaps his brain is just slowly melting into a state of pure self-satisfaction. For lately, he runs straight to the garbage or jumps up to sink the very moment a door in the house closes. It doesn’t even matter if the house is still full of other people. A door closes and he heads straight to the kitchen to engage in his mischief. Seriously, buddy? I’m standing right here! At least show me the respect of waiting until I leave.

My fuzzy, senile friend is lucky he’s so good with the kids.

Speaking of the kids, I made them these cake pops. Cause the boys are totally into anything gross and spooky these days. Aren’t they cute? Cute and a bit time consuming to make. But, totally worth it for the perfectly creepy final product. They’re made with bright red velvet cake and have a fruit gusher candy nestled into the center to make them extra gross. I couldn’t wait to pack these disturbingly delicious treats into my sons’ lunch boxes for a surprise treat which would evoke shrieks from their tables of little friends at school.

Except, my dog; my darling, elderly dog; ate the cake pops, which I’d falsely believed were safe in the very center of the dining room table, surrounded by a barricade of heavy chairs. He ate every hand-crafted cake pop. Leaving a trail of chewed lollipop sticks scattered throughout the house as evidence of his misdeed.

Want to know the kicker?

He ate the cake pops while I was dragging the three kids out in the rain to pick up the dog food we needed for his dinner.

I wonder if he shrieked as he bit into the gushy center…

Learn from my mistake, dear friends. Make these cake pops, but be sure to store them in a place where your fuzzy friends are unable to help themselves.

Spooky Eyeball Cake Pops

Ingredients

  • 1 13×9 inch red velvet cake
  • 1 16-ounce container of cream cheese frosting (you won’t use it all)
  • Approximately 48 Gushers candies (available near the fruit roll-ups and fruit snacks)
  • About 4 dozen lollipop sticks
  • Approximately 4 cups white candy melts
  • Approximately 1/2 cup red candy melts
  • Approximately 48 gummi Lifesavers candies
  • Approximately 48 mini M&M candies

Directions

Prepare the cake pops according to the step by step directions found HERE. Insert a Gusher candy into the center of each ball as you roll.

Dip each frozen cake pop into melted white candy melts. Adhere a gummi Lifesaver to the pop while the white candy is still soft. Stand the pops upright in a piece of styrofoam until the candy has hardened. Place a small amount of the melted white candy into a small baggie. Cut off the tip of one of the corners of the baggie. Use the baggie to squeeze a bit of candy “glue” into the center of each gummi lifesaver. Place a mini M&M into the candy glue. Allow to dry. Melt the red candy melts according to package directions. Use a toothpick or fine-tip paint brush to give the eyeballs a bloodshot appearance. Store at room temperature for a few days.

Gusher center and candy decorations inspired by Confessions of a Cookbook Queen.

A few more cake pop hints and tips:

  • You can prepare the cake pops up to adhering the balls to the lollipop sticks and freeze them until you’re ready to dip and decorate. You can then dip and decorate a small batch at a time and leave the other pops in the freezer for later (or for when you dog eats all of the other cake pops).
  • If your candy melts are too thick for dipping, try stirring in a small amount of solid vegetable shortening.
  • Make sure not to introduce any liquid while melting the candies, which can ruin the candy’s meltability. Keep bowls and spoons dry throughout the melting process.
  • Dip the cake pops right up the the stick. The hardened candy will help the cake balls to remain adhered to the sticks.
  • Cake pops can be stored at room temperature for a few days.

Italian Wedding Soup

I’m about to eat my words.

“I guess I just don’t really think too much about soup. I never crave it. I rarely get the itch to make it. ” – Me, October 26, 2010

Well, I’ve changed my mind. A girl’s allowed to change her mind, right?? I think about soup all of the time lately. I crave soup frequently. I always have the itch to make it. In fact, I can barely think of anything more comforting on a chilly autumn day than a bowl of soup; a creamy pumpkin bisque, savory chicken noodle, or spicy sausage and bean. I love them all.

While I’m busy eating my words, I might as well admit that my lifelong, passionate distaste for Rod Stewart has been gradually waning. Rod Stewart, the thought of whom used to give me unpleasant shivers. I now find myself singing along to his songs on the radio. I may have even raised the volume once or twice. What’s happening to me?

I’m swimming in soup this week as I prepare for our littlest guy’s upcoming baptism. I’ll be serving a menu of soups, salad, and assorted breads. There will be a Roasted Pumpkin Caramel Bisque, a Sausage, Bean, and Rapini soup, a Spicy Beef Chili, and this Italian Wedding Soup.

Italian wedding soup is typically composed of a chicken broth with meatballs, leafy greens, and pasta. It’s a simple, but perfectly married combination of flavors. I start my soup with a homemade chicken broth. You can skip this step and use prepared chicken broth to save a whole bunch of time. But, if you make the broth from scratch you’ll have the added benefit of enough cooked chicken to make meals for the rest of the week! Totally worth the small investment in time!

Italian Wedding Soup

Ingredients

For the broth:

  • 2 whole chickens
  • 2 cups carrots, coarse chopped
  • 1 head celery, coarse chopped
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 6-8 cloves garlic

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Pepper

For the soup:

  • 3-4 teaspoons salt
  • Pepper
  • Splash of hot sauce
  • 12 ounces baby spinach, coarse-chopped
  • 1 pound small pasta (ditalini or orzo)

Directions

To prepare the broth, place two whole chickens into a very large pot (12-16 quart stockpot). Add carrots, celery, onions, and garlic. Add enough water to cover an inch or two above the chicken and veggies. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 3.5-4 hours. When cool enough to safely handle, use a slotted spoon to remove most of the chicken and veggies. Pour the remaining mixture through a fine-sieve strainer. Save the chicken for other uses (salads, quesadillas, chicken salad, pasta dishes). Discard the vegetables. Transfer the broth back to the pot and bring to a boil. Boil, uncovered for 20-30 minutes to reduce the liquid and concentrate the flavor. Allow to cool. Use a spoon to skim some of the fat from the surface of the soup. (If desired, you can cool the broth completely in the refrigerator to easily remove the excess fat, which will rise and harden on the surface of the broth. This is not a necessary step, but is the most effective way to remove the fat.) Reserve 16 cups of the broth for the soup. Freeze any remaining broth for other uses.

To prepare the meatballs, combine all meatball ingredients until well-blended. Roll the mixture into 1 inch balls. Bake on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

To prepare the soup, bring 16 cups of the full-flavored broth to a simmer. Add salt and pepper, as desired. About 3-4 teaspoons of salt should do the trick. (Store-bought broth, which has already been salted, will require less salt. Taste as you go to prevent over-salting the broth.) Add a splash or two of hot sauce, as desired. Add the meatballs and spinach. Simmer until the spinach wilts. In a separate pot, cook the pasta for 2-3 minutes less than directed. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) Strain, then add the slightly under-cooked pasta to the hot soup.

How to Roast Pumpkin Seeds

Got pumpkins?

Perhaps a few small ones destined for fresh pumpkin pie? Or maybe a great big one, awaiting its jack-o-lantern fate?

Whatever the case, save those seeds! Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, make a delicious and incredibly nutritious snack. Follow this simple step-by-step guide on how to roast your fresh pumpkin seeds.

Step 1: Use a spoon to scoop seeds from the pumpkin.

Step 2: Rinse the seeds under cool running water, while removing any stringy, orange pulp.

Step 3: Dry the seeds on a paper towel.

Step 4: Spread the seeds onto a baking sheet. Drizzle the seeds with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Move the seeds around to evenly distribute the oil and seasonings.

Step 5: Bake for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Enjoy!

You can have fun with the seasonings for your seeds. I prefer basic salt and pepper pepitas, but you may enjoy cinnamon sugar, parmesan cheese, garlic salt, or even chile flavored seeds!

Thanksgiving Burgers

Three of the Most Embarrassing Moments of My Life:

1. The time in elementary school when one of my best friends took the opportunity to announce my crush to the entire class. Amy likes Anthony, my pal announced to her fully-attentive audience, leaving me red-faced and fumbling for words. If only I could have come up with some clever retort, like So’s your face or Your mama dresses you funny! Except that we all wore matching plaid uniforms… You can bet I kept my crushes to myself after that.

2. The time in high school, when, during a class exercise involving a map of Europe, I replied “Switz” in response to a question about SwitzERLAND. Hey…it said Switz on the map and none of the other countries were abbreviated. I wanted to crawl into a hole when the teacher responded, “Switz? Do you mean Switzerland?” Ummmm, yeah. The correct answer would be Switzerland…not the mysterious land of Switz; home to Switz cheese and Switz watches!

3. The time in college, when I discovered I’d been walking down Main Street with the back of my skirt tucked into my pantyhose. Yes, that really happens…to me, apparently. I only discovered my wardrobe malfunction after trying to decode the odd looks I’d received from my employer, who’d been standing on the porch of  the local bar and restaurant I’d worked at, as I passed by with my tushie on display. For goodness sake, quit ogling and tell a modest girl she’s half dressed in the middle of town!

Oh, and did I mention that I started high school with a face covered in poison ivy? Yeah, for real.

I was never meant to be one of the cool kids anyway. If I were a food, I’ve always been more of a lima bean than a cupcake. I like unicorns, cried at the end of Battlestar Galactica, and won a bridge-building contest in my honors physics class (cause I’m cool like that). I trip over my own feet with concerning frequency and somehow manage to miss my mouth while drinking, more than I’d like to admit. I’m a clutz, a germaphobe, and a neat-freak.

It’s ok. I happen to like lima beans.

Knowing what you know now, are you sure you still want to hang out with me? Would you still like me if I told you that seeing the Christmas decorations currently on display in my local Target makes me giddy with excitement? There is no too early for Christmas stuff in my book. It’s coming and I can’t wait. And somewhere in between now and my favorite holiday, there will be Thanksgiving!

If you’re having a hard time waiting for that Thanksgiving meal, try this tasty burger on for size! The patty combines all the flavors of the turkey with the stuffing. Served on a doughy potato bun and topped with gravy and cranberry sauce, this turkey burger (with a twist) gives you a burst of Thanksgiving flavor with every bite!

Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Burger

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 1/3 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup leeks, finely sliced *
  • 1/2 cup dried apples, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 6 potato buns
  • Turkey gravy, homemade or store-bought
  • Cranberry sauce (jellied or whole berry), homemade or store-bought
* Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to slice leeks.
Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using your hands, combine the turkey, sausage, celery, leeks, apples, salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper until well blended. Form into six patties. Place the patties onto a lightly greased baking sheet (a little vegetable or olive oil will do the trick). Cook for about 12 minutes, until fully cooked (internal temp of 165 degrees). Place each cooked patty onto a potato bun. Top with warmed gravy and cranberry sauce.

Roasted Pumpkin Caramel Bisque

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I have a gray hair. One gray strand, on my otherwise brown head of hair.

I must be getting old.

It grows in. I pull it out. It grows in again. I pull it out again.

I’m not trying to abolish the nasty offender. I just want to take a closer look. It intrigues me. It’s a shimmery white.

Perhaps I’ll feel differently when that lonely strand of hair starts gathering friends, but for now I’m content to let my hair turn whatever shade of gray, silver, or white it chooses to be.

I’m quite comfortable with my age. I’m as comfortable to be turning 35 as I would be to turn 25. In fact, I might even like 35 better.

I’m comfortable with that gray hair on my head.

I’m comfortable with me (though I’d be even more comfortable with twenty pounds less of me).

Comfort is good.  It’s like a warm, cashmere sweater; one that’s three sizes too big so you can snuggle up within its soft embrace. Comfort is molten dark chocolate. It’s a warm, crackling fire. Comfort is this creamy roasted pumpkin caramel bisque. It’s slightly sweet, warm, and smooth. It smells like autumn and feels like a hug. Seriously…a great, big, warm hug.

Roasted Pumpkin Caramel Bisque

Ingredients

  • 2 pie pumpkins (3-4 pounds each) or about 7-8 cups canned pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • Salt (about 3 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 cup prepared caramel sauce/dip
  • A few dashes of cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

To roast the pumpkins – Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the pumpkins in half and scoop out all of the seeds and stringy pulp. Place the pumpkins cut side down on a baking sheet. Fill the baking sheet with about 1/4″ water. Bake for about 90 minutes, until tender. Allow to cool, then scoop out the tender insides. You should have about 8 cups of roasted pumpkin. Click HERE to see a photo guide on how to roast pumpkins.

To prepare the soup, heat butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook for about 10 minutes, until tender and golden. Add the roasted pumpkin (or pumpkin puree) and vegetable stock to the pan.

Use an immersion blender to blend the mixture until smooth or transfer the mixture in small batches to a blender or food processor to blend. Return the blended mixture to the saucepan and heat to a simmer. Stir in the half and half, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add the salt gradually, to taste. Gradually stir most of the caramel into the soup, reserving a spoonful or two for garnish. (Taste as you go. The soup should be savory and slightly sweet.) Season with a few dashes of cayenne pepper, as desired.

Garnish with a drizzle of caramel and pumpkin seeds or top with crunchy croutons.

Makes a huge batch of soup…plenty for freezing!

How to Prepare Fresh Pumpkin

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Welcome, October! Quite possibly my favorite month of the year. Well, maybe except for December.

Because December means Christmas. And Christmas makes me burst with happiness.

But October means beautiful changing leaves, my birthday, Halloween candy, warm sweaters, soft hoodies, and pumpkins; lots and lots of pumpkins!

As I write, there are a few pumpkins roasting in the oven, making my home smell like autumn. I’m working on a new pumpkin recipe today. Think fresh, roasted pumpkin with rich cream, and perhaps a touch of caramel. Oh, and it’s not a dessert! Look for it later this week.

In the mean time, I thought you may want to brush up on your procedure for preparing fresh pumpkin puree by taking a look back at my no-fuss step-by-step guide. Click HERE to begin your pumpkin journey.

You may also want to check out these delicious pumpkin recipes:

Fresh Pumpkin Coconut Pie

Autumn Harvest Buns

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bread

Pumpkin Gingersnap Parfaits

Fettucine with Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce 

Wormy Apple Pops

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Here’s one for the kiddies…

My son’s nursery school has implemented a firm no-nut policy to protect the kiddos with nut allergies. A lot of schools have implemented similar rules, with good reason.

One of the implications of this rule is that any treats sent in for birthdays or other celebrations must be store-bought, to ensure that they are safe for every child. This means no baking of cute cupcakes or cake pops to send in to school. Even my grocery store’s bakery cupcakes are off-limits, since they include a possible nut contact warning on the package.

We could have sent a package of some other nut-free treat, but I came up with these tasty, seasonal treats instead. We created wormy apple pops by coating fresh, locally-picked apples with sticky caramel and chocolate cookie ‘dirt’. A gooey gummy worm provides the finishing touching. My son’s teachers were more than happy to make time for this fun fall activity.

These treats are completely nut-free and very kid-friendly. Even very young children can follow the recipe using the combination of step-by-step photos with written directions. They’ll build fine motor skills by spreading, crushing, and sprinkling, develop language skills as they process the directions, and enhance their sequencing skills as they follow the first through fifth step. It’s a learning activity with a fun and tasty reward at the end!

** If you’re preparing this activity for a class of youngsters, consider making simple direction cards by printing each photo, along with the step-by-step directions, onto pieces of cardstock. Your child’s teacher may also appreciate a pack of baby wipes to help clean up the class of sticky kids!

Step 1: Start with one ripe, fresh apple.

Step 2: Insert a lollipop stick into the apple. (You can find lollipop sticks at many craft stores.)

Step 3: Use a spoon to spread caramel onto the apple. (We used the individually portioned caramel dip cups, so that each child could have their own.)

Step 4: Crush one chocolate sandwich cookie and sprinkle it on the apple.

Step 5: Press a gummy worm into the caramel. (Some packages of gummy worms contain nut allergy warnings. Target’s Market Pantry brand gummy worms do not contain a nut warning.)

ENJOY!

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Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

My ultra-keen, super sleuthing skills (errr… google), have led me to discover that it is currently football season.

Football and I may be strangers, but tailgating-type munchies and I are the dearest of friends.

Chicken wings are always a popular pick when it comes to football-watching munchies. And people go wild for all sorts of chicken wing flavored goodies, like Buffalo Chicken Potato Skins and Chicken Wing Dip.

The next time you’re in charge of the snacks for a big game, try these spicy chicken wing meatballs. They’ve got the celery and blue cheese baked right into the chicken!! Definitely winning!

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  •  1 egg
  •  1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  •  1/4 cup onion, finely diced
  •  1/2 cup celery, finely diced
  •  1/2 cup gorgonzola (or other bleu cheese) cheese, crumbled
  •  1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Vegetable or olive oil, to grease the baking dish

For the sauce

  • 1/2 cup Frank’s Red Hot
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub the bottom of a large baking dish with a bit of oil, to prevent the meatballs from sticking.

Combine all meatball ingredients until well-blended. (The mixture may feel a bit sticky.) Roll the mixture into one inch balls. Place in a single layer in the baking dish and bake for about 25 minutes.

Combine the Frank’s Red Hot with the melted butter. For a milder sauce, add more butter or decrease the hot sauce.

Pour the sauce over the meatballs and serve!

Makes about 2 dozen. You can easily double or triple this recipe for a big crowd!

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