Meatballs are the ideal appetizer. They can serve a lot of people and are super convenient if you buy the premade ones. Grocery stores and warehouse-type stores sell 4-pound bags (or larger) of fully cooked meatballs.
And if you don’t like beef-based meatballs, many stores now have frozen turkey meatballs. I found a bag of frozen turkey meatballs at my local Kroger.
You also can make your own meatballs if you want to take the time to shape them all.
This entire recipe is made in the slow cooker. It’s totally set-it-and-forget-it. Once done, set the slow cooker to the warm setting if you have one and serve the meatballs straight from the pot.
You also can make it in the oven.
With this recipe, I pre-browned the frozen meatballs in a skillet. Many slow-cooker recipes call for browning meat and poultry before adding it so it has the nice crispy exterior.
The recipe is adapted from reader Suzanne Thiel of Lansing, Mich., who gave it to us several years ago.
It’s a step up from the ’60s standard party meatballs coated with grape jelly mixed with chili sauce.
The key ingredient is Penzeys Spices Raspberry Enlightenment sauce (www.penzeys.com ). The sauce has a mild fruity, sweet taste.
The sauce is $8.55 for a 9.5-ounce bottle. An online search shows the sauce has quite a following. It has a host of uses and is not just for sweet things. You also can use the sauce in plenty of savory dishes.
An associate at Penzeys told me people use it to make vinaigrette dressings, as a glaze for pork or chicken and as an ice cream topping.
Once all mixed together with the other ingredients and cooked with the meatballs, the sauce hits a trifecta of sweet, spicy and tangy – and in that order.
You can serve these meatballs as a main dish if you like. Serve them over cooked brown or white rice with some lightly sauteed bell pepper strips and snow peas.
Spicy raspberry enlightenment meatballs
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
This recipe is easy and makes good use of a slow cooker. Look for the chile garlic sauce in the Asian section of the grocery store.
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided, optional
3 pounds (depending on the size of your cooker) frozen meatballs, such as Armour
1 jar (9.8 ounces) Penzeys Raspberry Enlightenment sauce
10 ounce jar of sweet-and-sour sauce
1 jar (12 ounces) orange marmalade
1 cup cranberry or cherry honey mustard or plain honey mustard
½ cup (or to taste) chile garlic sauce
If browning the meatballs, heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Working in batches, add about half of the meatballs to the skillet. Cook, shaking the pan so the meatballs brown on all sides, about 3 minutes.
Put browned meatballs in the slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix together all the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
Cook on high for 2 hours, reduce the heat and cook until the meatballs are heated through, stirring occasionally.
You also can make these in the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brown the meatballs as directed and then place them in a large, deep baking dish. You may need to use two baking dishes. Mix together all the remaining ingredients and pour over the meatballs. Cover with foil. Bake about 1 hour or until heated through.
Adapted from Suzanne Thiel, Lansing.
Tested by Susan M. Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.
Nutritional information: 62 calories (41 percent from fat), 3 grams fat (1 gram sat. fat), 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 149 mg sodium, 3 mg cholesterol, 0 grams fiber.
©2012 Detroit Free Press
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PHOTO (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): MEATBALLS