Elegant but Easy Meatballs-Famous Fridays

This recipe is truly a blast from the past! These meatballs and hot crabmeat dip were staples at my mom's dinner parties while I was growing up. One day I'll have to post the crabmeat dip, but today I am paying homage to these delicious sweet and sour mini-meatballs straight out of The Elegant but Easy Cookbook by Marian Burros and Lois Levine, the entertaining cookbook of the 1960's!


As you can probably tell, I am not the original owner of the book. Its front cover is long gone and the binding has been taped up more than a few times, but that's ok because it demonstrates just how well used and loved this cookbook was and still is!

Elegant but Easy is from a time when a certain kind of entertaining was done by the lady of the house (think Mad Men) and there were certain expectations and a certain formality to the dining experience as a whole; a time when chafing dishes and casseroles and creations like Chicken Divan and Cherries Jubilee reigned supreme. I recently reread the intro to the book and it is full of helpful tips for stress-free, but still elegant, entertaining. There's a cute day-by-day bit about how to plan for a Saturday night formal party; do the marketing on Wednesday, make the mold on Thursday, the tuna spread on Friday etc and then, because you are so organized and ready, take a nap the afternoon of the shindig! Oh, the good old days of record players and Tab!

Now, back to these meatballs. They're actually referred to as "Chafing-Dish Meatballs" in the book, but I wasn't sure that everyone would know what a chafing dish is. For you young ones, it's a dish or tray that sits either over hot water or cans of sterno to keep the food in the dish hot on a buffet table.  This recipe would be great to serve as hors d'oeuvres for a dinner party but you could just as easily serve it for dinner with mashed potatoes (that's what I did because we never have dinner parties--at least not the kind Marian and Lois were referring to).

I don't know how elegant these meatballs are, but they are certainly easy to make. The secret is the chili sauce and grape jelly (or jam).


After you mix them together in a large pot, you mix up the meat, egg, onion and salt in another bowl, make the meatballs and then put them gently into the sauce.


Then, all you do is let them simmer until brown, about 1 1/2-2 hours and scoop them out to eat. There was a reason these were incredibly popular 50 years ago. Everyone loves them! They're sweet but also spicy and tangy and make your kitchen smell fantastic!  Definitely a culinary classic!


There are a lot of other great recipes in this cookbook and there's even a revised version of the book with recipes that fit our more hectic, modern and less formal lifestyle. You should definitely take a look so that your next hostessing experience can be elegant, but easy in that 2014 Facebook, iPhone sort-of-way!

Elegant but Easy Meatballs-Famous Fridays

Makes about 50-60 small meatballs
Prep Time:  20 minutes; Cook Time:  1 1/2 -2 hours; Total Time:  About 2 1/2 hours


For the meatballs:

  • 2 lbs ground meat
  • 1 slightly beaten egg
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • salt to taste

For the sauce:

  • 12 oz. bottle of chili sauce
  • 10 oz. jar grape jelly
  • juice of 1 lemon

The Recipe

1.  Pour chili sauce, grape jelly and lemon juice into a large pot. Stir to mix well and heat over low light.

2. In a large bowl, combine meat, egg, onion and salt. Mix well and shape into small bite-size meatballs. Carefully place into sauce in pot. Stir gently and continue to simmer uncovered for 1 1/2-2 hours until meatballs are brown and sauce is thick. Serve immediately or bring to room temperature and refrigerate until ready to use. Reheat in pot on stove or microwave until ready,

3. Alternatively, you can freeze these. I didn't but in the original recipe it says that you can and I think they would be great too.


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