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Countdown to Dinner: Porcupine Balls more than 'kid' food

Thursday, September 09, 1999

Tested by Kelly Burgess

Linda Yorkshire of Penn Hills has been making Porcupine Balls since she was in third grade. Now a reading specialist in the Wilkinsburg School District, the avid cook is helping a new generation of elementary school youngsters develop both culinary and comprehension skills.

"I like to use baking and cooking as a exercise for my reading group," said Yorkshire. "It's so much fun they don't realize they're learning a variety of skills, such as following directions."

When Yorkshire was a child, both parents worked, which she said was unusual in those days. She described her mother, Helen Yorkshire, as "a basic cook" who liked easy recipes her daughter could start in the evenings so the family could eat at a reasonable time. Far from considering her dinner duties a chore, Linda Yorkshire enjoyed the job so much she saved up her ironing money to buy her own cookbooks.

She still loves to cook and bake, although she said there's not as much reason to since her beloved mother died in December.

Two working parents may have been unusual when Linda Yorkshire was a child, but it's pretty common now. One thing that hasn't changed is the need for quick recipes that appeal to a variety of age groups. Porcupine Balls fill the bill nicely. Our tasters were the two obligatory working parents, including a dad who traditionally balks at "kid food," children 12 and 10, who were born with adventurous palates, and a 5-year-old, who eats nothing.

To avoid the too-tomatoey flavor that is often a hallmark of the dreaded "kid food," we used a 26-ounce jar of Ragu Chunky Garden Style Spaghetti Sauce flavored with tomato, garlic and onion. It gave the dish an authentic simmered-for-hours marinara flavor the picky dad loved.

The two older kids delighted in both the silly name (it derives from the rice sticking out of the meatballs) and the dish itself. The 5-year-old, on the other hand, greeted it with the same attitude he does anything that doesn't include peanut butter: "Yuck, that looks disgusting!" Coaxed into one bite, though, he shocked everyone by eating two helpings.

We must note here that the dish did go over the time limit by a few minutes. However, it probably would have been within the Countdown guidelines if we had made the meatballs smaller. Yorkshire said she makes hers about 1 inch round; ours were at least twice that.

Porcupine Balls

1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
1/2 to 3/4 cups instant rice (we used 3/4 cup), divided
1 large can tomato sauce or 1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil

Reserve 1/4 cup rice for later. Mix remaining rice, ground sirloin and seasonings. Form into 1-inch meatballs and brown in skillet until cooked through. Drain any fat.

Add sauce and remaining rice. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Serving recommendation: Yorkshire recommends a vegetable or salad and bread and butter. We served it with all three. It made plenty for five people with enough leftovers for a child's lunch the next day.

Do you have an entrée, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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