Why Christina Tosi Loves Cocktail Meatballs So Much

Raised in a Midwestern family, Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi’s culinary creations have always been influenced by comforting classics and unpretentious ingredients. In her second cookbook, Milk Bar Life, Tosi gets personal, sharing some of her fondest cooking memories and go-to recipes.

In the chapter “Hand-Me-Downs,” Tosi shares with readers the recipes she learned from her mother, grandmother, and other family and friends. “I was raised by a gaggle of women who cooked and baked ever meal for their families,” Tosi writes. “Through food, they shared life lessons, hot gossip, and family histories. That was how knowledge and skill were passed down in the kitchen.”

In this exclusive clip, Tosi prepares one of her favorite dishes from her childhood, her grandma’s cocktail meatballs. “They’re simple, they’re no fuss, and those things represent who I am,” the chef says of the dish. To make Tosi’s meatballs yourself, check out the recipe below.

More: Make Christina Tosi’s Favorite Hand-Me-Down Cornbake Recipe


Cocktail Meatballs

Makes 2 to 2 1⁄2 dozen mini meatballs

If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. These sassy little sweet-and-savory nuggets are nothing fancy until you stick a bedazzled toothpick in them. The totally ’80s recipe is an easy share with anyone who has a Crock-Pot or a heart. My grandmother used to make these meatballs for the men at my mother’s accounting firm during tax season, because they really “needed protein,” and she would hand out the recipe to their wives once everyone was hooked.

1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dried minced onions
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 large egg
1⁄4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 (12-ounce) jar or can cranberry sauce
1 (12-ounce) bottle Heinz chili sauce (don’t worry, it’s not so spicy)

Put the meat into a large bowl, add the salt, pepper, onions, Worcestershire sauce, milk, egg, and bread crumbs, and mush together until completely incorporated. Roll the meat into roughly 1-inch balls, about 2 tablespoons each, slightly smaller than a Ping-Pong ball.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to cook the balls in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Brown the meatballs, turning occasionally, until they begin to develop a crust, 3 to 5 minutes. You’re not looking to cook them all the way through at this point, just to get color on all sides.

Transfer the browned meatballs, and any residual liquid or fat, to a slow cooker. Dump the cranberry sauce and chili sauce over them, cover, and cook on low for 3 to 5 hours—the longer the better—until the liquid has reduced to a sweet beefy glaze. (Alternatively, you can cook these in a covered saucepan over very low heat, but the Crock-Pot is how my clan does it.)

Put the meatballs in a bowl and skewer them before serving, or put a cup of frilly toothpicks to the side of the Crock-Pot for self-service. No matter what, serve warm.

Note that grape jelly, apricot jelly (a personal favorite), or any other jelly you might pair with beef works great as a cranberry substitution. And if beef isn’t your speed, you can substitute another ground meat. Ground lamb and pomegranate jelly would make for a very modish and classy crock of balls. No matter which way you go, frilly toothpicks are a must.

Recipes reprinted from MILK BAR LIFE: Recipes and Stories Copyright © 2015 by Christina Tosi. Photos by Gabriele Stabile and Mark Ibold. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

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