Dairy Good Life

Vanilla meatballs


Fall has arrived. All of us here – humans and cows – are enjoying the cooler temperatures. We’ve actually been getting rain, so the cows can graze again. On the sunny days when fall is at its best, the cows take their sweet time coming in from pasture, seemingly enjoying every available minute of their favorite season. 

The cooler temperatures also mean less grilling and more baking. Fewer steaks and burgers, more roasts and meatballs.

My go-to meatball recipe is one that was developed in my kitchen over the years. I’ve been recording all of my kitchen creations in a blue notebook since 2014 – recipes developed prior were written on scraps of paper and tucked into a green folder. 

There are multiple iterations of these meatballs in the pages of my notebook. The first meatball entry dates back to 2016. The recipes that followed include trials of binders, seasonings, and baking temperatures, etc. 

Almost three years ago now, I settled on egg, Greek yogurt, and oat bran as the best binders for meatballs. Then, a couple months ago, I went to make meatballs and realized we were out of yogurt. There was cottage cheese in the fridge, so I tried that and we liked the resulting meatballs even more. 

In the margins around the basic recipe, I’ve inked all of the variations I’ve tried, with “Excellent!” noted next to the ones that turned out well. In one corner of the page, an entry reads: “Made with vanilla Greek yogurt by mistake. Oops.”

Chalk it up to distracted cooking. I was probably rushing, and nothing good happens when we rush. I had grabbed the vanilla yogurt out of the fridge instead of the plain. I didn’t notice until I was mixing everything together, smelled vanilla, and realized my mistake. There was no way I was wasting that food and my efforts, so we had vanilla meatballs for supper that night. They actually weren’t that bad, but I wouldn’t recommend them.

In my notebook, there’s an inscription next to this meatball recipe that says, “Best meatballs yet!” in extra large handwriting. I used to write “best ever” next to recipes, but “ever” signals finality. Yet implies that, perhaps, this won’t be the final version. I’m always tinkering with recipes. In fact, as I’ve been writing this, I’ve been pondering whether heavy cream could be substituted for the cottage cheese. I used cottage cheese in a hotdish the other day when I didn’t have enough heavy cream and the result was delicious. Dairy ingredients are delightfully interchangeable.

I believe “yet” is a great maxim to embrace in more than just cooking. All that we endeavor to do is better when we’re open to trying something new, trying again, and continually striving for the best.

Best meatballs yet
1 pound ground beef or pork*
1 egg
1/4 cup cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup oat bran
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Italian herb seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, beat the egg lightly. Stir in the cottage cheese, oat bran, and seasonings until well blended. Add the ground beef and mix completely. Divide mixture into meatballs and place on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until meatballs are browned. 

*I usually make a triple batch of these meatballs, using 2 pounds of ground beef and 1 pound of ground pork. 


– Garlic and herb meatballs: Increase garlic powder to 1 teaspoon. Replace Italian seasoning with 1/4 teaspoon each sage, rosemary, thyme, and savory or marjoram.

– Maple bacon meatballs: Replace salt and seasonings with 1 tablespoon McCormick Grill Mates Smokehouse Maple seasoning. Add 1 cup crumbled bacon.

– Stroganoff meatballs: Use sour cream, not cottage cheese or yogurt. Replace Italian seasoning with 1 teaspoon paprika. Add 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce.

– Thai meatballs: Use plain Greek yogurt. Replace oat bran with 2 tablespoons coconut flour. Omit Italian seasoning. Add 1 teaspoon lemongrass and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.

– Breakfast meatballs: Use only ground pork. Replace Italian seasoning with 1 teaspoon dried sage.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children: Dan, Monika, and Daphne. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at [email protected].


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