Casual Dinner in the Lull

Quick! Catch your breath. We only have a few days before another holiday is upon us. And all this festivity and jolliness is great … but it might also have you reaching for something comforting and non-holiday when dinner rolls around. Whether you're tossing together a tuna casserole or grabbing a slice of pizza, casual comfort food is appealing for a lot of reasons. It's generally fairly quick to get to the table. It rarely requires the formality and good manners surrounding many holiday meals. And it's just what your tummy is asking for just about now. So here's what's on my plate:

That's right: meatball subs. Not just any, too. These babies boast spicy meatballs featuring two kinds of meat, garlic bread rolls, spicy pepper-jack cheese, and all the goodness you've come to expect from this classic comfort food sandwich. Add some chips, maybe some grapes, and a pickle (gotta have the pickle) and you can call it lunch or dinner — whatever the clock suggests it is.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy these is to wrap each sub individually in aluminum foil and toss them in a bag along with the items described above, maybe some holiday sweets, and a thermos of hot cocoa or warm apple cider. Then, if time allows, my family and I will wander off to go ice skating, snow shoeing, sledding, or just build a snowman together. With all of the rush of the holidays, it's nice to grab a little time to focus on the really important parts of the holiday season: spending time with loved ones. We'll enjoy our picnic lunch that's holding extra warmth for our cold weather fun and then spend an hour or three communing with the chill and one another. Makes these sandwiches all the better!

Spicy Meatball Subs on Garlic Bread

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. spicy pork sausage - or mild Italian pork sausage if spicy isn't your thing
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 tsp. crushed red pepper - optional
  • 4 6-inch hoagie rolls
  • 4 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 c. tomato sauce - choose your favorite variety
  • 8 oz. pepper jack cheese, divided - choose a different cheese if spicy isn't your thing

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

To make the meatballs, combine the ground beef and pork sausage, egg, and crushed red pepper and mix thoroughly either in a stand mixer or by hand. Using an ice cream disher, form 1 1/2-2 inch meatballs and set them on a baking sheet, allowing about 2 inches of space between the meatballs. (I like to place the meatballs on a silicone baking mat to make cleanup easier.) Bake the meatballs in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until they are fully cooked.

During the last 15 minutes of meatball baking, slice the rolls open lengthwise, hollow out some of the bread if desired, spread the softened butter over each piece of bread, sprinkle the garlic powder and oregano over the bread, dividing relatively evenly between each piece. Bake on a large baking sheet until the bread is nicely toasted the cheese is melted, about 5-7 minutes.

Spread a little tomato on the bottom half of each roll, top each with three meatballs, layer on more marinara, and top with the cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted, about 6 minutes. Serve while still hot. If there are any unused meatballs, refrigerate them and use within a week (they are excellent on spaghetti!).

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes