February 27, 2008

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When we’re cooped up in the house during the winter weather as we are now, one of our favorite comfort foods is spaghetti and meatballs (the kind that cooks on the stove for hours and the scent permeates through the entire house!) šŸ™‚

I have been making what I consider the BEST meatballs ever from an old family recipe–a very simple recipe at that and I will now share it with you.



1 lb. ground beef (you may substitute any ground meat–turkey is wonderful)
10 saltine crackers
1 tsp. garlic salt
(you may also add a dash of any spice that you prefer)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (or 3/4 tsp. dried parsley)

mise en place

I am using ground turkey in this case.


Mix ground meat with parmesan cheese and spices. Crunch saltine crackers into meat mixture and incorporate.

mix ingredients

Roll meat mixture into balls (any size preferred) and place into a large frying pan preheated with a tablespoon of olive oil.

roll into balls

Brown meatballs in pan on medium heat–watch carefully and flip to brown all sides.

brown meatballs

Once browned, add meatballs to your favorite spaghetti sauce and simmer.

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These are wonderful on pasta, in sandwiches, on pizza, etc.

If you try these, let me know what you think! Enjoy! šŸ™‚

Gyros are meatloaf??

February 19, 2008

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While watching an Alton Brown “Good Eats” episode, I had an epiphany the other day… gyros are meatloaf!!!

Now, before you call me crazy, let me tell you why…

My husband Jimmy is Greek and whenever we go to festivals I always see this big piece of meat on a rotisserie and wonder how in the world do they mix the lamb and beef and, most importantly, how can I make this at home?.. could never figure it out until I realized from watching Alton’s show that it was actually a process very similar to meatloaf! (thank you Alton!)…

now Alton Brown’s version uses only ground lamb but most versions we have tried have been a combination of lamb and beef so I modified the recipe slightly to accommodate both (feel free to modify as you like, if you don’t like lamb, use only beef, or you can add turkey, etc., etc.).

You mix together the ground lamb and ground beef with spices and chopped onions into a meatloaf-type mixture (but no binders such as bread crumbs or crackers as you would with meatloaf)–but the BIG difference is you then put the meat mixture into a food processor to mix it into a paste…THAT changes the texture so it’s more like gyro meat. Then, you can either bake it in meatloaf pans in a water bath in the oven or roast on a rotisserie. I’ve tried both ways and both are good.

If you can’t find ground lamb, ask your butcher to grind some for you. Or you can do like I did and buy a boneless leg of lamb and put it through a grinder.Ā 

Here is the gyro meat recipe (courtesy of Alton Brown and the Food Network) with my modifications…and I added some of my own recipes forĀ tzatziki and pita bread and other twists to the mix):)

1 medium onion, finely choppedĀ 
2 pounds ground lamb or ground boneless leg of lamb (or 1 lb ground lamb, 1 lb ground beef)
1 tablespoon minced garlicĀ 
1 tablespoon dried marjoramĀ 
1 tablespoon Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning (or use whatever spice mixture you prefer)
2 teaspoons kosher saltĀ 
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepperĀ 

for sandwich:
thinly sliced tomatoes and onions
Tzatziki Sauce, recipe follows
Pita Bread, recipe follows
Process the onion in a food processor for 10 to 15 seconds and turn out into the center of a tea towel. Gather up the ends of the towel and squeeze until almost all of the juice is removed. Discard juice.
Return the onion to the food processor and add the lamb (and beef), garlic, spices, and process until it is a fine paste, approximately 1 minute. Stop the processor as needed to scrape down sides of bowl.
To cook in the oven as a meatloaf, proceed as follows:Ā Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the mixture into a loaf pan, making sure to press into the sides of the pan. Place the loaf pan into a water bath and bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the mixture reaches 165 to 170 degrees F. Remove from the oven and drain off any fat. Place the loaf pan on a cooling rack and place a brick wrapped in aluminum foil directly on the surface of the meat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees F. Slice thinly and serve on pita bread with tzatziki sauce, sliced onion and tomatoes.
To cook on a rotisserie, proceed as follows:Ā Form the meat mixture into a loaf shape and place on top of 2 overlapping pieces of plastic wrap that are at least 18 inches long. Roll the mixture in the plastic wrap tightly, making sure to remove any air pockets. Once the meat is completely rolled in the wrap, twist the ends of the plastic wrap until the surface of the wrap is tight. Store in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight, to allow the mixture to firm up.Ā Preheat the grill to high.
Place the meat onto the rotisserie skewer. Place a double-thick piece of aluminum foil folded into a tray directly under the meat to catch any drippings. Cook on high for 15 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium and continue to cook for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165 degrees F. Turn off the heat and allow to continue to spin for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 175 degrees.Ā Slice meat thinly with knife or slicer.
To put sandwich together:
Take square piece of foil, place one pita bread on top, top with sliced gyro meat, sliced tomatoes and onions, and a dollop of tzatziki sauce.. fold sandwich in foil and serve.

TIP: once meat is sliced, you can add additional spices to taste or pan fry the slices a bit more in frying pan to crisp up the edges.

Tzatziki Sauce:Ā 
16 ounces plain yogurtĀ 
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely shredded (w/grater)
Pinch of saltĀ 
4 cloves garlic, finely mincedĀ 
1 tablespoon olive oilĀ 
fresh minced dill (to taste)
4 mint leaves, finely minced (optional)
Place the yogurt in a tea towel, gather up the edges, suspend over a bowl, and drain for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Place the shredded cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze to remove the liquid; discard liquid. In a food processor, combine the drained yogurt, cucumber, salt, garlic, olive oil, dill, and mint and pulse until smooth. Serve as a sauce for gyros. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
Panfried Pita Bread:
2 cups bread (or all-purpose) flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 package yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons)
3/4 warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Add warm water and olive oil and mix until combined. Gather dough into ball and knead for approximately 10 minutes (this works very well in a stand mixer using a dough hook). Place dough in large mixing bowl covered with olive oil and turn to coat ball of dough. Cover with towels and let rise for 45 minutes. Punch down once risen and divide into 4 small balls of dough.. roll out into small circles on floured cutting board.Ā  Pour small amount of olive oil into bottom of frying pan and warm. Fry up dough circles in pan (on medium heat), turning once to cook both sides (will puff up into pita breads)..keep an eye on it so they don’t over-brown and stay soft.Ā 


So, give this a try some weekend if you have a craving for a gyro, it’s easier than you might think and is MUCH better when you make it yourself!Ā 

One last note–in case you were wondering, the proper pronunciation of a gyro is “yee-row”. šŸ˜‰

The Joys of Makin’ Bacon (in Pictures!!)

February 8, 2008

In our ever-evolving steps to lead an even more “unprocessed” life, we’ve recently come across an excellent book, “Charcuterie” by local Cleveland author, Michael Ruhlman (along with celebrated chef, Brian Polcyn)…Jimmy and I also had the grand pleasure of meeting Michael and his equally talented photographer wife Donna and he very graciously took time out from his hectic holiday schedule to sign our copy ((thanks Michael!)).

The book covers the craft of salting, smoking, and curing. Along with an interesting introduction and history into the world of charcuterie, the authors have provided all the information and knowledge any home cook needs to jump right in. The variety of recipes from bacon to sausages to smoked almonds make for a very entertaining and valuable read. I HIGHLY recommend this book if you are interested in trying this at home and I also highly recommend Michael Ruhlman’s blog to learn about all things culinary:

Since Jimmy and I are always up for a culinary challenge and a lot of people have been asking us about this, we are going to share with you our own experiences going through “Charcuterie” on this blog. I hope you enjoy it and it will inspire you to get out of the “comfort and convenience zone” and try it also. Sooooo, let’s get started with bacon, shall we??

First, we needed ingredients for the cure (pink salt, dextrose (you can also use sugar), kosher salt) most of which we could not find locally. Thankfully, in the book, we were given a great recommendation on where to find it online (for great prices I might add) so we bought all we needed at Butcher and Packer.

You don’t need any fancy equipment to get started and your home oven will work just fine (as the authors attest to), but, for our use for hot smoking, we are using an inexpensive Brinkmann water/charcoal smoker/grill.

Now, onto the fresh pork belly…finding fresh pork belly was a bit of a challenge at first (butchers didn’t have it readily on hand but you can inquire about it to order it) but, as we had thought, we found it at our local landmark food market “The West Side Market“. (If you have never been there, it’s worth a trip for the old-world shopping experience that it is! We feel very fortunate to have it nearby!)

Here below is the pork belly after the curing process. We trimmed and coated the belly with the dry cure and placed it in a 2 gallon freezer bag in the refrigerator for 7 days (flipping the bag every other day). After the 7 days, the belly had attained a pellicle (a firm tacky surface that smoke will adhere to) and so was done curing and we were ready for smoking!

cured pork belly-top

cured pork belly bottom

Once the smoker was ready to go (we used charcoal and hickory chips) and at the lowest fire we could get, we placed the cured pork belly on the racks. It was definitely a challenge keeping an eye on the smoker and heat to make sure it was getting to the temperature we needed (not too hot, not too cold)–I’m very glad we had a digital thermometer for that made it MUCH easier!

pork belly on the smoker

pork belly smoking away

After a few hours of smoking and we had reached our desired temperature, we had BACON!!! (isn’t it beauuuuutiful??) šŸ˜‰

smoked bacon top

bacon smoked bottom

smoked bacon side

Then, got out our trusty food slicer (it’s a good one, by the way–easy to clean and a German blade!) and sliced our bacon into perfect slices! (you can cut the bacon slices by hand with a knife but, if it’s in your budget and you plan on using it for other things, I recommend getting a slicer!)

bacon slices

bacon slices

Since we had more bacon than we could eat at one time, we sliced up the bacon and placed the slices on waxed paper in freezer bags and we stored some in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer.

But, of course, we HAD to try some of the fruits of our labor right away so into the frying pan it went! šŸ˜‰

frying bacon

sizzling bacon

…and there’s nothing better than your own homemade bacon in a BLT sandwich (with good tomatoes, mesclun lettuce, mayo, and a nice little addition of sliced avocado!-try it sometime!) on toasted freshly-baked whole grain bread!! yummmmmmmmmm!

bacon to plate!

The leftover bacon grease made for some excellent German Potato Salad also–I will post my recipe for that on another day. šŸ™‚Ā 

So, was it worth all the extra time and effort? Would we make this again??… yes, yes, and YES!! (our bacon was far superior to store bought!)

Happy Smoking! šŸ™‚