My Big Fat Greek Meatball Gyro

Wow. Here it is, August already, and I didn’t realize how long it’s been since my last post. Where did July go?

Summer is always super busy for me, as I’m sure it is for everyone. I hope all of you are taking advantage of sunny days and warm weather. I am trying to get outside as much as possible, packing in camping trips, Dutch oven events and dog trials while the good weather lasts. Maybe I should call this post “My Big Fat CRAZY Summer!” Because it has been.

But, since I actually have this one weekend off, I thought I’d share a fun twist on a Greek classic. The traditional gyro is usually served with lamb, but not everyone may be a fan (like my husband). And, as I am always trying to find ways to jazz up staple proteins like ground beef, I found this fun recipe to create a meatball version of the gyro. This meal is quick, tasty and can be pretty lean if you use lean ground beef or ground turkey. You can take it one step further and turn it into a lettuce wrap, instead of using pita bread or Naan. So many options for a light and tasty summer dish.

What really makes the gyro so tasty, for me, is the creamy and slightly tangy tzatziki sauce made from yogurt and fresh cucumber. And it is probably one of the easiest and healthiest sauces to make.

TTzatziki Saucezatziki Sauce Ingredients
1 6 oz. container Greek Yogur
1/2 Cucumber, peeled, de-seeded, and diced
1 clove Garlic, crushed
Salt to taste

Remove the seeds from a cucumber and dice.

Remove the seeds from a cucumber and dice.

Add the diced cucumber to a bowl with the Greek yogurt.

Add the diced cucumber to a bowl with the Greek yogurt.

Add the crushed garlic clove.

Add the crushed garlic clove. Season with salt to taste.

Combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve with the gyros.

Combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to serve with the gyros.

My Big Fat Greek Meatball GyroGyro Ingredients
1 lb. lean Ground Beef
2 Eggs
1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 tsp. dried Marjoram
1 tsp. dried Oregano
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Pepper
1/2 Cucumber, sliced
8 oz. Grape Tomatoes, halved
Naan flatbread (found in deli section of most grocery stores; Pita bread or lettuce leaves may be substituted)

Place the ground beef in a bowl.

Place the ground beef in a bowl.

Add the two eggs.

Add the two eggs.

Add all of the spices, including salt and pepper.

Add all of the spices, including salt and pepper.

Combine thoroughly.

Combine thoroughly.

Form into large meatballs. This will make about 12-18 meatballs.

Form into large meatballs. This will make about 15-18 meatballs, depending on the size.

Spray a cast iron griddle with cooking spray and heat to medium temperature.

Spray a cast iron griddle with cooking spray and heat to medium temperature.

Cook the meatballs, turning often to cook evenly. Internal temperature should be between 155 - 165, depending on how rare you like your beef.

Cook the meatballs, turning often to cook evenly. Internal temperature should be between 155 – 165, depending on how rare you like your beef.

Starting to get a nice sear.

Starting to get a nice sear.

If you are using Naan, warm in a microwave for 30 seconds to soften. Add the meatballs, tzatziki sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Opa!

If you are using Naan, warm in a microwave for 30 seconds to soften. Add the meatballs, tzatziki sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Opa!

Shrimp with Fresh Basil, Thai Style

Photo courtesy of Lodge Manufacturing

Photo courtesy of Lodge

A while ago, my husband gave me a copy of the latest edition of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook. I don’t know if other cooks and foodies are like me, but I spend more time thumbing through my cookbooks than actually trying some of the recipes. For me, the attributes of what makes a fine cookbook are a wide variety of dishes, beautiful photographs (preferably color), easy to follow recipes, and little tidbits thrown in on history, techniques, and possible ingredient substitutions. I am also partial to cookbooks with spiral bindings, as they remain flat on the counter when you are working through a recipe.

Lodge’s cookbook meets most of my criteria. It doesn’t have the spiral binding, but quite frankly, most cookbooks don’t. But it has everything else — a variety of dishes, including breakfast frittatas, soups, stews and gumbo, delectable surf and turf dishes, desserts, and an entire section just on cornbread — and an easy-to-follow design with numerous color photos, simple directions, and sections on caring for cast iron, metric conversions, and even tips on bean hole cooking.

The recipes are diverse, not only in cultures (American, Asian, Indian, Cajun, Mexican), but in the different types of cast iron skillets, griddles, bakeware and ovens that are recommended for cooking. Overall, a great cookbook!

Following is a recipe that I tried from the cookbook, something that caught my eye as I love Thai food. I modified it a little, adding some julienned carrots and removing the jalapeno pepper from the recipe. This recipe is very simple, extremely flavorful, and fast to make. And it gets the thumbs-up from my hubby, so what more does one need!

Oh, and stay tuned! I will be giving away two copies of the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook in the near future. Details to follow in a future post.

Thai Basil ShrimpIngredients
2 Tbsps. Asian Fish Sauce
2 Tbsps. Water
1 tsp. Soy Sauce
1/2 tsp. Sugar
2 Tbsps. Oil (Canola or Vegetable)
1 Lb. medium Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup thinly sliced Onion
1/2 cup Carrots, julienned
1 Tbsp. chopped Garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped Green Onions
2 Tbsps. coarsely chopped fresh Cilantro
3-4 torn Basil Leaves

Stir together the fish sauce, water, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Prep the remaining ingredients, so you can add them quickly when they are needed.

Stir together the fish sauce, water, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Prep the remaining ingredients, so you can add them quickly when they are needed.

Heat oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet, until it becomes very hot, about 30 seconds. Turn to coat the skillet evenly. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Heat oil in a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet, until it becomes very hot, about 30 seconds. Turn to coat the skillet evenly. Add the shrimp in a single layer.

Cook on one side, undisturbed, until the shrimps' edges turn bright pink. Toss well and turn all the shrimp cooked side up so the other side can cook, undisturbed, for 15 seconds.

Cook on one side, undisturbed, until the shrimps’ edges turn bright pink. Toss well and turn all the shrimp cooked side up so the other side can cook, undisturbed, for 15 seconds.

Add the onion, garlic and carrots and toss well.

Add the onion, garlic and carrots and toss well.

Thai Basil Shrimp

Cook 1 minute, tossing occasionally…

...until the onion softens and becomes fragrant and shiny; continue tossing so it wilts and softens but doesn't brown.

…until the onion softens and becomes fragrant and shiny; continue tossing so it wilts and softens but doesn’t brown. Stir the fish sauce mixture to make sure the sugar is dissolved and pour it around the edge of the pan.  Toss well to season the shrimp, then let cook, undisturbed just until the shrimp are cooked through and the sauce is bubbling.

Add the green onions and cilantro, and toss well. Tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces each,. Add all of the basil to the pan over the shrimp and toss well. Cook 10 seconds.

Add the green onions and cilantro, and toss well. Tear the basil leaves into 2 or 3 pieces each. Add all of the basil to the pan over the shrimp and toss well. Cook 10 seconds.

Serve over cooked rice. Enjoy!

Serve over cooked rice. Enjoy!

A Flavorful Life – Tex Mex Chicken Panini

I spent St. Patrick’s Day weekend at a dog trial in northern California. The trial was a blast and I always enjoy spending time with agility dogs and the humans who love them. I found myself chatting with one of my agility buddies (the human kind), expounding about how busy my schedule was and how it would only get busier in the summer when I had to juggle Dutch oven events, dog trials, a full time job and quality time with my husband. I wasn’t complaining and I actually blurted out to my friend that “I have a full life.” Not “I have a full schedule.” “I have a full life.” It made me pause.

How often do we think about our lives in this way? I imagine we all have busy schedules juggling jobs, family obligations, hobbies, school, or other pursuits. We each are given one life to live and it is up to us to make it a flavorful one. The fun part is that we get to season it to our own tastes. The challenge is finding the right balance for all of those seasonings. Despite how hectic my schedule gets, I much prefer my crazy flavorful life to a bland one.

Funny how dog trials always give me too much time to think. Now that I got carried away waxing philosophical, following is a very flavorful recipe for a Tex Mex Chicken Panini that I hope adds a little spice to your life.

Tex Mex Chicken PaniniIngredients
2 cups cooked or rotisserie Chicken, shredded
1/2 of a 10-oz. can of Rotel Diced Tomatoes with Chiles
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped Cilantro
1/2 Tbsp. minced Garlic
Salt and Pepper
2 French Bread Sandwich Rolls
1 Red Bell Pepper, halved
1/2 White Onion, cut into slices
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

Roast the bell pepper and onion slices for 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

Roast the bell pepper and onion slices for 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

The onions should be tender and the pepper skin should begin to blister.

The onions should be tender and the pepper skin should begin to blister. A little char adds more flavor.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, Rotel tomatoes, mayo, cilantro and garlic.

In a bowl, combine the chicken, Rotel tomatoes, mayo, cilantro and garlic.

Mix lightly but thoroughly.

Mix lightly but thoroughly.

Assemble the sandwich with a layer of the chicken mixture.

Assemble the sandwich with a layer of the chicken mixture.

Then some of the roasted onions.

Then some of the roasted onions.

And slices of the roasted bell pepper.

And slices of the roasted bell pepper.

Finally, top with the shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Finally, top with the shredded Monterey Jack cheese.

Grill in a panini press or grill the sandwich on a cast iron griddle on medium-high heat. Place a bacon press on top.

Grill in a panini press or on a cast iron griddle on medium-high heat. Place a bacon press or small skillet on top.

Grill on each side for 2 minutes until golden grill marks appear and the cheese melts.

Grill on each side for 2 minutes until golden brown and the cheese melts.

Cut it in half and enjoy some slightly spicy goodness.

Cut it in half and savor the spicy goodness.

Chipotle Lime Steak Tacos with Roasted Corn Relish

Here’s a fun twist on Taco Night – marinated steak tacos with a scrumptious roasted corn relish. The steak takes a few hours to marinate, but cooking and assembly time are pretty quick, approximately 30 to 40 minutes. Good for any night of the week!

Steak Tacos with Roasted Corn RelishSteak Marinade Ingredients
Juice and zest from 3 Limes
2 Tbsps. of Honey
2 Tbsps. Oil, vegetable or canola
2 Tbsps. Adobo Sauce
1 tsp. ground Cumin
1/4 tsp. Ground Black Pepper
1.5 lbs. Skirt Steak or Round Sirloin Tip Boneless Thin Cut

In bowl, combine lime juice and zest, honey, oil, adobo sauce, cumin and pepper.

In bowl, combine lime juice and zest, honey, oil, adobo sauce, cumin and pepper.

Combine ingredients thoroughly.

Combine ingredients thoroughly.

Cut steak into thin strips.

Cut steak into thin strips.

Place steak and marinade in a Ziploc bag. Refrigerate for 6 to 14 hours.

Place steak and marinade in a Ziploc bag. Refrigerate for 6 to 14 hours.

Steak Tacos with Roasted Corn RelishCorn Relish Ingredients
6 Green Onions
2 Ears of Corn, husked
1 – 2 Tbsps. Oil, divided
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh Cilantro
1 tsp. Lime Zest
1 Tbsp. Lime Juice
1/2 tsp. Chile Powder

To prepare the relish, brush the corn and onions with oil.

To prepare the relish, brush the corn and onions with oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Grill over medium-high heat until slightly charred, about 2 minutes for the onions and 7 minutes for the corn. Turn each frequently.

Grill over medium-high heat until slightly charred, about 2 minutes for the onions and 7 minutes for the corn. Turn each frequently.

Slightly charred corn.

Slightly charred corn.

Cut the corn off the cobs. Coarsely chop the onions and add them to the corn. Next add the cilantro, lime zest and juice, chile powder, 1 tbsp. of oil, and salt and pepper.

Cut the corn off the cobs. Coarsely chop the onions and add them to the corn. Next add the cilantro, lime zest and juice, chile powder, 1 tbsp. of oil, and salt and pepper.

Mix thoroughly.

Mix thoroughly.

When the steak is marinated, grill over medium-high heat on a cast iron griddle. Takes about 5 to 7 minutes.

When the steak is marinated, grill over medium-high heat on a cast iron griddle. Takes about 5 to 7 minutes.

Heat the corn tortillas over a burner or on the griddle. Fill with steak and corn relish. Que bueno!

Heat the corn tortillas over a burner or on the griddle. Fill with steak and corn relish and serve. Enjoy!

Saucy Grilled Shrimp with Roasted Vegetables

In the spirit of mixing things up a bit, here’s a nice “saucy” grilled shrimp recipe with roasted butternut squash, cauliflower and carrots. The red pepper sauce is reminiscent of a Spanish Romesco sauce. If you are not a fan of garlic, then you may want to cut back on the quantity of garlic cloves.

Roasted Vegetables Ingredients (sorry, no group photo)
1 medium-sized Butternut Squash, cubed
1 head Cauliflower, cut into bite-sized pieces
3-4 Carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 Tbsps. Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste
3 sprigs of fresh Rosemary
6 fresh Sage leaves
2 Tbsps. chopped Parsley

In a large baking dish, mix together the vegetables and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in the springs of rosemary and sage leaves. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

In a large baking dish, mix together the vegetables and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in the sprigs of rosemary and sage leaves. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Once roasted, remove the sage and rosemary sprigs. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

Once roasted, remove the sage and rosemary sprigs. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

While your veggies are roasting, prepare the saucy shrimp.

Saucy Grilled ShrimpIngredients
1/2 lb. fresh Shrimp, de-veined
1 jar Roasted Red Peppers
3/4 cup Crushed Tomatoes
3-4 cloves Garlic, peeled and smashed
1 slice hearty White Bread, torn into pieces
1/2 tsp. Chili Powder
1 tsp. Paprika
1/4 cup Oil
1/3 cup Slivered Almonds
1 tsp. Sherry Vinegar

In a food processor or blender, add the roasted red peppers, crushed tomatoes, garlic, white bread, chili powder, paprika, almonds, oil., and sherry vinegar. Puree.

In a food processor or blender, add the roasted red peppers, crushed tomatoes, garlic, white bread, chili powder, paprika, almonds, oil, and sherry vinegar.

Puree into a thick, slightly chunky sauce.

Puree into a thick, slightly chunky sauce.

Marinade the shrimp in about 1/2 cup of the sauce for 10 minutes. Reserve the rest of the sauce for dipping.

Marinade the shrimp in about 1/2 cup of the sauce for 10 minutes. Reserve the rest of the sauce for dipping.

Grill the shrimp on a hot, oiled cast iron griddle for about 2 minutes on each side until the tails curl and the shrimp turns pink.

Grill the shrimp on a hot, oiled cast iron griddle for about 2 minutes on each side until the tails curl and the shrimp turns pink.

Serve with the roasted vegetables and a side of sauce. Simple and tasty. Enjoy!

Serve with the roasted vegetables and a side of sauce. Simple and tasty. Enjoy!

Turkey, Bacon and Avocado Panini with Chipotle Mayo

Who doesn’t love a grilled sandwich? They are, for me, one of the best comfort foods around. They are quick to make and go well with soup or salad – or are quite tasty just by themselves. The Italian panini takes the grilled sandwich far beyond the American grilled cheese variety. I love them.

I don’t own a panini press, but I am still equipped with a ribbed cast iron griddle and bacon press that enables me to make any ‘ol panini any ‘ol time. If you own a panini press, I hope you use it often.

This particular panini recipe has many of my favorite ingredients – turkey, avocado, bacon (isn’t everything better with bacon), and provolone cheese – and it is smothered in a dynamic spicy chipotle mayo that takes all the ingredients to another level.

Ingredients
1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Sour Cream
1 chopped Chipotle Pepper in Adobe Sauce (remove the seeds for a milder flavor)
1 tsp. Lime Juice
Lime Zest from one lime
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh Cilantro
2 Tbsps. Butter, softened
4 slices of thick Wheat or Multigrain Bread
4 slices of Provolone Cheese
4 – 6 slices of Deli Turkey
4-5 slices of Bacon, cooked
1 ripe Avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced

Fry four to five slices of bacon in a cast iron skillet. Once cooked, remove and drain on a paper towel.

While your bacon is sizzlin’ add the mayo in a bowl.

Next add the sour cream…

and the chipotle pepper. Remove the seeds first if you can’t take the heat in the kitchen.

Next, add the lime zest and lime juice.

Finally, add the cilantro.

Combine all ingredients until a creamy colorful mayo appears.

Butter four slices of bread on one side.

Flip the bread over and smother the other side with that delicious chipotle mayo.

Cover the mayo side of the bread with a slice of provolone cheese.

On two slices of bread, add a couple of slices of the deli turkey.

Tear two slices of bacon in half and place them on top of the turkey.

Place the slice of bread with provolone on top. Place the sandwich on a hot grill.

Place a bacon press on top of the sandwich and grill for 2 to 3 minutes until the cheese melts.

Flip it over with a spatula and grill the other side for 2 to 3 minutes. Look at those gorgeous grill marks. A feast for the eyes.

Look at that panini oozing with cheesy goodness.

Remove the panini from the grill and pull it apart. Add the avocado slices and put the sandwich back together.

Slice and serve. Then make another one. By the way, this recipe comes to you “Husband Approved.” My hubby ate his sandwich and half of mine. Hard to keep them on the plate. Enjoy!

Choco-Pumpkin Johnnycakes

Johnnycakes are the cornmeal cousin to pancakes and date back as far as colonial America. Today, they remain popular in New England. Hoecakes are the southern variety. Both are usually cooked on a griddle or in a skillet. I decided to bake mine, making them like a dense muffin. I had a cup of canned pumpkin left over from my Upside-Down Cranberry Rumpkin Skillet Cake and a bag of devilish special dark chocolate chips, so Choco-Pumpkin Johnnycakes were born.

Johnnycakes are not very sweet, which is actually something I like about them. They can be served as a side to a savory dish or doused with warm maple syrup for breakfast with a hot cup of tea.

Ingredients
1 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsps. Baking Powder
1/3 cup Sugar
1/4 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
1/2 tsp Salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup canned Pumpkin
3/4 cup finely ground Yellow Cornmeal
6 Tbsps. Unsalted Butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup chopped, toasted Walnuts
1/2 cup Chocolate Chips

Toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium-low heat until they begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, salt and nutmeg…

until combined.

Warm the milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbles form around the edges. Remove from heat and reserve 1/2 cup of the milk.

Add the cornmeal to the warm milk and stir with a whisk…

until completely combined.

Cover the saucepan with a lid and let sit for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add the eggs

and pumpkin

until combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. If the batter is too thick, add some of the reserved milk. I added about a 1/4 cup to get the consistency I wanted.

Fold in the toasted walnuts

and chocolate chips

to create a yummy batter. Let the batter rest for another 10 minutes. While it’s snoozing, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a cast iron biscuit pan or muffin pan with cooking spray.

Fill each section about 3/4 full.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes until a skewer or toothpick in the center comes clean. Cool on top of a wire rack.

Once cool, remove from the pan and enjoy!

Addicted to Pots

Since I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, I have been pondering – or should I say, obsessing – over various recipes in which I can showcase my cast iron addiction, I mean collection.

So today I pulled out every piece of cast iron that I own and thought it would be nice to show how diverse cast iron cookware is and how, once you get started collecting, it’s very difficult to quit.

A few years ago, after watching a Dutch oven competition at a local festival, I told my husband that I thought it might be fun to give Dutch oven cooking a try. That Christmas, I received these two lovelies, plus some cookbooks.

Dutch ovens

Now, this is what my Dutch oven collection has become.Dutch ovens

From top to bottom, one 6-inch, one 10-inch, two 12-inch, and one 16-inch. I don’t have a 14-inch yet. What’s wrong with me?

And don’t forget my latest acquisition…9.5 quart turkey roaster.Dutch oven turkey roaster

And then there are all of my kitchen items.

The Skookie (not to be confused with Snookie) is basically designed for a skillet cookie…get it, skookie. Good stuff can be made in this little devil. And it even comes with its own oven mitt. I have two of these. Only two. I have it all under control.skookie

Ahhh…the fajita skillet. Ay caramba! I have this one, plus six that a friend gave me when she moved. They are rusty and need to be cleaned up and re-seasoned. Sounds like a project for a future post. Then I might have to plan a fajita party. You see the path I’m heading down…fajita skillet

I’ve already introduced you to my biscuit pan. (See Recipe for Cheesy Scallion Biscuits.) I’ve also used the pan to make mini pizzas on the grill…great for camping and kids love them. Plus, appetizers like mini spinach and bacon quiches. Oh, the cravings!cast iron biscuit pan

Cast iron pizza anyone?cast iron pizza pan

This is what you can do with this awesome pizza pan.

Margharita Pizza

This square griddle is perfect for paninis.  Why do I suddenly have the munchies?square cast iron griddle

This rectangular griddle is double-sided – the smooth side is great for pancakes.rectangular cast iron griddle

And the ribbed side is great for grilling burgers, shrimp, fish, etc. The griddle fits over two burners on the stove.cast iron griddle with ribs

I love this Dutch oven, which is designed for the stove and oven. Great for soups, stews, and pasta dishes.cast iron Dutch oven

And now the skillets. I call this one Monster. It’s huge – a 12-inch. Great for stir fry and jambalaya.monster cast iron skillet

Even its lid has teeth. I told you, it’s a monster. Am I hallucinating?cast iron skillet lid

I use these two skillets the most, for just about everything. The large is a 10-inch and the smaller is a 5-inch. I can’t live without them.two cast iron skillets

This deep 10-inch skillet is great for sauces and pasta dishes.deep cast iron skillet

And finally, to cap off this addict’s showcase, I received this lovely cast iron Japanese tea kettle from my hubby this past Christmas.cast iron Japanese tea kettle

I’m addicted to tea also.