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!

Herb-Crusted Chicken Breasts with Simple Pasta

Another crazy work week has passed and not much cooking has happened in my skillet lately. My poor blog is feeling neglected. And now I’m off for the weekend to a dog trial in Northern California, so like the Santana song so aptly puts it – my house is empty and my pots are cold. What can I say – life keeps moving and I’m trying to keep up!

So, before I pack up all my doggy stuff and head over the Sierras, I am leaving you with a simple and delicious herb-crusted chicken recipe, baked in my skillet of course, and served with a side of a delicious bow-tie pasta with tomatoes. It is surprisingly easy to make, packed full of flavor and tastes just as good when cold.

Hope you all have a great weekend. Maybe next week won’t be so crazy…

IMG_7193Ingredients
1/2 cup dry Bread Crumbs
2 tsps. dried Thyme
2 tsps. dried Basil
2 tsps. dried Oregano
1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Whole Eggs
1/4 cup Water
3-4 boneless, skinless Chicken Breasts

In a large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs with herbs.

In a large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs with herbs.

Mix well.

Mix well.

IMG_7197

Place flour in a shallow bowl. I used a pie pan.

In another bowl, combine the water and eggs.

In another bowl, combine the water and eggs.

Place the chicken breasts in the flour and dust completely.

Place the chicken breast in the flour and dust completely.

Next, coat the breasts with the egg mixture.

Next, coat the breast with the egg mixture.

Finally, coat the breasts with the herb mixture.

Finally, coat the breast with the herb mixture.

Place the breast in a skillet or baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Place the breast in a skillet or baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Repeat the process for all of the chicken breasts.

Repeat the process for all of the chicken breasts.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.

While the chicken breasts are baking, make the pasta.

IMG_7207Ingredients
2 Tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh Basil
1/8 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1/2 tsp Salt
1/8 – 1/4 tsp crushed Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 pound Bow-Tie Pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

Cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze the juice into a bowl.

Cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze the juice into a bowl.

Chop the tomatoes and add to the juice.

Chop the tomatoes and add to the juice.

Add the chopped basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

Add the chopped basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and black pepper.

Combine and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Combine and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

While the tomato mixture is gelling with all those good flavors, prepare the bow-tie pasta as directed on the package.

Add to the tomato mixture and combine well. Add the Parmesan cheese.

Add to the tomato mixture and combine well. Add the Parmesan cheese.

Serve with the herb-crusted chicken breast. Enjoy!

Serve with the herb-crusted chicken breast. Enjoy!

Italian Wedding Soup

Italian Wedding Soup – my absolute favorite soup on the planet, hands down. I first ate it, believe it or not, in the cafeteria at the university where I work and have been hooked ever since. Rich in simplicity, it consists of four ingredients – meatballs, chicken broth, spinach and pasta. Although traditionally served at Italian weddings (thus the name), I use it as one of my go-to soups when I have a cold or simply want some warm comfort in my system. I can’t get enough of it.

Ingredients
1 Egg, lightly beaten
3/4 lb. Lean Ground Beef
1/2 cup, chopped Onion
3 Tbsp. plain Bread Crumbs
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp. dried Parsley
Salt and Pepper
2 32 oz. containers of Chicken Broth
5 oz. fresh Spinach
1 1/2 tsp. dried Oregano
8 oz. Acini di Pepe Pasta

First, the meatballs:

Put the lightly beaten egg in a large bowl.

Add the ground beef…

Onion…

Bread crumbs…

1 Tbsp. of the parmesan cheese and the parsley.

Combine all ingredients.

Form beef mixture into meatballs, about 1 inch in size. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Place the baked meatballs in the bottom of a cast iron Dutch oven.

Cover the meatballs with the chicken broth.

Add the spinach.

And the oregano.

Combine ingredients and cover the pot. Let it simmer 10 to 15 minutes to allow the spinach to wilt.

Spinach as it gently wilts.

Cook the pasta in a separate pot for about 11 minutes. Drain and add to the soup mixture. Let it simmer for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.

Serve hot with a sprinkle of some of the remaining parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

World Series Pizza

I made this pizza on Sunday to eat while watching what my husband and I hoped – and turned out to be – the final game of the World Series. My hubby is a San Francisco Bay Area boy – born and raised in the East Bay – so we were quite happy to see the Giants sweep the Series (although the Tigers made them earn that last win). What better way to enjoy the all-American pastime than with a dish that has become so much a part of American cuisine.

My particular pizza is of the Chicago deep dish variety and baked to decadent perfection in my “Monster” cast iron skillet. This recipe is a little labor-intensive – the homemade dough needs to proof for about an hour – but it scores a grand slam in flavor and heartiness.

If you don’t have a “Monster” skillet, try baking this in a deep dish pizza pan or rectangular baking dish.

Ingredients
Dough:
1 tsp. Sugar
1 package Dry Yeast
1 cup Warm Water (100 degrees to 110 degrees)
3 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp. Salt

Topping:
3 Sweet Italian Sausages
3/4 lb. Lean Ground Hamburger
1 cup chopped Red Onion
1 (8 oz.) package Sliced Mushrooms
1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced
Olive Oil
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste or Ketchup
1 tsp. dried Oregano
1/4 tsp. Fennel Seeds, crushed
2 (8 oz.) cans Tomato Sauce
1 Tbsp. Cornmeal
8 oz. shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan Cheese or Pecorino Romano Cheese

To prepare the dough, combine the yeast and sugar in a large bowl

and dissolve in the warm water. Let it stand for 10 minutes.

Add 1 cup of flour and the salt to the yeast mixture.

Whisk together until combined.

Add 1 3/4 cups of flour and combine until a dough forms.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8 minutes. Use the remaining 1/4 cup of flour to add to the dough when it sticks to your hands.

A nice elastic ball of dough should form.

Coat a bowl with olive oil and place the dough inside, coating its surface with the oil.

Cover the bowl and place it in a warm, draft-free area so the dough may rise to twice its size. This will take between 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare your pizza toppings. Brown the ground beef and onion in a skillet.

Once the beef is browned, remove it and any grease from the skillet.

Next, sear the Italian sausage for about 5 minutes, turning so each side is browned.

Remove the sausage from the skillet once browned. The sausage should not be cooked completely through – it can be fairly pink inside. It will cook through when the pizza bakes. Once the sausage is cool enough to handle, slice into bite-size disks.

Add a few teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet and saute the mushrooms and red pepper for about 5 minutes.

Once the shrooms and peppers are soft, remove from the skillet.

On to the pizza sauce. Add the garlic to the hot skillet and cook for 30 seconds until it begins to brown. Next add the tomato paste or ketchup and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Add the fennel seeds and oregano…

and the tomato sauce.

Simmer for 5 minutes until the sauce thickens.

Time for the seventh inning stretch…let’s put this pizza together! Coat a 12-inch cast iron skillet with oil and sprinkle the cornmeal over the bottom.

Once the pizza dough has risen, punch it down and let it sit for another 5 minutes. Pizza, like baseball, is a game of patience.

Spread the pizza dough over the bottom and up the sides of the skillet.

Combine the two cheeses in a bowl. Cover the dough with half of the cheese mixture. Yes, cheese on the bottom of the pizza.

Next, add the hamburger and onion mixture.

Then the mushrooms and peppers.

The pizza sauce.

The Italian sausage – yes, it is rare in the center and will cook completely while baking in the oven. Trust me!

Finally, sprinkle the remainder of the cheese mixture over the pizza.

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes until the crust browns and the topping bubbles. Let the pizza stand for 10 minutes before serving. Bases loaded, home run, grand slam pizza. Enjoy!

Easy Cheesy Spaghetti with Serendipitous Sauce and Herby Garlic Bread

Serendipity = the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for

Amen. I first fell in love with the idea of serendipity as a child when I read the wonderful children’s series by Stephen Cosgrove (remember Leo the Lop?). Serendipity was a pink sea monster who came across fortunate discoveries by accident while learning to cope with life’s everyday mishaps. The moral of Serendipity’s story is “knowing who you really are will bring you happiness.” Today, in my middle age, I still find happy surprises where I didn’t expect them…and call out “Serendipity!” when the moment hits me.

So, when I tried a few weeks ago to make braciole – an Italian steak roulade or filled meat roll – things didn’t go so well. The meat was tender but dry (probably because I used the wrong kind of steak and cooked it too long), the filling was too thick and choppy (because I should have pureed it in my Cuisinart), and I did a horrible job of tying the meat roll with butcher’s string. (The very next day after my beefy disaster, while surfing The Cooking Channel, I found a “Good Eats” episode on exactly the proper way to make braciole. This was not a serendipitous moment at all – rather, as Alanis Morisette so aptly put it – ironic.)

My serendipitous moment came when I made the marinara sauce that smothered the braciole. My little culinary disaster reared a wonderfully light tomato sauce flavored with onions, garlic, herbs, carrots and celery. And it made enough for the braciole plus a large Mason jar (plenty for today’s spaghetti recipe).

I may or may not attempt braciole again (I’ll have to consult Alton Brown on this one), but I now have a tasty marinara sauce that will become a staple in my house – Serendipity!

Marinara Sauce Ingredients
1/2 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 small Onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 stalk Celery, chopped
1 Carrot, chopped
2 (32-oz.) cans Crushed Tomatoes
1 Tbsp. dried Basil or 4 to 6 fresh Basil Leaves
2 Bay Leaves
Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Unsalted Butter

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft and translucent.

Add celery and carrot and season with salt and pepper. Saute veggies until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, basil and bay leaves and reduce heat to low.

Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the bay leaves and taste sauce. If too acidic, add butter, 1 Tbsp. at a time, to round out the flavor.

Store sauce in a Mason jar or freeze in a freezer bag for future use.

Spaghetti Ingredients
1 jar Serendipitous Sauce
1 lb. lean Ground Beef
4 oz. sliced Mushrooms
Spaghetti Noodles, prepared according to package

Garlic Bread Ingredients
1 loaf French Bread
Unsalted Butter
1 clove Garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp. each of dried Basil and Oregano
Grated Cheese (Parmesan or Pecorino Romano)

To finish the sauce, brown the ground beef in a large skillet.

Add the Serendipitous Sauce.

Add the mushrooms, mix into sauce and let simmer over medium-low heat until sauce is hot and mushrooms cook through.

While the sauce is simmering, preheat oven at 375 degrees. Prepare the garlic bread.

Slice a loaf of French bread in half. Place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum.

Melt 2 Tbsp. of unsalted butter with a crushed garlic clove in a microwave. Takes about a minute.

Add the dried basil and oregano

and combine.

Brush the herby butter onto the French bread.

Bake for 10 minutes until edges become golden brown.

Sprinkle grated cheese (I used pecorino romano) on top of the warm bread.

Spoon the marinara sauce on top of noodles, sprinkle with cheese and serve with garlic bread. A dish a pink sea monster would love!

Foolproof Chili and Skillet Cornbread

Ahhh…fall is just around the corner – this Saturday marks the official start of my favorite season. So what better way to celebrate than with two of my favorite autumnal dishes – chili and cornbread (the two just go together, don’t they?). Now I must confess that I stole this chili recipe from one of my husband’s employees, who stole it from his mom, who won a few cooking awards with it. I was never much of a chili fan until I tried this recipe. Now, I am hooked. What I love most about this recipe is that it isn’t super hot (although you can ratchet up the heat if you want), but it has tons of flavor, includes ground beef and Italian sausage, black beans, and the secret ingredient – fresh corn cut from the cob. It is impossible to mess up this chili (thus the name) and it cooks well in a crock pot in case you want to serve it at potlucks, as a dip with tortilla chips, or tailgating. The cornbread is simple, yet divine, moist and fluffy like a cake. Baking it in a cast iron skillet just makes it that much extra special. Give it a try…and here’s to chilly mornings and turning leaves.

Skillet Cornbread ingredientsSkillet Cornbread Ingredients
1/2 cup Butter, melted
2 Eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Cornmeal
1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt

Whisk together the melted butter, eggs and milk in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, sift together all of the dry ingredients.

Make sure dry ingredients are fully combined.

Add the dry mix, one cup at a time, to the wet ingredients and stir.

Until dry and wet ingredients are completely combined.

Pour batter into a lightly greased cast iron skillet. I placed a cookie sheet underneath to make it easier to carry and to catch any spills – not that I’m a clutz or anything, because I’m not. Really.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean. Your cornbread should be lightly golden brown. Check out those edges. I love you cast iron skillet!

Notice how moist and fluffy!

While your cornbread is baking, prepare your chili.

Foolproof Chili Ingredients
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 lb. Ground Italian Sausage, mild (choose hot if you want more heat)
1 10 oz. can RoTel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, mild (or hot, if you like it spicy!)
1 6 oz. can Tomato Paste
1 15.5 oz can each of Black Beans and Red Kidney Beans
1-2 Bell Peppers (I like red and yellow), chopped
1 Jalapeno, chopped (add two, if you can stand the heat in the kitchen)
Fresh Corn cut from 3 corn cobs
1 Tbsp. each of Garlic Salt, Chili Powder, Ground Cumin, Oregano

In a Dutch oven, brown the ground beef and Italian sausage.

Once the meat is browned, add the RoTel tomatoes and tomato paste.

Add the beans.

Then the peppers.

Now the fresh corn.

Mix all ingredients well.

Finally, add all of the spices and herbs and stir into chili.

Cover the Dutch oven with a lid and let the chili simmer for 30 minutes until hot.

Serve with a hearty slice of Skillet Cornbread.