Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Beef, Lamb + Rice Meatballs with Mint Tzatziki

Soooo... I was on the fence about posting this recipe because the photos came out poopy soupy. We had friends over, I was rushing, and it was getting dark out, and all that resulted in some seriously lackluster food photography. But since the meal itself turned out so extra scrumptious, I figured I'd tell you guys all about it anyway.

We're hoping to buy a second income property by the end of the year (woohoo!), which means that we've been trying our best to watch our spending. Some weeks have been better than others, but overall, it's been a nice challenge to try and cook more budget-friendly meals. I probably only prepare meat about 2-3 times a week because it is so costly, and because even as a committed carnivore, I really don't feel that meat is necessary every single day. 

I had been in the mood to whip up some lamb meatballs, but since lamb isn't exactly easy on the wallet, I held back. And then it hit me that mixing beef in would not only make the meatballs cheaper, but it would also provide a milder flavor for those who tend to find lamb to be too gamey. Additionally, I tossed some rice into the mix to really make the recipe stretch. With just half a pound each of ground lamb and ground beef, I was able to feed 4 adults and 2 small kids. Genius, if I do say so myself. 

Although these meatballs were inspired by mediterranean cuisine, in no way would I consider them to be traditional or classic. Like most of my dishes, they're basically a result of a whole bunch of random ingredients thrown together. If you'd prefer to go all lamb or all beef, then go for it; these are virtually impossible to mess up.

Beef, Lamb + Rice Meatballs

olive oil
1 small or 1/2 of a large yellow onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1/3 c. of dried cranberries
1 1/2 c. of white wine
1/2 lb. ground lamb
1/2 lb. ground beef (chuck or sirloin, whichever you prefer)
1 1/2 c. cooked long grain white rice
2 tbsp. of pine nuts
2 tbsp. of chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 egg
salt + pepper

Sauté your chopped onion in some olive oil until it starts to become translucent. Add your garlic and cranberries, and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Pour in your wine, and simmer on low heat until all of the liquid has evaporated. Put this mixture aside, and let cool.

Set oven at 375º. In a large mixing bowl, combine both meats, onion and cranberry mixture, rice, pine nuts, parsley, and egg. Season liberally*. Using your hands, bring all the ingredients together. Once everything is thoroughly combined, form the mixture into meatballs (I got 17 meatballs that were about 1 1/2 in. in diameter), and line them on a foil-lined and greased baking sheet. Bake until they're golden and sizzling. Timing will depend on the size of your meatballs; mine took roughly 20 minutes. 

Serve with Mint Tzatziki (recipe below) and some grilled or roasted summer vegetables. 

*If you're unsure about your seasoning, you can always fry up a mini patty to use as a taste test. Remember, you can always add more, but over seasoning is a tough mistake to fix.

Mint Tzatziki

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 c. of greek yogurt
1/2 c. of sour cream or creme fraîche
1 tbsp. of chopped dill
1 tbsp. of chopped mint
juice of 1/2 lemon
splash of olive oil
dash of salt

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse a few times until combined. Pulse for longer periods if you prefer a smoother tzatziki. Refrigerate for a few hours/overnight before serving. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cranberry Bean, Farro + Sausage Stew with Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

It's been a while since I posted a soup dish. I guess it felt a little funny to be writing out soup recipes in the middle of summer, but since the Bay Area has such mild weather until about September, I figured, why not? I know most of you are probably scorching right now and devouring popsicle after popsicle, but I'm actually wrapped in a cozy sweater as I type this. So, soup it is.

I really make every effort to try and utilize the food in our pantry as efficiently as possible. For one, we have a fairly small kitchen, and fairly small kitchens typically come with a fairly small amount of storage space. I try my best to not stock up on more groceries until our cupboards are practically barren. A lot of times, this means that I have to suck it up and eat something when I may not necessarily feel like eating that particular something. I consider myself an incredibly fortunate individual who, on a regular basis, gets to eat some of the finest foods this world has to offer, so a little bit of a sacrifice from time to time is no biggie. 

And then, there's the issue of food waste. I hate it. Yes, I actually HATE it. Every time I see food go into our garbage can, it feels as if a piece of my soul is going with it. Not only is it money that's basically being thrown out, but wasted food is food that could have gone to someone in need. Never in my life have I felt hunger, true hunger, and it crushes me that not everyone has access to a decent meal at least once a day. I just don't understand how it's possible. When I was a kid, my mom and I would help deliver baskets of groceries to local families in need around Thanksgiving time every year. Most of these families would practically shit themselves from excitement over their gifted boxed mashed potatoes and canned corn, and it didn't take long for me to genuinely understand what a lucky duck I was. I find myself constantly working to drive this point home with Cheech, and reminding her that we never refer to food as "yucky" (or, complain about food in general), but she's three, so her common response tends to be something along the lines of, "Ok, can you please play the Frozen song, Mama?" Hopefully, she'll catch on soon enough.

Alright, I'll get off my soapbox now. If there's one thing I continually want to stress with this blog, it's that  phenomenal meals can always be made without having to run to the market. It takes practice and trust in yourself and your skills in the kitchen, but it's a glorious thing when you learn how to cook by technique vs. by following a recipe word for word. This stew came about because I had three cooked sausages and some tomatoes in the fridge, plus a bag of unopened cranberry beans that I noticed had somehow ended up in a container we use to store our spices. I pretty much just threw everything together here; I hadn't even soaked the beans, but split beans don't bother me so much in a rustic soup. 

Cranberry Bean, Farro + Sausage Stew with Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes

1 c. of dried cranberry beans, cooked until almost al dente and drained*
1-1 1/2 c. of heirloom baby tomatoes
salt + pepper
olive oil
1 small-medium yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
splash of white wine (anywhere between 1/2 c. - 1 c. is fine)
3 sweet or spicy (whichever you prefer) italian sausages, chopped
1/2 c. of uncooked farro
1/2 c. of tomato sauce
7-10 fresh basil leaves
chicken broth
parmesan cheese for topping

*I always forget to soak beans. Again, it wasn't the end of the world with this dish, but here's a cheater's way of soaking if you're hellbent on it:
1. Place your beans in a pot with about 2 inches of water.
2. Bring to a rolling boil, and let the beans continue to boil for two minutes.
3. Take your pot off of the heat, cover, and let sit for an hour.
4. Drain. Beans are ready to be cooked.
5. To prevent splitting, make sure to start with hot liquid when cooking your beans.

Preheat your oven to 375º. Drizzle your tomatoes with some olive oil and season with salt + pepper. Roast until fully blistered and caramelized (this took about half an hour in our toaster oven). Set the tomatoes aside.

In your soup pot, sauté your onions in some olive oil, on medium heat, until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for about another two minutes. Pour in your wine, and let the onions and garlic cook until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Throw in your cooked and drained cranberry beans, uncooked farro, chopped sausages, tomato sauce, and basil leaves, and pour in enough chicken broth to cover, plus an extra inch. Turn up the heat, and bring the stew to a boil. Bring the heat down to low, cover the pot, and simmer for roughly 30-40 minutes. Check your liquid level half way through cooking. If it seems low and as if your stew might dry out, feel free to add a little more broth (as you can see from the photos, this isn't mean to be brothy, so don't go overboard).  Once the farro and cranberry beans are fully cooked, gently stir in your roasted baby tomatoes. Season to taste, and serve with grated Parmesan.

As with just about every other soup, this soup was great the first day, and to die for on the following day. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Quinoa + Chickpea Fritters

Crapballs. I've been trying to keep up with this blog, really I have. If any of you follow me on IG, or came here from my last blog, or know me from here (is that a blast from the past, or what?!), you probably know that we've struggled with Cheech's bedtime since, I don't know, BIRTH. After almost two years of scratching our heads, trying to figure out why we had the only kid who could never manage to fall asleep before 8:30 pm, we gave up at succumbed to a 10-10:30 bedtime. This was challenging, but fine and it was manageable for us. In the past couple months, however, her bedtime has slowly been pushed back, and she wan't asleep until around midnight on most nights. This is all just to say that I've become incredibly unproductive as a result and, sadly, the first thing to suffer was this blog. Without getting too into it, we're trying to phase out naps now. She was sound asleep by 7:30 this evening, so if this can continue, I'll definitely be working on this space more often. Fingers crossed!

Anyhoo... Cheech is currently big on chickpeas, and whenever I see that my kid is obsessed with a healthy food, I try my best to add it to as many dishes as I possibly can. She's happy just eating them plain with maybe a little bit of salt sprinkled on, but that can get a little B-O-R-I-N-G for me. After using them in soups and pasta recipes, I wanted to try something new, and I remembered attempting to make gluten-free quinoa fritters for a gluten-free friend of ours a couple years back. The result was a complete failure. Without gluten to hold everything together, the fritters ended up totally falling apart as soon as they hit the hot oil in my pan. 

That experience was such a disaster, that I've spent the last two years steering clear of any type of gluten-free fritter. But then a lightbulb went off in my head. Perhaps the starchiness of a bean could do the trick! Maybe some mashed chickpeas could help bind my fritters. Well, I was wrong. Very, very wrong. I quickly realized that I was going to end up with the same fiasco on my hands, so I resorted to adding some panko to remedy the situation. It all ended up working out, but I need to give these another go because now I'm determined to make them gluten-free.

Don't get me wrong, these fritters were legit. I just wish this problem was a little easier to solve. I considered omitting the egg, but I fear they might end up too dry if I do that. I suppose I could simply consult the world wide web for the best solution, but I'm the kind of person who likes to assemble IKEA furniture without the handy directions included in the box, so I'll let you come to your own conclusions when it comes to my moronic tendencies. On that note, if any of you happen to know how to fix this dilemma, please feel free to share. 

Quinoa + Chickpea Fritters

olive oil
1/2 medium-large yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2 c. of chopped mushrooms (I used cremini/use whatever you happen to have)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, roughly chopped
2 c. of cooked quinoa*
2 c. of cooked and drained chickpeas
1/2 c. of grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp. of chopped chives
1 tbsp. of chopped parsley
panko bread crumbs, roughly 1 c.**
salt + pepper
oil for medium-heat frying (I used walnut oil)

*I really like to toast my quinoa before cooking it. This is the absolute best quinoa-cooking tutorial, IMHO.

**Like I mentioned, I added the panko at the end to fix the recipe, so I didn't exactly measure. I'm assuming it was around 1 cup. It could have been a little more, or a little less. Once your mixture is a good consistency for forming patties that hold together, then you're good to go. 

Saute your chopped onion and mushrooms in some olive oil on medium-low heat until they start to caramelize. Add your spinach and garlic, and stir and cook until the spinach is wilted. Take your pan off of the heat, and let it cool. Using a food processor or potato masher (the latter will just take longer), grind your chickpeas into a thick and chunky paste. In a large mixing bowl, combine the quinoa, mashed chickpeas, parmesan, cooled mushroom and spinach mixture, chopped herbs, a generous amount of salt +pepper, and your egg. Bring it all together with your hands, and add the panko to help bind it. Form your mixture into little patties that are a touch smaller than your palm (I was able to get 17 total). Heat your frying oil in a shallow frying pan on medium heat. The oil is ready for frying once the fritters start to sizzle as soon as they hit the pan. Fry until golden, then flip to fry them on the other side. Make sure not to crowd your pan with fritters because it will make them harder to flip (these are delicate little guys). If you feel like they're browning too quickly, just lower your heat. Line them up on paper towels immediately after cooking to drain any excess oil. They're great served with a side salad, or just on their own with a dipping sauce of your choice. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Herbed Burrata with Maple Roasted Mushrooms + Eggplant

I am an impatient person; it is the bane of my existence. I've learned to control it a touch more since becoming a parent, but still, it is a problem that I've dealt with most of my life and will probably continue to deal with until forever. And so every June when it is almost summer but not actually summer, I convince myself that it is most definitely time to start loading our market hauls with summer produce. And every year, without fail, I kick myself for not waiting the few extra weeks it takes for the absolute best tomatoes, stone fruit, eggplant, etc. This year was, of course, no different.

I love eggplant. I mean, I LOOOVE it and I want to marry it. It is the only vegetable I long for year round, and I anxiously await its arrival in the same way a kid anxiously waits for that last bell to ring before the start of summer break. Once its peak comes, I want to put it in just about anything you can imagine. I want to grill it, roast it, toss it with pastas and grains, stack it on crostini, use it in soups, you name it. Although I cherish its versatility, I'm also always taken aback by how perfect it is on its own without any bells or whistles. I don't mean to get all existential on you, but if there is a God, the creation of eggplant, not beer, is proof that he loves us and wants us to be happy. 

Back to my lack of patience. I made this dish a good three weeks ago and although it was overall great, the eggplant was a little lackluster, so I figured I'd hold off a bit before posting it. We brought some Chinese eggplant home this past Monday and it was superb; summer produce has officially arrived. You could really sub any summer veggies in this recipe and end up with splendid results. Make sure to use top-notch burrata, though. I could wax poetic about how burrata should only be eaten in Italy just as lobster should only be eaten in New England, but at this rate I'm getting to New England about 10x more often than I'm getting to Italy, so something's got to give. If you can, try and pick some up from a local cheesemonger or gourmet shop.

Herbed Burrata with Maple Roasted Mushrooms + Eggplant

1 ball of burrata, drained of its storing liquid
1 medium eggplant, cubed
1/2 red or yellow onion, cubed
6-8 cremini mushrooms, quartered 
olive oil
1 tbsp. of maple syrup
1 tbsp. of balsamic vinegar 
1 tsp. each of chopped basil, mint, and parsley
salt + pepper

Preheat your oven to 400. Toss your vegetables with some olive oil, the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. Line on a pan and roast until caramelized (mine took about 30 minutes). Once cooked, serve in a bowl alongside your burrata. Top the cheese with your chopped herbs, and finish the entire dish with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Serve with some crostini or on its own.