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.