Za’atar Turkey Meatballs with Chard and Bulgur

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After Thanksgiving, you have absolutely zero motivation to go grocery shopping and make dinner again, right? You feel satisfied that dinner was success. The dishes got done while you were still tipsy, so cleaning up all those pots and pans didn’t feel like such a chore. You enjoyed leftovers for a few days and yup, you had pie for breakfast and mashed potatoes with gravy for lunch because hey, it’s still a holiday weekend, and besides, you don’t want all that food to go to waste!

It’s when I finally come home and look at my own messy house and empty fridge that the real aversion to cooking sets in, albeit temporarily. It puts me in a bad mood to think about having to pack my lunch for the week, and the only thing that makes me at least scrounge around for a passable meal is the knowledge that if I don’t make something, I’m stuck eating high school cafeteria food for lunch. Not to mention having to go to the cafeteria when it’s packed with students and then trudge back up to the workroom with a ridiculous pinkish-red styrofoam tray and the obligatory carton of milk. I’m not sure which would be worse, the food or the experience.

I finally was compelled to put something together as an act of productive procrastination—you know, when you do a more tolerable chore in order to avoid facing the completely unbearable task that really needs to gets done (in this case, unpacking and laundry). (Usually, the only time my house gets cleaned is when I have papers to grade.) I was hoping to make one of those good post-Thanksgiving dishes, where you’re not ready to go cold-turkey (haha, no pun intended) to a strict post-holiday diet free of meat and cheese and other delicious things, but you want to make something a little on the healthier side.

I had some ground turkey in the freezer (I always buy it when it’s on sale, and then I never get around to using it), an unopened package of feta in the fridge (ditto), all sorts of grains in the pantry, and some red chard and herbs still clinging to life in the garden since it’s been so unseasonably warm. I decided to go the turkey meatball route, and the feta made me think about Middle Eastern spices. You can get za’atar pre-made, but since I still had fresh thyme, I decided to flavor the meatballs with the components of za’atar—thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt—instead of using a mix. You can find sumac at places like Penzey’s spices. I bought mine a year or so ago to make a Lebanese dish, and it’s still very flavorful. I rounded out the meatballs with some coarse bulgur and the chard since they are both common in Middle Eastern cooking.

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Note: I would use more greens next time. I didn’t get as much as I expected out of the garden, and the bunch I supplemented from the store was on the small side. I used a combination of red and white Swiss chard, but you can use whatever you prefer, as long as you don’t mind that the red stems can get muddy-colored when cooked. Lastly, I call for coarse bulgar because I prefer its larger size, but fine or medium bulgur (or honestly probably any other grain…) would work fine; just adjust the cooking time.


Za’atar Turkey Meatballs with Swiss Chard and Bulgur

serves 4

  • 1 lb. ground turkey (I used 93% lean)
  • 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese, divided
  • 3 cloves minced garlic, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely minced yellow onion
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 1/2 Tbsp. ground sumac
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 c. fresh soft breadcrumbs made from a slice of whole wheat sandwich bread (I freeze the slice then whir it in the food processor)
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of cayenne flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus some
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp. oil, divided
  • 1 c. coarse-grain bulgur
  • 2 c. + 1 Tbsp. water
  • 2 small bunches Swiss chard (about 3/4 lb), stems removed and chopped into 1/4″ – 1/3″ dice, leaves coarsely chopped
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a 12″ skillet over medium heat.
  2. Gently mix the turkey, 2 oz. of the feta, 2 of the cloves of minced garlic, and the next 9 ingredients (onion through 1/2 tsp. of salt) in a medium bowl. Do not overmix. Form into 16 evenly-sized balls.
  3. Cook the meatballs in 2 batches. Turn every 3-4 minutes until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 10 minutes for each batch. They will lose their shape and come out more like pyramids than balls. Keep the cooked meatballs warm on a plate tented with foil, or in a low oven.
  4. While you’re cooking the meatballs, put the bulgur and 2 cups of water in a saucepan. Add salt to taste. Bring to a boil, put a lid on it, reduce the heat to low, and cook until all of the water is absorbed, 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat when done, and let sit with the lid on.
  5.  After you have cooked the meatballs, add the remaining 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil and the chopped chard stems to the skillet. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. water and stir to scrape up all of the browned bits. Continuing stirring frequently until the stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining clove of minced garlic and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the chard leaves and salt to taste and stir until wilted, 3-5 minutes.
  6. To serve, fluff the bulgur with a fork and divide it among 4 plates. Top each with 1/4 of the cooked chard, 1/2 oz. of the remaining feta cheese, and 4 meatballs.
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Zucchini Eggs

Sometimes the last day of vacation makes me feel like I’m reliving one of the more forgettable parts of adolescence: that unshakable grumpy mood and, accompanying it, an overwhelming sense of sheer crapiness pervading everything. Fortunately (for me, and for those who have to be around me), this sullenness isn’t the all-day affair it used to be, at least partially because there are two things I always look forward to when I come home. The first is catching up on snuggles with this puppy:

And the second is seeing what happened in the garden while we were gone. I am like those proud aunts who exclaim “The last time I saw you, you were only this big!,” only I’m saying it to my squashes and peppers. I mean, we got home at 11:30pm and I was literally out there with the flashlight app on my phone, knowing it was too dark to see much but not being able to resist a quick glance through everything. I had asked a friend to help herself to anything that ripened while we were gone, but when I really checked out the garden in the daylight, would I find any new baby watermelons? Did everything survive? Would there be anything that was ready to pick? The answers, as I discovered the next morning, were: Yes, Mostly, and How did I not see that zucchini before I left? Did it seriously grow a foot and a half in a week?

Summer squashes are better when they’re on the smaller side; they can get bitter and tough when they get too big. Being practically incapable of getting rid of produce simply because it’s past its prime, though, I couldn’t toss this monster directly into the compost bin. He would just have to be grated and cooked into submission.
“Zucchini eggs,” as I uninventively call them, have been a summer brunch staple for 5 or 6 years now. They are one of my favorite weekend breakfasts because they taste awesome. Oh, also, they’re easy and quick, and I usually have all the ingredients on hand. And, unlike some brunch fare, they don’t put you in a food coma or make you feel like you don’t need to eat for the rest of the day.

Basically, you sauté some zucchini with a bit of garlic, crack an egg into it, and scramble it all up. The trickiest part is forming it all into a couple of patties, which you then place on a toasted English muffin, top with some cheese, and pop in the broiler for a couple of minutes. It’s better with normal-sized zucchini, but if you have a gargantuan one to use up like I did, it works just fine with those too.



Note: You can double this recipe, and I have successfully tripled it before, but I wouldn’t recommend doing more than doubling it. It just gets too unwieldy in the pan.


Zucchini Eggs

serves 1; can be doubled (see note)

  • 1 English muffin, split
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup coarsely grated zucchini (about 1/2 medium)
  • kosher salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 oz. sliced mild melty cheese, such as provolone or Colby Jack
  1. Have a small baking sheet ready. You will also need a silicone-coated or wooden spoon and a small flexible spatula (the pancake-turner kind).
  2. Turn the oven on 350º and put your English muffin halves directly on the oven rack to toast. No need to preheat the oven; the muffin will toast slowly as you make the zucchini and egg.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan to just over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the zucchini and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally with the spoon, until the zucchini has started to release its water. Stir more frequently until the water has evaporated.
  4. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
  5. Check your muffin. Mine is usually done toasting now. Take it out of the oven and place it on the baking sheet. Turn the oven up to broil.
  6. Crack the egg directly on top of the zucchini, break the yolk, and mix it all up really well. Stir frequently with the spoon so that it cooks relatively evenly. Add a little more salt if you want. When the egg starts to dry out enough to hold some shape, separate the mixture into two mounds, mold them into patties that are roughly English muffin-sized, and let them cook a little on one side. Flip the patties once with the spatula, and continue cooking until the eggs are done.
  7. Place the two patties on the toasted English muffin and top with the sliced cheese.
  8. Broil until the cheese is melted, just 1 or 2 minutes.

Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Baked Potato

This piled-high potato has been my go-to bachelorette dinner (and snow-day lunch) for the past week and a half. Whenever I have plans for the evening and my husband doesn’t, you can pretty much guarantee that he gets Peruvian chicken from a place near our house. (It has amaaaaazingly good chicken. And fries. And sauce. Two kinds of sauce actually. A spicy green one and a tangy mayo-y one. Sooooo good. I’d probably go there too but I am one of those people who hates eating out alone, even if it only means standing in the take-out line by myself.) So, if I’m the one on my own for dinner, I usually cook something easy.

This dish happened because, well, I had a lot of leftover cooked chicken from making that soup from the last post, but I really didn’t feel like making soup again and I wasn’t in the mood for chicken salad. And also because my parents made some dynamite scalloped potatoes over Christmas that I was kind of craving, but that’s not the type of thing you can easily make a single serving of. I ended up making a cheese sauce based on the scalloped potatoes recipe my parents had, and then using it to top a baked potato filled with leftover chicken and steamed broccoli. Even though the cheese sauce tastes rich, it’s not over the top: it contains the equivalent of one slice of cheese and has only a minimal amount of butter, and I used 1% milk because that’s what we keep around. Plus, it’s fast and simple. Seriously it takes less than 10 minutes from prep to finish. You essentially sauté a little chopped onion and garlic in some butter, then add some milk and cornstarch, then add some cheese, and voilà. The only way to mess it up is to turn the heat up too high.

Except for the sauce, everything else can be made ahead of time to make it even easier to throw together. You could cook several potatoes and steam a bunch of broccoli, then reheat them when you want them. My leftover chicken was in the freezer, and I just defrosted a little bit at a time as a needed it. I’m sure rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken would work too. It’s a whole meal delivered on a spud—you’ve got your starch, your veg, your meat, and your dairy. No sides necessary. And you could easily omit the chicken to make it vegetarian.

In other news, pantryhero is now on Instagram. Some of the photos will overlap, but I’ll also be adding photos of other (non-leftover-using) culinary adventures that don’t make it to the blog.



 Note:  The cheese sauce is an adaptation of this scalloped potatoes recipe from food.com. It firms up pretty quickly as it cools, so you want everything else to be hot/reheated and ready to go before you start making it.


Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Baked Potato

serves 1 quite generously; can easily be double, tripled, etc.

For the potato, fillings, and assembly:

  • 1 medium russet potato
  • 1 1/2 c. broccoli florets (about 1/2 medium crown)
  • 1/2 c. diced cooked chicken
  • 1/2 Tbsp. chicken broth (optional)
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 recipe of cheese sauce (see below)
  1. Cook the potato: Preheat the oven to 350º. Scrub the potato clean and prick it with a fork a few times. Rub it with some olive oil and kosher salt, and place it directly on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake until the skin is crispy and the inside is easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.
  2. Cook the broccoli: Steam the broccoli until cooked to your taste. For this recipe, I like it bright green and not overly tender.
  3. Reheat the chicken if necessary. I added 1/2 Tbsp. chicken broth to it and popped it into the microwave for 20 seconds.
  4. Split open the warm potato and sprinkle it with a little kosher salt and pepper. Add the chicken, then the broccoli, and season with another sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  5. Make the cheese sauce and drizzle it on top of everything. Serve immediately.

For the cheese sauce:

  • 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 c. milk (I used 1%)
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. minced onion
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. table salt
  • small pinch of cayenne
  • 1 oz. cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (I used sharp)
  • more salt and pepper to taste
  1. Whisk the cornstarch into the milk and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft and translucent, 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture, salt, and cayenne, and bring to a low simmer, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the grated cheese. Whisk until the cheese has completely melted into the sauce—this will hardly take any time at all. You will still see some lumps because of the onion and garlic. Let it bubble for a minute or so to thicken.
  6. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning if needed, and use immediately.

(Mostly) Egg White (Sort of) Frittata

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I did not make this (sort of) frittata from (mostly) egg whites because I wanted it to be healthier and threw away all the yolks. (That will happen after I enjoy holiday food.) No, it has mostly egg whites because I had a ton of them leftover after making lemon curd, pastry cream, and tart crusts. Why the glut of decadent desserts? Well, I’m not above bribing my students, so every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I give them raffle tickets when they participate, and then we have a drawing for prizes on the last day of class before winter break. This year, tartlets, eclairs, madeleines, and—the most prized possession of all—homework passes were in the mix.

After the frenzy of baking, I made a mental note to collect money from my classes next year and buy treats from a local bakery in order to maintain my sanity. And then I tried to figure out what to make with the 7 egg whites and 1 whole egg (it didn’t want to separate nicely) that I had. Anything sweet was out of the question because I was on a sugar overload after all those bowls and beaters that I had licked, so a frittata seemed like the best way to go. And, as the title says, it’s not really a “frittata” because it’s cooked entirely in the oven and not at all on the stovetop. I supposed you could call it a “crustless quiche,” but “crustless quiche” makes me feel the same way a lot of people do when they hear the word “moist,” so I’d prefer to misname it a frittata. Also, it’s cooked in a cast iron pan, which is not nearly dainty enough for anything that calls itself a quiche.

I make frittatas pretty frequently; I usually use whole eggs and keep it vegetarian. I was afraid that the egg whites would make it bland, though, so I fancied it up a little more than I usually would. First, I found some Trader Joe’s chicken breakfast sausage links in the freezer, so I browned up a couple of them to add. Next, I harvested all the kale in the garden that’s threatening to die every time a frost comes around. It’s Red Russian kale, which supposed to be very cold tolerant, but it looked like it might be on its last leg.

I like my frittatas with a lot—and I do mean a lot—of vegetables. Even though my pile of kale was overflowing the salad spinner, it barely weighed 8 ounces, so I decided to use all of it.

Next, I usually just toss in some raw onion, but I caramelized half of a yellow onion instead. Finally, for the cheese, we had provolone but, oddly enough, it was a really nice provolone that was quite strong, and I found it to be almost overwhelming. So, I used just a bit of it and added some mozzarella for gooeyness and to let the other flavors come through.

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Note: I was double-checking the size of the skillet I used, and it says 5 on it, but it was about 7″ in diameter. And so I learned that the numbers on cast iron skillets correspond to certain standard pan sizes, not the actual diameter in inches of the pan.

You could make this in the same size pan with 4 whole eggs instead of egg whites. Also, my 8 oz. of kale didn’t need to be de-stemmed. If you have to de-stem your greens, you might want to start out with more than 8 oz., or just weigh them after you stem them instead of before. For the sausage,  I used 2 links of  breakfast sausage, and they weighed about 2 1/2 oz. before I cooked them. Lastly, this frittata reheats nicely in the microwave and will keep well for a day, but after much longer than that, the cheese will start to take on an unpleasant texture.


(Mostly) Egg White (Sort of) Frittata

serves 2-3

  • 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 oz. kale or other cooking greens
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 7 egg whites and 1 whole egg
  • 2-3 oz. sausage, cooked and then cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 oz. provolone or mozzarella, or a combination of both
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Add 1 tsp. of the olive oil to a #5 (6.75″) cast iron skillet, and put it in the oven to warm up while you prep everything else.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a stock pot over medium heat. When it’s warm, add the minced garlic and stir until just fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add a handful of the greens and a couple of healthy pinches of kosher salt and stir until the greens start to wilt. Keep adding greens by the handful until they’re all in the pot and are completely wilted. Remove from heat and let cool. This will happen faster if you put them in a different bowl instead of leaving them in the pot.
  3. While the greens are cooling, caramelize the onion. First, heat 1 more tsp. of the olive oil with the 1 tsp. of butter in a small pan over over medium-high heat. Slice the onion thinly crosswise. When the pan is hot, add the onion and a pinch of kosher salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low and keep cooking, stirring regularly, until well-browned, about 10-15 minutes more. Remove from heat.
  4. Dice the cheese into 1/4″ to 1/3″ cubes. You could grate it, but I like how it doesn’t disappear into the frittata if you leave it chunkier.
  5. By this time, your greens should be cool. Squeeze them out as much as you can. Seriously, put some muscle into it and get them as dry as you can; otherwise, it while make your eggs gross and watery. Chop up the squeezed-out greens.
  6. Whisk the egg whites and egg in a medium bowl. Add the sausage, greens, onion, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, but keep in mind that you’ve already salted the greens and the onion, and that the sausage has salt too.
  7. Use an oven mitt ! to remove your hot cast-iron skillet from the oven. The oil should be nice and shimmery. Swirl the oil around or use a spatula spread it out until it evenly coats the bottom of the pan, and then add the egg mixture and smooth the top. Cook for about 25 minutes, or until the eggs are done.
  8. Remove from the oven and run a rubber spatula around the edges of the pan to loosen up the frittata a little. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes, then use the rubber spatula to slide the whole thing out of the pan. Enjoy immediately, or wait until it cools completely and then refrigerate it for later.

Grilled Chicken, Grated Carrot, Golden Raisin, and Goat Cheese Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette

 

Where is the post-Thanksgiving post?, you ask. What should I do with my Ziploc of turkey scraps, my Tupperware of roasted cauliflower, my entire Pyrex of stuffing that didn’t get touched because we made two entire 9 x 13″ pans of it to feed 5 people (yes that actually happened) ? My answer: enjoy them as is. Personally I don’t feel any great compulsion to try to improve things like turkey and gravy and corn soufflé, and it’s pretty great to get to eat them for two or three dinners in a row. Plus when they’re leftovers you get the added bonus of not needing to cook that night and having minimal dishes to clean. (The one exception maybe being potato cakes. Maybe that will be a post for another time.)

So, there is no post-Thanksgiving post. There is, however, this salad that I actually made pre-Thanksgiving in order to clean out the fridge a bit before leaving town for the holidays. It’s one of my favorite ways to use up a small amount of lettuce and goat cheese, and I usually have all the other ingredients (chicken, raisins, lemon, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and mustard) on hand.

IMG_2548By having chicken on hand, I mean boneless, skinless chicken breast. That’s right. Pork belly seems to be the current prom king of meat cuts, and boneless, skinless chicken breast is its uncool little cousin that nobody wants to be friends with, or admit they’re friends with anyway. They’re boring and bland and dry, people say. Yeah, so are plenty of things when you underseason and overcook them. So I’ll be liberal with my salt and conservative with my heat and I’ll keep using the boneless skinless chicken breast. Also, they are super cheap because they go on BOGO all the time and you can stock up on them. (See About section.)

I started making this salad while I was studying abroad in France during college. I was living in a tiny apartment that had a range but not an oven, and it was during that semester that I was taught that anyone can make Dijon vinaigrette, was first introduced to carottes râpées—a raw grated carrot salad that is ubiquitous in France—and learned that goat cheese was actually really good and wasn’t, in fact, supposed to taste the way that a goat smells. Here, instead of having carottes râpées as a side dish, they are used as an element of the salad, and a vinaigrette is used to dress the whole thing instead of just the carrots.

PS: Even when I don’t make this particular dish, I am a huge fan of grating carrots if they are going to be served raw in a salad. Unlike with chunks or slices of raw carrot, which are impossible to eat because they ricochet hopelessly off of your fork as you try to stab them, grated carrots are satisfyingly fork-friendly.


 

Grilled Chicken, Grated Carrot, Golden Raisin, and Goat Cheese Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette

serves 2

For the Grilled Chicken:

  • 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • vegetable oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. In the winter: heat a ridged grill pan over medium-high heat. In the summer: preheat a grill to medium-high heat.
  2. Pat the chicken dry and pound to an even thickness. You want it to be about 1/2″ thick so that it cooks evenly.
  3. Brush your grill pan or grill with vegetable oil. (If you use olive oil it will probably smoke on medium-high.)
  4. Generously sprinkle one side of the chicken with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
  5. Place the chicken salt-and-pepper-side down on your grill pan or grill, and let it cook for about 5-6 minutes.
  6. Before turning the chicken, sprinkle the unseasoned side with more salt and pepper, then flip and cook for another 5-6 minutes, until the chicken is done.
  7. Remove the chicken from heat, tent with foil, and let it rest while you make the rest of the salad.

For the Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette:

  • 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 small clove of garlic, microplaned or finely minced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste; I used about 1/8 tsp. of each

There are two ways you can make this vinaigrette. The traditional way: mix the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and garlic together. While whisking constantly, slowly add the olive oil in a small stream in order to emulsify the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. With such a small batch though, I prefer the easier, more fun way: Put everything in a small jar with a tightly-fitting top and shake vigorously for 10 seconds or so.

For the Rest of the Salad:

  • about 4 cups of chopped crunchy lettuce, like romaine
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  1. Peel the carrot if you want. I usually keep it on because I’m lazy / because that’s where all vitamins are (right? isn’t that what our moms all told us?), but be warned: it will make the grated carrot turn brown if you keep the peel on. Grate the carrot in the small holes of a box grater—not the holes for hard cheese, but the smallest ones besides those.
  2. Divide the lettuce over 2 plates or bowls. Cut up the grilled chicken and divide it over the two salads. Sprinkle on any accumulated juices from the chicken.
  3. Top each salad evenly with the carrots, raisins, goat cheese, and vinaigrette. Mix it up a little to distribute the dressing and so that the goat cheese starts to melt from the heat of the chicken.
  4. If you’re a pepper fan, finish with some freshly ground black pepper.