Bottled barbecue sauces rarely omit liquid smoke

Barbecue-season tips fill this week’s food section. Whether the fuel is charcoal or gas, the top-10 list supplied by Weber grillmeister Jamie Purviance should help backyard cooks fine-tune their craft this summer.

When it comes to grilling, one tenet holds true: Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. Liquid smoke, that is.

Among the hundreds of commercially prepared barbecue sauces, liquid smoke is a ubiquitous ingredient. Such was the lament of longtime reader Chris G., who emailed several weeks back to inquire if I knew of a liquid smoke-less brand of sauce.

My first inclination, of course, was to suggest making her own sauce. It’s a straightforward process with room to perfect the flavor profile according to preference. But out of curiosity, I Googled “barbecue sauce no liquid smoke” and several variations on the phrase. The search returned plenty of recipes, but no references to bottled sauces lacking liquid smoke.

What say you, readers? Any recommendations?

In the meantime, here is a versatile sauce traditionally used on pork in North Carolina. It makes enough for one good-size shoulder or butt for pulled pork, according to Detroit Free Press recipe testers. Or try it as a marinade for country-style ribs. Refrigerate them for 24 hours and then slow-roast them, basting with more sauce.

Barbecue, basting or mop sauces historically hail from specific regions. South Carolina has vinegar-and-mustard-based sauces, St. Louis favors tomato-based sauces while Kansas City, Mo., boasts an even sweeter version. And Alabama has a lesser-known, mayonnaise-based, white barbecue sauce.

But Purviance, author of “Weber’s New American Barbecue: A Modern Spin on the Classics” (Hougton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99), says sauces no longer define their traditional areas as chefs and barbecue cooks nationwide put their own touch on barbecue according to their roots and experiences.

Tribune News Service photo

Carolina Eastern-Style Barbecue Sauce

3 tablespoons crushed red pepper

3 tablespoons freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons of salt

1/4 cup molasses

4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 quart of white vinegar

In a large bowl, mash together crushed red pepper, ground black pepper, salt, molasses and garlic. Stir in the vinegar; mix. Allow to stand for several hours. Use as a marinade or basting sauce for pork.

Makes 3 cups.

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Combine shelling, snap peas in the same dish

The season for garden peas is upon us, just one reason I’m grateful for recently cooler temperatures. Peas are notoriously intolerant of heat waves. But who isn’t when it’s just two weeks into June?

Freshly picked and shelled, English pea varieties need little in the way of cooking. Just toss them into pasta, rice, soup or other hot dishes for just a few seconds to warm through. Or sprinkle them raw over salads or a side dish of cottage cheese.

Because I rarely amass enough shelling peas to serve as a side dish on their own, they often mingle in my cooking with snap peas. I like both the contrast in textures and visual interest of incorporating the two together, most recently in a pasta dish with shrimp. The following recipe from the Chicago Tribune is similar to mine, only with the inclusion of green garlic, rather than the juicy, just-harvested cloves that I used.

Gemelli With Shrimp, Peas and Green Garlic

Tribune News Service photo

In a large pot of well-salted, boiling water, cook 1 pound gemelli pasta until al dente; drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet; add 1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined. Cook, turning once, until just cooked through, for 3 minutes; remove.

Stir in 6 green garlic stalks (or green onions), chopped; 2 cups peas; 1 cup dry white wine; and salt and red-pepper flakes to taste. Simmer just until peas are tender, for 2 minutes.

Stir in shrimp and drained pasta. Add some pasta water if mixture seems dry.

Makes 6 servings.

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Creamy chickpeas curry favor beyond hummus

It worked for quinoa. The South American seed’s fame and popularity skyrocketed after the United Nations declared 2013 the International Year of Quinoa.

If such trends hold true, “pulses” will be the next household catchphrase. That’s beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas to you and me. A spread in this month’s Oregon Healthy Living reinforces the many benefits of eating beans and familiarizes readers with the lesser-known species of edible seeds long cultivated for humans and animals to consume.

Some of the members of this plant family already are riding a wave of popularity, namely chickpeas consumed as hummus by the majority of Americans. Water from cooking this legume also is garnering some attention as an egg substitute in vegan cooking.

But the creamy chickpea needs no gimmick to recommend it, particularly this year, the International Year of Pulses. As a simple salad topping or hearty stew, chickpeas are packed with protein, fiber, folate, iron and phosphorous. Like all legumes, chickpeas are inexpensive, making them an attractive protein alternative to meat.

The following dish is one such example. While lentils more often are associated with Indian cuisine, this chana masala is a classic. Bon Appetit’s version calls for curry powder, rather than a variety of traditional Indian spices. But the shortcut, particularly combined with canned chickpeas, makes this a fast and practically effortless dish.

Tribune News Service photo

Chana Masala

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons peeled and chopped, fresh ginger

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cardamom pods

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 (28-ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooked basmati rice, for serving

Chopped fresh cilantro, for serving

In a medium sauté pan over medium heat, cook the onion, garlic and ginger in the oil with the cardamom and curry powder until onion is soft, for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices and the chickpeas; simmer until soft, for 25 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with the salt and pepper. Serve with the rice and cilantro.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from Bon Appetít

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Saffron-steeped steamer clams are happy indeed

The season for Pacific pink shrimp sparked a recent post to this blog, just the latest of many over the years.

I simply can’t visit my native South Coast between late spring and early autumn without indulging in the fresh-caught, cocktail-sized shrimp. Plump and juicy with a briny sweetness, they swayed even my picky 3-year-old toward seafood.

If shrimp are my summertime mainstay, other shellfish are something of an impulse purchase. Spying a mound of live, Puget Sound-farmed steamer clams at the fish market, I resolved to make them a midday snack between our shrimp Louis salad lunch and rockfish-n-chips dinner.

But I never got around to cooking them before it was time to depart for the Rogue Valley. Happily, live clams are good keepers in the presence of adequate oxygen and cold. Although I didn’t have quite enough for two generous portions, I invited an appreciative friend over for clams steamed in wine and oven fries with garlic aioli.

Because wood-pellet smoking is a summerlong affair at my house, I may try clams in that capacity, encouraged by a recent story in A la Carte (see the June 1 e-edition). For that, I’d love to use the larger, wild-harvested butter clams available at yet another Coos Bay fish market.

The smaller, domestically farmed specimens often are available at The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point, where I’ve purchased them, and grocers with good seafood counters. With my next clam cache, I’ll definitely try this Chicago Tribune recipe featuring fennel, one of my favorite braising vegetables, along with garden-fresh garlic and new potatoes.

Tribune News Service photo

Happy Clams

1 fennel bulb with fronds

4 garlic cloves, peeled and divided

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided

2 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, peeled and sliced into crescents

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 tablespoons steeped saffron (method follows)

12 ounces waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken broth

1/3 cup dry white wine

20 small clams, scrubbed

1/2 cup heavy cream

Snip frilly fronds from the fennel. Chop fronds with 1 of the garlic cloves, the lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Cover this fennel gremolata; set aside. Slice fennel bulb into crescents. Chop remaining cloves of garlic.

In a medium skillet, heat oil over medium. Slide in sliced fennel and onions, chopped garlic, remaining salt and the red pepper. Cook, stirring, until vegetables wilt, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and steeped saffron. Stir in the potatoes.

Pour in enough of the broth to barely cover potatoes, about 1 1/2 cups. Bring broth to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook until potatoes are easy to pierce with a skewer, for about 10 minutes.

Pour in the wine. Nestle in the clams. Cover pan and steam until clams open, for 5 to 7 minutes. Discard any unopened clams.

Stir in the cream. Cover pan and let rest over low heat, for 2 minutes. Scoop into bowls. Dust with gremolata. Enjoy.

Makes 2 servings.

STEEPED SAFFRON: Slide saffron threads (at least a tablespoon — better yet, more) into a mortar (or clean spice grinder). Crush to a fine powder. Seal this precious powder in a jar and store in a cool, dark cupboard. When ready to use, measure 1/4 teaspoon saffron powder into a small jar. Pour in 3 tablespoons boiling water. Let steep for 30 minutes. Store any unused elixir, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator. It’s the key to brilliant saffron cuisine.

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Grab locally grown greens before they’re gone

Searing heat is sapping locally grown greens of all varieties, making room in the fields and home gardens for the bounty of summer vegetables

But before they bid us farewell until the return of cooler weather, it’s time to take advantage of greens in all their glory. And who doesn’t want a big, crisp, refreshing salad on days like these?

Make-ahead salads, aka “shake-a-salad,” is one strategy featured in this week’s food section. Prepared in Mason jars or tall plastic containers on the weekend, the concept yields about a week of easy lunches.

While almost any type of green is salad-worthy, I like to cook coarser specimens and fold them into all manner of meals. Eggs, pasta dishes, quesadillas and pizza are perfect vehicles. And cooked greens can extend and improve the health profile of burgers, meatballs and meatloaf. If you want to dispatch a whole bunch with the push of a button, combine spicy varieties, such as arugula or mustard greens, with some fresh herbs, nuts, garlic, oil and lemon juice in a food processor or blender for pesto.

All of these suggestions will factor into my next cooking class series in partnership with ACCESS and a local coordinated-care organization. The impetus is clients’ participation in a community-supported agriculture program, which supplies a box of farm-fresh produce for each family each week through October. Because I’ve blogged in previous years about subscribing to a CSA, I’ll have lots of tips but also anticipate plenty of in-class improvisation.

It comes as no surprise that this week’s boxes are packed with greens: lettuce, spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens and salad mix. To use up two or more types in one dish, I’d make this my first recipe. The mustard greens or salad mix could stand in for the arugula.

Tribune News Service photo

Swiss Chard and Arugula Salad With Lemon Vinaigrette and Toasted Walnuts

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3/4 to 1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 bunch (about 1/2 pound) arugula or spicy greens mix, thoroughly washed, torn into pieces if leaves are large

1 bunch (about 1 pound) chard, thoroughly washed, stems trimmed, and leaves cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips

1 small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

In a small bowl, whisk together to emulsify the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the arugula, chard and onion with 1/4 cup reserved vinaigrette. Divide mixture among 6 plates. Sprinkle with the walnuts and serve with remaining vinaigrette on the side.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from Country Living Magazine, December 2012 issue.

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Fire up the grill for U.S or Mexican Gulf shrimp

The summerlong season for fresh Pacific pink shrimp has become even more precious over the past decade or so.

That’s the approximate time span since I began a rigorous refusal of any and all farm-raised shrimp. Exposés on the conditions in Southeast Asia’s shrimp-shelling sheds only reinforce my resolve that shrimp raised in “freshwater” ponds — essentially filled with effluent and doused with antibiotics — are not a substance I want in my mouth. Even if consumers were still in the dark about seafood-farming practices, the products’ flavor (or lack of it) gives away their unwholesome origins.

Absent pink shrimp, a wild-caught, sustainable seafood, I’ve recently come around to larger species since Medford’s Food 4 Less started stocking Mexican “brown” shrimp in the frozen section. Fished from the Gulf, these ones processed in Mexico (as opposed to those I’ve seen from Gulf states of the U.S.) come peeled and deveined, making them a quick fix on weeknights or feasible for a crowd.

I’ve gotten raves from my family for coconut-breaded shrimp and the classic garlicky, buttery scampi preparation. A new crop of juicy garlic from my garden is the ideal accompaniment, as suggested in this recipe for grilled shrimp marinated in olive oil, an alternative to butter that makes shellfish a low-fat protein option. Try it for the holiday weekend with bread salad, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, or serve the shrimp over pasta.

Tribune News Service photo

Grilled Shrimp With Vegetable Bread Salad

1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen extra-large shrimp

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus 2 tablespoons snipped, divided

1/3 cup olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons, divided

1/2 whole grain baguette

1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 cup halved Kalamata olives

1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

Thaw the shrimp, if frozen. Soak 6-inch wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes

Peel and devein shrimp, as needed, leaving tails intact if desired. Rinse shrimp and pat them dry. Thread 3 shrimp on each skewer, leaving ¼ inch between them. Place shrimp skewers on a sided baking sheet or in a pan.

In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons parsley and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Brush all over shrimp. Let shrimp sit for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Meanwhile, prepare bread salad. Cut the baguette into 1/2-inch cubes and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Place in oven until lightly browned and toasted, for about 15 minutes.

Place bread cubes in a bowl, add the tomatoes, olives, red onion and 1/3 cup parsley. Drizzle with the vinegar and 1/3 cup olive oil. Toss to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Preheat grill to medium. Grill shrimp for about 5 to 8 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, turning once. Remove from grill.

Serve shrimp on a platter with bread salad on the side. Makes 4 servings.

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Cheesecake bars please this fruit-loving palate

What to make for a child who can’t tell you what he likes? I’ve learned through the past three years of celebrations — sprinkled with some spontaneous bribery, pacification and rewards — that chocolate is a pretty safe bet.

Thus, my older son’s palate determined the cake flavor for his younger brother’s first birthday. Without other children to consider, however, I called the shots two years ago, which is how my first-born ended up with a lemon-flavored birthday cheesecake with raspberry sauce. No wonder he didn’t tear into it with reckless abandon and then turn his attentions to masticating the paper plate.

My younger boy isn’t quite such a discerning eater. But maybe he’ll still surprise me and, like his mom, favor fruit flavors. This recipe for raspberry cheesecake bars, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, may be just the thing. Or I could make a pan all for me.

Tribune News Service photo

Raspberry Cheesecake Bars

Swirl:

6 ounces fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Crust:

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

6 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

For swirl, heap the berries, sugar and zest in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Cook until berries collapse, for about 5 minutes. Press through a medium-mesh sieve; discard seeds. Chill.

For crust, measure the flour, sugar, butter and salt into bowl of a food processor. Pulse to damp clumps. Slide in the toasted almonds and pulse a few times. Dump this crumble into an 8-inch, square baking pan lined with parchment paper (leave some overhang) and pat firmly into bottom. Bake at 350 F until tan and fragrant, for about 18 minutes. Cool.

For filling, measure all the ingredients into bowl of a food processor and swirl smooth. Spread over prebaked crust.

Pour raspberry puree into stripes over cheesecake batter. Use a fork to swirl pink into white.

Bake at 350 F until wiggly in center, for about 25 minutes. Cool. Chill. Grasp parchment and pull cheesecake out of pan. Cut into 12 bars.

Makes 12 bars.

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Better tacos just a tortilla press and practice away

There’s no shame in purchasing good-quality tortillas for most of one’s taco needs, according to a primer in the current A la Carte.

Happily, there are several sources of fresh tortillas in the Rogue Valley. But even local supermarkets sell masa harina and inexpensive tortilla presses.

Although masa harina, as opposed to freshly prepared masa, is basically the Bisquick of tortilla-making, it brings just-cooked, still-warm tortillas within more cooks’ reach. In his cookbook “Tacos: Recipes and Provocations,” New York chef Alex Stupak calls tortillas prepared with masa harina an “absolute revelation if all you’ve ever tasted is reheated, store-bought tortillas.”

Such enthusiasm is bringing me closer to trying tortilla-making again, an effort I chronicled in a 2007 post. Admittedly, I needed more practice. And this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, may be just the motivator I need to dust off my tortilla press. More ideas for filling tortillas follow.

Tribune News Service photo

CORN TORTILLAS

In a large bowl, pour 1 1/8 cups warm water over 1 cup masa harina; stir with a wooden spoon until masa is moistened, then knead it together until it holds in a ball. It should be moist but not sticky; it shouldn’t stick to your hands. If it’s not moist enough, add a little more water and knead again; if it’s too moist, add a little more harina and knead. Cover with a damp towel.

Place a two-burner griddle over both burners, or use two cast-iron pans. Heat one over medium-high heat and the other over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cut a large piece of plastic: I find very thin crinkly grocery bags from supermarkets work best. Fold it in half, open your tortilla press. You want it to line the bottom, with the fold lying against the press’s hinge, with the other half covering the top.

Roll a ball of masa about the size of a golf ball (maybe a wee bit smaller) and put it in the center of the bottom of the press. Making sure the plastic will sandwich the ball, close the press and pull the lever down gently. Open the press, lift the plastic with the tortilla, open your palm, lay the tortilla flat in your palm, peel off the plastic and place the tortilla on the less-hot part of the griddle or less-hot pan. Cook it for 15 seconds.

Use a metal spatula to flip it over onto the hotter side of the griddle or hotter pan and cook it for 30 seconds. Flip it again, still on the hot side, and cook for another 10 seconds, then flip a final time and cook 10 seconds more, at which point it may puff a bit. Place it in your tortilla basket if it’s to be eaten immediately or very soon, or better yet, in an insulated fabric tortilla warmer, which can keep it warm for more than an hour.

Makes 12 tortillas.

Recipe from Cooks Without Borders

QUICK TACO FILLINGS

So, what to fold into warm, handmade tortillas?

Have a couple of good salsas on hand, like an easy-to-make roasted salsa verde, a store-bought salsa roja or homemade pico de gallo (diced onion and tomato, chopped cilantro, minced serrano or jalapeño chili, a little salt, a big squeeze or three of lime).

Set out bowls of any or all of the following: lime wedges, guacamole, crumbled queso fresco, sliced avocado, cilantro leaves, sliced radishes, chopped olives, chopped white onion, sliced scallions, sliced or diced cucumber.

For the fillings, let your imagination go:

Pick up a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket.

Stop by your favorite barbecue joint and buy some sliced brisket or pulled pork.

Use leftover steak. Toss it in a hot skillet or grill pan, then slice it in medium-rare strips for bifstek tacos. They’re great dressed with chopped onion, cilantro and any kind of salsa.

Boil some pinto beans for vegetarian tacos. Just soak beans overnight, drain, cover with water, toss in half a peeled onion (or a whole one), a couple cloves of unpeeled garlic, fresh thyme or oregano (optional), dried or fresh bay leaves (optional). Bring to a boil, lower heat, then simmer till they’re tender. Add salt to taste when they’re done.

Pick up some shelled and deveined shrimp from the supermarket and toss them on the grill or grill-pan. Or grill fish fillets.

Leftover braised short ribs make great tacos, too. So do leftover stews (beef, pork, lamb, veal, chicken), pot roast, chops, leg of lamb.

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For ‘real’ meatballs, fry in a skillet, then add sauce

Meatballs can be many things: large, small, sweet, savory, spiced or sauced. But they should always be succulent and satisfying.

Making meatballs for an ACCESS cooking class in Rogue River was an enjoyable exercise, which I mentioned in this blog’s previous post. But concessions to ingredients more wholesome than run-of-the-mill ground beef and white breadcrumbs left me feeling a bit unsatisfied.

I will concede that meatballs can be healthful and still satisfying, but we would have needed to finesse our recipe a bit more. The other measure we took, both for ease of cooking, and health was baking the meatballs in the oven, which drains off much of the fat, but also eliminates the base for a richly flavored sauce.

As directed in this recipe for “real” meatballs, I prefer to fry mine in a skillet, deglaze the browned bits and stir them into my sauce. And a day later, that’s exactly what I did, craving my signature Sicilian meatball recipe, the subject of a 2007 post. Admittedly, they’re a bit unconventional, but pine nuts and golden raisins make them a real crowd-pleaser.

More mainstream are meatballs like these that combine ground beef and pork or sausage. And if you want to get really serious, you add veal, which I never use, but my grandmother swore made up the meat trifecta of “real” meatballs.

Tribune News Service photo


Real Meatballs and Spaghetti

Meatballs:

4 slices white bread, crust removed

1/2 cup milk

1/2 pound ground veal

1/2 pound ground pork

1 pound ground beef sirloin

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 extra-large egg, beaten

Vegetable oil, for frying

Olive oil, for frying

Sauce:

1 tablespoon good olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

1 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Freshly grated Parmesan

Place the bread slices in a bowl and pour the milk over, submerging bread in milk. Set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, place the ground meats, fresh breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and egg. Squeeze bread slices, getting as much milk out as possible. Add bread to meat mixture. Combine all very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form mixture into about 2-inch meatballs. You will have about 24 meatballs. Chill in refrigerator or freezer for 30 minutes before cooking.

Pour equal amounts of the vegetable oil and olive oil into a large, shallow sided skillet to a depth of ¼ inch. Working in batches, add meatballs to skillet and brown them well on all sides over medium heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. Don’t crowd meatballs. Remove meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard oil but don’t clean pan.

For sauce, heat the olive oil in same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all brown bits in pan, until almost all liquid evaporates, for about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return meatballs to sauce, cover and simmer on lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on the cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Makes about 24.

Adapted by the Detroit Free Press from www.foodnetwork.com

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Use ‘claw’ for mixing up these and other meatballs

It’s been quite a week for meatballs.

The commencement was an ACCESS cooking class I taught at the Rogue River community center. Detailed in an April post, the class ran for six weeks and culminated with a celebratory meal of spaghetti and meatballs, albeit a more healthful version to accommodate the MyPlate dietary guidelines.

The recipe reinforced some important concepts in the kitchen. No, you can’t just add an entire package of meat, disregarding its actual weight, without increasing the quantities of other ingredients to maintain flavor and consistency. When incorporating firm-textured ingredients, such as onions, garlic and other vegetables, it’s best to mince them as finely as possible to achieve a meatball that both holds together well and offers a pleasing texture.

And finally, when assembling a mixture of meat for meatballs, meatloaf, burgers or any other purpose, use the “claw” technique to avoid compacting the meat, making the end product tough and dense. My group of participants hadn’t quite reached the point of kneading the meat like bread dough, which drives me INSANE. But they were manhandling it plenty by the time I stepped in.

It’s easier to demonstrate than to explain the claw. Very simply, however, hold an imaginary apple or orange in your hand, and then keeping your fingers curved, just run them through, under and around the meat, gently distributing all the ingredients but keeping the mixture loose. No need to slam the meat against the side of the bowl or strangle it in your fists. This animal’s already dead, folks.

The class recipe called for using ground turkey, along with whole-wheat noodles. But as most of us know, grass-fed beef can be very lean, as can grass-fed lamb. I keep the latter in my freezer and often incorporate it with turkey or pork sausage into my signature meatball recipe.

This one, served with a yogurt sauce, provides much of the flavor of lamb wrapped in phyllo, but it comes together much, much quicker and doesn’t require fussing with pastry or deep-frying. It’s courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo


Lamb Meatballs in Yogurt Sauce

In a bowl, stir together 1 small onion, minced; 1/2 cup minced parsley; 2 eggs, beaten; 1 teaspoon salt; and 1/2 teaspoon each pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Mix in 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb until blended.

Form mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Fry meatballs in batches until golden-brown and cooked through, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Pour out all but 1 tablespoon fat from pan. Add 1 cup chicken broth. Heat to boiling; cook to reduce slightly, for 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup sour cream. Simmer for 1 minute. Stir in 1 cup yogurt. Season with salt and pepper.

Return meatballs to pan; simmer until hot, for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with warm pita and garnished with almonds and paprika. Makes: 6 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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