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Red Miso Meatballs

Red Miso Meatballs

To say that these meatballs were a success in my house is a huge understatement.  I had bought some grass-fed beef intending to make bolognese sauce but had to change the plan and eliminate the pasta last-minute. I didn’t have the ingredients for my usual meatballs so I scanned my fridge to see what the options were. My eyes landed on the red miso and I thought its deep, salty umami flavor would be a perfect complement to ground beef. When most people think of miso they think of white miso, which is what you would make a traditional sushi-restaurant miso soup with. Red miso, however, is saltier and more intense in flavor. You can make soup with it too, but it’s also good for glazes, braises and recipes that call for deeper flavors. Not all miso is made from only soybeans. There are some that incorporate rice, and some that blend soy and grains, so read the labels if you have dietary restrictions. If you are looking for  soy-free miso there are some made from chickpeas and barley. I also use fish sauce in the mix, an ingredient that not everybody has in their pantry. You can substitute soy sauce instead, but I would recommend starting with one teaspoon, cooking off a bit of the mix to taste and then adding the second if it’s not too salty.

Slow cooked vegetables are also folded into the meat mix, like carrots, onion and garlic that have sweat out and become buttery and soft. This adds sweetness and helps the meatballs stay tender.  Both girls cleaned their plates, asked for seconds and requested that I make them again right away.

These meatballs are so savory and flavorful that a sauce wasn’t necessary. They are great with some sautéed bok choy or chinese broccoli and rice, or as a snack or lunch with cucumbers tossed in sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and soy sauce, but honestly we end up eating them with whatever is around. I even send my eldest daughter to school with them for lunch.

Red Miso Meatballs

Yield: about 28 meatballs

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 red onion, peeled, root removed and quartered

1 tablespoon grass-fed beef tallow, olive oil, or vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the back of a knife

1 bay leaf

3 sprigs thyme

1 pound grass-fed ground beef

1 large egg

2 heaping rounded tablespoons red miso

2 teaspoons fish sauce (or soy sauce)

1. Preheat oven to 425F

2. Place carrots and onion in a bowl of a food processor and pulse until vegetables are finely chopped.

3. Add your fat or oil to a medium-sized saucepan with a lid. Dump in the finely chopped vegetables, garlic, bay and thyme. Heat on medium until vegetables begin to sizzle. Cover and cook, until vegetables are melted, soft and buttery, about 10-15 minutes, stirring often. If your pan is too large, the vegetables will want to burn so watch the heat and if you need to, add a splash of water. If your heat is too high, they will brown before they cook. What you are trying to do is cook them slow and low so that the water cooks out of them first, and then they start to caramelize so the sweetness will start to concentrate.

4. In a large bowl combine ground beef, vegetable mixture and all remaining ingredients. Mix well with a wooden spoon or gloved hand so that the miso is fully incorporated into the ground beef, no chunks of it remain and the mixture is slightly sticky.

5. Drop rounded heaping tablespoon sized balls on to a baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake for 10 minutes.

6. Let cool slightly, remove meatballs from tray and serve. Don’t be afraid to take a piece of bread and sop up all the fatty delicious juices that have leached out!

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Pomegranates are in season now which means I am eating them as much as I possibly can. They are full of antioxidants, vitamin C and fiber. They also happen to be delicious. One of our favorite easy things to eat these days is take some yoghurt, stir in a hefty scoop of peanut butter and top it with Pomegranate seeds. My sister-in-law who is a Registered Dietician would put a scoop of peanut butter in her morning yoghurt to boost the protein content and stay full until lunch. I tried it once and was hooked. Peanut Butter lends an amazing richness to the creamy yoghurt that I just love. Pomegranates are the perfect complement and add a burst of sweetness, acidity and crunch.  My 4-year-old is skeptical of the seeds so I stir them in well so she doesn’t see them. My 2-year-old gobbles it up any way and asks for more. You can use any full, non or low-fat plain yogurt but I prefer Greek because of the thicker texture and tangier flavor. It’s so good we’ve been known to eat this for dessert!

Zucchini Pie

Before this summer is over, I had to get a post for Zucchini pie in, while the zucchini are local and abundant. When I was a kid my mother used to make broccoli or zucchini pie all the time, using a recipe from the back of the Bisquick box. I knew there must be a recipe out there without the Bisquick (what is Bisquick anyway?) so I did a quick search and found one posted by Real Simple magazine. I tweaked it just a bit to get it to taste how I wanted to so here it is. Try to pick small firm zucchini with skins that aren’t bruised. The larger ones tend to be filled with seeds, aren’t as sweet and have tougher skins. If zucchini flowers are available, you can arrange them on the top to form a delicious and decorative pattern.

This is super easy to make and tastes great cold, which is how it is often eaten, standing at the fridge with the open door in one hand and pie in the other. It’s sort of like a crustless Quiche, with some flour in the filling to give it structure. And kids like it too!

Zucchini Pie

Adapted from Real Simple Magazine

Serves 4-6

3 Cups zucchini skin on, grated

1 small onion, finely diced

1 cup AP flour

1 cup provolone cheese, grated

3 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup vegetable oil

4 Tablespoons Parmigiano, grated

2 Tablespoons basil, chopped

1 tsp baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground

3-4 Zucchini flowers (if available)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9 or 10 inch corningware (or other glass or ceramic baking dish; I don’t like it in metal) with butter or vegetable oil.

2. Combine all ingredients except eggs in a large bowl, reserving a little Parmigiano to sprinkle on top.

3. In a small bowl beat eggs, then fold into zucchini mixture.

4. Pour into baking dish. If you have Zucchini flowers arrange in a decorative pattern on top of mixture (don’t submerge completely). Bake 45-50 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center comes out clean. About 3/4 of the way through cooking sprinkle with reserved Parmigiano. If you desire more color you can stick it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown the top.

5. Let rest for about 20 minutes before slicing so that the pie sets up and cools.

Falafel aren’t the sort of thing you would think to make at home. First of all they are fried, and fried can be very controverisial. There are the people who love fried, wanna marry it, have it’s babies and dip them in batter and fry them. Then there are the people who eschew it either for health reasons or simply because they don’t want to stink up their houses in the process.I’m not going to go all Paula Deen on you and try and convince you that you should eat fried foods every day, but a little fried never hurt no one, especially if you don’t eat processed fried foods and the fried food in question happens to be chock full of dietary fiber, folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Chickpeas are very nutritious. And cheap. You can balance out the fried with a myriad of salads and pickles to be served in the pita along with them.

As far as the frying thing goes, I like to make flat patties instead of spheres, so you don’t actually have to deep fry, therefore using less oil. It would be like making chicken cutlets. I can’t really help the smell in the house thing but to me I happen to think it smells good! It’s not like it’s a scallop or something (which might be the worst after cooking smell EVER!)

So just to be clear, falafel are Middle Eastern patties or balls of chickpeas and herbs, fried  and served with salads and sauces, sometimes in a pita. And my answer to the inevitable question of whether you can use canned chickpeas or not is an emphatic NO! First of all, you will never be able to get the texture you want out of canned chickpeas. They are wetter, almost mushy and already cooked. Secondly, the flavor of dry chickpeas is so much better than canned.  Thirdly, you really aren’t saving yourself anything by using canned. Canned are more expensive and it’s not like you have to cook the dry ones first, you just soak them the day before and then grind them up. Easy.

My favorite recipe is Mark Bittman’s, published in the New York Times in 2008. I use that as a guideline, with a few touches of my own. I don’t like ones that have breadcrumb or flour in them. It definitely makes the batter easier to handle but I find that it makes the falafel too dense. If you make patties instead of balls, it will be easier to handle anyway.

Falafel

Adapted from Mark Bittman for the New York Times, 2008

serves 2 adults, 1 toddler and leftovers

1 and 3/4 C dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed

1 small onion, quartered

1 teaspoon coriander, ground

1 tablespoon cumin, ground

cayenne to taste

1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro leaves or 1/2 cup each

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Neutral oil, for frying*

1. Cover chickpeas in a non-reactive bowl or container with 4X the amount of water to beans. Refrigerate overnight uncovered. This will hydrate the chickpeas and get them ready for cooking. This is pretty standard procedure for any dry bean. Chickpeas will double or triple in volume as they take in the water. You don’t cover them because they can ferment.

2. The next day drain beans well discarding liquid. Some people like to save the liquid and use it, but although there is a slight loss of nutrients there are also compounds in the liquid that cause flatulence and by discarding it you reduce the likelihood of it.

3. Place beans in a food processor and add all the remaining ingredients except spices and oil and Falafel "batter" after grindingpulse. You want to chop all of the ingredients finely but not make a puree. You may have to do it in batches, and you will probably have to scrape down the edges of the bowl a few times in between pulsing. If you absolutely must, add a few drops of water to get it going, but the more water you add, the harder the mixture is going to be to work with, and then you might have to add a bit of flour to get it to bind up again.

4. Once mixture has come together, transfer to a bowl and add your spices, season with a bit of salt and cayenne to taste. You can taste the batter raw, it’s not going to hurt you, it’s just going to be mealy, but you can get an idea. I also always like to fry one off as a test to really see how it’s going to taste, so you don’t end up cooking an entire batch of underseasoned falafel.

5. Heat about an inch of oil in a saute pan with sides. You want the oil to be shimmering. Test the oil by adding a pattie. It should start sizzling immediately. If your oil is too cool, your patties will soak up too much oil and fall apart. Conversely, if too hot, you will get brown too quickly before the inside is cooked and could even burn. You want the oil about 350 degrees if you have a thermometer.

6. Shape patties by using a tablespoon, scooping some batter up and using the palm of your other hand to smooth the edge. The batter is wet, so you can’t pick it up and roll it like a meatball. In falafel houses they will often use an icecream scooper and drop the scoops into the deep fryer. So scoop instead with your tablespoon, round it with the palm of your other hand, and then gently hold the spoon horizontally over the pan of oil and shimmy it in. If your oil is nice and hot it will start to cook it immediately setting the shape. Continue doing this so that your pan is full, but not crowded. It is important you don’t crowd the pan, or your oil will cool down, the steam emitting will get caught between instead of evaporating and the falafel will become soggy and fall apart. It’s not that hard, I’m just giving you all the information you need.

7. Flip them over when they are golden brown and cook the other side.frying falafel

8. Drain on paper towels when evenly browned and sprinkle with salt while still hot.

* For frying, you not only want a neutral oil, but you want one with a high smoke point. Olive oil does not have a high smoke point and is not suitable for frying. Canola oil, grapeseed oil and corn oil are all better choices, but you need to be careful of where you buy them from. If you would like more information on this subject you can read it here.

I serve them with whole wheat pita and salads. On the simple end you can just cube up tomatoes and cucumbers, shave some red onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper, maybe some lemon juice. Shaved savoy cabbage tossed with a little red wine vinegar is really good too. If you’re feeling adventurous you can pickle some beets, turnips or carrots, with cumin and serve those. As for the sauces they are super easy.

For the tahini sauce, you buy sesame paste (tahini) and mix it with about equal parts water. The tahini behaves weird when you add water to it. It starts out looking smooth and pourable, then you add water and it seizes up and becomes all pasty. Keep stirring it vigorously and adding water, a little at a time until it becomes a smooth loose sauce. Season with salt to taste, fresh squeezed lemon juice and I also like to grate some garlic in there with a fine grater or microplane.

I also love to make a tzakiki or raita type yoghurt sauce. If you buy full fat greek yoghurt, (like Fage total) it is the absolute perfect consistency and doesn’t need to be drained. I love the stuff but it’s not what I use on a regular basis for my normal yoghurt eating needs because in around 2008 it’s popularity forced production out of Greece and into upstate NY. I did some research trying to find out if they are using grass-fed milk, including writing to the company and they never got back to me, which basically tells me they don’t. It’s highly unlikely that a large processing facility owned by Dannon in New York is using grass-fed milk, especially if it’s not labeled as so. It does say that they don’t use the rGBH hormone, which is a good start I guess.  rGBH is a hormone that cows are given to keep them lactating year round, because just as humans, even if the demand is there, our supply will dwindle and even dry up over time, especially if it’s not a baby suckling and instead a machine. rGBH has been thought to pass into our bodies through milk and be the cause of early puberty in girls that has become a staggering epidemic in this country. The FDA issued a statement saying that they have found no difference between cows given the hormone and not, which means absolutely nothing. They need to protect their interests, being big dairy industry and Monsanto (who if I’m not mistaken are the manufacturers of the hormone) and they haven’t done any solid reseasrch on the subject, they just haven’t received any proof saying otherwise. But I digress. For this application, I have yet to find a grass-fed organic yoghurt that is thick and luscious so when I make falafel I still use the Greek stuff and for my daily needs I go with something else.

Back to the sauce: finely dice up some red onion and toss it with fresh lemon to marinate for a bit. Mix into the yoghurt. You want it to be chunky but still have room for the herbs- I like to use mint, and a lot of it. Shred the mint finely with a sharp knife and mix in. Add a pinch of ground cumin  and if you like it spicy, a bit of cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you need a bit more lemon add it. This dip has so many uses. My husband hates yoghurt but loves this dip and can find so many creative things to rip apart and dredge in it.

Like I mentioned before, you can serve the falafel in pita with a simple cubed up salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. Or you can go a bit more fancy and pickle some turnips, beets or carrots.

Falafel hold leftover fantastically. They stay crispy and heat up well. We always have leftovers with this recipe and love eating them the next day.

It’s always a struggle to get my daughter to eat enough greens. She’s only 2 with one set of molars. That’s not enough to break down any kind of leafy green, cooked or raw. Whenever I eat a salad, she’ll poke her head in the bowl and look at me with those big doe eyes and say “for Zoe,” pointing to herself. I oblige, handing her a small dressed leaf. She pops it in her mouth and I see movement, a positive sign. Just when I think she’s actually eating it, out pops the leaf perfectly in tact, licked clean of all the anchovy dressing. She hands it to me. “More,” she’ll ask. And this is how it goes until a greater portion of my salad is shiny and naked. Boooooo. Cooked greens are a hard sell too unless they are chopped super fine and drowned in tomato sauce. Toddlers will eat anything drowned in tomato sauce. That is also the subject of a future post.

Kale Chips are great because they are crunchy, savory and super light. They practically disintegrate on your tongue. The downside is that this crunchy lightness can also leave a trail throughout your house when held by a wiggly energetic toddler.

The kind of kale that I use is Tuscan Black Kale (Cavolo Nero), or Lacinata, two very similar strains. You can find it in the more specialized supermarkets like Whole Foods or Fairway, and many local greenmarkets have it as well. It’s one of my favorite greens because it is delicious, super good for you and extremely versatile. You can do things like eat it raw in a salad with some kind of hearty dressing, or cook it by braising it in tomato sauce.

When you buy kale and store it in your refrigerator be sure to put it in either a container with a lid or a ziploc bag with air and a damp paper towel inside.  The idea is to keep some of that moisture in. If you just put the bunch of greens in the crisper bin after a few days they will wilt and it’s very difficult if not impossible to bring them back. If you store kale properly it can last a week in your fridge.

Kale Chips

1. Preheat your oven to 300.

2. Stem the kale. Most of the time the stem is pretty thick, woody and not very to pleasant to eat at the bottom. As it progresses to the top it becomes a thin vein which is not necessary to remove. Take out the thick part only: with the thickest part of the stem pointing up, fold the leaf in half along the stem and slide your hand down the stem removing the leaf. You can also cut along either side with a knife.

2. Place in bowl larger than the amount of kale you have. Lightly sprinkle with salt, pepper if desired, and a drizzle of olive oil. Use your hands to toss and be sure you have coated every leaf but not drowned them. Go easy on the salt. If you taste it and it tastes underseasoned that’s ok. You are going to in essence dehydrate the kale, so the flavor will only concentrate as the water is evaporated out of the leaf.

3. Lay out in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

4. Bake for about 15 minutes. Start checking it at 10, because every oven runs different, and you want to catch them right at the point where they are crispy but not brown. If they get brown they taste burnt, even if they aren’t.

They’ll stay good for a couple of days, but I guarantee they won’t last as long. I always do a head at a time because the heads are really small in the supermarket and I eat them unabashedly like cookie monster shoving cookies down his throat, crumbs flying all over the layout. I think actually, I’m equally as bad as Zoe when it comes to leaving a trail around the house.

Aside from munching you can use them as a garnish for other dishes, like minestrone soup, where they will start out crunchy and then collapse into softness when introduced to the liquid.  Instead of frizzled shallots or onion rings garnishing a steak  just cut the kale into strips before you cook it and use that instead.

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