Outrageously Delicious Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce

I don’t do meatballs.  Don’t like to eat them.  Don’t ever, ever, ever make them (plunking my hands into a bowl full of cold raw meat is, well, do I really need to elaborate?)

Color me not-meatball girl.

Which is why it was so surprising that I found (and actually tried!) a recipe for what turned out to be outrageously delicious meatballs.

Sam Sifton’s recent New York Times article, Comfort Food Grows Up, was so interesting that I decided to actually make homemade his turkey meatballs.  I’m not sure if what grabbed me was the description: “vaguely North African tomato sauce zipped up with orange juice and warm spices, then toped with feta and mint.”  Or that Mr. Sifton said his kids beg him to make these meatballs. Or the promise of a short cook time: “you can cook it in an hour’s time, not all of it spent working.” (Which, by the way, was a BIG FAT LIE – unless, I guess, you’re a professional/near-professional chef.)

Probably all three (aren’t you intrigued now too?)  Check out the article: the recipe is from a chef called Suzanne Goin — it’s a dish she’s served at her LA restaurant A.O.C. and modified for the menu of a West Hollywood charter school’s “Edible Schoolyard” program.

TurkeyMeatballSpicedTomSauce_TrayIn any case, I made a tray of 20 of these turkey meatballs. Though not pretty — this is not a fancy-dinner-party dish — this tray of meatballs was, without a doubt, the absolute best dish I have ever made.  Ever.

I wasn’t going to make the sauce – but you must.  As you can see in this photo, the meatballs, after you sear them in a broiler (or stovetop) bake in the sauce — and it’s the sauce, I think, that really makes this dish. Don’t use jar sauce (and this from someone who always uses jar sauce).  Make this sauce – it’s easy to make — and the cumin, cinnamon, orange juice and zest make it both unusual and insanely delicious.

TurkeyMeatballSpicedTomSauce_ServedAs the article (but not the recipe!) suggests, I served them over pasta ‘slicked with olive oil’ the night I made them.  For leftovers, I then ate these meatballs over the pasta every meal thereafter. For four days in a row. Michael chose to vary things up for each leftover meal: twice he had these on a bulkie roll and twice he enjoyed them warmed up next to a side salad. FYI: the recipe says you can serve it with pita or bulgur or couscous.

Basically, these were so good you could serve them with just about anything.

Here’s s link to the recipe: Lamb Turkey Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce.  A PDF version is on the Lo-Co recipe page.

And here are a few pointers, from my experience:

  • First and foremost, I can’t imagine how anyone other than a chef could prepare these in 1 hour. Allot at least 1 1/2 hours  — or 2 to be really safe.
  • To that end, I used already-diced onions to cut down prep (and cry) time. Though truth-be-told, I didn’t read the recipe closely enough – you need diced onion for both the meatballs and the sauce so make sure you buy enough!
  • For lowest cholesterol, I used turkey – and they were fabulous.  Am sure that lamb or turkey and pork combo as per the article would be equally fantastic.
  • Do follow Sam Sifton’s suggestion to run these under the broiler rather than searing on a stovetop – it’s far less mess/cleanup. I had also never once used a broiler (!) and it was easy.  That said, his directions weren’t clear about how long to cook in that broiler – it says 5-7 minutes, turning once or twice.  I turned them ONCE only, and did 6-7 minutes PER SIDE.
  •  I had trouble judging how big to make the meatballs, and ended up making them probably a bit bigger than his “a little larger than golf balls” (inane, IMHO) direction. Basically, I made them bigger so they’d fit in my Pyrex 9×12 baking dish!
  •  A 3 inch strip of orange peel was not easy – be sure you either have a tool for this (I could not find mine – nor can I remember it’s name!) or leave yourself time.
  • The feta cheese is vital – the mint not so much, IMHO.  OK, fine. I’ll fess up: I forgot to buy mint.  Didn’t matter – though if you love mint, am sure it’d be great.
  • I usually like a lot of sauce and was concerned this didn’t make a big vat of sauce.  No matter – atop pasta ‘slicked with olive oil’ and just a few tablespoons of sauce, it was plenty flavorful.

I plan to input this recipe into My Fitness Pal to find out it’s nutritional value, but even without that, give this one a whirl. You (and your family) will be glad you did.


The Lo-Co…Vegan…Thanksgiving

Last year I hosted Thanksgiving, so this year I’m not cooking: we’re going to my brother-in-law’s for the family get together. But I realized a few years ago that not cooking Thanksgiving has a huge, huge downside — I don’t have leftovers for several days of “hot lunch” (as my husband likes to call my preferred leftovers for lunch choice.)

So now, on the years I don’t host the actual Thanksgiving feast, I cook ‘Thanksgiving Friday” for local friends and family.

The beauty is: it’s not the ‘real deal’ so I can experiment a bit.  The downside: I’ve found that as we get older, more of my Thanksgiving Friday guests have dietary restrictions. So this year I’ve been searching for new recipes that meet a bunch of requirements.  First, some kind of low fat, low-cholesterol recipes for me.  Second, vegan side dishes for my niece.  And lastly, garlic & onion free options for one of my sisters.

It’s not easy.

But I love a challenge.

From a lo-co perspective, I refuse to give up gravy and mashed potatoes – so my lo-co choice for Thanksgiving is mostly just to limit portion size of non-lo-co foods. But I am adding one new thing: a healthier, homemade cranberry sauce. The recipe I like is Cooking Light’s Classic Cranberry Sauce which has a lot of sugar but is quite tasty.  Plus you can make it ahead (key) and it at least has the nutrients and calcium of fresh, tart cranberries. So in my view, it’s a decent lo-co choice.  (And hey, it’s easy to have the canned stuff available for those who refuse to vary from tradition.)

For my niece and sister, I am giving Lemon-Garlic Kale Salad from Melissa Clark / Julia Moskin (sorry, can’t tell whose recipe this is!) a whirl this Friday.  By separating out a bit of  lemon juice/salt/olive oil mixture and keeping it garlic-free for my sister, this recipe should work for EVERYONE at my table. Well, everyone except my son who wouldn’t touch kale if I paid him.  He’ll stick with the traditional Campbell’s Soup/Durkee Fried Onion-drenched green bean casserole.  Oh , who am I kidding – he’ll have nothing green. It’s Thanksgiving. He gets a pass.

For other great Thanksgiving ideas, read Julia Moskin and Melissa Clark’s excellent Essential Thanksgiving NYT article and accompanying recipes. I’m trying the turkey leg cooking method (no, not for me – I’m sticking to white meat!) and the mashed potato ideas listed in this well-done, instructional piece.

So my niece has something else to eat besides plain turkey and lemon-garlic kale salad, I’m investigating gluten free recipes.  There is a veritable treasure trove of recipes and ideas for gluten free thanksgiving at Gluten Free Girl’s Grain Free Thanksgiving. And Cooking Light offers a Gluten Free Holiday Menu.  I haven’t worked out yet which gluten free sides I’ll be making – but I better hop to it since it’s already Tuesday!


How To Bake Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

It was a two-chicken week this week.

First, there was the baked chicken with great flavor, that was sadly ruined because the chicken was dry and overdone.  That sent me to the internet where I did a lot of research. That led to chicken number 2: a different recipe (but still baked) and the result was delicious chicken: not overdone or dry at all.


This chicken foray all started began because my mom was planning to make pot roast for out-of-town guests.

Yes, pot roast.

She was throwing a casual dinner party for out of town guests, and pot roast is just perfect casual dinner party fare.  Just set it up, let it rip and it’s always delicious (though not so lo-co, but that was not the point.) She had purchased a lovely pot roast and was all set to go when she had to punt because other friends had the same out-of-town couple over for dinner the night before.  And guess what was on the menu?

Yup, pot roast.

So my poor Mom had to race to the store. And ended up with 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast.

Which frankly, might not have been my choice because chicken breasts are hard to cook – meaning, usually they get over-cooked and dried out.

But she had the chicken in hand, so we had to find a solution. I suggested The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella recipe. It’s fabulous: though filled with ingredients I don’t like, somehow it works. And it’s a great choice for a dinner party: it’s always delicious and almost as easy as a pot roast – as long as you get it marinading the night before.

The only trouble is, the Chicken Marbella recipe is for whole chicken or bone-in chicken pieces; if you cooked boneless, skinless for the same amount of time, they’d definitely dry out. And I’d never done it.

So I suggested my mom cook the chicken for no more than 40 minutes (rather than the 50-60 minutes in the original recipe.)  And yet – I steered her wrong.  Her chicken had great flavor but was very dry. (And yes, I know, never try out a new recipe for company – totally insane of me to suggest this. But that’s another story.)

My guess, as Mom and I were discussing it, was the dry chicken was caused by two issues: a) the 40 minutes I suggested was just much too long, and b) I didn’t realize that my mom cut the breasts in half – probably necessitating an even shorter cook time.

I felt so badly I’d led my mom astray for a dinner party (sorry again, Mom!)

With that on my mind, I was determined to figure out what should have been the right cook time for baked chicken breasts. What was interesting is that my research pointed to 2 issues: both cook time AND temperature. Several sources recommended that the proper way to get moist baked chicken is to cook the boneless, skinless chicken breasts at a slightly higher temperature — 400 degrees — for 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of the breasts.

I was all set to try it out, when I opened the New York Times Dining section and found Chicken Offered To The Green Goddess, by Melissa Clark, one of my favorite NYT chef authors. I had to try this recipe – both because it looked delicious AND because I needed to test out baking chicken to see if I could do it without them drying out.

But I chickened out (sorry for terrible pun).  I bought split chicken breasts rather than skinless, boneless because I really wanted to try this Green Goddess sauce – and worried I’d ruin it my first time out.

So I followed Melissa Clark’s Green Goddess Roasted Chicken recipe (500 degrees for about 40 minutes) and the skin was gorgeously browned and the chicken was moist moist moist!

And no, I did NOT eat the skin.  But it looked pretty!

This is a great recipe to try – either as Melissa Clark wrote it, or with boneless, skinless breasts.  If you go boneless, skinless, go with 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes (test the chicken at 20 minutes to see if it’s done: no red or pink and it should be 160-165 degrees). And do watch Ms. Clark’s video, I found it very helpful.

And because it drives me insane that the NYT recipes never include nutritional info, I took the time to enter it into My Fitness Pal.

Then I wrote an article about this revised recipe and published it on Answers.com: A Low Cholesterol Take On Melissa Clark’s Green Goddess Chicken Recipe. Follow my version of the recipe if you want to go with boneless, skinless breasts rather than whole chicken or split breasts.  And bonus, my article includes the nutritional value of the recipe.

Give it a whirl.  Either the original (which is far more impressive than chicken breasts – so choose Ms. Clark’s original if you are cooking for company) or my revised boneless, skinless version. And if there are ingredients you don’t care for in the Green Goddess dressing, the recipe’s very flexible – Ms. Clark even tells you what you can substitute.


The Trick To Steaming Whole Fish

As a means of communicating with professional cooks who write interesting articles with accompanying, tantalizing recipes, absolutely nothing beats Twitter.

Two of my favorite New York Times Dining section authors, Melissa Clark and David Tanis, both respond to questions about their recipes via Twitter.

They don’t know me. But when I query them via Twitter, both answer.

How amazing is that? You try a recipe you’ve clipped from the NYT, have a question, and simply post your puzzlement to the author via Twitter – and voila, you get an answer. Huge kudos to Melissa Clark and David Tanis for taking the time to respond to readers.

In Not Whole Steamed Fish I posted about the delicious Steamed Whole Fish With Ginger and Sesame recipe by David Tanis — loved the recipe, but the steamer size puzzled me. I could not make the recipe as written because a whole fish would never, ever fit in my what-I-assume-is-a-typical-size (10 inch) bamboo steamer. So I used a fillet as his accompanying article suggested, but was very curious to know what kind of steamer he used. I really want to steam a whole fish in a bamboo steamer because the recipe picture looks amazing – and it’d be a lo-co yet very impressive way to serve fish at a dinner party.

I  direct messaged Mr. Tanis via Twitter with a link to my ‘Not Whole Steamed Fish‘ post, and he direct messaged me back:

“I used a big bamboo steamer 15-inch diameter but for large fish I often steam over a deep roasting pan straddling 2 burners.”

THIS is why I love Twitter — I don’t actually open or read Twitter in general, but I find it absolutely amazing that I can ask a NYT article author a clarifying question about a recipe or their article — AND THEY ANSWER.


Thanks, David Tanis.

Now, onto my steaming a whole fish project. Now that I know the key is a 15 inch steamer, I have one big problem: 15 inch bamboo steamers seem to be a restaurant staple, not something you can easily find for the home.  That said, I did find a few  – 1 on Amazon and several from some restaurant supply sites. But they were over $100.

I was tempted, but… $100?

Plus it’ll NEVER fit in my magic closet (where my many kitchen implements that are not frequently used and/or are huge live…I mean hide.)

So I will be trying Mr. Tanis’ suggestion to steam a whole fish on a big platter set inside the very large Calphalon roasting pan I use for Thanksgiving turkey.

Oh, wait? Does that roasting pan have a lid? I’ll have to dig in my magic closet to find out.

Maybe while I’m in there I can see if a 15 inch bamboo steamer could fit…



Dinner Plans

Are there really people out there who create a weekly menu plan? Because even though I have compiled a healthy trove of  lo-co recipes, these past few weeks I’ve been just… well… totally disinterested in figuring out what to cook every single day.

This led to an alarming increase in so-so-so-not-lo-co takeout in the waning summer months. Which explains my recent break from posting. Very embarrassing. Oh, and not healthy.

The only good thing I can say about the past month is that I’ve upped the exercise quotient. I have been spinning at Joyride every week – even after the need to train for my bike trip ended … a new personal best.  Thank you Emma, for your inspiring music!

But I can’t spin every day.  So here’s what I’m trying to kick-back into lo-co gear.

For running, there’s an iPhone app called Nike Plus which tracks where you are, your run time and distance, and coordinates with your iTunes playlists.  It doesn’t require a chip or anything tied to your shoe anymore – all you need is your iPhone or iTouch.

Nike Plus plays right into my OCD need for knowledge; it’s really quite motivating.  Oh, and it’s totally free.  Woot.  And it automatically downloads results to your computer so you can see how many miles you’ve run over time. My husband and I love it.

So exercise, check.  (Though that will become problematic as the weather gets cold…sigh).  But for now, I run outside and spin.  So that (just, hah) leaves the dinner nightmare.

I tried a few things to get re-motivated for cooking healthy, lo-co dinners.  Online searches for new menus left me uncharacteristically bored.  Two beautiful (and expensive) new cookbooks have been skimmed but not used. Melissa Clark and Julia Moskin’s columns in the New York Times are interesting as always, but have just not inspired me to cook a new dish.

But the August 22 NYT article, “You Plan, I’ll Cook: Leaving the Menu to Others” hit home. I was particularly inspired by the efficiency of a service called The Fresh 20:

“… the Fresh20, a meal-planning service that provides recipes for a week’s worth of healthy dinners. Monday might be ginger and garlic pork with snow peas and red peppers; Friday, Napa rice noodle salad with Asian peanut dressing and mangoes. The week’s shopping list has 20 ingredients and is calibrated to eliminate waste (snow peas, carrots and red peppers appear in both days’ meals) and to cost $75 for five dinners for a family of four, or $3.75 a person per meal.

Ms. Swank Meili now shops for food just once a week. She is back at her pre-baby weight without, she says proudly, making one trip to the gym. And she is not stressed by figuring out what to cook and “making a million trips to the grocery store.”

Baby-weight-loss and cost savings were not what did it for me. What got me excited was the efficiency of this program: each week you get a menu, shopping list (which even offers quantities for substituing chicken or turkey for beef) – and you incorporate leftovers or earlier prep required for some meals later in the week.

A recipe skeptic, I warily checked out their site and was delighted to find that the menus looked like recipes I’d use – fresh ingredients that have steps (not just opening cans) but are also not too intricate… no one wants dinner-party recipes for every day. These recipes actually look like they’d taste good and be relatively easy to make.

So I joined.  I chose the ‘classic’ menu; they also offer vegetarian and gluten-free subscriptions.  Here’s what’s on this week’s menu:

  • Orange Glazed Pork Tenderloin
  • Halibut Puttanesca
  • Cuban Pork Sandwiches
  • Spaghetti and (turkey for me) meatballs
  • Grilled squash, plum and white bean salad.
Sounds great, no?  
I’ve just printed out the shopping list and am headed out for my 2 mile run.  Then it’s off to the grocery store armed with an already-printed-out shopping list.  I am almost… almost… almost excited about cooking this week.