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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 51

Part two of our Greek feast – check out my homemade pita bread here. This dinner has been on the list since I first began researching recipes for 68 Days of Gourmet. I thought Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs with homemade tzatziki sounded great. Unfortunately, the kebab thing was not happening! I tried to putting these meatballs on skewers but immediately knew that there was no way they would stay on the skewer. They were falling off. I made a game time decision to cook them inside in a skillet and all was well and tasty with no grilling disasters!

I think one of the biggest milestones you make as a home cook is the ability to deal with situations in the kitchen that don’t go as planned. I had a lot going on in the kitchen – homemade pita bread, making tzatziki, assembling the meatballs and marinating the zucchini. It would have been easy for me to get frustrated and give up on the dinner but I just decided to make the best of it and cook the meatballs and zucchini on the stove top instead. I made a different kefta recipe last year using this method so I knew it would work out.

I don’t blame the recipe for my meatballs not coming together. I forgot to buy pine nuts for the meatballs and don’t know if they might have been a detrimental part of the binding. Regardless, this turned out to be a great dinner. We stuffed our pitas with the keftas and taziki and ate the zucchini on the side. Brandon enjoyed the leftovers in pita sandwiches for lunch.

Quick update on fitness recently. 10 workouts in the last 8 days – all yoga, running (!!!) and teaching BodyPump. Overall, I’ve been feeling great but kind of hit a wall today. I’m a big fan of the time change – love having daylight when I get home to run and hang out outside – but it was really tough getting up at 5 to teach BodyPump this morning. I felt so out of it and exhausted all day. Decided just to relax on the couch, catch up with the DVR and make homemade pizza this evening after work. Exactly what I needed. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body and rest!

One Year Ago: Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Salad

Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, January 2006 – originally published in 1980)

Ingredients:

FOR THE TZATZIKI SAUCE
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (I subbed parsley)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

FOR THE ZUCCHINI
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium zucchini (around 1 pound), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices

FOR LAMB MEATBALLS (KEFTA)
2 slices firm white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves (omitted, I just increased the parsley)
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped (omitted because I forgot to buy them!)

12 (10-inch) wooden skewers, soaked for 30 minutes

Directions:

FOR THE TZATZIKI SAUCE
Stir together yogurt, mint/parsley, garlic and salt in a small bowl and chill.

FOR THE ZUCCHINI
Whisk together lemon juice, sugar, salt, pepper and oil in a large bowl and stir in zucchini slices. Marinate at room temperature while making meatballs.

FOR THE KEFTA
Cover bread with water in a bowl and soak 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of bread to remove as much excess water as possible and transfer to a bowl.

Pulse onion and herbs in a food processor until finely chopped. Add mixture to bread along with lamb, salt, spices and pine nuts. Mix with your hands until well blended. Form lamb mixture into 36 balls (about 1 tablespoon each).

TO ASSEMBLE
Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas). Thread 6 meatballs, 1/4 inch apart onto each of 6 skewers.

Thread zucchini lengthwise onto remaining 6 skewers (5 slices per skewer). Cut sides should be on grill, leaving 1/4 inch between slices. Grill zucchini and lamb on oiled grill rack, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve warm with yogurt sauce.

Alternatively, saute zucchini and meatballs over medium heat on the stove top (in separate skillets) until cooked through, 6-8 minutes.

Yield: 4-6 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 37

It’s Wednesday night…which means I’m on my own! Brandon is in a bowling league (seriously) on Wednesday nights so I get to enjoy a night of eating whatever I want and watching what  I want on TV. Glorious! :) Tonight I had leftover Coconut Red Lentil Curry, a salad and a chocolate chip cookie.  It’s always some sort of meat-free feast!

It’s been a very relaxing night. I took the day off from exercising because I haven’t had a rest day in over two weeks and I’m just tired and my body needs a break. I’ve started teaching a BodyPump class on Monday mornings at 6 a.m. and it’s been a big adjustment. The 5 a.m. wake up call is very early for me. I know I’ll get used to it but so far I feel like I start the week in a sleep deficit.  The good thing is that I have a class full of people up early with me and they are ready to work!

Yesterday I went to a hot vinyasa class at Y2 Yoga. I’m so sad that my one month unlimited “new student” pass is ending! My brother-in-law and his wife gave me a pass to try this studio for Christmas. Obviously, I’ve definitely been using the free month to its fullest extent! So now I have to make the decision whether to buy a 10 class pass or a month unlimited. There’s about a $25 difference in price. I’m just not sure which is the right fit. I know I’ve been all about the yoga lately but I’m starting a new half marathon training plan on February 1. I dont’ know if I can fit in teaching BodyPump, running 4-5 days a week and utilizing a month unlimited pass to it’s fullest extent? Thoughts?

Okay…back to food. I’m sure you’re confused about the meaty pasta dish in the picture above since I’ve been going on and on about vegetarian dinners and working out. I made this dish on Monday night. It’s a Greek dish – Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio. I was craving eggplant and love Greek food so this recipe hit the spot.

It was so good…the cinnamon added an awesome warm flavor to the lamb sauce and the nutmeg I added to the cheese sauce complimented it perfectly. Although it took a couple hours start to finish, the end result was totally worth it. And it’s not all hands on time – lots of simmering and baking time in there too. I thought the double layer was really fun – you mix the bottom pasta layer with the meat sauce and the top pasta layer with the cheese sauce. Yum! I’m so embarrassed to admit that we both went back for not only seconds but thirds! And we had the leftovers again last night. If you’re a Greek food lover this is a must try. And just a side note, I think you could sub beef for the lamb if you’re not a fan of lamb.

Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, October 2001)

Ingredients:

FOR THE LAMB SAUCE
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound lean ground lamb
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 (28- to 32-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 garlic clove
1 whole clove or a pinch of nutmeg
1/2 pound feta, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs

FOR THE PASTA
10 ounces penne (3 cups)

Directions:

FOR THE LAMB SAUCE
Heat oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook 3-5 minutes, until softened. Add lamb and continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring to break up lumps. Cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, oregano, cinnamon, sugar and pepper and cook another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in eggplant and tomatoes. Gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is just tender, about 40 minutes. Remove lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes more. Season generously with salt and pepper.

FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

While meat sauce is simmering, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Whisk in milk and add garlic clove and whole clove or nutmeg. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Add feta, salt and pepper and cook, whisking vigorously, until cheese is well incorporated.

Beat eggs in a large bowl and slowly add sauce to eggs, whisking constantly.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. Slightly undercook the pasta since it will finish in the oven. Drain in a colander. Toss half of pasta with lamb sauce and half with cheese sauce.

TO ASSEMBLE PASTITSIO
Pour pasta with lamb sauce into a 9 x 13 baking dish, spreading evenly. Spoon pasta with cheese sauce on top, spreading evenly.

Bake uncovered, in middle of oven until bubbling and top is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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