Madcap Meatballs

Of late my sweetheart is working long, crazy hours and trying to eat healthy to boot, so I tend to spend most Sunday afternoons listening to NPR and cooking up something that we can take to work with us.  It has to be something that I can eat at my desk and something my sweetie can gulp down in quick two-bite mini-meals wedged in among a relentless onslaught of back to back meetings with, at most, 10 minutes in between.  With a schedule like that, you can only eat so many energy bars before you get grumpy.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with meatball recipes and am particularly liking this one.  It’s flavorful, easy to make  (takes maybe 30 minutes all in), and even easier to eat in a hurry.   Also, since we live in the land of Paleo and gluten-free eating, it meets both those criteria.  The mushrooms and onions provide the lightness one usually gets from breadcrumbs.

1 lb. 80/20 ground beef or bison

1/2 lb. mild italian pork sausage (optional)

8 oz mushrooms grated

1 medium onion grated (makes about 1/2 cup of grated onion)

3 T. Penzeys Turkish Spice

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup grated parmesan or crumbled feta (as is your preference)

salt and pepper to taste  (I use about 1 t. salt and 2 t. pepper.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees farenheit/180 degress celsius

Grate the mushrooms and onions and sweat them briefly in a pan with some salt, pepper and olive oil until most of the moisture has been cooked out and set them aside to cool for about five minutes.  While you wait, put the beef, sausage, cheese, spices and egg in a bowl, then add the slightly cooled mushroom and onion mixture.  With a fork or your clean hands, mix the ingredients together until well-blended. (If you’re not sure if you put in enough salt, Take a very small quantity of the raw mixture and touch it to the end of your tongue.  If you taste salt, it’s probably enough.)

When everything is well mixed, use a mini ice cream scoop or a few tablespoons to portion out the meatballs and place them about 1/2 inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake them in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.  Enjoy!


Usually we simply eat these as is but occasionally we’ll simmer them in either a pasta sauce or a tikka masala sauce.  I also like them floating in a bowl of lentil soup (shorbat) or tucked in a pita pocket with a liberal slatering of tzaziki.

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Tropical Love Bites

Baking at the holidays is a bit of a compulsion of mine.  My extended family members have come to expect a box of homemade treats every Christmas/New Year’s week and I’m happy to oblige.  This year I tried my hand at a truffle recipe that was probably the biggest hit.  I got the idea from Ina Garten and then adapted it a bit to create something new.  It looks like a snowball and tastes like a tropical island.

Snowball Truffles

1/2 cup raisins

1-2 shots of dark rum

2,   11 oz. bags of Ghiradelli white chocolate chips

1/2 cup heavy cream

One bag grated coconut

Put the raisins in a small jar and pour over just enough dark rum to cover them.  Let them sit at least overnight on the counter on in a cupboard.  They can sit longer if you like.

When you’re ready to make the truffles, melt the bag of white chocolate and the heavy cream in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and mix until smooth.  (alternately you can do this using a glass bowl and giving it short, 30 second bursts of heat in the microwave, stirring in between, until everything is smooth and mixed.)  Once the mixture is lump free, drain and chop the rum-soaked raisins and stir them into the chocolate and cream mixture until well combined.  Put the mixture in a glass container covered with plastic wrap and let it cool in the refrigerator for at least four hours. ( I like to leave it overnight.)

When the mixture is appropriately cooled, spread the coconut in a deep plate or baking dish.  You’ll be rolling truffles in it later.

Next, melt the second bag of white chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water until it is smooth and melted (DO NOT add cream this time.  You want it to harden.) Turn off the stove but leave the bowl over the pan to keep the chocolate warm and liquid.

Take the cool truffle mixture from the fridge and scoop out about a tablespoon at a time, either with a mini ice cream scoop or a spoon, and roll each bit into a ball.  Using a fork or spoon, dip each ball into the melted chocolate or spoon the chocolate over each ball until it’s fully coated.  Then drop the coated balls into the toasted coconut, rolling each around to coat it in coconut. Set the finished truffles on a parchment covered platter or sheet.  When all the truffles are done, put them in the fridge for at least an hour to fully set. After that you can take them out and package them as you like.

Variation: One option is to toast the coconut to give it a slightly warmer taste.  It won’t look as much like a snowball, but it’ll taste great.

Another option is to use triple sec soaked dried cranberries instead of raisins.  If you do this you get more of a cosmo snowball.  If you us this variation, don’t toast the coconut.




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Potato Chop

The first time one of my husband’s best high school friends came to visit from overseas, my husband said, “We have to go get some Potato Chop. They’re his favorite.”   It’s the perfect thing for me to make because I like to play with my food.  It’s also a favorite to eat because you can hold it in your hand.

A potato chop is basically a handheld shepherd’s pie.  It’s about the size of your average homemade oatmeal cookie.  There’s ground meat and spices on the inside and mashed potatoes on the outside, with a crispy crust.  They’re not difficult to make, but they can be time consuming, so make a big batch.  They freeze and reheat well.  Give me a plate of these and some HP sauce and I’m good to go.

Potato Chop

1 lb. ground beef or bison

1/2 cup white onion, finely diced

1 minced garlic clove or a pinch of garlic powder

3 T. chopped parsley or parsley flakes

2 T. your favorite spice mix  (I like Penzey’s Turkish Spice Blend)

3-4 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced

2-3 T. cornstarch

1 egg

flour or breadcrumbs

salt and pepper to taste

your favorite stock (chicken, beef, or veggie…dealer’s choice)


Put the diced potatoes in a pot and fill the pot with stock to cover.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are very tender. Drain, the potatoes, mash them with salt and pepper to taste, then thoroughly mix in the cornstarch.  Set aside to cool.

In the meantime, brown the onions in a few tablespoons of your favorite cooking oil.  Add and brown the ground beef, spice blend, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.  Let cool slightly before assembly.

To assemble the potato chop, oil your hands, then take a golf ball sized bit of mashed potatoes and place it in the center of your palm.  Cup your hand and spread out the potatoes until you have a disk that’s a little thinner in the middle than on the edges.

Add about a teaspoon to half tablespoon of meat to the center of the potato disk, then gently shape the edges around the meat to fully enclose it in the mashed potato mixture.  Flatten this slightly into a cookie shape and put on an oiled cookie sheet.  Once you’ve assembled a full sheet of these, refrigerate them for about 30 minutes so they cool and firm up before you fry them.

After they’ve rested for 30 minutes in the fridge, heat a pot of oil or get out your deep fryer and make a breading station with one bowl of egg wash (one egg mixed with a little water) and one bowl of either flour or breadcrumbs.  Dip the individual chops into the egg mixture, then into the flour/breadcrumbs; shake off the excess, and fry until golden brown on both sides.  Drain on a rack or paper towel and eat as soon as they’re cool enough to handle with a side of HP sauce for dipping.

These freeze well so store the leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer.  If you want them to stay crispy, reheat them for about 20-30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  If you don’t care about crispy and can’t wait, 60 seconds in the microwave ought to do it.

Variations: You can make these taste more like shepherd’s pie by adding some tomato paste and some peas to the meat mixture.  I’ve also tried adding a morsel of cheddar to make these more like inside out cheeseburgers.





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January Soup

As is true of many food lovers who don’t spend as much time in sneakers as in slippers, my New Year’s resolution usually involves a pledge to eat lighter, healthier fare than I have been indulging in since Thanksgiving.  The day after Christmas this year my sister-in-law made a lovely and flavorful soup that is quick, easy, satisfying and light enough to become a January staple.  I think it’s called sour turnip soup, and though I usually dislike turnips, I love this.  Here’s the recipe:

1/2 cup minced white onion

2 small or one large turnip, peeled and diced into half inch chunks

2 T. tomato paste

one 8 oz. bag of fresh spinach, chopped up (or you can use frozen)

one 48 oz box of stock (I use chicken stock)

juice of one lemon

1 t. your favorite hot sauce (I use harissa)

salt and pepper to taste

Saute the minced onion in olive oil until it is translucent and slightly browned.  Stir in the chopped spinach, tomato paste and hot sauce and saute until the spinach starts wilting, then add salt, pepper and the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then simmer on the stove for 30 minutes to an hour.  Remember to occasionally skim any red bubbly scum that comes to the surface before you stir again.

When the soup is about done, add the juice of a lemon, correct the salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Variations:  My sister-in-law served this with kubba (beautiful balls of rice stuffed with meat and pine nuts. They are the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Italian arancini, but only about the size of golf balls).  When my husband and I are avoiding starches,  I saute some ground beef, turkey or lamb with my favorite middle eastern spices and add that to the pot near the end of cooking to round out the meal.  When I do this I leave out the hot sauce because the spices in the meat flavor the soup.   If you substitute vegetable stock it becomes vegetarian and also makes a good starter.

However you make it, it is perfect on a blustery, rainy day when you’re feeling a little too pudgy for your liking.





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Lovely lamb bites

A hobby is a marvelous thing.  Just as cooking is one of mine, raising lambs is a side gig for one of my colleagues.  She raises them lovingly, feeds them organically, and mostly sells them for wool and breeding, but a few end up going to local restaurants and foodies like me.  Consequently, I’ve been experimenting a lot with lamb recipes this past year or so.

This week I think I hit on a brainstorm that combines my love of bite size treats (meze, tapas, hors d’oeuvres, whatever) with a fridge-clearing exercise, which I find is often where the best recipe brainstorms are born.  Where I ended up is a cross between a Swedish meatball and tepsi.  So far it has made for a quick dinner and a lovely lunch this week, an excellent reward for about 20 minutes of actual cooking effort.

Lamb bites

1 lb. ground lamb

1/3 cup crumbled feta

2 teaspoons Moroccan Spice Mix (I get mine from the Spice House; Penzey’s Turkish Blend works well too)

1 egg

1/2 cup bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper (because the feta is already salty)

Mix together all ingredients and form them into meatballs that are no larger than golf balls.  (I use the small ice cream scoop I use to make cookies for portion control)

Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and, on medium high heat, brown the meatballs on all sides.  They won’t be done in the middle yet but will leave lots of crispy bits on the bottom of the pan that will add to the flavor of the sauce.

Once the meatballs have browned, spoon out half of the oil left in the pan and add:

1 cup chicken or beef broth

1/2 cup red wine

1 soup sized can of tomato sauce

Bring the mixture to a boil and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, then turn down to simmer and let the meatballs bathe in this stove top hot tub until they are cooked through and the liquid is reduced to the consistency of a good pasta sauce.  In my case that took about 15 minutes, long enough to enjoy a cup of tea and watch a recorded cooking show sans commercials.

Serve with or without your favorite starch (rice, pasta and polenta all work fine) as well as a dollop of greek yogurt.  If you don’t want starch but do want a side, roasted eggplant is the ideal partner.

If you’re making these as an hors d’oeuvre, make the meatballs a bit smaller (the size of a large marble) and stir a cup of greek yogurt into the sauce just before serving.  Tip them into a chafer as you would any warm bite size treat, and serve with a side of toothpicks.

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Hala dolly!

Just as many of my husband’s Middle Eastern cooking traditions have infiltrated my Midwestern family, some of my Midwestern baking traditions have circulated through my husband’s family. While I was visiting my sister-in-law recently, she asked me for a recipe I had taught my husband’s aunt a few years before. In my family we call these Santa Snacks. My bestie refers to them as “Hello Dollies”. They are eggless, as easy as possible to make, and are open to some variations. They also effortly serve as the missing link between cookie and candy bar.

Santa Snacks

What you’ll need to make them:

a 9×12 baking dish or jelly roll pan
a one cup measuring cup or; in a pinch, a standard size coffee mug

To start, melt 1 stick of butter in the pan/dish over low heat on top of the stove. (You can melt the butter in the microwave but I like the bit of browned butter taste it adds to the cookies to melt it in the pan.)

Add one cup/mug of shredded coconut and one cup/mug of graham cracker crumbs. If the holidays are stressing you out, feel free to buy whole graham crackers and beat them to a pulp with a rolling pin to get the crumbs. If you’re more mellow, the food processor works just fine.

Mix these together and spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan. This will end up being the bottom crust.

After you spread out the butter/crumb/coconut mixture, scatter over the top:

1 cup/mug semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup/mug of chopped pecans

Finally pop open one can of sweetened condensed milk and slowly drizzle it over the entire cookie mixture more or less evenly.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, just until the milky topping has turned golden. Let rest about 10 minutes, then cut into squares while still warm.


Walnuts work fine with this recipe. If you prefer almonds, use the slivered kind to get the right crunchy counterpoint to the oozy chocolate. I find white chocolate and milk chocolate a little cloying for this, but if you like things super sweet or want to mix a few kinds of chocolate together, knock yourself out.

Whole wheat digestive biscuits or vanilla wafers can be used in place of the graham cracker crumbs.

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Healthier Holiday Treats

A couple of years ago I had the good fortune to spend the holidays in Dubai with my extended family. Although probably my favorite thing about that visit was being able to get a suntan at the pool on Christmas day, a close second was the delicious holiday sweet treats my husband’s Aunt Mae put out.

As someone with a little snow on my own rooftop these days, there are only so many holiday cookies I can eat and still fit into my special, once a year velvet holiday pants. These goodies tasted just as decadent as a great cookie, but were much healthier, because they were made simply from dried fruit and nuts, plus they were simply beautiful.

All you need to make them is an assortment of two-bite sized dried fruits like dates, apricots and prunes, and an assortment of slivered and thin sliced almonds and pistachios and halves of walnuts and pecans. I’ve taken liberties with some of the assortment since I first had these. What follows are some of the combos I like best:

Stuff a dried apricot with slivers of roasted pistachio nuts sprinkled with sea salt. The orange and green provide a festive pop of color as well as a satisfying mix of sweet, salty and crunchy.

Stuff a dried date, sliced in half like a hoagie roll, with thin slices of slivered almonds arranged so that the almond tips poke out from the seam higgledy-piggledy.

Stuff a half-sliced prune with a whole walnut or pecan half. If you feel like upping the swoon quotient, tuck in a thin slice of room temperature sharp white cheddar cheese. Alternately a half teaspoon of cream cheese ads a velvety note, especially combined with salted pretzel sticks that fan out like little spikes on a seashell.

Stuff a dried apricot with slivers of crystallized ginger and dried cranberries.

Arrange a platter of these assorted treats and you’ll have a fanciful feast of little edible jewels to adorn your holiday table.

Variation: If you’re a runner like my sister or have a much higher metabolism than I do, consider taking dates stuffed with goat or sharp cheddar cheese, wrapping them in half slices of prosciutto or bacon, and bake them in a 350 degree oven on a rack over a baking sheet until the meat is crispy and the fat drained away. They are to die for but you definitely won’t fit into you velvet holiday pants if you have more than one of them.

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