Keftedes Me Avgolemono: Greeking out the Turkey

October 5, 2013

Since moving to South Florida, I’ve been jonesing for some real Greek food, like the kind I used to get in Astoria and various places in New Jersey. You can get really good Greek food in Florida, but you may have to drive all the way to Tarpon Springs to get it.

One of my favorite Greek dishes is Keftedes, which are seasoned meatballs that have usually been fried. I haven’t been able to find any good ones down here yet, so I asked Rachel to see if we could whip some up.

What she came up with was nothing short of amazing. Not only are these lower fat because they are made with ground turkey as opposed to beef/veal, but they are also baked in mini muffin tins.

And they taste fantastic.

A healthier variation of the traditional avgolemono, a classic egg with fresh lemon juice sauce poured on top seals the deal. This can be served over orzo pasta or rice (we used brown rice in the picture, accompanied by a simple cucumber/tomato/feta salad.)

Healthier Keftedes (baked and made with turkey)

12 oz. ground turkey (preferably all breast meat)
1 onion
1 clove garlic
4 Tbs chopped fresh parsley (divided)
1 Tbs dried mint
1/2 cup fresh whole wheat breadcrumbs
1 Tbs grated cheese (hard sharp for grating, such as parmigiano, graviera or kefalotyri)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg white
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil cooking spray or 2 tsp. olive oil for brushing

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (or 350 convection).

Place chopped meat in a mixing bowl. Chop onions and garlic in a food processor, add all the other ingredients except the meat and 2 Tbs of chopped parsley (save for garnish) and pulse to combine. Scrape into bowl with meat and mix by hand (you don’t want to over process the meat, it makes the meatballs too soft).

Brush 2 mini-muffin tins lightly with olive oil, then using two teaspoons or a small disher, scoop the meat mixture into the cups. There should be just a little over an ounce in each cup. Lightly spray or brush a little more olive oil on top, but do not press the meat down at all, so they will still look like meatballs instead of mini-muffins.

Put the mini-muffin tins on top of a sheet tray and bake for about 30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. You can make ahead to this point or continue with making the sauce and serving immediately.

Lite Avgolemono Sauce

16 oz chicken stock (preferably homemade, but if you must buy canned, get low sodium)
1 Tbs flour
2 oz lemon juice
1 egg white
1 tsp butter or 1 Tbs cream*
Salt & pepper to taste (no salt if you are using canned broth, even if
it is low sodium)

Combine the chicken stock and flour while the stock is cold. Put in saucepan and bring to a simmer until thickened (if you have a Vitamix, you can blend it on Hi for 5 minutes or so until steamy and thickened).

Keep the thickened broth warm in the saucepan until the meatballs are done (or place cooled meatballs in the sauce after it has thickened and simmered for a few minutes.)

Place lemon juice, egg white, and butter or cream (*you have to have a little fat in there, are skipping the egg yolks after all, you can try it without the fat, but I used a little cream), salt & pepper in the blender and whir to combine for a few seconds. DO NOT ADD TO THE SAUCEPAN YET.

Assemble the rest of your meal (brown or white rice or orzo, veggies, salad, etc). Take the meatballs off heat. With the blender on low, drizzle in about 1/2 cup of the hot thickened broth (push the meatballs to the side a bit and spoon up thickened broth only) to the blender a tablespoon at a time.

Once the flavoring has been tempered you can pour the mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the thickened broth and meatballs, stirring gently but quickly. Put the lid on the pot and allow it to rest for 5 minutes, but do not put back on heat.

Serve over brown rice or orzo with lots of sauce and garnish with chopped parsley.

You should have 24 meatballs, so 6 is technically a serving, but let’s face it, there were no leftovers when it was just two of us for dinner, but still, not an unhealthy meal.


Recipe: Pasta a la Gandolfini

June 21, 2013

James Gandolfini, who passed away at a tender young age of 51 this week, was an actor who played film and TV characters that were bigger than life.

More often than not, they were the “Bad Guys”. But from all accounts I have heard, especially from those who knew him personally, Gandolfini was a kind, gentle and generous man that respected everyone who he worked with. I never met him. I wish I did.

Gandolfini will always be known for his role in playing the modern-day Italian-American New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, a thug with a heart, a family man, and a man with considerable weaknesses and great personal demons.

He was brutal, as a Mafia Don should be, but he commanded respect and he was obviously a guy that appreciated the good things in life. Like Gandolfini.

So for Gandolfini, who like his alter-ego Tony Soprano also grew up in the Garden State, in the exact Bergen County area I lived in for 22 years, I wanted dedicate a dish to him.

This is what I came up with — a  pasta twist on the classic Italian-American sausage and peppers that is seen in summer festivals and pizza restaurants as a sandwich all over the New York and New Jersey metro area.

But like Tony Soprano, this one has a bite.

The recipe is also somewhat heart-healthy as it only uses a small amount of oil. Given the circumstances of Gandolfini’s passing, he’d probably not want you to go the same way.

This dish calls for fresh ripened tomatoes (plum, if you can get them) and fresh basil. Don’t even bother to make it unless you have these.

Pasta a la Gandolfini

Servings, 2

1/2 Box of Dried Pasta (6oz) , Whole Wheat preferred

3/4lb  fresh Italian sausage, hot or sweet. If sweet add chile pepper flakes.

1 Tbps Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 White Onion, sliced

1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced

4 or 5 Cubanelle Peppers, sliced

1 Habanero Chile or other very hot chile pepper, fresh, julienned

4 Garlic Cloves, julienned

1 cup diced ripe tomatoes, preferably a variety from your garden

1 handful of fresh basil leaves (also from your garden)

Grated Parmigiano Cheese to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

Cook pasta of your choice in salted boiling water to al dente consistency while you prepare the condimenti.

Remove sausage from casing if using links. Brown in large non-stick pan and drain to remove excess fat. Set aside in large bowl.

Using a silicone basting brush, brush a scant amount of olive oil in the pan, saute the onions and peppers of each type individually, adding to the bowl with the sausage as soon as you get some char marks and is just barely cooked.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan, along with the sliced hot chile pepper and garlic. Stir for 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Once again, just cook until they barely wilt. Add the reserved ingredients back to the pot.

Reserve about 1/2 cup water when you drain the pasta. Add the pasta and the water to the pan and toss to combine with other ingredients.

Remove from heat, add the basil, black pepper & cheese.  Toss and serve.


NJ Dining: A Taste of Greece 2.0 (UPDATED)

April 18, 2009

A Taste of Greece
935 Kinderkamack Road, River Edge NJ
(201)967-0029

Back in April of 2005 one of the first restaurants that I chose to profile during my 2-year stint as NJ Quick Bite writer was A Taste of Greece, a tiny Greek takeout in River Edge. One of the things I liked about this restaurant was its attention to detail and authenticity in its dishes, choosing to buck the “homogenized” Greek restaurant trend found in most Northern NJ Greek eateries with its real Pork Gyro and use of real imported Greek ingredients.

The original owners moved on two years later. One of them, Vasili Mastrokostas, went on to open Vasili’s Taverna in Teaneck. For a brief period A Taste of Greece was ran by the owner’s children and retained most of its original staff, and was recently sold to a new owner, Themis, a young, friendly, service-oriented and health-obsessed marathon runner. Themis took a rather unattractive, small takeout and put some money into the place, adding nice ceramic tile and other positive aesthetic changes, such as new wooden tables and chairs.

Themis has kept much of the restaurant’s original flavor (including its signature pork gyro) and has added more fresh and healthy Mediterranean dishes such as more grilled seafood plates. I actually think the place is a better restaurant now and is more compatible with my current lifestyle, and along with my other favorite Mediterranean options in the local area, such as Joeyness and Bennies, has now become one of my favorite places to eat well and eat healthier.

A Taste Of Greece on Kinderkamack Road in River Edge, Photo April of 2005.

A Taste of Greece’s new owner, Themis. Themis is extremely accommodating to special requests (such as low-carbing the entrees) and is himself a health and fitness nut.

You too will want A Taste of Greece. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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NYC Dining: Eating Healthy at Le Pain Quotidien

September 27, 2008

Le Pain Quotidien
124 Seventh Avenue
between 17th & 18th streets

Other Locations: (Various)

Web Site: http://www.lepainquotidien.com/

Two weeks ago I was in the city during the evening for the PEPCOM Holiday Spectacular press event, which was held at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea, on 17th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.  I was hungry, and I knew that the show was going to be busy and serving lots of fried and carby appetizer-type crap I probably shouldn’t be eating. I also knew that I would be racing around like a lunatic taking photos and talking to PR people for two hours, so I should probably eat something before going in there.

Anyone who is familiar with the Chelsea neighborhood near the Metropolitan Pavilion will probably tell you its slim pickins in terms of good food choices. So I walked down to 7th avenue, looked around, and noticed this particular branch of Le Pain Quotidien. I’m not usually one to visit bakery type cafe restaurants these days — since I’m limiting my bread and carb intake, and there’s usually too much temptation to eat something I shouldn’t. But I was literally starving and it was better I ate there than eat what was likely awaiting me at the Pavilion, along with an open bar.

Le Pain Quotidien, NYC by you.

I had never been to a Le Pain Quotidien before, but I was hungry and intrigued, so I went in and had a look.

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Diet Dunkin’

September 21, 2008

Dunkin Donuts DDSMart Low-Cal Breakfast Sandwiches by you.

So here’s the scenario. Sunday morning, 8AM. The power goes out, and we’re hungry.

What do you do?

Do you…

A) Open up the fridge, pull out your Egg Beaters, veggies, and let out out all the cold, and make yourself breakfast (assuming you have a gas range that you can light with a match, which we do)

B) Say to your wife “@!$% this stupid diet. I want a @!$%ing double fried egg with sausage patty, cheese and bagel sandwich with extra ketchup and hot sauce. Lets go to the deli. NOW.”

C) Do “B”, fail miserably, but convince her you want to try Dunkin Donuts’ new low-cal breakfast sandwich instead?

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The Evolution of Re-Engineering Chinese “Takeout”

August 10, 2008

Since I embarked on my “course correction” in October of 2007 and becoming 67 pounds lighter, and with Rachel herself carrying 50lbs less — we’ve been doing a lot of Asian-inspired stir-fry cooking at home as our “go to” typical dinner when we are very hungry but want to eat something healthy. Where we used to order from our favorite Chinese American local delivery places, we now cook our own healthier, albeit different versions, with higher amounts of vegetable and protein content and much less fat. To be perfectly honest, I actually prefer eating this way now, even though I really miss my egg rolls, fried rice, lo mein, and egg foo young soaked in gravy.

The photos I am going to show you should give you an idea of how we’ve been approaching our typical, non food porn meals. You will notice a common theme is that we incorporate a lot of green vegetables as well as tofu in our cooking, and many of our sauces are stock based. We also now use a large, nonstick wok and “paint” it with a small amount sesame oil using a silicone basting brush instead of free-pouring oil, which also cuts down on the fat content quite a bit. We also use a lot of alternative whole grains to just plain brown rice as the beds for our stir fries, such as Quinoa, Kamut, or Barley.

Beef with Oyster Sauce by you.

Here is one of the earliest attempts to actually “re-create” a takeout dish, Beef with Oyster Sauce and Chinese Broccoli. Note that we are now using portioned controlled amounts of brown rice instead of white rice.

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Whoa! Gambas a la SIGMA 50mm.

July 11, 2008

Since getting the new Canon XSi, I’ve taken quite a few nice shots. However, I knew that I couldn’t really take advantage of the camera until I got a professional quality primary, fixed focal length lens. The 18-55 telephoto that came with my camera kit was serviceable, but as those of us who do a lot of food photography know, the flash is not your friend. Really nice food photos are taken in ambient or natural light, and when you are in a restaurant environment, you REALLY don’t want to use a flash. And we also know that ambient light in environments where food is served can be challenging for food photography.

The downside of a telephoto lens is that the glass isn’t as big — the 18-55 kit lens for the XSi is 58mm wide, for example, so you don’t get as much light captured as say a 77mm wide lens. Having telephoto also reduces how wide you can open your aperture — the almighty F stop — which is key to natural light photography. A fixed focal length primary lens also allows you to shoot at a lower ISO rating in less light than a telephoto lens. So to summarize, Bigger glass, wider F stop, better food photos.

Having done some research on primary lenses, I finally settled on the newly released 50mm SIGMA F1.4 EX DG HSM. This comes in a Canon or a Nikon mount, and it streets for about $480.00. DPreview.com has a short write up of it here. Hey, I didn’t say the thing was cheap. Compared to the Canon L Series 50mm F 1.2 though at around $1400.00 which I originally wanted but Rachel would kick my ass if I went out and bought, I thought it was a bargain given this is state of the art lens technology. Canon also makes a 50mm 1.4 which sells for around $350.00, but it’s an older design, and I had a hard time getting one from online resellers without it being a special order item.

Here’s a photo of some grilled jumbo shrimp we made tonight, shot at f/2.5 ISO 500, using just the light in my kitchen. I’m barely scratching the surface of what this lens can do. Like driving a Ferrari, its a high performance product with quirks that the driver needs to adapt to. I’m finding that I have to bracket my exposures in aperture priority mode to finally get the image I want. With practice I should be able to tweak my depth of field just the way I want it. Hey, I’m a total gimp at real photography. Cut me some slack.

Ready for some primary lenses, octopus, and jumbo shrimp? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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