Handmade Lemon-herb Pasta

March was National Flour Month, and I’m finally catching up on paying respect to the many ways flour feeds us, beyond the obvious (bread). My first attempts at making handmade pasta 10 years ago were outright disastrous, mostly because I had assumed the method of stirring eggs by fork into a mountain-like peak of all-purpose flour was going to be easy. In my defense, the shows I had watched on Food Network made it seem easy, but in real life, it was a humongous freaking mess that left me cussing up a storm and vowing that I’d “never make that again.” Truth is, it is those really frustrating failures that inspire me the most to give it another go, and I’m so glad I did!

In my later efforts, I enjoyed more success, letting my KitchenAid do the mixing, but there was always something about the handmade pasta that didn’t sit right with me, even after I had invested in a “Made in Italy” hand-crank pasta roller. The dough always seemed heavy or thick, even on the thin roller setting. It fell apart or crumbled, or stuck to the roller or cutting blades. But a few years ago, I found the perfect, James Beard Foundation-approved recipe that fixed all the problems I had encountered. My issue was not only how I was making the dough or rolling the pasta, but also the ratio of ingredients I was using. To that point, I had been using only all-purpose flour and whole eggs (yolks and whites). I had no idea what temperature was best for my ingredients, nor did I fully understand how long to knead the dough or whether it needed to be rested.

I cringe when I see this old photo. Besides all the background junk in my tiny, post-divorce apartment kitchen, the ragged edges on my pasta sheet reveal how much I had yet to learn! 🙂

The better recipe, and the one I use to this day, takes advantage of a special variety of wheat called durum, which is used to make semolina flour, the gold standard in authentic Italian pasta recipes. Semolina lends a warm, slightly nutty flavor, a light yellowish color and a firmer, more toothsome texture. It has been a game changer in my journey to making handmade pasta.

The other big difference was a shift in liquid ingredients in my formula. Rather than using whole eggs, the recipe that has become my standard requires separation of the eggs, using only the yolks, plus an amount of water. Once I found this easy formula, the flavor possibilities became near-endless. And that’s where the real fun of making handmade pasta begins! Being creative with the colors, flavors and shapes of handmade pasta is one of the things that gives me—a home cook—a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.

I won’t claim that handmade pasta is “easy,” because I still feel the ego bruises from my early attempts, but I will say that if you are already making handmade pasta, go on and experiment with the flavors until you find something amazing. New flavors make their way into the mix either in the liquid, perhaps by using finely pureed vegetables as part of the water measurement, or by way of dry add-ins, as I am sharing in today’s post. And if you’re still on the fence about trying handmade pasta, I hope my adventure inspires you!

This recipe has helped me use some of the abundance of fresh herbs I’ve had since my husband, Les, gifted me the countertop hydroponic herb garden that keeps throwing parsley at me. The lemon, parsley and basil combination is terrific and perfect for spring, but you could just as easily flavor your pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, roasted red peppers or—well, you can imagine your own (and I do hope you’ll share those fabulous ideas).

Making your own pasta is so much fun. I hope you’ll try it!

Adapted from
Semolina Pasta Dough Recipe | James Beard Foundation

Ingredients

8 oz. semolina flour (plus extra for rolling pasta dough)

4 oz. unbleached, all-purpose flour* (see notes)

2 oz. white whole wheat flour*

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup filtered water, room temperature*

2 egg yolks, room temperature*

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine is whole lemon-fused for bright lemon flavor)

Zest of one organic lemon* (only the bright yellow peel)

2 Tbsp. very finely minced fresh herbs (I used a combination of Italian parsley and Genovese basil)


*Notes

All-purpose flour is easy to find, but “00” flour is better if you can get your hands on it. The double-zero flour is milled to a very fine texture, and its use results in tender, silky pasta. I have seen it in well-stocked larger supermarkets, gourmet shops and online. I also use some portion of whole grain flour in my pasta dough, but if you prefer, skip the white whole wheat and make up the difference with equal amount of additional all-purpose or 00 flour.

As with bread dough, I have found that hydration of flour for pasta dough is much improved with room temperature or slightly warm water. Cold water makes for very stiff dough that is tougher to knead.

Eggs are more easily separated when cold, but once this is done, cover the bowl of yolks and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you begin mixing the pasta dough.

Most of the time, conventionally-grown citrus is fine. But when you intend to eat any part of the peel, it’s best to choose organic to avoid chemical pesticides.


Instructions – making the dough

  1. Zest the lemon and mince the herbs first, and spread them out on a cutting board so that the add-in ingredients dry out a bit.
  2. Combine flours, salt, lemon zest and lightly dried herbs in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  3. Combine egg yolks and water in a separate bowl and whisk them together until the mixture is light and frothy.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients into the center and use the dough hook to do the blending. Though it might seem logical to mix with the beater blade, using the dough hook completes the blending from the center-out, in the same way as the chefs using only a fork to gradually mix the eggs into the flour. Allow the mixer to do this work for you, until the dough mixture is combined but crumbly, and no dry flour remains in the bowl. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, if needed to achieve this stage.
  5. Empty the dough onto your work surface, and knead by hand for at least 10 minutes, probably more like 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic, with no creases or cracks or lumps. If the dough shows any sign of cracking or breaking, wet your hands and continue to knead, repeating as many times as necessary until the smooth texture is achieved.
  6. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough ball at least one hour, or up to overnight. Do not refrigerate more than a day.

Time to make the pasta!

Here’s my work station for rolling pasta dough. My machine is clamped onto the edge of the counter, my cookie sheet and drying rack are ready, and my chilled dough is resting at room temperature.

Remove the pasta dough from the fridge (still wrapped) about 30 minutes before you plan to roll it, to remove some of the chill. Set up your pasta rolling machine, and keep fresh semolina out to aid in rolling and to prevent the dough from sticking. Have a parchment-lined cookie sheet within reach, and set up your drying rack if you’re using one.

Instructions – rolling the pasta

  1. Unwrap the pasta dough and use a bench scraper or sharp knife to slice off sections of dough about one inch thick. Keep remaining dough tightly wrapped until ready to roll, so it doesn’t dry out.
  2. Flatten a piece of dough into an oval-shaped disk, then roll it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. For the first few passes, fold the pressed dough in half and run it through again on the same setting. Fold it in thirds, as you would fold up a letter, and turn the dough 90° so that it runs through the machine at a different angle. This helps to reduce curling or bending when the pasta dries later. When the dough feels supple after running through the press several times, begin reducing to thinner setting with each pass.
  3. When the dough reaches the desired thickness (either the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting, allow the sheet to dry slightly before cutting into strips or using as ravioli. In my experience with pasta, the cutting and shaping stage seems to work better when the pasta is not super-soft. If you rush directly to cutting it, at least with a machine, the dough tends to stick in the rollers, and it will definitely stick to a ravioli mold.
  4. After pasta sheets are complete, allow them to rest for a couple of minutes before cutting, either with the pasta machine or by hand with a fluted pasta trimmer, pizza slicer or sharp knife. If cutting by hand, the simplest way is to fold the pasta sheet crosswise multiple times, and slice through the layers with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Dust the pasta really well with extra semolina flour before cutting to minimize sticking.

This time, I’ve opted to use the cutter attachment for my pasta roller to fashion my lemon-herb pasta into fettucine strips, but this lemony pasta would also be terrific for making sweet crab-stuffed ravioli, or ricotta-filled tortellini. I will save those for another day. 🙂

We used the lemon-herb pasta in a couple of ways—first, with littleneck clams in white wine broth, and again as a base for an amazing dish of chicken thighs in vodka sauce that Les made for us.



Sourdough Pumpernickel

We have entered the last full week of March, and I’ve yet to mention that it is “National Flour Month,” a near-unforgivable oversight for someone who enjoys making homemade bread as much as I do. My adventures with sourdough have been well-documented here on Comfort du Jour, but it took St. Patrick’s Day to bring me back around to making our favorite sourdough pumpernickel. It had to be done, given the volume of homemade corned beef we have (not to mention all that pastrami), and the rising aroma of this bread from the oven was enough on its own to convince me I’d waited too long.

What makes this bread extra special for me is that I make my own flour for it, from freshly milled rye grain. This sounds more impressive than it really is, thanks to a handy grain mill that latches onto my KitchenAid stand mixer. I just turn the dial to select the grind, pour in the grain and turn it on. I purchased the mill in the summer of 2016, when “Pete,” my sourdough starter, was still wet behind the ears, and I’ve found it particularly useful for some of my lesser-used grains, including rye. After whole grain has been milled into flour, the freshness clock starts ticking, and there is nothing tasty about rancid flour. Now, when I want to make rye bread (or pumpernickel, which is technically almost the same), I mill the grain fresh, but only the amount I need, and I’m good to go with flour that far excels what I could have bought pre-milled.

Milling the grain myself allows me to grind only the amount I need, so my whole grain stays fresh longer.

This recipe relies on sourdough for rise and flavor, though there is also a small (optional) amount of instant dry yeast to boost the rising power and make the ferment time more predictable. As with many other sourdough loaves, this one begins the day before with a pre-ferment called a “sponge,” and that’s when the freshly milled rye flour starts working its magic. The rest of the flour is high-protein bread flour, which is needed for its strength because rye does not have a lot of gluten.

Coarse-milled whole rye grain is known as pumpernickel meal, and it may surprise you to know that the dark, rich color of “pumpernickel” bread is mostly for show, and it comes into the bread by way of either caramel color (which isn’t likely in your pantry), strong coffee (either liquid or powdered) or—as is the case with mine—cocoa powder! And no, it does not make the bread taste like chocolate. There’s also an unusual, time-honored technique that will come into play with this bread, and it involves bread from another time (more on that in a minute).

Up to this point, the sourdough pumpernickel recipe I’m describing has been drawn straight from p. 246 of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the same book I depended on to learn sourdough baking in the first place. But something in my nature will not let me leave well enough alone, and I have put my own spin on this recipe—not because I think I know better than the author, but because I love certain additional flavors in my rye breads, and so I have either substituted or added ingredients, following rules that Reinhart himself would approve. Rather than brown sugar, I add molasses for a deep, earthy sweetness, and I accent this bread with onions, dill and caraway seeds, none of which are called for in the original recipe.

The resulting bread never ceases to thrill my taste buds, and it has been terrific this past week with our homemade corned beef, but I confess my favorite way to enjoy it is the same as most every bread—it makes fabulous toast!

Just give me this, every day for the rest of my life, please!

Ingredients

On Day 1:

7 oz. ripe (recently fed) sourdough starter

4.25 oz. coarse whole grain rye flour* (see notes)

6 oz. water, room temperature

Combine the starter, coarse rye flour and water in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment at room temperature about 5 hours, until it looks very bubbly and active. Transfer the sponge to the refrigerator overnight.

On Day 2:

2 Tbsp. molasses

2 oz. water, room temperature

2 Tbsp. olive oil (mine is infused with dill)

1 heaping Tbsp. minced dried onion, rehydrated with warm water

9 oz. bread flour*

1 Tbsp. cocoa powder* (optional, see notes)

1 tsp. instant dry yeast*

1 1/2 tsp. fine-textured salt

1 Tbsp. caraway seed, plus a few sprinkles for topping* (optional)

Up to a cup of dry bread crumbs from a previous rye loaf* (optional)

1 or 2 tsp. dried dill leaves (optional)

Egg wash for topping and cornmeal for baking

*Notes

If you don’t have a grain mill, it’s no problem. Use whole rye flour, which is available in specialty markets such as Whole Foods. The pre-milled flour and resulting bread will have a finer texture, but all the flavors will still be present.

I mentioned above that strong coffee is sometimes used to give deep color to pumpernickel, but for this recipe, I would not recommend using brewed coffee in the overnight sponge. Espresso powder or a fine-textured instant coffee mixed with the flour would be a better bet if coffee is your coloring agent of choice.

Caraway seeds give a distinct note to rye or pumpernickel bread, but it is a polarizing flavor for some people. When someone tells me they don’t like rye bread, I usually assume it is the caraway. It is a warm, slightly biting flavor, and I love it, so I put it in the dough and also on top of the bread.

The addition of the “old” bread crumbs is optional, but it adds an interesting texture and depth of flavor to the finished bread. In a way, the secondary crumbs are another type of sourdough, given that the flavor and existing yeast in them contribute something to the final product. If you choose to try this, I would recommend using crumbs from a home-baked bread, and preferably sourdough, to exclude unnecessary commercial preservatives and such.


Instructions


  1. The day before you intend to make this sourdough pumpernickel, you will need to feed your starter with the entire amount of coarse, whole grain rye flour and water to make it a soupy mixture. Cover it with plastic wrap and give it a few hours at room temperature until it becomes foamy and bubbly, then put it to bed in the fridge until morning.
  2. Remove the sponge from the fridge for about an hour to knock the chill off it. Pour a small amount of boiling water over the dried chopped onions to re-hydrate them.
  3. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread flour, cocoa, salt, instant dry yeast and caraway seed. If using the “old bread” technique, also add the crumbs to the flour blend.
  4. Stir water, molasses and oil into the fermented sponge.
  5. Combine the sponge mixture and re-hydrated onions with the dry ingredients and mix with a beater blade until dough becomes a cohesive mass around the beater. Scrape down dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel and rest 30 minutes.
  6. Switch to the dough hook and knead in the stand mixer about 5 minutes. The dough will be dense and sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour or you will end up with a gummy bread.
  7. Shape dough into a smooth ball and place it in a large, oiled bowl. Cover and rest in a quiet, warm spot of the kitchen until dough has doubled in size, which may be anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on ambient room temperature.
  8. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and sprinkle corn meal into the pan, tapping to distribute it evenly in the pan.
  9. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter, pressing and stretching the dough into an oblong shape, about 8 inches wide and 16 inches long. Sprinkle the dried dill onto the dough, then roll it up into a loaf shape to match the length of your bread pan. The loaf will rise more evenly if the ends of the dough meet the ends of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap or an elastic cover and let the bread proof 60 to 90 minutes, until dough has risen to about an inch above the rim of the pan.
  10. Near the end of the proofing time, preheat the oven to 350° F, with rack in the center.
  11. Brush the surface of the bread with egg wash and sprinkle it with additional caraway seeds.
  12. Bake for 45 minutes, turning bread halfway through baking time. Internal temperature should be about 190° F and the bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
  13. Turn bread out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely before slicing.

No, this pretty girl is not asking for pumpernickel. She can smell butter from 100 miles away!

Want to make this sourdough pumpernickel?


Not Quite Katz’s (but darn good pastrami)

April, I have decided, is a lovely time to visit New York. When my husband, Les, and I traveled there for our honeymoon trip a few years ago, I realized that being in the city with someone who grew up in the city is the best experience of all. When you are traveling with a “native son,” you don’t feel as much like a tourist, but you quickly get used to the idea of walking—a lot. Les and I walked, on average, about 6 miles each day, and I was free to enjoy the scenery along the way. In New York, in April, there were tulips everywhere.


The city was abuzz with the sounds, sights and smell of spring, and I was positively in love—with N.Y., of course, but especially with my husband of only a few days. His confidence in navigating the city of his youth gave me even more reason to appreciate being with him. I didn’t have to worry about a thing! Les knew instinctively which subway trains to take for various planned excursions, what time to leave and (most importantly) where to go for the best food, including John’s on Bleecker Street for pizza, which became the gold standard in my own effort to achieve the perfect N.Y. pizza dough.

One of our day trips included a visit to the Freedom Tower, now the tallest building in N.Y., at the site where the North Tower of the World Trade Center once stood. We had visited the landmark and the memorial earlier in the week, and merely seeing the names of the people who died on that dark day of history was truly devastating. I cannot (and don’t want to) imagine what it must have been like to witness those events.

There are not enough words.

We had intended to ascend the Freedom Tower on that first visit, but were offered a reschedule on our tickets because of heavy fog that apparently made visibility from the top almost nil. We had better luck on the second visit, and the view from the One World Observatory was jaw-dropping.

I wondered how many people down there might have been looking up to where we were standing.
And how about that dreadful smog?

All that walking left us feeling pretty hungry, and our steps (and appetite) led us to the Lower East Side, to the most iconic eatery in all of Manhattan.


From the outside, Katz’s Delicatessen is pretty unassuming—just an old-school corner building with a neon-letter sign—but inside, the joint was jumping! We squeezed into line with all the other hungry tourists and locals, pulled our tickets and shouted our orders to the sandwich makers behind the counter, who were generously offering samples of the deliciousness to come. It was the most exciting lunch I’ve ever eaten, in a place you’ve probably seen, even if you have never visited New York. Katz’s Deli was the setting for the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in the film, When Harry Met Sally. And if you do visit the city—you know, when the world reopens—I highly recommend a visit to Katz’s, and I highly recommend that you have what I had—the $23 pastrami on rye. Worth. Every. Penny.

My pastrami in the foreground; Les’s corned beef in the back. It was a collective mountain of food!

When business is booming, Katz’s reportedly sells 15,000 pounds of pastrami a week—and as you can see, most of that ends up on one sandwich. I did my best to stretch my jaw onto that thing, and my city-savvy hubby had to show me how it’s done, face-first and with both hands.


We had a ton of leftovers, of course, so we wrapped up the remains of our sammies and took them back to our room. It was on this trip that I learned cold leftover pastrami on rye is fantastic for breakfast.

I’ve had a hankering to try making pastrami at home ever since that trip, and although we cannot match what they do at Katz’s (at least, not without giving up our full-time jobs), Les and I were pretty darn excited with the results of our first pastrami effort. When we began our corned beef adventure this year, we had purchased two large, grass-fed briskets, knowing that both would be brined at least a week, and that one would travel on to the smoker with a spicy dry rub to become pastrami. My inspiration came from Katz’s, but my recipe is drawn mostly from The Gefilte Manifesto (Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern), the same book that inspired my pierogi with potato, leek and spinach last fall. Jeffrey’s pastrami recipe instructed a 7-day brine, followed by extensive rinsing, a generous rub-down with copious amounts of spices and, finally, several hours in the smoker.

Our driveway, where the smoker was set up, smelled like the stuff deli dreams are made of, and our first pastrami was fabulous! I will not torture you with three pages of ingredients and details, because you probably just want to see the pictures, anyway. So, here you go!



In reviewing all my notes and looking back at the instructions offered in The Gefilte Manifesto, we realize that we made a couple of missteps, primarily with the finishing of the pastrami. We should have waited to cut into it, pending an overnight in the fridge and a two-hour steaming. But the aroma caused us to lose our minds a bit, and so we just charged in and cut the thing. Fantastic flavors, and we will steam the slices as we go. We’ve got nothing on Katz’s Delicatessen, but our pastrami was pretty darn delicious. We will absolutely do this again, and by that time, we hope to invite all of our meat-loving friends to join us for a pastrami feast, fresh and hot off the smoker. Who’s bringing the potato salad? 😀


DIY Corned Beef—Done!

It has been a fun week of St. Patrick’s Day-themed food prep at our house. As I’ve chopped and cooked, hustling from one recipe to another and digging into the history of the foods associated with Ireland, I’ve felt an almost spiritual connection to the Irish people. Theirs is a rich and layered culture, and my background music of choice, the Springsteen album Live in Dublin, gave me additional inspiration. Here’s a taste, for your listening pleasure as you tag along for the rest of my corned beef adventure.

It has been a deliciously rich week, too. We’ve shared these tasty recipes, including two versions of mashed potatoes, a no-yeast bread, a no-bake dessert and some bangin’ sausages. By the time we finish the leftovers, I expect I will have sweet Irish butter flowing through my veins. Wow!


The Irish food party started last week, when I detailed our adventures with making our own corned beef. Whether or not you jumped on the DIY wagon with us, I thought you may appreciate seeing the end result. As mentioned, we avoid meats processed with nitrates and nitrites, so I certainly do not go out of my way to find or use them in our homemade version of this St. Patrick’s Day classic. The ingredients we do use to brine our grass-fed brisket—kosher salt, pickling spices, brown sugar, Irish ale, celery juice and sauerkraut brine—add layers of flavor, and we don’t care about the pinkish color the added nitrates would have otherwise lent.

Let’s pick up where we left off, from the point of pouring the brine over the briskets and sending them to the refrigerator for a nice, long nap. I noted that we would finally make good on our goal of making pastrami from one of the briskets, and we have done that (I’ll share it tomorrow), but corned beef is the guest of honor this week, and the post-brine process is very simple. I turned the briskets each day to help them brine evenly, and the corned beef got an extra day’s soak on Sunday—a total of eight days, which is about right for a nearly 6-pound hunk of meat. I rinsed it thoroughly, nestled it into the slow cooker on top of celery and onion chunks, and sprinkled it with about half a bottle of fresh pickling spices. We have done corned beef nearly the same way for several years, so I decided to try a twist that I saw in my news feed, though I cannot for the life of me remember the source. Anyway, the suggestion was to use white wine in the brining liquid. This makes perfect sense to me, given that I use wine to roast so many other meats, so I tried it. This will become a new standard for us.

This may well be the best batch of homemade corned beef we have ever made. The meat is perfectly tender and easy to slice, and the flavors are richly entwined with every fiber of the meat. The flavor is richer and more complex than any store-bought corned beef I’ve had, and my husband, Les, suggested that it rivaled the delicious corned beef we enjoyed a few years ago at Katz’s delicatessen in New York!


Instructions

  1. Remove brisket from brine and brush away as much of the picking spice mixture as possible. Discard the brine, and I’d recommend that you pour it through a colander to strain out the seeds, berries, bay leaves, and chunky solids that might otherwise clog your kitchen drain.
  2. Rinse the brisket. Cut up a whole yellow onion and a few stalks of celery. Scatter the aromatic vegetables into the bottom of a large pot or slow cooker. Place the brisket, fat side-up, on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle about half a bottle of fresh pickling spices over the brisket.
  3. Pour in 1/2 cup dry white wine, and enough water into the pot to completely cover the meat. Bring pot to a slight boil, then reduce heat and simmer about one hour per pound of meat, until brisket is desired tenderness.
  4. Carefully remove brisket from the cooking liquid and rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes before cutting.
  5. If you are cooking cabbage and carrots to accompany the corned beef, but them on to boil now, and use the brisket braising liquid to echo the corned beef flavors.
  6. Slice brisket against the grain—opposite the direction of the meat fibers.
  7. You’ll find that the corned beef slices particularly well after chilling. To reheat slices of corned beef, place slices in a steamer basket over simmering water. Or, strain more of the braising liquid into a jar and keep it in the fridge for steaming the leftovers. Why waste that flavor? 🙂

You don’t have to be Irish to love it!

Want to print this recipe?


DIY Corned Beef? (yes, you can!)

Today is March 9, and we need to talk about St. Patrick’s Day. Why the urgency, you may ask, with eight days to go? In our home, the food preparation for this fun holiday has already begun, in that we have started the brining process for our annual home-cured corned beef. Several years ago, I swore off meats processed with unnecessary nitrate and nitrite chemicals, and though it’s easy enough today to find commercially prepared “uncured” versions of corned beef in supermarkets such as Whole Foods, I get a kick out of doing it myself. This year, my husband, Les, and I purchased two large grass-fed briskets for this purpose. One will be a traditional corned beef preparation, and the other will travel an extra mile to become pastrami. The brining step takes anywhere from seven to 10 days, so we started ahead accordingly.

If this sounds exciting to you, then hightail it to the market today or tomorrow to procure the necessary supplies, and you’ll find directions for brining at the end of this post. Otherwise, sit back and relax for a brief “did you know” lesson on some of the dishes we think of this time of year, and a sneak peek at what I’ll be preparing in the week ahead. For many Irish-Americans, this mid-March holiday is usually a time for lively street parades (especially in Boston and New York), the wearing of the green (lest ye be pinched), toasting to good health with a pint (green or otherwise), and feasting on corned beef and cabbage, colcannon, bangers and mash, or Irish soda bread. But how authentic are these “St. Patrick’s Day” foods, really?

I’ve done some research this week, and honestly, it’s hit-or-miss. But in searching out stock photos from the internet, I’m drooling a bit, just thinking about these delectable foods!


Corned beef is associated with Ireland, but it originated in the U.S., where Irish immigrants found beef to be plentiful and more affordable than in their native land. Traditional Irish cuisine leans more heavily on proteins that are native to the land, including lamb and fish.

Colcannon, a mixture of cabbage and mashed potatoes, is an authentically Irish food, but is traditionally made around Halloween, not St. Patrick’s Day. Playful (or superstitious) cooks might still hide coins or lucky charms (not the cereal!) inside, giving dinner guests a chance at good fortune, though it sounds more like a good shot at a trip to the ER, or perhaps a ruse to convince children to finish their vegetables.

Bangers and mash is a rustic dish of sausage (usually pork or lamb) on top of mashed potatoes with onion gravy. This dish is definitely original to Ireland, as well as other parts of the U.K., and it earned its nickname because of the sound the moisture-heavy sausages made when they “popped” during cooking. I love bangers and mash with Guinness-based gravy, and the immature side of me just thinks it’s fun to say “bangers and mash.”

Finally, soda bread, long considered to be an original Irish food, technically isn’t. Culinary historians credit Native Americans as the first to use soda ash as a leavening agent in bread, but Irish immigrants to the new country quickly recognized the technique as a means to enjoy bread during yeast shortages. When baking soda became available in the U.K., the Irish adopted the chemical leavening trick to make breads from the stuff they had on hand—soft, low-protein wheat flour and sour or cultured milk.

I love food history, and even though some of these foods are questionable in their authenticity to St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll be making (and sharing with you) some version of all of them between now and next week.

Our corned beef is already underway, and if you’d like to play along at home, here’s how to begin. As I mentioned, I do not use the nitrate chemical known as “curing salt,” and it is not necessary for home-cured corned beef. The intended purpose of curing salt is to inhibit growth of bad bacteria while the meat is brining, but between modern refrigeration and the natural nitrites that occur in another ingredient I use, my brisket is well protected. One noticeable difference in nitrate- and nitrite-free corned beef is the color; mine will not have the rosy hue you see in commercially processed corned beef. The flavor, however, is exactly the same (or better).

Essential gear

You will need a container for brining the corned beef. It should be large enough to hold your brisket, plus about a gallon of liquid brine mixture. Choose a non-reactive, sealable vessel for this purpose—in other words, do not use a metal pot! A plastic container with a tight lid is fine, as is a food-grade plastic brining bag (plus a container large enough to hold it). Depending on your container, you may also need a non-reactive bowl or plate heavy enough to weigh down the brisket so that it is fully submerged at all times. For cooking the brined brisket, any slow cooker, roasting pan or Dutch oven will do, but you won’t need that until next week. You will also need enough space in your fridge for said container.

Essential tips

Prepare your brining liquid in advance, and allow time for it to cool completely before adding your brisket. I’ve seen some recipes that begin with cold water, and that may be OK, but the coarse salt and sugar will dissolve better and more quickly over heat, so I usually warm the liquid to incorporate those grainy ingredients, then cool it down (usually with ice cubes) before adding the rest. Do not pour warm brine onto the brisket—this would promote bacteria growth.

Essential Ingredients

These are the must-haves for making corned beef at home.

4- 5 pound beef brisket, preferably flat-cut, trimmed of excess fat

3 quarts filtered water

About a cup of kosher salt or coarse sea salt* (see notes)

About 1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1 packet or bottle of pickling spices*

Optional Ingredients

These are the must-haves PLUS the extra stuff I add to my brine. Isn’t it funny that all the extras have GREEN labels? 🙂

12 oz. bottle Irish ale*

12 oz. bottle celery juice*

1/2 cup real fermented sauerkraut brine*

*Notes

Kosher salt and coarse sea salt are about the same by volume and can be used interchangeably here. You can also use canning and pickling salt, or fine-textured sea salt, but because the crystals are much smaller, you should use slightly less (somewhere between 3/4 and 7/8 cup). Do not use table salt containing iodine.

Pickling spice is a blend of dry ingredients, usually including peppercorns, mustard and coriander seeds, allspice berries, ginger, garlic, bay leaves and sometimes chile peppers. You could whip up your own blend if you so desired, but the simplest thing to do is purchase a jar of spices ready to go. McCormick makes a good one that you will find in the regular spice aisle of just about any supermarket. You will use the entire bottle, and you may as well pick up two of them so you’ll have extra spices later for cooking your corned beef.

The remaining ingredients are optional, but I’ll explain here why I use them. A few years ago, a guest at our big Super Bowl party had left behind a growler jug of a local IPA that was much more “hoppy” than beers we usually enjoy. Not wanting to waste it, I glugged about a pint of it into our corned beef brine, and it was fantastic. Every year since then, I’ve put a bottle of Irish ale into the recipe and it always turns out great with that little extra layer of flavor. I think a bottle of Guinness would be great, too.

Celery juice powder is a natural source of nitrites, one of the same chemical additives in commercially processed corned beef. I haven’t yet seen the powder available anywhere, but my supermarket carries celery juice in the same refrigerated section as kombucha and probiotic drinks. Check the ingredients of any celery juice product you choose. This one I use is only celery juice and a hint of lemon juice. I don’t want to know who is actually drinking this stuff, but I’m glad it’s available. 🙂

Real sauerkraut is a naturally fermented product, containing loads of healthy probiotics. Good bacteria threaten bad bacteria, so a few splashes of the brine from the natural sauerkraut is my extra security measure during the brining process. I would not recommend using the brine in canned sauerkraut, as it likely contains vinegar and who-knows-what else. But if your kraut came from the refrigerated case, and the ingredients listed on the package are only cabbage and salt, and it says “naturally fermented” or “live cultures” somewhere on the jar, you’re good to go. Hang onto the sauerkraut for all the yummy Reuben sandwiches you’ll make next week.

About the pink color:

I’ve tried a few other tricks to get the reddish color that is typical of commercially produced corned beef, but most did not work and others were only nominally effective. If you feel inclined, try adding about a cup of pure beet juice to the brine (more seems to affect the flavor), or try some beet powder if you can get your hands on it. But if you can overlook the idea of artificially enhanced color, I promise the flavor of home-cured corned beef is even tastier than the pink version you grew up with. It’s a good trade-off.


Ready? Let’s do this!

  1. Heat about 3 quarts of filtered water to a near boil, then turn off the heat.
  2. Add kosher salt and brown sugar. Stir until dissolved, then toss in a couple of cups of ice to cool it down.
  3. When the brine is fully cooled, add the Irish ale, celery juice and sauerkraut brine.
  4. Place your brisket into the non-reactive container. Sprinkle the pickling spice over the top of the meat. Carefully pour the cold brine over the meat.
  5. Use a heavy, non-reactive plate or dish to hold the brisket under the brine liquid. You don’t want the top or any edges exposed to air while the curing takes place. I usually use a flat-bottomed Pyrex dish to press it down, and when I seal the container, it becomes sort of wedged to keep the brisket from floating to the surface.
  6. Refrigerate on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator for at least 5 days for a smallish brisket, or up to 10 days if your brisket is on the larger side. Check on the brisket each day, and turn it so the brine and seasonings make their way into every fiber of the meat. Keep it submerged.

If you don’t have room in the refrigerator, you can do the brine step in a cooler. Be sure the container holding the brisket and liquid is fully sealed, and refresh the ice as needed to keep it cold for the duration of the brining process.

When brining is complete, rinse the brisket under cold running water for several minutes, then proceed with cooking as usual.

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Later this week, I’ll post my recipes for Irish soda bread and “bangers and mash.” Stay tuned!


Green Goddess Dressing

Don’t be surprised to see a lot of late winter recipes showing up here with highlights of fresh summer herbs. No, I haven’t lost track of the seasons (not possible with all the bad weather news everywhere). It’s more a situation of appreciating the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

My husband, Les, undoubtedly tired of my chronic lament over the deer having eaten my summer garden, gifted me this year with an AeroGarden. It’s a hydroponic, countertop device with individual seed pods for growing whatever your heart desires (or, at least, whatever is legal in your state). Knowing my love of using fresh herbs in the kitchen, Les opted for the herbal variety pack, which included two basil varieties, chives, mint, thyme and two kinds of parsley.

At first, the thing just sort of sat on the table by the kitchen window, blazing its bright blue light across the kitchen for 15 hours a day. The thing comes on by itself at 5:00 a.m., waking the pets, who then wander in to wake us, because they know it must be almost time to eat. It took me a couple weeks to adjust to this new growing schedule, about the same time that tiny sprouts emerged, first from the Genovese basil. It has been fun to watch our little herb babies grow. 🙂


What began as a fun “let’s see what happens” Christmas gift has turned into a “holy moly, what are we gonna do with all this parsley” adventure. By Valentine’s weekend, I realized I needed to do something with the parsley before it consumed the kitchen, as my outdoor basil did last summer in the backyard garden. Les had asked for simple embellishments to our romantic dinner of lobster tails, including roasted asparagus and a Caesar salad (his fave).

“How do you feel about green goddess dressing,” I asked. And so it was.

Green goddess is a throwback food, originally created in the early 1920s at a San Francisco restaurant, and at that time the dressing included mayonnaise, chives, scallions, parsley, garlic, anchovies and tarragon vinegar. By the late ‘40s, The New York Times published a recipe for it, and it hit the grocery shelves in bottled form about 1973. Thank you, Wikipedia, for all that helpful information.

Like any other recipe, green goddess can be switched up to match your flavor (and consistency) preferences. If you want to use it as a dip, ease up on the buttermilk and add more mayo. Hate basil? Leave it out and use extra parsley. If you are gaga for garlic, double it—or roast it for milder flavor. I went rogue a little bit and added a small handful of baby spinach leaves to this version (hey, they’re green), and I love a recipe that is so flexible. The dressing seems to me a mash-up of ranch and Caesar, but with a bounty of freshness to punch up the flavor and, thankfully, a perfect vehicle for freshly picked herbs.

I’ve made my own salad dressing for years, and this was my first green goddess but definitely not my last. Obviously!


Ingredients

1/4 cup thick cultured buttermilk

Small handful of fresh basil leaves

Small handful of curly or flat parsley leaves

Several stems of fresh chives

2 scallions (white and green parts), trimmed

2 cloves fresh garlic

4 to 6 fillets of anchovy, to taste* (see notes)

2 tsp. prepared Dijon mustard

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup whole milk Greek yogurt

Small handful fresh baby spinach leaves (optional)

1 to 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

Remember that anchovies are fairly salty on their own, and you may or may not want additional salt in the mix. If you prefer to omit the anchovies, consider substituting a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce to add a similar punch.


Instructions


  1. In the small insert bowl of a food processor, combine herbs, scallions, Dijon, salt and pepper, anchovies and lemon juice. Pulse several times to chop herbs into somewhat uniform mixture.
  2. Add mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and pulse about 8 times. Give it a taste and adjust seasonings or ingredients as desired, pulsing to incorporate additions.
  3. Turn processor on steady and slowly drizzle olive oil into the dressing. Transfer dressing to a bowl and chill several hours or overnight.
Great as a dressing for crisp salad, or dipping sauce for fresh cut veggies!

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My Dad’s Homemade Irish Creme

The Christmas season doesn’t feel real in our house until the refrigerator holds a bottle of this luxurious libation. My father has made this homemade version of Irish creme (his spelling) for years, and whenever I visited his house during the holidays, I knew I could count on him to have a beige Tupperware pitcher of it in the fridge. It is rich and decadent, far creamier than the shelf-stable stuff you can buy at the liquor store. When I first asked for his recipe, I was surprised to realize that it has both coffee and chocolate in it—I never tasted either of them in the Irish cream, but when I’ve reduced or omitted either, I found that it just wasn’t the same.

For sure, double the recipe, even if there aren’t a lot of folks.

My father’s original recipe suggests using heavy cream and whole milk, but I have fiddled with the recipe and found that light cream and half & half makes it every bit as creamy, without the clumping that sometimes occurs with chilled heavy cream. Increase the Irish whiskey if you like (my dad does), but I think the ratios are perfect just as they are.

This homemade Irish cream is perfect for gift-giving, and it’s so darn easy to make that you’ll find yourself asking “Bailey who?”

Enjoy this straight, on ice or as a decadent flavor addition to your Christmas morning coffee or hot cocoa.

Homemade Irish Cream is a wonderful gift, too!

Ingredients

4 oz. (1/2 cup) light cream* (see notes)

2 tsp. espresso powder (or instant coffee)*

1 Tbsp. chocolate syrup (I use an all-natural brand with no high fructose corn syrup)

1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

8 oz. (1 cup) half & half*

6 oz. (3/4 cup) Irish whiskey

The original recipe calls for heavy cream and whole milk, but I’ve substituted similarly rich products with no clumping.

*Notes

Light cream is 20% milkfat, compared to nearly 40% milkfat in heavy cream. For readers abroad, the term “half & half” may not make sense, given that the European market does not have a product labeled this way. According to this article I found, half & half checks in at 12% milkfat. If you combine equal parts light cream with whole milk, you’ll strike a similar balance to the fat in half & half.

If my suggested ingredients are not available where you are, go with my dad’s original suggestion for 4 oz. heavy cream and 8 oz. whole milk, and perhaps use a blender to mix the Irish cream to help avoid the clumps that occur with cold heavy cream.

Espresso powder is available in the baking aisle of many well-stocked supermarkets or online from King Arthur Baking Company. You may substitute a high-quality instant coffee, such as Starbucks Via brand. I’ve used Starbucks “dark French roast” instant coffee with very good results.


Instructions

  1. Place a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm the light cream, espresso powder and chocolate syrup until the mixture steams and the espresso powder is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  2. Use a whisk to blend the coffee-infused cream, condensed milk and half & half.
  3. Stir in Irish whiskey. Give it a taste and adjust any ingredient as desired.
  4. Divide Irish cream into sealable bottles and refrigerate.

Recipe makes about 4 cups.

Enjoy within three weeks. At our house, it is usually gone within three hours. 😉

Now, it feels like Christmas.

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Chunky Bleu Cheese Dressing

It’s natural, I suppose, for kids to assume the taste and preference of their parents—either based on what they are told or perhaps based on the fact that they don’t really get to experience the flavors of foods the parents dislike.

For many years, I had the impression that “bleu cheese is terrible” was truth. My mother does not have the sense of adventure for food that I have, and come to think of it, my father doesn’t either. Over and over growing up, I heard negative opinion about certain foods from them, and bleu cheese fell into that category, at least with my mom. It had not occurred to me that my own opinion of those foods might be different.

That is, until the day that my grandmother served a casual salad at dinner with a thick, creamy dressing we spooned from one of the Depression glass bowls that was not set aside for special occasions.

I love the creaminess of this dressing, and the fresh taste from the buttermilk and sour cream. And those funky chunks, oh yes!

“What kind of dressing is this, Gram?” I asked. She informed me it was her “homemade” dressing. And I really liked it! Later, when she dropped the truth that it was her homemade bleu cheese dressing, I felt betrayed and compelled to act offended, as I’d been taught. That wild, funky flavor though! Yeah, I couldn’t fake not liking it, and I guess that was one of the first “aha” moments when I realized I was a separate person from my parents.

I loved bleu cheese and I was not ashamed.

If you aren’t making your own salad dressings, you’re missing out on a simple joy and a world of flavor. For the sake of a true story, I can’t claim for certain that my grandma taught me how to make this bleu cheese dressing, but I know she made her own salad dressings quite regularly, and it was one of the first things I began to make on my own when I got serious about cooking. Whether a vinaigrette, Italian dressing or creamy dressing such as ranch or bleu cheese, homemade dressing is remarkably simple to make. I rarely ever buy it anymore.

This is my version of bleu cheese, and unlike most of the dressings you’ll find in a supermarket, it is not loaded up with soybean oil and preservatives. Unlike many restaurant versions, it is not just a mayonnaise-y mess with bleu cheese crumbles (I hate when it gets that awful greasy sheen to it when you serve it with something warm). No, mine is generous with the bleu cheese, both in the base and in chunky texture, and it has buttermilk and sour cream for a lovely, creamy tang. Gram would certainly have approved.

I hope you enjoy this dressing—for its simplicity and its flavor. Use it this weekend to dress up some mixed greens or a wedge salad or a tray of real Buffalo-style chicken wings. Oh yeah, now we’re talking!

Let me know in the comments section what dressings you like, and I’ll share more of my easy recipes. 🙂


Ingredients

3/4 cup mayonnaise* (see notes)

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sour cream

4 oz. wedge of deli-quality bleu cheese*

1 tsp. red wine vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. white pepper


*Notes

My preference for mayonnaise is canola rather than soybean. If you have a Trader Joe’s, they make a terrific version of mayo that is made with expeller pressed canola oil. It keeps its creamy texture and doesn’t have a greasy flavor.

Bleu cheese is made in various places, and they all seem to call it something different. Roquefort, stilton and gorgonzola would all be acceptable substitutes, so choose your favorite. I usually go with Amish or Danish, and for sure, I recommend a wedge of bleu cheese rather than pre-packaged crumbles.


Instructions

  1. Trim the white, non-veiny part of the bleu cheese to blend into the dressing.
  2. Combine buttermilk, sour cream and white part of bleu cheese in a smoothie blender or regular blender and mix until smooth. No blender? Mash this portion of bleu cheese with a fork and whisk vigorously with the buttermilk and sour cream.
  3. Transfer dressing to a bowl. Stir in mayo, vinegar and spices.
  4. Crumble remaining bleu cheese and gently fold into the dressing.

This recipe makes about two cups of dressing. It can be served right away, but the texture is greatly improved after a night in the refrigerator. Keeps in a sealed jar or bowl for about a week.


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DIY Parm-Romano Blend

This post might seem like the simplest thing in the world, but in keeping with my realization that the “why” reveals a great deal about the “what” in my kitchen, I’m about to unwrap the secret of the most favored cheese in the Gura household—the parm-romano blend. We buy chunks of parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino-Romano and shred them together at home. All the hyphenated names can be a little confusing, and the quality of the cheese is of utmost concern, so here’s a little background info to help you identify one from another.

What kind of cheese is parmesan?

Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano (which might be one and the same) are made with cow’s milk, then aged for a period of time—depending on where the cheese is produced, it could be aged for a year or up to three years. The longer it ages, the sharper and more salty the cheese becomes. It is crumbly and doesn’t melt well, but parmesan’s intense flavor provides a nice “finishing” touch, as you have no doubt enjoyed on foods such as pizza, mac & cheese or pasta dishes.

What’s the difference between “parmesan” and “Parmigiano-Reggiano?”

Maybe nothing—or perhaps everything, depending on where the cheese is made. Within Europe, both terms are protected under European Union laws and used to identify that the cheeses are produced in the upper-middle region of Italy under the supervision of a special consortium. But once you move outside the E.U., the term “parmesan” could indicate the cheese is a similar style, but not authentic to that region. If you really want to dive deep into this subject, check this out, but you better pack a lunch because it’s a lot to learn. The bottom line is, the only way to know for sure that you have the real deal cheese is to look for this seal of authenticity, which you can really only see if you’re looking at one of the huge wheels of cheese.

This is serious business!

Once the cheese is already cut and wrapped or shredded, its true origin is anybody’s guess, but the seal doesn’t lie and reputable suppliers won’t either.

What kind of cheese is pecorino? And how is it different from Pecorino-Romano?

Like Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino is a hard, salty cheese produced in Italy and name-protected by the EU laws. This one, however, is made from sheep’s milk rather than cow’s milk. It is lighter in color (and typically less expensive) than parmesan and has a slightly funky flavor, though not in a pungent way as goat cheese. The word “pecorino” literally means “sheep” and the other name listed with it identifies where the cheese was produced. Thus, Pecorino-Romano is sheep’s milk cheese, produced in Rome. You might also see pecorino produced in Sicily, Tuscany, Sardinia or other Italian regions, and they will also be high quality and delicious.

Why do you blend the cheeses?

Put simply, I love blends of many things, including wine, coffee and grains because you get the best of what’s great about the individual components. The same is true with cheese—marrying two (or more) varieties creates complexity and interest. As with so many things I do in the kitchen, shredding the blocks of cheese at home ensures that we have a more pure product, free from additives such as cellulose powder and artificial preservatives. This DIY cheese tradition was started in our house by my husband, Les, who began shredding his own blend many moons ago. It’s cost-effective and easy to do (especially with a food processor), and we go through it pretty quickly because we love it in so many different foods, including many of the dishes I’ll share with you closer to Thanksgiving.

Let’s start shredding!


Ingredients

1 block parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano (cold)*

1 block Pecorino-Romano (cold)

*Notes

It is not necessary to use equal amounts of the cheeses you’re blending. At our house, we frequently use a slightly higher percentage of parmesan, and we have also occasionally thrown a third cheese such as asiago into the mix. The important thing to consider for long-term freshness is moisture content—you want to keep it low. I would not recommend adding a soft, high-moisture cheese such as mozzarella or fontina to this mix, as you will lose the texture and also the longevity of the finished blend.

I recommend working with cold cheese, as it shreds more evenly and reduces clumping in the final mixture.


Instructions

I’ve used this parm-romano blend in several recipes already on Comfort du Jour. Obviously, any kind of pizza and most Italian foods are a perfect canvas for this cheese blend, but as you see, there are many other great uses as well. Leave a comment to share your own ideas!

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It’s pronounced “YEAR-Oh.”

That was the matter-of-fact statement printed on some of the commemorative T-shirts for our local Greek festival a few years back. It was supposed to end the controversy of the traditional handheld pita sandwich, which some people (including my NYC-born husband) call “JYE-row.”

Let the dispute rage—however you say it, these things are absolutely delicious and I’ve only recently learned to make them at home. This time of year, my community would normally be gearing up for the annual Greek festival, a three-day event filled with traditional food and music and dance and laughter and oh-so-heavenly Greek pastries—but alas, we are not doing anything “normal” this year, are we? The festival, I’m told by an insider, will be pushed back to at least September, if they are able to do it at all with whatever social distancing guidelines might be in place months from now.

To help temper our collective craving for Greek deliciousness, I’ve decided to share a few of my own recipes, including my take on a “YEAR-Oh” recipe I received quite by accident. My aunt had texted me in search of a good but easy flatbread recipe, and after I figured out she wasn’t referring to the pizza crust-type of flatbread, but the handheld pita-type, I asked what she planned to do with them. “Gyros,” she texted.

Hold the phone—what? She makes her own gyros? This is one of my favorite Mediterranean food items, a primary reason for my love of the Greek festival, and yet it had not occurred to me to try to make them at home. Thankfully, our chance conversation about flatbread has changed all that.

This recipe for gyro meat is remarkably simple to make, and would be delicious with just onions, garlic, rosemary and oregano, as it was given to me, but my husband and I really like a good bit of spice, so I substituted a blend of other Mediterranean spices that had worked very well on some lamb chops a few months ago, and guess what? Winner, winner—gyro dinner. For good measure, I’m also sharing my easy, four-ingredient recipe for tzatziki sauce and the homemade soft pita breads that are in my regular rotation.

You can use ground beef or ground lamb in this recipe, or some combination of both, as I did. One of the keys of the recipe is processing the ground meat into an ultra-smooth texture before cooking it. Skipping this step will leave you with something more like meatloaf or burgers, so don’t be tempted to pass on it. If you have time to chill the cooked gyro meat overnight, you’ll be able to slice it ultra-thin for a really authentic result. Authentic enough, anyway, to hold us over until September.

Opa!


Ingredients

1.5 pounds ground beef or lamb or both (at least 85% lean)

1 cup very finely chopped onion

4 cloves garlic, very finely minced

Spice blend

These spices were an excellent combination of flavor for my gyros.

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1/4 tsp. dried Mediterranean oregano leaves

1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For serving

Soft pita breads*, tzatziki sauce, fresh tomatoes, chopped red onion

*These are delicious on my homemade soft pita breads, or you may use something simple and ready-made, like the garlic naan breads available at Trader Joe’s.

Hubby suggested pepperoncini on the finished sandwich. Excellent call!

Instructions

Combine meat, onions, garlic and spices in a large bowl. Refrigerate mixture at least 2 hours. Working in batches, process meat mixture until it’s smooth and homogenized. If you’re cooking and serving right away, shape mixture into a compact oval-shaped mound in a cast iron skillet, and bake at 325° F for about 1 hour, until meat is fully cooked and very firm, even slightly dry. If you’re serving right away, cut the meat into thin slices and enjoy on warm pita breads with your favorite toppings. Keep scrolling for work-ahead tips.


If you have time to work ahead, mound the processed meat onto a large piece of plastic wrap, and roll it up as tightly as you can, twisting the ends (similar to a sausage chub) so that the meat mixture is as compact as possible. Chill for a few hours, up to overnight, then proceed with the recipe.


After baking, cool and chill meat overnight again for ultra-thin slices. To reheat chilled gyro slices, grill on an oiled skillet until edges are lightly crispy.

Tzatziki Sauce – a must with your homemade gyros!

Just four ingredients (plus salt) make an awesome and authentic tzatziki sauce. In a pinch, you could substitute sour cream for the yogurt.

1 Persian cucumber*, peeled, seeded and finely chopped or grated

A couple pinches of kosher salt

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (or substitute sour cream in a pinch)

2 cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped

1 tsp. fresh dill leaves, finely chopped

*English or slicing cucumbers work in this recipe, too. I like the smaller size of the Persian cukes because one is just right for many of my recipes, and I don’t have to wrap up leftovers. You want about 1/3 cup of cucumber. Whichever type you use, be sure to remove the seeds and excess moisture.

Line a small custard cup with a paper towel. Add the chopped or grated cucumber and stir with a sprinkling of kosher salt. Wrap the paper towel over the cucumbers and allow this to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to draw out and absorb excess moisture.

Combine cucumbers with yogurt, garlic and dill. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve with gyros.

Somebody please give me a spoon!

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Low carb version. He had to have just one more bite, Even Nilla wants some!