A Simple Meatloaf

My husband and I have decidedly different eating preferences.  I eat just about anything (bananas are a notable exception) and he’s a meat-and-potatoes sort of dude.  I usually have an iron stomach and he does not.  Trying to make a meatloaf that both of us can, and want to, eat is challenging to say the least.  If I were ever to get supremely mad at him, all I would have to do is add onions, garlic, bell peppers, or anything really spicy, to keep him feeling awful for a few days.  I’ve never had such a desire (I’d say at that point I’d probably need a divorce lawyer instead of an onion).  Unfortunately I did learn this from trying different recipes; my poor husband!  This week, however, we reached a turning point in our meatloaf experimentation.  This is a simple recipe that stands on its own and will take to doctoring as well (some ideas are listed at the end of the recipe).  Once you read it you’ll probably wonder why I use ketchup as well as tomato paste, sugar, and vinegar in the sauce; tomato paste, sugar, vinegar are the basics for ketchup.  Would you like me to give you some lofty reason about the use of cider vinegar making all the difference, or the truth that I was playing around and this is the result?  Accept whichever answer you prefer.


Remember that  meat-and-potatoes comment before?  I’m including a fast potato recipe, too.  Read on, my friends…

Meatloaf Ingredients
1 pound Ground beef (I use 85%/15%)
3/16 cup Seasoned bread crumbs (use a 1/4 c. measure and fill it around 3/4; about 25 g)
28 g Grated carrot
2 Tablespoons Tomato paste mixed into 1 1/4 ounces water
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tablespoon Ketchup (I like Heinz)
1 Large egg
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon Ketchup
1 Teaspoon Tomato Paste
1/4 cup Cider vinegar
1/2 ounce Water
1 Teaspoon Sugar
Oil or spray to coat the pan

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 350F.
In a large bowl mix the meat, breadcrumbs, carrots, salt, and pepper.IMG_0987
Add Worcestershire, egg, 2 Tablespoons of the tomato paste mixture, and 1 Tablespoon Ketchup mixing thoroughly.

Evenly combine the ingredients but don’t pack the meat tightly in the process.

IMG_0988
Combine the remaining tomato paste mixture, cider vinegar, water, 1 tablespoon Ketchup, 1 teaspoon tomato paste, and sugar in a pot and stir over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar.  Simmer for 2 minutes and remove from heat.
Prepare the pan for the meatloaf.  I
use an old jelly roll pan covered in foil.  The key is the sides to prevent a mess in the oven.  Coat the cooking surface with the oil.
Shape the meat mixture into a loaf, centering it on the pan.IMG_0996
Next pour the sauce over the loaf making sure it is entirely covered.
Bake it for 75 minutes.
Let it rest for five minutes before serving.

 

 

Options
Here are a number of items you can add to give it a bit more kick:
Mix into the meat :
2 Tablespoons diced onion
1 clove of garlic, minced or crushed
1 Tablespoon chili powder
Tabasco or other hot sauce
Vegetables like squash – remember to take the water content into consideration
Mushrooms
Replace the breadcrumbs with crushed crackers (Think Ritz, Townhouse, etc.)
*be careful to add a bit more bread or crackers if significantly increasing the moisture

Stuffings and toppings:
Cheese hidden in the center – don’t ask how much – there’s no such thing as too much cheese in my world!
Top the loaf with breadcrumbs covered by strips of cheese – cheddar works very well for this application.

Quick Potatoes
This is how I make a fast side dish and get to use up those potatoes that seem to multiply in my kitchen.  While not the most inspired dish, it is fast, versatile and uses minimal amount of fats.

Fresh potato, scrubbed, with skin left on;  Golden potatoes are preferred but any roasting potato will work
Butter or oil of choice – just enough to coat the pan
Salt and Pepper
Other dry seasonings – use those used in the entrée
Lemon

IMG_0997

First, pierce the potato thoroughly.  I use a cake tester.
Next, loosely wrap the potato in wax paper and microwave until cooked throughout.  I use the “potato” button and it takes about 5-6 minutes for medium-large spud.
Unwrap the cooked potato being very careful not to get burned by the steam, and slice it cross-wise.
Heat a frying pan and coat with butter, oil, or both.  Now place the potato slices in the pan in a single layer.  Turn them once they are a deep golden brown and cook on the other side.  Serve immediately.
When I made these with the meatloaf I used butter, salt and pepper (I wasn’t having any).  If I make them for me, I use a smidge of olive oil instead of butter, hold the salt,  but include greek oregano, and then squeeze lemon on them as soon as they’re plated.  Yummy!

The Last Crouton – Beads of Profiteroles

The 1916 Cookbook Project:  The Last Crouton

Technically Grandpa didn’t title this recipe as a “crouton” but it is yet another soup garnish.  I found it interesting that he used choux pastry to make a garnish; I’ve always thought of creme puffs as a sweet, not savory, dish.  I also thought of them as large items requiring a fork and knife; not tiny morsels delicately floating on a plate of soup.

Reading through the thin instructions, I realized this was a recipe where I might have real, not “sort of”, success!  I grew up helping Ma make avgolemono chicken soup (greek chicken soup with lemon and egg), carefully pouring hot chicken soup broth into the raw eggs and lemon juice she frantically whisked the concoction.  We did this without ever curdling the eggs.  My tyropita (cheese pie) recipe involves whisking a raw egg into the hot cheese mixture.  I had the experience; I had the technique.  Yes, I finally found something that might be in my wheelhouse…or so I thought.

Recipe 4  Beads of Profiteroles

The translation:

In a saucepan put a glass of broth, water, a piece of butter the thickness of half an egg. Bring this to a boil. Remove from the heat and add enough flour to make a tight paste. Next add three eggs, one after the other, mixing well. Knead the dough and make small, chickpea sized, beads. Bake them in the oven.

Once again I was facing a recipe with no real measurements, no temperatures, and no estimated cooking time.  Heck, this time he didn’t even define what type of broth.  Chicken? Vegetable? Beef?  I wondered – had the printer charged by the letter to publish the book?

What I Did:

Guesstimate of the ingredients:ingredients for profiterole beads

½ cup beef broth
½ cup water
2 Tbs butter (½ oz butter = 1 Tablespoon)
1 cup flour ( 135 grams)
3 eggs (put each in a separate container to make adding them easier)

I combined the beef broth, water, and butter in a saucepan as directed and brought it to a boil.  Actually, I put the broth and water in a pot, forgot the butter, added the flour, realized why I shouldn’t have forgotten the butter and started over.

Next I removed the boiling mixture from the heat and started adding the flour, gradually mixing it in until the entire cup of flour was evenly combined with the hot, wet ingredients. dough before adding egs So far, so good. Finally I mixed in one egg at a time into the hot mixture.  (The first dough picture is before I added the eggs; the second, after.)  I did this slowly and never stopped mixing at a furious rate.

dough with eggs

Next I had to make the beads.  I took a look at the dough and thought it would be a pretty darn cold day down south before I attempted to knead and roll out little beads; enter the pastry bag.  I decided to try a star tip to make something that didn’t look droppings on a tray; I’m not very good with a pastry bag.

profiterole beads before baking

True to fashion, I used a Silpat so I can’t tell you if you would need to grease a baking sheet if you were putting the dough directly on it.   This went into a 400˚F oven for a while (yes, I forgot to write the time down; 20-40 minutes, I think) .  The result was a golden, crisp, light puff of air.  I could see how these would be a great addition to a consomme.  Of course, you could also do what we did and simply eat them as though they were M&M’s.

IMG_4577

My Conclusion

Would I make this again?  Probably.

Do I think I made something reasonably close to what he meant?   Definitely.

How would I modify it in the future?  Compare other profiterole recipes to get better ideas about consistency and cooking times.  Add a definite flavor such as an herb or spice.

1496 recipes to go.

Croutons Souffle

The 1916 Cookbook Project:  More Croutons

Croutons souffle.  Souffle?  Really, Grandpa?  I approached the third recipe in Grandpa’s cookbook with a bit of exasperation – the third, but not the last, crouton recipe.  Yes, there’s one more after this one.  Still, not one to give up easily I moved forward with “Croutons Souffle”.
finished croutons souffle

You may remember when I started this project I mentioned that a cookbook from the early part of the 20th century is very different from today’s familiar volumes.  Imagine opening up a book today and seeing a recipe written like this:

Make a stiff dough with a glass of milk, two eggs, a little lard, and flour. Cut the dough into small rectangular pieces and bake in a moderate oven. Use on consommes and other soups.

Yeah, that’s a detailed recipe (not). And lard. This is the first time I have lard in the house.  I don’t have anything against it; my mother never used it and I always have vegetable shortening in the house. Still, Grandpa’s recipe calls for lard and I’ll use it; at least this time, anyway.

Recipe 3  Crouton Souffle

What I Did:

Guesstimate the ingredients:croutons souffle ingredients
8 oz milk
two eggs
3-4 cups flour
¼ cup lard

I mixed the eggs and milk in a small bowl.  As soon as I did this I realized I was going to need a lot of flour; a lot of flour means a lot of dough.  I wasn’t thinking and should have gone with one egg, 4 oz of milk, etc.  Oh well, error number one.  Next I put 3 cups of the flour in a large bowl and cut in lard.  Gradually I mixed the liquid into the flour, adding more flour as needed to make a stiff dough (I used 4 cups this particular day).  Working the dough I suddenly understood why Ma said her father’s hands were like ham hocks; large, muscular, and very strong – no Hobart mixer when he made doughs!

combining dry and wet ingredientsOnce the dough was ready I rolled it out to about 1/4” in thickness and cut into small rectangular pieces.

dough rolled out

To me “moderate oven” is 350F so I baked in a preheated 350F oven for about 40 minutes.  Surprisingly these puffed up a bit giving them more of a  pillow like shape. They stayed pale; only the bottom browned; nice and golden I might add, the way Recipe 2 was supposed to turn out.   They were tasty, if a bit bland, and had a lovely texture.

finished croutons souffle

Experimentation:

I took some of the dough, rolled it out thinner, and used a smallish round cookie cutter to cut it up. I pierced it with a few times and baked in the 350F oven. Cocktail crackers!  Since the dough is so bland I should have added a topping (poppy seeds, sea salt, sesame seeds, crushed dried garlic, or similar).  Adding herbs and spices to the dough to make flavored croutons and crackers should work well, too.

croutons souffle crackersPlaying around I tried baking a few with salt and no piercings; they puffed up!  Of course, if I had been thinking, I would have realized this would happen.  The croutons puffed up, right?  Now I understand why crackers always have perforations in them – to keep them flat.  Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the puffs (thought I did, but I don’t) but you should definitely try making them.  Puffed up they reminded me of a crisp pocket pita.  Flavor the dough and you would definitely have a tasty snack (I didn’t say “healthy”; I said “tasty”).  Perforated or puffed, this is an easy to make recipe that’s a nice accompaniment with cheese and cocktails.

Try it out and let me know how you modified the recipe and what you think.

My Conclusion

Would I make this again?  Absolutely.  Why would I make crackers when there are so many excellent ones on the market?  Simple – to say I followed Grandpa’s recipe.  So my cousins and I can actually taste something he might have made for us.  We grew up hearing all the stories but never had the opportunity to actually experience his cooking (he died long before any of us were born).

Do I think I made something reasonably close to what he meant?  Definitely.

How would I modify it in the future?    We liked these even if they were bland.  Remember they’re a garnish for soup.  They would need salt and seasoning if made as a snack or cracker. 

Only 1,497 recipes to go.
I’m an idiot.

 

Simple bread croutons I can’t make

The 1916 Cookbook Project:  More Croutons

The humble crouton. This recipe seems idiotically simple but it makes sense that it’s in Grandpa’s book. Remember the year is 1916 and his audience are people from a very different culture; croutons are a Western idea. There was no internet, not every home had a telephone, nobody carried a smart phone. The purpose of his book was to teach his audience how to cook for the American palate, not the Greek one.  After a less than auspicious start with the Royal Croutons, I was relieved to see the second recipe in Grandpa’s book involved good old fashioned bread.  I’m so naive.

Recipe 2  Bread Croutons

The translation:

Cut thin slices of bread in small square pieces and fry with butter until golden. Use for cream soups.

So simple, right?

What I Did:

Two slices of english muffin bread with crust removed and cut into cubes. Coated the bread croutons in panbottom of a cast iron skillet (the one in the picture was his) with butter, tossed until golden. Add more butter as needed. I used about two tablespoons.  Here’s the kicker – it’s not so easy to get evenly golden, not burnt, little pieces of toast.

My second pass:

A slice of english muffin bread (a weakness of mine from Delicious Orchards, Colts Neck, NJ) cut into cubes, tossed in 1 T melted butter mixed with 1t poultry seasoning, salt and crouton ingredientspepper to taste. On to a cookie sheet and top with grated cheese. Bake in a preheated 350F oven, baked for 15-20 minutes.croutons with cheese
finished cheesy croutons

My Conclusion

Would I make this again?  Yes.

Do I think I made something reasonably close to what he meant?  Not so sure about the first try; definitely not with the second try. 

How would I modify it in the future?   I would use the oven.  Toasting is so much easier in an oven.  A non-stick skillet on a low flame might work as well.

No peasant croutons here; they’re “Royal”

The 1916 Cookbook Project Starts

It was a dreary Labor Day here in New Jersey when I finally started translating my grandfather’s cookbook.  What was I THINKING??  The first chapter is on soups.  One hundred thirty-eight recipes.  Ironically the first recipes aren’t soups at all; they’re croutons for decorating the soups.

I have many cookbooks that belonged to my mother and what I find interesting is how cookbooks evolve over time.  Today’s cookbooks have precisely measured ingredients listed in the order of use; photographs to guide us and numbered steps to walk us along.  Often they even include the amount of prep, cooking, and rest time involved.  Go to the internet for a recipe and you have the added benefit of comments from people around the world who made the recipe before you.  How they adjusted it; what worked and what didn’t.  A cookbook from the early 20th Century doesn’t necessarily include those nice lists and definitely doesn’t have step-by-step photographs. Some recipes might be only a couple of lines because you learned how to do something earlier in the book.  Food processors, stick blenders, and other small electric appliances were never mentioned.  Chop, slice, dice, knead, whip, and puree were all manual skills.  Grandpa’s book is of this sort.  Although it technically has 1,500 recipes, many are only a few sentences long.   Now put such a cookbook in another language and then give it to me to translate.  This could get ugly fast.  Still, I committed to this project and I’m doing my best even if it gets me committed.

Royal Croutons on Soup

Recipe 1  Royal Croutons

The translation:

Separate the yolks of 6 eggs and joined them with half a glass of milk, and beat well with wire then put in a skillet greased with butter. Then put two whites in a saucepan as the yolk. Whites in one of two colors it saucepan lightly green (have no idea what that sentence was all about). When prepared the three pots you put them inside in a pan with hot water in the oven and allow about twenty minutes to coagulate the egg whites. When you remove them from the oven let them cool and then and then chop into small square pieces like dice backgammon.  These three colors, white, green and yellow are the Royals crouton,which will need for soups and soup.

What did I get myself into??

What I Did:

Decide that I didn’t need to use half a dozen eggs; two would do.Royal Croutons Ingredients
Buttered three small ramekins to use as pans.
I separated two eggs, keeping the two whites in two separate bowls. The yolks were beaten with the milk and put into one of the ramekins.  Next I put one of the whites in a second ramekin. Now for the green eggs. Green eggs; really? Dr. Seuss kept flashing through my head each time I read this recipe. Green had me stumped. The word, “prasinada”, kept coming up as a town in Greece; I’m confident grandpa didn’t mean for me to add a town to the eggs.  I decided to add chopped herbs, in this case parsley, to the last egg white. I mixed in the parsley as well as possible and put the glop in the third ramekin.  The ramekins were then set in a pan of water and put in a 350F oven until they solidified; about 28 minutes.Ramekins for oven

Once completed I carefully lifted each one from its ramekin onto my cutting board.  This was not as easy as it sounds; part of the eggs stayed in each.  The yolk was more of a soft custard that crumbled as I tried to cut it.  Baking in the oven created a clear skin that was very difficult to cut through. I tried using my smallest cookie cutter which, unfortunately, is a delicate snowflake.cutting board mess  The picture on the left shows the mess on the cutting board; the final product floating on a plate of chicken broth is at the bottom of the page.

My Conclusion

Do I think I made something reasonably close to what he meant?  Yes.

Would I make this again?  Yes.

How would I modify it in the future?   First, I would use  a non-stick skillet with a lid on a very low flame.  Baking in the oven created a skin that was difficult to cut.  Next, I would either use no milk or no more than a teaspoon for two egg yolks.  Lightly season the egg to compliment the soup it will float on.  I might even make cutouts to decorate a platter.

Royal Croutons on Soup

Sunday Brunch continues…

Yesterday I went over my crepe recipe; today, as promised, I am posting my omelette in a cup recipe.  What I like about it is that the “cup” is edible because it’s actually a crepe.  My friend Jackie loved it; the dogs sulked because they couldn’t have it.  It really is quite simple and looks great.  It’s also ideal for a holiday brunch buffet.  I still haven’t attempted to remake the pineapple cups mixture but promise to do so soon.

finished egg cups

Ingredients

6 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp baking powder (makes for fluffier eggs)
finely sliced scallion, shallot, or chives
grated zucchini (I use the very large side of the grater box)
carrot ribbons (I use a vegetable peeler)
fresh ground pepper
optional – fresh herbs
4 cubes feta, preferably “authentic”, i.e., made with sheep’s milk
grated parmesan
chopped parsley for garnish
4 crepes

shredded vegetablesPre-heat the oven to 350F.
Line four large muffin forms with one crepe each and set them on a baking sheet.  I like to first line the sheet with a Silpat “just in case”.  Whip the eggs with the milk and baking powder in a large bowl.

combined ingredients

prepared cups for ovenMix in the grated vegetables, pepper, and fresh herbs of your choice (I decided against herbs this particular time but often use tarragon). Portion the egg mixture equally across the four crepe cups.  Make sure the vegetables are evenly portioned out.

Place a cube of feta in each cup and cover the top of the eggs with grated parmesan.  Put the cups in the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes increase the temperature to 400F and continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes.  The edges of the crepes will turn crisp and a dark golden color.  The eggs are done when they are puffed and the cheese has formed a light crust.  Remove the eggs from the forms and place on the plates; garnish with the parsley.  The cups might start to wrinkle/scrunch a bit near the bottom but that is okay.  We like the combination of the slightly moist crepe on the bottom and the crisp, dry crepe on the top.  You can also experiment with first baking the crepes a few minutes in the cups to dry them a bit before adding the eggs.

finished egg cups

A Perfect Summer Sunday in New Jersey

Summer is a great time in New Jersey and one of the things I look forward to is Sunday brunch with friends.  Life and the weather have gotten in the way this year.  The weather this weekend, however, was perfect – not too much humidity, brilliant blue sky, a cool breeze to balance the blazing sun.   So, yesterday was the first time I was able to have Jackie (friend) and Mia (golden retriever) over for brunch.  So much fun!

We cooked, relaxed on the deck, ate and laughed while making sure Mia didn’t jump in the pool.  I decided to make eggs baked in crepe cups and a pot of green tea.  Jackie surprised me with a wonderful cinnamon Amish loaf (yummy!) from What’s For Dessert? in Wall, NJ, and fresh pineapple (also yummy!).  Everyone needs a friend like Jackie – kind, happy, encouraging, and willing try my kitchen experiments!

The crepes were made, and the ingredients for the eggs prepped, before they arrived.  Munchkin (my shih tzu) was close at hand to quickly “clean” the floor of anything that might fall while I was cooking (she was sorely disappointed).  Next I lined six large silicone muffin forms with one crepe each, not sure if the eggs would fit in four or six cups; four was all I needed. ( The eggs are a post in and of themselves so I’ll write about those tomorrow.)  Jackie looked wistfully at the two empty crepe cups, sighing “how sad, they’re empty”.  I looked up, saw the pineapple and we tried something new – pineapple cups.  Everything was delicious although the pineapple cups need some tweaking – I’ll write about those in detail, good or bad, with my second attempt.  Today’s topic, however, is crepes.

Crepes

I’ve loved crepes as long as I can remember; plain or stuffed, sweet or savory (savory is my favorite).  I can’t remember whether the love affair started at a french restaurant in NYC when I was kid or if it started one summer on a Greek Island a lifetime ago (crepes are very popular in Greece).  It ends up my husband also loves crepes, or what he used to call “my grandmother’s french pancakes”.  I had no idea what he was talking about until one day I made crepes and he exclaimed, “Nana’s french pancakes!”.  I had one of those “duh!” moments; why hadn’t I made the connection earlier?  Regardless, I would tweak the recipe, try different pans, until I came up with something he liked.  Hubby’s preference?  Large thickish crepes, rolled and sprinkled with granulated sugar.  My preference?  Small, thin, stuffed with blue cheese (or any cheese for that matter).  After years of using a frying pan I finally gave in and bought a large, cast iron crepe pan.  It’s actually also great for frying an egg or making a grilled cheese sandwich.  My only complaints about the pan are that it isn’t the size crepe I prefer and it’s too heavy to flip the crepes.  Last year I gave in and bought myself a smaller, classic, steel crepe pan.  Now I’m trying to make super thin, gossamer like crepes – no repeatable success yet but I’m having fun trying.  The first time I used the steel pan I discovered the flash point of butter – yup, spontaneous flames on my crepe pan.  Now I keep the heat much lower.  By the way, I wanted to repeat the flames for a picture to post but my husband refused to be my photographer.  He didn’t like the idea of intentionally causing a fire on the stove; go figure!

Crepes are easy to make, freeze quite well, and are versatile.  I can make them on the weekend then pull out some out in the middle of the week, heat them in the oven (wrapped in foil), whip up a filling for me, pull out the sugar for him, and voila’ we have dinner!  I prefer weighing the flour instead of going by volume; it give me more consistent results.  Still, I did include the volume measurement for, well, good measure.

Ingredients

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour (216 g)
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/4 c milk
1/4 c water
2 Tb butter (1 oz; 28.35 g) melted
Additional butter for coating the pan
Yield:  approximately 20 6-inch crepes

Ingredients

Bring the ingredients to room temperature. Combine the flour and salt in a medium-large bowl, making a well in the center. Add the eggs to the well.  Whisk the eggs gradually incorporating the flour.

flour well with eggsAdd half the milk and continue whisking until all the flour is combined.

Mix in the melted butter.  Add the remaining milk and the water.  Make sure the milk and water aren’t cold otherwise the butter will solidify, which is what happened and you can see in the picture below.

butter solidified

Continue whisking the batter until it’s smooth.  Cover and let rest at least 30 minutes.  At this point you can refrigerate the batter overnight.

Warm the crepe pan over a low to medium low heat and coat with butter.  Ladle a small amount of batter on the pan and immediately swirl the pan to coat the bottom.  I use a 1/2 ounce size ladle and no more than two scoops for one crepe.  I usually need 1 1/2 scoops but was able to make one crepe with one scoop.crepe batter in pan  My pan makes 6 inch crepes.  Cook the crepe until the steam stops, then flip to cook the underside, again waiting for the steam to stop.  Move the crepe to a warm plate and repeat the process, using all the batter.  You can wrap them in foil and freeze them for future use.  To warm the crepes  pre-heat your oven to 350 F.  Loosely wrap the crepe stack in foil sealing the ends well.  This will allow the crepes to steam and not dry out.

stack of finished crepes

Tzatziki, food shopping and stuff

If there is one thing my husband and I will always have in common it’s that neither of us like to go shopping.  We’re buyers.  If we need something we go, we buy it and leave the store.  This also means we put off food shopping as long as humanly possible. We recently reached that point again – it was time for the dreaded trip to the supermarket.  The stores are so big in our area that it can take twenty minutes to get from the entrance to the dairy products without stopping along the way.   A list was needed if we were to get out of there the same day we went in.

I went through my usual routine for making a list (a list that would again be forgotten at home like those before it) checking the various nooks and crannies of the kitchen.  I looked in my spice and pantry cabinets.  Each was well stocked to the point that it might explode at any moment.  That left the refrigerator.  It’s always the refrigerator that taunts me.  First I checked the expiration dates and various bins – there’s always something to offer to the garbage gods – and then took inventory of what remained.  I saw yogurt, fresh dill (“fresh” always being a relative term in my fridge, but in this case actually fluffy and fresh), and garlic.  This brought to mind one of my favorite sides for grilled meats – tzatziki.  Of course I would need to get some cucumbers otherwise I was set.  My eyes kept going back to the dill.  Dill and I have always had an uneasy relationship.  It is a flavor that can go so quickly from non-existent to overpowering (at least to my palate).  Memories came back to me about otherwise wonderful dishes where the cook had a heavy dill hand; not pleasant.  Still the one memory that is clearer than any other – the infamous dill burger.  I often wonder if tzatziki could have saved the dill burger?  I guess we’ll never know.

What is tzatziki?

Tzatziki is a wonderful garlic and cucumber yogurt sauce often served in Greece.  Here in the US you’ve probably had it served with gyros.  I love it, it’s easy to make and a wonderful accompaniment to grilled lamb, pork, or chicken.  Many of our friends like it spread on a piece of pita bread.  One of the keys to making an excellent tzatziki is the yogurt; it needs to be thick.  Cucumber is very wet and will loosen the yogurt.  I always use Greek yogurt (Fage is my favorite but there are other good brands out there).

Ingredients
1 cup of thick plain yogurt
1 cucumber, medium to large, peeled and grated then chopped (note: your choice to leave or remove the seed core)
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped (we like a lot of garlic)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons fresh dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vinegar (white or wine; just remember if using wine vinegar to use white wine vineger not the red one; red gives it a pinkish hue)
salt to taste

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and mix by hand.  Refrigerate it for at least a couple of hours, and preferably overnight, before serving.

My tips

Most of my ingredients have ranges because there are so many variables – how much garlic do you like?  Are you using extra virgin olive oil or light olive oil?  Play around, make what you like.  Like so many other dishes, there is no one definitive recipe for tzatziki.

Cucumber  I like to peel the cucumber and then use the grating plate in my food processor.  Once finished I gently squeeze the gratings to release some excess water.  I don’t want to create a yougurt soup but I also don’t want to lose all the flavor.  I then take the gratings and chop them up.  I find this gives me the best texture.  Some people simply finely chop the cucumber without ever grating it.  Experiment and see what works best for you.

Garlic  There is no such thing as too much garlic, or at least for me.  You might disagree so  put in only as much as you feel comfortable adding the first time.

Yogurt  Growing up, when Greek yogurt wasn’t so readily available, my mother would take a large container of American yogurt, put a strainer over a large bowl, line the strainer with coffee filters (the Mr. Coffee bowl style ones worked best), and put the contents of the container in the lined strainer.  This went into the refrigerator.  She would periodically stir it to make sure it drained thoroughly and check that the bottom of the strainer wasn’t touching the liquid accumulating in the bowl.  A day or two later she would have this wonderfully thick yogurt and the bowl would have between 3/4 and 1 1/2 cups of liquid in it.

Why no photos?  We decided it was too nice out to go shopping so we put on our swimsuits and jumped in the pool, thus no cucumber.  It’s important to have one’s priorities!  Still, I thought you might like the recipe.  I’ll update the post with pictures in the future.

What about the dill burger?  Expect to learn more about the dill burger in my next post.  That’s one recipe that is hopefully lost in the annals of time.