Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Opa! (Whole Wheat Pita Bread and Chicken Gyros)

I have to say, my husband can be credited with being the first person to introduce me to the concept of a gyro. And the correct pronunciation. When he talked about how great gyros (year-ohs) were, I did not automatically connect it with that place in the mall's food court I had always wondered about that advertised gyros (jye-rohs). Ah. Oops. My first experience eating one was with him and a friend of mine at a bistro in Spokane. It was delicious! Basically, if you haven't gone out on a limb yet and sampled this tasty yet simple Greek fare, it is some spiced meat (chicken or lamb usually, I believe) with veggies and a special sauce (which I refer to as a cucumber dill sauce since I have no idea how to pronounce "tzatziki"), served on pita bread. It seems the meat is usually roasted on some kind of a vertical spit, then shaved onto the gyro, but as I do not possess any vertical spits at present, I had to make ours the very American way- in a frying pan. I believe it would also be fabulous on the grill, but last night that would not have worked for us. I found a simple and seemingly typical recipe online, and added the extra fun of making my own pitas.
I have experimented with pitas before, but it had been so long, I needed a refresher course- also, I wanted to try whole wheat. Snagging a recipe from Annie's Eats, I started making the pita dough early on in the afternoon. This recipe actually goes through about 3 different phases of rising. First, with basic yeast/honey liquid for about 45 min.

Then after the flour has been mixed in and the dough kneaded, for about an hour. Then, once the dough has been shaped into flat little discs, for about 30 min. (I apologize, I forgot to take very many pictures of this process.) The actual cooking was the most trying part, however. The pitas have to be baked on an already preheated surface. I don't have a pizza stone yet, so I took Annie's suggestion to bake them directly on the oven rack. Not the best idea, at least not in my oven. The perfect little circles of dough sagged through the rack and became misshapen.

With this first batch I followed her cooking time suggestion exactly as well, and for some reason in my oven it wasn't quite right either. The pitas didn't really puff up right and they were still a bit doughy inside. However, the second batch turned out perfectly!

I preheated an upside down baking sheet, then placed the pita circles on top of it. After adding an extra minute of baking time to each side, they were perfectly puffed and golden. So, at least I came out with four good pitas! The others are so disfigured, you can't really split them open, but you can pile the goodies on top! It's always trial and error, as everybody's ovens and equipment work a little bit differently. The recipe is great though. The pitas are soft and chewy, with a very pleasing flavor. We piled marinated chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, and the amazingly delicious cucumber dill sauce into them and were delighted.

 The sauce has such a refreshing flavor! I'm not usually a big fan of dill, but it is wonderful paired with all the other flavors in this dish.
You don't have to make your own pita bread, but do give this recipe a try! It will have you mastering words like "tzatziki" and "gyro" in no time! :)

For the pita bread recipe, click here.
For the gyro recipe, click here.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Monthly Menu (Partial)- September

Well, with Labor Day just around the corner, we are officially entering the late summer/early fall mode. The nights are getting chillier and the mornings are sometimes foggy, although the days are still warm. I'm hanging onto every last bit of summer I can- but I love fall too, so I'll enjoy it when it comes. Meanwhile, I'm soaking up the evenings we can still eat outside and grill, and the days we can enjoy parks and bike rides. This list is only partial for the month because on the 18th we are going on a week-long camping trip with my family to the Oregon Coast. So, I have only planned meals until then.

Week 1 (Sept. 1-3)

Spaghetti with Garlic Bread and a Side Salad
The day before a shopping I made do with what was left in the cupboard. YUM.

Whole Wheat Crust Hawaiian Pizza with Cucumbers & Grapes
Typical Friday night! Yummy cucumbers with homemade ranch dressing. MMM
Grilled Tarragon-Mustard Chicken with Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Grilled Zucchini
A delicious recipe I gleaned from All You Magazine. So easy and flavorful!

Week 2 (Sept. 6-10)

Grilled Chicken & Pears on Arugula
I'm excited to make this salad- looks fresh and delicious!
Courtesy of Catz in the Kitchen!
BLT Pockets with Fresh Fruit
Another steal from the All You Magazine! I'm planning to make my own whole wheat pita bread for this- Yum!
We have our church's family camp this weekend, and I'm signed up to make pancakes Saturday morning. I'm also  planning on making a Cabbage-Apple Coleslaw, as well as some cupcakes to share at the Friday night potluck BBQ.

Week 3 (Sept. 13-17)

Chicken Gyros
Travis loves gyros, but we've never made them, so I'm going to try them with the pitas I'm making for the BLT Pockets. This recipe has a creamy cucumber sauce.
Pork Chops with Potatoes
Haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do with the pork chops yet...
Salmon or Burgers
Maybe both. I like fish, Travis doesn't.
Whole Wheat Crust Pepperoni & Olive Pizza
Friday night special! 

Special treats? Hoping to try my hand at some custards or souffles in my new ramekins. Also looking forward to making more hand pies! I'm kind of curious to try a rice pudding too. We'll see! Happy September cooking!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mother Hubbard's Spaghetti Sauce

Even though it's September 1st, I'm at the end of my grocery month. The cupboards are getting bare, the refrigerator is hollowing out, and even the freezer is mostly occupied by...cold air. We are going grocery shopping tomorrow- yay! So tonight's dinner was a bit of an experiment and a last hurrah. I knew I wanted to make spaghetti (a good, last minute, throw together meal), but I didn't have any spaghetti least not pre-made, in a jar. So, I made my own. I have made my own spaghetti sauce many times in a pinch, but it comes out different every time I think- usually because I hadn't planned on it and I use what I have on hand. What did I have on hand today? 1 can of diced tomatoes, 1 can of tomato paste, onions, 3 tiny cloves of garlic and the usual herbs. So, I put it all together while trying to decide what kind of meat to add. I have some frozen chicken breasts, but we've eaten a lot of chicken lately. I have 1 lb of hamburger left, but I want to save it for chili for our potluck on Sunday. I had almost decided to defrost the hamburger anyway when I had a flash of inspiration- the 2 sweet Italian turkey sausages leftover from a BBQ in the freezer! Perfect. After defrosting, I split the casings open and sauteed the meat inside with onions and the little bit of garlic I had. After mixing the meat with the sauce, I put it in the crock pot to simmer for a few hours (and of course, infuse the house with an amazing smell!). Ladled atop whole wheat spaghetti (and a bit of penne mixed in to make it stretch, haha), and served alongside garlic bread and salad it made a delicious and hearty meal!

I have to say, I think this is the best sauce yet. Thankfully, I took down my measurements just in case it came out well.  The "recipe" is as follows- tweak it how you like!

Mother Hubbard's Spaghetti Sauce
(printable recipe)
a KitchenJoy original recipe
makes 4-6 servings

1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 garlic cloves + 1/4 tsp garlic powder (use all fresh garlic if you have enough)
2 sweet Italian turkey sausages, casings removed (substitute other meat if desired)

Mix tomatoes, paste, water and herbs. Set aside.
Saute onions, garlic and sausage until meat is browned and onions are transparent.
Stir meat into tomato mixture. Simmer on stove-top for at least 15 minutes or simmer in crock-pot on low for about 4 hours.
Serve atop spaghetti or other pasta.

Homemade Chicken Broth

Well, as much as I hate to admit it, fall is just around the corner. Today marks the first day of September, the month in which we officially enter into the autumn season. And our weather has reacted appropriately. Today is clear, but the air is crisp and when I woke up this morning there was a fog blanketing the neighborhood. Just a whisper of fall- that slight tang in the air that warns you change is not far off.
So, it follows that today I'm writing a post about chicken broth, which is that base for many things, but most commonly soup. I don't think I've made one soup this whole summer! And I even refused to use my fresh chicken broth, storing it away in the freezer (especially since I made it on a hot day!) for a less warm and sunny season. I love soup- and so does Travis. One of our favorite things about the colder months is smelling big batches of homemade soup simmering away in the crock pot all day. And coming in out of the cold to slurp down a flavorful bowl of warm liquid, filled with savory herbs and hearty vegetables while snow softly falls outside.
A friend of ours gave us one of their huge (5 1/2 lbs!) freshly butchered chickens a few weeks ago. When I finally had it defrosted, I put it in the oven to one day when we were in town and we came home to a delicious roasted bird! Since there are only two of us, the meat has stretched to at least 4 or 5 meals. I used it in a chicken pasta salad, enchiladas, and chicken pizza! And there is even a bit of the dark meat left in the freezer to toss into a soup one day. I was determined not to let a bit of this bird go to waste, so I set about making chicken broth.

Having never made it before, I was surprised to find that vegetables go into the pot too, for flavor! And everything retains its skin- chicken, onions, garlic- even the celery leaves were included. So in went the chicken bones and chopped vegetables, along with some herbs and seasonings, and of course, water.

Then I simmered it for a few hours (which caused an amazing smell to fill the house and surely the neighborhood as well!). Once I had simmered it, I had a dilemma- no cheesecloth for straining! After scouring our 2 conveniences stores unsuccessfully, I asked advice of my trustworthy Facebook friends and finally chose the route of straining the broth through an old cotton dish cloth- which worked perfectly in the cheesecloth's absence. Once cooled, I skimmed off the little bit of fat there was, and popped it in the freezer- ready for the first fall soup urge I get!

Chicken Broth
(printable version)
BHG Cookbook
makes about 6 cups

3 lbs bony chicken pieces (wings, backs, necks)
3 stalks celery- with leaves, cut up
2 carrots, cut up
1 large onion, unpeeled, cut up
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme, sage, or basil, crushed (I used thyme)
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns or 1/4 tsp black pepper
4 sprigs fresh parsley (I didn't have fresh, so I substituted some dried)
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled, halved
6 cups cold water

Place chicken pieces in large kettle or stock pot. Add vegetables and herbs and spices. Add water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 2 1/2 hours. Remove chicken pieces from broth.
Strain broth through cheesecloth in colander into container. Discard vegetables and seasonings. If using while hot, skim fat. Otherwise, cool, then lift off fat. Cover and chill for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 6 months.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...