Gyro Meatballs

A Bite of the Mediterranean

Gyro Meatballs in a Pita

I think my understanding of the Greek culture was developed through the following things in order:

  1. one of the early language translations of the Bible
  2. the Olympics, the Olympic torch, and laurel leaf crowns
  3. college toga parties inspired by the movie Animal House
  4. statistics and math classes in college (μ σ π Σ ΦΒΚ)
  5. yet another classic movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Yes, it’s a pitiful list. Yes, I grew up in a barn … well, not literally, but a farm in NW Iowa limits your exposure to worldly cultures (yes, we had electricity and indoor plumbing). Keep in mind we are going back to the late 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s here: no Google, no internet, no computers. You learned the culture of your community and in my case that was Western European and Scandinavian.

How grateful I am to have eventually been introduced to the Greek food culture! Spanakopita, feta, baklava, yogurt, olives, and gyros. The list is much longer but I always seem to gravitate to the gyros. Warm pita bread, tangy tzatziki, crisp vegetables, and that peppery lamb … it’s amazing. End the meal with a crispy, buttery piece of baklava and … Opa!

In my efforts to #makemeatballsgreatagain, the concept of a Gryo meatball was very appealing. Small meatballs that could be layered in a pita for the traditional sandwich or added to a salad with all the veggies and tzatziki sauce or served as an appetizer with olives and tzatziki was something I knew I had to conquer. I browsed through recipes on Pinterest for gyro meatloaf, meatballs, and shredded meat and combined them with my tried-and-true basic recipe (Meatballs 101) to get a thumbs-up approval from my husband.

I like this recipe so much, it makes me wanna throw my head back andSHOUT!

a little bit softer now
a little bit softer now

 

Gyro Meatball Table

Print Recipe
Gyro Meatballs
Lamb, beef and pork combine to make these Gyro inspired meatballs. Hints of lemon, oregano, pepper, onion, and olives give a taste of the flavors one would expect in a good Greek style sandwich or salad. Serve them as an appetizer with tzatziki sauce, or in a pita/salad with romaine, tomato, onion, cucumber and feta.
Gyro Meatballs
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
small meatballs
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
small meatballs
Ingredients
Gyro Meatballs
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Combine all ingredients (start with just 1 1/2 cups of milk, reserving remaining 1/2 cup for later) in a large bowl, mixing by hand until well combined. If the mixture seems dry, add another 1/4 cup milk. Combine. Mixture should hold together (not dry but not soggy either). Add final 1/4 cup of milk if needed.
    Gyro Meatball Ingredients
  3. Use a cookie scoop that is about 1 1/2 inches in diameter to portion each meatball. Place on cookie sheets or in baking pans, close but not touching. If using metal pans, spray lightly with cooking spray.
    Gyro Meatball Scooping
  4. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve.
    Gyro Meatballs in a Pita
Recipe Notes

Naan CrackersBread Crumbs: You can use whatever kind of bread crumbs you like. The type of crumb you use will affect the texture of the meatballs. I like to use a flaky crumb, not a coarse one. I have also used ground up crackers in place of a portion of the crumbs.

This time, I had some naan crisps that had gone stale so I ground them up in the food processor and combine them with bread crumbs to total two cups.


Lemon Pepper: 
The brand of lemon pepper that I used in this recipe contains salt. In fact, it is the first ingredient on the label so I did not include any extra salt in the ingredients. If you are using a lemon pepper that has no salt added, you will want to add 1 teaspoons of salt to the recipe as well.

Size of Meatballs: You can make the meatballs any size you want. Cooking time will obviously be longer. The only way to know is to remove one from the pan and cut it in half. Just make sure there is no pink in the middle and that the texture is consistent all the way through.

Ratio of Ground Meats: It would be fine to use equal parts lamb/beef/pork in this recipe (i.e. a pound of each). If you do not like lamb, or cannot find ground lamb at your store, just make it with equal parts beef and pork. I will say, it is the lamb that truly represents gyros.

Freezing/Storing: Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. This is a BIG batch so make some for the future by freezing them in resealable plastic bags. When you are ready for another meal, simply defrost what you need, bring almost to room temperature, and place them under the broiler of your oven until edges start to crisp and meatballs are heated through.

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I cannot leave you without the recipe for Tzatziki Sauce:

Gyro Meatballs Tzatziki

Print Recipe
Tzatziki Sauce
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 5 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients except milk in a bowl and whisk until well combined.  
  2. This is a fairly thick sauce (makes a great dip for veggies or for pita chips) so I usually add 2-3 tablespoons of milk to thin it out for dressing.
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Lasagna Roll-Ups

Last summer, we celebrated my mom’s 80th birthday with a family dinner on her deck. We were blessed with the most beautiful weather that evening, a near-perfect attendance (when the Army calls, the Army calls), yard games, and another generation of healthy (a.k.a energetic) (a.k.a. active) (a.k.a. adorable) kiddos to watch as they chased after bubbles and each other.

I didn’t want my mom to go to a lot of trouble preparing for all of us, so I didn’t tell her what we were doing or where we were going. I just told her we were celebrating her birthday. I tried to get her out of the house that afternoon so I could do the prep work but she didn’t want to leave us. I finally broke down and said “We are having the party here, on your deck. If you don’t leave, I can’t pull it off.”

I said it with a smile and a hug though and she conceded. I didn’t just kick her to the curb either. I had arranged for her to get together with her friends for coffee … so don’t think ill of me. I love that lady!

Italian seemed like the perfect choice for a party like this but I wanted it to be special and easy to serve. With a farm-family like ours, you start with a solid, traditional meat option: Italian sausage with marinara. Because we do have some family members who enjoy stepping outside the realm of meat-and-potatoes dining, I decided to make a spinach-artichoke-pesto version as well. And to make it all just a bit more impressive for this special occasion, the fillings were rolled up in the pasta instead of layered between it.

Add a mixed greens salad, warm focaccia bread, plenty of wine (and beer and juice boxes), and it’s time to sing “Happy Birthday”!

Print Recipe
Lasagna Roll-Ups
Traditional marinara and sausage combine with ricotta and mozzarella to fill half of the roll-ups. Sauteed spinach, artichokes and basil combine with the cheeses for a vegetarian option in the other half.
Prep Time 45-60 minutes
Cook Time 60-75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 45-60 minutes
Cook Time 60-75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Brown Italian sausage and drain. Allow to cool. (This step can be done a day or two before assembling the rolls.)
  2. In a food processor, combine sauteed spinach, artichokes, basil/pesto and garlic. Pulse until evenly chopped but not pureed. Place mixture in a medium-size bowl. Add half of each of the following: ricotta, Parmesan, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Add one egg and stir to combine. Set aside. In another medium-size bowl, combine remaining ricotta, Parmesan, dried herbs, salt, pepper and egg. Stir to combine. Set aside.
  3. Cook noodles in a large pot of boiling water that has been well seasoned with salt. Cook according to package directions but reduce cooking time by 2-3 minutes. Remove from boiling water to drain. The pasta will finish cooking as the roll-ups bake.
  4. Lay noodles out flat, and spread a light layer of the ricotta mixture across each one. To make sure you distribute the ingredients evenly, lay out 12-14 noodles for each filling mixture and complete one layer on all noodles before moving on to the next layer.
  5. If making the sausage version, sprinkle sausage evenly down each noodle.
  6. Sprinkle an even layer of shredded mozzarella on each noodle.
  7. Gently pat all ingredients down and roll up each noodle. Try not to push down on the noodle as you roll or the ingredients will come out the sides or end.
  8. Lightly spray 2 9"x13" baking pans with cooking spray and pour half a jar of marinara/spaghetti sauce in the bottom of each. Place the rolls side-by-side in the pans. Pour remaining sauce over the top of the rolls. Cover each pan with aluminum foil. (See note below for freezing instructions.)
  9. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove aluminum foil from pans and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes or until bubbly and thoroughly heated.
Recipe Notes

1. To make your own sauteed spinach, click here.

2. If you don't have fresh basil, you can substitute 2 tablespoons of pesto. To make your own pesto, click here.

3. Of course you don't have to make both types of filling. If you only want the traditional marinara with sausage, double the sausage and skip the spinach, artichokes, and basil/pesto. Only want the spinach/artichoke rolls, skip the sausage and double the spinach, artichokes and pesto. Want both? Combine all filling ingredients. Want to make a smaller batch (e.g. 12-14 rolls)? Just make one of the fillings and use just one jar of sauce.

4. Unbaked roll-ups can be frozen for 2-3 months. To bake, defrost completely and bake as directed.

5. The small bread pans work great for holding 2 roll-ups each. Smaller pans may only take 45 minutes to fully bake.

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Most recently, I made this recipe for the MS Run the US team as they made their way from Los Angeles, through Des Moines, to the completion of their journey to New York. This is the third year we’ve hosted this group for dinner as a way to show our support of this amazing, fund-and-awareness-raising group. To learn a little more about this group and why feed them, click here.

Whether you are celebrating a special person, entertaining angels, or feeding a hungry family, this recipe is sure to warm the hearts and fill the tummies of those you love.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

StuffedTomatoes3

Would you just look at these pretty little flavor cups?

Tomato, avocado, spinach, and basil combine to create a nutrient-rich, finger food perfect for brunch, picnics, potlucks, or that space on your plate designated for vegetables. Add in a little dairy in the form of goat cheese and check off the health benefits:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Calcium
  • Antioxidants
  • Iron
  • Lycopene
  • Potassium

We’ve covered appealing and healthy … let’s go for the trifecta with simple.

No oven. No mixer. No bowl.

Seriously, you won’t need to wash a single bowl. A cutting board? Yes. The primary accessory in this recipe is a resealable plastic baggie. If you want to get the kids involved in the kitchen, this is a great place to start!

Print Recipe
Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes
These pretty litle vitamin-packed tomato cups are filled with a mixture of avocado, goat cheese, spinach-basil pesto and lemon juice. Easy to make and hard to resist!
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Prep Time 20 minutes
Servings
dozen
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Cut each cherry tomato in half. Scoop the pulp out of each half using a spoon or a strawberry huller (the one pictured is from Pampered Chef - see notes below). A serrated grapefruit spoon works well too. Turn halves cut side down on a paper towel to drain.
  2. Put remaining ingredients (excluding fresh basil and jalapeno) into the quart-sized resealable baggie and close tightly. Smoosh (technical term) the ingredients gently with your hands until smooth and well combined.
  3. Make a piping bag out of the baggie by cutting off a small piece of one of the bottom corners with a scissors. Carefully guide the mixture toward the cut corner, twisting the top half of the bag as pictured.
  4. Fill each tomato half with filling by gently squeezing the bag from the top.
  5. Garnish with minced basil and/or jalapeno slices.
  6. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Best to serve the same day they were made to retain bright colors.
Recipe Notes
  1. Pesto: Making your own pesto is very easy and it freezes really well. Here is the recipe for my Spinach-Basil Pesto.
  2. The number of tomatoes that the avocado mixture will fill depends, of course, on the size of the tomatoes you have. See blog post for serving suggestions for any leftover mixture.
  3. If you are not a fan of the piping bag, press and mix the ingredients with a fork until smooth and then simply use a small spoon to fill the tomato halves.
  4. The little silver tool for scooping out the tomato halves came from Pampered Chef. They no longer have this particular tool but they do have an updated version that is also a mellon-baller. It is called the "Core and More".
  5. Be creative! You can add diced jalapeno to the mixture, use lime juice instead of lemon, cilantro instead of basil, or throw in some crumbled bacon.
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Since cherry tomatoes vary in size, the number of cups that can be filled with this mixture is only an estimate. If, after the tomatoes are filled, there is leftover avocado mixture, do not throw it away. This makes an excellent spread for grilled cheese or fried egg sandwiches, a turkey or chicken wrap, or Mediterranean-style panini. Thin it out with a little milk and use it as a salad dressing. Or just spread it on crackers for an afternoon snack.

You’ll have time for that snack because you don’t have a pile of dishes to wash!

 

Simple Arugula Salad

Arugula7

Meet the new kid in my neighborhood (a.k.a. my garden) … arugula. As you can see, the cool, wet spring we have had here in Iowa has made this newcomer feel very welcome. It won’t be long and we will hit the heat and humidity and arugula will have to leave so the tomatoes can take over.

Arugula is often described as “peppery” and “bitter”. The first is an accurate adjective. When I pinch the stems to harvest, the aroma of pepper reaches my nose quickly, a lot like cutting chives and the resulting sweet onion fragrance. When you think of the smell of pepper, think not only of fresh ground black pepper, but also a hint of fresh-cut green pepper. I think “bitter” is a harsh adjective. “Pungent” is a little better. “Piquant” seems to be the best but nobody uses it! “Piquant” (pronounced pee-kahnt) means “agreeably sharp in taste or flavor, pleasantly biting”. Anyway … when you bite it, it bites back … but just a little.

Before this year, my husband and I had only limited exposure to this leafy green … mixed in a few salads or on top of an occasional pizza (and I do mean occasional because greens on pizza is not in my husband’s comfort zone). We were visiting some friends who had just built the most beautiful raised-bed garden and they sent us home with some fresh picked arugula insisting that we hadn’t really given arugula a fair judgement unless we had tried it fresh from the garden and picked young. They were right. As with most foods, the fresher the better and picking before it gets big and tough means delicious.

I’m sure there are ways to cook the bigger, tougher leaves into wonderful dishes … I’ll experiment with that another day … but for now, we have what we need for fresh salads. I wasn’t sure how much my husband would like it so I introduced it with something I knew he’d love: pasta. I had heard that a piquant green like arugula was best with a simple dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and a nice amount of shredded parmesan cheese.

So that’s it.

That’s your recipe.

Seriously, that’s it.

Get the freshest arugula you can. Farmer’s markets are bursting with fresh greens. Look for smaller, tender leaves and ask if you can try some. A vendor worth buying from will be excited for you to try his/her produce. If you buy it at the store, again look for smaller leaves. It is sometimes called “Rocket” or “Baby Arugula”.

Arugula2

Crisp and wash it. Fill your sink with cold water and throw in a handful of ice cubes.

Lay it out on paper towels or use a salad-spinner to dry the leaves. If the leaves are wet when you dress them, the oil and juice will not adhere to them.

 

Drizzle the greens with extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper (use Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper if at all possible) and toss to evenly coat greens. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese and croutons (optional).

If you are like my husband, you are wondering “Why there are flowers on this salad?” The answer is “It’s pretty, it adds flavor, and it makes people ask questions.” The flowers are chive blossoms and yes, they do have a very mild flavor.

If you really want measurements, I will do my best …


Arugula5

Simple Arugula Salad

4-6 cups arugula, loosely packed
1-2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
2-3 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (more or less)
croutons (optional)
fresh chive blossoms (optional)

Wash and dry (on paper towels or in salad spinner) arugula and place in serving bowl. When ready to serve, drizzle one tablespoon of the olive oil and 2 teaspoons of the lemon juice over the arugula and sprinkle with half of the salt and pepper. Toss to coat. The leaves should be coated but not drenched.

Taste.

Add more olive oil, lemon, and/or pepper as needed. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and taste again. Add more salt if needed. Serve immediately.

Makes 4-6 servings.


As I mentioned earlier, we had this salad with a pasta dish. In keeping with the lemon flavor, I made a ravioli with Italian sausage and a butter-garlic-lemon sauce. I think it was the first time I ever heard my husband ask if I wanted any more of the salad.

He finished the bowl and said I should write about it.

And to think, he was worried I was taking garden space away from the tomatoes to plant “that green stuff”.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Citrus Bites

CitrusBites6

This past weekend, we had 3 guests at our house: my sister-in-law, my niece, and my cousin. They were participating in a biking event (bicycles, not Harley’s) in the area and didn’t want to make the big drive the morning of the near 50 mile ride.

Do you know what I call relatives that come to stay for a night?

Guinea Pigs!

This was my chance to experiment with a recipe or two. On my desk, I had just the recipe for such an occasion. This was one of those recipes that I found and it just made me so curious that I had to save it. I knew it would be good but I didn’t know if it would be good enough to commit to my recipe collection.

Luckily, these gals are super curious and not fussy at all. When they arrived and saw these bite-sized treats on the counter, they didn’t wait for an explanation. My niece took a bite and quickly declared “Mmmm … Tasty!”

The original recipe came from … where else? … an Advent Devotion book, printed by my good friend’s church. Every year they ask their members and associates to write a devotion and include a recipe. A lady named Anette Knoll submitted the recipe called “Orange Balls” and the thing that really captured my attention was the use of frozen orange juice concentrate. That, and the fact that this was a no-bake recipe. When you see the list of other ingredients, I think you’ll see why I kept it for 6 months. Well, you’ll probably wonder why it took me so long to actually make them!

I started thinking about frozen juice concentrates and realized I had options: lemonade, limeade, pineapple juice, apple juice, etc. I decided on a combination of lemon and pineapple. After all, the recipe involves rolling the dough balls in coconut so why not go with a tropical profile? Once I started thinking Hawaii, macadamia nuts ended up in my cart too.

And this is the resulting recipe …


CitrusBites4

CITRUS BITES

1 pound vanilla wafers
1 1/2 cups macadamia nuts
1 1/2 cups unsweetened flake coconut
1 stick softened butter
6 oz frozen lemonade concentrate, defrosted
6 oz frozen pineapple concentrate, defrosted
1 pound powdered sugar

NOTE: One box of vanilla wafers is not one pound. Most boxes are 11-12 oz.

Finely crush vanilla wafers in a food processor (or by hand). Finely chop macadamia nuts in a food processor (or by hand). Toast coconut and macadamia nuts in a dry pan on low heat, stirring frequently until slightly browned and fragrant; place in a shallow bowl.

Combine vanilla wafer crumbs, butter, defrosted juice concentrates (start with 3/4 of each concentrate and add more as needed to get a “rollable” consistency), and powdered sugar with an electric mixer.

Use a small (1 inch) cookie scoop to make balls or shape by hand. Roll in coconut/macadamia nut mixture and place on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate to set.

Makes about 6 dozen Bites.


CitrusBites5


VARIATIONS

Now that I’ve made and enjoyed these “tasty” bites, I am curious about other combinations and ingredients:

  • adding citrus zest for an extra punch of flavor
  • almonds, pecans, pistachios, or walnuts
  • fresh herbs (like thyme or mint)
  • spices (chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • margarita mix

These are a perfect sweet bite for picnics, reunions, parties and bridal/baby showers. They can be made ahead and refrigerated.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!


 

Mother’s Day Picnic

As Mother’s Day approaches, it is impossible for me not to think back over the years since I first became a mom (and how quickly that time has passed). My two little boys are now grown men but they still like to make me smile. Sometimes it is a warm and appreciative smile. Sometimes it is a shake-my-head-and-sigh smile. And sometimes it is a throw-my-head-back-and-laugh-out-loud smile.

When they were little, I loved the cards and gifts that were made at school. Things like:

  • little ceramic, hand-formed vases or cups,
  • construction paper cards decorated with buttons and drawings of me (thank heavens stick-figures are skinny, am I right?),
  • poems with prints of their paint-dipped hands, and
  • anything with a photo of them smiling into the camera

are all stashed away in my memory trunk (literally and figuratively).

As they grew, and baseball started dominating our spring calendars, we spent many Mother’s Days at the ballpark. The bleachers became my throne and the concession stand my buffet.

And then there were the teenage years …

I’ve heard stories about the “less than enthusiastic” participation of teenagers in honoring their mothers on this day. In our home, this was not the case. These were the years that sarcasm and humor became the vehicles for sharing feelings and appreciation. My boys would search and search for just the right card for me … especially cards with recorded messages that played when you opened them. Here’s an example of what could have been expected:

Hoops and YoYo by Hallmark

Sometimes I would see a television commercial or on-line video that would bring tears to my eyes because it just seemed like something my boys would do:

I Smiled Last Time

As more years would pass, we started doing things together FOR Mother’s Day but not necessarily ON Mother’s Day. One year, I was presented with four tickets to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game scheduled for Father’s Day! I was a good mom and used the other three tickets to take them with me.

MothersDay1a

As you may have noticed, I often use this beautiful, wicker, picnic basket in my photos. It has a very special place in my heart and reminds me of one of my earliest Mother’s Days. Marty and I were both in grad school (i.e. broke) and our oldest son was maybe two. There was a wonderful kitchen store in downtown Ames that I loved to browse. It was one of those stores that, when money is tight, you can stroll through and think, “Someday, I’d love to have a (insert object of desire) just like that one.” That was the case for me with this picnic basket.

On Mother’s Day that year, Marty told me that he and Nick had a surprise for me but we had to go somewhere to get it. We drove to a nearby park and got out. He asked me to get something out of the trunk of the car and when I did, there was my beautiful picnic basket … and it smelled like fried chicken! When I lifted the lid, I found fried chicken and all the appropriate accompaniments to make a perfect picnic.

MothersDay4a

The credit for the creativity, thoughtfulness, and joy of giving that my boys have goes to their dad. Marty always took the boys shopping, included them in his master plan, taught them how to keep secrets, and showed them the joy of making their mom feel special and loved. I’m not sure if my “warm and appreciative” smile, my “shake-my-head-and-sigh” smile, or my “throw-my-head-back-and-laugh-out-loud” smile will be most appropriate tomorrow. All I know is that I will be smiling because I have been blessed with two happy, healthy boys and a picnic basket loaded with good memories.


If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at picniclifefoodie@gmail.com!