Greek Beef Gyros with Tzatziki Sauce

March 27, 2011

I loved my year living in Argentina. One block from my apartment in downtown Buenos Aires was a Shawarma restaurant. I’d hardly call it the culinary apex of my time there, but I ate there weekly (so I guess that’s at least 50 shawarmas). Since that time (more than 10 years ago) I have not eaten a single shawarma or gyros. I’m definitely ready to try one again. (The main difference between a shawarma and gyro are the spices used, but the overall principle is exactly the same)

After a month of technical problems; finally a photo.

Gyros sold in restaurants are cooked using a vertical roaster, and the meat is layered in a specific way (often a combination of lamb and beef) to produce the best results. These homemade gyros don’t have the traditional appearance, but Chris Kimball’s goal was to duplicate the flavors (but not necessarily the traditional appearance).  Since I knew that my two boys wouldn’t eat lamb, I used the ground-beef-version that Cook’s Illustrated developed.  Another trick this recipe also uses is to thicken regular American yogurt by draining for 30 minutes.  These are topped with feta cheese.

Overall, they take about an hour of active preparation. The results were 4-stars, and this all-beef-version is tasty, but not very Greek. The patties didn’t really fill the pita, so only about 1/3 of my bites had meat. But they were a nice reminder of my very fond memories of my time living in Buenos Aires.


  1. I uses about 1-1/2 pounds of ground beef, which was the smallest package sold in my supermarket. I was going to make 18 patties with the extra meat, but my 10-year-old son was helping me and had already figured out how to divide the meat to yield 12 patties.
  2. I didn’t drain the cucumbers properly, as I wasn’t sure why I was adding lemon juice only to let it drain away. But then I read the accompanying article afterward, and saw that I was supposed to reduce the liquid.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $8.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original is here.  The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below:

Tzatziki Sauce:

1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 medium cucumber,
3/8 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon juice (1 lemon)
1 small garlic clove, pressed
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint leaves or dill (but if you use dried mint or dried dill, reduce the amount to 1/2 teaspoon.)

Beef Patties:
4 to 6 pita breads
1/2 medium onion , chopped coarse (about 3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano leaves (or 1 teaspoon of dried oregano)
3 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 3 teaspoons)
1-lb 80% lean ground chuck
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large tomato , sliced thin
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
2 ounces crumbled feta cheese (about 1/2 cup)

  1. To make the Tzatziki sauce, line a strainer with three paper coffee filters (or three layers of paper towels) and place over a bowl. Add yogurt to strainer, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate while draining for 30 minutes. In my case no actual liquid fell to the bowl, but the paper towels were completely soaked.
  2. Meanwhile, peel, seed, and finely dice the cucumber, which should yield 1/2 cup. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice in colander set over bowl and let stand 30 minutes.
  3. Discard drained liquid and combine yogurt and cucumber in clean bowl. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, pressed garlic and mint (either  .
  4. Cut the top quarter off the pita bread, and tear into 1-inch pieces. Stack pitas and tightly wrap with aluminum foil. Preheat your oven to 350-degrees to warm your pita bread.
  5. Dice the onion. Add onion, lemon juice, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and pita bread pieces to food processor, and process for 30 seconds. Empty mixture into a large bowl, and add ground beef.  Using your hands, mix until combined. Divide mixture into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a small ball, then flatten each into a round disk about 1/2″ thick.
  6. Put foil-wrapped pita bread in oven for 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook beef patties until well browned, about 4 minutes. If you have a splatter screen use it to reduce the mess. After you flip the patties, reduce the heat to medium and cook until well browned, about 5 more minutes.  Place patties on paper towel-lined plate to absorb some of the excess grease.
  8. To assemble, evenly spread 1/4 cup of Tzatziki sauce inside each pita. Evenly distribute patties among pitas, then add a few tomato slices, 1/2-cup shredded lettuce, and 2-tablespoons crumbled feta cheese.

Chicken Breasts Ballotine

March 22, 2011

When visiting my upstate friends on a snowboarding trip over the weekend, I made Chris Kimball’s version of Chicken Breast Ballotine. He calls the recipe Stuffed Chicken Breasts, because it is a streamlined version of the Ballotine. He uses boneless chicken breasts, eliminating the extra work of boning and entire chicken. He trims some of the breast meat to use as the forcemeat filling, where traditionally the leg meat is used.  Since he uses skinless chicken, he obviously cannot wrap the chicken rolls back in their own skin. The result of this recipe takes just over 2 hours and is a solid 4-1/2 stars. But reading over the differences I think I will also try the Julia Childs’ version of Ballotine too.

There is a problem with my computer and I haven’t been able to upload photos. Hopefully I can fix it soon so you can see the end result.


  1. Because I only needed one leak ($4), I substituted a combination of shallots, scallions and regular yellow onion (total of $1). I’m sure the leak would have been preferable, but just couldn’t bring myself to part with $4 for a single leak.
  2. Actually, I broke the recipe into two parts. I did steps 1 through 15 in my house, then finished up the cooking of the chicken bundles (steps 16 through 20) at my friend’s house. The only extra step was to pat the chicken dry before step 16, so that it would brown nicely.
  3. Another difference with the traditional Ballotine, the entire chicken forms one large bundle, instead of four small bundles.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $10.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 7:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original is here.  The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10-oz white mushrooms
1 small leek, white part (about 1 cup).
2 garlic cloves, presssed
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon.
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter

  1. Trim the tenderloin from your chicken breasts, if present. Lay the chicken flat on a cutting board and freeze for 15 minutes to make the butterflying process easier. Meanwhile wipe mushrooms  clean, and slice them thin.
  2. Butterfly the chicken, start at thinnest end and stop 1/2″ from edge (the halves will remain attached).
  3. Open them up one breast at a time and put in large ziplock bag. Pound thin until it reaches a uniform 1/4-inch thickness.
  4. Slightly trim (perhaps 1/2″) from the long sides of cutlets to form rough 8″ by 5″ rectangles with one pointy end.
  5. Add trimmings to food processor and puree for 20 seconds until smooth. Place puree in medium bowl and set aside. (There is no need to wash out food processor bowl yet.)
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in 12″ skillet (regular, not non-stick) over medium-high heat. Add sliced mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are golden brown; about 10 minutes. Meanwhile cut the leaks in half lengthwise, and chopped the white part. Also chop thyme, parsley and peal the garlic.
  7. Push the mushrooms to the side of the skillet. Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the center of skillet, then add the leaks. Cook for 3 minutes.
  8. Add pressed garlic and thyme to the skillet, and cook for 30 seconds.
  9. Add juice from 1/2 of the lemon. Cook until all moisture has evaporated  from the skillet, then put mixture in food processor.
  10. Immediately return the pan to heat. Add the wine and deglaze the pan; only 1 minute. Transfer wine to small bowl and set aside. Rinse and dry skillet.
  11. Pulse mushroom mixture in food processor using five 1-second pulses.
  12. Switch to the plastic mixing blade in food processor and add pureed chicken. Mix well, then put mixture back into your medium bowl.
  13. Add half the chopped parsley, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Fold together with a spatula, and divide the mixture into four equal parts.
  14. Lay chicken cutlet flat with the narrowest ends pointing away from you. Evenly spread one-fourth of stuffing over each cutlet, leaving 3/4″ border on the top, pointy end, and 1/4″ border along the sides. Tightly roll the breasts (without squeezing filling). Place seam-side down and tie with three 10″ pieces of kitchen twine;  trimming away any excess twine.
  15. Season the exterior of each roll with salt and pepper.
  16. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken bundles and brown on all four sides, about 2-1/2 minutes per side (for a total of 10 minutes).
  17. Add the reserved wine plus 1-cup chicken broth to the pan, then bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook about 25 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
  18. Place the chicken on cutting board and tent with aluminum foil while finishing the pan sauce.
  19. Meanwhile, whisk Dijon into cooking liquid. Increase burner to high. Scrap the pan to deglaze, and cook for 10 minutes until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove pan from heat, and whisk in butter, remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped parsley and lemon juice from the other half lemon. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  20. Remove twine. For best presentation you can slice each chicken bundle on bias into approximately 6 medallions and spoon sauce over chicken. Or for ease, I just served the chicken whole and let everybody slice their own chicken.

Chicken Saltimbocca

March 14, 2011

Mercifully, this tumultuous winter is nearing an end. I  awoke on Friday to my latest “catastrophe”; a flooded basement. I spent 12 hours bailing water so that I could jack-hammer a hole in my basement floor. Then dug through the rock and clay deep enough for my newly bought sump pump. Finally, late at night I was able to rest while the pump works its magic. But even three days later the water is still coming into the basement. Certainly nothing in comparison to the disaster 20-miles away where the Passiac river overflowed it’s banks. Cross your fingers that the nice weather will hold out long enough for the ground to dry, so I can get back to cooking.

A simple dish with intense sauce and wonderfully flavorful prosciutto.

Though Saltimbocca is traditionally made from rolled veal and ham. Chris Kimball uses flat chicken cutlet which reduces cooking time down to just a few minutes per side.  Also he ditches the ham and goes with a much more flavorful prosciutto.  The wine and lemon sauce is bright and gives this dish it’s namesake, meaning that the flavor “Jumps in Mouth” (Italian for “saltimbocca”).

I’ve been making this dish for a few years now, and have never made a bad batch. I ignore the sage (which is traditional) because my family doesn’t really like sage.


  1. I ask my deli-counter-people to slice the prosciutto a little thick. Otherwise sometimes the pieces might be too thin and broken. However, if the pieces are too thick they won’t stick as well to the chicken, but better to err on the side of too thick than too thin.
  2. Usually, I cut each piece of prosciutto on a diagonal which will fit nicely on each cutlet. In theory you only need 4-slices, but it’s safer to get 5-slices in case of problems.

Recipe Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $6.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 6:10 AM. Dinner time at 7 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original is here. The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken cutlets (4 pieces)
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
5 slices of prosciutto
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups white wine (or dry vermouth)
Juice from 1 lemon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, minced
1 teaspoon table salt
Ground black pepper

  1. Use a regular, not a non-stick skillet, for a flavorful pan sauce.
  2. Lay chicken cutlets flat on cutting board and freeze for 15 minutes. Cut each cutlet horizontally forming a total of 8 thin cutlets. Trim any ragged edges as necessary and trim chicken tips back 1 to 2 inches to make the cutlet of uniform shape.
  3. Cut each piece of prosciutto to match the shape of the chicken.
  4. Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 225 degrees. This will be used to keep the first batch of chicken warm; not to cook it.
  5. Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in shallow dish or pie plate.
  6. Heat 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil in 12-inch regular (not non-stick) skillet over medium-high heat.
  7. Working in batches of 3 or 4 (depending upon how many will fit in the skillet), pat cutlets dry with paper towels.
  8. Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off any excess.
  9. Lay cutlets flat and place 1 prosciutto slice on top of each cutlet. It will not adhere until cooked.
  10. Add cutlets to fill you pan, prosciutto-side down, and cook until light golden brown; about 4 minutes.
  11. Carefully flip each piece and cook on other side until light golden brown, about 6 minutes more.
  12. Transfer to wire rack set on rimmed baking sheet and keep warm in oven while you prepare the second batch.
  13. Repeat with remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons oil and cutlets (from step 6), then put in oven to keep warm while preparing sauce.
  14. Pour off excess fat from skillet, if any. Turn up heat and add white wine, scraping up any browned bits that were left behind. Reduced the sauce to about 1/2 cup; 7 minutes.
  15. Finally, add the lemon juice and whisk in butter, adding 1 tablespoon at a time. Off heat, stir in chopped parsley.
  16. Remove chicken from oven and place on platter. Spoon sauce over cutlets before serving.


Indoor Pulled Pork

March 7, 2011

I’m not sure how this custom began, but when visiting our up-state friends I always cook an elaborate dinner, which is always a little tricky in another person’s kitchen. This time I wanted to make this Slow-Roasted Pork Shoulder with Peach Sauce, which Chris Kimball called one of his top 5 recipes. Unfortunately, I threw away my old, rusty v-rack after last Thanksgiving, and my up-state friends didn’t have one. I had to settle for an Indoor Pulled Pork with Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce. Incidentally, both of these recipes are from Season 11 of ATK.

Gets its smokey flavor from a bottle.

Since it’s still winter some compromises had to be made. Principally it had to be made in the  oven rather than on the grill. So to get that smokey flavor I used liquid smoke. I remember seeing an ATK episode a few years ago that described how its made, which was an elaborate process yielding only a few drops at a time. I thought it would be expensive, but it was only $1.70 for the bottle. Overall, a delicious meal but falling short of last spring’s Lexington Pulled Pork. This oven version is 4-stars.


  1. I would recommend doubling the sauce added to the meat to 2 cups (in step 10). After adding the single cup called for in the recipe seemed to barely flavor the meat. I increased to 1-1/2 cups today, but now think it could have used 2 cups.

Recipe Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $16.00 for 16 sandwiches.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 11:30 AM. Dinner time at 7:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original is here. The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below:

1 boneless pork butt (about 5 pounds)
1 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons liquid smoke

2 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons liquid smoke
1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sweet and Tangy Barbecue Sauce:
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup light or mild molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Slice pork roast horizontally, so that you have two thinner roasts.
  2. Add 1 cup salt, 1/2 cup sugar, and 3 tablespoons liquid smoke into 1 gallon cold water in large pot. Mix until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Put the pork in brine, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. With about 15 minutes of brine-time remaining, preheat the oven to 325-degrees and move rack to lower-middle position.
  4. Add mustard and 2 teaspoons of liquid smoke into small bowl or coffee cup. Mix until combined.
  5. In another small bowl or coffee cup, stir together 2 tablespoons black pepper, 2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
  6. Remove the pork and pat completely dry with paper towels. Rub mustard mixture over entire pieces of pork. Then evenly coat with spice mixture.
  7. Put pork on wire rack over a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Put a piece of parchment over both pieces of pork, which is is needed so that the acid in the mustard doesn’t eat holes in the foil. Then cover the whole thing tightly with large (heavy-duty-sized) aluminum foil. Seal the edges to keep moist. Roast pork for 3 hours at 325-degrees.
  8. Remove and discard the foil and parchment. Pour liquid from the bottom of baking sheet into a fat separator. Continue cooking, uncovered, until internal temperature registers 200 degrees; 1-1/2 hours. Transfer pork to large glass bowl and tent with aluminum foil. Allow to rest for 20 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile add 1/2 cup of reserved cooking liquid from fat separator into a bowl; whisk together all sauce ingredients.
  10. Shred the pork using 2 forks, and toss with 1-1/2 cup sauce. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary and  serve. Passing the extra sauce separately according to individual taste.

%d bloggers like this: