Chef Antoinette Rossman is busy, but her daughter, Story, is even busier. The 18-month-old is sure that the kitchen cupboards need rearranging on a daily (if not hourly) basis, and she sets about her work with the singular determination that only an almost-two-year-old can have.
“That’s why we started putting these locks on all the cupboards,” laughs Rossman. “There would be plastic containers all over the floor.”
Keeping up with an energetic toddler clearly requires stamina — and a strategy. And for this working mom, who has spent time in the kitchens of beloved Portland eateries Tasty n Sons and Double Dragon, part of that strategy involves coming up with weeknight dinners that are both fast and kid-friendly.
“Story loves hamburgers; she learned how to say ‘burger’ right away,” Rossman says. “So I like to capitalize on that with meatballs. I’ll call them ‘burger bites.’ They’re kid-friendly because kids associate ground beef with hamburgers, and their little hands can pick them up.”
They’re fast to make, too. Tonight, Rossman is making Greek-inspired meatballs with a creamy tzatziki sauce for dipping. (Kids are notorious dippers, after all.) It’s a recipe she’ll be demoing on July 15 on the Kids Stage at Country Brunch—one of several events comprising the new three-day, all-you-can-eat food festival Cowabunga. (In addition to Rossman and the kids’ stage, Country Brunch is slated to feature live music, lawn games, a Bloody Mary smackdown, and breakfast bites from renowned local restaurants like Besaw’s, La Moule, and Headwaters.)
To start, Rossman whisks up a couple eggs with a few teaspoons of spices — oregano of course, plus garlic and onion powders. Then she adds a pound of Laura’s 92% Lean Ground Beef, which is all-natural with no added hormones or antibiotics. “I like to mix my spices with the egg first, then add the beef,” explains Rossman, “because it’s easier to get the spices incorporated into the meat without overmixing it. If you overmix ground beef, it can get tough.”
From there, Rossman adds panko crumbs to hold in the moisture, and crumbled feta cheese for bright, creamy pops of flavor. “I encourage people to mess around with recipes and use what they like,” she says. “If you don’t have panko, use dry breadcrumbs. If you don’t like feta, skip it.”
In no time, the meat is mixed and the chef is portioning it into meatballs with an ice cream scoop. She gives them a quick roll between her oiled palms and sets them on a baking sheet. “Kids could definitely help make these,” she says. “They can be a scooper, or a feta crumbler, or a cucumber squeezer for the tzatziki. There are lots of little safe things kids can do.”
She pops the meatballs in the oven and sets to work on the tzatziki. She ingeniously grates the cucumber directly onto a paper towel, then squeezes the bundle into a tight ball to force all the moisture out. “You don’t want any liquid because it’ll water down the dip,” she explains.
She chops a handful of parsley and mint, filling the entire kitchen with the incredible scent of summery fresh herbs, then stirs them into a bowl of thick Greek yogurt along with the cucumber, a touch of garlic, a splash of lemon juice, and salt to taste.
As if on cue, the timer on the meatballs goes off just as Rossman finishes the tzatziki. She divvies them onto plates, adds a dollop of the sauce and a sprig of fresh mint. “You can totally turn this into a pita version,” she says. “Spread some tzatziki in a pita, tuck three or four meatballs in with slices of fresh tomato and red onion, [and] add a little more feta.”
Tonight, though, Rossman’s keeping it simple. She takes a quick bite of a dipped meatball to make sure she’s got the seasonings on the tzatziki just right before serving up her family. “Mmmm. The flavor is really good,” she says nodding. “I like bright, fresh and tart flavors, and with the rich meatballs, it’s just the ticket.”
- 1 pound Laura’s 92% Lean Ground Beef
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp oregano flake or 1.5 tsp minced fresh oregano
- 1 tsp garlic powder or 1.5 tsp minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp minced parsley
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta
- mint for garnish
- 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 cucumber grated or thinly sliced
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 1 tbsp chopped mint
- salt to taste