January 9, 2012

Spicy Turkey Croquettes with Avocado Sauce

We are into week 2 of 2012 and I think I'm ready to start the new-year-self-overhaul.  I did not do any resolutions this year because I think they are a way to set yourself up for disappointment later in the year (I didn't lose 20 pounds by my birthday? I haven't run 3 miles each day? booo me), therefore I have made myself a Feel Better Commitment.  I am not going to measure my success by pounds lost or miles run but by how I feel, physically and emotionally.  I knew I was on the right path when I started singing in the shower yesterday morning and forgoing my usual cup of Friday morning coffee last week.  With this new found spring in my step I tackled the pile of recipes to find something that wasn't fried or swimming in cream sauce.  And, with a little tweaking I found the perfect dinner to celebrate my Feel Better Commitment jump-off.

Let me begin by saying real croquettes are anything but healthy.  They are essentially deep fried breaded meat and potato patties, even the name is derived from the French word croquer: 'to crunch'.  However, like many fried foods they have a healthy soul.  Sunday night I was able to take the healthy parts and make them into something that satisfies the hungry football fan without causing a heart attack (we have the 2012 football playoffs for that).  So, without further ado...

Photo by Holliday 2012

Very basic ingredients in this dinner.  Ground turkey, green bell pepper, serrano peppers, onion, garlic and a variety of spices.  I chop up my veggies and saute them in a smidgen of oil and a good dash of cumin and minced garlic over med-high heat in the cast iron.  The saute is quick and as soon as the onion starts to become translucent I pull the pan off the heat and let the vegetables cool enough to touch with bare hands.  Once they are cool enough, I toss them into a bowl with the ground turkey and taco-spice mixture (basic mix: 1/4 tsp each: onion powder, oregano, cayenne, paprika; 1-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper; 2 tsp cumin - I generally use these measurements as a guideline and tend to do generous measurements of each spice).  The ratio of veggies to meat should be about 1:1-1/2.

Photo by Holliday 2012

I don't like touching raw meat, especially ground meat, but I have to suck it up tonight and get all the ingredients well blended, and to do this I have to use my hands.  A person has to do what a person has to do for a delicious meal.  Moving on...

Once the meat and vegetables are well mixed I form them into 6 patties about an inch thick and press them into panko crumbs.  To make panko work properly, you need to add a little bit of oil.  If you don't do this it tend to come out dry and won't brown correctly, also by adding your own oil you can control how much goes into your meal, I use just enough to mix in a majority of the panko, maybe a little less then a tablespoon per cup of panko.  You can use bread crumbs for this step but I think panko holds it's crispness longer, even when cooked with moist ingredients (this meal calls for salsa).

Photo by Holliday 2012

I get my meat patties coated in bread crumbs and put them in the cast iron to crisp the outside.  Again, I use just enough oil to get a good sizzle, but not enough so that I have to drain them before the next step.  I am using very lean turkey which means they meat will not hold together well, but that's OK, I just have to be very careful when flipping them.  I could have put egg in the meat mixture which would have held the patties together better, but I was out of eggs.  *Shrug*  Not that big of an issue.  Omitting the egg will also make the patties less dense when done.

After the patties are nice and brown I place them on a tinfoil covered baking sheet and into the oven they go.  Ten minutes in a 450 degree oven and I pull them out to flip.  I am in serious need of hot pads, a kitchen towel does not cut it when pulling a pan out of a 450 degree oven - my fingers are still sore from where they heat came through.  My hot pad project just launched itself to the top of my craft list.  I know what I'll be doing Wednesday night!

Cooking meat brings out the fat which is why you drain hamburger and how you make turkey gravy on Thanksgiving.  My 97% lean turkey produced a little bit of liquid but I want to get rid of that before I continue cooking.  I have a new tinfoil sheet ready to go and I transfer the patties to it, leaving the fat juice behind on the old sheet.  Before putting the turkey back in the oven for the last 10 minutes I top each patty with a generous amount of salsa.  I use a garden salsa with corn and black beans to get some more goodness in my meal.

Photo by Holliday 2012

While the patties are finishing up I get everything pulled together for the Avocado Sauce that will top my meal.  A small avocado, green onion, a lime, garlic, cumin, cayenne, crushed red pepper, salt/pepper and 3/4 cup of water go on the cutting board.

Photo by Holliday 2012

I like this sauce because it does not require any oil and the avocado gives it a nice creamy texture without the need for actual cream.  It can be spiced up with a serrano or anehiem pepper, but I opt to use some crushed red pepper instead.  The turkey will be spicy enough.  Sliced avocado and chopped green onion go in the blender with some lime zest (zest the lime before cutting it), lime juice, 1/2 tsp each cumin, cayenne and pepper, a dash of salt, a full tsp crushed red pepper and it is time to blend.  I puree all the ingredients until smooth and taste.  It is perfect to me, but this would be the point of adding more spice if necessarily.  

The sauce goes in the fridge while I fix the plates and wait the last 5 min until the turkey is ready to come out of the oven.  It is smelling darn good in the kitchen and I can not wait to serve and dig in.  I put down some shredded lettuce on the plate, crumble some cotija cheese and chop up a little bit of fresh cilantro.  Cotija cheese is similar to feta due to its crumbly nature and distinct flavor and texture, but is more salty.  Adding this cheese as a topper means I could be more reserved with my salt when cooking.

Time to serve!  I place two of my turkey patties on the lettuce bed and pour my avocado sauce over each.  I am generous with my sauce because it is so light and is not weighed down with oils and salt.  Top that with the cotija and cilantro and I'm ready to eat.

Photo by Holliday 2012

Dinner was sublime - light and spicy and filling without weighing me down.  The creamy sauce was perfectly balanced with the spicy turkey and salsa.  The cojita cheese added a salty element and a bitter bite which completed the dish.  The turkey patties had a good crunch to them but were not oily or heavy.  I ate my entire plate and was full to the point of being happy and satisfied - not stuffed.  When I make this again I won't be changing much.  I may switch out what was in the patties, maybe add corn or red peppers, but otherwise nothing needs to be changed.

I went to bed still satisfied and not feeling hungry in the least.  I didn't feel full, just satisfied and when I woke up this morning I felt awesome.  My skin even felt less oily (I don't know if I can give full credit to dinner, but I think it played a part in it!).  All in all, I'd say that dinner was one of the best ways to kick off my Feel Better Commitment and if this is how I started, I think I'm on a pretty good path.

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well."
- Virginia Woolf

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