One really decadent food kept coming to me while we were on Whole30 – I’m sure everyone while on this journey has something of the kind. I wanted baked brie: I wanted the flaky crust, toasted but still buttery, with the pooling, near-liquid cheese on the inside, with it’s characteristic sweet and strange tang. I knew this wasn’t something I wanted twice; I knew one time would be enough to put it to bed. As we were shopping for veggies at one point, I saw a prepared baked brie with a heart shape on top that you could take home and bake for valentine’s day – it was 15 dollars. It was in my mind this weekend as I shopped.
Instead of a 15 dollar perfect brie, Husband and I improvised: a small wedge of brie for 2.50 and a pie crust on sale for 50 cents. we cut pieces of crust, heated up the oven, and cut lumps of brie to wrap up in the crust. After this weekend, we’re returning to near-Whole30 for a lot of our meals, trying to jam-pack our lives with veggies and fruit, but this was our splurge (among a lot of others): these perfect little bites.
We tried them with three toppings: I put a tiny pat of almond butter on one, a smear of crystallized honey on another, and a dusting of rosemary and garlic on the last. I like savory, so that last one thrilled me, but the others were delightful too, and fully satisfied my craving. Sometimes that’s what you need – a long week and a long, lingering head cold left me there, feeling nothing but gratitude for cheese and crust, even as I know that I’m about to dive back in to the piles of celery and cucumber and bell peppers. I recommend wrapping bits of brie in pie crust any day you need this too!
One of the most peaceful things I’ve been doing lately is spending time with friends’ children. Granted, there are bouts of intense wailing and raw need, but when these babies are asleep (which they are, frequently, if not for long enough for their parents to sleep) they really are incredibly calming, all folds and softness and vulnerability. In many social situations, I usually bring crocheting to work on as my friends and I talk for hours, but holding a sleepy little one has become my default as I sit on a comfy couch and unconsciously sway back and forth.
L and G are family friends of Husbands’ (they have a lot of them!) who live on a lake and own a boat. Some of my favorite memories from the summer of 2014 are swimming in the lake, sunning on the boat, and playing darts in their garage. That memory of ease and summer relaxation seems connected to this simple but flavorful tiny-sandwiches recipe.
I had been saving the recipe for these sliders for an outdoor picnic or some other context that needed many tiny sandwiches, but quick hot sandwiches turned out to be perfect while everyone passed the sleepy baby around – I used turkey rather than ham and cut out the mustard, but they turned out browned, savory, and perfect. More an assembly than a real, scary-consequences cooking job, this kind of recipe is perfect for someone who wants to up their sandwich game but isn’t quite trying chicken cordon bleu any time soon. Also, anything I can eat one handed while my other arm falls asleep under a cute baby’s soft head is a winner in my book.
Ham and Cheese Sliders
24 mini sandwich Hawaiian rolls
1 lb ham sliced
1 lb swiss cheese sliced
¾ c melted butter
1 ½ tbsp. dijon mustard
1 ½ tsp worchestershire sauce
1 ½ tbsp poppyseeds
1 tbsp dried minced onion
Mix and pour over sandwiches. Build sandwiches first, and then bake uncovered for 20-25 min.
I have an ache in my heart pretty much constantly for the beauty and restlessness of the ocean; during the winter, it gets even more acute. This memory is extra special: after a long day on the beach with Husband, we wandered back into town and found this restaurant with a balcony that was literally right over a causeway. We watched people pilot their boats and we ate spinach and artichoke dip and cheesy dip on crisp, perfect pita chips – I have not felt deeply relaxed in other places the way I can feel when I’m out at the water, eating something unhealthy and cheesy.
One of the dinner party recipes, which appeals to me in my current state because I’m hungry and I miss spicy cheese. It’s a pretty constant state of missing spicy cheese – I first discovered queso at a great burrito joint in my college town, and had a standing weekly date with an old friend to complain about life while dunking chips there… mmm. C’s recipe took me back.
C, like Jalapeño Popper Dip, is more than meets the eye. She’s quiet, a studious member of the classes I’ve taken with her, and thus the more clueless members of the class don’t get to see her sense of humor, her wide ranging knowledge of topics of all kinds, or her intense observation of human nature. She once told me that in a class she would watch my facial expressions change and laugh at me; this is a person who knows what’s going on.
Jalapeno Popper Dip looks like a vat of cheese – nothing wrong with that. However, inside, it’s got corn and spicy pepper bites, turkey bacon and a creamy blend of cheeses that make it perfect for right-before-dinner noshing. We dug in almost immediately, a crowd of hungry guests who wanted to wait for everyone to arrive before beginning the plate-filling in earnest. As a person who regularly longs for queso because of a few summers spent working in Texas, I crunched my way through a slew of tortilla chips covered in this stuff. It was nicely serendipitous: one moment, I’d get only creaminess, the next, a fiery bit of pepper. C also keeps me guessing: I like hearing her take on things because I cannot predict it. I hope to share spicy cheese with her many times in the future.
I’m nervous, because I haven’t “thrown a party” in the States ever, because I’ve never had my new graduate school friends over to my apartment… I’ve never even had an apartment to myself before! So many firsts happened, when I got fancy cheese (I see manchego in the picture – a hold-over from Spain, where I had lived until 3 months before this party… I think I remember always worrying that people thought I was boring when I talked about it, because I was always thinking about it in those months). People had fun at the party though – my good friend E first really hung out with the boy who would become her long time love (they’re still together, nearly 4 years after that party!), I met people I still like and respect now, and we enjoyed sitting in the hammock on my tiny, rickety balcony. I cannot say I miss that time, with all the vulnerability and new-ness of life in the States again, but I can say I’m proud of my past, brave self!
Remember, long long ago, when my sister made me Sister’s Gouda and Butternut Squash Casserole? Well, I finally tried making something similar but with ingredients from my beloved garden and my nearly-as-beloved Aldi.
I found some “Applewood smoked” gouda at Aldi and I had the last sad little squashes left from the summer, so I thought it time to try this so that Husband could see what a delightful combo it was. I bought “herb chicken” tortellini because 1. I’m lazy and do not make my own pasta (yet?) and 2. because husband loves a little protein in his pasta dishes. I set slivers of butternut squash in the GoSun for a sunny hour in the backyard, and they emerged soft and perfect.
The sauce starts with a roux, about a tablespoon of butter and nearly two tablespoons of flour (for me – do your favorite roux!) and then a generous pour of whole milk. More traditionalists should definitely follow a recipe for bechamel, and then grate some of that gouda goodness in. The gouda thickened the sauce wonderfully; I added Italian seasoning, basil, and oregano, and then mashed the butternut squash thoroughly before adding about 1 and a half cups of it. I wanted the sauce to be heavily squash-y, so you could always use less, but I wanted to feel like a veggie.
I boiled the tortellini as instructed and poured that sauce over; leftover gouda (I had about half of the round left) went on top of salads and into a 4-cheese tomato sauce I made later for the rest of the tortellini. I would not call this a health food, but it’s a wonderful flavor combination if you are bored with traditional alfredo, and it reminded me of good times shovelling pasta into my maw with my sister this summer; now it feels more seasonal with the autumnal chill in the air!
Chili is very important to Husband’s family. The prefer the Cincinnati variety, well known under names like Gold Star or Skyline Chili; it’s a soupy sauce with a tad of sweetness, always served with cheddar cheese, and put on top of various starches. We’ve made it at home on top of fried potatoes and baked sweet potatoes, but after a long run, I turned to my recent craving: tater tots.
How did we, as a society, ever relegate tater tots to the realm of elementary school cafeterias and far into a table full of fried snacks for the big game? These little tubular rolls of crunchiness are pretty divine. The fact that for less than two dollars I can get 6-8 servings of these things in a frozen bag from the grocery store is nothing less than extraordinary.
Recipe is pretty simple:
- Prepare tater tots according to the instructions on the bag.
- Heat up chili from a can in a small saucepan.
- Assemble prepared ingredients on top of each other. Cover in shredded sharp cheddar.
- Consume with gusto.
The crunch is essential for me – some people eat Cincinnati-style chili on spaghetti, but it’s just all soft to me, while the tots (or regular fries) provide some texture variety. I appreciate the melding of the flavors and the fact that not a lick of it is good for me. I don’t mind running an extra half hour this week though, to dig in to this treat once in a while.