55. Dara’s Baked Salmon Meatballs

First off, great job to Dara at the Cookin’ Canuck blog because these salmon meatballs won me second place at the meatball-cookoff at dinner party 2. I owe it all to her super classy but yet approachable website and recipe.

However, watching me try to get the skin off a salmon filet was anything but classy. While I reckon I’ve improved in cooking these six months, I have definitely had my share of issues with cooking meats/fishes in the past, namely that I look like a fool while cutting/peeling/shaping them into food-like substances. It’s pretty fun, though, once I finally got all the chunks of salmon into the mixture bowl, to shape it all into balls. I felt a sense of accomplishment and then went immediately to wash my hands a zillion times and take the trash out – salmon was good but very fishy smelling.

I was happy I made these early in the day, because Husband and I spent the rest of the day airing the house out, cleaning, making the Sausage Ball recipe I’ll surely put on here soon that formed both a key part of the party and our breakfasts for days after, and making some yummy sauces. I needn’t have worried, because N brought two kinds of meatballs and sauces too, but my first impulse before a party is to make way too much food, just in case others choose to come without anything. This, of course, results in way too much, but that’s a good problem to have, at least in my world.

The party was the best I’ve thrown; we had a nice mix of Husband’s work friends and my friends from grad school, as well as the surprise visit from K, who I went to college with and who lives about 2 hours away. She was just at the beginning of a road trip and visiting me and staying the night was actually on her way, so we ended up having a lovely time yard saling together the next morning. 🙂 Overall, I’ll keep filling you all in as I write up all the recipes, but suffice it to say: meatballs are a wonderful way to bring people together.

Summary of the Meatballs/”Meatballs” to come:

 

  • N’s thai peanut quinoa & chickpea “meatballs”
  • C’s turkey meatball pizza bites
  • J’s falafel
  • Husband’s cheddar sausage meatballs
  • my avocado sauce and queso sauce to put on top
  • and the grand prize winner, C’s honey-garlic beef meatballs (her first time trying them!)

 

 

The Refreshment of Gratitude

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Last Friday, Husband and I helped out with a friend’s pop-up fundraiser; he’s hoping to open his own business and he turned a cool loft space into a real party atmosphere, complete with band. Husband and I were mostly there to be at the party, but we volunteered for one chore: helping to wash out glasses after people finished their drinks. We ran into the back, scrubbed up the glasses, and got them ready to be used again. It was a nice break from socializing with a bunch of people we didn’t know well, but it was also so nice to see R’s face when the whole place was packed and people were enjoying the atmosphere so much.

I remember thinking that rather than being tired, I was enlivened: so energized by the feeling of gratitude we got from having friends like this, from knowing a few folks in town and feeling included. This is how I feel this Thanksgiving: like my gratitude to the world, to friends and family and the school that employs me, propels me forward and keeps me grounded. Gratitude reminds me that everyday problems are solveable, and that by almost any comparison I care to come up with, I have so much more love in my life than I could imagine.

The propelling makes me want others to share the riches of having a growing community, of knowing others deeply and connecting in spite of differences. I am not outgoing every day of the week… or even any day, if it gets bad. I think that so much of what our nation and our world need are people finding ways to connect to each other, finding the common ground they have or, failing that, building some common ground through sharing activities, experiences, and food. A lot of people are getting together with family today who don’t agree with them on much, but hopefully they can agree on the deliciousness of cranberry relish and the satisfaction of a tummy full of turkey. I hope that ground can build some gratitude in a year when we all haven’t been behaving that well; that gratitude can carry us, I hope, into 2017.

Memories with Food: Fancy Wine and Cheese Party

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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!

 

Delightful Baklava

img_4959Baklava is a work-intensive food, and though most people don’t want you to go to any trouble just to serve them dessert, I kinda like making a difficult dessert for a gathering – this weekend was no exception, and the dessert ended up divine!

I used this recipe as my base, but mostly just did what I wanted; Baklava is not so much mixed together as it is constructed like a house.

The materials for construction were: 1 pound or so of pistachios mixed with a half cup of brown sugar and ground down almost to a powder in my food processor. A pack of fillo dough, thawed and unrolled right before construction (it dries out very quickly and just flakes away into nothing!). A cup of melted butter, and a syrup made of vanilla, honey, water, and more sugar.

Construction proceeds thusly: butter the pan and then fillo dough in the bottom of the baking dish (9×13 worked well for me), more butter, more fillo, more butter, more fillo, a layer of nuts with a smattering of butter, fillo/butter/fillo/butter/fillo/nuts/butter/fillo… until you are out of fillo or the pan is full. If you are still left with a lot of butter, that’s okay. You need to cut the dish before you cook, if at all possible, because it will be much harder to cut after baking – once cut, you can pour the remaining butter on each cut area and it’ll soak in perfectly.

My recipe had me bake for 50 minutes at 350, and it turned out beautiful, as you can see. That gives you plenty of time to melt the ingredients of the syrup together. When the baklava comes out, the syrup is poured all over it while it’s still hot, creating a fun bubbling sound and the best wafting smell of vanilla ever… it soaks into the dessert and doesn’t end up soupy, just sticky and sweet.

It’s nice to be able to try this in a lot of variations – less sweet, more honey, try rosewater as a flavoring, try different nuts – but this classic was a hit with my guests. One woman ate 4 pieces! This is a wonderful compliment for a chef, even if we all know that the butter was the MVP. 🙂

You Can Do it, Dinner Party Newbie.

There are so many easy reasons not to have dinner parties. Restaurants are prettier, cooking by yourself is cheaper, seeing your friends when you see them is more convenient, planning nothing at all is less stressful, but let me tell you: I’m ready to advocate the dinner party, even after the messiness, the expense, the lack of convenience, and the stress. I have good reasons too.

  1. Doing hard things builds character

I have now had three dinner parties this year, but at least two other potential parties I chickened out of throwing because I worried the people wouldn’t get along or wouldn’t like the food. Every time I go through with it, though, I think I get a little more convinced that it’s worth it to try something a little against-the-grain and have people into your home. It’s quite the act of trust, but it seems to pay such good dividends.

2. If you love cooking, you will never have a better excuse to make LOTS of food

3. People you would never imagine liking each other will manage to make it work over a big plate of food.

4. People feel more connected to you, even if they don’t know you well, if they’ve spent the evening sitting by your fireplace and chatting.

5. We’ve lost the art of in-person conversation as a main form of entertainment, and it needs to come back: it’s free, it’s fascinating, and it makes us better at all kinds of other things!

6. People notice so many fewer of the things you see as imperfect in your house and notice so much more of the detailed touches of architecture or decoration than you’d expect – they take in the good and tend to ignore the bad (we all have it, so it’s less interesting!).

7. Your board games need a chance to come out and play.

I know I won’t convince everyone, but I think trying it once is worth it – if you discover I’m wrong on every count, at least now you have the worst-dinner-party-ever story to tell at… well, some event. I don’t think you’ll regret it though!

Party time, the third!

It’s coming. The third potluck. I think back to when I started this blog, and I can hardly believe it – the original plan was 35 recipes and 4 dinner parties. The 35 recipes has mushroomed, but I’m still only 2 out of 4 for the potlucks. Thankfully, the third is coming. When N expressed just as much excitement as I did about the idea of a party themed around soups and breads, we decided to go halves on hosting again – she’s going to bring friends from where she lives, 30 minutes away, and I’m inviting friends who live in my town, all the join each other for some autumnal enjoyment at my house.

Soups are one of my favorite foods, and that’s a little strange because they weren’t hugely important in my childhood. My dad makes a mean Korean noodle soup, and my Mom knows her way around a pot of chicken and dumplings, but purees, chilis, etc. just weren’t that common for us. However, I’ve got big plans: I’m going for a chunky tomato and gouda (won’t call it a bisque because my tomatoes may not whip up smooth, but a soup nonetheless) and a version of my curried butternut squash soup that has some apple in it for added sweetness and depth. I want to make the buttered-bowl peasant bread again, and then something for dessert… I will dig through the recipes I still have to use, but I’m thinking maybe gingerbread? Tasty but also autumnal in their flavors?

One of my favorite parts of eating soup is dipping a really good piece of bread into it, so I hope to have a wide variety of soups and breads to share with you once the party is over and the soup has all been packed in pyrex to take to work the next day. I’m hoping for good fall weather, though, because we have had a bit of a heat wave lately.

 

55. Dara’s Baked Salmon Meatballs

First off, great job to Dara at the Cookin’ Canuck blog because these salmon meatballs won me second place at the meatball-cookoff at dinner party 2. I owe it all to her super classy but yet approachable website and recipe.

However, watching me try to get the skin off a salmon filet was anything but classy. While I reckon I’ve improved in cooking these six months, I have definitely had my share of issues with cooking meats/fishes in the past, namely that I look like a fool while cutting/peeling/shaping them into food-like substances. It’s pretty fun, though, once I finally got all the chunks of salmon into the mixture bowl, to shape it all into balls. I felt a sense of accomplishment and then went immediately to wash my hands a zillion times and take the trash out – salmon was good but very fishy smelling.

I was happy I made these early in the day, because Husband and I spent the rest of the day airing the house out, cleaning, making the Sausage Ball recipe I’ll surely put on here soon that formed both a key part of the party and our breakfasts for days after, and making some yummy sauces. I needn’t have worried, because N brought two kinds of meatballs and sauces too, but my first impulse before a party is to make way too much food, just in case others choose to come without anything. This, of course, results in way too much, but that’s a good problem to have, at least in my world.

The party was the best I’ve thrown; we had a nice mix of Husband’s work friends and my friends from grad school, as well as the surprise visit from K, who I went to college with and who lives about 2 hours away. She was just at the beginning of a road trip and visiting me and staying the night was actually on her way, so we ended up having a lovely time yard saling together the next morning. 🙂 Overall, I’ll keep filling you all in as I write up all the recipes, but suffice it to say: meatballs are a wonderful way to bring people together.

Summary of the Meatballs/”Meatballs” to come:

 

  • N’s thai peanut quinoa & chickpea “meatballs”
  • C’s turkey meatball pizza bites
  • J’s falafel
  • Husband’s cheddar sausage meatballs
  • my avocado sauce and queso sauce to put on top
  • and the grand prize winner, C’s honey-garlic beef meatballs (her first time trying them!)

 

 

7. N’s Lasagna Cupcakes

N is one of the most organized and thought-out people I know. When she and I run into each other, it’s usually at a cool lecture or movie screening, because she has a lot of similar interests. We end up talking about how to save time and how to make good study habits, and I love that economy of thought: I leave every interaction with her aspiring to new levels of impact and usefulness.

So it is no surprise that her contribution to the potluck would be so practical: parties are best handled with finger food, and lasagna is delicious, so put them together and you get N’s lasagna cupcakes (technically, they belong to food blogger but N introduced me to them; long live the giant chain of recipe borrowers!). Using wonton wrappers to encapsulate small servings of lasagna ingredients, N made stacks of these little delights, with their slightly crispy shells and their savory sausage centers. I squirreled away two of them and found that after a couple of days in the fridge the wonton wrapper took on an even more noodle-like consistency, but still didn’t fall apart. It’s the almost-not-messy way to eat pasta! I say almost because I am an overachiever in the messiness department.

N does a lot of her own blogging and spearheads a cookbook club, so I expect to be taking cooking advice (and cooking photography advice!) from her for a long time yet.

Here is the recipe! http://www.tablespoon.com/recipes/lasagna-cupcakes/973c5603-c1e4-4790-9e6a-aef378332ef2