60. N’s Thai Peanut Quinoa Balls

N and I were having coffee when we came up with the idea for the meatball party. One of the qualities I appreciate in N is that she doesn’t do things halfway. The woman showed up at my house for the party with two kinds of meatless meatballs (all, by the way, the most perfectly round meatballs I have ever seen) two dipping sauces for them, a rice cooker she didn’t need any more as a present for me, two prizes for the winners of our meatball contest, and probably more things I don’t even remember.

N’s food was wonderful, as usual – peanut flavoring is wonderful for making alternative proteins tasty (see 37. M’s Spicy Peanut Soup recipe, for instance), and these were wonderfully spiced as well. I am glad that they had quinoa in them as well, because now I have a rice cooker that, according to N, makes great quinoa. I will have an easier time putting together my own version of these now that I can let the quinoa burble away to itself without my checking to make sure it isn’t burning.

The recipe N used is from the blog The Simple Veganista, and she wrote about them at www.nicosroom.tumblr.com, which is full of the recipes she uses for her cookbook club. You can also read her post on the meatball party and all the fun that was had.

 

56. Dara’s Creamy Avocado Sauce

On Saturday, I found a food processor that works, and for only 3 dollars at a yard sale. It’s an old-school GE model with only an on-off switch and a pulse switch, and I’m obsessed. It will be perfect for future sauces, pureed soups, and pretty much all the hard-to-chop things that have been haunting me lately.

But I was making this sauce on Friday. So it will go down in history as a good, but chunky sauce in my kitchen, the last of the era, I hope.

Dara over at Cookin Canuck dreamed up a sauce that works so well with salmon that I am tempted to use it on, well, pretty much everything. With a greek yogurt base and a little bit of heat in the spicing, this sauce worked up pretty smoothly even though I didn’t really get all the avocado chunks out. It was a great counterpoint to the strong fish flavor, calming it down on the tongue. I’m convinced that the combination, not just the salmon, got me my second place ranking in the meatball cook-off.

I grew up really picky and always wanted all my food extremely plain in the past, so it was funny to find that in adulthood I wanted to try every sauce I could get my hands on: I’m a hollandaise, honey mustard, barbeque, and bechamel kind of girl now. I generally though, reserve my sauce time for out of the house, where trained chefs can keep them from falling apart. Other than the occasional cheese sauce, I just leave that to the professionals, because the results are pretty amazingly catastrophic when they are bad. This sauce, though, crucially requires no cooking. I’m now going to rely on yogurt sauces when I need something that won’t fail or fall or burn.

And just as a tiny extra tidbit this week, here’s a carrot we pulled up this week that looks like a little person. 🙂

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Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

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I love trying vegetarian recipes, but so often they call for things that some dinner party guests might not recognize – tempeh, or quinoa, or other plant-based protein. Tofu is pretty well known but not universally enjoyed, so when I found an enchilada recipe that mentioned both sweet potatoes and black beans on Pinterest, I thought, “that sounds hearty and recognizeable!”

I started by roasting a giant pan of sweet potatoes; I wanted to make sure no one had an under-done sweet potato in their enchilada. Then I mixed one can of black beans with chipotle chili pepper, garlic, salt, and a half cup of pepper jack cheese. In hindsight, I’d probably mix in some rice, though I think that takes the recipe more in the direction of a burrito, if I understand my burrito/taco/enchilada continuum correctly. We ended up doing rice on the side, so that was fine.

After the sweet potatoes were tender, I mixed them in with the beans and spices, and took out my store-bought enchilada sauce. I’d certainly love to try my own spice blend on some enchiladas, but this was for a party and I wanted to be sure… I recommend tomatillo and roasted garlic green enchilada sauce! I put enough sauce to wet the sides of the dish, and then began folding flour soft taco shells in half and lining the pan. Once the pan was full, I’d add some of the beans and sweet potatoes, fold up the taco shell, and flip it upside down, making sure it wouldn’t fall apart (I hoped?). It was a little messy and there’s probably a better way to do it, but if you’ve read Eating Together Isn’t Always about the Food, you know I was a little nervous at the time and was improvising.

Once those were all done, I covered them in more cheese and the rest of the sauce; I made 7 sweet potato enchiladas in my 9×13 pan. Into the 400 degree oven then went, though I turned it way down when guests arrived and I just wanted them to stay warm. The nice part was that cooking was good but not necessary for the food to be edible, so I felt confident my guests wouldn’t experience any scary food poisoning… a perpetual fear of dinner party hostesses, or maybe just me.

The result was spicy and hearty, flavorful and surprisingly healthy! It came across as a little different from normal enchiladas but not intense or fancy, which was exactly the balance I wanted to strike. 🙂

Eating Together Isn’t Always about the Food

I got really nervous last night before the dinner party – I was lucky that I was running around getting everything ready or I would have probably had a pretty serious anxiety attack. Husband was doing his best to reassure me, but keeping moving was more helpful – Husband on his worst day is less anxious than my best day.

The roots of my worries were two things that made this dinner party different: one was that I was making all the food, not technically having a potluck. So this meant I was making a lot of food just in case anyone brought extra friends. Second was more important, which was all the other people at my dinner parties have been grad school friends – people with a ton of things in common, who were similar ages. For this party, I only invited folks I’d met around town since moving here – all acquaintances, many of whom didn’t know each other. They were all different ages, all different occupations… I didn’t know if anyone would say anything to each other.

All the other parties had some kind of fun dinner-party theme and the focus could be on the food – people did get to know each other, but they mostly talked about the tiny appetizers or the many soups. For this one, front and center was the conversation, with a few plates of enchiladas and a salad for anyone who wanted it.

As people arrived, I saw easy introductions made and got people drinks, and like magic… they all talked about dogs. Dogs! Husband and I don’t have one or want one, but everyone else at our party had dog stories to share. From there, I eventually pulled the food out of the oven and got everything situated, but we all wandered through the house in different groups, some playing foosball and some just sitting. I got to talk to everyone a little, and people who didn’t know each other well before bonded.

It was hands down my favorite dinner experience so far. I would definitely say it’s not for the faint of heart – my resolution is to save these kind of conversation-driven parties for friends I know well and try to have an activity (movie night or game night) if lots of folks are new to me. Still, I’m pretty thrilled. I did a brave thing, and while it was a small brave thing, I’ve already had two messages today from people who enjoyed themselves; it really did happen!

Relaxation: the final product of continual potlucks

I had my third potluck of the year last night; while a couple of new friends and N’s boyfriend came for the first time, the core of the group had all been to my house before and new the drill: we fill our giant dining room table with food, you help yourself to drinks and pile plates high, and we mingle between rooms and the back porch all evening. Nearly everyone knew where the bathroom was, and no one seemed shy about raiding the fridge.

I had anticipated, as I moved from crockpot to oven to stove with the various foods I was cooking, some nerves or butterflies or just general anxiety about the party. However, it really never arrived; around 7 I put on some background music and people began arriving. It felt comfortable: a couple of my more shy friends sat on the back porch where it was quieter, and Husband started a fire in our firepit and talked heat transfer with a couple coworkers. We played one silly party game, but it was mostly to make each other laugh, not because there was nothing to talk about.

As for food… soup and bread turned out to be a wonderful theme! We had tomato soup, butternut squash soup, Indian mulligatawny, chili, gumbo, a sweet red bean soup from China, golden curry, and potato leek soup. For breads, we had roti, naan, fluffy peasant bread, crusty artisan bread, sesame seed bread from the farmer’s market, cornbread casserole, and smores bites for dessert! I also made some gingerbread cookies, which I’m happy to see have survived to the second day. 🙂

I include this picture of N putting away a pile of spilled toothpicks because she is grinning, and because it makes me smile too; parties aren’t perfect, just like spilled toothpicks are no fun to pick up, but if you get to know people and spend time eating with them and sharing life stories with them, you will eventually find a comfy rhythm that can actually look like being relaxed, not like being a stressed host.

60. N’s Thai Peanut Quinoa Balls

N and I were having coffee when we came up with the idea for the meatball party. One of the qualities I appreciate in N is that she doesn’t do things halfway. The woman showed up at my house for the party with two kinds of meatless meatballs (all, by the way, the most perfectly round meatballs I have ever seen) two dipping sauces for them, a rice cooker she didn’t need any more as a present for me, two prizes for the winners of our meatball contest, and probably more things I don’t even remember.

N’s food was wonderful, as usual – peanut flavoring is wonderful for making alternative proteins tasty (see 37. M’s Spicy Peanut Soup recipe, for instance), and these were wonderfully spiced as well. I am glad that they had quinoa in them as well, because now I have a rice cooker that, according to N, makes great quinoa. I will have an easier time putting together my own version of these now that I can let the quinoa burble away to itself without my checking to make sure it isn’t burning.

The recipe N used is from the blog The Simple Veganista, and she wrote about them at www.nicosroom.tumblr.com, which is full of the recipes she uses for her cookbook club. You can also read her post on the meatball party and all the fun that was had.

 

56. Dara’s Creamy Avocado Sauce

On Saturday, I found a food processor that works, and for only 3 dollars at a yard sale. It’s an old-school GE model with only an on-off switch and a pulse switch, and I’m obsessed. It will be perfect for future sauces, pureed soups, and pretty much all the hard-to-chop things that have been haunting me lately.

But I was making this sauce on Friday. So it will go down in history as a good, but chunky sauce in my kitchen, the last of the era, I hope.

Dara over at Cookin Canuck dreamed up a sauce that works so well with salmon that I am tempted to use it on, well, pretty much everything. With a greek yogurt base and a little bit of heat in the spicing, this sauce worked up pretty smoothly even though I didn’t really get all the avocado chunks out. It was a great counterpoint to the strong fish flavor, calming it down on the tongue. I’m convinced that the combination, not just the salmon, got me my second place ranking in the meatball cook-off.

I grew up really picky and always wanted all my food extremely plain in the past, so it was funny to find that in adulthood I wanted to try every sauce I could get my hands on: I’m a hollandaise, honey mustard, barbeque, and bechamel kind of girl now. I generally though, reserve my sauce time for out of the house, where trained chefs can keep them from falling apart. Other than the occasional cheese sauce, I just leave that to the professionals, because the results are pretty amazingly catastrophic when they are bad. This sauce, though, crucially requires no cooking. I’m now going to rely on yogurt sauces when I need something that won’t fail or fall or burn.

And just as a tiny extra tidbit this week, here’s a carrot we pulled up this week that looks like a little person. 🙂

IMG_4210