64. S’s Palak Paneer

S and I always seem to pick up where we left off when we get to see each other, and I was so excited to stop and see her for the weekend on our way to Maine. S had a special plan: she’d bought all the ingredients to make palak paneer, her favorite indian food dish made of spinach, paneer cheese, spices and… well, I didn’t know. I knew that if I made things that approximate palak paneer in the past, they never taste like they do in the restaurants. I was eager to see what S could do with it.

S, her boyfriend A, and I spent a whole day hiking and then returned to their home to make this dish, which could have been done by one person but really was so work intensive that it wasn’t bad to have 3 cooks. S browned the paneer (is there ever such a beautiful thing as frying cheese?), I measured out many many kinds of spices in precise quantities and set them up, cooking-show-style. A chopped and cooked fresh spinach, tomatoes, and onions; they mentioned that they’d tried with frozen and canned and it is never as good. After the frying cheese, the next mixture to create was a chickpea flour and spices mixture, which gives the sauce its thickness – there was no cream in this recipe! The following steps involved combining all the ingredients in precise order, mixing them or pulverizing them in a blender or cooking them slowly for half an hour. I say “or” because it was all a blur to me, and I was in charge of changing records on the record player, so I often had to leave the kitchen. There are worse things, though, than chatting with some of your oldest friends (yes, even S’s boyfriend has now graduated into the ranks of “one of my oldest friends” – they’ve been together a long time, and many of my friends and I met in the last few years) dancing around to big band swing music while large cats flee from your galumphing feet… It made me feel like a young and excited person again.

Also, the final product was MAGICAL. If I get the recipe from S, I can try to recreate it, but I bet I’d need two sous chefs to pull it off. It may look like green glop, but believe me, it’s the most amazing dish. I order it at restaurants habitually, but now I’m gratified to be able to make it in house.

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62. Husband’s Sausage Cheddar Balls

I have been ill for a few days. It is not such a big deal, but it is more ill than I’ve been in a long time, and I’ve been surprisingly baby-ish about it. It has made me appreciate more than usual the casual, easy-going buoyancy of my husband’s personality. Two days of my illness were our return days from Maine (terrible timing on my part) so the fact that he was willing to drive a lion’s share of the miles and still make jokes to me as I moaned and groaned about pain really make me once again stunned that I’m so well cared for and he seems to wear it so lightly.

For the meatball party, Husband had mentioned that he wanted to make sausage balls, so I bought sharp cheddar and spicy sausage, but he hadn’t mentioned any other ingredients to me so I assumed he didn’t need any. When we went to start cooking, he said, “time to find a recipe!” and I had to laugh: I just cannot fly by the seat of my pants like he can. We didn’t have Bisquick, the main starch of choice in the recipe he chose, so we ended up making an approximation of Bisquick from scratch. The sausage cheddar balls turned out wonderfully; the recipe he more-or-less used was this: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/14826/easy-sausage-cheese-balls/.

Sausage balls are also a pro breakfast food, and K, a friend who came to the party and stayed overnight, helped us eat the remaining sausage balls with breakfast toast on our back porch. While Husband didn’t win the competition against many other delicious kinds of meatballs, I am reminded every day how much his easy-going attitude both surprises and saves me from my own overthinking. It’s not a bad thing to associate with such a tasty, crispy, spicy treat.

Super Bowl (of Fluff): Browned Butter Rice Krispies!

It’s funny how a break from all sweets can make you appreciate really good ones. On Friday, I tried a morsel of catering-company rice cereal treat – it was not bad, not at all, but it reminded me of how wonderful the treats made in my Mom’s kitchen were, hunching over a saucepan full of butter and slowly melting marshmallows. I immediately wanted one of those perfect treats, but how to get just one?

The answer came the next day in the fact that we’re going to a Super Bowl party, and I needed something to bring anyway to share! With a lot of health conscious people at work, it never feels right to make a treat like this and just abandon it in the break room, but for a “holiday” like the Super Bowl, I don’t know anyone who makes their meal a health-focused one.

I love browned butter and find it to be a slightly deeper flavor, so I used this recipe instead of the one on the cereal box itself. Tiny specks of brown flecked the melting marshmallow mix, but otherwise, I really couldn’t taste a difference when the whole thing was finished – the truth is that the sweetness of rice crispy cereal is really overpowering! Delicious, sure, but made me excited to return to the calmer fruit-based sweets I’ve been focused on this month.

My boss has pointed out, and it’s been hard to hear, that with Whole30, no one “does it to you. You do it for yourself, so a cheat day is a cheat of yourself.” I have never thought of my health as “for me” – it was always so that I wouldn’t worry those who mattered to me, or leave them with the burden of my care. Whole30, even the triumphant reintroduction of some of my favorite foods, really has made me realize it affects me, and health is for me. Choosing to eat, say, just one rice crispy treat instead of a whole pile of them, is a weird and not-natural thing for me, but doing it has to be the way I respond if I start to take seriously that health is for me!

 

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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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!)

 

 

54. C’s Sweet Potato “Muffins”

Yesterday, we were all out of breakfast foods after the long road trip, and I had a hankering for something sweet and nutritious, so I broke out my small stack of remaining gifted recipes, and found this one, which was actually in a birthday card from my Mom, C.

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I have no muffin tins, so I just made the recipe as a big cake and cut it into pieces. I substituted some of the milk and sugar for more sweet potato (the can I had was very large) and it turned out moist, dense, and sweet. I liked having big chunks of pecan and raisin to break up the bread a bit too. This will go down in history as one of my favorite breakfast foods, and it really isn’t that bad for you either. I saved some of it just in case we have more folks at the potluck tonight than planned, and I still have plenty for a week of breakfasts.

Best of all: it took maybe 15 minutes to put together, not even using the stand mixer! It is usually unthinkable for me to cook something before 8am, but this seemed reasonable and by the time my sleepyhead mom woke up, I had the thing cooking in the oven. It doesn’t take forever though I did have to give in an extra 5 minutes there at the end, and it browns a little on top which helps you decide it is indeed done.

I enjoyed putting a little cream cheese on top, and my mom tried butter on top, both of which were great additions. It doesn’t have streusel or anything but it does seem like a variety of “coffee cake” especially since I didn’t do it in a muffin tin. Overall, a rave review and a creation I intend to return to for potluck brunch or other occasions that warrant sweet breads.

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53. No Thyme to Waste’s Braided Challah

A few days back, I was having a nostalgic day and decided to bake a loaf of challah. I have no claim to challah’s long history, but in college it was a bread I learned to make in my parents’ bread machine and so whenever I was about to head back to school, I’d make two loaves: one to eat with my family, pulling sections of the braid off with our hands while it was still warm, and the other to slice cool in my college town, accompanied by my roommates or nearby dorm neighbors. The bread seems built for community building: soft, pliable, woven together, and always slightly sweet and eggy.

I found No Thyme to Waste’s recipe for braided challah and was also somewhat enchanted by her blog – it uses the same WordPress theme that I do, but to much greater effect! I’m inspired to include recipe cards with any recipes I make from friends or from a handwritten card – obviously will keep linking to recipes that come from other blogs. I was impressed that it used so much whole wheat flour, and this recipe didn’t disappoint: Husband does not like super whole-grain bread and he thought this was the best loaf I’ve made yet! We ate on it for days, letting it replace store-bought bagels in the morning, toasted with a layer of cream cheese all over it. I didn’t have the seeds to put on top, but otherwise I pretty much stuck with the recipe; I’m learning that it pays to follow the directions with bread.

While I didn’t get to bring any on this road trip with me, I’m hoping to be able to at least prepare a few meals while I’m here visiting with my sister – she’s a much healthier eater than me, but if she let’s me, a loaf of homemade bread might be just what her kitchen needs.

 

49. Crockpot Pork Chops with Rhubarb, Peppers, and Onion

A while back, when I asked for crockpot recipes, I got the wonderful suggestion from The Wiser Shopper (click here for the recipe!) to make Pork chops with apples and onions based on a Martha Stewart recipe. The idea sounds like one of my favorite combinations of sweet and savory, so I filed it away as a great option but didn’t remember it until this week.

This week, in particular, I had a lot of leftover rhubarb from the farmer’s market, so I thought I’d adapt the recipe by subbing a little bit of apple sauce and a lot of chopped rhubarb in the recipe. I threw all the other ingredients into the slow cooker for the whole day, and by evening, there was… well, the same brownish stuff that comes out of a lot of slow cooker recipes, but man oh man! When we sat down to eat, it was some kind of delicious.

The pork was moist and the sauce was tart and savory and multi-layered. I fried some homefries to go with it, which turned out to be the perfect contrast to the softness of the meat and veggies, and overall, I was really pleased. I added one other thing, which was a spicy barbeque sauce, a generous glopping on top of the ingredients at the beginning of the process. The spice was essential, because I think the whole thing would have turned out overly sweet otherwise.

Thanks Wise Shopper for sharing your recipe – it made a regular old Monday night extra special and delicious.

48. J’s Brie-Basil Pasta

J and I went to an academic summer camp when we were both 17; I think it was the first time I felt surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people in the same small place. J and I remained friends over the years, seeing each other when we happened to be in the same city. He came to my wedding and gave me a recipe card RSVP that only said “let’s talk about this one in person…” – eventually, he sent me the following recipe, but cautioned me to wait through the winter months before I attempted it, because fresh tomatoes and fresh basil were key to the meal.

1. 4 large ripe tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2. I pound Brie, rind removed, broken into irregular smallish pieces

3. 1 cup fresh basil leaves rinsed, patted dry and cut into strips

4. 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

5. 1 cup best quality olive oil

6. 1/2 teaspoon salt

7. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8. 1 1/2 pound linguine 9or other pasta)

9. Fresh grated parmigiana-Reggiano

At least 2 hours before serving combine 1-7 in large serving bowl. I usually cover and let sit at room temperature to blend flavors. Also, I put the Brie in the freezer for about 10 minutes before trying to remove the rind. Putting in the freezer helps make it firmer and easier to remove. Otherwise you tend to lose a lot of the Brie as the rind does not come off very well.

Boil the linguine. When done, toss with the tomato mixture. Add grated cheese as desired.

I chose to make this recipe on a day when Husband and I were going to an outdoor festival and I knew we’d be hungry and ready for something savory and fresh when we got home – it helped us resist the funnel cake and fried chicken at the festival, which can’t hurt, right? After a truly spectacular breezy Sunday afternoon, we returned to the bowl of spicings and cheese and tomatoes: I’d frozen the brie for too long, so instead of breaking it into pieces I’d shaved the rind off with a knife and grated the whole thing into the bowl. We made fettuccine and the whole house filled with the pungent Brie scent and the snap of garlic. We twirled the pasta noodles and our lips got coated in cheesy sauce. I used all the fresh basil we had in our garden, which was good timing because the little bucket we’ve been growing herbs in is now swamped with water from recent rains. Hopefully it will dry out and grow back, because this might be my favorite dish yet. I didn’t get quite as much brie as he suggested (I did 8 ounces, plus a spare ounce of goat cheese I had lying around, for one pound of pasta) but I bet it would have been delightful if I had.

What is the quintessential dish of summer for you? I cannot imagine a flavor more summery than basil and tomato, cheese and garlic all rolled together and eaten with the window open and the twilight breeze blowing through the house.