Party: bison meatballs and beer cheese soup

I only wish I’d taken better photos of the food my friends and I worked for so long to make! This stuff really tasted like a gourmet, fancy-fancy meal. It took us nearly an hour and a half to make, but it was worth every bit of time spent drinking wine in the kitchen. We laughed and made joke after handjob joke about our pal’s ability to grate a huge block of cheese like a champ.

I was so nervous to have these ladies over to my house, as I am with letting anyone in my space, but moreso because I’m just getting to know these coworkers a little bit more outside of work. I have a hard time letting people into my space and wondering what they’ll think of my house. Will they like it? Will they notice that the trim along the baseboards isn’t yet the same paint color as the baseboards? Are my floors too dirty? Will they like my dogs, or think I’m utterly feral? What if I overcook the food, or it just sucks, or I forget something integral to the meal? My anxiety kicks into high gear when I let people into my very private space. It’s an intimacy with other people that I have a hard time creating.

I didn’t do any shoving-stuff-into-the-closet-at-the-last-minute maneuvers, but I do still get the tail-end of the “I just moved three months ago” excuse. I made my bed…what more could anyone hope for?

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I found the recipe for these meatballs and the Greek yogurt-based sauce at the last second, thirty minutes before my pals were supposed to be at my house and I was still at the grocery store. I’m forever running late because I’m at the grocery store, now. We only made a few modifications to the recipe, as follows:

  • Instead of using cumin seeds and coriander seeds, I used the ground spices and whole fennel seeds without grinding them. It didn’t matter and the flavors blended nicely.
  • In the sauce, I used about a cup of cilantro instead of a cup and a half. I just didn’t have any more than that.
  • I used shredded-up gluten-free bread. It worked fine, but I wish I’d used a little more bread to hold the meatballs together a little better. I also used almond milk instead of cow milk, per the usual.
  • Instead of a jalapeno, I used a portion of an anaheim chile, because that’s what I had on hand.
  • I didn’t use extra cilantro or allspice in the meatballs, because there just wasn’t any.

And, of course, everything came out perfect. I’d highly recommend doubling or tripling the sauce recipe — I couldn’t get enough of it — and using it on salads, or as a dipping sauce for veggies. It was a cool, creamy, herby sauce and I can’t wait to make it again.

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Remember when I said I accidentally learned to make beer cheese soup from Martha Stewart? Yeah, I just made a bigger pot of the stuff. It was just so rich, creamy, and beer-y. I barely made it through my bowl, and was happy that one of my pals took the rest home to her boyfriend. There was no way I could handle that dense of a soup twice within a few days.

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Even my dog, Tiger Tail, got a meatball to celebrate her graduation from Pre-Agility and Performance Prep at her dog school. Isn’t she adorable? No more pinch collars for us! I feed my dogs high-quality dog food and give them mostly vegetable scraps as treats, but this time she deserved a little something special. šŸ™‚

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Breakfast in bed

I’m just not a morning person. When my alarm goes off, I hit the snooze, roll over, and repeat every nine minutes for an hour or so. I pry my eyes open, catch up on whatever phone notifications came through while I slept from texts, calls, Facebook, and emails while I bury my nose in my younger dog’s neck. She’s almost three years old, but smells like a puppy every single time she wakes up. After dog snuggles and finding out what people thought of their mornings, I climb out of bed and lumber my way to the back door to let the dogs out, get smacked in the face by some degree of chilly winter air, and attempt to remain upright while the sheets sing sirens’ songs.

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This day, I couldn’t even get up slowly. It was a Tuesday, and I’d worked the night before until 3am and wolfed down my dinner at 4:30am. I slept in a not-so-classy pair of booty shorts so I wouldn’t be caught naked while the delivery guys knocked on the door. This day, I was finally having my new washer and dryer delivered, which happen to live in my kitchen and be another peg for the remodel. I set my alarm for 9am, the earliest they could deliver, and drifted in and out of sleep until 10:40am, when they finally arrived. They did their thing and I tried to stay out of the way, but the whole process was over in less than 20 minutes and painless. I threw a $30 tip their way and mentioned they should get some lunch or weed or something for their efforts. They were surprised, but I think with the stray stilettos all over the floor, they shouldn’t have been!

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So, I’d worked up this appetite while Facebooking and watching other people lift things — funny how that happens, huh? — and I needed some protein and felt like a nice, light breakfast. I just wanted to be warm and underneath the covers. I settled on making “adventurous eggs” with added garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne, plus raspberries, a mild and local Farmer’s cheese, and gluten-free bread in my new toaster with some preserves I was gifted for Christmas.

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This jam was about a hundred times better than I thought it would be. I totally recommend hitting up their website for a jar yourself — it’s worth the extra cost, and I can’t imagine going back to Smuckers bullshit after this jar.

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This wasn’t any feat of cooking prowess by far. It’s just some scrambled eggs and toast and fruit and cheese. But underneath, there was a measure of emotional self-care that I have a difficult time doing for myself. There isn’t anyone around to have breakfast in bed with, to make it for, and certainly, I won’t have anyone for a long time to make it for me or care for me in this intimate way. I can do it myself, sure, but having the emotional guts to do things for myself when others won’t is both incredibly lonely and a sure sign that I can — and always will — take care of myself without the need for a spider-killing, jar-lid-loosening, furniture-moving, reaching-things-up-high man.

Leftovers: egg tacos

I was so proud of the green chile I’d made a few days prior for enchiladas, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use the leftovers before they spoiled.

And I’m gonna give you an important little secret: everything is great in a taco. Corn tortillas turn leftovers into a meal that almost seems like it happened on purpose. Tacos hide my laziness. My usual taco is some sort of protein, filled with some sort of vegetables or fruit, and then some sort of fat. In fact, I’ll probably post fewer and fewer of the tacos and salads I make for leftovers, because it seems awfully redundant and it’s hard enough to stay on top of this blog. I can only say so many thoughtful things about tacos…

I almost always season my eggs with black or white pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder. I just assembled these tacos with some miscellaneous greens, “adventurous eggs,” pickled onions, cilantro, warmed green chile, and grated smoked gruyere.

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Steak, macaroni and cheese, and avocado pudding

Macaroni and cheese is, without a doubt, by a long shot, my favorite food. If I wasn’t a responsible adult, I’d eat macaroni and cheese for every meal. IĀ might even marry it,Ā yes.

I like macaroni and cheese more than I like most people.

So when I invited a friend over at the last minute, just an hour before she was set to arrive for dinner, I had to think fast. I pulled a recipe for the mac and cheese I’d really been craving the past few weeks from the Better Homes and Gardens gluten-free magazine special edition, and ran with it. The only thing I changed was the Beau Monde seasoning. I had no idea what the hell that was, so I googled it and threw in the tiniest little pinches of cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, celery seed, white pepper, black pepper, and ground up a little corner of a bay leaf to add. It turned out just fine with what I had. Over the top, I grated some smoked gruyere, and would incorporate that straight into the sauce next time. I added all of the cheese to the sauce slowly, to give it a chance to melt rather than clump up.

(Recipes in photo form below.)

The avocado pudding only happened because I stumbled on the recipe as I searched for the macaroni and cheese recipe in the same magazine, and noticed that I happened to have all of the ingredients. Chocolate pudding made from avocados? No way! I had to try it. I love avocados, but this was one use I hadn’t imagined. Of course, I used avocado milk in both recipes instead of cattle milk.

I briefly tried mashing the pudding with a fork to save myself the trouble of washing the blender later, but couldn’t get the avocado to blend and smooth out like “real” pudding that way. Trust me: just use the stupid blender. It wasn’t hard to wash a few days later.

Results? The pudding was so mousse-like, and so decadent and rich that I couldn’t eat more than a few spoonfuls without feeling the sugar rush over me and the urge to stop eating such a lovely, fatty desert. The substance that the avocado provided was so wonderful, I can’t even imagine what non-veggie item might take its place in an alternate recipe. It even kept for two days in the fridge without getting that stupid “skin” over the top of it, as some boxed recipes may do.

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What I learned from this meal was that sometimes, just following the damn recipe is enough. Sometimes other peoples’ ideas were great to start out with, and messing with them is totally unnecessary. I’d make both of these things again just as they were, but I think tweaking the macaroni and cheese recipe over the coming year will be fun and challenging for me.

Green chile chicken enchiladas

I’d been looking forward to trying my hand at enchiladas, but as far as I knew, I had no idea where to start. Aren’t enchiladas like rolled-up corn tortillas with microwaved cheese and tomato sauce, or something? They’re one of my favorite foods, but I was hopelessly lost in figuring out the process. Hello, internet! I did some digging, and this recipe for green chile enchiladasĀ sounded both easy enough to follow and the right measure of spicy for my weak tongue.

I’d never bought a tomatillo and had to google what one looked like at two o’clock in the morning in front of the long, intimidating, brightly lit produce cases intermittently spritzing the greens with water. I still couldn’t find them. For a few minutes, I wondered whether I’d have to stop into a specialty Mexican/Latino grocery and had no idea how well I could ask for a fruit I could barely identify in my broken and out-of-practice high school Spanish. Finally, though, I found them in my chain grocery, right next to the habaneros, jalapenos, and poblanos in a tiny basket. The store offered only about two or three pounds worth, and they weren’t of the ripest quality. Undeterred, I bought most of the ones that weren’t clearly spoiled or mysteriously sticky.

I made the enchiladas the next morning while my very good friend headed over. My text message read: “You have to help me eat some of these 12 enchiladas.”

I was a real master of the kitchen for this dish and multitasked my little heart out, but it still took me a solid two hours from starting chopping to sitting down to eat. I used two large poblanos instead of anaheim peppers, but used them the same way, and used a packaged, Kraft “Mexican” cheese blend instead of shredding my own. I added hand-shredded roasted chicken thigh meat that I’d made for dinner last night. Thusfar, I’m most proud of this dish. Not only is it beautiful, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten — I had no idea I could cook restaurant-quality food at home.

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By far, one of the best things about this project is how proud I am of the food I’m cooking. I hadn’t considered the work that went into making refried black beans, any more than opening a can of crappy ones or ordering them with a meal — until I used this recipe today and took the time to both lovingly mash such a simple side dish, and wash that masher with plastered-on dried beans later. I’m beginning to appreciate even the smallest bits of my meals. It took me a long time to blacken the peppers, sweat them, peel each bit of the skin off, seed them. I’m proud of that.

My pal and I had a deep conversation over the food about troubling events in our lives, but it seemed for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t inclined to shovel in food to avoid speaking. I wasn’t in a hurry to finish my food, and I wasn’t waiting on someone else’s timeline for more water to quench my thirst. I didn’t whisper to avoid the next table’s reaction to discussing delicate topics, and I gave a scrap of chicken to each of my dogs (whom I love like children). When I felt like crying during our conversation, I didn’t order a drink or dessert or ask for a check. Eating at my own table has been healing.

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And by the way: these reheated to beĀ even fucking betterĀ than they were on day one.

Leftovers: shrimp tacos and fake chile relleno

I’m terrible at using leftovers, and after a few days, I shudder at the idea of eating “rotten” food. I know my food keeps longer than I’m willing to eat it, but the idea of ever possibly ingesting rotten food keeps me from even trying to eat leftovers after 2-3 days. The $10/lb grassfed beef and $13/lb Brazilian shrimp I stuffed my tomatoes with yesterday surely wasn’t going to waste. Aiming to spend less on food this year isn’t so much about reducing the quality of my food, but to increase the quality of real food while ensuring that I eat more of it, and don’t toss half my groceries every week.

Yesterday, before I headed into work, I power-lunched with these tacos. Easy peasy: I sliced up some cherry tomatoes, threw in a bunch of cilantro, added the shrimp, and spread a bit of sour cream on the corn shell I’d heated in the microwave. No need to cook. On the side: cottage cheese. I sure do need protein and fat before I work hard all night long.

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Today, I checked the fridge and saw the second of the two poblanos I’d purchased for my stuffed tomatoes yesterday. I hadn’t used the pepper, and it was nearly perfect and in great condition — a miracle for a small Midwestern city chain grocery store. I’d intended to blacken it and blend it up to make a green chile sauce for eggs or tacos or enchiladas, but that sounded like too much work tonight.

I blackened the pepper on the gas burner of the stove, steamed it in a plastic bag for 7 minutes, and then scraped off the skin. Oven preheated to 375F, I slit the pepper down the middle on one side, removed the seeds, and stuffed it full of that yummy taco meat that had been soaking up the flavor for a day. I stuffed the rest with shredded cheese on top, and threw it in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, I broiled it to brown the cheese for 3-5 minutes or so.

It’s not one of those “real” chile rellenos, fried to perfection and filled with even more and creamier cheeses, but it was pretty damn tasty and took far less time and money. On the side: avocado mashed with cilantro and lime (I ate the rest of the simple guacamole with chips while the poblano cooked), smashed up black beans, sour cream, sliced cherry tomatoes, and brown rice.

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