Party: Iowa sushi

I was invited to a beach party, and yesterday, I unleashed the summer potluck snack of my childhood on an unsuspecting group of acquaintances: pickle roll-ups. My mom used to make these when I was a kid for just about every single potluck-style family gathering, and I loved them. Mostly, I loved the flavor of the cream cheese and the corned beef and only tolerated the pickle, so I tried to get all of the end pieces as she rolled and chopped these.

My parents cooked quite a bit when I was little, but other than a few family recipes, it wasn’t gourmet stuff. I was a meat-and-potatoes, Lunchables, Kraft mac-and-cheese, Spaghettio’s-lovin’, hot-dog-eatin’ true Midwestern child. Save for thick homemade chicken noodle soup, pickle roll-ups, “Spanish” rice (it just had tomato soup in it), deviled eggs, no-bake cookies, and a few other family treasures, my parents just didn’t have many specialties. But these gems, these pickle roll-ups, were special to me growing up. When they were made, I knew that there was something special coming up, like a family picnic or a holiday, and that I’d get to see my extended family.

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So when I was invited to this party, I tried to figure out what to bring. It occurred to me at the last second that pickle roll-ups would be fast to prepare and require only cheap ingredients, and I needed groceries, anyway. But as I made these, I started to remember. She let the real cream cheese warm up on the counter instead of using Philadelphia’s “whipped-style” and the glue it became held together much better. The cheap Buddig packets of corned beef used to be slightly thicker, and square-shaped, which meant the pickle roll-ups of my childhood didn’t tear quite as easily. She spread the cream cheese on the meat, rolled the pickle, and then let the uncut rolls chill in the fridge, helping the whole thing stick together before she cut them the next morning. I begged her to cut one or two the night before any potluck, and I’d forgotten all about that until I started cutting these rolls and they just started falling apart in my hands.

Needless to say, it was a pickle disaster. I actually gave up on the last half dozen pickles and just threw the unsheathed suckers on the plate because I was ready to be done with the mess! I made two trays of these suckers, and only used up almost two large jars of pickles, one cream cheese tub, and five Buddig packets. I still have to figure out how I’ll use two more tubs of “whipped” cream cheese, one large jar of pickles, and three packets of cheap corned beef sometime in the next hundred years.

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I made the rolls sitting in front of the television for something to do, and forgot to put them up high before I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse. I jumped out of the shower, and it hit me…shit. Sure enough, this little piggy had eaten the cream cheese and corned beef off of about 30-40 pickle slices. My eight-pound dog was so bloated and apologetic after I caught her binge-eating the skins of the finger food, just like when I was a kid. I think I actually hurt her dog feelings when I yelled at her and she crinkled her little forehead.

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The second pan was left untouched, and subsequently made it to the party. I also took three pounds of bacon and spent about an hour cooking it in the hosts’ kitchen — so we could “roast a pig” at the beach party. I had a total blast and danced the night away, drinking and making out with strangers, wearing tiny sunglasses and kicking around tiny beach balls, flipping through a book of pictures gay men drew of vaginas. I learned a new phrase for the potluck dish of my childhood last night from the host: Iowa sushi. It’s perfect.

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. 🙂

State of the kitchen: week two

  • Dollars spent on food: $170
  • Dollars spent on kitchen gadgets: $80
  • Unintentional pounds lost: 1
  • Times dined out: 1
  • People I fed: approximately 25

This week, I blew the money I’d saved by not eating out on one of my favorite charities, Sex Workers’ Outreach Project (SWOP). I’m noticing a very significant difference in the amount of money left in my wallet at the end of the week already, even more so than I’d already thought. Is there any chance I was actually spending close to $500 a week on dining out? How long was I spending almost $2000 a month on luxury food without realizing it? I felt awfully stupid this week when I saw just how much money was left over. I had some great meals last year, but I’m enjoying this year just the same.

I did eat out once — lobster bisque and seared Ahi — with a customer. Even though I ordered smaller portions than I’m used to, I was totally full by the time I finished my cup of soup and started in on the Ahi (an appetizer portion). Sure, my appetite is a little off this week because I’m trying a new supplement, but my appetite in general is much smaller than it was just two weeks ago. My portion sizes meet my needs, now, instead of feeling like I’m wasting food by leaving it behind at a restaurant.

I spent the extra money on food to buy supplies for making chocolate-covered strawberries. I regret nothing. It was easy, elegant, and I really loved the look on my coworkers’ and friends’ faces when they tried my handiwork. I had so much memorable fun making and giving out those strawberries yesterday!

I bought a vegetable spiralizer that I’ve wanted for ages to make veggie noodles with, a double-boiler I went from not knowing how to use to using proficiently, and an egg poacher, because poaching eggs was stupid and I hated doing it the old-fashioned way.

I’m down a total of five pounds now, while literally eating sticks of butter (eggs benedict), sugar (peanut butter cookies and pudding), and anything else my heart desires. I’m not at all trying to lose weight, and it was never the goal of this project.

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My biggest accomplishment this week was learning to make things I hadn’t even dared to try before for fear of screwing them up or helplessness in where to start: macaroni and cheese, the strawberries, and a simple curry. While these things might not be a big deal to someone who cooks regularly, I literally had no idea where to start. I’ve been so disconnected from my food that I had no idea what ingredients (beyond the obvious) I might need. Taking these basic recipes, I hope to expand them into deeper, more complex tastes than I had the first time around.

The Cheerful Bouquet lasted 15 days before I bought a new one — this time, the Happiness Bouquet, which was four times as expensive and quite metaphoric to me. And, check out my new book for the table: Dressage for the Not-so-Perfect Horse, by Janet Fox.

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Chocolate-covered strawberries

When I drunkenly asked a coworker what I should bring to celebrate Benjamin Franklin’s birthday a week prior, I figured she’d ask for one of the store-bought cakes I usually buy, brownies, or cookies. Instead, she immediately popped out with “chocolate covered fruit!” in total excitement. I agreed, and decided I’d take up the challenge anyway. After all, I have mastered some new challenges already, and knew I’d have plenty of time to learn.

So I procrastinated until about five hours before work before even looking up a recipe. How in the world DO you make chocolate-covered strawberries, anyway? Was this going to be my first cheat at the spirit (but not the law) of restaurant abstinence, where I dip over to a local chocolaterie and beg them to expensively do it for me at the last minute? I didn’t even own a double-why-did-they-stack-the-pots(?).

Through patience, YouTube, Google, and about an hour of searching for the one double-boiler Bed Bath and Beyond does carry, I figured it out. As it turns out, dipping strawberries isn’t hard all.

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I emptied three 10oz bags of chocolate chips into the double boiler, and set that sucker to heat up on medium-high. While the chips melted, I washed the strawberries. One blogger advised that the strawberries needed to be very dry, and suddenly I found myself with wet strawberries and melted chocolate. Unsure whether that chocolate would get too hot or change consistency, I decided to go for drying them more quickly…with my blow dryer. What? It makes my hair dry faster, too. It was a stroke of kitchen-genius.

Just as I was blow-drying strawberries, my pal Chad arrived. We’d agreed to hang out, and he sacrificed his time to taste my strawberries. While I ate my real dinner, he even dipped about half of them and didn’t roll his eyes where I could see them when I showed him my picky, perfectionistic ways of dipping. Dip, let it run, tap the extra off on the sides, and turn it upside down before putting it on the parchment paper, okay?

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In a little less than an hour, we’d covered four pounds of strawberries in three-and-a-half pounds of chocolate. I just kept adding chocolate to the boiler until I’d finished all of the berries. Each parchment paper-covered cookie sheet sat in the fridge for about 15 minutes. For the white chocolate decorating, I bought Hershey’s vanilla chips, and heated about four ounces of them in a bowl in the microwave, stirring every 20 seconds until the stuff was molten. I used a fork to drizzle, quickly moving back and forth over the berries.

As we enjoyed tasting and talking, we popped open a bottle of wine. Despite my lack of posting about it here, I actually drink a fair amount of red wine — usually blends, merlots, cabs, and pinots. Because we’d had a terrible bottle of shitty red zinfandel aptly named “Poizon” before, I’d bought this bottle for us to drink this time:

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So here’s to Benjamin Franklin’s 309th birthday, and more hundred dollar bills in the coming year!