Foodie Tuesday: Without Chopsticks

I might be on a little bit of a tear with this deviled egg thing lately. Besides that the original concept of hard-boiled eggs with spicy ingredients and something creamy like mayonnaise added to their yolks are, well, devilishly delicious, the possible variations are nearly endless as well, and also exceedingly tasty. This treat can change nationalities and styles easily and frequently, according to preferences and the hunger of the moment.
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The other day, I had yet another urge for a deviled egg bite, and had some inclination to eat something at least vaguely Japanese as well. So that’s what I did. Both, that is.
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It was a refreshing menu.

I made coconut Basmati rice. Cooked in half coconut milk (my preferred brand, Chaokoh) and half coconut water (Amy & Brian Natural brand), it was topped with sliced and slivered almonds that I’d toasted with a touch of almond extract, some sesame seeds toasted in a spoonful of toasted sesame oil, some sweet little tiny, briny shrimp, and the deviled eggs in question. Those, I made with a creamy sushi-inspired filling.

I took the hard-cooked egg yolks and an equal amount of fresh avocado, nearly the same amount of Japanese wasabi mayonnaise, a hearty splash each of lime juice and tamari, and a handful of pickled sushi ginger, and blended them all together until creamy with my trusty stick blender. When I assembled these little goodies, it seemed only fair to crown them with a little ginger rosette each. I didn’t really have the skill to do it properly, but a curly bit of sushi gari tastes delectable regardless of whether it’s a perfect representation of a sweet little rose or not. I like to think I’m a bit like that myself, being slightly off kilter and messy in my way but well-meaning and amusing, and hey, sometimes even almost tasteful in my way.

Foodie Tuesday: The Great Truffle Kerfuffle

When the Sweet Tooth Siren calls, pay attention. A person could fade away and starve if candy isn’t handy when it’s required. So when I got that urge today, I knew that even though I wouldn’t get home until late-ish from the concert tonight, I had better think of some way to make some sweet happen. Fast.

I was thinking something truffle-like, because: chocolate. Also, because it’d be pretty easy if I didn’t get too complicated with it. So I jumped right on in.

What I did was this: I mixed about equal amounts of powdered cocoa and powdered peanuts and coconut oil (room temperature, solid) together into a thick paste. Then I added in a splash of almond extract, a dash of crunchy Maldon sea salt, and some dark maple syrup to taste, and this made a dense enough ‘dough’ to form into 1/2″ spheres. I rolled these heavily in flaked, toasted coconut. Most of this truffle mix went into the fridge for tomorrow and/or other, future candy emergencies. Some of it went pretty much straight into my mouth, conveniently enough.

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Trifling with truffles…

Because it was easy, and it tasted pretty darned good—not that it wouldn’t be equally tasty if I substituted the coconut with, say, sesame seeds or finely chopped nuts or minced preserved ginger, dried apricots or candied peel, or some additional chocolate, in dainty little chips. But no matter. What is essential is that I got my sugary fix in an appropriate hurry, and it pleased me.

And that, after all, is what was on order for the day.

Foodie Tuesday: Composed vs Composted

Many things that taste delicious don’t exactly look as dreamy as they are to eat. Of course, anyone who has eaten in a reasonable number of high-end dining establishments knows that what does look impressive may not live up to its pretensions sometimes, too. But it’s worth trying, at least when serving guests, to make the food look appetizing as well as tasting great, and if guests deserve the respect, why shouldn’t we give it to ourselves?photoWhen I’m cooking in my DIY (more accurately translated in food terms as ‘Dish It Yourself’) mode for varied appetites and needs, it limits what I can do in terms of presentation a little more than usual, but in some ways it can simplify it, too: as long as I’m not dealing with allergy, I can serve foods in proximity that I know not every one will want in the same mix or proportions. So ‘composed’ presentation and ‘deconstructed’ dishes can be a fine and fun way to create something that looks more attractive and inviting than if I go ahead and blend all of the meal’s parts before serving. Case in point: this quinoa concoction, which is basically a confetti-like mishmash if stirred all together before serving, whereas if I simply keep the ingredients a little more separate when plating it all up, suddenly it looks ever so much more like an artful arrangement and a come-hither dish–which is more in keeping with its being a pretty tasty collation, by my standards. So yes, I did even make the pretty composed version when I was the only person showing up at the table. I really do like me that much.photoStrawberry Quinoa Salad

The ingredients for this are quite simple and, as I prefer, completely flexible in terms of trading items in or out of the group and setting the proportions. In this instance, I used the following combination: quinoa cooked in bone broth, sliced ripe strawberries, butter toasted sliced almonds, cubed fresh mozzarella, diced yellow tomato, and minced fresh basil and mint leaves. I kept it all at room temperature and dressed it with my balsamic mint vinaigrette (balsamic vinegar, melted mint jelly, a spoonful of pureed fresh cilantro leaves, and macadamia nut oil blended to taste) and a pinch of crunchy Maldon sea salt, and all together, it was Just Right. And pretty, too. Still and all, when I ate the other half of the salad the next day after having stirred it all together, it was just as good to eat. Guess I’m not too hung up on appearances after all.

Foodie Tuesday: More Sugary Bits

Sweets needn’t be hard to prepare. They’re so easy to eat, it’s only fair that they should also be easy to fix or you’ll undoubtedly end up feeling a little desperate between times. Why risk it?

Especially nice if the treats can require no baking or be super-simple to mix and prep before popping into the oven–like these two:photoChocolate Handy Candy

Combine an assortment of the following ingredients into a dense dough, roll into golf ball shapes or squeeze into similar sized blobs, and chill. Before serving, coat in powdered sugar or cocoa powder; mix in some ground spice if you like.

Melted chocolate (I like to use dark chocolate that I buy in bars)

Coconut oil and/or butter, melted

Pinch of salt (crunchy is usually my favorite)

Flavorings (try ginger with black pepper, mint and dried apple pieces, toasted coconut and rosewater, or toasted sesame seeds and almond bits and a pinch of cloves)

Chopped candied peel or crushed freeze-dried fruit

Crushed potato chips or pretzels or chopped nuts (toasted and salted or spiced/candied)

Once you’ve formed these, refrigerate them, and serve them cold. Easy to make and just as easy to like.

And not long ago I came across another ridiculously simple sweet fix. Nutella cookies. If you don’t already know what Nutella is, you need more help than just an easy recipe to make with the stuff. Possibly a term of Nutella Therapy hospitalization. Ooh, can I have that? I have, thankfully, found some pretty good no-name generic copycat versions of it, so if the real stuff isn’t available in an emergency I needn’t panic. But really, it’d be hard to go wrong with the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.

The recipe in question is so uncomplicated as to be hard to classify as a recipe at all, but I proved it does require a tad of technical specificity, so it’s not quite the throw-and-go ease of the first item here. Still, easy. And oh so sweet. And once again, tweak-worthy. The general gist of this combination is popular, if not prevalent, online, to the degree that it’d be a serious magic trick to track down the original author. If any of you know who developed this I’d be delighted to know!photoImpossibly Possible Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

1 cup flour (I used gluten-free flour mix) + 1 cup Nutella (or substitute) + 1 egg = dough. Makes a dense dough that’s not hard to mix quickly with your bare hands. Form the dough into a log (about 2″ or 5 cm in diameter) with flattened ends and slice it into 24 pieces. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (177ºC) for approximately 6 minutes. My usual issue of owning an overactive oven made my first attempt bake too quickly, scorching them slightly.

That, however, gave me the excuse to play with spice and start thinking of a number of other ways I might happily vary the treat. Version 2 was also easy; all I did was make the cookies as prescribed (while lowering the oven temp significantly, thankyouverymuch) and as I placed the slices on the baking sheet, I sprinkled over them a mixture of copper-colored edible glitter for visual interest and sweet-hot curry powder for additional flavor. Went over nicely with guests, and I found it quite enjoyable.photoFor future versions, I’m thinking of a number of possible enhancements to this delightfully easy cookie dream. I know that it’s also possible to substitute peanut butter and sugar for the Nutella and flour, and I assume one could just as easily use other nut butters. But there are a zillion ways I might play with the existing combination too. Roll the log of dough in finely chopped toasted hazelnuts before slicing into cookies. Add a splash of rum or rum flavoring. Add the finely grated zest of a large orange or a couple of small mandarins; add minced candied peel or ginger to the zested dough. Ice the cookies with a glaze made of pure cherry juice and powdered sugar. Skip the flour and egg and stick the big spoon loaded with Nutella directly in your mouth. Okay, that last one’s not exactly a recipe either, unless you want to call it a recipe for disastrous health, but it’s still probably worth a try. Because it’s sweet, and it’s simple. And when I have a crazy hankering for a bit of dessert in a big hurry, that’s a very fine thing.

If It’s Wednesday, This Must be Foodie Tuesday Deja Vu

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Why, yes, if you are a fresh berry. Those sweet little nuggets of juicy goodness are the very epitome of summertime’s joys, and the longer we can extend the berry adventure by means of preserved, frozen or baked goods, the merrier. I’ve already rhapsodized about my mother’s justly famed raspberry pie (the mystic quality of her ethereal pie crusts a deservedly notable part of the equation, in the interest of full disclosure), and she made many a jar of equally brilliant raspberry jam over her wildly productive years of canning and preserving. I will never be her equal in either of these arts.photo

I do, however, have enough fondness for some berries that I will gladly binge on them while their season lasts, and far beyond, in whatever forms are available, because I can practically feel the vitamins rushing into my cells when I do, and more importantly, because they taste so fabulous and are such great utility players on Team Food. On their own, they are magnificent and refreshing. In salads, a divine break from any leanings toward excess of greens. Think, for example, of a marvelous mix of butter lettuce, Romaine, toasted sliced almonds, shavings of fine Reggiano cheese and a generous handful of raspberries all happily commingling with a light creamy fresh thyme dressing. Transcendent! Fruit salad melanges practically insist on having a handful of berries gracing them when the season is right. And I’m told by those who eat blueberries that no berry surpasses them for muffin or pancake making. Me, I’ll gladly stick with Swedish pancakes piled up with whipped cream and fresh strawberries when it comes to the breakfast berry-ations. And of course there are endless possibilities in the universe of fruit smoothies when it comes to berries, whether you’re in the camp that must strain out the seeds or among those who appreciate the fiber therein.

And don’t get me started about desserts! The natural affinity fruit has for sweet foods is showcased wonderfully in so many after-dinner or coffee-time treats that a mere post could hardly suffice to even skim the list. But some goodies do come immediately to mind: strawberries dipped in chocolate; cloudberry cream, as I learned to love it when prepared in the seconds-long fresh season by my brother-in-law’s late mother; blackberry tapioca pudding. Pies, tarts, and crumbles, oh my. A heap of berries and a gentle sluicing of vanilla custard atop a slice of toasted pound cake. Honestly, few ways to go awry.

Still, the berry, with its pristine, bright, zingy flavor, and the hints of sweetness underlying it, makes a superb foil for savory dishes too, not least of all meats and seafoods. One of those ways to slip berry-liciousness into the main dish is to pool any of the multitude of possible berry-enhanced sauces and purees under, over or alongside a portion of entrée. I’m fond of Beurres Rouges ou Blancs made with wine, butter and berries cooked down to dense, flavorful stupendousness. Hard to argue with, say, a blackberry-Cabernet sauce served with lamb or duck, and I can only imagine that a dry, red-fruity Rosé would pair gracefully in such a sauce with raspberries or, dare I say it, salmonberries, to accompany a roasted filet of salmon or breast of pheasant or grilled chicken. Champagne Beurre Blanc is hard to resist with shellfish; why not top that with roasted strawberries and a quick grind of black pepper?

As you can see, what happens when I get the mere image of a berry into my tiny brain is that it plants the seeds for extensive food fantasizing. And that is hardly a bad thing, my friends. Bury me in berries. I could do much worse.

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Foodie Tuesday: Getting a Menu Transplant

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Sticking to my ribs, yes, but maybe with the barbecue sauce twisted into a (Southern) peach chutney style to suit the Basmati rice alongside . . .

It’s not what it used to be, moving to a different place. The world is so much smaller than it once was! We talk via computer and cell phone as though we were sitting right next to each other–and sometimes when we’re sitting next to each other. Language and culture and history are all getting a good mash-up in this shrinking world where we live.

One genuinely wonderful aspect of this not-entirely-perfect scenario of homogenization is that we have access to so much that was once unreachable to everyone but the most extremely far-flung intrepid explorers and have commonalities that our ancestors could never have dreamed remotely possible. Not least of all, we can indulge in the joys of cuisines and ingredients from places we can’t even pronounce, let alone afford to visit.

Most of these regional, national, racial, cultural treasures, by virtue of being intermingled with and sampled by so many others to such a degree that sometimes it seems something learned from the Chinese by the Dutch traders and then passed along to their colonial outposts in the south seas, who in turn brought it along when they immigrated to North America, well, these ideas and arts and recipes have been so transformed along the way that they, like the initial message in the old game of Telephone, are utterly new inventions by the time the Chinese ever experience them again. And yet, in a happy twist, we who create and share the first iteration often fall in love with it and repeat and refine it until it becomes part of who we are, so it’s not wholly lost in the translation, either.

For someone who grew up in one part of the vast American patchwork of a country and experienced East Coast specialties, Southern cooking, Midwest traditions, and Southwest cuisine as being no less foreign in their ways to my Northwestern experience and palate, it’s always been a pleasurable study to try out the fabled deliciousness of Other Places. So while I’ve long loved Chinese and Dutch and Polynesian and Italian and German and Thai and Indian and North African foods of various kinds, it’s no less exotic and thrilling and delicious to sample the comestible culture of different regions of my own homeland.

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Fajitas today, quiche tomorrow . . .

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. . . but you only have to switch from a Coronita to a Trappist ale to suit the occasion, right?

Still, it’s been an entertaining and tasty part of the adventure of moving from Washington state to Texas that I’m experiencing Tex-Mex and Southern and cowboy cuisines in places of their origins and that’s mighty rich learning and dining, too. So I’m more than happy to indulge in all of those special items here anytime I can. But you know me, y’all: rarely do I go into the kitchen without bringing my own machinations and deviations to the party, so I am more than likely to emerge bearing platters and bowls filled not only with classic Texan foods but also with Texan foods as filtered through Washingtonian hands, perhaps with a hint of Chinese cookery here, Dutch baking there, Polynesia and Italy and Germany and Thailand and India and North Africa and all of my other palatable favorites making inroads and appearances whenever I see fit.

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A Texas-sized pork chop can also be cooked sous-vide, even if it’s getting classic Southern sides like bacon-sauteed sweet corn and coleslaw . . .

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. . . and if you want to shake things up a little in a more cosmopolitan way, you can always make the slaw a variant of Waldorf Salad while you’re at it by adding chopped apples and celery and sliced almonds . . .

Foodie Tuesday: From GM to GF without Prejudice

photoYou know I’m not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan, nor do I on a regular basis obey or enforce any dietary edicts in my kitchen regarding the consumption of meats, fish, dairy, eggs, or practically anything else in the edible universe. But since I do respect the lives, health and right to believe what they believe about foods that other people have–even if the belief is patently ridiculous, like one that would, say, eat anything but my cooking (okay, there may be fine reasons for that one, too, come to think of it)–well, it means that I do think about what I eat. Surprising though that may be to anyone who has seen me hunched over my food like a half-starved grizzly just because I like it so much. Aside from the notion that I don’t mind being associated with a creature bearing (please bear with me) the wonderfully mellifluous and magical name of Ursus arctos horribilis, I can’t really make that claim. My body does express its likes and dislikes more clearly as I age.

This means that despite my blissful youth of eating every triple-scoop of ice cream that appeared before my glistening eyes without experiencing a noticeable twinge on my elastic waistband, I now find myself questioning whether a single scoop ‘every so often’ might threaten me with an equal and opposite seismic event should I waver too close to any fragile chairs or ice-covered ponds. That a stick of butter should probably no longer be considered an after-school snack. (Well, I thought about it, I’m sure.) Maybe even that the dreaded concept of Portion Control might in fact be a useful, if not lifesaving, one, particularly when applied to foods with calorie counts exceeding the sum total of my age, my IQ, plus my life savings in number. I’ll leave you to contemplate which of these numbers alone is the highest or lowest. And don’t tell me your conclusions, thank you.

Meanwhile, back in my kitchen, I stand contemplating yet another set of conundrums. I’m not convinced that a dramatic decrease in my intake of genetically modified foods is going to wildly affect my remaining lifespan or health, unless foods marked GM are in fact made by General Motors as engine lubricants and exhaust system cleaners. I’ll leave it to the more medically fragile and environmentally astute to deal with those concerns if I must. But I certainly think that if I have a reasonable choice between things grown with or without gene alteration and chemical additives and other forms of production hocus-pocus, I’ll opt for the less adulterated versions. And my gut tells me (this, more literally than might be delicate for full discussion here; suffice to say that I’m talking about both digestion and the expansion of my middle acreage) that wheat is not entirely my friend anymore, if it ever was. This is expressed primarily in a recognition that most of the wheat-based eating I have most loved over the years is also full of (mostly processed) sugar and rather high in not-so-nutritious calories and is therefore wonderfully addictive to me. I just plain eat more of what’s less good for me because it creates further cravings.

Well, let’s get to the cheerier part of this equation, at long last. Dessert again, if you will.photo

I’m gradually working to go gluten-free, or approach it more closely than I ever have before anyway, to see what cutting down on wheat or just plain cutting it out of the diet might do to simplify this one aspect of my food-related health and happiness. I’m learning to work with a number of ingredients that fill most wheat gaps in my taste, and I’m finding new stuff to like. Or is that bad? New foods to like, when I’m so ancient that I can’t just eat willy-nilly and know that there will be no consequences?photo

Here’s a simple little dinner that arose out of the experiment just recently. Small, tender (erm, check out the torn one, damaged by soft pieces of cheese) crepes made of egg, water, a touch of vanilla and a pinch of salt, folded over an uncomplicated filling of cubed roasted chicken warmed with sautéed celery and red capiscum and a whole lot of sliced brown mushrooms, all seasoned lightly with the bacon fat and butter in which they were mingled, a splash of broth, a freckling of black pepper, and a dash of Worcestershire. My beloved dinner companion was not desirous of anything further in his, so mine was the only crepe that had the queso fresco added. I think it works pretty decently either way.photo

For another easy little breath of fresh air besides merely leaving the little bit of flour out of the crepe mix, I varied our frequent-flying slaw addendum to try out a slightly different salad. Thinly sliced celery, shredded carrots and sliced almonds. A spoonful of ginger preserves, the juice of half a lime, and a couple of tablespoons of macadamia nut oil. Crunchy and clean and fresh, and a strong contrast to the soft textures and savory warmth of the crepes.photo

I’m not sure of it, but I think perhaps the meal was satisfying enough that it removed one iota of my natural craving for an actual dessert to follow it immediately. One iota, mind you. I can still envy those who can eat all the floury goodies they want without serious guilt or consequence. But there will be dessert. Many and many a time to come. It’s just that the desserts will be smaller than a triple scoop of yummy scrummy ice cream. And contain lots less wheat, I’m guessing. We’ll just see how all of this goes.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Greenglorious

photoHow ’bout a vegetarian lunch? Whaaaat, me, sharp-fanged old carnivore that I am? Really? Oh, yes, my friends, sometimes the vegetarian route, even in my greasy old meatatarian hands, leads to a fine meal indeed. As an eater, I can always latch onto that old saying ‘I’m just happy to be here’. Whatever goodness is on offer.

Vegetarian meals, particularly in summertime, can be marvelously easy to prepare and not get me horribly overheated when I am fighting off the internal flames already. Let me be honest, my dearies, I am over fifty, a prodigy of sorts who got the great gift of hot flashes starting at the ripe young age of forty, so cookery that doesn’t require a whole lot of, well, cooking is a generally welcome thing these days. So, darlings, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Salad. That’s always an easy start. So keep it easy. Romaine lettuce, diced ripe pear. Sliced almonds, white and black sesame seeds. A touch of lemon juice. Couple of spoons full of the pickling liquid from sushi ginger, a lick of Persian lime olive oil and a jot of toasted sesame oil. Fresh, fast, cooling, nice.photo

Not that I’m opposed to heated stuff. After all, the physiological truth is that eating and drinking warm treats is pretty good at starting the body’s cooling mechanisms to work. Cool! Really! So this time around, I went with one of those dishes that are basic throw-and-go foods. Oven roasted cauliflower, fine; oven roasted me: too much of a good thing. So in a lightly oiled casserole I put a couple of cups of broken cauliflower florets, straight from the freezer (not previously cooked), tossed on a few teaspoons of cold browned butter, a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts, a handful of brown mustard seeds, and a quarter cup or so of shredded Parmesan cheese. Into the cold oven it all went at 350°F, covered for the first fifteen minutes and then uncovered until browned, and lastly left covered again at table to keep steaming while the rest of the meal got set.photo

The rest included some good gluten-free crackers to spread with almond butter and peach chutney, a few of my homemade sesame crackers and smoked almonds, and some cornichons and pickled lotus for a touch further of pizzazz. My favorite part of the meal–not a huge surprise in this hot summertime, I suppose–happened to be the day’s beverage. I put a cup each of peeled and seeded cucumber pieces, chopped fresh celery, cubed honeydew melon and fresh mint leaves into the blender with about a pint of water and the juice of a whole lime and a tablespoon or two of raw honey, gave it all a thorough smash-up, and then strained it. When I drank the blended juices straight up, that was lovely, so if you want your zing without cane sugar or effervescence, just leave out added pop. I’d chilled it that way a couple of days before, but to serve it, I combined it with equal amounts of cucumber soda (Mr. Q Cumber, yummy stuff), and it made a good, refreshing accompaniment to the rest of the meal.

Best accompaniment, of course, is always the good companionship of a fine fellow eater at the table. Yes, thanks, this was a delicious day.photo

Foodie Tuesday: Meatless had Better Not be Tasteless

 

photoJust because I am generally an unregenerate carnivore, that does not make me averse to vegetarian delights. I am not so silly as that, really, my dears! It’s still very much about great flavor and appetite fulfillment, is it not? Oh–and that glorious connectivity that occurs at table between friends and loved ones, of course. Of course. Sitting and watching the dragonflies and wood wasps and butterflies tumble through the air outside the kitchen window, and the occasional marvel of a buzzing hummingbird or flashy scarlet cardinal.photoBut those non-meaty treats for eating, they beckon too. Oh, yes they do. As long as they’re loaded with flavor, texture, deliciousness and appeal of their own kinds. It’s not too much to ask. For a simple example, let’s consider having a few crackers or pieces of flatbread to dip in a bowl of easily made eggplant spread. When my girlfriend joined me for lunch, I made it the easiest way possible: I took a jar of roasted eggplant (nothing but salt and a little citric acid, for preservative, added in processing), tossed it in the blender with a good dose each of cumin and smoked paprika, topped it in the bowl with some Thai fried shallots, and we dug in to our lunch. A sort of Baba Ghannouj 2.0, perhaps.photoThe other dish of the day was supremely easy, too. Warm quinoa salad. Quinoa, to begin, naturally. A nutty, crunchy salad, because I wanted lots of texture. Sliced almonds, black and white sesame seeds. And I wanted something fresh and summery in it, and a little chew to complement the toothiness of the quinoa and contrast with the nuts’ crunch. For the latter, small pieces of queso blanco. Too mild for you? Some snappier feta or goat cheese would do it nicely. But I did brighten it up for that summery aspect. Chopped navel orange, some zest from it; juice, too, along with a little lime juice. A bit of Persian Lime olive oil, a little salt and pepper. I certainly could have added lots of possible further tweaks, as could you, my friends: fresh mint, fresh or pickled ginger, toasted pine nuts, dried apricots or figs; preserved lemon, rice vinegar; toasted coconut; chopped fresh tomatoes or cucumber. No matter how composed, very edible. No fuss, lots of taste. Oh, and no meat. Purely coincidental? Karma? Or just good eating? I know where my own inclinations lead. Oh, yessiree, now hurry up and hand over a fork, please.photo

Don’t Worry about Eating Up Your Time If It Means Good Eating After All

photoYesterday was rather long. Heck, it stretched right into today. But that, as you all know, is not inherently a bad thing. I would never begin to compare a day’s labor in the midst of my remarkably comfortable life with one in the farm fields, in the classroom, the clinic, office, or certainly in thoughtfully and lovingly caring for children, parents, friends–one’s own or others’. And when the goal of the work is hospitable and happy, why then so should the work be also. As it was. So, long story short, a long day can end in feeling short enough!

That, after all, is what makes anything resembling hospitality happen. If it’s done wearily or begrudgingly it’s bound to show. Even I, in my natural state of obliviousness, can generally tell from the other side of the table whether the hosts’ smiles are forced or genuine, whether the invitation was obligatory or willingly made. I credit myself with enough savvy to be able to differentiate between a relaxed conversation with a friend on the porch and her frantic attempt to make a life-saving dash for her car. And to my knowledge, I have never failed to find something that everyone in attendance could and would eat or drink on any given occasion. It demands a small amount of forethought, but then the pleasures of good company would be ever so much lessened by, say, a case of anaphylactic shock brought on by a stray peanut or an understandable case of high dudgeon induced by serving a roast of bacon-wrapped pork loin to my orthodox Jewish friends or a traditional but utterly inappropriate Asian feast of glazed short ribs and chicken feet when a vegan comes to call. A simple inquiry beforehand can put off any number of embarrassments.

It can’t, however, protect me perfectly from serving things that some among a larger group won’t love. That’s yet another reason that it’s helpful to offer a wider assortment of things in smaller quantities, when I can. No one has to feel any obligation to try everything, nor should they be forced to choose between only two or three things that are all less than favorites or just go hungry and thirsty when everyone else in the room is happily munching and sipping away. Thus, knowing we were all going to be either performing or hearing some beautiful Spanish music, I was rescued by the easy outlet of serving a tapas-style array of food and drink. I’ve already admitted that authenticity of product was less a factor in this party than simply being inspired by the notion, so when I tell you what I served I hope you’ll be as cheerfully accommodating as our guests were.photo

Almonds: Marcona almonds (those lovely little fat Spanish almonds), served simply as toasted in olive oil with a little sea salt; sticky, spicy-sweet almonds that I glazed in a pan with honey thinned with extra dry sherry, salt, cracked black pepper and lots of cinnamon; and savory almonds that I toasted in blood orange olive oil with fresh rosemary and alder smoked salt.photo

Celery sticks, plain as plain can be, because someone nearly always longs for the very simple and fresh among the more complex tastings of a snacking party.

Mango-Manchego bites: Tasty as it is, I had no membrillo handy to serve with cheese, so I wrapped cubes of Manchego in narrow strips of mango fruit leather. That turned out to be a fairly popular move, and it was certainly easy enough to assemble each with a toothpick, so I’ll keep it in mind for the future.

Marinated treats: Spanish olives–I just took a batch of the standard grocery store pimiento stuffed green olives, drained them of their brine and replaced it with dry Sherry and extra virgin olive oil; Marinated mushrooms–I bathed some sliced medium-large cremini mushrooms in a simple vinaigrette dressing of balsamic vinegar, red wine, olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.photo

Chorizo-Date bites: Again, simple as can be–dry-aged chorizo, casings removed and meat cut into small pieces, and each piece speared on a toothpick with a cap made from a quarter of a sweet Medjool date.photo

Papas Bravas: My version of the popular spicy potato bites–dice scrubbed, skin-on russet potatoes into about 1 inch cubes, toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, smoked paprika and chili powder, spread them out in a greased baking pan, and brown them in a medium oven.photo

Fig Bread: I didn’t have any fig bread handy, but I did have a batch of my nut-and-seed bars in the freezer, and I did after all have some figs in this batch–so I whizzed them up in the food processor (and crumbled the recalcitrant harder-frozen bits by hand), melted a bar and a half of white chocolate I had around with a heaping tablespoon or two of cocoa powder and a spoonful of instant coffee and a pat of butter, stirred that in to the crumbs, and chilled it all, patted flat, in the fridge until it was solid enough to cut into cubes. I rolled the cubes in a mixture of powdered sugar and cinnamon to keep them from stickiness.photo

Drinks: I had other things around, but what ended up getting used was mighty easy, and I got the impression that no singer left un-slaked. Besides store-bought limeade (the plain lime juice and cane sugar and water kind) and water, I had a cooler of beer and a big pot of Sangría. That was it. The Sangría, always an ad-hoc concoction in my house, was a mixture of hearty red and sweet white wines, homemade orange liqueur (made some months ago with vodka from home-candied mandarin peels, fresh mandarin + lemon + lime juices, and dried coconut and brown sugar for the sweetening), a small bottle of Mexican green apple soda, a small bottle of green apple hard cider, a tin of sliced peaches canned in fruit juice, a pint of sliced fresh strawberries and a pint of frozen blackberries. All I can say about my Sangría methodology is it’s very much a matter of combining what I have on hand at the moment with what I’m in the mood for on the occasion, the liquid equivalent, I suppose, of my casseroles.photoThe happy conclusion to the story is of course that, whatever I prepare (or don’t), it’s all about the company we keep, and my partner and I are pretty good at surrounding ourselves with outstanding people. So, was the food good? Good enough! The drinks? Wet enough! The company? Outstanding. The party? Just exactly right.