This past Saturday, my hot gf spent the day prepping food for her dad’s surprise 60th birthday celebration. Although his birthday isn’t until January 28th, no one’s schedules aligned so we heightened the surprise by showing up to his house unexpected 11 days early. I thoroughly enjoy going to his place regardless of what day it is because he and his wife love to cook and will literally feed me all day. I remember my first time there they brought out appetizers and fancy cocktails at 1pm and we didn’t stop eating until about 9 hours later. Just plate, after plate, after plate. His daughter’s culinary obsession quickly became less of a surprise to me.
After doing a morning session of Bikram yoga, I proudly laid on my hot gf’s couch like a lump. “I’m going to start making my meatballs,” she informed me while opening the fridge.
“Mmm,” I responded without looking up from my computer.
“Yes, my balls of meat,” she reiterated.
“Mmm,” I repeated. After a few minutes, I looked up. “Is it picture time yet?” I asked.
“It’s raw meat in a bowl. It’s not really that attractive,” she retorted. Instead, she suggested I brew beer with the kit her sister got me for Christmas. In a lazy mood, I preferred not to do anything. I actually wanted to go to Atlantic City. I have had an itch to play poker lately, and all the time.
Chef’s Note: The boyfriend didn’t mention that I had already whipped up my kale artichoke dip by this point. Anyway, I was experimenting with meatballs today. I wanted to make something bite size and different – not the traditional Italian meatball. I decided to make one from a combination of turkey and pork, paired with a rich sweet and spicy sauce. If you have ever watched Barefoot Contessa, Ina will tell you never to serve a dish to company if you are making it for the first time. But I didn’t listen; I trust myself and my cooking enough to know these would turn out well. They are easy and flavorful, a perfect appetizer.
“What could beer brewing entail?” I wondered. “Pouring ingredients together and letting it sit?” I texted my buddy who happened to be brewing beer at that very moment (the perks of alcoholic friends), and he explained to me that there is a lot of cleaning involved. I wasn’t really sure what this meant, but it was enough to convince me otherwise. I resolved to only drink beer all day.
Chef’s Note: The boyfriend doesn’t always listen to me. I actually said he should make the beer on Sunday while football is on. Instead he decided to act on the AC itch he has had, so the beer will be done on another weekend. Don’t worry though – we will definitely write and photograph the event.
During my internal debate, my hot gf walked up with a plate and fork in a half-eaten meatball soaked in an amber brown sauce. She asked me to try a bite. I responded by doing so before she could finish the question. Then she asked me if it was good. I asked her if she had taste buds. As she began walking out, she commanded me to get up and take some pictures.
While photographing the meatballs simmering in the pot of sauce, she shoved a jar of jam in front of my face: “See, I used the Vermont jam!” Last week, we went skiing. On our way home we made an essential pit stop at this breakfast joint I love called “Sugar and Spice”. If not for the mountains, their pancakes are reason enough to go to Vermont. The restaurant also has a gift shop, so when I offered to cover breakfast she had a heyday picking out extra things to go on my credit card. In addition to the essential maple syrup and cheddar cheese, this homemade jam was another item she added. At first I cringed when our bill jumped from $25 to $65, but didn’t really care considering she saved me $75 by not skiing a second day so we could watch the Packers game. Oh, and because I love her and she cooks for me all the time.
Chef’s Note: I love buying local products when we travel. The jam was a perfect addition to this recipe; it was sweet but spicy because of the ginger. I wish I bought more. I guess we will be going back to Vermont!
On our way to her dad’s, we had to stop at the nearby gourmet grocery store to pick up some catered appetizers his wife had secretly ordered. We were also meeting her uncle there to ensure we all arrived to the house together. The store’s name is “The Market Place” and I am obsessed with it. I insist on stopping in every time we go to his house. They sell ice cream from this local stand called “Cliff’s” that it is out of this world and I always buy a quart against my hot gf’s wishes. They also have a huge selection of microbrews so I purchase some weird, crazy expensive beer too. Mainly I just go to taste all the samples they put out.
We got to the store 20 minutes earlier than her uncle, so I spent the whole time munching on every bourbon glazed nut they had available while waiting for my hot gf and her sister to pay for the appetizers. The store was about to close and I wandered around disappointed that the dips and spreads table I usually beeline to had already been cleaned up. But my dissatisfaction was short-lived as I soon came face-to-face with the holy grail of sampling: a wine-tasting machine. There before my eyes stood a long glass panel display bordered in steel trim that housed 10 different, equally-spaced bottles of wine, each with a respective shiny nozzle protruding out below that would dispense their contents at the press of a little black button. It’s not everyday you see one of these in a grocery store. I had to do a double take because I almost walked right by it.
“How could I have missed this all the other times I had been here? It must be new!” I thought. Like a kid who could barely contain his excitement on Christmas morning, I waved the girls over whispering, “C’mon! Let’s try them all!” and filled three tiny plastic cups as high as they would go. “Oh! Chianti. Niiice,” I murmured right after gulping down a Cabernet Sauvignon. I could feel the cashier’s glaring resentment from across the store. Unbeknownst to me, the appetizers had been paid for and were at her register ready to go. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked my hot gf.
“I thought you knew?” she replied. I’m pretty sure she just didn’t want to wait in my car. I didn’t mind as clearly I was enjoying the wine. We picked up the platters and walked out to my car. Minutes later, her uncle rolled up next to us in the vacant parking lot. It felt like some undercover mafia meeting. I rolled my window down as he approached.
“You got the stuff?” I asked.
He handed me a brown paper bag and we opened it to reveal party hats, noise blowers, and confetti poppers. We all started laughing. “Nice work,” I responded. We proceeded to follow him to her dad’s house. When we got there, we parked on the street away from his driveway to ensure we wouldn’t blow our cover. Then we all put on our party hats and approached the front door. We carefully coordinated ourselves on the icy doorsteps–noise blowers pressed to our lips, confetti poppers in hand–and rang the bell. Moments later, her dad answered and we let out a somewhat resounding “surprise!” halted by our urgency to get out of the cold. By the look on his face you could tell he was dumbfounded, and his response of, “What are you doing here?” further substantiated this.
Shortly after we were all inside, he announced, “I don’t have enough food to feed you!” Little did he know, in my trunk we had trays of antipasto, fried ravioli, and salad, along with sweet and spicy meatballs, kale-artichoke dip and homemade pita chips made by his lovely daughters. Not too mention a smorgasbord of homemade desserts made by everyone other than me. But I did bring some ice cream that I wasn’t willing to share.
It wasn’t long before I had eaten roughly 14 meatballs, 15 dip-engulfed chips, 6 fried raviolis, an insurmountable quantity of cheese and salami, and several handfuls of these amazing rosemary-seasoned mixed nuts her dad and his wife make, when I started to wonder how I was going to fit dinner. After bringing out a chopped salad, her dad began kneading some pizza dough, whereupon his wife expressed concern that 2 pies wouldn’t be enough.
As tempting as an additional arugula-ricotta pie sounded, I abashedly voiced my opinion that one pepperoni and another caramelized onion, gruyere, and bacon might be sufficient, especially if they wanted me to fit 4 desserts. It turned out to be, while still allowing my stomach enough room for a Boston cream cupcake, slice of 3-cheese tart with a chocolate crust, peanut butter cookie, and spoonful of banana pudding trifle for dessert.
Her dad’s wife is an exceptional cook all around and made the banana pudding trifle. I’ve never had this before and loved it. For pudding, it was fairly light and creamy, kind of like a mousse. Her sister made the peanut butter cookies and they were awesome. Slightly crunchy on the outside, soft and crumbly on the inside.
Her uncle is a PHENOMENAL baker. He used to bake on the side for friends and got so overwhelmed by the requests he’s now limited his duties to his family. This chocolate crusted cheese tart exceeded my expectations. It reminded me of a cheese cake, except less dense and not as sweet. Eventually he will be the subject of a spin-off blog that details his baking abilities: mygayunclebakes.com.
Normally we refer to Allison’s uncle for our cupcake occasion needs, but since he volunteered to do the cheese tart, her friend Leesa helped us out. When he saw the cupcakes she made, I think I sensed a hint of jealousy. She did a fantastic job incorporating his three favorite sports teams (the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, and Green Bay Packers), as you can see in these beautifully-designed and delectable Boston cream cupcakes.
Chef’s Note: If anyone is interested in any of the recipes, contact us and we will get them for you!
When the overconsumption finally came to an end, I laid back on the couch strumming an old, rusty-stringed acoustic guitar her dad has while sipping a coffee spiked with RumChata. As he opened gifts, I fumbled through a few chords of Led Zeppelin songs I barely know how to play. At one point he recognized my butchered rendition of “Over the Hills and Far Away” and it made me proud. Even though he’s twice my age, we both appreciate good food, good music, and good company. Little did he know, the ice cream flavor I picked up was called “Minty Mountain Hop”–some things are best appreciated by oneself!
Sweet 'n Spicy Meatballs
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer
Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 40 minutes
- 1/2 lb. each lean turkey and pork
- 1 small piece of yellow onion (about a quarter of one large), finely chopped
- 1 large garlic clove finely chopped
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I prefer plain for this recipe)
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- pinch of cinnamon
- pinch of cayenne
- pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1 tbsp parsley finely chopped
- 1 tsp rosemary finely chopped
- salt, freshly ground pepper
-Preheat oven to 350.
-Chop onion, garlic, parsley, rosemary.
- Meatballs: In a large bowl add all ingredients and mix until combined. If the mixture is too wet add some more breadcrumbs. If it is too dry add 1 more egg. It is okay if the mixture is on the drier side as they will soak up the delicious sauce you are about to make.
- On a greased baking sheet form meat mixture into balls, about 1-2 inches wide.
- Cook meatballs for 13 minutes, turning once after 7 minutes. Yes, this timing is exact! However, your oven might be different. You want to turn them when they are browned on one side. They are small and will be cooked all the way, but even if they aren’t they will finish in the sauce. Set aside and start on the sauce.
Sweet 'N Spicy Sauce
- 1/2 yellow onion finely chopped
- 2 tsp rosemary finely chopped
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp hot sauce
- 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
- *4 tbsp peach ginger jam
- 3 tsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp butter
- 3/4 cup water
- salt, freshly ground pepper
-Chop onion and rosemary.
- In a medium saucepan cook onion in butter on medium heat for about 5 minutes until onion softens. About 4 minutes in add rosemary.
- Turn off the heat and add the remaining ingredients - molasses, brown sugar, hot sauce, rice wine vinegar, peach ginger jam, soy sauce, water, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
- **Cook until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce until it is smooth.
- Turn the heat back onto low and add in the meatballs. Continue cooking about 15 minutes until the sauce thickens, reduced slightly, and coats the meatballs.
*If you were not just at Sugar and Spice in Vermont and do not have this jam don’t worry - I recommend using a peach jam and then adding a couple of teaspoons of freshly grated ginger to the sauce.
**You can also transfer the sauce to a regular blender.