Eating with the Armstrongs

You know those people who are just comforting and refreshing? Being with them is easy, a breath of fresh air? This week we’ve spent time with two different couples who bring us so much life.

One of those couples is my parents who visited for the weekend from Dallas. We laughed, we shared deep conversation, we ate, we worked in the yard, and overall we just relished in each other’s company. My parents are two of the world’s best.

It also comes in handy that they enjoy yard work (or at least we say they do) because Matthew & my dad picked up 23 massive bags of leaves and my mom and I planted some flowers and ferns in a garden bed that needed some love.

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The other couple is a husband and wife from church that we are just getting to know but who are two amazing people. I told them tonight that they need to name their house “the refuge” or “the haven” because every time we go, that’s just how we feel. And I really need to tell you the menu of the dinner they prepared because it was divine: steak, homemade challah bread, grilled avocado, grilled portobello mushrooms, roasted potatoes and a spinach and feta salad. Now that was glorious enough, but dessert was over the top: homemade strawberry pop tarts with homemade vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The pop tarts were flaky and buttery and the vanilla ice cream was sweet and perfect.

But even more refreshing than the food was the conversation. Conversation is an art form and tonight it was woven together with strands of good question asking and stories and life-stirring wisdom.

Who in your life do you need to set the table for, think of some good questions, and invite over for an evening of refreshment? It doesn’t have to be fancy or as gourmet as last night, just thoughtful and genuine. Here are some recipes we’ve enjoyed lately to help you plan:

Black Bean & Quinoa Enchilada Bake from Two Peas & Their Pod
A yummy & healthy tex-mex inspired casserole. You really won’t miss the meat but you could easily add some cooked chopped chicken or cooked ground beef to make it heartier.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Our Best Bites
No butter and no wheat! These cookies are sweet and decadent with just a couple of ingredients.

Scrambled eggs with Smoked Salmon from Pioneer Woman
Wow! These are so scrumptious and add a little bit of gourmet flare to your scrambled eggs. I made my eggs using my tip for the best ever eggs.

Collard Green Falafel with Hummus from Minimalist Baker
Don’t be afraid of collard greens. They are a great leafy green with a bit of a spicy bite similar to arugula. This is a fabulous vegan and gluten free falafel recipe, best served with lots of hummus.

Warm French Lentils from Ina Garten
I’ve recently discovered my love for lentils. They are super healthy, filling and inexpensive. This recipe is packed with flavor and you can easily add whatever vegetables you want to. It’s definitely one of my new favorites and Matthew loves it too.

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Mediterranean Meatballs with Brown Rice & Tahini Sauce

In the midst of the season’s hustle and bustle, it’s important for me to pause for moments of rest and refreshment. To soak in the treasure of this time of year, to enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend or to sit by the fire with a good book gives me perspective and room to breath. That’s why I loved the article over at Lark and Bloom on Breathing. Take a minute in your day to read and be refreshed.

This meal is a pause and a break for me. A tangy, flavor mix up from normal holiday foods. Don’t get me wrong, I love garlicky spiced crackers and hot chocolate and sugar cookies, but mid week between Christmas parties and dinners, I’m craving something fresh, healthy and bright. Plus I find that I feel a lot better about eating an extra dark chocolate truffle at a party if I’ve been eating healthy during the week.

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My favorite flavor profile is definitely Mediterranean. How can you go wrong with lemons and garlic and olive oil? After college and before marriage, I lived with some dear family friends. Every Thursday I cooked dinner for them and upon entering the kitchen their oldest, Hudson, would always ask: “Jill, is there garlic in this?” The answer was always yes. Hey, it’s heart healthy!

I used toasted pumpkin seeds in the meatballs instead of pine nuts as the original recipe called for. I love pumpkin seeds because they are inexpensive but pack the same deep, nutty flavor. The leftovers are great stuffed into pita bread or covered in hummus. I hope you try this and enjoy it; afterwards make a cup of Nutella Hot Chocolate to keep you in the Christmas spirit.

Mediterranean Meatballs with Brown Rice & Tahini Sauce

Serves 4

Adapted from the recipe for Kofta b’siniyah from “Jerusalem: a Cookbook”

Ingredients:

2 cups brown Basmati rice or regular brown rice, cooked according to package directions

2/3 cup tahini paste (found in most grocery stores, just ask!)

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup of room temp water

1 medium clove of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp olive oil

finely chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish

1lb ground beef or lamb

1 small onion

2 large garlic cloves, minced

7 Tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds, finely chopped

2 teaspoons all-spice

1 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup feta cheese

3 Tbsp capers

1 Tbsp chopped green onion

To Make:

Cook brown rice according to package directions. This takes about 40 minutes, so make sure to plan ahead!

Using your hands mix together ground beef, chopped onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, pumpkin seeds, all spice, salt and pepper in a bowl. Shape meat into round balls, pressing together so it is compact and keeps its shape. Place on a plate and chill until you are ready to cook them.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini paste, lemon juice, water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. The sauce should be a bit runnier than honey; if needed, add one to two tablespoons of water.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over high heat, sear the meatballs on each side to get a nice golden brown color, about 5 minutes. Do this in batches so the meatballs are cramped together. Place them on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 4 minutes.

Remove meatballs from oven. Serve over brown rice, drizzling tahini sauce over top and sprinkle with capers, feta cheese, chopped parsley and green onion. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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