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Michael J Wilson

+5 Taco of Mighty Nourishment

You come into a room, there’s food on a table, what do you do?

March 15, 2017, 12:00 am

Dinner parties. Do you fill with fear at the idea? I love them, but I hate preparing for them. You have to clean, prep food, make the lighting Instagram-worthy. And then you have to play host for a few hours.

There are tons of suggestions on making the process less stressful. Most involve having a potluck or refusing to clean. They are really dull. My solution: Game night with tacos.

A build-your-own taco bar is the best bet for any party situation. They can be fancy—think lamb or high-end cheeses. They can be basic as hell. Hard, soft, blue, white, vegetarian, filled to the gills with meat. Tacos are DIY dinner party glory. And they are hard to hate.

So why games? Because they are naturally a de-stressor. You can’t play a game and not come out of yourself a bit. You leave the world behind for a second. Perfect night in a box.

My friends and I get together a few times a month for this purpose. We do the potluck thing—it’s just more fun to come together if we each show up with something fun to present and share. Even if it’s just a new beer find, it makes the night more interesting. And it does take pressure off the host a bit.

Cameron and Julia hosted this week. Cameron is a great home cook. His house smelled amazing as I entered with the supplies for our game. In the kitchen was the set up for taco fun. He’s kindly shared his delicious recipe:

Taco Filling

  • 2 lbs beef chuck, ground
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4 small zucchini, seeded and grated
  • 12 cloves garlic, minced (we did local, from Revolution Farm)
  • ¼ cup rendered bacon fat

Spice Mix

  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper medley
  • 4 tsp ground red chile
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp smoked garlic powder (again, Revolution Farm)

Directions:

In a dutch oven, clarify onion in rendered bacon fat over low heat. Add garlic and continue to lightly saute. Once the garlic becomes aromatic, add grated zucchini, stirring occasionally over low heat—you may need to boost the heat if you’re adding the zucchini cold.

When the color of the zucchini skin brightens, add the ground beef and fold all ingredients together. Add the spice mix and continue to stir while the beef browns. Cover and let simmer for 20 minutes on low heat.

Seitan or polenta would be great vegetarian substitutes for the beef. We paired our tacos with Bosque’s Scotia Scotch Ale, and Cameron made gluten-free donuts from Pamela’s chocolate cake mix to celebrate my birthday. We had some fresh fruit and chips on the side. It was heaven. And simple.

As for the games, this is where things get fun. Theme the meal around a specific game—tell everyone to interpret the game in food and watch the weird come out.

The world of board games has evolved greatly in recent years. There are more and more engaging options for players seeking something beyond Milton Bradley. I suggest Ticket to Ride or Forbidden Island. Both are easy to learn and will satisfy even the least-interested players while being replayable for the people who want to.

We play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). And yes, we know how nerdy this is. There’s something about creating a character and then playing a game that requires a lot of talking that just works with eating and drinking.

This option is not for everyone, but D&D has been around since 1974 and there are entire communities devoted to playing. The basic game involves creating a character that the player gives life to through real-time responses. A Dungeon Master is in charge of the narrative. If it brings to mind basements and the ’80s, you’ve recently seen Stranger Things. But you get the idea.

We play with very minimal set-up. The idea is to have fun and eat good food. We take it seriously in that we have a story being told and the game is played, but we are there to spend time together. No one feels pressure to perform, and as a result the nights are always perfect.

The real world is less and less a place where people can sit back and relax for a moment. We have to take it where and how we can. And if you get to fight a few ogres along the way, all the better.

 

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