The Progressive Party

I know you know already how much we love our neighborhood. So much so that when we moved, we just moved 5 houses down the street. Part of the reason is that the street is tucked away in one of Seattle’s most convenient neighborhoods, accessible to downtown and Eastside, but still quiet. But, the main reason we love our block is not surprisingly, the people. It’s a rare week that we aren’t dining at someone else’s house, or at least sharing a bottle of wine or a beer with our neighbors, our friends.

It’s quite a diverse group politically, and the debate tends to ramp up this time of year. On one hand, you have a family who have given their son the middle name of Reagan… on the other, there are those who have dedicated themselves to a whole rainbow of liberal causes. There are also lots of folks who fall somewhere in the middle. I like to think of the whole lot of us as somewhat of a Progressive party, so what better way to celebrate than to open up a few houses, and share a tipple and nibble in each.

After much discussion on the party approach, we settled on an Iron Chef theme (narrowly averting a flatware-free Viking Diner theme) in which, the day of the party, we’d all find out what the secret ingredient would be, and then scramble to make tapa-sized dishes around that ingredient. Our friends Sean & Stef, instigators of the whole idea in the first place, got to choose the ingredient as well as be the first house on the tour. Luckily, they went easy on us… from a list of things like Pomegranate, chocolate, squash and mushrooms… the choice was goat cheese.


Our first stop gave us delicate crepes stuffed with winter squash with a swirl of goat cheese sauce, paired up with Kir & Prosecco cocktails. Crepes for 4 people is hard enough to do… but we had 15 adults along with a few younger gourmets running around, making Stef’s success all the more impressive.


My house was up next. I had a big bout of indecision earlier in the day, and couldn’t pick just one recipe… so I made three… bacon-wrapped smoked peppers stuffed with goat raclette, bite-sized goat cheese and Chantrelle and potato tarts, and goat cheese stuffed fried risotto balls. The risotto balls, based on a combination of recipes… Jamie Oliver’s risotto blac recipe and Donna Hay’s risotto cakes were a huge hit and were quickly gobbled up, as was the mulled wine that Cam made. Trying to stay on schedule, we wrapped up at our place and moved on down to the next house.


At Jamie & Randy’s house, we had home-made goat cheese & pork sausages and light and flaky walnut stuffed phyllo with goat cheese and big glasses of sangria. Did you catch that home-made sausage part? Yes, Jamie spent the morning stuffing her own sausages.


Finally, on to our last house for the evening, Steve & Caroline hosted with two luscious goat cheese quiches and fresh greens, while Kirt muddled limes for some knock your socks off Caprihinas.

In The Kitchen With Maria Hines-000039In The Kitchen With Maria Hines-000046

Once the party was done, we all headed home to clean up our respective houses… the only real problem with the whole progressive party thing is that you muss up 4 houses instead of just one. Still craving risotto balls, I found myself cranking out a few more with the rest of the risotto the next day and hording them all to myself.

In The Kitchen With Maria Hines-000051

Crispy Risotto Cheese Balls

This recipe assumes that you have leftover risotto already. You can use just about any risotto recipe, as long as it has good and sticky and has sufficiently cooled. I found the recipe in Jamie’s Italy to work beautifully. It’s rich with butter and parm, but can still handle being stuffed with a light goat cheese.

For the cheese, you want something that will melt well but is still easy to handle during stuffing, so avoid any fresh or runny goat cheese.

You can fry up the balls without the panko that I used, but you won’t get the same texture without them.

Left-over, cooked risotto
panko crumbs
firm goat cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
high-heat frying oil, such as sunflower oil

Line a baking sheet with a layer of parchment. Place the panko in a wide bowl.

Take a good sized square of plastic wrap, and use it to pull about 1 T of the cooled, cooked risotto and form into a little ball. Then, create a little hole in the ball with your finger and stick in 1 piece of the goat cheese. Reform the ball of ristotto in the plastic wrap. Then, roll the ball in the panko. Set on the parchment and repeat with the remaining balls.

Heat about 1-2 inches of the oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Test the oil by dropping a bit of risotto into the oil… you want it to bubble fiercely. Line a plate with paper towels, and then begin frying up the risotto balls, adding in only about 3 at a time, carefully with tongs. It’s a good idea to use a screen to keep the oil from popping everywhere as you add each ball. Let the balls cook on one side till golden brown, and then roll them over carefully in the oil to brown on all sides. Remove the balls with tongs and place on the paper towel lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining balls. Sprinkle with a bit of flake sea salt.

You can keep these warm in the oven for a little while, but it’s best to serve them immediately. I like them plain, or with a tiny drizzle of truffle honey.

34 thoughts on “The Progressive Party

  1. I so remember when you last talk about your neighbourhood, I secretly thought: wow I wish I lived in such a place.
    This posts only confirms my intial thought.
    Your friends look lovely and those risotto balls. Don’t even get me started!

    – fanny

  2. What an amazing party & neighborhood! I love risotto balls but these just seem so much more interesting! Warm goat cheese? Honey? Fried?! Mmmmmmmmm

  3. what a fabulous event. my boyfriend and I are throwing a holiday wine tasting, but since we live in a 400 square foot room snuggled in the city, we are doing it in the cellar of a local wine bar. hopefully it’ll turn out to be a success like yours pictured above. beautiful photos as always.

  4. Lara, you’ve made me so jealous that I don’t live in your neighborhood!

    What a gorgeous spread. You made me feel appreciative that there is so much good food in the world. And the people who love it.

  5. I want to go to that party! It looks so much more delicious than any of my family holiday parties. Oh, by the way, my cousin also gave her son the middle name of Reagan, and I was mortified.

  6. Whata FABULOUS idea! I totally want to steal the progressive party idea…but apparently no one else on my street likes to cook. So they are always at my place. Boo. Maybe I should move to your neighborhood!! 🙂

  7. I’ve always eyed those risotto balls in Donna Hay but the right occasion for which to make them has never come up. Glad to know someone else made them and they’re great. They look wonderful!

  8. This was such a fun post to read! All the food sounds wonderful. You are so lucky to have neighbors who are also friends (and foodies). I’m jealous. That’s the kind of neighborhood I’ve always hoped to live in. My husband and I are wrangling a way to move out of Florida soon, so hopefully that happens!

  9. Hey, I don’t suppose my house could be on your progressive party list? You’d only have to drive sixty miles or so out of your way…

    Did you feel at all weighed down by all that goat cheese by the end of the evening? That’s the only down side I can think of with the whole Iron Chef thing. Otherwise, sounds fabulous.

  10. I agree with all the other comments – what a fun and beautiful party. Both the food and the drinks were very creative!
    I have a quick question about the photos. It doesn’t appear that you used flash but rather allowed alot of the natural lighting. I recently got a new lens with a larger aperture and was hoping you could tell me a little about your settings for these shots. I have a Nikon D70. Thanks

  11. Thanks everyone for your lovely comments! It is such a fun neighborhood… I wish I could have you all attend our next event (a holiday party where we are bringing gifts to donate).

    Jess – I thought we might… but luckily goat cheese is pretty light, and people used it pretty sparingly as well. There were so many different preparations, you’d never have thought of it as gorging on one ingredient.

    Mary – You are right. No flash. I really don’t like the way on-camera flash looks in shots, and I hate it even more when flash goes off in my face… I have very sensitive eyes. So, I just took these on an ISO setting of 1600 with the aperture wide open. I was using a 50mm 1.4 for all these shots. All the lighting was just available lighting, what you’d find in your average home for entertaining. The only usual lighting was in the first house, that had little white twinkle lights up… love the effect that gave. The other key to getting shots like these in minimal lighting is to set your white balance to a custom white balance… and do some playing in photoshop after the fact. Because there has been a lot of interest, I might go ahead and write up a post on this for Still Life With, so keep an eye out for it.

    Cheers everyone!

  12. Oh… and I almost forgot. Our old house? The one 5 houses down? Thanks to the Seattle real estate market slump, it is still for sale! So, you could come join the party! 🙂


  13. I am simply in awe of your photographs! It’s one thing to be able to control all the elements of a particular shot in your own home, but to have such beautiful pictures from others’ houses, where surely you were at the whim of some bad lighting or placement issue, is simply remarkable. If you lived in the DC area, I’d be taking classes with you! Thank you for the absolutely inspiring post! 🙂

  14. Like everyone else, I too want to live in a neighborhood like yours. You are the envy of the food blogosphere. I LOVE your panko fried risotto balls. Man, AND drizzled with truffle honey! No wonder you had to make up a few more to horde for yourself. Sounds like everyone really went all out in a foodie frenzy. Thanks for sharing this with us and posting on Tastespotting.

  15. I found these risotto balls so intriguing that I went directly home after work and made some! I didn’t have any leftover risotto, so i had to use fresh risotto. and i used goat gouda. they fried up perfectly and some fresh ground salt and pepper made them delicious! a standard risotto box made up 16 golf-ball sized snacks! Mmmmm… too bad they’re all gone!

  16. oooo! i love caiparinhas! your risotto ball recipe sounds delicious. me and the neighbours do a christmas walkthrough each year and go from house to house sippin and nibblin at each house. i’m definitely gonna try these. thanks! you have a great site!

  17. This sounds like fun and this crispy rice balls are very popular in Italy (in various way) exactly as finishing way for left-overs.
    Good that people are willing to chat over politics … but must have been fun for an European to see it from outside 🙂

  18. These sound like such a great treat – little goat cheese arancini! And the picture truly looks like something from Gourmet – impressive to make a food with a fairly limited color palate look so vibrant. I’ll be playing with these for my next party.

  19. What an amazing party! Unfortunately progressive parties (and indeed potluck parties) just don’t seem to have taken off in the UK, and I really wish they would.

    Maybe I should drop some unsubtle hints to my Canadian friends about one….

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