Potluck DIY Sushi Party!

A few times over the past 8 years, we’ve hosted a – what we EVER so classily refer to as – “All You Can Stuff Sushi Potluck Party”. Twice, it’s been as my husband’s birthday party, and each time, I think to myself that I should blog this.

My husband’s birthday was this past week, which was a reminder that I was planning to blog his sushi party a YEAR ago. Whoops. At least I kept the information all this time … even if we once again forgot to take pictures as it was all happening. Again… whoops.

Anyway, apparently sushi rolling parties are actually becoming a THING now… though it was a new, unique idea back when we started. Boo, missed opportunity to be trend setters!

This party is a lot of fun to do, assuming you’re good with logistics. There’s a lot to juggle, but when it all comes together, it’s super rewarding.

First Off: Decide the Basics

We’ve now done this party a few different ways, and which way you plan to do it depends a lot on your friends, your finances, etc. Personally, I prefer one of the potluck methods … it just feels more social. Only you know your friends and what would work best for you, though!

1 – Guests Bring Items:

For this method, I do up a wish list of items, and divide it out among the people attending. I try to keep it even, that people are all bringing about the same value of items (Don’t stick one friend with bringing expensive fish, and ask for a single cucumber from another!). One thing to keep in mind when dividing out the list is who you are asking to bring what. Some people, I trust to know what a good avocado looks like, others… not so much! Another consideration is “Who lives near one of the few places to sell trustworthy sashimi grade fish?”.

2 – Guests Bring Items OR Contribute Money:

If you have a lot of friends that you may not trust so much to pick up certain items, this can be a good option. Some people get excited about showing up with a beautiful piece of salmon, for instance… while others would much rather just Paypal you a few bucks and have you do it.

3 – Guests Chip in Money:

The most recent time we hosted a sushi potluck party, we asked everyone which way they’d like to do this, and everyone decided that they’d like to just chip in. It was just before a busy con season, so it just ended up more efficient to have me do the shopping for it. Fair enough – everyone sent $10 per person via Paypal ahead of time.

4 – Not Potluck

You can, of course, always just straight up host the dinner, rather than do it as a potluck.

Next: Finalize a Guest List

Due to the nature of the party, it’s really important to have a solid guest count before you start shopping and prep work. In Minnesota, that can be pretty difficult with the popularity of the “Minnesota Decline” – putting a “Maybe” instead of a “no” when a guest knows they won’t be able to make it.

It’s important to give a deadline for RSVP, and request a solid Yes or No – Maybes should be counted as no. A lot of cost and planning goes into this, and you don’t want to be stuck doing extra work and/or extra purchasing if you don’t have to. Also, sushi leftovers do not exactly keep well!

Plan The Menu

No matter which way you’re doing the potluck, it’s best to wait until you have your guest list before actually planning your menu. The more people you have, the more selections you can add.

Additionally, consider your guests. Are some not sushi fans? You can add tempura vegetables, gyoza, chicken satay, etc as options. Are some vegetarians? Be sure to have extra veg options for filling the sushi. Anyone gluten-free? Be sure to have a bottle of GF soy sauce on hand.

As an example, our most recent Sushi Party menu was:

Appetizers:

Edamame
Gyoza
Chicken Satay

Sauces & Garnishes

Mango Sauce
Dynamite Sauce
Eel Sauce
Soy Sauce
Ponzu Sauce
Sesame Seeds
Black Sesame Seeds
Wasabi
Pickled Ginger

Beverage

Green Iced Tea with Lychee and Mandarin Orange

Dessert

Matcha Pavlova with Matcha Whipped Cream,
Honeydew, Lychee, and Mandarin Orange

Sushi Fixings

Nori
5 colours of Soy wrappers
Sushi Rice

Tuna
Salmon
Hamachi (Yellowtail)
Roasted Eel
Ebi (Shrimp)
“Crab” sticks

Spicy Salmon
Spicy “Crab”
Spicy Tuna

Tobiko
Masago

Cucumber
Avocado
Green Onions
Zucchini
Jalapeno
Sweet Potato
Mango

Recipe Links

Chicken Satay
Gyoza
Matcha Pavlova
Spicy Tuna Filling(Can be used with Salmon, etc)
Sushi Rice
Sushi Sauces – Dynamite, Eel, and Mango

Do Your Shopping List

Once you have your menu designed, go through and see what needs to be purchased as-is (the vegetables, which sauces, etc), and which you will be making at home.

Do up a list for the stand alone items, as well as the ingredients needed to make the other items. Also, make a list of non-food items you’ll need – party cups, paper plates, LOTS of chopsticks, little sauce cups for wasabi/soy sauce, napkins, etc.

Get a few sushi knives. They don’t have to be expensive – I bought a few of this one, on Amazon. Love it! (Cosplayers: It is GREAT for carving foam!)

You’re more than likely going to need to go to more than one place, so I like to divide the list out by the stores I’m going to. IN this case, it was one normal grocery store, one Asian specialty store, and a fish monger.

If you are having some or all of your guests bring items, let them know what they’re bringing about a week ahead of time.

Plan Your Time Line For Food Prep

Take a good look at your menu, and list out what needs to be done, and when. It’s best to do as much as you can ahead of time, but you also have to take into account that some items need certain timing. For instance, don’t buy your fish more than a day ahead of time, avocados will brown if you cut them up too early.

As an example, here is the time line for our most recent party (which started at lunch time):

Me Porter
2 Days Before Buy everything except fish
Make gyoza, freeze
The Day Before Make sushi sauces
Make gyoza sauce
Make satay dipping sauce
Marinate chicken satays
Buy fish
Bake the Pavlova
Tidy front and back yard
Hose down the outside tables
Morning of the Party Make sushi rice (How many batches?)
Cut green onions, jalapenos, cucumber, mango, zucchini
Slice fish, prepare “spicy” fillings, chill
Peel and slice sweet potato, cook, chill.
Strain off cans of Mandarin Oranges and Lychee, use strained syrup for making iced tea.
Put the table cloths out
Dishes
Wipe off countertops in kitchen
Set out: Wasabi, soy sauce, plates, chopsticks, cups, pickled ginger, nori
As People Are Arriving Cook gyozas
Steam edamame
Heat satay sauce
Prepare sushi wrappers
Cut avocado
Set out remaining sushi items
Grill Satays
During Party Make whipped cream
Cut up fruit, assemble pavlova
Enjoy yourself, birthday boy 🙂

Set Up

Set up will depend a lot on your home layout, and how many people are going to be making sushi with you.

For us, we set up two 8′ long banquet tables, with a couple chairs at each. Each place gets a sushi rolling station – sheets of parchment paper for rolling, nori, soy paper. In between each two seats gets a big bowl of sushi rice, with a measuring cup or scoop. Along the back of the table is where the ingredients get set up. Due to the number of ingredients used, it’s a cooperative effort – lots of passing involved! Each table also gets a couple little bowls of water, a cutting board, and a couple sushi knives.

How the ingredients are presented depends on the ingredient. Stable ingredients are out on plates. Raw fish is on plates, covered in plastic while not in use, resting on a big bowl of ice. Only a small amount of fish is out at any given time, and the plates are exchanged for fresh ones with new fish as they run out. Avocado is also served up a little at a time, to prevent browning.

In addition to the rolling tables, a counter in the kitchen is designated as the garnishing station. There, the sauces (dynamite sauce is in an ice bowl), wasabi, sesame seeds, etc are laid out, as well as plates, chop sticks, etc. Once done rolling and slicing their sushi, guests go to the kitchen to finish their sushi off. Plate in hand, they usually head out to the patio to mingle and eat, as the next round of guests sit down to roll their sushi.

Throughout the party, we refresh ingredient plates, etc, as guests roll more sushi as they’re ready. Eventually everyone gives up as the sushi coma sets in!

Sushi Rolling

I like to have pieces of parchment paper (you can use wax paper, if you prefer) on hand for rolling, rather than bamboo sheets. Logistically, it’s great for clean up, and I also find it easier for sushi beginners to work with.

A VERY early post (ie: excuse the poor photography!) on this blog – Spicy Tuna Maki – shows more or less how I roll sushi. We’ve since taken to having the rice go slightly over the far long edge of the nori, to form a bit of a lip to overlap the starting edge of the roll, if that makes sense.

How your guests roll their sushi will depend on their own experience/preference, the type of roll they’re making (rice in, or rice out), and the amount of ingredients they’re trying to cram in there. You will likely have some epic failures, so forks can come in handy!

It’s also a good idea to have at least one person on hand who knows what they’re doing, who can demonstrate and/or assist beginners.

Enjoy!

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Earl Grey Pie – Happy Pi Day! (Gluten-Free)

It’s March 14 – 3/14 – and first thing this morning, my husband rolled over and wished me a Happy Pi Day. You know, his favourite “holiday”.

Well, first thing that came to mind was a long string of expletives – for the first time since we’ve met (and I’m including the year following the tornado that destroyed – among other things – our kitchen!), I’ve completely forgotten about Pi Day. IN my defense, I’ve been swamped with development for More Than Poutine. This month has been ALL about developing recipes for Canadian junk food; most recently, that’s meant snack cakes. There is sugar everywhere, I can’t picture having added a pie in on top of everything.

… but I didn’t even post anything about Pi Day, leading up to today, on any of my social media. Not even so much as a share of my big “Pi Day is Coming, Are you Ready?” master list of Pi Day stuff. Kinda feeling like the worst wife AND worst nerdy blogger ever – I really dropped the 4/3πr^3 on that one!

Thankfully, his workplace is taking care of his pi day needs that I so woefully neglected, but I still feel bad. So, as my mea culpa to the universe, I will share my Earl Grey Pie recipe now! This recipe is one of the many fabulous gluten-free recipes in Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking & Baking, so if you’re gluten-free, or know someone who is, you should definitely check it out 🙂

If you don’t need this to be gluten-free, feel free to substitute a store bought pie crust, or one from of your favourite recipes. My go-to is my Great-Uncle Tom’s Pie Crust Recipe.

This is an elegant pie that isn’t cloyingly sweet – the Earl Grey flavour comes through well, and is really well suited for use in a pie!

We served it for some friends, and one of them – Derek – was almost in tears as he declared that “Everything is perfect with the world” after the first bite. When another friend joined us later, He told her that when she tries the pie, “The gates of heaven will open, and you will see everything”.

So. That happened.

I hope you enjoy this pie as much as Derek did! (And everyone else, really… his reaction was just amazing though! )

Gluten-Free Earl Grey Pie
Makes 1 pie

Crust:

1/2 cup Light buckwheat flour
1/4 cup Sorghum flour
1/4 cup Sweet rice flour
1/4 cup Corn starch
1 Tbsp Granulated sugar
1 tsp Xanthan gum
4 oz Cream cheese
1/4 cup Cold butter
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Large egg
1/4 cup Cold water

Filling:

2 Large eggs
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1/3 cup Corn starch
1/4 tsp Salt
1 cup Milk
1 cup Heavy cream
3 Earl Grey tea bags
2 Tbsp Butter
Whipped cream, for serving

Measure flours, corn starch, sugar, and xanthan gum into the bowl of your food processor, blitz to combine. Add cream cheese, butter, lemon zest and egg, blitz a few times until mixture resembles gravel.

Stream in cold water as you run the food processor, just long enough to start to bring it together as a dough – you may need to use a little more or less water. Do NOT over-process it!

Remove dough from processor, knead lightly to bring it together as a ball. Wrap in plastic film, chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C), lightly dust your work surface with extra corn starch. Roll your crust out to about 1/4″ thick. Line a pie pan with the crust, trim the edges of the crust to only slightly longer than the edge of the pie plate. Use your fingers to crimp/ruffle the edge of the pie.

Use a fork to prick some holes on the bottom of the crust. Chill in fridge for 15 minutes. Once chilled, bake pie crust for 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven, allow to cool to room temperature while you prepare the filling.

Whisk eggs together with sugar until fluffy and pale yellow. Add cornstarch and salt, whisk until incorporated and smooth. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, bring milk and cream just to the start of a boil. Remove from heat, add tea bags, steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags, squeezing out excess liquid back into the pot. Bring cream up JUST to a boil once again.

Measure about 1/4 cup of the hot cream mixture, and stream slowly into egg mixture while whisking. Continue streaming liquid and whisking until it is completely incorporated, and mixture is smooth. Repeat with another 1/4 cup of hot cream.

Remove saucepan from heat, pour remaining egg mixture into cream mixture, whisking constantly. Once fully incorporated and smooth, return to heat. Turn heat to medium-low. Continue whisking mixture constantly, cooking until mixture is very thick. Remove from heat, stir in butter until melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Spoon filling into prepared crust, cover with plastic wrap. Chill until set, about 3 hours. To serve, top with whipped cream.

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Ravings of a Canadian Expat: Christmas Oranges

I was going to start this entry out with something like “This time of year, the topics of discussion in groups of Canadians living away tends to turn to food…”… but let’s be real, at least 80% of what we talk about in Canadian groups is food.

Foods we miss, foods we’re now cooking because we miss the source material, how COMPLETELY inferior American chocolate is, griping about how corn syrup is in everything here and makes stuff – soda, certain candies, etc – taste weird, etc. I don’t remember us being particularly food obsessed when I still lived at home, but man… take a Canadian out of Canada, and food is the great bonding experience.

Recently, I noticed that “Christmas Oranges” don’t really seem to be a THING in Minneapolis. Like, you can buy Cuties or Halos, but there doesn’t seem to be a culture of … well, them being particularly “holiday”.

When I was a kid, we’d get one in the toe of our Christmas stocking, and it usually ended up being my favourite part. I LOVED them!

As I grew a bit older, holiday season meant buying crates of Mandarin oranges. They were the same oranges I’d have as a kid – sold in boxes, imported from either China or Japan, and individually wrapped in green paper. There was always at least one completely moldy one in the bottom, but the rest were *gold*.

I would buy several 5lb cases at a time. At least one would end up consumed within a day or two – I’d crash on the couch with a book, and snarf ungodly amounts of oranges. I’d buy more than one case, as it was usually insanely cold (I’m from Winnipeg), and I liked to have enough to last me a week or so.

… December is the month where I am least likely to come down with scurvy… By a longshot! In addition to snarfing oranges by the case, I also enjoy to make things from them, such as:

Candied Orange Peels

Cuties Mead

Cranberry-Cuties “Christmas” Wine

Cuties Marmalade

I even juiced and zested a bunch of them to make a Cuties mousse last New Years.. Oh, it was amazing.

Anyway, I digress.

This past week, I decided that I NEED THOSE ORANGES. Cuties and Halos just don’t cut it, I wanted a bit of *home*.

My first stop was a group for local food bloggers. I explained what I was looking for, and a few people weighed in with suggestions.

I should mention that part of the problem with looking for oranges like I knew back home, is that when it comes to this sort of thing, oranges suffer from the same sort of thing that Sweet potatoes / yams do. Different products are sold as the same thing, the terms are used interchangeably, and people have wildly different ideas of what is meant when you say “yam” – and, in this case, “Mandarin orange”.

One blogger commented to say that it sounded like I was describing Satsuma oranges, and that she knew they sell them at a local coop. She then mentioned that they’re more abundant in January (not the case, back home!) – so I had to make sure that she wasn’t thinking SUMO oranges (another addiction of mine). She wasn’t, so I called The Wedge coop, and grilled their produce guy.

HE agreed that I was talking about Satsumas, but then referred to them as being “more tart”. What a let down – I never would have described Christmas oranges as being tart!

I posted a quick note about my mission to a couple expat groups, and asked for info on what they remember of the oranges back home.

I got in my truck and headed over there anyway, because when you need a mess of oranges, you NEED a mess of oranges. I was surprised to see that they had several types of oranges that looked good… so I bought a few of each. I bought a whole bag of Satsumas – I know myself, and if they were even close… a bag wouldn’t be enough!

As all of this was going down, the threads were blowing up – Us Canadians are VERY passionate about our Christmas oranges, as it turns out!

As it also turns out, the whole “oranges going by multiple names” thing got further complicated by regional differences in what constitutes a “Christmas Orange”.

People from everywhere except Atlantic Canada agreed – sold in boxes, with almost everyone specifically referencing the green tissue paper. MOST people agreed that they were imported from China and Japan, though a few pockets of Canadians apparently got theirs from Morocco! I’m 90% sure I’ve never seen an orange from Morocco, so I found this fascinating. We all knew them as “mandarins”.

On the East Coast, “Christmas Oranges” are sold in smaller, wooden crates, usually with a red plastic mesh holding them in. There is no green tissue paper, and they are known as “Clementines” – not Mandarins. From my time in Newfoundland, I was familiar with them. They were definitely different from what I knew back home: A bit harder to peel, not as juicy, smaller, and rounder. Still tasty, though!

Anyway, back to the mission.

I noticed that all of the oranges at The Wedge were from either California or Florida, and I remembered that basically all of the oranges I’d seen anywhere in Minneapolis tended to be the same. I guess there isn’t a big market for imported oranges here?

I decided to follow up on another suggestion, and headed to United Noodle – a large Asian grocery store. They would for SURE have Japanese or Chinese oranges, right?

Nope. Neither did Sun Foods, another large Asian grocery.

What they did both carry, however, were Halos. Halos are fine – and they’re actually pretty close to the Atlantic Canadian idea of Christmas oranges, packaging aside – but I really wanted my Mandarins!

So, I ended up with 6 different types of oranges (as well as “Limequats”, which had absolutely nothing to do with anything, but fascinated me nonetheless!), and wanted to do a comparison. Aside from the Halos and the last “Mandarins”, all of the oranges – and Limequats – were purchased at Wedge Coop.

Of course – if it hasn’t been obvious from this blog post so far – take my findings with a grain of salt. Due to the nature of naming conventions, there’s a good chance you could buy something that is called the same as one of these, and have it be something completely different. For that reason, I am including as much identifying information as possible!


Table below is pictured in order, left to right

Photo Sold As Details
Kishu Mandarin Tiny – about 1.5-2″ in diameter! Very easy to peel, loose skin, very little pith – which rubs off easily. Good balance of sweet and tart, leaning slightly towards the tart. Fairly juicy, seedless. Expensive, but fun. (They were obviously not Christmas oranges, but I couldn’t resist!)
Halos Halo is a brand name, not an actual variety. They’re very similar to Cuties, which we tend to prefer but haven’t seen in a while. Like Cuties, the variety of orange depends on the time of year. According to the Halo’s site (here), these were Clementines. Makes sense, given how similar they are to the Atlantic Canadian “Christmas Orange” – also sold as Clementines. These were not as easy to peel as I was looking for – skin comes off in small chunks. Also slightly more tart, and had no seeds. Readily available – it was all they carried in the Asian markets! Clementines also tend to be more spherical than what I was looking for.
Sunburst Tangerine This Florida orange was very smooth and shiny – a stark contrast to the rough, dimply skin of most of the other varieties. It was VERY difficult to peel by hand – probably better to slice. Thin, hard skin, with pith that is very attached to the segments. Has seeds, tastes like a pretty basic orange (not “Christmas” orange).
Algerian Mandarin These are called “Algerian”, but were grown in California! They were purchased at The Wedge, and is one of two oranges that were labelled as being Mandarins (not including Halos, which refer to their oranges as Mandarins on their site). This had a medium-thick skin that was very easy to peel, while not actually being loose/separated from the orange inside. It had a fair amount of sticky pith – harder to remove than some varieties. Tastes right, but the sticky pith is annoying. No seeds.
California Satsuma This was the “ugly” one of the lot – irregular, kind of squat shape, with very dimply, loose skin… AND IT WAS PERFECT. Very easy to peel, medium thick skin, only a small amount of pith that detaches from the segments very easily. Absolutely my favourite, and the closest to what I remember “Christmas”oranges being. Very plump and juicy segments, and among the sweetest of those tested. No seeds.
Mandarin After paying about $4/lb for the Satsumas, I saw 3lb bags of these “Mandarins” at Hy-Vee… and they looked very much like the Satsumas, just slightly larger. These were also very easy to peel – but had much more pith. Also has the thickest skin of all. The flesh isn’t has juicy as any of the other varieties, and has a gigantic grain to it. Has seeds.

So, as you can see… not only can the names be confusing (“Mandarin” was used for three wildly different oranges, none of which was what was referred to as “Mandarin” back home… which is “Satsuma” here!), but appearances can be deceiving, also: The Satsuma and second type of “Mandarin” looked VERY similar!

I’d asked this on my Facebook page, may as well as here too – the replies were FASCINATING (here):

1. Were “Christmas oranges” a thing where you grew up, and/or where you are now?

2. If so, what exactly does that mean to you? What was the actual orange called, what did it look like, was it easy to peel or not, how was it sold, where were they grown, etc. As much detail as possible, please!

3. Where was/is this (state/province, etc)

With 2017 being Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s about time I wrote the Canadian cookbook I’ve been planning for YEARS.

“More than Poutine” will be a Canadian cookbook like no other – written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional homecooking recipes, as well as homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada!

High quality gluten-free versions of most recipes will be included.

The Kickstarter for “More Than Poutine is live, here. Please consider backing, and sharing the campaign with your friends!

Handpainted Eye of Sauron Holiday Ornaments!

He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake… 😉

Last year, I designed and made an Eye of Sauron pen holder for a convention booth. After the event, I looked at it and thought “That would make a great Christmas ornament design!”… and here we are!

Perfect for any Tolkien fan on your gift list, this ornament will add a special something to any geek’s holiday tree – Lord of the Rings themed, or not. Go ahead, hang it next to a TARDIS, it’s all good!

Ornaments are all hand painted on plastic (I’m a cat owner. I can’t wrap my head around glass ornaments hanging from a tree!), are durable, and look great!

The “eye” is painted on both sides of each ornament, so it looks great from multiple angles.

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Due to the hand painted nature of these ornaments, no two will be alike – expect some variation from the photos shown. Order before December 12 for delivery before Christmas, US only.

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2.5″ Diameter Ornament

$12.00
Add to Cart

sauronroundjpg

3″ Diameter Ornament

$15.00
Add to Cart

saurondisk

3″ Diameter Disk

$15.00
Add to Cart

sauronset

Set of 10 2.5″ Ornaments

$95.00
Add to Cart

CCNow is our authorized online retailer for online orders.

Tolkien Fan? Be sure to check out these other posts:

The One CHEESE Ring
How to make a Hobbit Hole Cat Shelter
Caturday: Tolkien edition
How I Made that: Dwarf Wig
So I’m Dressing My Husband up as Thranduil…
The Two Week Thorin Costume!
Thorin Costume!
How to make Thranduil’s Crown
Smaug the Terrible… I mean, Terribly AWESOME.
I am Fire, I am FRUITY – Smaug Fruit Bowl
Smaug Costume
Doing the Elf Meme Thing…
Gandalf the Fabulous

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Maple Leaf Roses

This weekend, we went up the shore to Duluth, to enjoy the fall colours. Managed to not take any photos of anything, somehow… but we DID collect some leaves. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making maple leaf roses for the past couple years, ever since seeing them popping up on Pinterest. October is usually my busiest time of year, but with my elbow injury preventing me from sewing… I finally had some free time.

These came together pretty quickly once I figured out what I was doing. All told, it took about 1 hour from the time I first sat down. I soaked the leaves overnight, let them dry to the touch in between paper towels, and then went to it. I folded and wrapped them around lengths of florist wire, using floral tape. Once they were all done, I soaked them with some serious hairspray, and let that dry.

I love how they turned out – a gorgeous bit of fall colours right in my living room! These would be so pretty as wedding bouquets or centerpieces – they did lose some of their vibrancy overnight, though. Thankfully, my husband took these beautiful photos while it was still bright and fresh!

What do you guys think? Any plans to make a set yourself?










Festive Easy Fudge

The other day, I posted the instructions for how I make Candied Orange Slices, inspired by a Canadian Living recipe for a unique chocolate bark. I used my orange slices to make their bark, and it was fantastic, but….

I’m not a bark person, for the most part. I’m not really big on chocolate in general, and when I am, I prefer it not to be hard. Chocolate sauce on ice cream, fondue, fudge. It’s a texture/sensory issue, for me.

So, I decided that I would take the same ingredients that intrigued me about their recipe, and incorporate it into my basic recipe for quick fudge. I’ve always liked dried cranberries in it – hell, it’s been over 5 years since I posted my Easy Blood Orange Cranberry Dark Chocolate Fudge recipe!

… and it worked SO well. The semi sweet chocolate contrasts well with the sweetness from the candied orange and ginger, the crunch of the nuts contrast well with the chew of those two items and the cranberries. The bright flavour of the orange and heat of the ginger pops through in various proportions, with every bite of fudge tasting different from the last.

Also: it’s pretty! The yellow ginger, orange slices, green pistachios and red cranberries make this a very festive fudge – great to serve or GIVE for the holidays!

Enjoy!

Festive Fudge

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
1/3 cup chopped candied orange slices
1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/3-1/2 cup chopped pistachios
Pinch of salt
3 cups semi sweet chocolate chips (about a bag and a half)
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

Before getting started, line an 8″ square pan with parchment paper, or grease generously with butter. Set aside.

Combine ginger, orange slices, dried cranberries, pistachios and salt, mix well, set aside.

Combine semi sweet chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. (Alternatively, combine in a microwave safe bowl and nuke for 30 second intervals, stirring between each, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth)

Remove from heat, stir in remaining ingredients. Spread into prepared pan, chill until set.

To serve, use a very sharp knife to cut into squares.

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Dalek Cake for a Doctor!

So… I’m about 3 months late posting this, but better late than never, right?

Back at the end of May, I had the opportunity to not only make the electronics-enhanced Dalek cake I’d been wanting to do some day… but to make it for a Doctor! Console Room had invited Colin Baker to be a Guest of Honour. Of COURSE he needed a special cake! I came out of my “Never going to ever make another cake again, EVER!” retirement, just for the occasion!

As was the case in my (now-retired-from) cake days, and as is the case with our costuming, I designed it and had my husband do the electronics for it.

The cake itself is fairly basic: a stacked tower of cake layers, a food safe tube running up the middle to house the wires, and a head (and one layer in the middle) made from Rice Krispie Treat, to securely hold the electronics and accessory parts in place. The wiring up the center and into the head allowed for lights – the two on top of the head, as well as the.. forehead mini plunger thing. (So technical, I know!). It was about 2′ tall, decorated in marshmallow fondant, and accented with edible metallic-airbrushed chocolate domes.

The cake stand had electronics of its own – a speaker, a sound modulator, and the switches to control the lights and sound. When activated, the sound modulator played Dalek sound clips – it was a lot of fun! Click here for video of the sound modulator in action. I STILL lose it at “Would you care for some tea?”!

Now, I’ve served many, MANY cakes. I’ve assisted in many, MANY first cuts of a cake… but this one is definitely my favourite cake cutting experience of all time. Colin Baker was *amazing* – so much fun, and really got into it. Check it out:

So, yes. I got to teach a Doctor how to destroy a Dalek. I feel like I achieved a crazy bucket list item that I didn’t know I had!

Click here to see more photos from that evening!

Boozy Sparkling Cider Float

Last year while at Minnesota Renaissance Festival, Porter and I tried sparkling apple cider floats for the first time.

It was nice… refreshing while still being “seasonal”. The bright flavour from the sparkling cider constrasted the rich creaminess of the ice cream well.

So of course we went home and made our own. A little less G-rated, our home version was made with our Homemade Hard Apple Cider. SO good!

This year we did it again, but played with the ingredients a little. Instead of using hard apple cider, we used a complimentary liqueur. Very tasty, and a really fun take on a childhood tradition of rootbeer floats… as my husband pointed out:

“Like growing up on hamburgers, and then having an Apple Chicken Burger with Basil and Gouda… really similar base, and has that nostalgia … but wow this is cool and different. I’m trying not to say ‘it tastes like fall in a glass’, because I think I could easily overuse that phrase, and it kind of makes me want to punch myself in the face.”

Enjoy!

Boozy Sparkling Cider Float

2 oz Apple or Maple flavoured Crown Royal*
Sparkling apple juice / apple cider
1 large scoop vanilla ice cream**

Pour Crown Royal into a tall mug. Add sparkling juice/cider, filling the glass a little more than 2/3 full. Stir gently.

Add ice cream scoop, serve immediately

* Not a fan of whiskey? You can use other alcohol here too! Sour Apple pucker, butterscotch schnapps, cinnamon schnapps, Whipped Cream Flavoured vodka… if it’s a flavour that’ll taste good with apples, go ahead and do it! Or, skip this ingredient and just use hard apple cider.

** We tend to use a good quality French vanilla ice cream, but have fun with it. Cinnamon, caramel, salted caramel…

Interested in boozy culinary experiments? You’ll LOVE my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker!

Combining liqueurs with more traditional baking ingredients can yield spectacular results.Try Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, Candy Apple Flan, Jalapeno Beer Peanut Brittle, Lynchburg Lemonade Cupcakes, Pina Colada Rum Cake, Strawberry Daiquiri Chiffon Pie, and so much more.

To further add to your creative possibilities, the first chapter teaches how to infuse spirits to make both basic and cream liqueurs, as well as home made flavor extracts! This book contains over 160 easy to make recipes, with variation suggestions to help create hundreds more! Order your hard copy here, or digital edition here.

Gluten Free Sauerkraut Buns Recipe (Pyrizhky)

Yikes, it’s been over a month since my last post! Sorry about that. We’ve been super busy with 3 conventions, Pi Day, AND a long road trip in that time. Back now, and it’s about a month til our next convention, so… here I am!

Growing up, I loved Sauerkraut buns… soft little bready balls of joy that would show up at family gatherings. Though we’re not Ukrainian ourselves, growing up in Winnipeg meant that many of the traditional foods from other cultures – Especially Ukrainian – were pretty… ubiquitous. Bacon, onion, and sauerkraut is a pretty genius filling, so it’s no wonder that these were super popular back home.

I’m kind of surprised that it seems like no one I know here in Minneapolis has ever heard of them!

While preparing for Pi Day, I decided that it was time to develop a recipe for a gluten-free version. These aren’t QUITE as soft as the original – and the technique is different for putting them together… but they are full of flavour, inside and out. The bread has a great texture, and they’re easy to make.

Enjoy!

Gluten Free Sauerkraut Buns (Pyrizhky)
Makes about 35 buns

Dough:
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 envelope yeast
1 1/2 cup+ Brown rice flour
3/4 cup gluten-free oat flour
1/2 cup Amaranth flour
1/2 cup Millet flour
1/4 cup Corn starch
1/3 cup Potato starch
2 Tbsp Tapioca starch
3 tsp Xanthan gum
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream

Filling:
1 lb bacon, chopped
1 bag saurkraut (about 19 oz), well drained
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt
Pepper

Melted butter

Prepare the dough:

Gently mix together warm water, sugar, and yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together 1 cup of the brown rice flour, remaining flours, starches, xanthan gum and salt. Form a well in the middle, and pour oil, eggs, and sour cream into it. Mix well, then add the yeasty water. Mix until everything is well incorporated, then knead lightly for 1 minute – it will be a bit wet. Place dough in a large, greased bowl. Cover and allow to rise somewhere warm for 1 hour.

As you are waiting for the dough to rise, prepare the filling:

Cook bacon & onions until bacon is almost cooked, but not crispy. Add saurkraut to the pan, cook and stir well until bacon fat is absorbed and everything is heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool.

One the hour rise is up, mix remaining 1/2 cup rice flour into the dough. Pinch off a walnut sized piece of dough, and work into a circle. If dough is too wet to work with, add a little more flour. You want it more wet than normal dough. Let stand for another 10 minutes.

Assemble the sauerkraut balls:

Note: I like to wear latex gloves for assembly:

Divide dough into a bunch of walnut sized pieces – about 35 of them.

One at a time, flatten a piece of dough into a circle approximately 3″ across – I like to do this in the palm of one hand. Place a 1 Tbsp mound of filling in the center of the circle. Carefully pull up the edge of the circle up and around the filling, sealing the filling in (like a drawstring bag). Roll around between your hands a bit to get a uniform spherical shape, and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough/filling, leaving at least 2″ between dough balls.

Loosely cover cookie sheets with plastic wrap, and allow to rise another hour.

Heat oven to 375F. Remove pastic wrap from cookie sheets, bake for 25 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven and brush liberally with melted butter.

Great served hot, fresh out of the oven, cold, or even reheated. IF they last that long.

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.

Peppermint Swirl Meringue Cookies

Back in October, I catered a party that had a Christmas theme. I designed the menu to be holiday themed, but with a twist – everything was gluten-free, in honour of the release of Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking.

I included a bunch of seasonal favourites in the spread – gluten-free versions of my Nanaimo Bars, Mini Pumpkin Pies, Mushroom Turnovers, Fruitcake… and a big spread of cookies.

Among the favourites were these colourful Mint Meringue swirls. Cheap and easy to make, fun to pipe out, and they look so pretty on a holiday sweets platter. Melt in your mouth, too!

Enjoy!

Peppermint Meringue Swirl Cookies
(Makes about a gallon sized baggie worth of cookies)

6 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 1/4 cups sugar
2-3 tsp peppermint extract (NOT peppermint oil)
4 large (or 3 normal and one large) pastry bags

Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper. (Do NOT use pan spray!)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Using the whisk attachment, whip on high until glossy peaks form. Slowly add in the sugar – a little at a time – and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Turn off mixer, remove bowl. Gently stir in peppermint extract to taste.

Working quickly but gently, divide the meringue into three bowls. Dye one red, and another green, leaving the third bowl white.

Fit one large pastry bag with a large coupler set and tip of your choice – I used used a 4B, large star tip. Fill the other three bags with one each of the three meringue colours, taking care to avoid air bubbles. I like to tie them off with a little bit of twine, as it keeps things cleaner.

Cut about 3/4″ off the end of the three filled bags and CAREFULLY insert them into the fourth pastry bag, so that the three open tips insert almost all the way into the coupler (NOT all the way into the tip, though!)

Be gentle, you don’t want to squeeze meringue out of one or both of those bags yet!

Use the frosting bag as you normally would, piping small swirls of meringue out onto the prepared cookie sheets. I like to make them just over 1″ in diameter, and leave about 1″ between each little mound.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until just starting to get lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool fully before transferring to an airtight container.

Interested in Gluten-free cooking and baking? You’ll LOVE Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

How many times have you come across a gluten-free recipe claiming to be “just as good as the normal version!”, only to wind up with weird textures, aftertastes, etc? Most gluten-free recipes are developed by taking a “normal” recipe, and swapping in a simulated “all purpose” gluten-free flour… whether store bought, or a homemade version. “Beyond Flour” takes a different approach: developing the recipe from scratch. Rather than swapping out the flour for an “all purpose” mix, I use various alternative flours as individual ingredients – skillfully blending flavours, textures, and other properties unique to each flour. Supporting ingredients and different techniques are also utilized to achieve the perfect end goal … not just a “reasonable facsimile”. Order your copy here.

Looking for even MORE fantastic gluten-free recipes? Beyond Flour now has a sequel: Beyond Flour 2: A Fresh Approach to Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking!

Imagine gluten-free foods that are as good – or better! – than their traditional, gluten-filled counterparts. Imagine no longer settling for foods with bizarre after-tastes, gummy consistency, and/or cardboard texture. Imagine graham crackers that taste just like the real thing. Crisp, flaky crackers…without the sandy texture. Hybrid tortillas that: look and act like flour tortillas, with the taste of fresh roasted corn! Imagine chewy, delicious cookies that *everyone* will want to eat! Imagine BAGELS. If you’ve cooked from “Beyond Flour”, you already know that these fantasies can be reality – it’s all in the development of the recipes. Order your copy here.