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!

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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.

Wedding Stationery Inspiration – Florida Keys

Now that “engagement season” is over, I’d like to pause the food talk to bring you a little wedding inspiration.

When our friend Lisa got married in late 2011, we were floored by her invitations. Wedding stationery can be so.. stationary. Some of the invite catalogs out there are hawking the same designs they sold in the mid-late 90s (literally), and so many invites I’ve seen during my time in the industry are just so .. blah.

To me, wedding stationery should give a bit of a hint about the event, beyond just words. When you look at a GREAT invite set, you should be able to see the couple in it. With a great invite, you can feel the love and care that went into it, and know that the couple really values your presence at the event.

When I got Lisa’s invitation in the mail… I’ve never been more excited to attend a wedding in my life. I knew that it was going to be a thoughtfully planned event, and a truly memorable wedding.

Unfortunately, post-tornado budget issues got in the way, so I had to live vicariously through the raves of mutual friends who HAD attended. The wedding had lived up to the invitations!

Let me show you the stationery that instantly won my heart:

Says Lisa:

“We wanted something different, something that no one else would have, and that worked with our literary theme. Invitations set the tone for your event, and it was a good opportunity to let people know that we wouldn’t be having a standard “wedding industry” wedding. The mad-libs style RSVP was a second clue.

We sourced all of the invitation materials from library supply houses, and I did all of the graphic design. We did our own envelope liners in several styles from a recycled encyclopedia, comics and maps, and hand stamped all the envelopes. The invites were hand stamped by my friends one afternoon (we also put stems on 300+ hand-folded paper flowers that day, but that is another story).

We loved our invitations, and we are still getting comments on them today”

Sigh! I wish we still had the envelope ours came in – it was lined with a recipe from a magazine!

So, there you have it – my favorite wedding stationery ever. What is the coolest invite YOU have ever seen?

How to Carve a Watermelon – Stars and Stripes

When I recently got it in my head that carving a Caladium leaf Watermelon bowl would be cool, I had no idea that it would inspire me to do other watermelon designs. Here’s the 3rd in less than a month – I swear I’m done now! All watermeloned out!

As I promised on my Canada Day Watermelon, I had carved a second watermelon that same day… for my American friends. Well, and to gain brownie points with my American husband, after all of the Canada Day talk that had preceded it!

So here we go, with plenty of time before the 4th of July – a Stars and Stripes themed watermelon fruit bowl! Perfect for any red, white and blue Independence Day party, BBQs, potlucks, or whatever.

This design whipped up quickly and easily, and is sure to impress!

Before you get started, take a good look at your watermelon – there should be an obvious top and bottom to it. Figure out how you want it to sit, and carve a small amount of rind off the bottom. It may take a few passes to get it to sit solid and level – you don’t want it rolling around as you work, or after you fill it!

Once watermelon has a solid base to it, draw your design on it. I used a Sharpie, fully intending to carve out anywhere I had drawn. In retrospect, a dry erase marker may have been a smarter idea.

Using the very tip of your paring knife, trace along the edges of your design marks. Take your time, and be gentle. Well, not too gentle, anyway – you’re going to want to cut deep enough to get down into the white part of the rind.

Once you’ve cut the edges of the design piece (say, a star) you’re about to carve out, carefully wedge the edge of your knife into one of your new design lines. You’ll want to wedge it in almost parallel to the rind – not go deep with it. Lift your knife a bit, pulling out a bit of rind. Not going to lie, this is fussy work and will take you a while if it’s you first go at it! Also, be careful not to stab yourself! It’s really easy to slip and drive the knife right in to your hand. Trust me on this.

Continue carving the rind out of your designs, until finished. Be sure to leave a green ring border between each individual design element. Also, for now just concern yourself with getting it down to the white – it doesn’t matter that some areas will be red eventually – we’re getting there!

Carefully carve off the top of the watermelon. I aimed for all of the peaks/high points of my design, but you can aim a bit higher if you’re not feeling that confident. You can always carve more away, but it’s hard to add watermelon if you’ve carved away too much!

Once you’ve carved and removed the very top, scoop out some of the watermelon – for this design, I left about 1″ of red around the side walls. This was to allow for the red design to show through for the red stripe. Because there is no need for extra watermelon flesh on the very bottom, I scooped it out almost down to the white rind.

Using a sharp knife – I used a good paring knife – carefully carve out the outer edge of your leaf design. Aim to keep your knife straight in, at a 90 degree angle to the surface you are carving.

Once the outer edge has been carved, go back over it and carefully taper the edges in a bit. Clean up any rough edges on the green rind, and taper inward from there – creating a gentle, rounded edge to the white rind, into the red. Don’t taper it in at too shallow a slope, though – you’ll want plenty of red behind the middle of the red stripe design!

Last carving step: In the areas that you want red, VERY CAREFULLY carve out the white part of the rind to expose the red flesh behind it. You may want to do this in several small passes, rather than taking out deep chunks.

Position your fruit bowl on a serving platter (the bottom will very likely leak moisture), and fill with your choice of red, white, and blue fruit. Be sure it’s all ripe and sweet, NOTHING is worse than less than ripe fruit in such a display! For ours, we used watermelon, red grapes, strawberries, cherries, peeled/sliced pears, blueberries and blackberries.

Set it out and enjoy!







How to Carve a Watermelon Bowl… CANADIAN Style!

Inspiration really can come from the weirdest of places. Remember the story of how my French Martini Upside Down Cake was conceived? Jann Arden, an auto-correct Fail, French Canadian culture, and talking pineapples… oh my!

Sometimes the most simple thing can spark an idea… and that’s what happened with today’s post.

About a week ago, I posted my blog entry on How to Carve a Watermelon, Caladium Style… Caladium being a pretty variety of plant with large pink, white, and green leaves. As with all my blog posts, after I finished publishing it here, I posted links on Facebook. Now, as an out-and-proud Canadian immigrant, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the following comment was posted as a reply:

“Ok, when I first read the title of the post, I *swore* it read “How to Carve a Watermelon Fruit Bowl – Canadian Style!” ;)”

So, thank you for the inspiration, Sarah Elizabeth! Once I read your response, I knew I *had* to go out and make a Canadian style watermelon bowl – Canada Day IS just around the corner, after all!

To my Yankee friends and readers – no worries, I have a “Stars and Stripes” version coming right up!

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How to Carve a Watermelon Fruit Bowl – Caladium Style!

About a week ago, we celebrated the one year anniversary of our tornado. Hrm. “Celebrated” seems like a weird thing to say about a natural disaster. Observed? Marked the occasion?

Nah, we did celebrate it. On the Sunday afternoon immediately before the actual anniversary date, we have a very small party for those who helped us out following the tornado – a volunteer appreciation party. We had SO much help from friends – both the day of, and in the long months that followed – such a party was the least we could do to thank them. So.. we handed out free “thank you!” copies of Twisted: A Minneapolis Tornado Memoir, and fed them all.

In addition to the Low Country Boil, party sized Pavlova, and various crudités, I decided to make a watermelon fruit bowl. A carved, fancy one – though I’d never even considered the possibility before, much less actually made one!

Having carved pumpkins before (Nowhere near as professionally as The Pumpkin Geek, but passable!), I figured I had a good idea of what to do. It was fun, and I think it turned out well… so here’s how I did it!

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Booze Bouquet Tutorial

As you may know, my husband and I are not really Valentine’s Day people. We don’t really have any need for the traditional V Day gifts (and I am SO not a jewelry person!), it ends up feeling pretty contrived, so we usually just hang out and chill. Of course, external pressures usually have us checking in with each other every year, with “do you WANT to do anything…?

It always feels like we *should*. This year, we decided that we’ll be brewing a small batch of a red, “Valentine’s Day” wine or mead. I think we’re leaning towards a sweet raspberry mead. Anyway, I digress…

Last night we were eating dinner and discussing the various funny stuff we’d seen on the net, when I mentioned a booze bouquet I’d seen on Pinterest. The person had affixed mini booze bottles onto sticks, and made a little bouquet of it.

As we’d recently been reminiscing on how much fun we’d had doing V-day ceramic mugs for each other a few years back, the idea of making booze bouquets for each other came up. Like many of our crazy ideas, it went from “wouldn’t it be fun…” to DONE in no time flat!

We headed to a craft supply store to pick up all kind of crazy Valentine’s Day craft stuff on clearance. Neither one of us really knew what we were planning to do as we poured over ever manner of red, pink, and sparkly V Day nonsense, discussing ideas, and ultimately purchasing our respective supplies. After that, we went to our favorite liquor store, and each bought a dozen mini bottles for each other, each not letting the other see the surprise selections.

The whole time – and on the way home – we excitedly talked about our ideas and plans, actually looking *forward* to our little V Day celebration. Neither of us could WAIT to get home and dig into the craft supplies, and seeing what we could come up with.

We had a blast. Weird crafty projects with my husband are always a ton of fun (Pi Day Pi-natas, Chocolate Zombie Easter Bunnies, and epic Pysanky using Crayons, for instance!).

Also? Men + Booze + Craft supplies are a pretty epic combination. Just WAIT til you see what he came up with!
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Cake Decorating Tutorial – Frozen Buttercream Transfers

Ever tried to pipe something specific onto a cake? A cartoon character, a company logo, or any other sort of recognizable design?

I know, it’s a pain. You’re stressed out about not screwing it up, hoping the final thing will be recognizable, and that it doesn’t end up on the Cake Wrecks website.

Did you know that there’s a much easier way to do it, than freehanding it? It’s called “frozen buttercream transfer”, and it takes all of the stress and freehand work out of piping set designs!

The nice thing about this technique is that it requires absolutely no artistic skill whatsoever! It’s the kind of simple “Man, I wish *I* had thought of that!” brilliance that… well, I wish I’d thought of! Alas, this is one of those “learned it through other cakers” design “secrets”.

Hope you enjoy my first cake decorating tutorial!

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Homemade Iced Tea Liqueur Recipe

Remember back in September 9th’s post about homemade blueberry liqueur, I said I was gonna post a whole series on making liqueurs, with the aim of getting it all done in time for holiday gift giving?

I got a little sidetracked. Whoops. In my defense, there’s been SO much going on here in the way of repairs. Getting my husband to photograph anything … well, it’s got to be a lower priority, what with winter coming!

So, let’s go with something super easy – iced tea liqueur!

You’ve probably seen a bunch of iced tea liqueurs on the market in the past two years: Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka, Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, Burnett’s Sweet Tea Vodka, Sweet Carolina Sweet Tea Vodka, Barton Long Island Iced Tea Liqueur, etc. 2009 marked the real explosion of “Sweet tea” flavored liqueurs on liquor store shelves.

For what mass produced offerings, they’re not bad. Expensive for what they are, but they get the job done.

Homemade sweet iced tea liqueurs not only taste a million times better, they allow you to have a lot of control over the flavors, and are only a fraction of the cost of the retail versions. Also, they are so ridiculously easy to make, I’m almost embarrassed to post a recipe!

While the infusion time needed for this liqueur is much, much shorter than any of the others, it really benefits from aging. If you’re looking to do a batch for holiday gifts, you’ll want to start it soonish.

Iced Tea Liqueur.

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Homemade Blueberry Liqueur

This time of year, I’m torn.

One one hand… I really hate the commercialization of certain holidays, and how THAT results in stuff like Halloween displays in Menards… in August. Christmas displays in September. It gets earlier and earlier every year. Also, really… The holiday season stresses me out. It means doing my grocery shopping at 5 am, to avoid the crowds and horrible bell-ringer-induced headaches. People body checking each other in order to get the perfect gift or the last box of cocoa on the shelf. Just.. yeah. I digress…

On the other hand, I love giving handmade gifts. There’s something really satisfying about putting the finishing touches on the presentation of your own handiwork, and seeing the joy on the recipients’ face. It’s something personal small-batch, unique, and… not pulled off a shelf at the last minute. You know. Special.

Thing is, a lot of hand made gifts require planning ahead. It does no one any good for me to give Christmas gift ideas in December, when they take 3 months to make. As my friend Karen pointed out yesterday, she always gets a laugh when newspapers publish recipes for making your own corned beef ON St Patty’s Day.

So.. I’m sorry. I know it’s the beginning of September, and I hate thinking “Holiday” this early just as much as anyone. In the interest of helping you give some awesome gifts this year, however, I’m going to write a few blog entries on homemade holiday gifts. Now.

Some will take only a couple weeks to make, others may take a couple months of wait time. Many are ingredient dependent, and best to start NOW. What’s the point of posting a recipe for fresh blueberry liqueur in mid December, for instance? Also, most liqueurs taste better (smoother) with a bit of aging,

So, let’s talk liqueur making. (more…)

Custom “Nerds” Wedding / Party Favors!

Editing to add: Due to popular request, I’ve shared my template for these boxes. You can find it HERE.

Saturday was our 5th Wedding anniversary! No one’s died or been (significantly) maimed, so I think we’re doing pretty good at this whole “marriage” thing 🙂

While we splurged on the venue, we did a lot of our wedding ourselves, DIY. It was all quite nerdy and perfect for us.
We got married at the Science Museum, which was a no brainer for us. It was the only venue we’d looked at! In looking at a local wedding magazine, with huge lists of the local venues, we got headaches just thinking about picking a venue. Then, we saw the Science Museum listed. Boom. Done.

Our centerpieces were very simple, just 3 test tubes glued together tripod-style, each with a stargazer lily. These were placed on mirror tiles on each of the guest dining tables – each table named after an element. We had fun trying to arrange the table names in an appropriate way – closest friends were seated at tables named after our favorite element, the kids were at the “Neon” table, etc.

The food was not so hot, our cake (I did NOT make it!) was freezerburnt, and our photographer spent most of the time hitting on one of our friends, rather than actually working. Meanwhile, the DJ and the bartender did their absolute best to make it an awseome evening, which it was. I mean really, we had our ceremony less than 5 yards away from “Bodyworlds”, LOL!

Anyway, in honor of our anniversary, I’d like to share what we did for our favors: Custom Nerds candy! (more…)