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Using seasonal ingredients is an important part of buying local and minimizing your “carbon footprint”.  But also, things TASTE better when they’re in season!  There is nothing better than the taste of a ripe peach in the middle of the summer or the tang of citrus fruits brightening up the dead of winter.  Now, living in the Midwest, I’m obviously not buying oranges locally…but I do my best to buy when things are in season here.  Which brings us to the subject at hand – the SEASONAL POTLUCK!  My friend Betsy and I decided to put this together for fellow bloggers and food lovers, and you’re invited!

We will be adding a badge to both of our sites shortly that you can grab and add to your “potluck” posts.  (UPDATE: the badge is posted! Just copy and paste the html below into a widget to add it to your site.)  We will also figure out a way to link back to everyone’s posts.  The more recipes, the better!  The rules are below, and please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions.

Join us for the APRIL potluck, which kicks off this Friday the 1st (not an April Fool’s joke!).  This month’s featured ingredient:  RHUBARB

Seasonal Potluck

The Rules!

  1. All recipes must include the seasonal ingredient of the month.
  2. Any course (i.e. appetizer, main dish, dessert) and even drinks are fair game.
  3. One post per week is the goal, if you can’t – we still want you to participate!  Just post as much as you can or would like to.
  4. Recipes can be posted any day of the week, BUT if you post on Friday try to make a drink or an appetizer in the spirit of happy hour!

BetsyLife

<a href=”www.betsylife.com” target=”_blank”><img src=”http://betsylife.com/wp-content/uploads/potluckbutton_resized.jpg&#8221; alt=”BetsyLife” width=”169″ height=”125″ /></a>

You can see what Betsy is cooking at www.betsylife.com or follow her on Twitter @betsylife

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Since my husband and I started our diet in January, all I can think about is making things that are “unhealthy”.  Well this weekend I knew I’d be able to unload this batch of cookies, so I thought I’d indulge my craving.  This recipe is adapted from the book, “jam it, pickle it, cure it” by Karen Solomon.  It is a fun little book of DIY basics like bacon, cheese, butter, marshmallows and even drinks.  It’s got a little bit of everything actually!  It’s a newer cookbook of mine, and I’m looking forward to trying more of the recipes.

These cookies were good, but I think I would have preferred the cookie to be a little more crisp.  These kind of tasted like a chocolate shortbread, but not as sweet.  The filling sweetened them up just enough though!

Chocolate sandwich cookies

Cookies:

1 cup granulated sugar

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¾ cup unsalted  butter, chopped into cubes

2 egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled

2 tablespoons water

Filling:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

3 tablespoons light cream (the original recipe called for evaporated milk, but cream worked fine as a substitute)

*note:  I doubled the original recipe because it wasn’t even enough for 1/3 of my batch of cookies.

To make the cookies in a food processor, start by processing the granulated sugar for 30 seconds, then adding the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa to combine.  If not using a food processor, in a bowl, combine the superfine sugar with the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.  Add the butter and combine just until coarse crumbs form.  Blend in the egg yolks and vanilla.  Scrape the melted chocolate intot he batter and mix to combine completely.  Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together when squeezed in your hand.  Note that the batter will be crumbly, but cohesive.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and grease 2 baking sheets. (I just used my silicon liners.)  adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.

Gather the dough together on top of a piece of parchment paper or wax paper with a scraper nearby.  Divide the dough in half, and shape each piece into a flat square.  Set one square aside and roll out the first square by covering it with a second sheet of parchment paper, and flattening it into a large rectangle about 13”x15” (the dough will be about ¼ inch thick).

Cut out as many cookies as you can using an inverted glass or cookie cutter, use a size to your preference.  I chose to make mine smaller, like traditional Oreo cookies.  Gather the remaining scraps of dough and cut out more cookies.  Note that a scraper is a great tool for moving the cookies from counter to baking sheet.

Bake the first sheet by itself for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the edges are slightly dark, they smell very chocolaty, and the cookies are brown on the bottom.  The cookies will rise during baking, but flatten out again once cool.  Let them cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Meanwhile, repeat the rolling and the cutting with the second half of the dough.  Roll out the scrap pieces of dough between the papers again, and cut out as many cookies as possible.  If the dough gets too soft to work with, leave on parchment and chill in the fridge or the freezer for a few minutes.

Bake the cookies as above.  Cool all the cookies on a rack for about 30 minutes, or until they are cooled to room temperature, before sandwiching.

To make the filling, in a large bowl combine the confectioners’ sugar, corn syrup, and milk until they form a sticky mass.  Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag.  Alternatively, use a sealable plastic bag, and snip off a tiny corner of the bag with scissors.

To assemble the cookies, with the flat side of a cookie facing up, squeeze out icing onto the center of a cookie and lay the flat side of another cookie on top, giving it a twist to spread the icing around.  The amount of icing you use will depend on the size of the cookies, so you’ll have to use your own judgment.  Note that as the cookies sit, the icing will spread a bit more.  It’s best to let the cookies firm up a little before serving, about 1 hour.

Store at room temperature, in an airtight container, up to 1 week.

Making sushi at home is easier than you might think.  You will probably have to make a special trip to the store for ingredients, but Asian markets are usually relatively inexpensive.  Your only splurge is going to be  the sushi-grade fish.  You will also need a bamboo rolling mat if you’re making rolls, which is what we did for this particular dinner.  There is no shortage of how-to videos on YouTube or links to websites with pictures and recipes when you do a search on the Internet.  I have included a few basic tips we’ve learned by making sushi at home, as well as some recipes. *Note:  recipes below were adapted from Sushi, by Lulu Grimes.

* Wrap your bamboo rolling mat in plastic wrap.  This will make it easier to roll, the mat won’t stick to the rice, and you won’t have to spend time picking particles of rice out of your mat either.

* Invest in a mandolin if you don’t already have one.  They are the best when it comes to slicing and shredding with some consistency.  I love how everything comes out so perfect!  You don’t need to spend a fortune on one either.  They can be found at an Asian market or  a Chinatown shop for a fraction of the cost of any mainstream retailer.

* Imitation crab sticks work fine for California rolls.  They’re actually much easier to work with too, for this purpose!  They also freeze well if you don’t use the whole package for your sushi rolls.

* Sriracha is awesome!  We mix it with mayo and a little chili oil for spicy tuna rolls, but you can add it to virtually anything to spice it up.  It’s even good on pizza!

* Only buy from a grocer that sells sushi or sashimi grade fish.  If you’re eating raw fish, you’re always running a risk of getting sick.  However, “sushi or sashimi grade” fish is supposed to have been treated a certain way (i.e. freezing, storage temps, etc.) to destroy parasites.  The fish should be clearly labeled, and often is pre-packaged in smaller quantities.  This is perfect for sushi making, since a little goes a long way.

* 2 cups of uncooked sushi or botan rice yields 4 cups of cooked rice.  This is enough for about 8-10 rolls.

* We haven’t typically followed many recipes verbatim when making sushi.  A lot of the time I’ll just purchase a handful of different vegetables and fish and we’ll just sort of make it up as we go along.  However, I have listed a few basic recipes that are easy for beginners.

California Roll

Sushi rice

Nori sheets

Avocado, cut into thin sticks (ripe)

Crab sticks

Cucumber, cut into thin sticks (I like to use English or seedless cucumbers)

Wasabi paste and pickled ginger for garnish (optional)

Spread a portion of the rice in an even layer on the nori, leaving about ¾ of an inch of nori visible on the ends.  Layer the crab sticks, avocado and cucumber on top of each other, keeping them parallel to the edge of the nori nearest you.

To roll the sushi, fold the mat over, starting at the end where the ingredients are, and tucking in the end of nori to start the roll.  Keep rolling, lifting up the mat as you go and keeping the pressure even but gentle until you have finished the roll.  Moisten the top of edge of the nori with water to seal the sushi roll closed.  Don’t worry if anything falls out the sides, just push it back in.  The edges might look a little ragged, but you can just sample those yourself!  Make sure you slice the roll with a  very sharp knife into even pieces.   Wetting the knife will help too.

Salmon, Asparagus, and Mayonnaise Rolls

Sushi rice

Nori sheets

Asparagus spears, blanched and cut into thin strips

Salmon filet, sushi grade, cut into thin sticks

Japanese mayonnaise

Wasabi paste and pickled ginger for garnish (optional)

Spread a portion of the rice in an even layer on the nori, leaving about ¾ of an inch of nori visible on the ends.  Layer the salmon and asparagus on top of each other, keeping them parallel to the edge of the nori nearest you.  Spread some of the mayonnaise on top of the salmon and asparagus.

To roll the sushi, fold the mat over, starting at the end where the ingredients are, and tucking in the end of nori to start the roll.  Keep rolling, lifting up the mat as you go and keeping the pressure even but gentle until you have finished the roll.  Moisten the top of edge of the nori with water to seal the sushi roll closed.  Don’t worry if anything falls out the sides, just push it back in.  The edges might look a little ragged, but you can just sample those yourself!  Make sure you slice the roll with a  very sharp knife into even pieces.   Wetting the knife will help too.

Spicy Tuna Rolls

Sushi rice

Nori sheets

Tuna, sushi grade, diced

Japanese spicy mayonnaise (recipe below)

Wasabi paste and pickled ginger for garnish (optional)

For the spicy mayo, mix together some Japanese mayonnaise, Sriracha, a dash of rice vinegar, and a dash of chili oil.  You will want to adjust the quantities until have the desired level of heat in your sauce.  Mix the diced tuna with the spicy mayo.

Spread a portion of the rice in an even layer on the nori, leaving about ¾ of an inch of nori visible on the ends.  Spread the tuna mixture in a line, keeping them parallel to the edge of the nori nearest you.  Spread some of the mayonnaise on top of the salmon and asparagus.

To roll the sushi, fold the mat over, starting at the end where the ingredients are, and tucking in the end of nori to start the roll.  Keep rolling, lifting up the mat as you go and keeping the pressure even but gentle until you have finished the roll.  Moisten the top of edge of the nori with water to seal the sushi roll closed.  Don’t worry if anything falls out the sides, just push it back in.  The edges might look a little ragged, but you can just sample those yourself!  Make sure you slice the roll with a  very sharp knife into even pieces.   Wetting the knife will help too.

We served the sushi rolls with some steamed edamame and homemade egg rolls.  But even just the sushi can be a meal in itself!

The Americanized Irish soda bread is the one I grew up with, and it’s the one I still prefer.  Unfortunately when I asked my mom for the recipe the other day…she couldn’t find it.  Though I didn’t veer too far from tradition with these recipes, I did make another variation of this bread with one of my other favorites – browned butter.  Both recipes have a little sugar in them, but the browned butter version has black pepper and rosemary in it, which makes it a little more suitable for a dinner accompaniment in my opinion.  The look of the browned butter loaf is more what I was going for, but the other loaf’s batter was so runny it was hard to work with.  The husband and I enjoyed the flavor of both breads, but I’m sending them with him to school tomorrow – so we’ll let the high school teachers decide which one is better!

Brown Butter Soda Bread, makes 2 loaves
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper plus additional for topping
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1 egg white, beaten to blend

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Stir butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir flour, oats, sugar, rosemary, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in large bowl to blend. Pour buttermilk and melted browned butter over flour mixture; stir with fork until flour mixture is moistened.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface. Knead gently until dough comes together, about 7 turns. Divide in half. Shape each half into ball; flatten each into 6-inch round. Place rounds on ungreased baking sheet, spacing 5 inches apart. Brush tops with beaten egg white. Sprinkle lightly with ground black pepper. Using small sharp knife, cut 1/2-inch-deep X in top of each dough round.

Bake breads until deep golden brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool breads on rack at least 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Irish Soda Bread, adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe on www.foodnetwork.com

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

 Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, and egg together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.  The dough will be VERY runny.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Lebovitz does not disappoint.  Seriously, if you are ever looking for a new cookbook, you can’t go wrong with one of his.  He is also exceptionally witty on Twitter!  We had some family over on Saturday to celebrate my brother and sister-in-law’s purchase of a new home, as well as my husband’s promotion to offensive coordinator for the Varsity team next year!  Unfortunately a promotion in name only, but still a reason to celebrate – I don’ t have to be there at 5:00pm for the sophomore games on Friday nights anymore!  Kidding.   But the hubs is very excited.

Back to baking.  I had some leftover ginger from the chicken meatballs I made earlier that week, so I wanted to find something to use it up.  Enter the fresh ginger cake.  This cake turned out delicious, and I felt like it was somewhat healthy because there isn’t any butter, and I substituted applesauce for the vegetable oil.  So we’ll call it a guilt-free dessert!  And don’t worry, it tastes great too.  I used raspberries to make a simple compote by adding sugar and lemon juice and simmering for a few minutes.  I think any combination of berries would work, or a plum-raspberry compote as David suggests in his book.

Fresh Ginger Cake, adapted from Ready for Dessert, by David Lebovitz

4-ounce piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1 cup mild-flavored molasses

1 cup sugar

1 cup applesauce  (the original recipe calls for vegetable oil, but the applesauce turned out fine!)

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup water

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform or round cake pan with 2-inch sides and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade or with a chef’s knife, chop the ginger until very fine.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the molasses, sugar, and oil.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and pepper.

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the baking soda.  Whisk the hot water into the molasses mixture, then add the chopped ginger.

Gradually sift the flour mixture over the molasses mixture, whisking to combine.  Add the eggs and whisk until thoroughly blended.  Scrape the batter into the prepared springform or cake pan and bake until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with a finger or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Let cool completely.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan.  Invert the cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper, then re-invert it onto a serving platter.

I served this cake with raspberry compote and whipped cream.  Good reviews all around!

Last week I was in the mood for Asian-inspired recipes.  I made this dish, homemade sushi and a fresh ginger cake (which wasn’t really Asian, but I had fresh ginger leftover from this meal).  This recipe is easy enough for a weeknight dinner, but nice enough to spice up the weekend.  Fresh ginger is the key to the flavor hear.  If you haven’t worked with fresh ginger before, here is a nice tutorial on how to grate it :  http://www.ehow.com/how_4546475_grate-ginger.html  A microplane will come in hand for this, and for grating other things like fruit zests and whole spices like nutmeg.

Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs with Edamame and Snow Peas,  courtesy of Real Simple

makes 4 servings

  • 1 1/2  cups  long-grain rice
  • 1 1/4  pounds  ground chicken
  • 2  scallions, chopped
  • 2  tablespoons  grated fresh ginger
  • 2  tablespoons  canola oil
  • 1/2  pound  snow peas, halved crosswise (3 cups)
  • 1  cup  frozen shelled edamame, thawed
  • 1/2  cup  low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2  tablespoons  brown sugar

Cook the rice according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the chicken, scallions, and ginger. Shape into 16 meatballs.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the meatballs, turning, until cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Wipe out the skillet. Heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the peas and edamame. Cook, tossing, for 2 minutes. Return the meatballs to skillet.

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce and sugar. Add to the skillet and simmer until slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve over the rice.

Tip: To keep the ground chicken from sticking to your fingers, wet your hands before forming the meatballs.

I pretty much love browned butter anything.  The nutty smell and caramel color – sometimes I feel like I could just drink it down by itself…but don’t worry, I don’t.  I am, however, drawn to any unique recipes incorporating browned butter.  This simple recipe for rice crispy treats is courtesy of the Smitten Kitchen, who never disappoints.  They’re like an adult version of rice crispy treats – but kids will love them too!

Salted Brown Butter Crispy Treats, makes 16 2-inch squares or 32 1- x 2-inch small bars

4 ounces (1/4 pound or 1 stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
1 10-ounce bag marshmallows
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal (about half a 12-ounce box)

Butter (or coat with non-stick spray) an 8-inch square cake pan with 2-inch sides.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. It will melt, then foam, then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Don’t take your eyes off the pot as while you may be impatient for it to start browning, the period between the time the butter begins to take on color and the point where it burns is often less than a minute.

As soon as the butter takes on a nutty color, turn the heat off and stir in the marshmallows. The residual heat from the melted butter should be enough to melt them, but if it is not, turn it back on low until the marshmallows are smooth.

Remove the pot from the stove and stir in the salt and cereal together. Quickly spread into prepared pan. I used a silicon spatula.

Let cool, cut into squares.  Enjoy!