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Archive for February, 2008

Ask Parsnip: Potluck Ideas

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JSC writes: “What’s a good potluck dish you could prepare for a group? I need something big, filling, easy to make, and transportable.”

I like “everything in one” types of dishes for potlucks. Casseroles are always easy and offer ways to be creative, combining any meat, cheese, pasta, and vegetable that the cook wants. Making elements that can be mixed together, such as meat, rice, and steamed veggies also offer a filling yet lighter dish that is no less easy to transport. And for something a bit different that can be a main dish or dessert, try bread pudding. It is a simple, self-contained dish, that can be fun and easy to make.

In general, I think it’s best to keep it simple and contained as you need to appeal to a variety of people and you don’t want to spill anything in transit. Below are a few ideas from other blogs:

Polenta Sausage Casserole
Shepard’s Pie
Cuban Chicken with Rice
Savory Asparagus Bread Pudding
Pumpkin Bread Pudding

As for transportability, check out Corningware Portables. Cauli and I have their 3-quart oblong portable dish and it makes bringing food for potlucks super easy.

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Leeks with Creme Fraiche

I discovered leeks about a year ago with our first CSA box, and it was love at first sight. I love their aggressive green tops and their layers of oniony goodness. They are an easy vegetable to work with (taking care to slice down the middle and clean out any dirt that accumulated in its pale green folds) and adaptable to many recipes.

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For this recipe, I melted some butter in a sautee pan and added chopped leeks. (This is very much a personal recipe – meaning you should use what you have.) I had two large leeks and used them both.

 I sauteed them until they softened and added some homemade chicken stock and cooked it all down, making sure to season well with salt and pepper. After cooking the leeks and stock down for about 20 minutes, I added a pinch of dry rubbed sage, and stirred in some creme fraiche. Creme fraiche is a great addition to sauces like this – it adds a nice thick tang.

It was a great accompaniment to the grilled beef tenderloin and porcini truffle ravioli*. Adding more stock and creme fraiche would make this recipe more of a sauce  – a good topping for pastas.

*The raviolis are from the Pasta Shop in Oakland. A coworker was kind enough to share some with me and I’ve been hopelessly in love with them ever since. I recently found them at Whole Foods. Sadly, they are a seasonal item and will be gone by winter’s end.

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Parsnip Puree

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Parsnip puree is a very simple and delicious dish, and unassuming to look at (off-white, smooth – you get the idea) . We used it as a sauce over pork tenderloin and it was delicious; a nice change from apple-type sauces that usually accompany pork.

Parsnips are part of the carrot family and have a woody center that you need to cut around (a bit annoying, but easily done). They are also very bitter when raw, and sweet after they’ve been cooked. Roasting, as with most vegetable, is a great way to bring out their flavor. For this, however, I chopped them up and boiled them (about 10-15 minutes or until tender). I added a pat of butter and some shakes of cinnamon and blended to a smooth consistency. It went perfect with the pork, which was spicy from a rub that my dad gave to us.

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Buttered Turnips

Turnips are part of the radish family and a winter vegetable you should try if you haven’t already. This is a preparation that comes from Alice Waters’ book The Art of Simple Cooking.

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Cut off ends of turnips and quarter them. Place them in a pot with a pat of butter and some salt. Cover and cook on medium until soft. If they start to brown too quickly, lower the heat.

The turnips get a nice, carmelized brown color to them. I’ve even added onions in the beginning, which adds some additional sweetness as they carmelize. After they’re done cooking you can mash them, making them a good carrier for sauces.

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Lavender Butter Cookies

My grandmother’s favorite scent was lavender (I wonder if lavender is the favorite scent of ALL grandmothers?). I’d like to say she was a baker and a cook, but she wasn’t. She did, however, have an endless sweet tooth. She would always eat just enough dinner so she would be sure to have room for dessert. I like to think she would have made room for these.

I found a recipe for butter cookies in a knitting book I bought, and I had also recently bought lavender buds to bake with. It seemed as if this would be a great opportunity to make lavender cookies.

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The recipe calls for a pound of butter. That’s four sticks. And it makes 120 cookies…120 cookies you have to slice. I try to not cook with that much fat and my patience wears thin when slicing. Instead, I halved the recipe in order to make it more manageable. The original recipe also calls for milk or sour cream. I had neither – only some creme fraiche, which worked just as well.

 The cookies came out thin, crisp, with a hint of lavender – perfect for taking with tea. (more…)

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