Archive forTutorials

Dilly Beans, and canning tutorial

I’d been saying for several years that I knew one day I’d get into canning, but it wasn’t until last summer than I finally took the plunge. I bought a bunch of new canning jars (although I already owned a great deal of vintage jars that I store food and goods in, and ferment things in, and dispense soap from, and drink out of…you get the picture: I had a lot of jars and I bought a lot more jars) and Marisa McClellan’s wonderful Food in Jars. I’d been reading Marisa’s blog for a long time, so I had a good idea of what I was getting into, and I knew I’d trust her recipes to be both tasty and safe. Marisa’s book is a fantastic resource for the new canner, and especially those who might be daunted by visions of 15-hour canning sessions, pounds of fruits or veggies to peel and cook, and tons of finished jars of store…and eat. Food in Jars is great because most recipes yield about 4 pints, which is perfect for trying out recipes with little investment, squeezing short canning sessions around busy schedules, and not overwhelming small households with hundreds of jars of the same thing. Plus, Marisa is personable and very responsive to commenters on her blog.

The first recipe I made from her book, and the first thing I ever canned, was Dilly Beans…which I think is probably the first thing a lot of people try. And for good reason: they are easy and delicious! Since Marisa generously shared her recipe on Serious Eats (it’s actually slightly different than the one in the book in that it makes 5 pints instead of 4, and which worked out perfectly brine-wise for me), I’m going to go ahead and repeat it here with my photos just to inspire any of you out there who are like me and want to try canning but are worried about the initial investment or the time it might take up, or think it might be difficult to do. However, if like me you end up enjoying canning, I strongly urge you to buy Food in Jars or Marisa’s new book Preserving by the Pint, because the recipes are good and easy to understand and there is a ton of info for new canners.

Spicy Dilly Beans
Recipe by Marisa McClellan, shared on Serious Eats

3 pounds green beans (I had 2.8 lbs, all but about 6 green beans I was able to force into 5 pint jars)
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup pickling salt
5 cloves garlic
5 tsp dill seed (not dill weed)
5 tsp red chili flakes or cayenne powder, or 5 small chili peppers, slit (last year I used fresh chilis that Mark grew), or you can omit this if you don’t want spicy dilly beans

About the vinegar: although I use it by the gallon around the house, I usually don’t cook with white vinegar, preferring a myriad of flavored and homemade vinegars, however, in an unprecedented move I followed most of the canning recipes I used last summer faithfully instead of getting creative, and not only did these turn out delicious, but everyone I’ve served or given them to has raved, so I’m sticking with the white vinegar for now. In an older version on her blog, Marisa uses apple cider vinegar.

The first thing you need to do when getting started canning is purchase or scrounge up the following:

  • canning jars and rings – You will need 5 pint jars for this recipe and they will come with rings, which hold the lids on in the boiling water bath until they’ve sealed to the jar.
  • lids – Although you can and should reuse the jars and rings for many years, lids can only be sealed once. New jars will come with a new lid for each jar, but if you are reusing jars, you will need to purchase enough new lids for the batch you plan to make.
  • a pot large enough to fit the 5 jars (in a single layer) as well as water to cover by a couple of inches, plus another couple of inches head room for boiling
  • an insert for the pot that the jars can sit on instead of sitting directly on the bottom of the pot
  • small saucepan for warming lids
  • jar lifter or some other device, such as tongs, for moving jars into and out of the boiling water bath – Jar lifters are cheap and are a LOT easier than tongs, so I do recommend you pick one of these up if you can
  • magnetic lid wand – optional but handy device for lifting lids out of simmering water; you could also use tongs
  • dish towel – for setting hot jars on
  • clean towel – for wiping jar rims after filling

As much as I love kitchen gadgets and pots, I have no desire to buy a dedicated canning pot (unless I later decide to get into pressure canning, which doesn’t really interest me at the time). I already had this 12-quart Calphalon stock pot and pasta insert that is perfect for up to 5 pint or 4 quart jars. Unfortunately I can’t really find it for sale anywhere; I bought it as part of a larger set years ago. But if you already have a large stock pot, you can easily rig something up without a pasta insert, just by putting a heat-safe trivet on the bottom for the jars to sit on.

The first step in canning is to sanitize your jars. You can run them through a dishwasher cycle if you like, or bake them in the oven at 200 degrees for 15-20 minutes, but since you are going to be boiling water anyway for the water bath, the easiest thing to do is just boil them. So put your insert into your large pot and the jars on the insert, then add water to cover by a couple of inches (I also like to add a glug of white vinegar, which keeps the jars sparkling) …

… then bring to a rapid boil for 10 minutes. Now what you should NOT DO is at this juncture realize you need more vital wheat gluten for the seitan you are simultaneously making and just drive off to Wegmans to buy more, leaving the water boiling on your stove because you are an idiot. DO NOT DO THAT. (The good news is Mark was home the whole time I was gone, although until/unless he reads this, he had no idea!)

Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a very low simmer. All you want to do is warm the seals on them so they adhere to the jars later.

Use your jar lifter or tongs to remove the jars from the water (very carefully pouring the water out of them without spilling it on yourself) and place them on a folded dish towel. You can keep the water simmering while you continue prepping.

Prepare the brine by combining the vinegar, water, and salt in a medium pot and bringing it to a boil. Let it simmer until you are ready to use it. I saw this fourth burner pot on Marisa’s blog and yes, I DID have to buy it, but I don’t use it just for canning. You can absolutely use any pot you have that the brine will fit in; I just like this one because it has a spout that makes it easy to pour into the jars later, and also when canning, the stove tends to gets crowded and this pot takes up little stove real estate.

Next, prepare the green beans (or you could do this ahead of time if you are more efficient than I am). I don’t do that whole bean snapping thing. I just do not have the time for that nonsense. I line a bundle of beans up, chop off the ends with a sharp knife, turn the bundle around, line them up again, and chop the other end off. The important thing here is that you make sure the beans will fit in the jars, so what I do is trim one to the perfect size for my jars then lie it on my chopping block as a template. I’m not super fastidious about this, but if you don’t make them short enough to fit, it’s annoying later to go back and trim them down.

It’s easiest to fill the jars if you keep the trimmed green beans orderly:

By the time you’ve trimmed the green beans, the jars should have cooled enough to handle, so stuff each one with as many beans as you can fit, without smashing the beans up. I find it easiest to put a bundle in, hold the jar on its side …

… then shove another bundle on top, then sit the jar upright and fill in any gaps with more beans.

Put one clove of garlic, 1 tsp of dill seeds, and 1 tsp of chili flakes or cayenne pepper or one whole chili pepper into each jar.

Turn the burner under the brine off and pour the brine into each jar, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Carefully (they’ll be hot!) tap each jar on the counter and/or poke a chopstick around the edges to remove trapped air bubbles. If necessary, add additional brine to bring the headspace back to 1/2″. (By the way, you want to add HOT brine to the jars so they don’t go into shock when you later put them in the hot water bath…so don’t pre-make that brine and add it cold to the jars.)

Use a clean towel to wipe the rims of the jars (spilled brine could keep the lids from sealing properly). Next, turn the burner under the lids off and carefully remove the lids from the pot, placing one (seal-side down) atop each jar. Screw a ring onto each jar just until hand-tight.

Jars ready for canning:

If necessary, bring the large pot of water back up to a rolling boil, then use the jar lifter to carefully place each jar onto the insert on the bottom. You will probably have to remove some of the boiling water from the pot now that the jars are full; I use a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup to do this or you could use your small saucepan. Once all jars are in the pot, you want the water to cover them by about 2″ (so they are entirely submerged even when the water is bubbling). This picture is hazy because my camera was looking straight down into the steaming water.

Once the water is at a rolling boil after the jars are in, set the timer for 10 minutes. Let the jars boil (this is what is meant by “process in a hot water bath” that you may have read in recipes) for 10 minutes, then use the jar lifter to carefully remove the jars and set them back on the dish towel (the dish towel helps prevent shock from a cool counter or table top). [Note: Always process canning recipes for exactly the amount of time specified. If you don’t process for long enough, the internal temperature of the jar may not go high enough to create a seal and safely preserve your food, and if you process for too long, you may end up with overcooked food. Use only canning recipes from sources you trust. When in doubt refer to the USDA Canning Guidelines or the Ball website. Do not use older publications as the USDA guidelines have changed over the years and older canning books may be outdated.]

As the lids seal, you may hear a little “ping” from each one. This is a joyous noise because you know the lid has sealed when you hear it, however, not all seals will ping, so don’t worry if you don’t hear it. I usually hear a ping, but none of these five pinged for me and they all sealed. Let the jars sit overnight (or 8 hours) to completely cool, then you can remove the rings and test the seals. There are two tests you can do: 1) push the middle of the lid slightly. If it gives or pops, the lid is not sealed. 2) gently try to pry the lid off with your thumb. If it comes off, it’s not sealed. If you buy quality lids, they should almost always seal, but everyone will occasionally have one that does not. If you have one that didn’t seal, no problem: just put the jar in the refrigerator and use it up first.

Pro tip: always write the name of the contents and the date packed on the lids. These dilly beans will be good for at least a year. Also, store the jars without the rings. Apparently there is some debate amongst canners about storing with or without rings, but I’m firmly on the “without” side because a) rings could get stuck on over time and b) if the seal breaks during storage (a rare but possible occurrence), it’s harder to notice it if the ring is on. (Note: if after storage, you go to open a jar and find that the lid comes right off without being pried, throw the contents of the jar away. They might be okay, but it’s better safe than sorry in this case.)

The Serious Eats recipe says wait at least a week to eat these pickles; the book says two weeks. I’ve always waited two weeks, which may seem interminable, but believe me, it’s worth it!

Some people don’t know how to open a sealed jar. I use the bottle opener hook of my can opener (it looks like this one), but you can also use a church key or dull butter knife or spoon.

These dilly beans are really popular and I bring a jar or two to every party I attend in the summer and throughout the year. There is an ever-growing number of people who love to receive a jar of these or other of my canned items as a gift as well. When I give canned foods as gifts, I tend to stick a ring back on it, so if the recipient doesn’t use the contents in one sitting, they have an easy way to secure the lid and refrigerate the jar. Personally, I save up the standard-sized metal and plastic screw-on lids that come on commercial products like peanut butter, Vegenaise, cocounut oil, etc. and use them for storing jars in the fridge as they are less hassle than a lid + ring, and I toss used lids in the recycle bin as I open jars. If you give jars away, tell your friends to recycle the lid, but to save the jar and ring. I always tell recipients that they are welcome to keep the jar (and ring) if they want it, but if they have no use for it, to return it to me so I can fill it up for them again. 🙂

Dilly beans make any barbecue fare – nay, any meal – many times better, are awesome in bloody marys, and are just great snacks! These are from the open jar I currently have in the fridge, canned last year. The pepper is one of Mark’s, and yes, I will eat that (and the garlic!) too. Pickled peppers, yum! (Pickled ANYTHING, yum!)

If I can be like Bryant Terry and provide a soundtrack for this recipe, or any canning recipe, it would be any (non-annoying) song by Led Zeppelin. Mark and I both consider Zeppelin to be quintessential summer music and I listened to my all-Zep playlist over and over last summer while canning. In fact, whenever a Zeppelin song comes on now, I’m instantly transported to sitting on a barstool in my kitchen peeling, coring, and canning 100 lbs of tomatoes last summer. Which was a really zen thing for me for some reason. (Does anyone want a tutorial on canning tomatoes once tomato season hits? Because as awesome and delicious as dilly beans are, tomatoes are by far the most useful thing I canned: I haven’t bought a single can of tomatoes in a year, and I used to go through a LOT of cans of tomatoes!)

[PS If you feel like Led Zeppelin is overplayed, enjoy one of my other favorite summer songs. YOU’RE WELCOME.]

I’m extra excited about canning season this year because all I’ll have to buy is new lids, so it’ll be much cheaper this year than it was last year when I had to make the initial investment in the jars (which aren’t really expensive, but I bought a lot). And canning just does it for me. I’m as guilty as most other Americans of generating more waste than I have any right to burden this planet with, but I HATE it. I get really, really sick thinking of all that trash sitting in landfills, most of it not biodegrading, and all the plastic floating in our wonderful oceans. It’s true I keep on consuming, but I really try to think about packaging, and purchase as little of it as possible. To me, canning is just so great because I support my local farmers by purchasing everything I can from the farmers market (I’d grow it myself if I didn’t have a black thumb!), and I carry it all home in my market basket and reusable shopping bags, and I can it in reusable jars, and not only do I have a bounty of delicious, local ingredients to enjoy year-round, but I’ve wasted NO PACKAGING. It just makes me deeply happy. And I have LOVED opening my jars all year and enjoying the contents. I’m still amazed every time I open a jar of my home-canned tomatoes and they smell just as fresh as the day I canned them. It’s a scent and sensation I’ve never gotten from commercial canned tomatoes, even the really expensive ones I’d buy because I’m a pizza snob. So if you’ve been on the fence about trying canning, hopefully I’ve given you the push you needed to try it out this year – it’s very rewarding. And it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.

You didn’t think I’d leave without a picture totally unrelated to food, did you? Here is a groundhog climbing a tree:

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Produce/Bulk Bin Bags

I feel somewhat bad that the first thing I’m posting after so long is a sewing tutorial instead of food, but this craft creates a bag for procuring food, and that’s a part of cooking, right?

I’m becoming interested in natural dyes and to that end recently set up an indigo vat. Indigo dye comes from a plant, but it’s interesting in that it’s actually fermented. And I’m a big fan of fermentation of all sorts. It traditionally takes a few days to create an indigo fermentation vat, but since I was just trying it out for the first time, I bought a kit that comes with pre-reduced indigo, which unlike non-reduced indigo, is water soluble, which eliminates all the time and hard work of the fermentation process. I then proceeded to dye everything in the house indigo. I dyed a white blanket, because neither Mark nor I should be trusted with anything white, and I dyed several garments I had that I didn’t love the colors of (I loved the results of this and am so glad to have several “new” pieces of clothing that I’ll wear much more often now). And then I decided to experiment with shibori, which is basically Japanese tie-dyeing.

I practiced on strips of muslin. Muslin is a light, inexpensive cotton often used by seamstresses to make mock-ups of sewn items. I tend to keep several yards of muslin on hand because it’s cheap, useful, and I do often make mockups (also referred to as muslins) when I’m drafting patterns for projects. (This makes me sound like I’m a “real” sewer…believe me, I’m not!) Anyway, these qualities made muslin the perfect fabric for me to do some practice shibori on, however, this left me with a bunch of shiboried (I’m not sure that is actually a word, but it is now) pieces of muslin with which I needed to find something to do. And it just so happened that I’d been meaning to make some drawstring bags to take to the farmers market for things like green beans and potatoes. Sooooo, while you certainly do not need to shibori your fabric to make these bags, it explains why mine are tie-dyed, and also shibori is really fun. The pre-reduced indigo kit I bought was a good value because I was able to dye quite a few garments, that blanket, a bunch of Smark towels, and a couple yards of muslin for these bags, and I really enjoyed doing all of it.

You don’t have to use muslin; any lightweight fabric will do, although if you are a novice sewer (like me), I strongly suggest you stick to 100% cotton with no stretch. Muslin is cheap, strong, and useful to have on hand. I weighed one of my bags and it was exactly one ounce, which I don’t expect to have much if any impact on the price I’m paying for my produce and bulk bin items.

Drawstring Produce Bags

You need:
cotton muslin (or other lightweight cotton) – the size you want your bag plus a couple inches for seam allowances and the drawstring casing
thin cording – at least twice the width you want your bag plus 6″
rotary cutter and mat, or fabric scissors
sewing machine
large safety pin
pinking shears (optional)

I made my bag by taking one long strip of fabric and folding it half so I only had to sew up the left and the right side; the bottom was the fold. The best way for you to cut your fabric may be to cut two pieces. You can make it whatever size you want, but when cutting, add 1″ to the width and 3″ to the length you want your final product. Here I’ve laid out my folded fabric on my rotary mat, which I also used to measure it.

I cut my fabric so it was 14.5″ wide and 16″ high (but remember, it’s folded, so really I have one piece of fabric that’s 14.5″ x 32″; if you are cutting two pieces instead of one long strip, cut them both the same size). You can use regular fabric scissors if you don’t have a rotary cutter and mat.

First we are going to make the casing for the drawstring. There are two ways to do this: what is probably the better way, and what is the lazy way. The better way involves pressing so I did it the lazy way. Place the fabric right side down (if your fabric has a front side; muslin doesn’t really) in front of you. You want to fold the top edge over by about 1/8″, then over again by another 1/8″, so the raw edge is hidden.

The best thing to do here would probably be to just press this, but I pin and stitch it. Pressing is better because it uses less thread and you only end up stitching once. Stitching is easier because I much prefer sewing to pressing.

If you have two pieces of fabric, repeat on the top edge of the second piece. If you have on long strip like me, repeat on the “other” top edge, making sure that you fold down on the same side of fabric.

The next step is to actually make the casing. All you have to do is fold the folded edge down one more time. How wide you make the casing depends on the cord you’ll be using, but 3/4″, as I’ve done here, should be more than large enough. Just make sure you’ll be able to get your large safety pin through it later. Pin.

Stitch the casing closed. If you stitched for the first step instead of pressing, stitch right over your first line of stitching. If you pressed for the first step, stitch near the bottom of the casing. Repeat this step for the other piece or other side of fabric.

Next we’ll sew the bag closed. We’re going to use french seams to do this, so although normally you would always sew seams with right sides of the fabric together, we are going to start by sewing the seams wrong sides together. Even if your fabric didn’t have a right and a wrong side to begin with, now that you’ve made the casing it does. The wrong side of the fabric is the side the casing is folded into. If you have two pieces of fabric, put one right side down and then place the other on top of it, right side up, lining the casings up at the top. If you have one piece of fabric, fold it so the casings are at the top and the right sides are facing out. Starting at the stitching of the casing, NOT the top of the fabric, sew the right side using a 1/8″ seam. For me, the right of my presser foot is 1/8″. Note in the picture that I’m starting at the bottom of the casing – if you start above the line of stitching you did, you’ll sew the casing shut.

If you are using one piece of fabric, sew to the bottom fold, then flip the bag over sew the other side up in exactly the same manner.

If you have two pieces of fabric, pivot 1/8″ from the the bottom fold and then continue sewing your seam along the bottom, then pivot and sew up the third side, stopping at the bottom of the casing.

Again, note that you need to leave the casing open on both sides.

Now for the magic of the french seam. Turn the bag inside out. We’re going to sew the side seams again, trapping the raw edges inside. I didn’t bother pinning the inside seams because bags like these are manageable sizes and cotton fabric isn’t going to slip around, but I do pin for the second pass just to sandwich everything together tightly. The better way would probably be to press the seams, which would eliminate the need to pin.

Again, starting at the bottom of the casing, stitch the side seams again, this time 3/8″ from the edge.

Finished seams.

Now here’s the rather unprofessional part of this drawstring bag. I’m just going to allow exposed edges here instead of getting all fancy, but it will help to use pinking shears if you have them. Snip off both corners of the casing at a diagonal as shown in this picture:

Turn the bag right side out.

See the “v” in the casing we have at the seams?

Stick your safety pin through one end of your cord …

… then start feeding it through the casing starting at one of the “v”s.

Keep pushing the cord through by pushing the pin through the casing.

When you come to the opening on the other side, stick the safety pin in and feed it through the second side of casing.

When you are finished, the cords will meet. Remove the safety pin and knot the cord ends together.

Finished bag:

With a couple others I made in different sizes:

Filled with goodies. These will be great for produce, both at the store and the farmers market, and for bulk bin buys.

For the farmers market, I love, love, love this basket, and it has a perfect pocket for stashing these produce bags.

Speaking of shibori, here I am at a local vineyard today (that sells boxed wine, yay!!!), sporting a shibori scarf I made. The scarf itself was no-sew because it’s knit and doesn’t ravel; it’s just a long length of a gauzy cotton knit that I shiboried in my indigo vat.

And guess what? The dress is one of the garments I dyed indigo. It was previously bright red, if you can believe that. It was pretty, and I wore it red a few times, but usually I’d put it on and take it back off again because it was so bright and I just don’t do bright colors. I LOVE it in its new color.

Aaaaaand, time for cat news! So, in early summer I noticed a cat hanging around our yard. In fact, she never seemed to leave. I have wildlife cams out there and I saw her on them 24 hours a day. She lived in the top of our overgrown arbor, in kind of a nest, which seemed really pathetic to me, especially in the rain. I started feeding her because I knew she wasn’t going to a home elsewhere and I didn’t want her deciding to eat my birds. She and I very quickly became friends once I starting showing up with food, and one day I took her to my vet and had them scan her for a microchip. That came back negative and inquiries with the animal shelter and various lost & found sites got me nowhere, so the week before a big heatwave, I brought her in. I got her shots, cured her of some ear mites, then a few weeks later started introducing her to Gomez and Torticia. She didn’t have a name for the longest time, because I wasn’t sure we were going to keep her and because I couldn’t think of one that really seemed to suit her. They had to enter something on her record at the vet, so they entered “No Name”, and we actually called her Noname for a couple of months. Sad, eh? Then last weekend I was driving down the road and saw the name Heidi on some horse show sign and that was it! Because she likes to hide! She’s Heidi! (Except Mark keeps calling her Meatwad, to my disapproval.)

So with no further ado, meet Heidi!

Yep, she’s a tortie like Torticia! The tortie twins don’t like each other much though. Gomez and Torticia have been AWESOME the entire time. They never expressed any concern when I was harboring her in her own room, even though they knew there was another cat in there, and when I started letting her out, Gomez in particular has just wanted to be friends with her. Heidi’s not having it, though. I think she’s just still really terrified of them so she gets all defensive and hisses at them, then Torticia hisses back. Mezzie just walks right up to Heidi and stares at her with his ginormous eyes, head cocked quizzically, like, “why don’t you want to be my friend?????” while she’s hissing in his face. I’m hoping all the hissing calms down eventually, but if months go by and I think Heidi is living in fear, I will try to find a one-cat home for her. She’s very sweet and affectionate when she’s on her own, although Mezzie and Tish are always wherever I am so it’s hard to spend alone time with Heidi. We’re trying to make it work, though, because she IS very sweet, and she does seem super grateful to be here. I was worried she’d cry to go back outside, but she has shown no inclination to return to the great outdoors whatsoever. I really don’t think she was happy out there. I wish I knew who abandoned her.

A food post soon, I swear! It’s just that I spent so much of my kitchen time canning over last several weeks that I didn’t have time for blogging, or making blog-worthy meals. Canning is dwindling down a bit, and half of our raccoons are released, so I’m starting to have more time and I expect to get back into the swing of things soon.

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Mark’s Sushi Tutorial

The Smarkster and I were quite pleased to find that our local sushi restaurant recently upgraded their menu and greatly expanded their vegetarian options. Mark was so happy about it that he re-discovered his sushi obsession and when it came time to make his weekly Sunday dinner, he decided to make sushi. Which went so well that he decided to make more sushi last night. He suggested I do a post, so I have. Now you can learn from the guy who has made sushi twice sushi master!

What I didn’t chronicle is how to make sushi rice. I make my rice in my beloved rice cooker. To make sushi rice, I cook the rice as directed, then cut in some rice vinegar (sometimes seasoned with sugar, but sometimes I don’t bother) and salt. I just do this to taste, although there are plenty of tutorials around with much more precise instructions. Maki’s tutorial on Just Hungry comes to mind. When I’m making sushi rice to accompany a meal or even a scattered sushi, I just serve it warm, but when you are making sushi rolls, you’ll want to cool it, fairly quickly. To do this, Mark removed the rice from the rice cooker, put it in a wide bowl, and put it in front of a fan for a few minutes. So first, prepare some sushi rice.

Next, prepare some fillings. Raw veggies like cucumber, carrot, and avocado are common and easy. Cut them into thin strips like this:

I didn’t get a picture, but Mark also used some of the pickled radishes I’d made earlier in the week (using a simpler recipe than the one linked; I just put them in a slightly sweet brine overnight). This was fascinating because Mark has never, ever eaten a single one of my pickled radishes, and I’ve made tons of them. (Of course, I was only able to convince Mark he liked radishes at all a few weeks ago.) But he said these were really good! They’re great in sushi, even the red ones (whereas you usually see yellow pickled daikon in restaurants).

Mark, who would probably be happy living off of Gardein chick’n, also grilled up a couple of cutlets and decided to try that in sushi as well. Here he is slicing them thinly:

He also made some kimchi rolls. He prepared some bite-sized pieces of kimchi to use as a filling; though since kimchi is wet, these were a little trickier to roll. Totally worth it, however, as kimchi is great.

Next, he prepared the bamboo rolling mat. I’ve had this mat for years, with the best intentions of making my own sushi rolls, but I have never done it. Who would have thought Mark would make sushi before me?! He covered it with plastic wrap because he read that it is nearly impossible to clean stuck-on rice from them. Which I can believe, although I would imagine that once you’ve got enough practice, you shouldn’t be getting much rice on them, if you are making nori-outside rolls. Anyway, here is the mat all set up.

Place a sheet of nori on the mat. Our nori has these handy perforations on them showing you where to cut later. If your nori does as well, you want the perforations to go up and down, or opposite the direction of the bamboo sticks. Nori has a rougher side and a smoother side. Put the smooth side down; rough side up to receive the rice.

Set up a bowl with some water near your workspace. Sushi rice is sticky and you’ll want to dip your hands in the water often. With damp hands, grab a handful of rice and spread it out on the nori. You want to create a fairly thin layer of rice leaving about an inch at the top and bottom.

The lighting in our kitchen is not ideally suited for food photography, so this is a bit hard to see, but what Mark is doing here is placing some of the carrot and chick’n strips lengthwise along the bottom of the nori.

Next, he held the filling in place while simultaneously beginning to curl the bamboo mat, the nori lined up at the bottom edge, away from him.

Keep rolling until the edge of the mat hits the rice.

Then, keep pushing the roll together with your fingers, but release the mat.

And continue the roll without the mat, maintaining an even pressure on the roll and kind of tucking it in as you go along.

When the roll is complete, grab the top of the mat and start rolling back the other way to seal the roll.

Unfurl the mat …

… and if necessary, add a tiny bit of water to help seal the roll.

Next, with the sharpest knife you own, slice the roll into pieces about 1″ wide. My knives are rather embarrassingly dull right now, but Mark found that chopping fairly quickly was better than trying to saw through them. He also suggests wetting the knife first.

Pretty great for a second-time sushi maker, no?

Next up Mark wanted to make a drizzling sauce, which you sometimes find on extra-fancy sushi. He rummaged around the kitchen and pulled out these things: vegetarian stir-fry sauce, hoison sauce, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, sriracha, and lemon juice.

He mixed them together in proportions that were pleasing to him. The vinegar and lemon juice were literally just drops.

Then he plated the sushi with some wasabi, pickled ginger, and some of the Korean banchan we had bought at Super H, because it looks pretty (and goes really well with sushi). The rolls also got a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

I think Mark is trying to show me up by making things I’ve never made! And doing it well!

In personal news, we released some more raccoons this weekend, but this has been a long, photo-intensive post, so I’ll save pictures of that for another time. Oh, all right. ONE raccoon picture.

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