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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Mark’s Caesar Salad

Thanks to Smucky, Mark has become obsessed with Gordon Ramsay. Here is something you may not know about us: we don’t have cable or satellite TV. Other than a couple of years in high school, I have never had cable. In college and a few years after, back when TVs had antennae, I had network television, which I watched occasionally, but I’ve always preferred reading to watching television, and frankly, when we were no longer able to get even network stations, I didn’t miss it. We just stream stuff from Netflix and are plenty happy with that. However, whenever we are around cable television, such as our parents’ houses or hotels, we each have a couple of things we fight over watching. For me, it was always the Food Network. For Mark, it’s aliens. Frankly, I think the Food Network might be the MTV of the 21st century: do they have any shows about COOKING FOOD these days, or is it all just reality television? I don’t even bother trying to watch it any more. I never really watched it that much to begin with because it seemed like Paula Deen was always on and she gives me convulsions.

Anyway, Mark would always change the channel away from food as soon as I wasn’t looking. But Smucks loves Gordon Ramsay and when he was here last, he somehow got Mark stuck on Gordon Ramsay as well. Since then, Mark has been taking his Sunday meals up a notch. I’ll be honest with you: I’m surprised how good Mark is at cooking and that he hasn’t yet lost interest in making Sunday dinners. Apparently I have Ramsay to thank.

The first meal or two Mark made, he slavishly followed recipes he had found online, but one thing I’m really impressed by is how he’s been improvising since then. There’s no one way to cook, and I rarely help him, but I think he’s actually picking up my techniques, so I keep telling him he’s doing it right. He had asked me earlier if Caesar salad was okay for dinner, so I wasn’t surprised that was what he made tonight, but I was surprised by how great it looked:

He was particularly proud of the dressing, so I asked how he made it, thinking he’d give me a link to the recipe, but to my surprise he told me he didn’t know; he just made it up. I am so proud! Because it was really, really good! Fortunately for you, after we finished our meals, he remembered the recipe, so I’m going to share it with you.

Mark’s “Chicken” Caesar Salad
serves 2

2-3 heads romaine lettuce
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1 tomato, quartered
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
a sprinkling of shredded vegan mozzarella (we recommend Daiya)
3 Gardein chick’n scallopini
croutons

Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
a little less than 1 Tbsp [vegan] mayonnaise (I told Mark this was called “scant”, but he told me to write it like he said it)
1 Tbsp “normal” vinegar
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
juice of half a lemon
splash of white wine
splash of red wine vinegar
a bunch of coarsely-ground black pepper
some salt
some more pepper

Blend together all of the dressing ingredients except the “some more pepper”. Mark hates mayonnaise and wants me to stress to you: DO NOT USE TOO MUCH MAYONNAISE OR IT WILL BE DISGUSTING. He used it to create a little creaminess, but he was very wary of it. If you use too much mayonnaise, you’ll have to add extra lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and pepper to mask the horribleness of the mayonnaise, Mark says. The dominant flavor of this dressing was the garlic (the house smelled deliciously of garlic; it was making me hungry!), but it’s not overpowering…although I suspect you had better be a garlic lover. After blending, taste and adjust the ingredients until it’s perfect, then add more coarse pepper. Set aside while the flavors blend.

Meanwhile, grill or pan-fry the “chicken”; we use a George Foreman grill. When it is done, slice into long strips.

Remove 4 or 5 of the best romaine leaves per serving and arrange in each bowl. Chop the rest of the lettuce and place in the bowls. Prepare the rest of the vegetables and arrange them neatly in each bowl. Top with the croutons and mozzarella. Drizzle with the dressing. According to Mark, Ramsay is big on presentation, and Mark’s been paying a lot of attention to it. See above for his amazing results! It not only looked great, but it tasted great.

I am also supposed to tell you that Mark included the mustard in his dressing because he learned from Alton Brown that mustard has scientific properties that bind oil and vinegar. I’ve always wanted to watch Alton Brown, but never managed to be around cable television at a time when he was on, until very recently Mark found and downloaded a bunch of Good Eats, the non-meat-tastic episodes of which we’ve watched a few. Yeah, that’s the first time I ever saw the show; we are SO not with the times in this household.

The other big news from today is we released the first three raccoons of the season! Raheema thought she was ready to go as soon she got to the outside enclosures (she wasn’t really ready then), but we had to wait until a few good days of weather were forecast. Which hasn’t been easy: our county flooded much worse than I’ve ever seen on Thursday. I was hoping we could do it today while I was there, and I was lucky!

We’re fortunate that we can release animals right on the wildlife sanctuary grounds so we can do soft releases. That means the raccoons are welcome to return to their enclosure for as long as they’d like (within reason), and they’ll be fed there during that time if they wish. So all we do is just open a little raccoon-sized door on the outside wall of their enclosure. We were a little surprised Raheema didn’t bolt out as soon as we opened it. I don’t think she realized what was happening at first.

It didn’t take her long to figure it out.

The first thing she did was climb her neighbor’s cage.

And two minutes later, she was back in the cage!

She went back and forth a few times, then we eventually lost track of her, because we were watching her brothers, Quivet and Quebec, who finally decided to join the fray:

Raccoons love climbing.

Compared to the tiny babies I bottle-fed a few months ago, these kits looked so BIG to me in their outdoor enclosures. But once in the great big outdoors, they looked so tiny again! I’m confident they have what it takes to survive though and am very happy for them!

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Mark’s Picks: Jerk “Chicken” and “Beef” Stroganoff

Often when I ask Mark what he wants for dinner, he answers, “I don’t care.” Then I’ll usually whine and say, “well I don’t care either, so think of something,” and we go ’round and ’round in that fashion for an hour. Lately, though, Mark’s been actually firing back requests when I ask him what he wants. Sort of without thinking, though, I believe. Saturday night I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he immediately responded, “jerk chicken.” “Wow, really? Where did that come from?” I asked. “I don’t know, I don’t even know what jerk chicken is,” he answered. Jerk chicken, though, was the perfect answer because I’d earlier in the day commented that I had a couple of habaneros I needed to use up. So I made him jerk “chicken”. Then tonight I asked him what he wanted for dinner and he said, “Beef stroganoff. I don’t know what it is, but that’s what I want.” Always happy for requests, I made him “beef stroganoff”.

Both of these meals used commercial vegan “meat”, so I didn’t mean to write either of them up as recipes for the blog, because I feel as if I’ve cheated somehow. But Mark urged me to photograph the meals anyway and also really liked them, so since I don’t have any more original posts for you, here are some examples of what we’ve eaten over the last few days….I’m still not back to cooking as much as I usually do, so I’ve been lazy.

For the Jerk “Chicken”, I pretty much followed this recipe almost exactly, substituting Gardein Chick’n Scallopini for the chicken breasts. I let them marinate while we went to the gym, then grilled them on the George Foreman when we got home. I served it with Jamaican-style “rice and beans”, which was long grain rice cooked in a can of coconut milk + enough water to make up the liquid called for by the rice, seasoned with some minced onion, a habanero that I stabbed a few times, some salt, and a can of red kidney beans.

Mark loved this – after eating two “breasts”, he ladled some of the extra marinade onto his plate and sopped it up with some stale bread he found in the kitchen. He also praised the rice, which I’ll admit I tasted a few million times as it was cooking (although next time I’m making it in the rice cooker because my stove is horrible at cooking rice). The greens, by the way, are callaloo, a can of which I rather bizarrely found in my cupboard. Which was perfect, but it just goes to show that you never know what you might find in my cupboard. Mark refused to eat the callaloo.

I had the leftovers from this for lunch today, prompting several people at the office to tell me my meal smelled wonderful.

If you examine it, Mark’s random request of beef stroganoff tonight should have been even more difficult for me to pull off, considering beef stroganoff consists of the following unvegan things:

  • beef
  • beef “juice” (broth, stock, consomm√©, etc.)
  • sour cream
  • egg noodles

…usually lavishly garnished with mushrooms, which both Mark and I despise. Really the only vegan and non-gross thing about beef stroganoff is onions. But Mark requested beef stroganoff and 20 minutes later, he got “beef” stroganoff.

I cooked 8 oz of bowtie (because that’s what I had) pasta. Meanwhile, I thinly sliced half an onion (that I wanted to use up) and a couple of shallots and sauteed them in olive oil in a Dutch oven. To the sauteed onions, I added a few cloves of pressed garlic and a couple of tablespoons of flour and made a roux, then I added about half a cup of red wine – what was left in a bottle I wanted to finish so I could open a new one to drink with dinner – using it to deglaze the pot. Then I added maybe a cup of vegan “beef” broth, some salt, dried tarragon, and lots of freshly ground pepper. As this was simmering, I added some Gardein Beef Tips and a spoonful of Better Than Sour Cream. When that was all warmed through, I served over the pasta. Mark said it was “really good”.

I’m sort of embarrassed about sharing those meals with you lest you think we’ve been surviving off nothing but processed food lately – actually we’ve been eating a lot of salads, too, or were until the weekend, anyway, although yeah, I do seem to have plowed through all the Gardein stuff I found at Wegmans and wanted to experiment with a lot faster than I anticipated. Speaking of Wegmans, the one near our house is now selling Daiya, and since this has been a rather pro-processed food post I might as well tell you that the minute I saw that, I decided the struggle is over: veganism is now mainstream. I can buy a tasty, melty, high quality vegan cheese at my regular, local grocery store: it’s all vegan cake from now on. I know Wegmans is sort of an upscale grocery store and that I’m very lucky to live in the part of the country and world that I do, and that my friends in the Midwest and in other countries are probably much less impressed with the selection in their local grocery stores, but finding Daiya at Wegmans was the day I’ve been waiting for for the twelve years I’ve been vegan. For me, it’s officially no longer more difficult to be vegan than it is to not be. Wooo!

In technical news, Mark and I (mostly Mark) have been migrating to a new server and even regular commenters may find their first comment held for moderation. Don’t be alarmed. Hopefully the new site will be a bit faster, though. And I’ve just remembered I need to re-do the blogroll because it disappeared…

In the process of moving all our stuff to the new server, I have been looking at old pictures. Let me tell you who I miss more than you can imagine:

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