Archive forSeptember, 2011

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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So, I was a pretty awesome kid. I ate everything! My mother asked me recently how it is I ended up being such an adventurous eater when my family is not known for venturing far from the standard American diet, and honestly, I don’t know, but she shouldn’t be that surprised because I have always liked to eat and always liked what I ate, with one exception: lima beans. I hated lima beans as a kid. I know my parents urged me to eat them whenever we had them, although I don’t think they pressured me too much, because come on, I liked BRUSSELS SPROUTS. Who is going to give the kid who likes brussels sprouts a hard time?? Anyway, the only thing I hated more than lima beans was succotash, which my mom makes every Thanksgiving, because it pissed me off she’d mix perfectly innocent corn with horrible, nasty lima beans. At least when she made plain lima beans, no delicious corn was being befouled by contact with limas.

In the last couple of years, though, I’ve discovered I do actually like lima beans: just not frozen ones. I’ve therefore been snapping them up whenever I see them at the farmer’s market. I was trying to find a new way to cook them up tonight when I found this recipe for a fresh lima bean succotash with tomatoes and onions. I had two ears of corn I needed to eat tonight, and we’ve had corn on the cob twice already this week, so it seemed perfect. I’ve lightly adapted the recipe to what I had on hand. I’m sure my mom never thought all those years ago that one day I’d be publishing succotash recipes for the world to see. But believe me, even if you think you hate lima beans, you’ve got to try them fresh.

Fresh Succotash with Tomatoes and Leeks
adapted from

1 leek (mine was huge), minced (I’d have used a regular onion as the recipe called for if I didn’t have this leek I needed to use, so use a small onion of you don’t have a leek problem)
3 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
coarse or flaked salt to taste
2 ears corn, shucked and kernels removed
1 pint fresh lima beans
1/2 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
several leaves of basil, chiffonaded
freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a heavy sauce pot, heat some oil, then add the leek or onions and cook until soft, then add the garlic and salt and cook another minute or two. Add the corn, lima beans, and tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until limas are soft, about 30-45 minutes. Add the basil and pepper.

Tastes like the end of summer! I served it with some baked Italian herb tofu (you know, when I found that URL to link, I got to thinking I should totally take one of Twin Oaks’ Saturday tours one week; I’m only a couple of hours away), dressed with a light lemon-caper sauce.

Mark has been continuing to make Sunday dinners, somewhat to my surprise. Last Sunday’s pesto, which he made up:

I’m really proud of him; he’s becoming quite the chef!

And I’ll leave you with my parents’ silly dog Sophie wearing some silly socks and playing with a silly egg.

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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


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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Seven Posts

I’m still here! Yes, I survived the earthquake (pretty strong here in Northern Virginia, but I thought it was fun), the hurricane (not strong at all in NoVA, in fact, I was almost disappointed it wasn’t more exciting until a co-worker in Vermont started sending me pictures from there, then I felt contrite), the floods, the downed trees, etc, etc. etc. My lack of posts is not related to any of that, though, it’s the same old thing it’s been most of the summer: I AM SO BUSY!

As I’ve alluded to, and which you can tell from the multitude of raccoon pictures I’ve been posting, I’ve spent most of the summer getting into wildlife rehabilitation. I received a comment recently from someone who was also interested in raccoon rehabbing but didn’t seem sure if she could do it, so I figured I’d say a little about my experience so far. Wildlife rehabbing is something I’ve considering doing for years, but although I’m known among my friends as being very practical, down-to-earth, and capable (at least I think I am known that way!), one of my major weaknesses is a sensitivity about both animals and medical stuff. By medical stuff, I mean, I come very near to passing out if I have blood drawn or watch it being done to someone (or some animal) else, and if I think I have some ailment, like the time I had plantar fasciitis, I have to make my mother research it for me because reading about anatomy makes me sick. So for a long time I’ve told myself there was no way I could get into animal rehabbing because as soon as I encountered an injured animal, I’d either burst into hysterical tears or be paralyzed with horror.

But then I decided I didn’t want to be someone who loves wildlife so much she can’t help them. It doesn’t make sense. My decision to become a (for now) apprentice rehabber was not just to benefit wildlife, but to benefit me. To become a better person. To fix something about myself I can be better at. To overcome my fears. Parts of this summer have been hard, really hard. Harder than I was hoping my first year would be. Much of it has been exactly what I expected it to be: I clean up raccoon poop; it’s not glamorous. But parts of what I’ve been doing – in addition to helping with the raccoons, I’ve been transporting animals for our local wildlife rescue group – have been beneficial in unexpected ways. Not only have realized I’m not paralyzed by upsetting situations, but I’ve been talking to a lot of rehabbers and I’ve found it easy. See, I’m extremely shy. I may not seem like it within the context of my blog, because it’s my blog, but I find it difficult to talk to strangers. Somewhat to my surprise, I have found I really enjoy talking to all the people I meet, and I’ve been asking questions of everyone to learn everything I can. I had/have a bad view of Northern Virginia; there are a lot of things about this area that don’t sit well with me: McMansions, materialism, self-absorption. My perception has changed a lot as I meet more and more compassionate people and learn more and more about the wildlife population here. There are a lot of good people here after all!

So, Jill, if you are reading this: if you want to work with raccoons or any wildlife, don’t sell yourself short! I haven’t had to insert any feeding tubes and if I do, I’ll probably freak out the first time, but I know now I can handle it if I tell myself I can handle it. And for those of you who are interested in wildlife but aren’t sure the hands-on stuff is for you, contact your local wildlife organization: there are a lot of other things out there that are easy to do (driving animals in boxes around is not hard work!) but are so helpful and rewarding.

Alright, that’s the end of my public service announcement for the day. This IS a food blog, right? Where is the food, you are no doubt asking. Unfortunately, there is no food. I’ve wanted to post, and I’ve even snapped a few half-hearted shots of some of my meals, but honestly, in addition to not having time to blog, I just haven’t made anything blog-worthy to tell you about. However, weeks ago, Jes tagged me in a Seven Links post, which I figured would give me something to write about, but I never found the time to sit down and do it. I don’t really have the time today, but I’m making the time. So essentially, I am supposed to link to seven archived posts in seven different categories. It’s harder than it seems, but in the hopes that at least some of my archives are more interesting than I am lately, here we go:

Most Beautiful Post

At first I thought this one would be next to impossible to choose, because what is “beautiful” about my blog, other than food in general being beautiful? But then I realized that although it’s sort of cheating because they were just about the most off-topic posts I have made, the answer is easy. I have to select two, though, because there is no way to choose between them.

My memorials to Tigger

… and Brachtune.

Most Popular Post

Curiously, this one should be very simple to answer just based on statistics, but the truth is I don’t look at my logs that often; at least not lately because I’ve been so busy. Whenever I do look at my logs, I’m always surprised by how many hits Thai Sticky Rices and Sauces gets; a lot of people come in via googling for sauces for sticky rice. But as far as getting continuing feedback, I think the bread bag tutorial may be the most popular.

Most Controversial Post

Okay, this is the hardest one! Have I ever done an even remotely controversial post?! Believe me, the fact that I haven’t is not because don’t hold controversial opinions or do controversial things, because a large contingent of the planet would probably think I do. But the goal of this blog is to attract not only like-minded vegans, but friendly omnivores. I don’t want controversy here. I want love, peace, and happiness here like the damn hippie I am! This is a food blog (regardless how hard I try to make it a cat and raccoon blog), and I want food to be the great unifier, not the great divider.

I honestly can’t think of a controversial post, but there is one that some random person on the internet has left a nasty comment on a couple of times, and I’ve deleted the comment both times. That’s as close as I think I’ve gotten to controversy. It was one of the old posts with Tigger and this person left a comment about how she wouldn’t ever eat at my house because I let my cats on the counter. I don’t remember which post it was because Tigger was ALWAYS on the counters, but bizarrely, she’s left the same comment twice over a span of like two years. Both times I was undecided about allowing the comment and then replying, “that’s fine because I would never invite someone as rude as you to eat in my house”, or just deleting it. I would never delete a comment made by someone who respectfully disagreed with me, and I’ve allowed other less-than-friendly comments, but I just felt that particular comment was nothing but mean-spirited and meant to hurt my feelings, and it goes against everything I want this blog to be for me and others. I know a lot of people on the internet are into sparring with each other, but I just didn’t want to be reminded of that negativity every time I looked at that post. So I guess my big controversy is I controversially deleted the single mean comment I’ve ever gotten, so none of you even knew there was a controversy. If any of you remember a better controversy, comment and tell me! I won’t delete your comment! (Unless you hate on Tigger, of course.)

Most Helpful Post

I don’t know how “helpful” I usually am; sometimes I think I’m the opposite of helpful because I’m really very relaxed about cooking: I don’t measure things, so I sometimes wonder how useful my recipes are when they are usually just estimations and approximations of what I did. And I am not really a pioneer of any techniques or even flavors. But if I have to pick a post, I would say the tofu press tutorial, just because sturdy tofu presses are hard to find and I haven’t seen any posts like that one.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

I’d expect a post with “A-Not-Very-Good Attempt” in the title to fall pretty flat, but I was surprised by how many people commented on my kitchen in my “not-very-good” attempt at seitan ham. Since then I’ve noticed I always get a lot of comments whenever I post photos that show more of my kitchen (which has gotten even better since that post!) than just the food I’m working on. We live in a rental house and the kitchen, although adequate, is nothing special. However, someone I had just met pointed out to me at a party once that my kitchen is obviously the kitchen of someone who loves to cook and that was why she (and everyone else) likes being in it. And it’s true, *I* like being in it, and I guess that vibe transcends to others.

A Post I Didn’t Feel Received the Attention It Deserved

Hm, this is really hard to answer because I’m always flattered by any attention my posts get, and I have a lot of great commenters that keep me going! The only one that comes to mind is maybe the kaiser roll post, just because I don’t think anyone made them (other than those who already have and love The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which the recipe is from) and they are GREAT. Now, my high school hair in that post, on the other hand, got way more attention than it needed!

The Post I’m Most Proud Of

This is hard, too, but I think I’m going to go with my three miso posts because, well, I made miso. I wasn’t formerly known as a particularly patient person, but fermentation, especially of miso, has taught me the way. I am proud that when I want to know how something is made, I MAKE it.

Wow, that took way longer than I hoped it would! Thanks for making me do it, though, Jes! I’m supposed to tag other people, but honestly, that sort of stresses me out and I’m stressed out enough with work right now, so if I’ve inspired anyone else to go through their archives, I’d love to read your seven posts, but please don’t make me call on people.

I hope to be posting much more frequently this fall as things calm down both at work and with the wildlife. Although I haven’t come up with any blog-worthy posts yet, I am doing a few new things I’ll eventually be posting about: making red wine vinegar, making beer(!!!), and I got a CO2 tank so I’ve been carbonating everything – expect soda recipes galore this fall!

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