A brief overview of onigiri, and Los Angeles

Those of you who live in the US may have heard (or dealt with) about the slightly freakish snow the East Coast got last Saturday (it doesn’t usually snow in October in the mid-Atlantic region). Ordinarily this is something I would have been loudly whining about – probably right here in this blog – but as it turns out, Mark and I left for LA Friday night and missed the whole ordeal. Yes, it was snowing at home and I was in California enjoying sunshine and 90-degree temperatures. Boy, was that a great feeling.

For our late evening flight, I prepared onigiri (rice balls), which is perfect travel food. I wish I had taken pictures while preparing it, but I was busy getting ready for the trip. Next time I’ll take pictures and do a real post, but really it’s so easy, you don’t need much of a tutorial. And as with most things Japanese, there is little point in me doing a tutorial when Maki of Just Hungry has one that can’t be beat.

To summarize, though, I used a mold similar to this one (Maki’s tutorial explains how to do it without a mold). Just prepare some sushi rice, but don’t cool it and don’t season it as you would sushi – just cook it. Then stir in some salt to taste. Next, fill the mold a little more than half way with rice, then (optionally), make an indentation in the middle of the rice and add about a teaspoon of filling. The filling can really be just about anything as long as it’s not too wet. I used pickled radishes this time. Umeboshi is traditional and I often use it, but I was afraid Mark wouldn’t like it and didn’t want to worry about marking what was in each onigiri. Then fill the rest of the mold with rice, put the top on the mold, and push together. Then unmold – my mold has tabs on it that facilitate pushing the onigiri out.

Finally, and this is also optional, wrap the onigiri in nori, which you can cut out into fun shapes. For traveling, I then wrapped each onigiri in plastic wrap. Unless you use a mayonnaise-y filling, these will be safe at room temperature for quite some time, which is one of the many reasons they are so great for traveling. Other reasons include: you eat them with your fingers, they are filling, they are healthy, and they are super-portable.

For maximum fun, be decorative with the nori.

And now time to bombard you with pictures, though I will try to keep them mostly food- and animal-related. Last year I went totally nutso over the food in LA. As the Angelenos would say, it’s amazing. Here is an example of how amazing: Monday night Fort and Mark and I were at an event, after which we were meeting friends in Silver Lake. I was hungry and my friend warned me there was no food at the bar we were going to and so urged me to find something on the way. I figured that would be a hopeless cause, as we were in a hurry. Then, a block from the bar we drove by a restaurant called Vegan House. There wasn’t anything else around, just a random, open vegan restaurant with, of course, awesome food. There is no need to plan your meals in LA if you are vegan: vegan food is EVERYWHERE. (Except the airport. I hate LAX.)

Another example: I was browsing thrift and book stores near Fort’s new apartment in Echo Park and walked by an ice cream shop. I had really liked the book store I was in and thought how neat it would be if this ice cream shop a few doors down had anything vegan. Turns out it was ALL vegan. That’s LA: I think it might actually be harder to NOT be vegan there.

So anyway, here’s a little recap of my trip. I managed to forget to take pictures of many of my meals – despite the fact I lugged my new camera everywhere – but I did get a few. Saturday Fort took us for a walk through nearby Elysian Park. I love this picture I took of a lizard because he’s looking right up at me and I swear, SMILING! (I have another photo where he’s NOT looking at me or smiling, which makes me all the more sure that’s what he’s doing in this one.)

We hit up wine country on Sunday, where Mark made a new friend …

… as did I.

The views were almost as great as the animals.

Oh yeah, the wine was pretty awesome, too.

Even if I had to share.

Monday night was not only the best holiday of the year, it was Mark’s and my 7-year anniversary. Do you know who we were??

Tuesday we again met up with our friends, who suggested we check out Mohawk Bend. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of our food because it was very dark but I did snap a shot of the menu because I thought it was really cool that everything is “vegan unless marked” otherwise, instead of the other way around! Not only that but they have separate kitchens for the vegan and non-vegan stuff. Everything was delicious here and the drink selection was terrific.

I chased a few cats around throughout the week. There are a particularly high number of them in Venice, where we went Wednesday.

Because I am a great wife, I suggested we go to Disneyland on Thursday, as Mark LOVES Disney. Disneyland fun, see?

Disneyland also vegan-friendly! Vegan gumbo in New Orleans! In a sourdough boule! If you’ve ever tried to find vegan food in a non-Disney theme park, you know how incredible this sort of thing is. It was good and very, very filling. Just what you need to fuel an action-packed day.

The rides are super-fun at Disney …

… but Mark found it very typical that I took more pictures of the ducks than anything else.

Disneyland and Disney World are kinda the same and kinda different. The castles…very different. Like Disneyland in general, it’s much smaller, for one thing.

After a long, hard day of Disneying, we were starving, so I checked my phone for vegan-friendly restaurants in Anaheim. Tana Ethiopian got good reviews and I love, love, love Ethiopian, so away we went! Veggie soup:

Awesomeness:

Friday the unthinkable happened: it RAINED! Actually, I didn’t have a problem with this, other than the fact that LA drivers are even worse in the rain than they normally are, and normally they are even worse than Northern Virginia drivers, who I previously thought were the worst. Mark and I took it easy and stayed local while Fort was in school, though. Which was fine because it gave me a chance to check out Sage Bistro, which was great.

A bright respite from the rain. The counter up front actually contains the vegan ice cream I mentioned earlier.

Mark’s Cobb salad:

My tuna melt with German potato salad:

The snails come out when it rains in LA.

Our final day was yesterday, Saturday. Fort insisted we go to his favorite beach, Malibu. I’ll let the pictures do the talking: gorgeous!

And that was our trip…and also an explanation of where I’ve been during my lull in posting. I’ve really missed Fort and V and am already looking forward to returning to LA, but in the meantime I’m glad to be home with Gomez and Torticia…if slightly less glad to be going back to work tomorrow!

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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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Spicy Teriyaki Rice Bowl

This is a quick dinner that scales easily, uses whatever veggies and protein you have around, is cheap and filling, and tastes good. I’ve made a spicy version because, if you haven’t noticed, I think spice is the spice of life, but you can omit the chili paste and have yourself a regular teriyaki rice bowl instead if you prefer.

Spicy Teriyaki Rice Bowl

veggies to pan-fry, such as carrots, onions, bell pepper, broccoli, asparagus, daikon, squash, etc., chopped, sliced, or julienned into uniform pieces
protein, such as tofu, seitan, tempeh, fake vegan “meats”, and/or beans, cubed or sliced in uniform pieces
sushi rice, prepared
scallions, chopped and/or sesame seeds, for garnish

For the sauce (measurements for 2 – 4 servings)
4 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp mirin
4 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp chili broad bean paste (omit for a non-spicy teriyaki sauce)
1 tsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, grated

Prepare the sushi rice. I use a rice cooker. When it’s cooked, let it cool, then cut in salt and sushi vinegar to taste.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients into an appropriately sized pot. (For the amounts above I used this adorable cast iron melting pot.) Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer a few minutes or until sugar is dissolved.

Meanwhile, fry the veggies and protein (adding the ingredients to the skillet in descending order of their cooking times) in a small amount of oil (I used olive with a touch of sesame). I used: slivered onions, thinly sliced seitan, a carrot, three baby bell peppers in various colors, broccoli, and a handful of corn kernels.

When the vegetables and protein are cooked, remove from heat and pour the sauce over them, tossing to combine.

Serve with the prepared sushi rice. Garnish with chopped scallions and/or sprinkled sesame seeds if you have them (I didn’t).

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Japanese Green Beans and Tempeh

Mark requested sushi rice – just sushi rice – for dinner tonight, but I of course insisted on adding a vegetable and protein to the rice. I did want to keep it very simple though, as I haven’t felt like cooking much this weekend. So here’s what I did:

Simple Japanese Green Beans

8 oz French-style green beans (or regular green beans)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Toast the sesame seeds over a medium flame until they are light brown and smell sesame-y. I’m using a tiny cast iron pot my mother-in-law gave me (because she knows I love cast iron).

Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook French-style green beans for 2 minutes; fatter beans for maybe 3 minutes: you want them crisp-tender.

Whisk together the soy sauce and mirin. I like using Asian tea cups for tiny mixing jobs.

When green beans are just cooked, drain.

Toss green beans with soy sauce mixture and sesame seeds. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I don’t think tempeh is very big in Japanese cooking, but I decided to give it a Japanese twist to serve with Mark’s sushi rice. Here’s what I did:

Japanese-style Tempeh

8 oz tempeh
1/4 cup water
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp miso
2″ ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, pressed or smashed
several shakes shichimi togarashi (Japanese “seven spice” seasoning)

Whisk together all ingredients but tempeh; set aside.

Chop the tempeh: cut into fourths, then slice each fourth in half lengthwise …

… then slice each eighth into four strips.

I managed to forget to take a picture of the tempeh marinating, but pour the marinade over the tempeh in a shallow bowl and let sit for at least 10 minutes. I did this first then made the green beans above. Drain the tempeh, reserving the marinade. (I just picked the tempeh out of the marinade.)

Heat some oil in a hot cast iron skillet (I used olive oil with a bit of sesame), then add the tempeh strips.

Fry until golden on all sides.

Spoon about 3 tablespoons of marinade over the tempeh and stir. I also added a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds.

Serve with rice.

This was simple and quick, but pretty salty, as is a lot of Japanese food. And tempeh seems to soak salt right up. So you may want to use low-sodium soy sauce or try reducing the amount I called for, depending on your salt tolerance.

Here is Mark demonstrating how much he loves sushi rice. He’s eating it straight out of the rice cooker, off the rice paddle.

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Miso Follow-up, Miso Soup, and Chili-Miso Noodles

Some of you may recall that a year ago, I made miso. The year’s fermentation was over a couple of weeks ago but today was the first chance I had to check out the results. They were a bit surprising.

Six months ago, I took a sneak peak to see how the miso was progressing, so I was expecting the miso to look nearly the same as it did then, and taste maybe just a bit mellower. Here’s what I found:

The label on the crock tells me it’s ready.

Hey, there’s my small molcajete! (I tend to use my molcajetes as weights just as often as I use them for grinding.)

And the plate the sushi place near Luke and Lanet’s gave me!

I didn’t find any soy sauce like I did at six months, but what’s this? The miso looks much darker.

Removing the plastic wrap proved my eyes were not deceiving me: the miso really had turned from yellow to brown.

At first I was disconcerted by this unexpected color change. But it didn’t smell strongly or bad: just pleasantly of miso. So I tasted a little bit and it tasted good…really good. I also remembered that I originally followed two recipes from different sources: the instructions GEM Cultures sent me, and the recipe in Wild Fermentation, and that though the two had been nearly identical, the former had called it “yellow” miso and the latter “red”, so I’d been very confused as to what to call mine. And at six months, it sure looked yellow. But I guess what happened is I made red miso.

This is how much I have:

I’m going to let some of it age even further by keeping it in a cool place in the basement, but out of the fridge.

It’s MUCH better than it was at six months. The texture is very much improved. You can still see the koji, which makes it appear to not be perfectly smooth, but it feels really nice. It’s like a very, very soft clay. I’d venture to say it tastes better than the red miso I have from the store. (It’s also darker than the red miso I have from the store.) I wish I could describe it better than just saying it tastes like…miso. It’s mellower than it was at six months, but much more complex. At six months, I still thought the store-bought stuff tasted better. This – this is pretty good stuff.

To celebrate, I made miso soup for lunch. I may already have put miso soup up here somewhere, but well, if I did, this post is better. I don’t measure anything. This makes about two servings.

Miso Soup

Put a 4″ inch piece of kombu in two cups of water in a saucepan.

Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Keeping the heat on medium low, remove the kombu (you can eat it if you want) and add 1/2 teaspoon or so of dried wakame. I also add a splash of sake and a splash of rice vinegar, but both are optional.

Add some diced tofu. Fortunately I just made a batch today, as it would have been a shame to stick store-bought tofu into miso soup made with homemade miso!

Put a few tablespoons of miso in a small bowl – how much depends on how strong the miso you’re using is – and add some of the hot water from the pot, about 1/4 cup. Whisk together.

Pour the miso into the pot and add some chopped scallions. You’ll commonly see it advised not to let the soup boil after adding the miso because boiling kills the beneficial enzymes. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but scalding hot miso soup isn’t nice anyway, so keep it just under a boil until you’re ready to eat.

I also made Chili-Miso Noodles by cooking some udon, and whisking together 2 tablespoons of miso, 1 tablespoon of chili broad bean paste, a couple splashes each of rice vinegar and mirin, and about 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, heating this mixture briefly, and stirring into the noodles, then garnishing with scallions.

A very miso-y meal.

I know some of you are suffering with me in the mid-Atlantic region, which was hit with two blizzards/near blizzards in a span of four days. We’ve enjoyed several years of mild winters and Virginia in particular does not budget or prepare for much snow, so this has been crippling. The federal and county governments have been closed for days and many side streets are impassable, even those that have been plowed. Four-wheel drive vehicles seem to be doing okay on our street, but neither Mark nor I can even get our cars out of the driveway. There’s a good 4″ of snow on the road – all the plow did was sort of push it down, not push it away – and Mark had to help the mail man get his truck out of an intersection the other day when it got stuck. (It just so happened that I’d made Mark lug home kitty litter from Wegmans, which was convenient timing for the mail man!) I’ve been walking up to Wegmans on good (non-actively blizzarding) days for exercise and to get lightweight things, but we won’t be driving anywhere for several more days. The street is hard to walk on because in most places, the snow is not compacted down, so you really have to trudge. And where it is compacted and smooth, it’s icy. Basically I AM MOVING TO AUSTRALIA. Or if that’s impossible, California, even if I am pretty sure they’re due for a huge earthquake. Anyway, I haven’t taken too many pictures, because I’m just sort of disgusted with snow, but here are a few from the first storm.

Mark’s been, bizarrely, excited about shoveling. Which is fine with me! He looks like The Little Shoveler Who Could in this pic.

This is my car. I had to go out at 3 am during the first blizzard and wipe it off because it’s a convertible and I don’t want the heavy snow to break the top, so this is just what snow was added to it until the next morning. By the end of the day yesterday, the level of snow was higher than the hood of the car; it looked like I’d driven into a bank of snow.

This is the side yard. If you look carefully, you can see this is a fenced area. Inside that fence is the pool. Thinking about the pool during this weather makes me very sad. Especially since my swim classes have been cancelled all week so I haven’t been doing any swimming.

I hope everyone else who’s been affected by these storms has been staying safe and warm. Unlike my poor friend Nona, we’ve had power the whole time, and we can both work from home, so we’re faring better than many people and I’ve no right to complain. Except I opened my last bottle of red wine last night and once that’s gone, I may have to complain. I think instead of juice and other healthful things, tomorrow’s trip to Wegmans is going to have to involve the wine store.

I’m sure my Canadian friends are going to laugh at me again. But I’m REALLY over snow. And they’re predicting more on Monday.

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Miso Check-in and Tofu Mayo

Some of you may recall that back in January I made miso. It takes a year to fully ferment, but you can try it after six months and my six months were up on July 19th. It dawned on me today that July 19th is not, in fact, weeks in the future, but in the past. WHERE HAS THIS SO-CALLED SUMMER GONE?? Anyway, the anticipation was killing me. Had I been incubating something horrible for the last six months or was there really, truly edible miso in that white crock??

Several scenarios sailed through my head, but what I was not expecting was to remove the weight and find…

a dark liquid covering the plate. (Those lighter-colored things on the right are the pattern on the otherwise gray plate. This picture is a bit of an optical illusion.)

It dawned me, however, that what that liquid was was soy sauce! Indeed, I think it is, because you make soy sauce from soy and koji as well. It was pretty salty (I was real brave and tasted it) and there wasn’t much of it, so I just drained it off, removed the plate and the plastic wrap, and discovered this:

Miso! I think the parts that are grayish are really just indentations from the plastic wrap, and the circle is the indentation from the bottom of the plate the weight sat on. Nonetheless, I’ve read that the top layer of miso isn’t very good, so I scraped it away …

… and removed some of the good stuff with a spoon.

It’s real miso! It’s not gross! I’m as surprised as you are, trust me. To taste it, I heated a small amount of water to just under boiling and stirred some miso in. This is the most basic miso soup you can make.

It tasted fine, so I removed a little bit to use now, then packed the rest of it back down …

… covered with fresh plastic wrap …

… put the plate back on it (here you can see the pattern that looked a bit weird under the soy sauce), and the weight, and sealed it back up to wait another six months.

Here’s the bit I reserved; I’ll think of something fun to do with some of it this week. I have plenty of commercial miso, but I’m dying to see what mine tastes like in every day use!

Next up, last week when I mentioned using xantham gum as a thickener, a few people were interested. Lou asked me about using it in tofu mayo so I figured I’d try it and see. So this is for Lou.

I started with Bryanna’s recipe, using 5/8 tsp Indian black salt (which I use when I want something to seem “eggy”…and also because I bought a ton of it at the Indian grocery yesterday and I have more than I can store), one tablespoon canola oil, one tablespoon apple cider vinegar, and one tablespoon lemon juice. After tasting it, I thought it was too lemony (which is weird, I love lemon, which is why I used it, but it was a little overly “bright” for mayo, I thought), and I added maybe half a tablespoon Dijon mustard at Lou’s suggestion. I liked it much better then. Here’s the texture, with no thickener:

It’s a bit hard to see, but although it’s creamy and somewhat thick, it is a little runnier than real mayo is (I think – it’s been ten years or more since I’ve used real mayo!).

I started adding xantham gum by the 1/8 teaspoon, blending it in thoroughly using the food processor (really, it’s a Sumeet Asia Grinder, but for this purpose, it’s a food processor). To my surprise, 1/8 and even 1/2 teaspoon did nothing discernible to the texture. Finally I added what made a full teaspoon of xantham gum, blended thoroughly, and let it sit about five minutes. I don’t know if the change in texture is really apparent in the photos, but it did become more mayo-y:

I think I can therefore report to Lou that she may like the results if she wants to play around with her mayo recipe using xantham gum. This may actually be closer to a mayo texture than Vegenaise is, although I consider Vegenaise a pretty perfect product.

I wouldn’t ordinarily use this amount of mayo in the two weeks that Bryanna says it’s good for, so I may be turning this into my coveted ranch dip this week. It’d be really great if I could make the ranch dip guilt-free because it’s really, really good, but it’s not really, really good for you. I’ll keep you posted.

Remember the book pillow I made? Brachtune sometimes does this completely adorable thing where she sleeps with her head on it, but yesterday I found her apparently under the impression it’s a computer!

Also, I was able to use the pool all weekend – woo! The website I use for weather has been predicting intense hail and thunderstorms all day, but in reality it was warm and sunny and gorgeous – perfect pool weather – and I’ve yet to see a hint of hail. Not that I’m complaining! Thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, however. It’s incredible the number of thunderstorms we’ve had this summer. Thursday night, Mark, Fortinbras, and I saw the National Symphony Orchestra perform Carmina Burana, one of my favourite pieces of music, at Wolf Trap, during a violent thunderstorm that lasted the entire show, rain beating down around us and lightning filling the sky. Although I felt sorry for the hardy souls on the lawn, it was actually a pretty cool way to experience the concert, and the performance was excellent. I really do like thunderstorms – I may have been the only bride on the planet to hope for thunderstorms on her wedding day (didn’t get my wish) – and I appreciated the one Thursday night, but I’m begging the weather gods to let me continue to use the pool!

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Quick Dinner with Sushi Rice

What with all the excitement of having Smucky here, I haven’t had a chance to post anything, which is okay because I haven’t really cooked anything spectacular. I figured I’d pop in and say hi this evening, though I still haven’t cooked anything spectacular, so you don’t forget about me. Food-wise, I am still recovering from the party last weekend. For example, I ate so many leftover chips with salsa as a snack late this afternoon that it wasn’t until 9:30 tonight that I even bothered asking Mark what he wanted for dinner. He told me not to worry about dinner, but I offered to make him some rice, his favorite food. He expected me to throw some sushi rice in the rice cooker and call it a meal – and he’d have been perfectly happy with that – but I simply can not serve a meal that consists entirely of rice. I am compelled to at least serve something on the side and include more than one vegetable. So here’s what I did:

I made the sushi rice as normal: sprinkling it with salt and sushi vinegar when it was done cooking, then mixing them in. Then I slivered about a cup of the yellow baby carrots I had leftover the party, as well as about 2/3 of an orange bell pepper. These I sauteed together with about half a cup cooked frozen edamame. Then I tossed the veggies with a sauce that consisted of 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 tablespoons mirin, 2 teaspoons chili garlic paste, 3 drops stevia, and a splash of rice vinegar, thickened with a pinch of xantham gum.

I had much of a head of iceberg lettuce leftover, purchased to alleviate a party guest’s falafel craving, so I threw together a very simple salad of lettuce, carrot, cucumber, and celery. For the dressing I combined 3 tablespoons olive oil, a 1-inch piece of ginger, grated, 1 tablespoon mirin, salt and freshly ground pepper, and 3 tablespoons of a batch of kombucha tea that had turned to vinegar. The latter is a very mild, sweet vinegar which I wouldn’t expect anyone to have (it’s a mistake I even have it); to substitute for it, use 1 to 2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar (or sushi vinegar).

Mark entered the kitchen, perplexed. “I thought you were just making rice. There’s an awful lot of food here for ‘just making rice’.” I know. I can’t make anything easy. Sue me. Or eat the delicious results and shut up! Not counting the rice, which was just made in the rice cooker anyway, this meal took about 10 minutes to throw together.

Yesterday Mark and I drove up to Baltimore to go to Artscape, at the beckoning of Fortinbras. Despite the fact that I for years lived about a mile and a half from the area Artscape is held, I never managed to attend it while I lived in Baltimore. I discovered why yesterday. It’s full of people. Which isn’t to say Artscape isn’t cool or anything – it is – but it was very, very crowded and I just do not like crowds.

I was absolutely famished when we arrived, and I get very cranky when I’m hungry, so the first thing we needed to do was find food. Fortunately this was easy, and there was even a vegetarian food stand at the first food court we encountered. I was carrying a huge camera bag containing several lenses, the camera itself slung around my neck, as well as the lemonade I purchased to go with my meal, and the two “veggie chicken” kabobs I bought, yet I still managed to get a picture of the kabobs for you. Mark asked me what the heck I was doing, as he thought I was crazy. It was a bit crazy to stand in the middle of an extremely crowded festival wearing a heavy camera bag, holding a lemonade, and take a picture of two kabobs I was holding in one hand. Please enjoy the results of my insanity:

The kabobs were very good, but not filling enough. I had to return ten minutes later and get a veggie wrap. Then we started exploring the festival and trying to find our friends: in addition to Fortinbras, we were looking for our friends Brad and April. The Charles Street bridge near the Jones Falls Expressway was festooned in streamers and various sideshow booths. It was extremely crowded. You can see Penn Station in the background of this photo:

There are several art cars in Baltimore, many of which were at Artscape. Here’s my favorite, although I couldn’t get far enough away from it to show that there is actually a car under all those hands.

I noticed that what I had previously taken to be a bizarre but exclusively Northern Virginia phenomenon – teeth whitening and dental services at street festivals and county fairs – has migrated to Baltimore. Here’s an inflatable dental spa, because nothing says “I like art” like a dental spa:

Artscape is a free event. It encompasses three days, several square city blocks, and offers performances by nationally known bands such as Cake. I think Etta James performed a few years ago. But all of this is free, and you just sort of wander around and immerse yourself in the wackiness that can be Baltimore (wackiness is what I love about Baltimore). So I found this interesting:

Instead of actually walking around looking at the displays, listening to the music, and participating in the games, you can pay $25 to stand on the top of a parking garage and look at the tops of peoples’ heads. Um, no thanks? The crowds did get to us, though, so Mark and I sought refuge at our favorite bar, then skipped over to The Yabba Pot for dinner.

And finally, I just wanted to share this extremely cute picture of Smucky and Brachtune playing Uno:

I’ll have a real post for you this week, I promise!

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Japanese-Chinese Tofu and Tomato Stir Fry

I had a fresh block of tofu that I made yesterday and knew I probably wouldn’t be able to use it any other night this week, so I whipped out The Book of Tofu, figuring if the answer to “what’s for dinner?” wasn’t there, it wasn’t anywhere. The Book of Tofu is rather Japanese-centric, so the Chinese recipes it contains are mostly Japanese twists on Chinese recipes, which is why you’ll find sake in an otherwise rather Chinese meal below. I changed the recipe up, though, making it more authentically Chinese, so I probably should have swapped the sake out for shaoxing wine, but what the heck. It turned out well, it was quick and easy, combined flavors I love, and I’ll definitely make it again. But like my Japanese-type American-style Pickles, I seem to be making sort-of cross-culture foods lately. Which is a-okay with me.

Tofu and Tomato Stir Fry
Adapted from Fanchie-dofu in The Book of Tofu by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi

12 oz fresh tofu, preferably homemade
1 1/2 medium tomatoes, chopped into wedges
1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 large cloves garlic
2 Tbsp fermented black beans
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sake, shaoxing wine, or sherry
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
2-3 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 cup frozen peas or edamame
1 Tbsp cornstarch

In a small bowl, combine the fermented black beans (you can rinse these first to make them less salty, but I prefer not to), soy sauce, and wine.

Chop the tofu into 3/4″ squares.

Mince or press the garlic, slice the onions, and chop the tomatoes into wedges (make them thicker than I show here because mine cooked down too quickly).

When ready to cook the meal, heat some oil (I used peanut) in a hot wok. When hot, add the onions and stir fry for a minute.

Add the garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds.

Add the tomato wedges and stir fry for a minute or two.

Add the fermented black beans, soy sauce, and wine. If you can’t find or don’t have fermented black beans, you can just omit them and maybe add a little bit of vegan “beef” boullion, which is a totally different flavor but will give the dish a similar flavor boost. Try to find fermented black beans, though, because they are really, really good.

Stir in the tomato sauce and chili garlic sauce, adjusting for the amount of heat you like. I used about 2 tablespoons and Mark added hot sauce to his plate and I regretted not adding a little more. We both really like heat, though.

Gently stir in the tofu …

… and the peas or edamame. I think edamame would have been awesome here, and I sometimes have frozen edamame on hand but was sad to discover I didn’t have any tonight.

Allow to simmer for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch into 2 tablespoons cold water:

Stir the cornstarch mixture into the wok and stir for a minute or two until mixture thickens and becomes a bit glossy.

Serve with brown rice.

Every ingredient in this dish is a favorite of mine, so this was a no-brainer!

In other news, I GOT IN THE POOL yesterday. The water was a bit cold upon first contact but I was determined to go swimming, and it wasn’t at all bad after the initial shock. Despite this happy news, the forecast for this week is yet more cooler temperatures and even more thunderstorms. I can’t believe it! It’s supposed to be in the SIXTIES on Wednesday. What kind of horrible summer is this? Also, I have a busy week ahead of me and then Saturday morning Mark and I leave for our annual Beach Week with his family in Charleston, South Carolina, which I am looking forward to (the beach there is really nice and I also love Mark’s family). There’s no internet at the beach, so you may not hear from me for a couple of weeks, but don’t be alarmed. I’m just relaxing and probably taking a million pictures I’ll later subject you to, some of which may involve food. Mark’s family contains several vegetarians and is extremely accomodating of vegans.

I took Brachtune in for a check-up in anticipation of leaving her alone for a week, to make myself feel better, and the vet called Friday to tell me that according to all the tests they ran she’s doing “amazing”. Which didn’t surprise me at all because Brachtune has been acting nothing at all like a 17-year old cat who probably has cancer: she’s been acting like a little ole hunk of purring love.

Also, tomorrow (Tuesday) is BLOOMSDAY! So read some of Ulysses (I’ve downloaded it to my phone for free!!), drink a lot of beer or whiskey, and act real pretentious!

Here’s Pig checking out his copy of Ulysses during Bloomsday 2004: the centennial!

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Miso

I decided to take my love of fermenting things to a new level and make miso. Because I’m insane. Really, though, it’s pretty easy if you can find koji, which is rice that has been steamed and mixed with a certain kind of mold spore. The hardest part about it is you have to wait up to a year to eat it. This will be by far the longest I’ve ever fermented anything.

You can make your own koji if you can get the mold spores. I have some and I’ll probably try it at some point, but I decided to use pre-made koji the first time around. As with most of the cultures I use, I purchased it from GEM Cultures.

The next thing I needed was a crock to make the miso in. The directions that came with my koji instructed me to use a 1 1/2 quart straight-sided crock. All I really have are jars, so I had to find something else with a mouth as wide as the sides. Off to the thrift store with me, again! I found this crock, which was perfect:

Then I was on my way to making miso!

Miso

2 cups dried soybeans
1 cup soybean cooking water
1/2 cup sea salt
2 1/2 cups koji (available from GEM Cultures)
1 Tbsp unpasteurized miso (If you can’t find this in stores, GEM Cultures sells it. You can also omit it if you have to, but apparently it really helps your miso along.)

Soak the soybeans in plenty of water overnight. The next day, boil them for 4 to 5 hours or until quite soft, being sure to add water as necessary.

When the soybeans are done …

… drain them, reserving the cooking liquid.

Add one cup of the soybean cooking liquid to the soybeans and mash. I used a blender but I think potato mashers are pretty common.

Here are the mashed soybeans in a bowl.

Add the salt …

… and stir it in thoroughly.

When the soybeans are cool enough to touch, add the koji and the unpasteurized “seed” miso. If you’ve made miso before, you probably didn’t pasteurize it, so you can use it as the seed miso. I ordered some from GEM Cultures in lieu of searching for it in stores because most of the writing on the miso I buy is in Japanese.

Stir very thoroughly again.

Next prepare your crock. I got the idea to rub the sides down with salt from Wild Fermentation, which I read about on Cyn’s blog and realized I needed to own. So what I did was bring water to a boil in the kettle, pour it into the crock to sanitize it, then pour it out without drying. Then I set it on its side and sprinkled the sides with salt while rolling it. It wasn’t the most even of jobs, but I figured it was better than nothing (which is what the other instructions I had indicated for the sides of the crock).

Press the miso firmly into the crock, making sure there are no air bubbles. My knuckles got tired so I used a potato masher for a bit.

Tigger then appeared on the scene to investigate.

Smooth and level the miso.

Sprinkle the top fairly generously with salt. You’ll be removing this layer before eating so don’t worry about it being too salty. Particularly concentrate the salt around the edges.

Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it down onto the miso and up the sides of the crock.

Find a plate that fits just inside the crock. This plate is particularly appropriate for this application because not only does it fit the crock perfectly, but I acquired it from a Japanese restaurant.

Place a heavy weight (at least a pound) on the plate. I forgot to go out rock-hunting today so I used my small molcajete. (I’ll probably go find a rock and retrieve my molcajete!)

Cover the crock, with a lid if it has one, or with a heavy piece of fabric tightly tied around the top.

Label the crock! This seems like a step I’d skip, convinced I would magically remember the date, and then later kick myself about for being so stupid.

Place somewhere out of the way. Here it sits next to my fancy new sauerkraut crock (that I got for Christmas), in which is brewing a new batch of sauerkraut, in a spare bedroom that is inexplicably but handily very cold.

Soon I’ll have a whole row of crocks with things bubbling inside them. I am the mad fermenter!

Check back in 6 months when I try it the first time, and then in a year when it’s fully matured!

Update, July 26, 2009: See results of the six-month check-in.

By the way, Tigger says hi.

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Vegan Spam Musubi

I suddenly found myself making vegan SPAM on Sunday. Trust me, I was as surprised as anyone. But then I had to figure out what to do with it. The only dish I have ever heard of that uses Spam is Spam musubi, that bizarre Japanese/Hawaiian hybrid of weirdness. So I did what any normal person would do: I visited the Spam website (Warning! Clicking on that link with your speakers on is…interesting.) There I found many, many Spam recipes, including one for, yes, Spam musubi. So, that, my friends, is exactly how I used up the first of what turned out to be more vegan Spam than I can handle. I was going to come up with my own recipe, but then I decided it would be funny to use the official SPAM recipe, which other than the SPAM itself, is vegan.

Vegan Spam Musubi

3 cups prepared sushi rice
1/3 – 1/2 recipe vegan Spam
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
olive oil for frying
1 -2 sheets sushi nori

Get the sushi rice cooking. (If you are not familiar with cooking sushi rice, see Maki’s tutorial on the excellent Just Hungry.)

Mix the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger together in a small, shallow pan.

Cut four slices of vegan Spam (for a total of eight pieces of musubi). I found a serrated knife worked best.

Cut each slice in half, then cut off outermost part of the arc of each (save the small arc-shaped piece for another use):

Place the eight pieces of vegan Spam into the marinade and marinate for half an hour, turning over after 15 minutes.

Meanwhile cut the nori into 8 strips 1/2 to 1″ wide. My nori is perforated for 1″ strips.

When the rice is done, let it cool enough to handle.

Heat a frying pan over medium heat, add some olive oil and bring up to temperature. The Spam seemed to want to stick to my cast iron pot, which is well-seasoned and usually very stick-resistant, so I had to use a bit more oil than usual. (I still didn’t use the 2 tablespoons the SPAM website called for.) Brown the vegan Spam on both sides.

When the rice has cooled a bit, wet both of your hands and grab a handful, smooshing it into a log-ish shape about the length and width of your Spam pieces. (Don’t try to do this with dry hands.)

Place a piece of fried vegan Spam atop each rice log.

Wrap a strip of nori around each Spam/rice pile, moistening the nori slightly at the end to seal it.

Repeat for each piece of vegan Spam.

I steamed some broccoli and carrots, then tossed them in some of the leftover marinade. The SPAM site also suggests dipping the Spam musubi in the leftover marinade. I prepared some wasabi and soy sauce for dipping because Mark loves wasabi.

When the vegan Spam was frying, Mark announced it smelled like real SPAM. “I have no idea what SPAM smells like,” I responded, “but I’m guessing it does not smell good.” Then he picked a piece out of the frying pan and said it tasted like real Spam, to which I responded, “I have no idea what SPAM tastes like, but I’m guessing it’s not good either.”

Despite – or maybe due to – the fact that I doubt very much vegan Spam tastes (or smells) like real SPAM, this turned out well! Mark really liked it, and despite the fact that he’s a complete rice fiend, when I couldn’t eat my fourth musubi and asked him if he wanted it, he only wanted the Spam from it. He also said he may make a Spam sandwich for lunch tomorrow. This was definitely a fun experiment!

And I have so much more Spam left to work with! Prepare yourselves for a very spammy week.

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