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Making sushi at home is easier than you might think.  You will probably have to make a special trip to the store for ingredients, but Asian markets are usually relatively inexpensive.  Your only splurge is going to be  the sushi-grade fish.  You will also need a bamboo rolling mat if you’re making rolls, which is what we did for this particular dinner.  There is no shortage of how-to videos on YouTube or links to websites with pictures and recipes when you do a search on the Internet.  I have included a few basic tips we’ve learned by making sushi at home, as well as some recipes. *Note:  recipes below were adapted from Sushi, by Lulu Grimes.

* Wrap your bamboo rolling mat in plastic wrap.  This will make it easier to roll, the mat won’t stick to the rice, and you won’t have to spend time picking particles of rice out of your mat either.

* Invest in a mandolin if you don’t already have one.  They are the best when it comes to slicing and shredding with some consistency.  I love how everything comes out so perfect!  You don’t need to spend a fortune on one either.  They can be found at an Asian market or  a Chinatown shop for a fraction of the cost of any mainstream retailer.

* Imitation crab sticks work fine for California rolls.  They’re actually much easier to work with too, for this purpose!  They also freeze well if you don’t use the whole package for your sushi rolls.

* Sriracha is awesome!  We mix it with mayo and a little chili oil for spicy tuna rolls, but you can add it to virtually anything to spice it up.  It’s even good on pizza!

* Only buy from a grocer that sells sushi or sashimi grade fish.  If you’re eating raw fish, you’re always running a risk of getting sick.  However, “sushi or sashimi grade” fish is supposed to have been treated a certain way (i.e. freezing, storage temps, etc.) to destroy parasites.  The fish should be clearly labeled, and often is pre-packaged in smaller quantities.  This is perfect for sushi making, since a little goes a long way.

* 2 cups of uncooked sushi or botan rice yields 4 cups of cooked rice.  This is enough for about 8-10 rolls.

* We haven’t typically followed many recipes verbatim when making sushi.  A lot of the time I’ll just purchase a handful of different vegetables and fish and we’ll just sort of make it up as we go along.  However, I have listed a few basic recipes that are easy for beginners.

California Roll

Sushi rice

Nori sheets

Avocado, cut into thin sticks (ripe)

Crab sticks

Cucumber, cut into thin sticks (I like to use English or seedless cucumbers)

Wasabi paste and pickled ginger for garnish (optional)

Spread a portion of the rice in an even layer on the nori, leaving about ¾ of an inch of nori visible on the ends.  Layer the crab sticks, avocado and cucumber on top of each other, keeping them parallel to the edge of the nori nearest you.

To roll the sushi, fold the mat over, starting at the end where the ingredients are, and tucking in the end of nori to start the roll.  Keep rolling, lifting up the mat as you go and keeping the pressure even but gentle until you have finished the roll.  Moisten the top of edge of the nori with water to seal the sushi roll closed.  Don’t worry if anything falls out the sides, just push it back in.  The edges might look a little ragged, but you can just sample those yourself!  Make sure you slice the roll with a  very sharp knife into even pieces.   Wetting the knife will help too.

Salmon, Asparagus, and Mayonnaise Rolls

Sushi rice

Nori sheets

Asparagus spears, blanched and cut into thin strips

Salmon filet, sushi grade, cut into thin sticks

Japanese mayonnaise

Wasabi paste and pickled ginger for garnish (optional)

Spread a portion of the rice in an even layer on the nori, leaving about ¾ of an inch of nori visible on the ends.  Layer the salmon and asparagus on top of each other, keeping them parallel to the edge of the nori nearest you.  Spread some of the mayonnaise on top of the salmon and asparagus.

To roll the sushi, fold the mat over, starting at the end where the ingredients are, and tucking in the end of nori to start the roll.  Keep rolling, lifting up the mat as you go and keeping the pressure even but gentle until you have finished the roll.  Moisten the top of edge of the nori with water to seal the sushi roll closed.  Don’t worry if anything falls out the sides, just push it back in.  The edges might look a little ragged, but you can just sample those yourself!  Make sure you slice the roll with a  very sharp knife into even pieces.   Wetting the knife will help too.

Spicy Tuna Rolls

Sushi rice

Nori sheets

Tuna, sushi grade, diced

Japanese spicy mayonnaise (recipe below)

Wasabi paste and pickled ginger for garnish (optional)

For the spicy mayo, mix together some Japanese mayonnaise, Sriracha, a dash of rice vinegar, and a dash of chili oil.  You will want to adjust the quantities until have the desired level of heat in your sauce.  Mix the diced tuna with the spicy mayo.

Spread a portion of the rice in an even layer on the nori, leaving about ¾ of an inch of nori visible on the ends.  Spread the tuna mixture in a line, keeping them parallel to the edge of the nori nearest you.  Spread some of the mayonnaise on top of the salmon and asparagus.

To roll the sushi, fold the mat over, starting at the end where the ingredients are, and tucking in the end of nori to start the roll.  Keep rolling, lifting up the mat as you go and keeping the pressure even but gentle until you have finished the roll.  Moisten the top of edge of the nori with water to seal the sushi roll closed.  Don’t worry if anything falls out the sides, just push it back in.  The edges might look a little ragged, but you can just sample those yourself!  Make sure you slice the roll with a  very sharp knife into even pieces.   Wetting the knife will help too.

We served the sushi rolls with some steamed edamame and homemade egg rolls.  But even just the sushi can be a meal in itself!

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My usual preference for brussel sprouts is to roast them in the oven with some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  This is one delicious way to enjoy this winter vegetable.  However, I had a lovely pasta dish at some friends’ house last month with sprouts.  When they first told me about it, I admit I was unsure about brussel sprouts in pasta, but the result was delicious!  This is great way to get those who say they “hate brussel sprouts” to eat them too.  And if you cut them up small enough, those eating it might not even realize they’re consuming this hated vegetable!  My husband proclaimed his hatred of the vegetable as I was preparing our dinner…then proceeded to have two helpings, as well as the leftovers for dinner.

Pasta with Brussel Sprouts and Pine Nuts, makes 4 dinner-sized servings

  • 3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 1/2 pound dried egg fettuccine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts

Slice Brussels sprouts in a food processor fitted with slicing disk.

Cook fettuccine in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (3 tablespoons salt for 6 quarts water) until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat butter and oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook garlic and pine nuts, stirring, until golden and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then sauté over medium-high heat until tender and lightly browned, about 4 minutes.

Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and add to skillet, tossing with enough reserved water to moisten.  Top with grated Parmesan.

 

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The onslaught of winter weather calls for comfort food.  My husband, who is a teacher, had two snow days this week so I decided to make something that reminded me of snow days when I was a kid.  Macaroni & cheese and chicken fingers.  I love mac & cheese right out of the box, but the homemade version is so much more decadent, and you can be more creative with the flavors.  The recipe below is pretty basic, but feel free to mix up the cheeses and toppings.

Three-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese, based on a recipe from Cooking Light

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: 1 cup)

  • 1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3  cups skim milk
  • 1/2  cup Swiss cheese
  • 1/4  cup  grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2  cup  (2 ounces) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3  cups  cooked elbow macaroni (about 1 1/2 cups uncooked)
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4  cup  panko bread crumbs
  • 1  tablespoon  reduced-calorie margarine, softened

Preheat oven to 375°.

Place flour in a large saucepan. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until blended. Cook over medium heat 8 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Add cheeses; cook 3 minutes or until cheese melts, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in macaroni and salt.

Spoon mixture into a small casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Combine bread crumbs and margarine in a small bowl; stir until well-blended. Sprinkle over macaroni mixture. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Baked Chicken Fingers, adapted from http://allrecipes.com//Recipe/buffalo-chicken-fingers/Detail.aspx

yields 8 tenders

  • 8 chicken breast tenderloins or 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cut into finger-sized pieces
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs (I like to use panko or Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 egg whites, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a baking sheet with a nonstick spray.
    2. In a bag, mix together flour, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. On a plate, mix the bread crumbs with the rest of the garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and salt.
    3. Shake the chicken pieces with the seasoned flour. Beat egg whites with 1 tablespoon water, and place egg mixture in a shallow dish or bowl. Dip seasoned chicken in egg mixture, then roll in the seasoned bread crumb mixture. Place on prepared baking sheet.
    4. Bake for about 8 minutes in the preheated oven. Use tongs to turn pieces over. Bake 8 minutes longer, or until chicken juices run clear.
    5. Serve with your choice of dipping sauce.  I like to drizzle with Frank’s brand Buffalo Wing sauce or the Buffalo Barbeque Sauce.

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    This salad is pretty enough to serve for a special occasion, but easy enough to make on a weeknight.  I adapted this salad from Thomas Keller’s “Little Gem Lettuce Salad” from Ad Hoc at Home.  I brought this over to my parents’ house on Christmas Day since I was in charge of the salad.  It seemed to get a good response, and I think it’s delicious!  It is definitely a nice way to incorporate citrus fruits now while they’re in season.

    Winter Citrus Salad, serves 6

    1 10 ounce container of mixed greens

    Seeds from ½ of a pomegranate*

    1 ruby-red grapefruit (Texas are the best!)

    2 blood oranges

    2 clementines

    ¾ cup walnuts, toasted

    Kosher salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    Flat-leaf parsley leaves

    Honey Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

    Cut off the tops and bottoms from the grapefruit, oranges and clementines.  Stand each one up and use a very sharp knife to cut away the peel and pith in wide strips, working from top to bottom of the fruit.  Separate fruit segments.

    Spread the walnuts out on the baking sheet and toast in the oven, turning the pan around after 5 minutes, for 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted.  Remove from the oven, transfer the nuts to a plate, sprinkle with salt, and let cool.

    Put the lettuce on a large platter and top with fruit segments, pomegranate seeds, and walnuts.  Drizzle with honey vinaigrette.

    *Note:  To remove the seeds from a pomegranate, cut the pomegranate in half through the equator.  Hold one half over a bowl and hit the back of the pomegranate to release the seeds.  Add the cold water.  The membranes will float to the top.  Remove any membranes from the water and drain the seeds.

    Honey Vinaigrette

    ½ cup canola oil

    ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

    1/3 cup champagne vinegar

    3 tablespoons honey

    Combine the canola and olive oil in a measuring cup.  Put the vinegar and honey in a blender or food processor to combine.  With the machine running on low-speed, stream in the oil.  Refrigerate in a covered container for up to 1 month.

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    This year I went home with much more turkey than usual, but it worked out perfectly for trying out some new leftover recipes!  I saw Giada DeLaurentis on the Today Show this morning doing some mini turkey pot pies, and I decided to try my own version.  I spent a good half an hour or so getting all the meat off of the turkey carcass…which is kind of disgusting by the way, however well worth it for the meat and the bones for making stock! 

    Filling

    • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 2 large small shallots, chopped
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
    • 1/4 cup heavy cream
    • 2 cups roasted turkey breast meat, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    • 1 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
    • 1/2 teaspoon koshersalt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    Crust

    • I used store bought pie crust, Pillsbury brand.
    • Special equipment: 6 (10-ounce) ramekins, each 2 1/2 -inches tall and 3/12-inches in diameter. A 3-inch round cookie cutter

    Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into 6 circles and place on top of the filling.

    Preparation

    Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

    For the filling: In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Then add shallots and thyme to the saucepan. Cook for about 2 minutes until the shallots are tender. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Increase the heat to high. Add the chickenbroth and scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Add the heavy cream, turkey, mixed vegetables, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 3 minutes until heated through. Using a ladle, fill the ramekins with the filling mixture.

    You can use any leftover vegetables you may have laying around from Thanksgiving dinner, or anything you have on hand in the refrigerator or freezer, really.  These little pot pies turned out really good, and are perfect for a cold winter night.  I usually use a cream of mushroom or cream of chicken soup for my pot pies, but I think I may make the filling from scratch from now on so I can control the flavor a bit more.

    Also, below are pictures using my new digital camera – it makes the food look so much better!

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    This meal provides a little bit of planning, but it was a great fall weekend dinner.  It’s adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home.  It’s hard to get my husband to eat pork unless it’s stuffed with something because he always things it’s too dry, so this recipe may become a part of my pork repetoire. 

    Fig-stuffed Roast Pork Loin

    Pork Brine, cold (recipe to follow)

    One 2½-pound pork loin roast

    1 large fennel bulb

    Canola oil

    ½ cup  ½-inch cubes ciabatta or other artisan bread

    1 tsp minced garlic (I used minced garlic out of the jar because that is what I had on hand)

    1 T finely chopped shallot

    1 cup Fig and Balsamic Jam (recipe to follow)

    ¼ cup chicken stock (I used ready-made chicken broth)

    ½ tsp finely chopped thyme

    Kosher salt and ground black pepper

    Pour the brine into a container large enough to hold the pork loin and add the pork.  Refrigerate for 10 hours (no longer or the pork may become too salty).

    Remove the pork loin from the brine and rinse under cold water.  Pat dry with paper towels.

    Using a long thin knife, make a horizontal lengthwise cut all the way through the center of the loin.  Let the meat rest at room temperature while you prepare the stuffing.

    Cut the stalks from the fennel and trim the root end.  Remove the thicker outer layers.  Separate the bulb into individual layers and cut into batons about 1 ¼ inches long and ½ inch wide.  You need ½ cup fennel.

    Set a cooling rack over a small baking sheet and line it with paper towels.

    Heat some canola oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat.  Add the bread cubes and cook, tossing to brown on all sides, 1 to 2 minutes.  Transfer the bread cubes to the lined rack.

    Pour off any excess oil, leaving just a light film in the pan, return the pan to the heat, and add the fennel.  Cook until tender with just a little bite left, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and shallot and cook for 1 minute.  Stir in the jam and warm through, then add the bread cubes, chicken stock, thyme and salt and pepper to taste, stirring until thoroughly combined.  Transfer to a bowl and let cool completely.

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. put a roasting rack in a small roasting pan and put it in the oven.

    Meanwhile, use your fingers to widen the cavity in the meat enough to hold the stuffing.  The book suggests using a piping bag to fill the pork loin, but I just used my hands to stuff it.  It ended up being a two person job, but it worked out in the end.  Although a little messier than Thomas Keller’s pictures!  Tie the roast with kitchen twine.

    Season the loin on all sides with salt and pepper.  Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the loin to the pan and brown on all sides.

    Transfer the pork to the roast pan and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 135 to 140 degrees F (if you prefer your pork less pink).  Remove from the oven and let rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes for medium-rare to medium.  Despite what your mother might say, pork does not need to be white all the way through!

    Remove the string and cut the loin into ¼-inch thick slices.  Arrange on a platter and sprinkle with sea salt.

    Per Thomas Keller’s suggestion, I served this dish with a side of rapini or broccoli rabe.  However, I did not use his recipe because I needed something quick at this point.  Although not my favorite, Rachael Ray always has pretty easy recipes.  I used her recipe on the Food Network’s website, which can be found here.  It turned out that cooking it in chicken broth really cut the bitterness in the greens.  It was the first time I had prepared rapini, and I thought that it complemented the sweetness of the pork quite well.

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    The second part of my weekend with apples was a slow-cooker applesauce.  Since I was busying myself with too many other baking projects that day, I needed to do the applesauce in the crock pot.  I used this recipe from www.allrecipes.com.  I used about 12 apples, but kept all of the other ingredients the same.  It turned out to be pretty tasty, but perhaps a bit too “spiced”, even with the additional apples.  Cutting the pumpkin pie spice in half is probably sufficient, and maybe even the sugar, but it all depends on your taste.  I prefer my applesauce to taste a bit more natural.  I will tell you one thing though, this was VERY easy, and tasted so good while it was still warm!  Perfect, healthy snack for a fall afternoon.

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