Thursday, October 14, 2010


Sushi is good stuff. A lot of people may eat it just cuz of the fad, trying to seem exotic and eat something that is very expensive for what you get. For those who really appreciate good food, particularly Japanese food, however, it is very good stuff. The high prices at restaurants are justified however, as sushi chefs spend years training. However, it is not all that hard to make pretty passable sushi on your own. It will probably never match up but that doesn't mean it can't be decent, and a heck of a lot cheaper. Being a vegetarian, it is very cheap and easy to make. For those seeking fish it will be a bit more expensive, and I wouldn't recommend trying any raw fish unless you know a really reputable supplier-sushi grade fish isn't something you get out the supermarket. But for vegetarian sushi, it is quite simple.

-1 (rice) cup short grain "sushi" rice
-1 (rice) cup water
-1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
-2 sheets toasted nori
-vegetables of choice (in this instance I used carrots and green onions)
-Optional:sesame seeds
-Optional:wasabi paste

-Cook the rice as per instructions, in a rice cooker or on the stove top.
-As the rice cooks, cook vegetables as you prefer (if you are using a rice cooker, most lets you steam items while the rice cooks)
-When the rice is done, pour 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar over it and cut through the rice to distribute it.
-Fan rice, or wait, until the rice is at room temperature, cool enough to handle.
-Place one sheet of nori, shiny side down, on a makisu.
-Place half the rice on nori, spreading it out in a thin layer-the nori should still be visible-leaving about 2 cm on one end.
-Optional: sprinkle sesame seeds over the rice.
-Optional: Place a bead of wasabi paste on one end of the rice and spread it across.
-On the opposite end, place rows of your desired vegetables.
-From the vegetable end, fold over the makisu and nori, into a rectangular shape. Press firmly so that it holds its shape. Repeat until the end, creating a rounder rather than square shape.
-Moisten the end of the nori (where you left 2 cm) so that it seals and complete the final roll.
-With a clean, wet, very sharp knife, cut pieces off the roll, cleaning and wetting the knife after every cut.
-Serve with shoyu for dipping, pickled ginger for cleansing the palate, and if you desire, wasabi paste for a kick.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


When I spent a month in Friday Harbor, one of the owners of the farm, Elaine, baked some really good bread. A lot better than what I do. She taught me the recipe she uses, which is surprisingly simple. I believe it is from the book, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day", I have never read it so can't say, I just refer to it as "Elaine's Bread". I just made it in the shape of a turtle (kame) for kicks.

-12.75 oz Bread Flour
-12 oz Water
-1 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast
-0.75 Tbsp Salt

-Bloom the yeast in warm water, and then mix all ingredients together. Kneading is not necessary, just stir until they form a ball.
-Cover and ferment for 2-3 hours.
-Shape the dough, working in enough flour so that it holds its structure.
-Proof for 45-60 minutes.
-Bake at 425 for 35 minutes.

The simplicity of this recipe is apparent, I guess that's the tenet of the book from which it comes. It is a little too simple for my taste, honestly. Kneading is necessary for good gluten development, instead of just working in lots of flour. It uses a lot of yeast in place of extended fermentation and proof, and those are necessary to develop flavor. Don't get me wrong, the bread is good, even with the same recipe, Elaine's is still a lot better than mine, but I guess from my experience, I know too much about the science of it for it to really work for me. However, for beginning bread bakers it is a great start, and also for someone who wants to bake a pretty good loaf without a lot of time investment.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


It isn't something new, but it is something that I haven't made for quite a while. That item is onigiri, or rice balls. I think the last time I made them was when I still ate fish, using tuna as a filling. Vegetables can also be used but I never did. Another common filling however is umeboshi, pickled plums, which I could never get until I moved here. It is certainly an interesting taste, one I can't really describe. Next time however I just need to take the seeds pits out before using them as a filling.


1 cup short grain sushi rice (that's 1 rice cup, about 180 ml, not the US cup measurement of 8 oz/240 ml, it's special for rice)
1 cup water (that's again 1 rice cup)
1-2 Tbsp, rice wine vinegar
6 pc. umeboshi or any other filling you like
1/2 sheet nori, cut into strips

-Cook rice however you normally do, I use a rice cooker. If you cook it on the stove, do it normally.
-Rice is done when all the water is absorbed but it is sticky. Let it cook too long and it will dry and brown in clumps.
-Remove the rice from the cooker or pan into another bowl. Pour the vinegar over the rice and cut through the rice with the rice spatula to disperse the vinegar and cool the rice. Ideally you should fan the rice to cool it as fast as possible but I never have. It is ready to work when it is about at room temperature.
-If your umeboshi has pits in them, remove them.
-Wet your hands and dust some salt on them. Take a good handful of rice. Make a dimple and put in two pieces of umeboshi, or one if it didn't have pits (or any other filling you're using). Shape it into a triangular shape by cupping it in your hands and rotating. It takes practice.
-Slightly moisten the edges of one strip of nori and wrap it around the rice ball.

It makes three decent size rice balls, enough for a good meal.

I have always eaten them right then, but they are also good refrigerated and served cold at a later time, just wrap them after they are made. If you are doing this you may want to keep the nori separate and attach it when eating so it doesn't get soggy.

These are pretty simple but very tasty, at least for me. They are very common snack or lunch foods in Japan but I always make a few and have them as a dinner. I had never used rice vinegar when preparing rice prior to moving here, and it adds some good flavor to it. Its taste was unexpected, something I can't really explain, but it doesn't taste like you'd think when thinking of vinegar.

You can really make these any way you like. Most things are good for filling, they are commonly filled with umeboshi or some kind of fish, but any vegetable works well too. Shaping and wrapping can vary too. Triangles and one strip of nori is the common variety, but it can be shaped any way you like and you can wrap more or little nori, in different designs, completely containing the rice, or not having any at all. It is also common to put sesame seeds on onigiri as well, but I don't like them so I have never used them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hummus and Pita

My new location has allowed me to get a lot of ingredients that I never could before, but there are still plenty of classic recipes that I love and dominate my menu. One recipe is simple hummus and pita. I had only first tried hummus maybe a year ago, when I got a sandwich from Cosi in Virginia. I quickly found that I really liked it and when I found out how simple it is, I began making it myself. I generally keep it pretty simple, using a basic recipe and then mixing in any vegetable I feel like. I sometimes do onions, peppers, zucchini, spinach, I'd imagine pretty much anything is good.


-15 oz (1 can) Chickpeas
-2 Cloves Garlic, minced
-2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
-2 Tbsp Tahini
-1 Tbsp Olive Oil
-Salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you feel like to taste
-Any vegetable you like (cooked or raw)

-Drain chickpeas. Chop them up in a food processor. Add a little bit of water while chopping to make a thinner consistency, similar to the end product.
-Add the garlic, lemon juice, tahini, oil, and seasonings and continue blending it in the food processor. It should be thick but viscous. Add a little water if it is too chunky still.
-Mix in chopped vegetables, either raw or cooked, depending on your preference.
-Chill for a little while to thicken it.

Simple and delicious. It goes great as a dip or on slices of bread but I think it's best with pita. They can be tricky to make so if you can buy them pretty cheap it may be a consideration, but most places I find them, they charge pretty stupid prices. With a little practice though they are pretty easy to make yourself.


-15 oz Bread Flour (or substitute some or all Whole Wheat Flour, I use all Whole Wheat)
-10 oz Warm Water
-2 tsp Active Dry Yeast
-1.5 Tbsp Olive Oil
-1 Tbsp Honey
-1.5 tsp salt

-Bloom the yeast in the water, about 5 minutes.
-Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix on low for 1 minute, scrape down the bowl, and mix on medium for another 4-5 min. It should come into a slightly tacky (but not sticky) ball. If it is too dry, add a little more water during mixing.
-Ferment 90 minutes.
-Preheat oven to 500.
-Divide dough into 8 parts, preshape into balls, and rest 20 minutes.
-Roll out each ball into a thin circle. It should be about as thin as possible. Too thick and it will rise into a regular disc of bread with no pocket. Place on baking sheets or directly onto a stone. Bake 2-3 min, until it balloons. Don't leave it in to brown or it will become crusty; it should be soft.

It takes some practice working the dough. You need to get a good thickness but avoid overworking it. Too much rolling or mishandling when transferring to the oven can lead to no pocket at all. If that happens it isn't the end of the world though, just cut it into wedges and use them for scooping instead.

Equipment-Oven Stone

One perk that I really like about my new apartment is my kitchen. The apartment I had in Virginia was very nice in most regards, except that it only had a little kitchenette which really sucked for cooking. Being a baker, one of the biggest boons of this large kitchen is a full sized oven. I have no problem doing anything in there, even big loaves of bread, or a couple trays of items at one.

One piece of equipment that I came to appreciate but had never owned was an oven stone. When in school, we did most of our bread in deck ovens, which is similar in that you are baking directly on a hot surface. I think it was in Friday Harbor, seeing Elaine's bread baked on an oven stone that I appreciated the functionality of the item and its use in one's home. When I was in Virginia, I did most of my baking in loaf pans, which provided nice shaped bread, but it wasn't rustic, wasn't artisan, wasn't very pretty. The other alternative was baking on a cookie sheet but I never had the best luck doing that, I guess it's just not enough heat.

So with a full sized oven I sought a proper oven stone. Well I shouldn't say proper. Commercial oven stones are nice, but they are usually a good $15 or so. And I'm cheap. They are pretty and professional looking, but at the end of the day, they are stones (or some kinda composite). After doing a little research on materials and what works for an oven stone, I decided to just get my own makeshift one. There are a number of materials you can use-granite, marble, terra cotta, brick, volcano stone, probably more. Just gotta make sure they aren't glazed or else you're asking for toxic fumes.

Lucky for me, about 2 blocks from where I live, there is a place called the Re-Store, which is like a thrift shop for construction materials. People drop stuff off and so you can get stuff cheap. This is where I found my oven stone. Well two oven stones. My first one I kinda ruined with melted plastic due to my own idiocy. The second was just as good though. A 20" square piece of granite, about 1/2" thick, and it cost me about $1.25. Not bad. I was a little worried about circulation since it takes up almost my entire oven but I have had no problems. My first one was 16" square but this seems just as good. I usually still bake on a reusable baking sheet-kinda like parchment, because it makes transfer easy, and I'm too cheap to buy a peel which I think would be a bit of a waste for its one use.

When properly treated, oven stones can last a good while. You have to be careful though because they can be pretty easy to break. If they get wet or are put on a cold surface (like a countertop) when they are hot, they are likely to crack or break. Even if that happens, however, it is still good. They still work fine in pieces, if they can be put pretty much back together, and if you bake on a sheet like I do, then any cracks aren't even an issue. They work pretty much fine unless it breaks into too many small pieces but unless you drop it or continually mishandle it, I don't see that being very likely to happen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What I've Been Up To

While I haven't been doing a whole lot of new baking since I finished school, there is one fairly significant project that I took part in. That is being the baker for my sister's wedding. I was "commissioned" back in December, unsure if I would have the skills necessary to prepare a wedding cake. Even after culinary school, I don't think I really would be able to prepare a presentable wedding cake, but luckily for me, my sister instead desired cupcakes. Something I can manage.

So, since I was spending a month in Washington anyway, I was already there and able to prepare the cupcakes for her wedding. She had requested two flavors: chocolate with vanilla frosting and red velvet with cream cheese frosting. I had gone through a good deal of preparation beforehand, including taste testing for several recipes before I was able to decide on the right ones, balancing flavor, texture, moistness, and practicality of preparation.

And so, two days prior to her wedding, I was involved in a lot of baking. I had made twelve dozen or 144 cupcakes total, 6 dozen of each. The day of the wedding, I had prepared sufficient frosting for all those cupcakes during the morning and did the final piping and finishing an hour prior to dessert. It was a lot of work overall, I certainly underestimated the time required for every step. Regardless, I did what I set out to do, and while I wasn't crazy about the finished product (I was quite out of practice piping), it seemed to go over well enough.

In addition to the 12 dozen cupcakes for the wedding, I also prepared a special dessert. This was a giant cupcake, which I saw as representative of a wedding cake top, for the bride and groom to freeze and save for their first anniversary. I prepared the base with red velvet and the top with chocolate, and frosted it with the vanilla frosting. It was then finished with edible flowers, a little more extravagant than the single blossom each cupcake received. It was certainly an interesting experience overall and I guess I was moderately satisfied, but like in everything I do, I feel like I could have done a lot better.