31 May 2013

Sushi made simple.

This is not necessary.

I wanted to make some simple, vegetable sushi to bring to a friend's house recently and I didn't want it to be a big hairy deal.  I've had the rainbow rolls with a bunch of layered avocado and fish on the outside; the roll was so big I couldn't eat it in one bite, but also too slimy to bite into it.  I've had tempura rolls, coated in a tough, thick batter and deep fried; the whole thing tasted like a doughnut fried in old oil, with fish inside.  Sushi to me is clean, light, and each little bite has everything you need without choking.  I like it with fish, but I live in land-locked Colorado and will never be brave enough to buy the "sushi grade" tuna at King Sooper's.  So, I chopped up some vegetables and got to work wrapping little bites of salad.

Since I was travelling across town, I added ginger to the rice and some wasabi to the rolls so that we wouldn't have to bring that along in separate containers.  It's kind of nice to get rid of some of the fuss.

Sushi Rice: this makes 4 rolls

1 cup short grain white rice
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar

Cook the rice with the salt in a rice cooker according to directions.  Dissolve the sugar into the vinegar (easier to do if you heat the vinegar a bit in the microwave), then stir in the ginger.  Stir the vinegar mixture into the rice and smooth out in a thin layer on a baking sheet.  Allow to cool on the counter while you assemble your ingredients.

Vegetable Sushi
nori sheets
long, thin matchsticks of green onion, cucumber, carrot, red pepper, mung bean sprouts
wasabi (optional)

Smooth a thin, even layer of cooled rice onto a nori sheet.  Lay two sticks of each vegetable in a row near one edge of the sheet, then scatter a few sprouts over the top.  Squirt a thin line of wasabi down the length of the vegetables.  Roll tightly and seal the end of the nori sheet to itself with water.  Cut off the ragged ends and cut the rest of the roll into 1/2-inch discs.

Mushroom "Caviar" Sushi
nori sheets
long, thin matchsticks of green onion
1 cup shiitake mushrooms
1 small shallot, finely minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
soy sauce and Sriracha to taste

Soak the mushrooms in water for at least 30 minutes, or until soft.  Squeeze excess liquid out of them and chop as finely as possible. Place in a bowl and add the shallot, ginger, soy sauce, and Sriracha, stirring to thoroughly combine.

Smooth a thin, even layer of cooled rice onto a nori sheet. Lay a generous row of mushroom mixture down the length of the sheet, near one edge.  Add one green onion stick. Press into place.  Roll tightly and seal the end of the nori sheet to itself with water.  Cut off the ragged ends and cut the rest of the roll into 1/2-inch discs.

If you've never rolled sushi before and are having a hard time picturing it, watch this video.

Don't feel like rolling it?  Make a deconstructed sushi bowl: fluff the rice and place some in a bowl.  Chop the vegetables into bite-size pieces instead of matchsticks.  Stir some mushroom "caviar" and veggies into the rice. Sprinkle a little crumbled nori on top, and maybe some toasted sesame seeds.

28 May 2013

Pineapple-Sake Refresher

As I review previous summertime posts, I see that the ratio of fruity cocktails to food is tipped heavily in fruity cocktails' favor as the temperature rises.  It's simplistic, I know, but here's another one.  You can make a whole pitcher of these, or you can use the leftover basil simple syrup in place of simple syrup just about everywhere.

Pineapple-Sake Refresher

Serves 1

1 oz. sake
1 oz. gin
¼ oz. lemon juice
¼ oz. basil simple syrup*
2 chunks pineapple

Muddle the pineapple in a cocktail shaker.  Add all remaining ingredients and shake with plenty of ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with pineapple and/ or a sprig of basil if desired.

* To make basil-flavored simple syrup, combine ½ cup white sugar, ½ cup water, and a generous handful of fresh basil leaves in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to keep it from boiling over.  Remove from heat and let stand until cool.  Will keep in the refrigerator for several months.

24 May 2013

It's grilling time again...the shrimp issue.

As classical musicians, my husband and I rarely stop to smell the roses--there is always more work to be done, higher levels to achieve.  So when we were chatting over beers at the end of the spring semester, fantasizing about summer break, it wasn't surprising for him to ask me what my summer goals were.  I racked my brain to come up with some lofty answer: learn some new, crazy-hard solo; rewrite my flute pedagogy syllabus, that sort of thing.  But I wasn't feeling particularly ambitious while drinking beer after a long week, so I mumbled something vague and felt guilty about how it would likely compare to his answer, which I imagined would involve a lot of fancy research and stuff.  Imagine my delight when he proudly informed me that his goal was to do more grilling!  That's my boy--burned out at last. Never one to discourage my spouse's dreams, I have been trying to help with some shrimp recipes...

Peanut-Cilantro Shrimp Skewers

Serves 4-6

2 pounds shrimp peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon sugar

For the sauce:
1 cup loosely packed cilantro, majority of stems removed
½ cup salted, roasted peanuts
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper to taste

Toss shrimp with sugar in a ceramic or glass bowl and set aside. Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor and blend until the mixture is still chunky but will hold together (add more oil if necessary).

Coat a grill or grill pan with canola or peanut oil. Place shrimp on skewers and grill over medium-high heat.  Cook 5 minutes, turn, and cook another 5 minutes.  Carefully press the chunky sauce onto the top of the skewers and continue to cook another 2-3 minutes, then remove skewers to a platter and serve.  I added some plain grilled vegetables in the photo above and served with Asian Rice Salad.

Garlic Shrimp Skewers

Serves 4-6

2 pounds shrimp peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon sugar

For the sauce:
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Crushed red pepper to taste

Toss shrimp with sugar in a ceramic or glass bowl and set aside. Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth and thick (add more oil if it‘s not holding together). Stir into shrimp, coating thoroughly.

Coat a grill or grill pan with canola or peanut oil. Place shrimp on skewers and grill over medium-high heat.  Cook 5 minutes on each side or until golden brown around edges. Remove skewers to platter and serve. This is delicious with some pasta and Raw Puttanesca Sauce

21 May 2013

To hell with your fancy-priced cocktails!

When Syntax Spirits first opened in my quiet, unassuming little town of Greeley, Colorado a few years ago, I was elated.  Craft vodka made by a kooky couple with a slightly cranky cat on the premises?  Yes, please.  But I soon became disenchanted with the clued-out space cadets they employed, and when I showed up one night only to find they were out of my favorite beet-dill infused vodka, I broke up with them in my mind forever.  That's when I realized, hell, I like to infuse vodkas! I hadn't thought of using beets, which I love, but now that I'd seen it existed, I could easily do it myself and avoid paying the $6 to a band of ill-informed college students with shitty customer service skills.  I think this version is better than anything I ever got at Syntax, and I can drink it all summer long without going broke...

The Beet Farmer

Serves 1

2 oz. beet infused vodka*
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 oz. triple sec
1 tablespoon sweet vermouth
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice; shake vigorously until the shaker is cold to the touch.  Strain into a martini glass and enjoy.

*For beet infused vodka, simply peel and roughly chop ½ cup beets per 750mL of vodka and add ¼ cup white sugar. Combine in an airtight container and allow to steep in a cool, dry place for one week, shaking every day or so when you think about it.  After that, you can remove the beets if you prefer and store in the freezer.

17 May 2013

Hungarian Goulash

Spring weather is finally here and this dish couldn't be more wrong--you should be eating a lot of fruit, cucumbers, and grass clippings.  Perhaps it is because, as I write this post, I am visiting my family in Illinois, but I like the heavy old Eastern European classics sometimes, even when they're out of season.

You can enjoy this alone as a stew or serve it over egg noodles, spaetzle, or rice.  I like it over spaetzle and sprinkled with a little fresh dill and sour cream.

Hungarian Goulash

Serves 6-8

1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 onions, sliced
2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper (or less if you're a baby)
2 large Russet potatoes, scrubbed and diced into 1-in cubes
8 oz. chopped mushrooms
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
chopped fresh dill and sour cream or plain yogurt for serving

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Cook onions until very soft, stirring frequently.  Remove onions and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine paprika, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper.  Coat beef cubes in spice mixture and cook in oil until brown on all sides.  Add the potatoes, mushrooms, and cooked onions, as well as the tomato paste, red wine, water, garlic, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until meat is tender. 

10 May 2013

Simple Spaetzle

When I was a kid, I loved buttered noodles.  We would have them as a side with pork chops and salad (iceberg, hold the chopped vegetables).  Now I realize that what made this kind of meal so Midwestern was actually its German roots, for there are many Germanic peoples in the Great Lakes Region (which still doesn't explain the accent, but anyway...)  When I am in Germany, I love spaetzle, which are German noodles that are basically little clumps of pillowy pasta dough, boiled to perfection.  I don't like the casserole dishes with heavy cream, cinnamon, cherries, and spaetzle (a popular Sunday evening meal in Bavaria)--I prefer plain old buttered spaetzle.  It's not adding much, nutritionally, to your life, but it's so comforting and chewy.  This version throws in some mushrooms for variety.  It makes a nice side, but don't eat this alone day after day.  You might get scurvy.

Jaeger Spaetzle

Serves 6 as a side

1 pound spaetzle (make it or buy it)

For the sauce: 
1 tablespoon butter
4 minced shallots
3 cups mushrooms,  scrubbed and quartered
1 1/2 cups beef or vegetable broth
1/4 cup flour salt and black pepper to taste

Bring salted water to boil and cook the spaetzle as until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium pan over medium heat. Saute shallots until clear. Toss in mushrooms until mushrooms are sautéed. Place flour in a separate bowl, slowly whisk in broth. Pour  broth mixture into mushroom pan boil for 5-10 minutes until thickened, stir fairly often so it doesn't stick.

Mix together the cooked spaetzle and the mushroom sauce and season with salt and pepper.  Some fresh herbs would be nice in there, too.  

07 May 2013

Recipe review: Sugar Snap Salad with Miso Dressing

This is another great salad from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, but it's fussy.  Here's the original recipe as copied by the lovely and talented Dana Treat, and here's my version below, slightly simplified (and just as delicious). I also added cilantro, just because. 

SK's Snap Pea Salad with Miso Dressing

Serves 4-6
½ pound sugar snap peas, untrimmed
½ pound Napa cabbage, sliced (about 3 cups)
4 medium radishes thinly sliced
3 large scallions,  thinly sliced 
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 handful chopped cilantro
for the dressing:
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp. miso
2 tbsp.  tahini 
1 tbsp. honey
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp. olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and prepare a small ice-water bath.  Boil the sugar snaps and the cabbage for about 2 minutes, or until just barely cooked but still crisp.  Drain in a colander.  Trim ends and cut sugar snaps into thin slices.  Toss in large bowl with cabbage radishes, scallions, and the sesame seeds. Place bowl in refrigerator to cool if there's time. 
In a small food processor or a blender, combine all dressing ingredients and blend until smooth.  Taste and adjust; it will be a bit salty, but the sugar snaps peas will mellow it out. 
Toss salad with half of dressing, and taste.  Add more dressing if you want, or save the rest of other salads.

03 May 2013

Tacos are my favorite food.

Well, one of them, anyway. Before I moved to the Rockies almost ten years ago, my knowledge of Mexican food was limited to Taco Bell, watching Rick Bayless on PBS (but not actually cooking the stuff, because I couldn't find the ingredients), and that bastion of Midwestern cuisine, Chi-Chi's "Mexican" Restaurant. I liked it.  I liked all the ingredients separately, and I was accustomed to bland food.  Plus there was melted cheese.

Then I moved to Greeley, Colorado in 2003.  Greeley has its low points (it smells like shit all the time from the nearby feed lots, we have a gang problem, the restaurants suck), but a definite plus in my book is the sizeable Mexican population here, and that means we have access to authentic ingredients, great banda music, and real Mexican culture in action.  I still marvel at the festive quinceanera dress shops (like little, brightly colored wedding dresses) dotting a street full of bail bond offices and check-into-cash shops. The local tortillaria makes their tortillas fresh every day, along with beautiful green chili and tamales in the deli section, and some of the most elaborate cakes I have ever seen.  The Cinco de Mayo parade that runs down our street is small, but full of heart and great music (and some pretty kick-ass paint jobs on the low-riders). And in the side of our local grocery market, there is a taco stand, which is where I will always claim I began my induction into the world of authentic, delicious Mexican food.  Small corn tortillas topped with freshly grilled marinated meat or beautifully seasoned vegetables will then be ornamented with the appropriate condiments (cilantro, diced red onion, and a lime wedge for carne asada; queso and pickled onions for the pork). Although I recognize every nation's pride in their unique independence movements, Cinco de Mayo meant nothing to me before moving here.  And it still can never mean to me what it does to the majority of my neighbors, but I feel a deep respect and appreciation for them, their culture, and most certainly their food.

Here are some of my favorite taco attempts at home:

Quick Fish Tacos

Serves 4

1/2 pound firm white fish (I like Swai)
peanut or some other neutral oil
salt + black pepper
about 3/4 cup cornmeal for coating fish
small corn or flour tortillas
condiments: shredded red cabbage, lime wedges, jalapeno slices, sour cream, chopped cilantro

Rinse the fish and pat it dry.  Cut into equal bite-size pieces (about 2 inch x 1 inch chunks), season with salt and pepper, and dredge through cornmeal, shaking off excess.  Heat about 3 tablespoons oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat, and when it smokes, add the fish.  Cook about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve with all remaining ingredients.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos 

Serves 4-5

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chipotle or blended chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 pound medium shrimp (about 20), peeled and deveinned

small corn or flour tortillas
condiments: 1 large chopped tomato, 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed and drained, chopped avocado, sour cream, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, chopped red onion

I like to do these on skewers just so it's easier to turn the shrimp without losing any in the coals.  Combine shrimp with oil, salt, and chipotle powder in a bowl and stir to coat.  Thread through skewers and cook over hot coals about 20 minutes, turning once so that they brown on both sides. Remove from skewers and serve with all remaining ingredients.

And from some old posts...
Tacos with Drunken Pintos and Roasted Veggies
Vegetarian "chorizo" tacos