Monday, April 25, 2011

The flowers in St. Paul

One of my hobbies that I rarely share is my love of taking flower pictures. There never seems to be a good time to be like "oh hey you want to look at these 150 pictures I just took of flowers". I also don't upload them to Facebook much because the idea of Facebook is kinda to socialize, so you upload pictures with people in them. I rarely take pictures of people, and only slightly more often take landscape shots. I'm a little details person, and I like to take close-ups. Flowers are pretty, usually have some wonderful details when you get up close, and don't mind if I take 10 shots to get that one perfect picture.
Last spring while walking between classes on the U of M St. Paul campus I was amazed one day when the hillside turned blue. Last year I never did manage to remember my camera to take pictures. This year I was lucky, and managed to remember my camera to get a shot of these amazing blue flowers the day before it snowed. it was not an ideal day for flower pics, being kinda drizzly and overcast, but I think these turned out well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sushi, the fishless kind

I have many allergies, sometimes they're life-threatening, sometimes they're just nuisances. In the annoyance category is fish oil. I'm not a huge seafood fan, but I do like a fish fry every now and then and I love tuna melts. Unfortunately, I can't have them. Another traditionally fish related food that I love is sushi. I just really like the way the rice tastes, but thanks to some bookstore searching and some culinary skills I can have sushi without the fish whenever I feel up to making it.  Last year at Barnes and Noble I found a cookbook called Sushi American Style. The book is supposed to be for the American cook who is squeamish about preparing raw fish, but it works equally well for the cook who can't eat fish. There are still a bunch of recipes in the book that have fish in them that I cannot eat, but at least half the book is delicious vegetarian or other protein sushi.
My roommates and I make sushi every few months because, although it is delicious, it is an undertaking and makes a huge mess. It took us about 45 minutes with three of us cutting to cut all of our fillings before we started making the rice. (There's another cutting board that didn't make it into the picture.)  This time when we made sushi we also made dessert sushi which is what all of the fruit is for.

Sushi Rice:
2 cups uncooked sushi rice
3 cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp salt

Rinse the rice in a strainer until the water runs clear ( I always forget this step and it doesn't seem to make much difference). Combine with water in sauce pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low (if your stove actually has a low setting, mine does not. Turn it down far enough and the gas comes out with enough pressure to blow out the flame. We can't really get below medium high) cover, and cook for 20 minutes Rice should be tender and the water should be absorbed. Cool until cool enough to handle. In a small saucepan combine vegetable oil, vinegar, sugar and salt. Cook over  medium heat until sugar dissolves. Cool then stir into cooked rice.

I think I 1 and a 1/2ed this recipe for this particular sushi undertaking. I also made a cup of dessert rice.

Frushi Rice
1 cup sushi rice1 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup coconut milk

Cook rice as in sushi rice. Combine sugar and coconut milk in small bowl. Mix with cooled rice.

This was our first time making frushi (fruit sushi) rice and we were happy with the way this rice turned out. It was slightly sweet and coconutty without overwhelming the fruit.  We have tried to make fruit sushi before; a word to the wise, fruit and rice vinegar DO NOT go well together. Don't repeat our mistake, your palate will thank you.

After many perusals of the book and experiments we have found two group favorites: the club roll, and the green eggs and ham roll. The egg roll surprised us all in how good it was the first time we made it. I've also started adding basil to my scrambled eggs whenever the opportunity presents because it is just so delicious.

Green Eggs and Ham:
2 eggs
1/4 cup fresh basil, ~1 tbsp dried
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1/4 cup milk
green onions

Scramble eggs with milk salt, pepper, and basil. Add cheddar cheese while cooking.
when eggs are done assemble roll as follows:
Cover your sheet of nori with a thin layer of sushi rice (I like to squish it on with a spoon or spatula so my hands stay marginally less sticky), leaving a 1 inch border at the top.
Lay a row of ham about 1 1/2 inches to two inches from the bottom of the nori.
Add the eggs on top of the ham.
Add the green onions in next to the eggs trying to keep everything in a fairly narrow row. Pick up the edge of the maki-su (rolling mat) and bring the bottom edge down just on the other side of the green onions
Be sure to give your roll a firm squeeze while it is in this position. Lift up the edge of the maki-su and roll the roll to the bare edge of nori. Be sure to give it another all-over squeeze.

If you're lucky and you're working with fairly warm ingredients the roll will steam itself shut. If you're not, which is most often the case, have a cup of water handy and wet your finger to seal the bare edge of the nori down. A roll looks like this when sealed:
To get the nice rounds that we eat as sushi dip a large knife in water and slice the roll into 1 inch slices.  Try to keep your widths consistent so that your sushi is all the same height on the platter, and remember to keep dipping your knife because that sushi rice is sticky and will gum up the works at any chance.
I made three eggs when I scrambled eggs and got four rolls out of it, they ended up looking like this:
Our other favorite is the club roll which my friend made, so I don't have step by step assembly instructions. Filling are as follows:

The Club Roll:
lettuce (put on first)
cheddar cheese (grated or cut into sticks)
(there may also be some carrots in there)

We tried cutting the cheese into sticks this time instead of grating it and we had a bit of a problem with the center cheese and tomato falling out when you picked up a roll. These were really fantastic with the sweet chili sauce you can see hanging out in the background of this picture:

We made a few other kinds of rolls with the left overs from these two rolls added to a cucumber and an avocado. One of the ones I made I like to call my orange roll. I've realized that I really like the way the flavor of tomato blends with the sushi rice.
Orange roll:
cheddar cheese
cream cheese
and this time around avocado
You can see it on the left side of this plate:
As far as the rest of the rolls go, I don't think there was much of a plan beyond this looks good, and there's some of X left so I'll throw it in.
We also made frushi. Instead of using nori we used spring roll wrappers that we softened in hot, dyed water to make them pretty colors.

We filled them with various combinations of strawberry, banana, kiwi, mango, and pineapple. My roommate decided to double the wrappers to give them extra strength.

So after about two hours of work we had this much food for four people:
We were all very full, and definitely had leftovers.