Sunday, July 27, 2014

Homemade Sushi Rolls!

I have to say I am quite spoiled when it comes to the ability to buy a wide variety of foods/ingredients whenever I want. If I want Chinese ingredients, I just go into a Chinese supermarket, if I want Japanese ingredients, I go to a Japanese supermarket, if I want stuff from other parts of the world, I’m sure there’s a supermarket I can visit to get those as well. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be living in an area where there are so many different types of food and cultures that if I wanted to eat, cook, or see any of those things, it’s all readily available. I admit, sometimes I take these things for granted. 
Last weekend there was a Ramen Festival/JPop Summit in Japantown in SF, it was total madness. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless you have a real desire to be stuck in a huge crowd of people. There were so many people you’re just stuck. Not slow moving stuck but just flat out, bring a chair and sit, stuck. I was excited for the Ramen (of course its food driven) but when I arrived and found out how long the lines were, first I was disappointed and then decided it was totally not worth the wait. It was a 3 hour line just to get to the ordering part, who knows how long it’d be before you actually get to eat?! That’s too much effort not to mention I usually like to enjoy my noodles in a much more relaxed environment. So instead my friend and I ventured off to the food trucks section and picked up some Japanese onigiri (Japanese rice balls) which didn’t go any faster but luckily I got to watch them make it so I was distracted enough. After 45 minutes of waiting, we got our food and 5 minutes later ... all was devoured. Such a long wait and it was so short lived. While I was there watching them make it, I thought to myself “That seems easy enough, I’m going to make my own. Forget waiting 45 minutes in line! I’ll have it done in 10 and then I’ll get to enjoy it quicker and in the comforts of my own home! Yup, it’s decided.

Of course I was ecstatic about the idea and this is how sad I sound sometimes but I couldn’t wait for the morning to come so that I could go to the store and get all the ingredients I’d need for this experiment… waking up at 7am did not help. Unlike me, most places are not up and running until at least 8 or 9am. Anyways when I finally gathered all my goodies at Mistuwa Supermarket in San Jose, I was ready to rock and roll (no pun intended…)! 

30 minutes later… this onigiri project was a lot harder than I had imagined. I was not coordinating the seaweed size with my rice triangle very well and either I’d run out of seaweed wrap OR have too much wrap… needless to say, first attempt fail. By this time I was getting hungry and my mom was starting to come into the kitchen to start dinner and sees the seaweed wraps and said “Oh! Sushi!” Well that was not my intention but after 5 more minutes of struggle, I gave up and turned it into a sushi project. Given I’ve never made that before either, it’s not a bad trade off, not to mention I already have all the ingredients AND no more trying to size the seaweed wraps! Just roll with it! Ha! Ha…Yah I’m lame, whatever. 
Rolling your own sushi is unbelievably easy and fun! Giving them silly names is the best part, well aside from getting to get them later. If you don’t own that bamboo mat that you see people rolling sushi with, no fear! One thing I learned from watching lots of sushi chefs, use plastic wrap! They don’t stick and you can just peel them right off the roll. Now drum roll please…. Here are my own personal creations:

The Hot Mess:
spicy shrimp and crab meat (mayo and sriracha hot sauce), avocado, and tuna

Runaway Chicken
Chicken breast, avocado, (cucumber would be a nice touch too), and takoyaki mayo sauce.

Crab Fest
Real crab meat with daikon radish shreds mixed with spicy mayo, imitation crab meat with wasabi mayo (or can substitute with yogurt dip)

The Raw Raw
Salmon, tuna, and avocado

Cutting the sushi is tricky business unless you have a really sharp knife which I didn’t so I used a pair of kitchen shears and snipped along the seaweed wrap all the way round and then finally giving it one huge clean snip thru the middle. Now if you have neither, by keeping it in the plastic wrap, it should also make it easier to cut thru as well but with this method you’re also going through a lot more plastic wrap too… This last suggestion is only speculation, I’ve never tried it that way and I’ve only seen it at sushi places…but thought I’d throw that out there anyways.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream!

The ice cream making saga continues! Nothing welcomes summertime like fresh strawberries! I've always found the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar rather odd, they never strike me as a likely match but here we are, a match made in heaven. Funny how things just work out. 

Granted I took apart this recipe and tried the strawberry + balsamic vinegar portion and made it into a fluffy light mousse weeks ago in my chiffon cake experiment but prior to that I've always looked at that pairing with questioning eyes. Vinegar with my strawberries?? Isn't it tart enough and to put even more sour in! That's just crazy talk! At least to me it was but then how come it shows up in everything? It must tastes good in order to appear together in so many things right?!? So as a curious little kitchen scientist, I decided it was time to test this odd coupling of ingredients. 

When I first tried it in the mousse I was more than impressed, not only did it not make the strawberries more sour but it enhanced it by bringing out the nature flavors of the strawberries. 

Food for Thought: [about 30 minutes of researching later...] Because this is how my brain likes to run, I was curious to why adding something acidic was important to a process like this, how did the balsamic vinegar make this so much better? I'm sure many of you have also seen lemon juice being added to recipes that create similar effects where it just makes things taste better somehow and why is that... So of course, I went to my many handy dandy (nerdy) reference books (On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee and Cook's Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking). To answer that question, we have to go even further back. It turns out that adding sugar and acid go hand in hand. Have you ever noticed while working with some fruit related recipe that you always add in sugar? So why more sugar when the fruits themselves already have plenty? Well, sugar is hygroscopic which means it has an affinity for water molecules, in other words, adding sugar to the fruits will draw out the water (juices) from the fruit. This process is called maceration. By performing this procedure the fruit becomes softer because the water that was once there holding onto the fruit's structure has now been removed. In addition to the softer fruit you also get a nice reserve of the flavor-rich juice you've extracted from the fruit. So now what? Balance. This is where the acid comes into place. Acidity will help balance the sugar and prevent the dish from being overbearingly sweet so in the end you get the concentrated bright fresh flavors of the fruit. There you have it folks. Mystery solved, my brain is happy.

Balsamic Strawberry Ice Cream
from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones by Bi-Rite Creamery

For strawberry puree:
  • 3 cups of strawberries, halved or quartered
  • 2 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar 
For ice cream base:
  • 5 large egg yolks 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups of heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup 1% or 2% milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
For the puree:
  1. Combine berries, sugar, and vinegar in a nonreactive skillet. While stirring, cook over medium heat until strawberries are soft and the liquid they released is reduced (approx 6-8 minutes)
  2. Transfer berries and their juices to a blender/food processor and puree. Set aside.
For the base:
  1. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the yolks just to break them up, then whisk in half of the sugar (1/4 cup), set aside.
  2. In a heavy nonreactive pan, stir together cream, milk, salt, and the remaining sugar and put the pan over medium-high heat. When the mixture approaches a bare simmer, reduce heat to medium.
  3. Carefully scoop out about 1/2 cup of the hot cream mixture and, whisking the eggs constantly, add the cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Repeat, adding another 1/2 cup of the hot cream to the bowl with yolks. Using a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the cream in the saucepan as you slowly pour the egg-cream mixture from the bowl into the pan.
  4. Cook the mixture carefully over medium heat stirring constantly, until thicken (this part is tricky, because it doesn't get really thick just thick enough so that the mixture coats the back of the spatula and when you run your finger along it, it holds a clear path) and then cook for another 1-2 minutes longer (don't over cook otherwise it becomes grainy and egg-y in flavor)
  5. Strain the base through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean container. Set container into an ice bath, using a clean spatula, stir the base occasionally until it becomes cool (or you can stick it in the fridge and stir it every 5 minutes until completely cooled). Remove from ice bath and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the base for at least 2 hours or overnight
  6. Add in the strawberry puree and teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to the chilled base and freeze in ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wanderings - Cooking For Solutions - Monterey Bay Aquarium Pt. 2

** Well it certainly seems like I've been away on hiatus. I can't believe its been nearly 2 months since my last entry! Quite honestly life got a bit busy the last couple of months but the good kind of busy, so it was all worth it. My poor blog on the other hand got left on the back seat. This particular post I have had it written since part 1 was posted but I didn't have the pictures ready so it sat idle for 2 months. While there is much to update from my 2 month's absence, let's finish what I started back in May so here is part 2 of my adventures from Cooking for Solutions.**

Cooking for Solutions Part 2 (part 1 can be located here). Now that the basics from part 1 is out of the way, here are some highlights:

Alton Brown Cooking Demo:
He is hilarious and incredibly entertaining to watch in real life as on TV. His dish: Poseidon's Buffet of Underwater Delight which according to him was named this because it sounded funny. From the name itself the only thing to deduce from it is that its seafood related. Despite its Greek name, this dish is actually very Asian influenced with ingredients such as fish sauce, soy sauce, Asian garlic chili sauce, Chinese five spice, and Chinese sausages. Seafood included lobsters, shrimps, clams, and mussels. He even built his famous ladder contraption for this demonstration (featured from one of his Good Eats episode of how to safely deep fry a turkey, the Turkey Derrick). 

While the food was stewing away in the pot, he had a delightful Q&A session with the audience which I wished I had a recorder because some of those answers were noteworthy. Finally the food was complete and we were all given small samples to taste. I say small but it was actually a good amount of food as far as "samplers" go...I remember it being pretty tasty but to be honest I was so excited about getting to his book signing, I literally inhaled the food and didn't really catch the fine details in taste...oops.

Alton Brown book signing:
Originally I was just going to have him sign his page in the Cooking for Solutions cookbook I got but then I decided to purchase one of his books as well to sign in addition to, call it spur of the moment if you will. Maybe its the crazy Asian inside of me but I was ready to get all ghetto on people if they tried anything funny like push or shove. Turns out people at this event is very civilized and people lined up in an orderly fashion to get their books signed AND pictures taken with Mr. Alton Brown. Also to my greatest surprised, it wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be. But... maybe because I flew out of my spot at the cooking demo and practically ran to the book signing... I might have been right behind Alton as he left the stage. 

I'm not crazy I swear (!), just a little overly excited. Best moment ever when it was finally my turn! I had this elaborate conversation in my head with Alton except of course when I got there, reality hit, and all I got to ask him was if he visited CA often and his answer was "at least once a year." Then it was a few quick scribbles and snaps of my camera for pictures and I was on my merry way. Best 2 minutes ever!

Alexander Weiss Cooking Demo: 
Oddly enough I watched that season of Master Chef which I don't always watch. His season was called Master Chefs Junior featuring home cooks aging from 9-15 years old. Amazing! I wish I could cook like that. Alexander was only 13 yrs old when he won, I was rooting for him during that competition so it was interesting and fun to get to see him cook in person. You can kind of tell he's still getting use to the spotlight but he handled himself quite well. His mom was also in the audience with us which was sweet.

His dish was also very Asian influenced, Asian-Glazed Grilled Salmon served with Japanese soba noodles. I liked this dish a lot, slightly sweet and tangy but not too much where it'd mask the salmon. Well done. I'm going to need to try this recipe out, of course being Asian, I'm going to have to give it a bit more flare.

Roman Perez & Whole Foods Market Seafood Team Demo:
I missed parts of this demo because I had started to browse around some of the booths but came back later because I knew food was coming at the end of the demo. While he was cooking several of the Whole Foods team members were asking trivia questions pertaining to sustainable seafood and handing out gift cards, kind of wish I didn't miss it. 

Their dish was Tequila Lime Scallop served with mash potatoes. The scallops were perfectly cooked. I love scallops. Yum!

Todd Fisher Demo:
I was actually planning to leave before his demo even started because I was getting pooped and all the goodies I've gathered were getting incredibly heavy to carry around. Then I found out he was making Halibut with Papas Carbonara (with applewood bacon), I had to stay for this one last demo. He's a local chef from Tarpy's Roadhouse in Monterey but has also worked in restaurants in Pebble Beach resorts. He was pretty entertaining to watch as well. 
Maybe I just love cooking, I find it all interesting and entertaining. He was interactive with his audience and threw a few jokes, nothing wrong with that. Halibut was delicious, so glad I hung around.

Sponsors Booths:
Each sponsor had a booth to talk about how they're being sustainable and what they are doing to help the cause. Of course each booth had loads of goodies to either take, taste, or play with so it was all so very cool! There was even an activity stamp booklet for you to take and as you visit each booth you get a stamp and after you collect all the stamps you win a prize! So naturally, I had to collect all the stamps. The prize was a shiny sardine finger puppet (which now sits proudly in my room). Some booths were clearly meant for little kids but who cares because I may look like a 20 something year old, that day I was pushing 10 at most on the inside. 

Sponsors included: Clover Stornetta Farms (free cheeses!!), Chipotle (free tomato plants + guacamole tasting/coupons), Celebrity Cruises (free spice rub), Earthbound Farms ($1 reusable tote bag with free salad coupon + free lettuce seeds), Edible Communities (free food magazines), Kaiser and Kellogg Garden products (were not present), Oceans Halo (free seaweed chip samples + free snack size bag), Oceans Naturals (free tuna samples/coupon), Sheba (free cat food, so my cat got something delicious out of this), Whole Foods (various booths with various tasty treats and beverages).