J is for… Japan; All You Need is An Ice Cube Tray

Japanese Flag

Like all other Asian food establishments, it’s nearly impossible for me to eat at a Japanese restaurant, what with all that sesame and soy, but I’ve actually had Sushi before. Back when I was living in Boston I had one of those tiny little original Whole Foods (I think it may have been the first on the East Coast) right near my apartment and I frequented it often. I got to know one on the Sushi chefs there and he started making me Alli-allergy-approved salmon rolls. He rolled cooked salmon (I’ve tried raw fish several times and it’s not my thing), cucumbers and carrots in a layer of nori and rice on a clean work surface free of sesame seeds. I skipped the non-Alli-allergy-friendly soy sauce and enjoyed a bit of wasabi and pickled ginger, which I could eat a bucket full of, as accompaniments.

That was 7 years ago and I’ve missed sushi ever since so when I was ready to make a recipe for the letter “J,” Japanese Sushi seemed a logical choice. Then “J” got closer and I started thinking about logistics. “Do I really want to buy a Sushi mat? How often would I really use it? What if I just made Chirashizushi, Sushi bowls, they’re legit Japanese, I know I looked it up. But that’s just too easy and boring, right? Maybe I should look up some Jamaican recipes…”

And so the inner monologue went until a few weeks ago when I stumbled on a recipe for mock soy sauce that people claimed tasted like the real thing and I reeeally reeeally wanted to make Sushi! Still the logistical problems remained so I did what anyone would do in 2012, I took to Wikipedia and looked up the various types of Sushi. My best bet seemed Oshizushi or box sushi, a specialty in Osaka where the ingredients are placed on the bottom of a box, rice is placed on top and then the whole thing is pressed together firmly, unmolded, cut in to squares and served. Oshizushi Seemed like the best bet, but where to get the box? Then it occurred to me; ice cube tray sushi.

Silicon trays work best

Using an ice cube tray to make sushi was something I’d heard about awhile ago and filed somewhere in the back of my mind (a scary, messy, disorganized space; I assure you!). I’d seen the idea in several places touted as a way to get kids to try Sushi* and I just adored it (kids in the kitchen yeah!), but I realized there was no reason I couldn’t use an ice cube tray too. Ok, ok so it’s not really authentic, but I’ve been really good up until now so cut me a little slack!

I had a hard time deciding on toppings because I wanted to at least keep that part authentic, but sushi has become so ubiqutes these days that it’s hard to tell what’s authentically Japanese and what’s not at this point so I kept it simple. I decided on thinly sliced cucumber, thin Japanese omelette and salmon roe. The roe was a bit of a splurge, but once in a while you just have to!

I followed Alton Brown’s recipe for making Sushi Rice which could not have been easier. I put a slice of cucumber in each square of the tray, followed buy a few strips of omelette, another piece of cucumber and then the rice and packed everything down firmly and unmolded them on to a plate and topped them with the roe. Of course there was wasabi, pickled ginger and mock soy sauce on the side too. And…

It. Was. Amazing!!

FINAL VERDICT: A

I’m sorry that there’s not really a recipe with this, but it’s really more of a technique then a recipe. I will so so soooo be making this again with a variety of different ingredients, authentic and otherwise. The only change I’d make is that I think I’ll just mold the rice in the trays and then stack everything else on top. Some of the toppings slipped off a bit after unmolding and I realized it’s really only necessary to mold the rice.

PS- *For anyone saying, “Kids won’t eat Sushi, they only eat chicken fingers,” go visit my friend Erin’s blog and ask her what her beautiful daughter eats!

Erin- I fully expect Katherine to be eating ice cube tray Sushi some time in the next few years.

Summer “Pasta” (Zucchini Ribbons with Sauteed Veggies and Mascarpone)

Last night I made one of my absolute favorite meals, zucchini “pasta” with seasonal veggies and mascarpone cheese. If I had to list the top 10 dishes I make, this meal would very likely be on it. Not only is it absolutely delicious, it also speaks so much to how I see food. It uses local seasonal ingredients I bought at the farmers market and it makes the veggies the star of the show. I limit meat consumption not only by eating plenty of vegetarian meals, but also by making dishes where the meat is the guest star and not the main act. This whole recipe uses only 1/4 pound of pancetta for the whole dish (and certainly could be made totally vegetarian). This recipe also represents so much of what I believe about healthy living and eating. Now, take a deep breath and put that frozen “Jenny Craig monosodiumdycalcitride glucolaurelatepathos may contain rat poison, but it only has 2 grams of fat and 100 calories” meal down and listen to me; I used 1/4 pound of pancetta and 2 oz of mascarpone. I used very small amounts of two fairly fatty foods to add a ton of flavor. So I used a little and got a lot, got it? Plus this meal was fresh, natural and had a ton of nutrients from all the vegetables and I’ll take a little real fat over fat-free chemicals any day!

Zucchini “Pasta” with Seasonal Veggies and Mascarpone

  • 4 medium zucchini (I like using 2 green and 2 yellow because it looks prettier)
  • 1/4lb pancetta (optional if making vegetarian)
  • 1 large onion; sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes; halved
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves (or more or less to taste)
  • 2 oz mascarpone cheese

Using a vegetable peeler make thin strips of zucchini, working down all sides until you get to the seeds. Set ribbons aside and cube up the inside, seeded part of the zucchini (You could just discard them, but I think that’s a waste of food and they’re delicious). Set aside.

Cut pancetta in small cubes, then in large saute pan cook over medium high meat until pancetta is crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon remove pancetta to a plate covered with paper towels. Drain then transfer to a serving bowl. Do not discard the fat from the pan, if there is too much fat pour some out to leave you with a couple of tablespoons in the pan. If you’re keeping the recipe vegetarian skip and heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for the next step.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to boil. When water is boiling add salt and zucchini ribbons and cooks for about 5 minutes until ribbons are tender. Strain through colander then set aside in serving bowl with pancetta.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and cubed zucchini to the pancetta grease with some salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt since pancetta is salty, if you’re not using pancetta you can be a little more liberal) and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 more minutes.

Stir in cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes just begin to soften and lose their shape a bit, about 3-4 minutes. You don’t want the tomatoes to turn to mush.

Gently toss the sautéed veggie mixture into the “pasta” and pancetta. Stir in the basil. Gently fold in the mascarpone until it’s all melted and the veggies are coated.

Serve with an extra dollop of mascarpone and more basil on top.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

Tips:

I think this recipe might look prettier if you didn’t mix the sauce into the ribbons in a big serving bowl and instead put the “pasta” in your individual bowl and then piled the veggie/mascarpone mixture on top. I put everything in one bowl because space is at a premium in my apartment.

If you keep this vegetarian I might try adding some parmesan cheese for a salty kick. Or if you find mascarpone too bland without the pancetta, you could replace it with creme fraiche, which is a totally different flavor, but adds a great tang.

April Showers Bring Delicious Pasta and Jersey Housewives

After a series of absolutely beautiful spring days, Mother Nature gave us New Yorkers a bitch slap this past Sunday. Luckily I had all that I needed for a rainy day; The Real Housewives of New Jersey season premier and some great ingredients (or ingredientses as Real Housewife Teresa Guidice would say).

Prep work

I am a total Farmer’s Market addict. I just love strolling to the different booths and seeing all the beautiful, fresh, local harvest. Since it’s only April it’s still a bit of slim pickins’ out there, but the first Spring vegetables are starting to pop up. So, on my last trip to the market I picked up some (more) ramps and asparagus as well as creme fraiche from my favorite local dairy. All I needed was some pasta and organic lemons to make a fantastic meal.

If you’ve never had creme fraiche you must try it. Imagine if Butter and Sour Cream met, fell madly in love and decided to have a baby; that beautiful baby would be Creme Fraiche. It’s like the Shiloh Jolie-Pitt of dairy products.

I also decided to drizzle the pasta with a balsamic reduction which sent this dish right over the top on the deliciousness charts.

April Pasta

For the pasta:

  • 12 oz Penne or other small pasta
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 large bunch Asparagus; woody ends removed, chopped in to bite size pieces
  • 1 large bunch Ramps; white part separated from green, white chopped in to chunks, leaves chopped finely
  • Zest of 2 small organic lemons
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Large pinch Red Pepper Flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cups Creme Fraiche
  • 1/2 cup Reserved pasta water
  • Balsamic drizzle (see recipe below)

    Sautéing the veggies

Bring large pot of water to boil.

Heat olive in large sauté pan. Add asparagus and cook 3-4 minutes. When asparagus has just barely begun to soften add white part of ramps and cook 5 more minutes. Add ramp leaves and cook until wilted and asparagus and ramp bulbs are fork tender , about 5 more minutes. Stir in lemon zest, juice, red pepper flakes salt and pepper and cook for one more minute.

Meanwhile cook pasta in salted water, one minute less than the package instructs. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss pasta in vegetable mix and cook for another minute or two until pasta is cooked through.

Transfer pasta and vegetables to a large bowl (or just use the pot you cooked the pasta in like I did). Fold in creme fraiche and half of the reserved pasta cooking water. If sauce seems too thick add more of the water, otherwise discard.

Serve pasta with balsamic reduction drizzled over the top.

For Balsamic drizzle:

  • 1 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 small bay leaf (or a bay leaf torn in half- I probably use 3/4 of a medium leaf)

Mix all ingredients in small sauce pan and bring to a gently boil. Turn down heat to the barest simmer and cook until mixture has reduced by a third and has a thick syrupy consistency. Once mixture has cooled eat a few spoonfuls straight out of the pot because it’s just so delicious you can’t wait store in airtight container. Balsamic reduction will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Enjoy with a glass of wine and some trashy reality TV

Did you guys watch the RHNJ season premier? What did you think?I am so Team Manzo and Team Gorga. Can you believe that Teresa told Joe that Melissa would leave him for a richer man!? What an insecure jerk she’s making herself out to be.

Simple Suppers: Jamie Knows Best

I’m always shocked when people tell me that they rely on take out or convenience foods because they just can’t find the time to make dinner. I know that everyone’s life is different and has its own set of stresses, but even if you only know the very basics of cooking, it’s really easy to throw together a quick dinner. So, for a little inspiration, I’ve decided to post the occasional “Simple Supper.”

This was my dinner on Sunday night, a spinach, Kalamata olive and feta omelette with a slice of whole wheat toast. It was awesome.

I didn't let the pan cool down enough after I made the spinach so I got a tad too much color.

Omelettes are super quick to make, nutritious and yummy. Eggs are a great vehicle for just about anything so omelettes or egg scrambles are also a great way to use leftovers.

I tried to cut it open in the middle to show the filling.

Omelettes can be one of those foods that you can never get quit as good (read light and fluffy) at home as you do in a restaurant, but after watching this video from one of my favorite celebrity chefs, Jamie Oliver, I must say my omelettes are pretty damn awesome.

PS- I’m calling this “Simple Suppers” because it’s alliterative and I ♥ alliteration, but I don’t think anyone in the New York metropolitan area would ever actually refer to dinner as supper!

C is for…China or Sh*t Dumb People Say

Chinese Flag

I made Chinese food!  You have no idea how excited I am. I don’t eat Chinese food. Correction, I can’t eat Chinese food or most food from the continent of Asia. Asian dishes are filled with ingredients that I’m severely allergic to; sesame, beans, sometimes nuts and a variety of fruits that are a no-no for me.

Someday maybe I’ll do a Sh*t Non-Allergic People Say to People With Food Allergies post about all the dumb (I should probably be nice and call it naive, but whatev) stuff people say to me about my food allergies. One of my favorites is when I mention that I don’t eat at certain restaurants, like for example Chinese, and someone says, “No I looked and there is one thing on the menu that you can eat.”

One thing on the menu coming out of a kitchen serving nothing but foods that have the potential to kill me. Does that sound like a good idea to you?

Let me put it to you this way; you walk in to a room one day and notice something innocuous in the center of the room, let’s say a bouquet of flowers. Now you obviously can live without the flowers though they might be nice to have, but here’s the problem; you notice that the rest of the room surrounding the flowers is rigged up from floor to ceiling with death traps. Everywhere you look is barbed wire, grenades, land mines. Now think, are the flowers really worth it? I didn’t think so.

So no I don’t normally eat Chinese food, but imagine my surprise and delight to learn that I safely could make Fried Rice and keep it reasonably authentic! After much Googling and confirming with my friend Janet, whose parents hail from Hong Kong, I’ve learned that Fried Rice is very traditionally Chinese though not necessarily the way we find it in American restaurants.

Fried Rice, I’ve learned, is basically a great way for Chinese moms to use leftovers. You can basically put whatever you want in to it which means I don’t have to put in anything I’m allergic to make it authentic. The only must for traditional Fried Rice is that you must use rice that’s at least one day old.

Though I wanted to keep the flavors Chinese, I didn’t want to buy entire bottles of Fish Sauce or Chinese Five Spice so I made “Fake A** Fish Sauce” and used the 3 out of 5 of the Chinese Five Spice Mixture that I had.

There’s not really a recipe here since I just Googled around for some methods and just threw together what looked good to me, but here’s what I used:

  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Mushrooms
  • Carrots
  • Baby Bok Choy
  • Scallions
  • Scrambled Eggs
  • Day old rice
  • Fake A** Fish Sauce with vaguely Chinese spices (anchovy paste, molasses, a tiny bit of hot water, black pepper, ground cloves, ground fennel and ground ninnamon)

Basically I infused the oil with the Garlic and Ginger first and then threw in everything but the sauce. When it was done I put the Fried Rice in a bowl and mixed in the sauce.

Fried Rice with Fake A** Fish Sauce

FINAL VERDICT: B+

This was a really fun thing to make since what you put in to it is entirely up to you. I believe strongly in limiting meat consumption and like to always have a stash of vegetarian recipes so, other than the anchovy paste, I kept this veg, but if I ever have meat leftover in my fridge I would definitely throw that in. Also, my friend Janet offered to give me some of her stash of dried shrimp which I would definitely like to try adding in next time.

All in all this is a great idea for repurposing leftovers so if you make it don’t be afraid to get creative. If you have kids this would be a great recipe to involve them in too. Kids tend to be more adventurous eaters when they’ve had a hand in the process so let them choose the vegetables they’d like to go in to the Fried Rice and, depending on their ages, have them help with some of the prep.