Monday, March 24, 2008
Back in Action
Wow - it has been so long since the last Red Ramekin post! I didn't realize just how long it had been until I signed into Blogger to check up on my little baby blog...it has been neglected for the past three weeks, and I am very sorry about it. I won't let it happen again, I promise.
These past few weeks were pretty busy for me, but now I'm one huge step closer to graduation and I should have plenty of time to give Red Ramekin the love it deserves. On a related note, Jonathan and I are currently spring breaking, northern California style. Today it was 70 degrees outside, and in general the food here is so good it makes me wonder why I ever decided to commit to two more years of living in Boston. As soon as I stepped off the plane today, I was craving fruit and veggies and everything else that this Massachusetts weather has been keeping from me. Granny smith apples and root vegetables are great and all....but sometimes you just want some berries. And not those crunchy, vaguely berry-flavored specimens that cost $8 per pint.
Our first stop after the San Francisco airport was the Ferry Building, which on Tuesdays and Saturdays is bustling with a huge farmers' market. Today it was a bit quieter, but still lively; there was no farmers' market, but we had lunch at a little seafood place that really hit the spot. Super-fresh shrimp, crab, chowder, and salad was perfect post-flight nourishment.
We'll be heading back on Tuesday, though, because the farmers' market at the Ferry Building is not something foodies can afford to miss. I went once before, in December, and am anticipating an even more bountiful selection of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and other specialty comestibles. It's really all about the samples, though. Last time I sampled everything from pummelos to persimmons, so I'm looking forward to some new things this time around, too.
But back to the kitchen...
I thought I'd share a little entertaining tip that is becoming one of my favorite ways to play hostess. Some might call it half-assing, but that's OK. Half-assing is better than full-assing, right? In any case, the tip is: make half and procure half. Or, as it happened a few nights ago, make one really fantastic thing, and supplement it with some other, prepared things.
The really fantastic thing was homemade sushi, and the prepared thing was Whole Foods sausages that we grilled at home. OK, I know - not the most, um, cohesive meal. But it wasn't my fault - I was in charge of the sushi, and left the guests to pick out something else to supplement it. A few months ago we tried the same technique, but purchased the sushi and prepared some miso-soba noodle soup.
The make half procure half route is not just about half-assing though. In our case, it's about being able to entertain for a larger crowd and in a more relaxed setting. The kitchen and our cookware probably wouldn't be able to accommodate cooking a full meal for 8 people, but if you procure, instead of prepare, half of your food, dinner for 7 or 8 becomes completely possible.
On Friday night, we had a few people over and started rolling away. The sushi was such a huge hit that Jonathan and I decided to make it again this evening, just for ourselves. This way, we could stuff ourselves with 5 times as much sushi without having to expend any more time or effort actually preparing it (sushi, as it turns out, is a rather time-intensive affair). Tuna is the only sushi-quality fish we can get our seaweed-flecked hands on, so we had tuna, cooked shrimp, tofu, cucumber, carrot, and scallions in our maki.
I've made sushi in the past, but never with as much success as we had these past two times. We used short-grain brown rice instead of regular sushi rice, but it was fantastic sprinkled with some seasoned rice vinegar after it had finished cooking. I think the key to professional-looking rolls is to use very little rice. I hate maki with too much rice - it gets gummy and messy and hides the flavors of whatever it is that's rolled up in the middle. I'm not including a recipe here, but take a look to get an idea of how we roll:
The whole set-up: rice, vegetables, tofu, tuna, shrimp, nori, bamboo mat...and beer
See? Not much rice - only half of the nori sheet is covered.
Don't skimp, but don't over-stuff, either. Here is tuna with scallions and cucumber:
And the rolling. The key is to squeeze that baby tightly so everything is nice and compact when you go to slice.
Speaking of which:
And here it is, the finished product. These are tuna rolls and shrimp rolls.
This time around I think our rice was on the bland side; I couldn't find the right rice vinegar, and the one that we used was seasoned, but apparently not seasoned enough. That was mostly remedied by an enthusiastic approach to soy sauce and wasabi dunking. And scallions. Scallions make everything delicious. All in all, a fun little project and a really yummy meal. This is definitely not the thing to make when you want something quick, but now that all of this free time has reappeared in my life, I won't be wanting anything "quick" for quite awhile. Is there any better way to spend one's time than rolling maki?
One final tip for anyone looking to make vegetarian sushi (which, this time around, was actually my favorite): Use the tofu that comes in a cardboard box (ours was Mori-nu) - not the Nasoya stuff in the refrigerator case. The vacuum-packed variety is far superior in both taste and texture. To prepare the tofu, slice into thin rectangles, lightly oil a hot skillet, and let the tofu brown on both sides, being careful not to let it break when you flip it. Slice into strips and roll it up with some carrot, scallion, cucumber...you get the idea. For some added flavor, I drizzled a miso/rice vinegar/soy sauce dressing over the maki before rolling it up. Yum! Nothing (especially not thesis-writing) beats some time well-spent in the kitchen.