Posts tagged: kitchen tips

Make Your Own Sushi

By , January 17, 2012

We love sushi at our house, though we don’t often go out for it. Actually though, I prefer to make my own — because then I know the source of the fish (which I think is important if you’re eating it raw). And of course it’s also much cheaper to make your own at home. It’s simple and fun, too!

Let’s begin!

To make one batch of sushi rolls, you’ll need the following. This can easily be multiplied. Today we’ll be making a Raw Salmon-Avocado Roll. But you can fill your sushi roll with anything! That’s part of the fun!

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You’ll need:

1 sheet of toasted nori seaweed

1/4 cup raw sushi rice or short-grain rice + 1/3 cup water. (This will make enough rice to fill one sheet of nori. To fill about 4 sheets of nori, use 1 cup rice + 1 1/4 cups water.)

half an avocado

about 2 ounces of raw salmon from a company you trust (I always use Lars Larson Trophy Salmon — they’re a Colorado company selling wild, line-caught Alaskan salmon that they process and freeze right on their boat.)

soy sauce to serve with sushi (Nama Shoyu raw soy sauce is our hands-down favorite)

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1. Cook your sushi rice. You do want to get the actual sushi rice/short-grain rice because you need that sticky texture for your sushi to turn out right. Combine the 1/4 cup rice with 1/3 cup water in a saucepan. Salt the water. Bring to a boil and cover the saucepan. Turn to a very low simmer and cook for 25 minutes. Don’t lift the lid at all during that time.

It’s best to cook the rice right before you plan to make the sushi. Fresh rice gives the best results.

2. While the rice is cooking, slice your avocado and salmon.

Halve the avocado, then cut into slices

Peel the slices

I like to buy the pre-toasted Nori sheets

3. Let the rice cool a little and then spread it all out onto your sheet of nori, except for 1″ at the end.

4. Arrange your salmon and avocado down the middle.

5. Wet your fingers with water, and moisten the entire 1″ strip of nori that you didn’t cover with rice. This will be your glue and will hold your roll together.

6. Beginning at the opposite end (not the moistened strip), roll your sushi up. It’s effortless; you don’t need any fancy bamboo sushi rollers or plastic wrap or any other tool. Just your hands! (I threw away my sushi roller many years ago; I found that it just got in the way.)

7. Your roll will end up seam side down, and while you slice it, the gentle pressure will help glue the seam shut.

8. Slice the roll. To get nice clean slices without squashing the roll, work with a nice sharp knife. Wetting it first also helps, as does cleaning it off under running water after every couple of slices.

9. Arrange on a plate and eat it up!

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“Make” Your Own Brown Rice Chips or Crackers

By , January 10, 2012

Have you ever bought brown rice crackers? They’re surprisingly expensive, and often have unnecessary ingredients and are wastefully packaged.

So I’ve devised a very easy way to make my own. We love them! They’re nice and crunchy — great for dipping, or just eating plain.

1. Purchase a package of Food for Life Brown Rice Tortillas from your local health food store. (The above 12 oz. package of 6 large tortillas was $2 at my local store.)

2. Cut the tortillas into triangular wedges or rectangular strips.

3. Arrange them on a cookie sheet.

4. They’re yummy just plain like this, but if you’d like to add salt (or any type of fun seasoning blend — Penzeys Spices is my favorite place to go crazy with seasonings!), just brush the top of each strip lightly with water and sprinkle with salt. (The salt will adhere surprisingly well after baking.)

5. Bake at 275°F for 30-35 minutes until lightly golden and crispy-crunchy (and no longer leathery). You’ll probably need to add another 5-10 minutes to that bake time if you brushed them with water first.

6. Let them cool, and then store in an air-tight container (at room temperature is fine). Done!

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Three perfectly baked brown rice chips, against a raw brown rice tortilla, so you can see the color difference.

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How to Juice a Pomegranate (without a juicer)

By , December 2, 2011

Have you ever tried fresh, raw pomegranate juice? It’s incredible! Pomegranates are in season now, so give it a try sometime!

You can easily juice a pomegranate without a juicer; in fact, even though we have a juicer, I prefer to do it this way. And it’s only a little more effort above and beyond the task of separating the seeds from the pith. One large pomegranate will yield roughly 1 cup of juice.

Now when you’re doing this, I suggest wearing black — or at least a big apron. The distance a juice splatter will travel seems to be directly proportionate to how much you love the shirt you’re wearing; this phenomenon also appears to be heavily influenced by the color of the shirt — with white inducing bigger and more far-reaching splatters than any other color.

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1. To peel your pomegranate, make perpendicular cuts (both going all the way around the fruit) — deep enough to cut through the skin, but not through the seeds underneath:

2. Grab a section and break it away:

3. Over a large bowl, gently separate the seeds from the white pith. This is the most time-consuming step.

4. Discard the pith & peel:

5. Empty the seeds into a blender or food processor:

6. Pulse them quickly about 8-10 times; we just want to burst the juicy outer red part without grinding up the crunchy white inner seeds:

7. Empty the contents of the blender into a mesh strainer over a bowl:

8. With clean hands, squeeze the seeds to get the rest of the juice out:

9. Pour the juice from the bowl into a glass. Enjoy it!

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How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

By , November 4, 2011

I got a question the other day about what to do with green tomatoes… well, let me tell you!

Green tomatoes are always part of the Autumn routine for us. Once picked, most of them ripen over the coming weeks, and some years we’re still eating homegrown tomatoes past Christmas!

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Here’s how I handle all the tomatoes that we pick before the first frost hits:

1. Usually I leave the tomatoes hanging out in an uncovered cardboard box for several days or a week. This is usually because I don’t get around to addressing them, but it also allows the close-to-being-ripe ones to ripen more fully.

2. When I’m ready to deal with them, I gather a few cardboard boxes and some newspaper. I go through the tomatoes, separating ones that are showing signs of ripeness (light blushes of color or softening flesh) from the rest that are still very hard and green.

3. Put the ripening ones in their own box or paper bag, and check them every day or two. Or, leave them out on the counter.

4. I put the rest into boxes — only one layer thick — and then lay some sheets of newspaper on top. Over the years I’ve evolved through several methods of green tomato storage, and this is the one I’ve settled on. It’s my favorite because it’s the easiest, with the fewest tomatoes lost to mold.

Methods I’ve used in the past include:

– I used to cut squares of newspaper and wrap each tomato individually — unwrapping, checking, and re-wrapping them each week, and marking with highlighter the ones nearing ripeness. This is not only an insane amount of work, but it’s also totally unnecessary. There are easier ways to get the same result.

– After I evolved away from that, I would use only one box and put multiple layers of tomatoes in the box, separated by sheets of newspaper. This was a little better, but still involved removing layers of tomatoes and newspaper, checking, and re-layering.

Store the tomatoes, only one layer thick, in boxes.

Cover them with newspaper.

5. Ok, so anyway, you’ll have multiple boxes with tomatoes only one layer thick. For this reason I like to use wide, shallow boxes. The boxes can be stacked as long as they’re supported by the sides of the box below and not resting on top of the actual tomatoes.

6. Keep your boxes in the coolest place in your house. Perhaps that’s a coat closet in your foyer, or in your basement. For us, it’s in the stairwell that leads from our apartment to our outdoor side entrance.

Store the boxes in the coolest part of your house. Check your tomatoes at least weekly.

7. Check your tomatoes at least weekly. It’s as easy as peeking under the newspaper. I like to move the nearly-ripe tomatoes to the top of the newspaper so that I can watch them and grab them when they’re ready.

8. Not all the tomatoes will ripen. Some are just too small and green to hold much promise of ripening, so this year I’m going to pickle them exactly the way I pickle cucumbers, using my trusty pickle recipe.

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Do you have a good way of ripening your green tomatoes, or perhaps a good recipe that calls for green tomatoes?

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Homemade Concord Grape Fruit Leather

By , October 17, 2011

I wish I could give you all a piece of this fruit leather to eat right this minute! It has the best, truest grape flavor I think I’ve ever tasted. This leather is sugar free and made with nothing but ripe concord (or “wild”) grapes. And although the process is really easy — and you need nothing except the grapes themselves — it takes time. This is special stuff; the taste is so worth it, and when you take a bite and think about the process from start to finish, you’ll appreciate this fruit leather even more.

I find that it feels really good to deeply savor each morsel of food like this; so different from mindlessly feeding our faces, isn’t it. I bet if we were the ones responsible for the extensive work required to prepare everything we ate, we’d slow right down and savor every single bite!

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Concord Grape Fruit Leather

Concord grapes (that’s the only ingredient!)

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1. Begin by making my Grape Freezer Jam with your concord grapes. But go ahead and leave it unfrozen…or, thaw it out if it’s already frozen.

2. Preheat oven to 200°F. (You could also use a dehydrator.)

3. Tear off a piece of parchment paper the size of your cookie sheet. You could also generously oil your cookie sheet, but parchment is a lot easier to peel the leather off of.

4. Using a spatula, spread your Freezer Jam onto the cookie sheet, taking the extra time to spread as thinly and evenly as possible; it takes a few minutes to get it just right. Spreading it as evenly as possible is important because otherwise some parts will be overdone and other parts will be underdone.

5. Put into the oven and let it dehydrate until the fruit leather is pliable…not wet, but not hard & brittle either. Mine usually takes about 2 1/2 hours.

6. Remove from the oven, cool for a while, peel your fruit leather off the parchment, roll it up, and cut into strips! Store either at room temperature or in the fridge. I like to keep mine in a mason jar in the pantry.

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When I’m on the go and need a good snack, I’ll often pack a roll or two of this fruit leather, along with a bag of homemade kale chips. It’s perfect!

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Incredible Homemade Wild Grape Freezer Jam — Sugar-free & Pectin-free!

By , September 29, 2011

Finally, here’s my recipe for the best wild (or “Concord”) grape jam ever! The flavor really is incredible.

I’m not a big jam-maker normally. And maybe that’s because nobody ever told me that jam doesn’t have to be complicated, the way most publications make it seem. This is the easiest jam you’ll probably ever make…because I discovered by accident that you don’t need either sugar or pectin to make it!

And because it’s “freezer jam” (meaning you store it in the freezer), you won’t be sterilizing jars or canning anything. You’ll just be cooking the grapes way down, allowing the natural sugar and pectin that’s already in the fruit to do the job for you. (To give you an idea of how much jam you’ll get, 9 lbs of grapes yields about 1 quart of jam.) Then, you eat it! And if you’re going to keep it around for a while, just pop it into the freezer to extend its life.

This jam is also what I use to make my delicious Concord Grape Fruit Leather. Try it sometime!

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Wild Grape Freezer Jam

Wild, or “Concord,” grapes — nice and ripe. (That’s the only ingredient!)

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1. De-stem & wash your grapes.

2. Put them into a large pot, and turn to medium-low heat. No need to add any water to the pot — they’ll provide plenty as they heat up and burst. Stir frequently to prevent burning at the bottom, and to get all the grapes heated up.

3. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until most grapes have burst. The unripe ones won’t burst.

Cook the grapes until they burst…

4. Turn heat down to low, and simmer, uncovered, until the grapes have cooked down a bit. Turn off the heat and let the grape slurry cool off a bit until it’s handle-able.

5. Strain your slurry through a mesh sieve with holes just small enough to prevent the seeds from going through. A food mill can also be used here; I bought a $30 Italian-made one from Crate & Barrel several years ago to use for this purpose. When it broke, I was actually sort of glad. I went right back to using the circular sieve pictured below, and this continues to be my tool of choice — it seems quicker and more direct, and the irritation of seeds jamming up the mill is not there. I prefer it.

This is the most labor-intensive part of the whole process because you’ll really want to stir a lot and press the pulp firmly against the sides of the sieve to separate all the liquid from the seeds and skins that will be left behind. Really scrape the pulp against the sieve so that you get some of the pulp pushed through the holes into the juice. This seems to help the jam thicken up. This is also a time when you could use a blender. Before pouring the grape slurry into your sieve, pulse it several times in your blender, then pour it into the sieve. You don’t want to blend up the seeds, but the blender does help break up the grapes and pulp, making it easier to strain.

After most of the juice is strained out of each batch of pulp in the sieve, I like to put the spoon down and get my hand in there to squeeze the rest of the juice out of the pulp-and-seeds.

Once this process is complete, you’ll have plenty of soupy liquid and the pile of seeds & skins will be surprisingly small.

Strain your grape slurry through a metal sieve. The large one is nice for big batches, but the small one is my favorite, and what I use even for large batches.

Strained liquid on the right, ready to cook down into jam. The skins & seeds are on the left, ready to be tossed.

6. Now that you’ve got just the liquid, you’re ready to cook it down into jam. Pour it back into the pot and turn the burner back onto low heat. Simmer on low, uncovered, until it’s thick like…jam! This will probably take several hours especially for a big batch. Stir it fairly frequently, especially toward the end when it sticks to the bottom of the pot more readily. And turn the heat down lower when it starts to thicken; you really don’t want to burn this stuff, because of how much effort you’ve put into it. Keep it at low heat. You’ll know it’s done when you can drag your spoon through the middle of it and the track doesn’t fill back in. (EDIT 9/26/16: I have been taking it off heat even before I can see the bottom of the pan while dragging my spoon through it. It has set up well once cooled & refrigerated. So when it’s been cooking down for hours, and looking bubbly and sorta thick, and the volume has been reduced to maybe about 1/3 of the original volume of strained, soupy liquid, try cooling it and it may set up fine for you. I’m going to do more experimentation with this.)

You know it’s done when your spoon track doesn’t fill back in.

7. That’s it! Cool & store in the fridge (it’ll last a couple weeks before starting to go moldy), or in the freezer for long-term storage. You can also can this using the water bath canning method. I have been canning this grape jam for the past several years and it is my preferred storage method. It does, however, tend to crystallize for me (must be the sugars) when it’s canned. I don’t mind, but if you don’t want that, you may just want to keep it in the freezer.

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(Get your family to help you de-stem those grapes!)

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Chicken-Foot Bone Broth

By , August 23, 2011

 

Chicken feet! In this post, I mentioned that I’d found pastured chicken feet at the farmer’s market, and how excited I was about that! (I bought them from the good folks at Cottonwood Creek Farms — their pastured chickens are awesome…if you’re in Colorado, definitely support these local farmers!) I made chicken-foot bone broth from them, and WOW. It’s incredible stuff. I was amazed at the amount of gelatin that ended up in the stock…three or four times the gelatinousness of Jello! A delicious, rich broth…rich without being fatty.

Calcium-rich bone broth (stock) is a staple in my kitchen; I make sure it’s always in my freezer. It adds so much nutrition to a dish, and the taste is incredible. It’s the cook’s secret weapon! Lentils made with homemade bone broth instead of water is an entirely different experience (and one of my all-time favorites!). I like to simmer down my bone broth till it’s really concentrated and delicious; it’s both easier to store — taking up less space in the freezer — and adds a deeper flavor to whatever I use it in. I could dilute the concentrate once I thaw it out, but usually I just use it straight.

And so, Why bone broth? Well I will tell you. Well actually I’ll let Sally Fallon tell you. She’s the author of one of my favorite cookbooks that I sometimes mention here, Nourishing Traditions.

“Meat and fish stocks are used almost universally in traditional cuisines — French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, African, South American, Middle Eastern and Russian; but the use of homemade meat broths to produce nourishing and flavorful soups and sauces has almost completely disappeared from the American culinary tradition.

Properly prepared meat stocks are extremely nutritious, containing the minerals of bone, cartilage, marrow, and vegetables as electrolytes, a form that is easy to assimilate. Acidic wine or vinegar added during cooking helps to draw minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and potassium, into the broth.

It was Dr. Pottenger who pointed out that stock is also of great value because it supplies hydrophilic colloids to the diet. Raw food compounds are colloidal and tend to be hydrophilic, meaning they attract liquids. Thus, when we eat a salad or some other raw food, the hydrophilic colloids attract digestive juices for rapid and effective digestion. Colloids that have been heated are generally hydrophobic — they repel liquids, making cooked foods harder to digest. However, the proteinaceous gelatin in meat broths has the unusual property of attracting liquids — it’s hydrophilic — even after it has been heated. The same property by which gelatin attracts water to form desserts, like Jello, allows it to attract digestive juices to the surface of cooked food particles.”

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Below is the Chicken Stock recipe straight from Nourishing Traditions. Nowadays I stray from the recipe — no longer bothering to weigh or measure — and often leave the veggies out to achieve a truer chicken flavor. Sometimes I’ll add the veggies too, but never the carrots since I dislike the sweetness they impart.

Anyway, I simply dump some bones (usually chicken backs, feet, or the carcass from a whole chicken) into my crock pot, fill with cold water according to how many bones I have (this is all very unscientific — you’ll get a feel for it quickly). I tend to add less water than is called for in the original recipe because I like a very concentrated stock with lots of flavor. To the water, add a tablespoon or two of vinegar. Turn on your crock pot and let it simmer away for about 24 hours. I’ve also done this on the stove many times, but I definitely prefer the crock pot.

When it’s done, I pour everything through a strainer, reserving the bones and picking off any meat for another use. I like to munch on the ends of the bones (which will be very soft by then) — a great calcium & mineral supplement. Pour into jars (leaving at least an inch of head space if you’ll be freezing them), and place in the fridge so the fat can harden on the surface; if there’s lots of fat I’ll skim some off, but I do like to leave at least some. Use, or transfer to the freezer. (As a side note, I’ve noticed a big difference with stock made from pastured chickens — much less fat, much more gelatin!)

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Nourishing Traditions Chicken Stock

1 whole free-range chicken or 2-3 lbs of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbones, and wings

gizzards from one chicken (optional)

feet from the chicken (optional)

4 quarts cold filtered water

2 Tbsp vinegar

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 carrots, coarsely chopped

3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped

1 bunch parsley

If you are using a whole chicken, cut off the wings and remove the neck, fat glands and the gizzards from the cavity. By all means, use chicken feet if you can find them — they are full of gelatin. (Jewish folklore considers the addition of chicken feet the secret to successful broth.) Even better, use a whole chicken, with the head on. These may be found in Oriental markets. Farm-raised, free-range chickens give the best results. Many battery-raised chickens will not produce stock that gels.

Cut chicken parts into several pieces. Place chicken or chicken pieces in a large stainless steel pot with water, vinegar, and all vegetables except parsley. Let stand 30 minutes to 1 hour. Bring to a boil, and remove scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6 to 24 hours. The longer you cook the stock, the richer and more flavorful it will be. About 10 minutes before finishing the stock, add parsley. This will impart additional mineral ions to the broth.

Remove whole chicken or chicken pieces with a slotted spoon. Remove meat and reserve for other uses, such as chicken salads, enchiladas, sandwiches, or curries. (The skin and smaller bones, which will be very soft, may be given to your dog or cat.) Strain the stock into a large bowl and reserve in your refrigerator until the fat rises to the top and congeals. Skim off this fat and reserve the stock in covered containers in your refrigerator or freezer.

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Dashboard Croutons & Other Car Cookery Ideas

By , July 22, 2011

Up here in our little 3rd floor attic Homestead In The Sky, the summers are sweltering. We forgo almost all oven use during these months, relying instead on the solar oven or the stovetop (see my Baking Cookies on the Stove post). Or, sometimes, the car. Actually we don’t have a car anymore — the old ’71 Jeepster finally reached a point where putting more money into it wouldn’t make sense. (Don’t worry, we gave it to someone who could completely appreciate it and at least part it out.) The last year we had it, it wasn’t running — but it served as a really handy oven during the summer months.

I made croutons that turned out great. They made the car smell really good too.

To cook things in your car, just park it in a sunny place where the interior will get nice n’ hot. Slide your cookie sheet of croutons (or whatever else) onto your dashboard or back seat, and check on it every now and then. This is a very fun way to cook!

The back seat works, too...

 

Need to dehydrate some food? Use the car! Cook something at low heat? Use the car!

Making fruit leather? The car! Roasting pumpkin seeds? Car!

Bet those kale chips would even work in the car, too.

If you go to work and park in a hot parking lot, put your lunch container on the dashboard in the morning, and it’ll be warm for you at lunchtime.

Another thing I like to do is make crackers out of sprouted grain tortillas, like these:

Cut them up and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake in your car till very lightly browned and crunchy (or in an oven or solar oven at about 250°). Be careful that they don’t get too brown or else they won’t taste as good.

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I bet there are so many other fun car-cooking ideas out there too — do you have any to share??

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Make Your Own “Green Smoothie Frozen Concentrate”

By , July 5, 2011

Green smoothie frozen concentrate made with lettuce, spinach, and lambsquarters.

So I peeked into my remaining three bags of lettuce from the garden this year, and discovered that they were starting to go south and needed to be used right away. I separated out the slimy leaves, washed the rest, and had an idea! I’ll make green smoothie frozen concentrate cubes!

To make the concentrate:

1. Pour some kefir, water, juice, or watered-down yogurt into a blender. You won’t need too much — just enough to get everything to blend together smoothly.

2. Add lots of greens. Ideas are: lettuce, spinach, beet greens, chard, lambsquarters, purslane, mint, parsley, cilantro, edible flowers, etc. (Kale is the only one I don’t like in a shake, but if you do, go for it!)

3. Start the blender and let it run until you have a uniform slurry.

4. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.

To use:

When you’re ready to make a green smoothie, thaw out some cubes; I usually use 2 cubes when I make a shake for myself. Add the green liquid to your blender containing the rest of your smoothie ingredients — I like to use fruit and kefir with some ground flax seed and vanilla extract. Blend & enjoy. Yum!!

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If you’re curious about green smoothies, you might check out the book Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko, or the related website. My friend Sasha recommended this book to me, and I loved it! While I don’t agree with absolutely everything in the book, I’m glad I read it.

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