Sunday, November 29, 2009

Nov 29: Panna Cotta

I was watching the TV show Top Chef where one of the cheftestants was eliminated for making a terrible panna cotta. The comments from the judges was that it's a very easy dessert and difficult to foul up.

What is panna cotta and what makes it easy?

Looking up a couple recipes...
The Perfect Panna Cotta by David Lebovitz
Panna Cotta on the Joy of Baking website.

Panna cotta is a dessert that's basically cream, sugar, gelatin and vanilla. Hmmm... That's all? That is very straightforward. In fact, add almond extract you'll make "Almond Floats" which is that white almond flavored gelatin served with fruit cocktail... often found in Chinese restaurants.

Based upon the recipes above, I backed out a very basic Panna Cotta recipe.

Panna Cotta
1 C Heavy Cream... That's all I had.
1 C Half and Half
1/4 C (50 g) Sugar
1/2 t Vanilla Extract
1/4 C Water
1 Envelope Unflavored Gelatine, powdered.

1. Grease custard cups with a mild oil or unsalted butter. I used vegetable oil.

2. Heat the dairy and the sugar until the sugar dissolves.

3. Bloom the gelatine in the 1/4 C of water for about 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Add the vanilla to the hot dairy mixture or, as I did, add to the gelatine.
The hot dairy was poured in and stirred until the gelatine was completely dissolved.

5. Pour equal amounts into a custard cup or a glass.
The custard cups are for unmolding while the glasses are meant to be part of the service.
Chill... I chilled overnight.

The plating...
Using a paring knife to trace the side of the custard cup, invert and unmold. Patience is required here. It's like trying to get a ketchup bottle started. Also, you can use hot water and heat the bottom of the cup. Eventually, the panna cotta will plop out.

The berries (1 C) were frozen... warmed in a small sauce pan with about (2 or 3 T sugar).
I also had some leftover ganache from my macaron making from a few days ago.

The panna cotta was very easy to make.

I wasn't sure what to expect... a firm milk jell-o like product or a smooth light custard?
Surprisingly, the panna cotta was light with a texture close to a custard, but a little firmer. However, it wasn't stiff like Jell-O.

The berries and chocolate overpowered the vanilla panna cotta. Without the sauce and chocolate, I would describe the panna cotta like a firm vanilla ice cream or a firmer creme burlee without the burnt sugar topping.

Based upon the firmness of the panna cotta, I was thinking I could have added another 1/2 C to 1 C of dairy. My goal is to still have a gelled dessert, but one that's soft like a custard... without having to go through the steps of making a custard.

Also, maybe just a touch more vanilla 3/4 t or using a vanilla pod in the heated dairy mixture.

Overall, a very simple dessert with lots of potential.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nov 27: Daring Bakers Rolling, Frying and Filling

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Cannoli are known as Italian-American pastries, although the origin of cannoli dates back to Sicily, specifically Palermo, where it was prepared during Carnevale season, and according to lore, as a symbol of fertility.

The cannoli is a fried, tube-shaped pastry shell (usually containing wine) filled with a creamy amalgamation of sweetened ricotta cheese, chocolate, candied fruit or zest, and sometimes nuts. Although not traditional, mascarpone cheese is also widely used, and in fact, makes for an even creamier filling when substituted for part of the ricotta, or by itself. However, cannoli can also be filled with pastry creams, mousses, whipped cream, ice cream etc. You could also add your choice of herbs, zests or spices to the dough, if desired.

Marsala is the traditional wine used in cannoli dough, but any red or white wine will work fine, as it’s not only added for flavor or color, but to relax the gluten in the dough since it can be a stiff dough to work with. By the way, the name ‘Lidisano’ is a combination of Lidia, Lisa and Sopranos..LOL

Required for this challenge:
1. Must make cannoli dough and shells.

If you don’t have or do not want to purchase cannoli forms, you could simply cut out circles, squares, or any shapes you want and stack them with the filling of your choice to make stacked cannoli's aka Cannolipoleons.

If desired, you can channel MacGuyver [I went this route. :-) All my years in college finally paid off!] to fashion something heat proof to get traditional shaped cannoli. For example, 6-8 inch sawed off lengths of a wooden broom stick or cane, sanded down and oiled, is THE authentic cannoli form! Non-traditional shapes such as creating a form to make bowls, or even using cream horns if you happen to have them. Mini cannoli would be great too.

Typically, 6-8 inch long by 3/4 to 1 inch circumference cannoli forms is your basic cannoli form size

[As with new recipes, I made a half recipe to try it out.]

Lidisano’s Cannoli
Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli
Prep time:
Dough – 2 hours and 10-20 minutes, including resting time, and depending on whether you do it by hand or machine.
Filling – 5-10 minutes plus chilling time (about 2 hours or more)
Frying – 1-2 minutes per cannoli
Assemble – 20–30 minutes

2 cups (250 grams/16 ounces) all-purpose flour [1 C]
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar [1T]
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder [1/2 t]
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon [1/4 t]
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt [1/4 t]
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil [1 1/2T]
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar [1/2 t]
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand [1/4 C Marsala]

Egg white from 1 large egg - used for sealing the edges.
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish [I used pistachios]
Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling.

My dough ingredients ready to be combined.
Dry ingredients - flour, sugar, cinnamon, cocoa and salt.
Liquid ingredients - Marsala (a fortified sweet wine), olive oil and homemade white wine vinegar.

1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough.

The dry ingredients were pulsed to combine. Next, the olive oil is added.

With the food processor running, the Marsala was poured down the feed tube.

Just enough liquid to wet the flour, but not enough to ball in the food processor.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes.

There were some dry bits of flour, but the kneading worked the ingredients together.

With the ingredients incorporated, cover with plastic film and refrigerate.

Shape the dough into a ball.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

While the dough is resting, the filling is made...


2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained [1 lb]
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted [95 g]
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon [1/4 t]
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean [1/2 t]
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice [1 1/2 T]
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange [I opted to use dried apricots, 1T]
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios [1 1/2 T]
1/2 t Grand Marnier (Optional) - used to add a little orange flavor since I didn't use candied peel or zest.

1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

The ricotta is wrapped in a linen (a cut up white bed sheet I used for the Strudel challenge.) Multiple uses from my $4 purchase. The sheet was boiled in water to "clean" and sterilize the linen.

My favorite chocolate is what I had left from Halloween. Instead of orange zest or candied orange peel, I opted to use dried apricots... My new favorite snack - unsalted, roasted, shelled pistachios. Never new they existed until a trip to Trader Joe's.

Practicing my cleaver skills. Finely mincing the dry stuff. :-)

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth.

After being weighed down in the fridge for an hour and wringing the sheet, the 1 lb of ricotta had a final weight of 13.4 ounces. A loss of 2.6 ounces of moisture. That's over a 1/4 C of liquid!

Here the vanilla and Grand Marnier is added and the powdered sugar is blended in with a hand mixer. Like the dough, there's not enough moisture to really blend thoroughly so I pulled out the good ol' spatula and finished the mixing job.

Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

Mixing in the chopped dry ingredients.

Filled into a ziploc and refrigerated to firm up. The mixture was set before refrigeration, but cold is better for piping into the finished shells.

The dough and filling are being chilled in the refrigerator... Time to tackle the cannoli forms.

MacGuyver'ing a Cannoli Form
As I mentioned earlier, I put my years of college and experience as a structural engineer to work. Also, I didn't have time to look around for real cannoli forms.

When dealing with a thin skinned shell structure, you need rigid bar running along the length to keep the tube straight (the skewers) and you need rings to keep the tube round (the aluminum foil "rope") Heavy duty foil is used to form the shell.

Hand sketch of my plans for a cannoli form.

Not quite like the hand sketch... but close enough. lol!

Folding the foil over will protect the skewers from the oil.

Roll into a tube and we're ready to make the cannoli.
Repeat as needed.

Frying the Cannoli Shells...
1. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

I used a 3" biscuit cutter and a rolling pin to flatten and elongate into an oval.

2. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

With the tube brushed with oil, the dough is wrapped around. Egg white is applied to the edge.

Press the ends together and make sure a good seal is achieved.

3. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

4. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

Oil at 375F... The moment of truth.... [Drum Roll]... slowly lower the tube into the oil.

Fry about 2 to 3 minutes... rotate as needed. You may need to roll the tube over and press down lightly with a skewer or tongs to cook the other side.

Fry until lightly brown. I found out after my first few that the aluminum foil tube retains a lot of heat so the cannoli will continue to darken.

Success! The forms work!

5. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

6. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

Another advantage of my improvised cannoli form...
the slit down the middle made what is known as a "collapsible mandrel". The diameter of the aluminum foil form can be decreased so it could slip out of the cannoli shell.

My cannoli tubes ready to be filled.

My first 4 shells at the top, middle of the picture turned out dark. I didn't realize the dough would continue to darken from the residual heat in the MacGuyver forms.

Afterwards, I removed the shells when they were light brown.

1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

Cannoli ready to be filled. Pipe from one end until half full. Rotate to fill from the other end.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

- Dough must be stiff and well kneaded

- Rolling the dough to paper thinness, using either a rolling pin or pasta machine, is very important. If the dough is not rolled thin enough, it will not blister, and good cannoli should have a blistered surface.

- Initially, this dough is VERY stubborn, but keep rolling, it eventually gives in. Before cutting the shapes, let the dough rest a bit, covered, as it tends to spring back into a smaller shapes once cut. Then again, you can also roll circles larger after they’re cut, and/or into ovals, which gives you more space for filling.

- Your basic set of round cutters usually doesn’t contain a 5-inch cutter. Try a plastic container top, bowl etc, or just roll each circle to 5 inches. There will always be something in your kitchen that’s round and 5-inches if you want large cannoli.

- Oil should be at least 3 inches deep and hot – 360°F-375°F, or you’ll end up with greasy shells. I prefer 350°F - 360°F because I felt the shells darkened too quickly at 375°F.

- If using the cannoli forms, when you drop the dough on the form into the oil, they tend to sink to the bottom, resulting in one side darkening more. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to gently lift and roll them while frying.

- DO NOT crowd the pan. Cannoli should be fried 2-4 at a time, depending on the width of your saucepan or deep fryer. Turn them once, and lift them out gently with a slotted spoon/wire skimmer and tongs. Just use a wire strainer or slotted spoon for flat cannoli shapes.

- When the cannoli turns light brown - uniform in color, watch it closely or remove it. If it’s already a deep brown when you remove it, you might end up with a really dark or slightly burnt shell.

- Depending on how much scrap you have left after cutting out all of your cannoli shapes, you can either fry them up and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar for a crispy treat, or let the scraps rest under plastic wrap and a towel, then re-roll and cut more cannoli shapes.

- Push forms out of cannoli very gently, being careful not to break the shells as they are very delicate. DO NOT let the cannoli cool on the form, or you may never get it off without it breaking. Try to take it off while still hot. Hold it with a cloth in the center, and push the form out with a butter knife or the back of a spoon.

- When adding the confectioner’s sugar to the filling..TASTE. You may like it sweeter than what the recipe calls for, or less sweet, so add in increments.

- Fill cannoli right before serving! If you fill them an hour or so prior, you’ll end up with soggy cannoli shells.

- If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.

- Practice makes perfect. My first batch of shells came out less than spectacular, and that’s an understatement. As you go along, you’ll see what will make them more aesthetically pleasing, and adjust accordingly when rolling. My next several batches turned out great. Don’t give up!!

The Finished Cannoli
I have to admit I wasn't sure what to expect. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. The shell was slightly sweet, slightly cinnamon-y and crunchy. The filling was soft, flavorful and sweetened perfectly for me. Not too sweet and not bland. Just the right amount where your taste buds aren't hammered with sugar, but by a complex flavor that leaves a pleasant aftertaste of cinnamon, pistachios, apricots, orange and liqueur.

Many thanks to Lisa Michelle of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives for a terrific recipe. Check out her blog for the full recipe with various tips and filling ideas.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nov 26: Happy Thanksgiving 2009

Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving is the one holiday that represents, to me, family and family time. Also, it's a big food day for me too! lol!

Today, I had the time to spend with the next generation of foodies. Little M, a 5 y.o. budding cook...

The recipe for today Deviled Eggs.

The eggs were cooked and peeled.
I cut them in half and Little M did the rest.
He mashed and carefully added salt. I added a little mustard and mayo while he mixed and mashed.

Of course, we carefully tasted to see if we needed more something something.

Next, came the filling.
We used a plastic bag to pipe the filling into the halved egg whites.

The finished results pre-paprika.
The eggs looks like Modern Art, but they tasted good. :-)

However, the main thing was happiness and the BIG smile for making a dish to share.

My contribution...
Last year, I made gravy. Apparently, it was good enough that I was asked to make gravy again.
However, most of my recipes are improvisation with ingredients available at the time. Also, I don't remember what I did last years. I should have blogged about it. This year I will...

Gravy T-Day 2009
4 C Homemade Turkey Stock
4 C Turkey drippings/pan juices... The turkey was cooked in a turkey bag which saves all the juices.
1/3 C Celery, chopped
1/3 C Carrot, chopped
1/3 C Onion, chopped
1 sprig of Italian Parsley
1 sprig of Thyme
1/2 sprig of Tarragon
1 stick of butter (8T)
1/2 C Flour

1. Sweat the veggies in the butter for about 5 minutes.
2. Add the herbs and continue cooking about 2 minutes.
3. Add the flour, mix the flour and cook about 5 minutes.
4. Slowly add the stock and continue stirring to minimize lumps.
5. Add the turkey pan juices and continue to simmer to reduce... about 30 minutes on low.

Note... I used 1 T of flour for 1 cup of liquid, the resulting gravy is slightly thickened and loose. If a thicker gravy is desired, use 2 T of flour per cup of liquid.

Personally, I believe the secret to the gravy is the juices from the roasted turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nov 25: Pre-Thanksgiving Baking

A difficult thing for me is to figure out what to bring to a Thanksgiving Dinner.
I've been wanting to try Macarons again so I was formulating whether I should give it another go.
Initially, the chocolate macarons was on my mind. They were like brownies but different.

However, as I started, I used my new favorite snack - shelled, roasted, unsalted pistachios.

Pistachio Macarons (Basis is batch 6 from my DB Challenge - Macarons.
Preheat oven 280F

2 egg whites

35 g granulated sugar
135 g powdered sugar
40 g slivered blanched almonds
35 g roasted, unsalted pistachios

1) Microwave egg whites 7 seconds... stop... microwave 5 more seconds.

2) Add the nuts to a food processor. Add about 1 T of the powdered sugar. Process for about 1 minutes.

3) Into a bowl, add the ground nuts and the rest of the powdered sugar. Mix to combine.

4) Beat the egg whites... when egg whites are near soft peaks, start adding granulated sugar and beat until stiff peaks are achieved.

5) Sift the dry ingredients into the egg whites.

6) Mix the ingredients together.
As you mix, you'll see the dry ingredients wet out and eventually the mixture will become shiny. Also, the mixture will flow a little.

7) Pipe onto parchment and allow form a skin.
However, I actually skipped this step since I make larger macarons so they were starting to merge.

Success! Got Feet!

Gananche Filling
1/2 C Heavy Cream
2 t Light Corn Syrup... However, I did add 1 t of Golden syrup and 1 t of corn syrup.
4 oz Chocolate
1 T Butter
2 T Raspberry Preserves (optional)

1) Heat the heavy cream, preserves and the syrup until the mixture boils at the edges.

2) Strain the mixture (to catch the raspberry seeds) onto the chocolate and let sit about 5 mintues.

3) After 5 minutes, mix to blend. Slowly add the butter as you mix.

4) Refrigerate to thicken.

The final macarons

Shiny and cripy on the outside. Soft on the inside.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nov 14: Daring Cooks cook Sushi

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.

Sushi (寿司 or 鮨 or 鮓) is much appreciated for its delicate taste and exquisite appearance. Sushi actually means vinegared rice, which is the essential ingredient in every sushi recipe. Sushi is simple and cheap to make at home, needs no special equipment and is an excellent way to use left overs.

Although sushi in various forms has been around for fourteen centuries, the modern version was invented in Japan in the 1800’s where a 'hand-formed' sliced fresh fish and vinegared rice ball was eaten as a snack food. Nowadays, sushi is made with various seafood, meats and vegetables, raw and cooked.

The challenge is in four parts:- {A four part challenge! For this challenge I detailed what I did as I followed the recipe. For the full recipe with tips and video links see Audax Artifex or The Bite Me Kitchen blogs}

Part 1: Making proper sushi rice – you will wash, rinse, drain, soak, cook, dress, and cool short grain rice until each grain is sticky enough to hold toppings or bind ingredients. Then you will use the cooked rice to form three types of sushi:
Part 2: Dragon sushi roll – an avocado covered inside-out rice roll with a tasty surprise filling
Part 3: Decorative sushi – a nori-coated rice roll which reveals a decorative pattern when cut
Part 4: Nigiri sushi – hand-shaped rice rolls with toppings

I had big plans for this challenge - fillings and a party. During college, we made sushi to save money since eating out was expensive for us starving students... lol. Also, sushi was made when we had parties. However, work has been pretty hectic. When I finally found time to invite people over, I caught a cold. I ended up scaling back on the fillings, not having the party and making the basic challenge.

PART 1 : SUSHI RICE (makes about 7 cups of cooked sushi rice)
This is an elaborate rice recipe that calls for rinsing, straining/draining, soaking and finally cooking.

2½ cups uncooked short grain rice [I used a medium grain Calrose rice]
2 ½ cups water
For superior results use equal volumes of rice and water

Sushi vinegar dressing
5 Tablespoons (75 mls) rice vinegar
5 Teaspoons (25 mls or 21 grams) sugar
1¼ Teaspoons (6.25 mls or 4.5 grams) salt


Rinsing and draining the rice
1. Swirl rice gently in a bowl of water, drain, repeat 3-4 times until water is nearly clear. Don't crush the rice in your hands or against the side of the bowl since dry rice is very brittle.
2. Gently place rice into a strainer and drain well for 30 minutes.

Soaking the rice
1. Gently place the rice into a heavy medium pot with a tight fitting lid (if you have a loose fitting lid use a piece of aluminium foil to make the seal tight).
2. Add 2½ cups of water and the dashi konbu.
3. Set the rice aside to soak for 30 minutes, during this time prepare the sushi rice dressing.

Preparing the Rice Vinegar Dressing
1. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl.
2. Heat on low setting.
3. Stir until the mixture goes clear and the sugar and salt have dissolved.
4. Set aside at room temperature until the rice is cooked.

Cooking the rice
1. After 30 minutes of soaking add sake (if using) to the rice.
2. Bring rinsed and soaked rice to the boil.
3. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed, 12-15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this process. Turn off heat.
4. Let stand with the lid on, 10-15 minutes. Do not peek inside the pot or remove the lid. During this time the rice is steaming which completes the cooking process.

Finishing the rice

* Turning out the rice
1. Moisten lightly a flat thin wooden spatula or spoon and a large shallow flat-bottomed non-metallic (plastic, glass or wood) bowl. Do not use metallic objects since the vinegar will react with it and produce sour and bitter sushi rice.

2. Remove the dashi konbu (kelp) from the cooked rice.

3. Use the spatula to loosen gently the rice and invert the rice pot over the bowl, gently causing the cooked rice to fall into the bowl in one central heap. Do this gently so as not to cause the rice grains to become damaged.

* Dressing the rice with vinegar
1. Slowly pour the cooled sushi vinegar over the spatula onto the hot rice.

The rice is turned out and the vinegar mixture is poured over the rice like flavoring over a snow cone.

2. Using the spatula gently spread the rice into a thin, even layer using a 45° cutting action to break up any lumps and to separate the rice. Don't stir or mash rice.

3. After the rice is spread out, start turning it over gently, in small portions, using a cutting action, allowing steam to escape, for about a minute.

* Fanning & Tossing the rice
1. Continue turning over the rice, but now start fanning (using a piece of stiff cardboard) the rice vigorously as you do so. Don't flip the rice into the air but continue to gently slice, lift and turn the rice occasionally, for 10 minutes. Cooling the rice using a fan gives good flavour, texture and a high-gloss sheen to the rice. The vinegar dressing will be absorbed by the hot rice. Using a small electric fan on the lowest speed setting is highly recommended.

The rice is fanned as I turn, mix and break up any rice clumps. I couldn't find my small fan so I ended up using a cardboard pizza box. :-)

2. Stop fanning when there's no more visible steam, and all the vinegar dressing has been adsorbed and the rice is shiny. Your sushi rice is ready to be used.

* Keeping the rice moist
1. Cover with a damp, lint free cloth to prevent the rice from drying out while preparing your sushi meal. Do not store sushi rice in the refrigerator leave on the counter covered at room temperature. Sushi rice is best used when it is at room temperature.

Rice Vinegar – this gives prepared sushi rice its unique clean, crisp taste. Do not use bottled “sushi vinegar” as it is too harsh and has a bitter after-taste. Look carefully at the label of the rice vinegar it should have NO SALT and NO SUGAR in the product. Apple cider vinegar is a good substitute if rice vinegar is not available. You can use mild white wine vinegar or mild red wine vinegar if you cannot find rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar. DO NOT USE NORMAL WHITE VINEGAR it is too harsh.

PART 2 : Dragon Rolls (also called Caterpillar Rolls)
Yield: 2 inside-out (uramaki) sushi rolls

Looking up Unagi (eel) on Seafood Watch, I see that it's on the "avoid" list. As an alternative, I decided to use black cod/sablefish. Also, it's a regional product so freshness is good.

The black cod is sliced and glazed with eel sauce. However, a terriyaki sauce can be used as an alternative.

Cooking was done under the broiler, after 5 minutes the cod was flipped and glazed again. Cooking continued until a nice char is achieved.

* 1 sheet 7”x8” (17.5cmx20cm) of toasted nori (dried seaweed sheets), cut into halves [Oops... I didn't read the halving part. I ended up using a full sheet.]
* 1/2 Japanese cucumber
* 2 cups of prepared sushi rice
* Glazed Barbecued Eel (ungai) (about 3½ ounces or 100 grams)
* 1 Avocado
* Vinegared Water – ½ cup of water combined with a dash of rice vinegar
* Various small amounts of sauces to use as the flames of the dragon (or legs of a caterpillar)

* 2 tablespoons (25 grams or 1 oz) Fish Roe (Fish eggs)

The ingredients ready to be sushi-fied.

1.Cut cucumber into strips ¼ inch (6mm) x 7” (175mm) long, then salt, rinse & dry the strips.
2.Grill (broil) the eel for about 2-5 minutes until bubbling. Cut into two lengthwise strips.
3.Halve, pit and peel the avocado. Cut the avocado halves into thin even 1/8 inch (3 mm) slices. Fan out the cut avocado into a 7 inch (175 mm) overlapping pattern.
4.Cover bamboo mat with plastic wrap. Place a sheet of nori shiny side down, lengthwise, on the edge the mat.
5.Moisten lightly your hands in the bowl of vinegared water.
6.Place one cup of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori, the rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.

Also, sprinkled a littled sesame seed on the rice.

7.Flip the rice-covered nori over (so the bare nori is now on top) and place on the edge of the mat closest to you.

Relief! I flipped the rice over with out any problems. :-)

8.Arrange one of the eel strips across the length of the nori, not quite centred on it but a little closer to you. Place half the cucumber sticks next to the eel.

9.Lift the edge of the mat closest to you with both hands, keeping your fingertips over the fillings, and roll the mat and its contents until the edge of the mat touches straight down on the nori, enclosing the fillings completely. Lift up the edge of the mat you're holding, and continue rolling the inside-out roll away from you until it's sealed. Tug at the mat to tighten the seal. If the rice doesn't quite close the roll add more rice in the gap and re-roll using the mat to completely cover the inside-out roll. Place the roll on a damp, clean smooth surface.

10.Spread about 1 tablespoon of the optional fish roe along the entire top of the rice-covered roll. Using the plastic covered mat gently press the fish roe so it adheres to the rice.

11.Slide a knife under one fan of avocado and transfer it onto the top of an inside-out roll. Gently spread out the avocado layer to cover the entire roll. Lay the plastic wrapped mat over the avocado-covered roll. Squeeze very gently to shape the roll.

Ready to spread out the thinkly sliced avocado.

12. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the roll. Slice the roll into 6-8 equal, bite-sized pieces, wiping your knife with a damp towel before each slice. Discard the plastic wrap. Repeat the above to make one more roll.

Plastic wrap over the tope helps to press down the avocado and makes for easier slicing.

13.Arrange the cut pieces on a serving plate with the sauces so the finished dish appears as a dragon breathing fire and flames (or a caterpillar with many legs).

Bamboo mat (makisu) – A 10 inch (25cm) square mat made of thin slates of bamboo tied together with string.
Substitutes: a thin magazine cut to size wrapped in plastic wrap or a few layers of parchment paper cut to size about 10 inch (25cm) square.

PART 3 : Spiral Sushi Roll
This is easiest 'decorative' sushi roll.
This is a big roll where two sheets of nori are joined to form a large roll!

* 2½ cups prepared sushi rice
* 2 sheets of toasted nori, each sized 7”x8” (17.5cmx20cm)
* Six assorted fillings, each filling should be the size of a pencil (see note below)

Since this is a big roll, my inspiration for this one is Futomaki (which means "Big Roll"). Typically the ingredients are vegetarian.

Here dried shittake mushrooms and kampyo (dried gourd) are rehydrated.

Rehydrated, washed and sliced... ready for cooking. Simmered in 2/3 cup of water, 2 T of soy sauce and 1 T of mirin (sweetened rice wine).

The ingredients - eggs, carrots, cucumber, mushroom, gourd and spinach (seasoned with a little soy and toasted sesame oil.)

1.Join 2 sheets of nori by moistening the adjacent edges and overlapping them about ½ inch (12mm).

2.Place this double sheet shiny side down on a rolling mat, part of the nori will extend beyond the mat.

3.Using moist fingers place 2½ cups of rice on the nori and gently rake your fingertips across grains to spread rice evenly, leaving ¼ inch (6mm) nori showing on the both ends of the sheet. Do not mash or squash the rice onto the nori, the rice should appear loosely packed and be evenly distributed over the entire sheet, you should be able to see the nori sheet in a few places.

4.Using your fingers form six grooves (in the same direction that you will be rolling the mat) at even intervals across the bed of rice. Make the first groove about 2 inches (50 mm) from the edge of the nori sheet. Form the grooves by pushing the rice away, do not mash or squash the rice, leave a loose one grain layer of rice in the bottom of the grooves. Level the areas between the grooves where you have pushed the rice.

5.Place your fillings in the grooves. Fill the grooves a little higher than the surrounding rice bed.

Wow! This is like a double-decker sandwich of sushi rolls! Rice spread out and filling placed in the grooves. Now it's time to roll! I miscounted the grooves so I had to double up a groove with two ingredients.

6.Then roll the sushi up from the edge closest to you, this will form a spiral pattern of nori, rice and fillings inside the roll.

7.Slice into 8 pieces with a very sharp wet knife, wiping the blade with a damp cloth after each cut.

8.Place the pieces on a platter and garnish.

Make each groove about a finger-width wide they will hold about 1-2 tablespoons of filling. Use fillings that compliment each other and are highly coloured. Use parboiled vegetables cut into strips, seafood, left over eel, smoked fish or chicken, whole cooked beans, edible flowers etc....

PART 4 : Nigiri Sushi
Nigiri sushi is the type of sushi most often made in sushi bars. In Japanese, nigiri means “squeeze”.

* 2 cups prepared sushi rice
* 8 pairs of assorted toppings, 200 gms/7 ozs total of fish, meat or vegetables (see note below)
* 1 tablespoon Wasabi (paste, reconstituted powder) or any other paste to adhere topping to rice

* Garnishes such as Ginger (pickled), chilli strips, vegetables flowers etc
* Thin strips of nori or vegetables (for tying topping on)

Fillings for this part of the challenge - omelet and smoked salmon with onion/chive cream cheese.

1.When handling sushi rice, make certain your hands are very clean. To keep the rice from sticking to our hands moisten your hands with vinegared water.
2.Form nigiri sushi by scooping up a small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of rice with your forefinger and second finger of your right hand and placing it in your cupped left palm.
3.Use the fingers and thumb of your right hand to form it into a long, narrow mound (about 2 inches x 1 inch wide or 50mm x 25mm) in your cupped palm.
4.Press enough to make the rice hold firmly together. Place the nigiri on a damp cutting board flat side down. Don't let sushi touch or they'll stick to each other. At this point, you can cover the sushi with plastic wrap, and they'll keep at room temperature (not the refrigerator) for several hours.
5.Smear a thin line of wasabi on top of the rice and place the topping piece on it. You may need to press the topping down lightly with your fingers and adjust the shape of the rice accordingly to form an attractive piece of nigiri sushi. If your topping is very loose like fish roe you can place a strip of nori (higher than the rice) around the nigiri and form 'battleship' sushi. The cavity that the nori forms holds the topping so it does not fall off.

Typically, the wasabi is applied to the ingredient. It just seemed more convenient at the time to apply to the rice ball instead.

6.Garnish as desired and use strips of nori (or vegetable) to tie the topping to the nigiri if needed.

7.It is customary to make nigiri sushi in pairs, so make two of each variety.
I kind of bucked the trend here. Ages ago, I attended a sushi making session and in the back of my mind, I remember it was "bad luck" to do even numbers. Maybe it was cutting sushi, but for the nigiri, I made 3's.

The Finished Sushi!
My caterpillar roll: Topped with Tobiko, the orange stuff.

The Futomaki spiral roll.

Finally, the nigiri - egg and smoked salmon with chive and onion cream cheese.

Overall, I enjoyed making sushi and learning a new way to make rice. The only downside this month is that I can't taste a thing. The cold has me congested so my sense of taste is pretty much shot. The texture of the black cod was very similar to unagi. I'll have to try this recipe again when I regain my sense of taste. :-)