Friday, January 4, 2013

Sushi Party!

My room mates and I love to have sushi night once in a while, and it always turns into an occasion. It is such an involved, hands-on process that it is impossible not to be a fun and entertaining evening.

Any time we at a restaurant and have an opportunity to order sushi, we do, but it gets very expensive very quickly. Not to mention that it is quite hard to find sushi that is completely vegan! Even if it doesn't have fish, it usually has cream cheese or a mayo sauce or something like that. The best solution to these issues is to make it at home.

Sushi making is both an art and a science that I am still working on perfecting. I'll try my best to share what tips and tricks I've been able to figure out thus far. The website has helped me to come a long way.

You'll need to start with the rice, and this is the most important part. In the international section at the grocery store, you should be able to find sushi grade rice. Get either this or a medium to short grain white rice--don't be tempted to use the long grain that you've probably got on hand. Follow the cooking directions on the bag, and be careful not to let it brown on the bottom. In a pot on the stove, dissolve 1/2 rice wine vinegar, 1/2 white sugar, and 1/4 salt. Pour over hot, cooked rice and gently work with a plastic or wooden spatula to help it cool to room temperature.

Sticky, seasoned sushi rice.

Another important part is the sushi wrapper, a type of toasted seaweed called nori. I don't know much about brands, but get something that looked nice. I picked up terrible looking package (which I am pretty sure was about a decade old and it didn't have an expiration date for me to check) that was all in Japanese from a small Asian grocer, and it tasted terrible. I got a nice, new looking package with English instructions and bright colors and it tasted just fine. Trust your gut.

Finally, you'll need some fillings. I always have cucumber, green onion, and avocado. Make sure the avocado is fairly soft. I often also use carrot, bell peppers, lettuce, spinach, bean sprouts, and a Japanese radish called a daikon. I bet mushrooms and zucchini would also be great, and I've heard good things about plum sauce. This is the time to experiment and have fun. There is a sushi bar in Fredericksburg, VA that even serves up sushi with fruit filling. Go crazy! Also, this is a great opportunity to break out that dusty old mandolin with all those nifty attachments!

Vegan fillings!

Cucumber strips.
Fine slice attachment for the mandolin. I use the normal slice setting for cucumbers.

Julienned carrots.
A Japanese daikon radish. You can find it at Asian markets and large grocery stores.
I grated this one. They don't have a lot of flavor but they are good fillers.

Carla gnawed the rest of the avocado off of the pit.

Now that you've gotten everything prepped and ready, get out your sushi mat. It is essential to wrap it neatly in plastic wrap--I learned the hard way that there is no way to properly clean a dirty mat. Begin by laying a piece of nori on the bamboo mat, shiny side down, with the edge of the seaweed touching the edge of the mat closest to you.
I had a hard time rolling the first time because my seaweed wasn't scooted down to the edge of the mat closest to me. I also didn't wrap my mat in plastic and I should have turned the nori so that the lines matched up with the mat. Oopse!

Next, add the rice. You can use your fingers or a wooden/plastic spoon. Put a small heap of rice in the center of the nori and then begin spreading it outward. The layer should be very thin--you'll be sorry when it is time to roll if you are too liberal with the rice here. The layer should be thin enough the you can see the nori through the rice. Make sure it spreads all the way out to every edge except the one farthest from you--that edge should have about an inch left bare.

You can see that some of my rice got a little toasty at the bottom. Not good! Oh well--it still tasted alright and I learned for the next time to watch it closer. You can also see that my rice didn't go all the way out to the edges, which meant I had to discard the ends later.

Now it is time to fill it up! Start layering fillings on the edge closest to you. Don't go too wild here, or else you won't be able to roll it. Make sure these go all the way out to the ends too.

The is about the fullest the sushi should get. This turned into a big roll.

Here comes the hardest part: rolling the sushi. Slip your thumbs underneath the edge of the mat closest to you. Use your other fingers to tuck the vegetables in place while you roll the mat over top of the fillings. When the outside edge of the nori reaches the rice layer, slide the mat forward so it isn't trapped in the sushi and press firmly. Continue to roll forward until the entire sheet is rolled. Press the sushi log with your hands firmly to seal it and shape it. Unroll the mat and behold the beauty! This takes a few tries to get right, so don't be disappointed if it is a mess the first few times. Take a very sharp knife and slice it (half an inch to an inch thick, depending on how wide the roll is), wetting the blade with water between every cut.

Gorgeous! Makes me hungry just blogging about it...

My favorite part of sushi is the toppings. I usually do sesame seeds and sliced green onions, but I also enjoy spicy mayo. Just mix up vegan mayo, chili paste (like sriracha), chili powder, and/or roasted chili oil until it tastes right. You can also try ponzu sauce, teriyaki sauce, or make your own garlic-ginger-soy sauce. This is one area that I will definitely be playing with in the future.

I hope that this post has inspired you to get inventive and have fun creating delicious vegan sushi of your own. Let me know what you come up with!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"I Can't Believe It's Vegan" Gravy

Admittedly, I was a little scared as I patrolled the internet for a carnivore-accepted gravy suitable for my family. They all had such an odd mix of ingredients and I really wanted to impress. You know, so I don't look like a crazy hippy or something. Vegan food is delicious, and I wanted to prove it through gravy!

This recipe came from a cute website called VegWeb. It has a different taste than other gravies I have had, but in a good way. It has a sort of tang to it that goes wonderfully with stuffing and mashed potatoes. Everyone in my family liked it, and happily dumped it on just about everything except for the pile of barcequed ribs that they were feasting on.

And the best part about this recipe is that it is easy!

In a pot on medium heat, add:
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth
  • a dash of onion powder
  • a few dashes of garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but I would recommend it)
  • a few generous dashes of soy sauce
  • a small squeeze of mustard (I used spicy mustard rather than yellow)
  • 1/3 cup of flour
  • 1 tbsp Earth Balance
  • salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
Whisk it all together, heat to a simmer, and taste for proper seasonings. I think I might have also dumped in a splash of sherry, just for fun. I am looking for an excuse to make this recipe again. Enjoy!

Green Bean Casserole

While I didn't appreciate this tradition quite so much as a kid, in my adult life green bean casserole has always been the food I look forward to most during the holidays. My mom made it the way that I'm sure the majority of people remember their mothers making it--straight out of a can. A can a green beans, a can of cream of mushroom soup, and even jarred mushrooms all got dumped into dish together to bake. Definitely not vegan, and probably not as healthy as it otherwise could have been either. I was skeptical as I searched for a recipe that would even come close to inspiring the joy and comfort I remember from years past, and I was amazed to find that the fresh, home-made, healthy version of green bean casserole is actually even better than the original version!

Home-made Vegan Green Bean Casserole

I found this recipe on this blog.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

First, put a pot of salted water on to boil. Have 1 1/2 to 2 pounds of fresh green beans trimmed and ready to go in. While you are waiting, slice up a container of mushrooms (about 12 ounces) and start those sauteeing in a separate pan. Add in three cloves of garlic, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and freshly cracked salt and pepper. Sautee the mushrooms until soft. When the water is boiling add the beans, cover, and cook for 6 minutes. Drain and rinse the beans in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Sautee the mushroom mixture and cook the beans.

In a bowl, whisk together 2 tbsp of flour and 3/4 cup of vegetable broth. Add this to the mushrooms with 2 tbsp of sherry and 3/4 cup soy creamer (or unsweetned soy milk). Simmer, stirring, until mixture is thick. Taste the sauce here and adjust seasonings--the salt in this recipe is hard to get right, I find. Add the cooked beans, toss, and then pour the mixture into a casserole dish.

Toss the green beans, mushroom mixture, and then top and bake.

In a food processor, process 1 1/2 slices of whole wheat bread, 1 tbsp Earth Balance, salt, and pepper until crumbly. Mix this while one container of fried onions and spread over the casserole. Bake for 15 minutes.

I thought about going all out and making some yummy, healthy breaded onion straws, but in the end I decided that that was more work than I felt like getting in to. Besides, what are the holidays with a little bit of fatty food and indulgence involved? This would be a fun future experiment though!


One of the best and worst things about the holidays is definitely the food. Since I have been trying to cut back on certain elements in order to improve heart health, I was worried that being on vacation and celebrating the holidays would set me back. There have been a few temptations, but I think I've been pretty good this year. Here is a glimpse of what my festivities were like, with recipes to follow!

Why yes, that is a fish themed Christmas tree.
Premier Floral Design is the coolest shop I have ever been in.

The grilled ribs were for the meatatarians (basically everyone but me).

Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, made with olive oil and Earth Balance.

Vegan gravy--super delicious!

Assorted breads with dipping oil. A blend of extra virgin olive oil and Wegman's basting oil
with fresh, coarsely cracked black pepper and sea salt is the best for dipping.

I got this stuffing recipe online. I tasted like poo unless it was drown with gravy.
Sorry folks, but I won't be posting any vegan stuffing recipes this year.

Green bean casserole has always been my favorite holiday food, and I am a sucker for
the classic version that virtually comes out of a can. To my surprise, this home-made
version with fresh green beans and button mushrooms blew the one from my childhood
memories straight out of the water. I have made it severaltimes since and it never ceases
to impress. Stay tuned for the recipe!

My aunt's boyfriend, Rick, invited us over to his lovely home one evening for dinner.
He grilled two huge slabs of prime rib for everyone, but fixed a whole vegan feast just for
me! There were grilled mushrooms, vegan quesadillas, mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus
and zucchini, and more. I'm thinking that Rick's a keeper.

And of course there was SNOW!