Taking a Sushi Making Class: A Delicious Way to Spend the Afternoon

After about 14 years of being a vegetarian, two years ago I added fish back into my diet. At the time, I was preparing for a lengthy trial and I was eating even less than I was sleeping. I knew my standard veggie diet was not going to keep me going when I was away from home working 24 hour days. I was staying near Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, so it was the perfect place to try sushi for the first time. It was love at first bite. (I am still sorting out my ethical dilemmas with eating fish, but that is a story for another day.)

sushi-class

Fast forward to present day and sushi (and fish in general) is now a major part of my diet. Since I love eating it so much I wanted to see if making it was just as much fun.

sushi-ingredients

My friend Amber and I (well, actually we are related, but if I tell you how it will make me sounds a lot older that I am) went to Kabuto in Richmond, VA to take a private sushi class with their sushi chef.

making-sushi

We each got to select 3 rolls we wanted to make. Amber chose the Fire Cracker Roll (tuna and scallion roll topped with red pepper); Cajun Roll (shrimp tempura, fish eggs, avocado, and spicy mayo); and a California Roll. I selected the Dynamite Roll (tuna, yellowtail, and spicy mayo); Killer Roll (eel, avocado, with tempura flakes on top); and a Philadelphia Roll (because I just can’t get enough cream cheese).

sushi-lesson

We started with a lesson on how to make the sushi. You begin by grabbing a large clump of rice, somewhere between the size of a large egg and really small baseball. The rice is then spread across the nori (the seaweed paper that comes with sushi). I probably went a little heavy on the rice . . . because rice is delicious.

philadelphia-roll

Once we lined the nori with rice, we flipped it over to add our ingredients. I wanted to pack the roll, but a little went a long way.

sushi-roll

Then it was time to roll! Much like in life, you gotta keep it tight to keep it all together.

rolling-sushi

We used the bamboo sushi rolling mat to compress and shape the rolls to be nice and pretty.

cutting-sushi

All that was left was to slice the rolls. The trick was to have a slightly wet blade and saw through the roll rather than trying to slice it.

finishing-sushi

Voilà! Just a few finishing touches and I had a full plate of scrumptious sushi!

finished-sushi

We loved our sushi making class and the results were delicious. Having the private lesson (and a chef willing to take photos of us) made the experience extra special. Plus, any new experience where you get to eat your creation can’t be bad!

Making A Gingerbread House

My mom was obsessed with Christmas. Absolutely obsessed. The woman had a different Christmas sweater for every day of December. This is not an exaggeration, and may in fact be a gross underestimate of the number of Christmas sweaters she owned. Many of these sweaters lit up, played music, or most often, both. After I reached a certain age, she promised to stop wearing the ones that lit up or made noise when I was around, which came after years of my embarrassed teenage protests.

That said, the one thing, and perhaps the only thing, we never did at Christmas was make gingerbread houses. I assume that is because making a gingerbread house is incredibly messy, time consuming, and you end up eating more candy than you put on the house. Me + sugar is still a bad idea to this day.

making a gingerbread house

It felt like it was finally time for me to rectify this injustice and make my first gingerbread house. The kits can be purchased most anywhere this time of year, but I got mine at Michaels for under 10 bucks. There is also an adorable one for sale at Starbucks which I almost grabbed during one of my daily coffee runs.

homemade-gingerbread-house

The key to making a gingerbread house is patience. Once you use the frosting to construct the four walls, you have to let it set and harden. The same goes for the roof. So, if you want to make your own house, plan to assemble it about 4 hours before you actually want to decorate it. Otherwise, your house is going to completely cave in upon itself.

gingerbread-house

I cheated a little and did the lines on the roof before I added those panels because I figured drawing with frosting would be hard enough without trying to do it on an angle. Once the house was ready I added candy christmas lights, frosting windows, a fondant door, an icing christmas tree, gumdrop shrubbery, and tiny gingerbread kids. I even constructed my own candy chimney.

I definitely think I consumed as much, if not more, icing and candy as what actually went on the house. In fact, as I write this, I am finishing up the left over gumdrops. And to answer what is turning into a fairly common question, no you cannot eat my gingerbread house. Build your own.

Butter Making & 11 Delicious Recipes to Make Your Own

The holidays are approaching and that means endless meals with friends and family. To kick off the season of eating I got together with some girlfriends for an old fashioned day of making butter. Except instead of churns, we had mixers. And wine. We had a lot of wine.

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Butter making is simple and you only need a few items: heavy whipping cream (1 pint will produce about 1/2 pound of butter); cheesecloth; a food processor with a mixing or paddle blade; plenty of bowls and forks to stir in ingredients; containers for the butter (4oz mason jars work well); and salt and other ingredients as desired.

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The process is easy. You start by pouring the cream into the mixer. Lower the whisk into the cream and turn it to about half speed. Mixing typically takes 3 to 10 minutes. You can also make butter by shaking the cream in a sealed container (read about that process here). Shaking takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes (and results in a super tired arm).

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As the cream is processed it will separate into butter and buttermilk. (You can save the buttermilk for other cooking projects if you so desire). Once this happens, pour the buttermilk and butter into a bowl with a colander or cheesecloth.

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Use the cheesecloth to squeeze out any liquid and then rinse the butter. This process feels really weird and you get your hands covered in butter.

If you don’t press out all of the buttermilk the butter will spoil faster. Homemade butter will last in the refrigerator for 1-3 weeks, depending on how well you squeeze the buttermilk out. If you store the butter in the freezer, unsalted butter will stay good for 5-6 months but salted butter can last up to 9 months.

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Once the butter has been pressed and washed you are ready to add your ingredients. You can just add salt for simple plain butter, or you can add fresh herbs, spices, garlic, cheeses, wine, lemon/lime, peppers, jam, and the list goes on. Each ingredient adds its own unique flavor and flair.

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We made 11 types of butter, all ingredients are to-taste, so add as much of each as you like:

  • Lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • Basil, lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • Brie, roasted garlic, and salt
  • Rosemary, roasted garlic, salt, and pepper (delicious)
  • Organic basil, espresso sea salt, and pepper (my favorite)
  • Honey, honey goat cheese, blue cheese, and salt
  • White wine, thyme, honey, and salt
  • Peach brandy jam
  • Nutella (life changing)
  • Maple peanut butter
  • Pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and all spice

If you have any recipes you like add them in the comments below! It looks like this may be an annual tradition so they could make their way on to the menu next year.

Flavor Tripping: The Miraculous Power of the Miracle Berry

It sounds like something only Willy Wonka could dream up: a berry that makes everything sweeter. Well, it is real and it is magical. Or, I should say, it is miraculous. The miracle berry causes sour, tangy, or tart foods to taste as if they have been dipped in sugar.

miracle berries

Photo by MiracleFruitFarm

It is called “flavor tripping,” and no, miracle berries are not a drug. This little red marvelous fruit originates in West Africa and its use was first documented in the 1700s. Local tribes used it before consuming sour cornbread, bland oatmeal gruel, and palm wine.

Miracle berries contain the chemical “miraculin,” which turns your tastebuds topsy turvy. Miraculin binds to your sweet taste receptors and sends them into overdrive if the pH of your mouth drops into the acidic range from something sour. In other words, it turns lemons into lemonade. The sweet effect lasts for 1-2 hours.

If you don’t have access to miracle berries you can buy them in pill form (the only ingredients are miracle fruit powder and corn starch).

mberry tablet

You place a tablet on your tongue and let it dissolve. As Morpheus explained, “You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

morpheus-red-pill

We tried an assortment of lemons, limes, blackberries, strawberries, kiwis, apples, grapes, prunes, cranberry juice, and balsamic vinegar. I reached for the lemon first. It tasted like it was covered in sugar and the normal tartness of the fruit was nowhere to be found. The same was true for the lime. It reminded me fruit slice candy. All of the fruit tasted sweeter than normal, but the strawberries tasted like they were sprinkled with fine powdered sugar. The most interesting flavor transition was that of the balsamic vinegar. The miracle berry transformed it into a sweet, thick, grape juice.

A few days after my first experiment, I did a second tasting of grapefruit, pomegranate, more lemons (yum), jalapeños, onion, pickles, and coffee. Once again, the fruit tasted extra sweet and the pickles did as well. The onion still tasted like an onion (yuk) but the jalapeño was rendered virtually tasteless, it lost all of its kick. The best part of experiment number two was the coffee. The straight black coffee became creamy and sweet.

miracle-berry-tasting

If you want to try flavor tripping, just make your own tasting menu with a variety of foods to explore. The miracle berry can have some lingering effects so it is best to try it at the end of the evening when you are done eating for the day. In other words, don’t try to have a glass of wine post-tasting. It will not go over well.

Dining on Escargot

I was a vegetarian for approximately 15 years. About a year ago I expanded my dietary world to include fish, and now, apparently, I have thrown snails into the mix. When I starting eating fish is was a necessity during a busy trial; lots of long hours and few breaks for food meant I needed an easy way to up my protein intake. I never expected that it would lead to an ever-expanding world of new foods. My friend Tina, who is an endless source of good ideas, suggested I try the dish. We were both in need of a night off so we went to Nashville’s legendary Sperry’s Restaurant for a girls’ night out.

Escargot

Escargot has been served for centuries. We all know it is famous French cuisine, but it was also a delicacy in ancient Rome and may have been a part of the prehistoric diet. Who knew cavemen were so civilized. Believe it or not, it is also pretty healthy. Escargot is extremely high in protein and low in fat. Well, if you don’t count all the butter.

Eating Escargot

The escargot were served in a traditional dish with mushrooms and garlic-herb, seasoned butter. The taste and texture reminded me of a combination of mussels and cooked mushrooms. A squirt of lemon really brought out the flavor. They were chewy, but not tough. And no, they were not slimy or anything else you might expect from a snail.

I never expected that escargot would taste so, well, normal. I am glad I decided to branch out and add something new to my diet. I am all ready for my next trip to Paris.

Cooking & Eating a Ghost Pepper

The ghost pepper, or the bhut jolokia, is insanely hot. In fact, it is one of the hottest peppers in the world. At 1 million Scoville heat units, the ghost pepper is 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. It is so hot it has been weaponized for use in pepper spray and it is even used as elephant repellent in India. Yes, elephant repellent. As a spice lover, this intrigued me. I have always loved spicy food and I am a firm believer that if I am not physically uncomfortable eating then the food isn’t hot enough.

Ghost Peppers

This weekend, while visiting Nashville’s farmer’s market, I discovered Swafford Farms selling a variety of fresh peppers with beautiful ghost peppers front and center. I remembered I saved a ghost pepper recipe for just such an occasion and pulled it up on my phone to see what else I needed.

Ghost Pepper Recipe Ingredients

Fortunately, Fresh and Local Produce at the farmer’s market was able to provide me with the rest of the vegetables. The recipe called for:

  • 6 ghost peppers
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, pureed
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon organic sugar

Ghost Pepper Copped Ingredients

I prepared all of the ingredients and saved the ghost peppers for last. Before I chopped them I had to taste one for myself.

At first, it tasted like every other pepper I’d had and was a pretty mellow experience. Then, I bit into the inside of the pepper and and one of the seeds. The heat had a delayed reaction. Initially there was nothing, and then the heat slowly took over my entire mouth. It was not nearly as bad as I excepted, but I cannot deny that the peppers had some serious heat. No tears were elicited, but I did turn to a large glass of milk for relief.

Ghost Pepper After Effect

Here is your science tip for the day boys and girls: The chemical that causes the heat in peppers (capsaicin) is not water soluble so drinking a glass of ice water will not soothe your tongue. In fact, water will only spread the heat. Instead, you need something that will break down the capsaicin. Casein, the protein in milk, helps break the bonds capsaicin forms on nerve receptors.

Bonus science tip: Vegetable oils will also break down the capsaicin. If you deal with peppers with your bare hands (which is not advisable) be sure to wash your hands with oil a few times. Soap and water alone will not do the trick and will leave you pretty miserable if you rub your eyes with even trace amounts of the capsaicin still on your fingers.

Ghost Pepper Chopping Gloves

When I began cutting the peppers I followed the rules and used gloves to protect my hands.

Ghost Pepper Chopping

However, I quickly realized that the gloves made dicing nearly impossible and decided to risk it. The peppers definitely made my fingers burn a little, and even a day later, after washing my hands with oil several times, I have not attempted to take out my contacts. Ghost peppers are powerful stuff.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Making

Finally, it was time to combine all of the ingredients to make the salsa.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Ingredients

You just throw everything in a pot, bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Ingredients Stove

The salsa made the house smell amazing. The fragrance still hung in the air when I got home from work the following day.

Safety tip: Do not put your face over the pot while you are cooking. It is essentially steamy pepper spray. (Fortunately, I did not have to learn this the hard way.)

Ghost Pepper Salsa

I varied the recipe slightly. The recipe calls for the ghost pepper seeds to be removed. This is because the capsaicin is very prominent in the pepper’s seeds. I, however, love spice so I left them in. The recipe also called for the salsa to be blended until it becomes a smooth sauce, but I preferred to to be chunky so I could enjoy it with chips. If I were to make it again, I would definitely add more ghost peppers, more bell peppers, chunkier tomatoes, a heavy dose of cilantro, and a little bit of chopped garlic.

Ghost Pepper Salsa Spicey

The salsa had some kick, but after the first bite (captured above) I got pretty used to it. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop eating it. My friend Tina, however, had a different reaction. She took one bite, shouted “THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE,” and then ran for a drink to cool her mouth.

So, in the end, the ghost pepper experiment went well and just confirmed my love of all things spicy. Plus, now that I know that making salsa is a simple as a quick trip to the farmer’s market, I am not sure I’ll ever buy it from the store again.

Making Tiramisu

This week I attempted to make another dish that looks more complicated than it is (see pies 1 and 2). Tiramisu seems deliciously complicated, but it is really made with 6 simple ingredients: mascarpone, eggs, sugar, coffee/espresso, cocoa powder, and lady fingers. (Some recipes also call for rum or marsala, but skipped it this time.)

Tiramisu Ingredients

Tiramisu, which means “pick me up,” was supposedly invented in Italy in 1969. If you haven’t had it, well, then you just haven’t been living. It is a scrumptious creamy dessert, and one of my favorites.

Tiramisu Egg Yolks

This recipe contains a lot of room temperature raw eggs. This, of course, did not stop me from licking my fingers throughout the process. We’ll just call it quality control. First, I mixed 6 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar. This took several minutes to get it thick enough. A consistent complaint I saw while searching for a recipie was that the custard came out too runny. Apparently, the eggs are the culprit. Once it seemed thick enough I added in the mascarpone (basically an Italian cream cheese).

Tiramisu Egg Whites

Some recipes skip egg whites. However, this helps give the custard its thickness. The recipe said to beat 4 egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar until stiff, glossy peaks formed. I had never beaten eggs for a dessert before so I was surprised just how fluffy they got. This took a while to accomplish. Although my recipe didn’t explain this, the egg whites should be at room temperature and the sugar should be added in gradually. I probably should have beaten them longer, but I was concerned about over-beating them and having to start over.

Lady Fingers

Once the eggs, mascarpone, and sugar were combined, it was time to prepare the pastry portion of the dessert. The recipe called for 36-48 lady fingers, but it took 60 for me to do two full layers in my dish.

Tiramisu Lady Fingers

The lady fingers (make sure you get the hard rather than spongy ones) are dipped (very quickly) in coffee or espresso, just long enough to cover them. If you let them soak they will get too soggy.

Tiramisu Lady Finger Layer

Then it was just a matter of building the layers. Two of the coffee-soaked lady fingers and two of the custard.

Tiramisu Layers

I’m really glad I got an extra box of the lady fingers “just in case,” though I was hoping to have extras to snack on. No such luck.

Tiramisu Finished

Finally, it was time to put tiramisu in the refrigerator for 8 hours and try to pretend it wasn’t there.

Tiramisu Unsweatned Chocolate

When it was ready, I added a healthy layer of unsweetened chocolate to  finish it off. I may have gotten a little overzealous with it, but you can’t blame a girl, can you? While I definitely do not have a career ahead of me as a dessert photographer, it was rich, creamy, and delightful.

Homemade Tiramisu

If you want to try this at home, you can find the recipe I used here.

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