Green Tea Salmon with Coconut Rice & Miso Greens

When I bought the salmon for yesterday’s dinner, I had the option of buying just enough for one meal at a rather high price, or picking up a club pack that would make two meals for only a dollar or two more. Bulk discounts are a really big thing here and, if you can work with it, can save you an awful lot of money. Owning a deep freeze is a great way to buy in bulk without having to eat the same thing for a week. However, most ocean fish that gets to us here is frozen, since we’re about 1,100km away from the Atlantic coast in our country, and 500km away if we drive south to the States. I didn’t want to re-freeze the extra salmon, so we ended up eating it two days in a row. I’d been itching to try out some of the recipes from my new-to-me copy of Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals (Jamie Oliver, 2012), and the green tea salmon with coconut rice & miso greens on page 138 looked like it was packed with flavour.

I like how this book gives very specific directions for how to prepare these dishes in the least amount of time. That being said, this dish definitely took more than 15 minutes, mostly because of the rice. The instructions call for basmati rice to cook in light coconut milk for only 10 minutes — but I have never managed to make decent basmati on the stove in less than 25, and I cook it a lot. I tried to shave off a little time by cooking it in the Instant Pot (which didn’t exist when this book was written), but with the preheating, a 12-minute automatic cook time, and 10 minutes of releasing pressure naturally, it was still closer to a 25-minute cooking time. So I had to time my other preparation around the rice so that all of the elements finished at the same time. That actually made things much easier for me, since I’m definitely slower at my knife-work than Jamie.

My other issue with this recipe, and it’s become a big of a pet peeveas I’ve written before, is that the ingredients aren’t measured by something objective like volume or weight. Rather, they were given such measurements as “bunches” or “thumb-sized”. It’s fine to be able to throw in a pinch of this and a dash of that once I know a recipe well, but when I’m trying it for the first time I want it to be as much like the original as possible. Also, a “bunch” can change size from store to store and season to season — and I’m pretty sure that we use slightly different varieties of veggies than over in the UK, so their sizes can vary considerably. This can throw off proportions and potentially ruin a recipe. In this recipe, I threw in a whole bunch of cilantro instead of half a bunch, because the bunches where I was shopping seemed really small. Also, I had to use broccoli instead of broccolini, since my local grocery store didn’t carry the latter at all; luckily that particular bunch also had an approximate weight measurement as well.

Despite my pickiness about the recipe, I was very happy with the final dishes. The salmon with its green tea coating was surprisingly delicious, the coconut rice was lovely (and so easy!), and the veggies were crisp and fresh-tasting. I think the dressing would have been better with a little olive oil added to thin it out, since it had such a strong flavour that you really didn’t need much. The oil probably would have made my poor old blender deal with the whole thing better too, since it didn’t like working with such small quantities or low levels of liquid (my blender is older than I am). I think that making this sauce into a salad dressing for fresh greens would be absolutely lovely — unless I’m making it for someone who finds that cilantro tastes like soap. Luckily, I’m not one of them!

Yuan-Style Salmon & Spinach with Bonito Flakes

After all of the work (and many hours of ingredient hunting) over the weekend for Sunday’s dinner, I thought I’d keep things a bit more simple on Monday night. I’d been meaning to try out some of the recipes from Ten-Minute Bento (Megumi Fuji, 2007), since they all looked delicious and relatively simple. I went through my cupboards to determine what I already had, prepped my shopping list, and then went out for the day. Easy peasy, right? Except that halfway through the day my eldest called from school to tell me she was feeling sick, and could I come and pick her up. So much for picking up the missing ingredients with the girls after school, then. Instead of the leisurely dinner prep I had been hoping for, I chucked the rice in the Instant Pot right before my husband came home, made a mad dash for the grocery store once he arrived, and returned home as quickly as possible. I know, I could have changed my dinner plans entirely, but at this point it would probably have taken longer to find another recipe, scrounge the house for ingredients, and likely defrost something from the freezer.

Luckily the recipes in this book are as simple as described, if not necessarily as quick. (It’s not a ten-minute bento if you have to cook the rice, marinade the fish for ten minutes, and then grill each side of the fish for 4 minutes per side. Just saying.) I upped the portions to make the bento on page 21 for four people, and we all greatly enjoyed our yuan-style salmon & spinach with bonito flakes. I would definitely make this recipe again. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for circumstances delaying me from getting the ingredients earlier, it would have been a snap! As a bonus, making the sticky rice in the Instant Pot was super easy and came out perfectly.

Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki & Rice

Since the stew the night before took a while to prepare — not so much the cooking, but all of the chopping and cutting — I thought that last night I would make something a bit more simple. I wanted to continue testing out (okay, playing with) my new Instant Pot, so I used it to make a batch of basmati rice. I used the instructions for rice that I found on page 51 of The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook (Coco Morante, 2018). I’ve made basmati rice about a million times on the stove and I’ve got it pretty much down to a science, but I wanted to see how the new cooker would compare. I don’t think it takes any less time once you take into account the preheating and the recommended-for-best-results ten minutes on Keep Warm after cooking, but it is pretty darned easy. Unlike the stove top version, I can more or less just set it and forget it, so I can see why a lot of people like this feature. I think I need to test it with some of the trickier varieties, like wild rice or sticky rice, before I am 100% convinced.

The topping for the rice was another attempt at Nori Cheese Tamagoyaki (video here). While this dish invariably comes out tasting excellent, I’m still working on the technique. I find that rolling the nori and egg are fine, but the cheese makes it tricky and it wants so badly to fall apart. Ah well, practice makes perfect. This time I topped it with Japanese mayo and masago (seasoned capelin caviar), as per the recipe, and I think that this transforms the omelette flavour-wise from a breakfast to a supper dish. Given the family’s rave reviews, this is definitely going to be a regular part of our diet, so I think that I’ll get all the practice I need!

Baby Panda Onigiri

This morning we found Candy Cane rappelling over the fireplace grate!

Last night for dinner I really wanted to try out a baby panda onigiri set I bought at a Goodwill in New Jersey in the fall. To be clear, that’s rice balls in the shape of baby pandas, not containing baby pandas.

I’d been wanting to try the fancier rice balls for a while now, but it’s hard to find the molds around here unless you want to import them, which can be prohibitively expensive. But this set was only $1.99, and it was still new in the package, which was a perfect combination for me.

Basically, you cook up your sticky rice, scoop it into the mold (the front and the back are both shaped), and then press it really firmly together. Then you place a sheet of nori between the white cutter and the flexible red board, and press down really firmly to punch out the shapes. You can then apply the nori shapes to the formed rice, sometimes using a dab of water to make the seaweed stick properly. This kit even makes little nori tails for their tiny rice butts! Now, there were a whole lot more instructions written on the back in Japanese, and I have at best a kindergartner’s grasp of written Japanese (probably worse, actually), so I mostly went with the little pictures on the front.

Despite not having a lot to go on, I think my baby panda onigiri turned out pretty cute, especially for a first try! I served them alongside onigiri made in my triangular mold, which I stuffed with teriyaki chicken. (The chicken is the brown stuff sticking out of the rice in the above photo; it looks a little weird but it hasn’t gone off, I swear.) I think I added a little too much sauce to the chicken, as it was a bit salty. I also learned for future reference that I’ll need to shred the chicken more finely if I want the rice balls to stay intact. It’s a learning process, but it’s one I’m greatly enjoying!

Tandoori Chicken on Basmati Rice with Glazed Carrots

It has come to my attention of late that there are a few companies out there now that make lactose-free Greek yogurt. This means that there are a couple of dishes that used to be in my regular repertoire that I had to drop when I was diagnosed as lactose-intolerant, but I can now add them back to my regular rotation. The first thing I wanted to try was tandoori chicken thighs. I know that for a proper tandoori dish it should be baked in a traditional tandoor oven, but that’s just not something that I have available. Instead, I combined Pataks Tandoori Curry Paste with some of that lactose-free Greek yogurt to create a marinade, and I left the thighs in in it overnight to absorb the flavour. Then I baked the chicken on a broiler pan in my regular oven.

It was very tasty and packed with flavour, if a little bit sweeter than I’m generally used to. That’s because somehow I didn’t read the yogurt label properly and bought vanilla yogurt instead — and I didn’t realize until after I’d already put the chicken in the marinade. I’m actually rather surprised that it still tasted pretty good, but it did!

I served the chicken over steamed basmati rice and alongside glazed carrots. I steamed the carrots in the microwave and then tossed them with a bit of my carrot jam, just enough to coat the veggies. Carrot jam is really great as a glaze on steamed or baked root vegetables, and it’s also surprisingly good used to glaze pork roast.

Family Sushi Night

One thing we share as a family is that every single one of us loves sushi. However, we do differ as to which one is our favourite — the best bribe ever to use on Thing 1 is salmon nigiri, while Thing 2 is a big fan of a California roll or any maki with shrimp tempura in it, my husband prefers hand rolls (temaki), while I actually like sashimi (just the fish/seafood), possibly with a bowl of rice on the side to fill me up.

That being said, I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before now to make sushi at home. I used to do it all the time in high school and as a young adult; I actually hosted a few dinner parties where we all rolled our own sushi. However, it is very time consuming for one person to make a family’s worth, and I guess I just set it aside until I thought the kids were old enough to help me out. But the kids are both old enough now to assemble their own soft tacos or burritos, and sushi uses many of roughly the same techniques, so I thought it was time to give it a go.

Last night I made up a big pot of sushi rice and cut up all kinds of toppings: smoked salmon, cooked shrimp, scrambled egg with a bit of mirin mixed in, cucumber, carrots, and avocado. Then I dug out one rolling mat per person and let everyone assemble their own sushi.

The nice thing about making sushi this way is that everyone can have it just how they like it, although probably not as pretty as they’d like it, that comes with a heck of a lot of practice. I find it surprising that a lot of people around here still assume that sushi automatically equals raw fish, when it’s really all about the vinegared rice. You can top it or roll it with just about anything you’d like. You can even avoid fish or even all animal products altogether, although the purists may take objection to that. But let’s be honest, purists aren’t going to be rolling sushi at home with their six-year-old, they’re going to be paying a very skilled professional chef to create the perfect mouthfuls.

I really liked the combination of the saltiness of the smoked salmon with the sweet egg and the crunch of cucumber.

The egg-and-shrimp roll I made could have used a little more punch; perhaps I should pick up some spicy Japanese mayo for next time?

My husband’s rolls generally turned out nicer-looking than mine, except, of course, when I went to take a picture. His egg, cucumber, and shrimp roll tasted pretty good, though.

After a couple of messy (if tasty) attempts at maki sushi rolls, the girls tried their hands at hand rolls, which are the closest in assembly to a taco, which is where there experience lies.

We had a really good time making and eating this dinner, and I’m starting to think I should have introduced homemade sushi long before now. I loved watching the kids’ faces light up when I told them that we could actually make sushi at home. Not only that, but it’s a pretty healthy meal that’s infinitely customizable. We are definitely going to do this again, and soon. It needs to become a regular thing in my house again.

Comfort Food for a Sick Family

The cold/flu that flattened our family for a good three weeks seemed to have gone away, but over the last few days it reared its nasty head again, albeit in a more subdued form. Thing 1 ended up home with a fever, while at the same time Thing 2 has a nasty, chesty cough. I am not immune, and still have sinus congestion and pressure issues. This means that, on our least-energetic days, we all want comfort food, and I haven’t felt up to cooking anything complicated.

This is where chicken noodle soup came in the other day. I didn’t even have to go out to get the ingredients! I had homemade broth in the freezer (I try to always keep it stocked), along with some chicken thighs that I baked. Then I boiled up some ditali noodles, threw them in a pot with half of the broth and half of the chicken, and there was chicken noodle soup for the family. Earlier in the day I also managed to throw on a loaf of herb-free Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread (it’s become my go-to loaf for a nice, light white bread), so we had fresh bread to go with the soup.

Now, you may have noticed that I only used half of the broth and chicken, and that was so that I would have leftovers. Chicken noodle soup doesn’t generally refrigerate well because the noodles swell up and absorb most/all of the liquid over time. Instead, I refrigerated the ingredients separately, and last night I threw them all in a pot with a half of a cup of rice and simmered it all together until the rice was cooked (about 20 minutes).

It’s nothing fancy, but culturally our first go-to around here is chicken noodle soup when we’re not feeling well. If chicken noodle soup isn’t available, something bland, nutritious, and warm is the next option on the list. It seems to have worked this time, because the girls are already getting their energy back. I hope this means we’ve managed to kick this thing for good — knock on wood!