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!

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.