August 29, 2016

Making sushi at home (with the Instant Pot)

In a recent post, written while it was 95˚F, I mentioned I craved sushi when the weather was hot, but didn't crave making it myself. That's probably still true, but it's much cooler now, it's been in the 70s the last few days, and today it was only 80, so my idea of what I will and won't make has altered a bit. And besides the mellowing weather, I also have a new Instant Pot. You know how it is when you get something new in the kitchen — everything seems like a good idea. With a bag of sushi rice and my Instant Pot, all things seemed possible.

It's been ages since I last made sushi, so I consulted three different sources to check the proportion of rice to water, and how long to cook the rice — using a pressure cooker. I found everything from 1 cup of water:one cup of rice to one-and one-half cups of water:one cup of rice. The later was the proportion of white rice to water in the Instant Pot recipe booklet. I chose to follow the directions in the booklet, but I can tell you now, it's too much water, as I suspected it would be. I was disappointed, but I couldn't let a pot full of really soft and sticky rice stop me from making sushi.

The planned fillings were nontraditional, but vegan sushi in general is nontraditional, so what you choose to roll up inside is pretty much up to you. First I made a seasoning mix of rice vinegar, mirin, tamari and a little bit of coconut sugar, which I mixed into the hot, cooked rice while also fanning the rice, to cool it. Then I prepped three fillings. The first was made with oyster mushrooms, sautéed in a little vegetable broth, then paired with arugula. The second was strips of fresh cucumber and the third was leftover stir-fried tofu, kale, carrots and cherry tomatoes. The cucumber rolls were also enhanced by a thin stripe of umeboshi paste along the length of the nori sheet, so that each piece of sushi would contain a bit of the tangy umeboshi flavor to offset the bland but sweet cukes. 

The first roll I made was a clear indication that I'd forgotten how to make sushi; I didn't even think to check my own blog for tips. Had I clicked here to review what we learned in a sushi-making class back in 2010, everything from the rice cooking to the sushi rolling might have gone more smoothly. The first roll I assembled was too fat. When I saw the way it looked, I remembered how little rice it takes to make a sushi roll. The first bloated pieces were eaten immediately, to hide the shame, and are not in any of the photos.

All three of the varieties were delicious (or would have been had the rice not been the consistency of rice pudding) but my favorite was absolutely the oyster mushroom and arugula. The sweet, delicate taste, and tender but toothsome texture of the mushroom was perfect with the crisp sharpness of the greens. I'll definitely be making more of these.

I'm looking forward to perfecting my sushi rice cooking in the Instant Pot. Any advice happily accepted.

There are Amazon links in the post. If you click on one and buy something, I will earn a small reward, but your cost will not be affected in any way.

August 23, 2016

I bought an Instant Pot. Yes I did.

Back on July 12, when Amazon was having Prime Day, I succumbed to the nagging urge to purchase an Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional six quart Pressure Cooker, even though I tried to convince myself we didn't need it, didn't have room for it, blah, blah, blah. You know the arguments because you have the same arguments about kitchen items all the time, too, don't you?

I already had a slow cooker and stove-top pressure cooker, and all I really needed was a rice cooker, but when the Instant Pot went on sale for $60, what could I do? It was cheaper than the rice cookers I'd been looking at. The last time I used my pressure cooker it had exploded in a most frightening way, and I've been reluctant to use it since. Add to the argument my desire to use more dried beans instead of canned, and the fact I like cooking to be easy. Like I said, what could I do?  So, am I glad I bought it? Is it easy? Yes and yes.

At first I was afraid to try it, then, at the last minute one night, I decided to get over my reluctance, and cook beans. I know beans are better and easier to digest when soaked, but it was late, so I threw two cups of unsoaked chickpeas into the pot, added water, and pressed "beans." Once the pressure comes up, the beans setting cooks for 30 minutes. The beans were perfectly soft when they were finished — maybe a little too soft. We sprinkled them with a bit of seasoning, made a cabbage slaw, roasted potatoes and grilled Hatch peppers, and called it dinner. We ate chickpeas a few more times for lunch and dinner, I made hummus, and even fed chickpeas to the dog. It was great!

I soaked and cooked cannelini beans, and we had beans and rice with tahini sauce, then bean soup, and still there were beans, so I made sausage patties with leftover beans, cooked quinoa, hemp seeds, herbs and spices.

The most recent beans I made were kidney beans, which I pre-soaked. My husband made an excellent soup from them by adding vegetables to the cooker after the beans were cooked, and letting the pot run until the veggies were done.

I've cooked rice in the Instant Pot, and it came out perfectly, but I cooked it after removing the finished beans from the cooker, and that seemed inconvenient to me. After reading more about how to use the Instant Pot, and doing some practicing, I'm getting much more confident about setting the timer and figuring out how to cook multiple foods at once. I'm going to set up a pot within a pot system for cooking beans and rice at the same time.

I love how convenient the Instant Pot is — I can just add the food and walk away. It doesn't create heat, is very quiet, and cooks pretty fast. I just want to use it constantly. The only downside is it is pretty large, and we haven't quite figured out where to keep it, yet. But we will!

Do you have an Instant Pot? Are you thinking of buying one? Do you have a particular kitchen appliance you felt a little guilty about buying but now really love?

Got to go make some rice now to go with the leftover soup!

The post contains an Amazon link. If you click on it and buy something, I'll get a small reward, but you will not pay anything extra. Promise.

August 15, 2016

I like to eat ...

We had our annual block party recently, and I decided to make two dips. Most of our neighbors are pretty traditional in their food choices, and we're the only vegans, so I made something everyone would recognize, and not consider weird — hummus. I also made a slightly more exotic carrot dip. It was rich with cashews and garlic, and extremely delicious. Everyone who tried it seemed to like it, but I had accidentally made about twice as much as I intended, so I held back a container in the refrigerator for another use. The next day, I used the leftovers to top pasta and steamed veggies for a delicious dinner.

The pasta is pretty interesting. The all-organic ingredients include chickpea flour, brown rice flour, tapioca starch and pea protein. The brand is Explore, and we bought it at Costco. It doesn't taste like wheat pasta, but it tastes pretty good.

I've been having sushi cravings that pop up suddenly, and don't seem to include the craving to make sushi myself. So, we've been getting sushi take-out from a neighborhood Japanese restaurant that is relatively vegan-friendly. The sushi isn't as interesting as the sushi I've had at vegan sushi places in other cities, but it's tasty and convenient.

The tofu cubes I made in my oven on the convection setting, using a bit of Bragg's but no oil. It was crispy on the outside but a bit dry on the inside. I've found that firm tofu works better in the convection oven than extra-firm in that it stays moist on the inside. In my efforts to get a crispy crust, I over-baked the extra firm tofu, and it was a bit too dry on the inside. Still, in spite of being extra chewy, it was good.

Here's a better photo of the tofu cubes. The oven was set at 400˚F, and I turned the cubes every 10 minutes for about 30 minutes. I fear my experiments are leading me to want an air fryer even more, but I'm trying to resist another kitchen appliance. I think I can resist. I think I can.

Here's a quick dinner thrown together when we couldn't think of what to make. It's soy curls with tomato sauce served with kale and pasta. Soy curls to the rescue yet again. And what would we do without pasta?

Summer is a great time to eat salads, and I'm still making my oil-free salad dressing of the week to top them off. One of these days I'll write down a recipe to share — with you and with myself so I can remember what went into the ones I like best! Walnuts and baked tofu strips give the salad staying power.

I do love a good salad on a summer day. The salad has chickpeas and pasta with tahini dressing.

I especially love summer and don't want it to end. I love being warm, wearing lightweight clothes, and eating homemade ice cream. Hope you're enjoying your summer!

Sometimes, when we're not eating, we're hiking. The sculpture in the photo is located in Carkeek Park in Seattle. It's part of a temporary sculpture exhibit located along one of the hiking trails. This particular piece contains 1008 moving mirrors. It was quite a beautiful site with the Olympic Mountains and the Sound in the background.

August 09, 2016

Cool Foods Vegi Bacon made from pinto beans

A few posts ago I mentioned that after reading a review on Vegan Eats and Treats about Cool Foods Vegi Bacon, I had second thoughts about my decision not to receive samples for review, and I wrote to the company offering samples to say, sure, I'll try them. Well, I received all sort of samples — ice cream cones, salt, chips — but no vegi bacon. At last they've arrived, and they are delicious.

I'll be the first to admit that I've been vegan since 1981, and it's been a long time since I've tried actual bacon in any form, but the crunchy little bits sure taste just like what I remember bacon tasted like. They are delicious, savory, smoky, crunchy, salty, bacony bits that you can use to top salads, soups, sandwiches, casseroles or whatever. You can even turn a package of them into a dip by following the directions on the package back — add them to hot water, stir and cool.

Not only are the bacon bits tasty, the ingredient list seems pretty healthy. They contain only air-dried pinto beans, sunflower oil, salt, yeast extract, natural flavors and vitamin E. They are gluten-free, vegan, and non-GMO.  (Although the label says they are made with premium pinto beans, they are not organic.)

Here's what they look like. They are extremely crunchy and savory. My husband thought they tasted just like bacon, though he knows as much about that as I do. But seriously, all joking aside, I think they really do taste like bacon.

I haven't gotten around to doing anything truly interesting with them, yet, though I did sprinkle some on a cracker with hummus. Mostly, whenever I get near them, I just eat them straight from the bag! I can see we may have to keep the pantry stocked with these tasty little bits. I think you will like them.
Find out more about Cool Foods Vegi Bacon. Visit their Web site by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I was sent a free sample. I wasn't paid to write a review, darn. All opinions are my own.

August 01, 2016

Strawberry ice cream (sweetened with dates)

I've been having so much fun with my ice cream maker ever since we were reunited after seven long years apart. I still can't believe it's been seven years.

Making ice cream is not only easy, the end result of having a big container of it in the freezer is kind of nice. Although I loved the mango ginger ice cream I made last time, I was craving strawberry, and kind of curious if the texture would still work without the mangoes. Yes, it does. In the freezer, the ice cream stayed the consistency of soft serve for a number of hours. Much to my surprise, it took about eight hours for it to reach a firm scooping consistency. That's about the same as for the mango, and I don't know if it's because of my freezer, or if that's normal. Of course, you can eat the ice cream before it gets to the firm stage — nothing wrong with soft serve. Though, unless you have a soft serve dispenser, it's easier to eat with a spoon than in a cone! And once the ice cream gets really hard, you have to let it sit on the counter for about five to 10 minutes before it gets soft enough to scoop. I find that to be also true for ice cream I buy at the store.

Strawberry ice cream sweetened with dates
  • 1 cup raw cashews (soaked 4 hours or overnight, and drained)
  • 1-1/2 cups cold, unsweetened rice milk (plus 1/4 cup extra if needed)
  • rounded 1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted and packed very tightly
  • 1 very ripe banana (at least 1 cup of slices)
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries plus generous 1/2 cup extra
  • 2 teapoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup of vegan dark chocolate chips (optional)
  1. Add the dates to the rice milk and leave in the refrigerator at least one hour or overnight.
  2. Place cashews, rice milk with dates, banana, 2 cups strawberries and vanilla into the jar of a high speed blender. Blend until the mix is totally creamy and smooth. If the mixture is too thick to blend, you may have to add up to an extra 1/4 cup of rice milk. Leave the additional half cup of frozen berries out to defrost slightly while you prepare the blender mix.
  3. Thinly slice the slightly defrosted strawberries and stir into the blended mix. Work quickly to keep everything as cold as possible. If you are using chocolate chips, add them now.
  4. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's directions.
  5. Enjoy! 
Notes: After I added the chocolate chips, I was kind of sorry because I liked the ice cream so much without them. If you really want them, go ahead and add them, but next time I make strawberry ice cream, I'm just going to add extra sliced frozen strawberries instead of the chips. Maybe.

Update: slightly revised recipe — even more delicious
 Strawberry ice cream sweetened with dates
  • 1 heaped cup raw cashews (soaked 4 hours or overnight, and drained)
  • 1-1/2 cups cold, unsweetened rice milk (plus 1/4 cup extra only if needed)
  • rounded 1/2 cup medjool dates, pitted and packed very tightly
  • 2 very ripe, cold bananas
  • 1-1/2 cups frozen strawberries plus generous 1/2 cup extra
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  • 2 teapoons pure vanilla extract
  1. Add the dates to the rice milk and leave in the refrigerator at least one hour or overnight.
  2. Leave the additional half cup of frozen berries out to defrost slightly while you prepare the blender mix for step 2 so they defrost slightly.
  3. Place cashews, rice milk with dates, banana, 1-1/2 cups strawberries, 1/2 cup mango and vanilla into the jar of a high speed blender. Blend until the mix is totally creamy and smooth. If the mixture is too thick to blend, you may have to add up to an extra 1/4 cup of rice milk.
  4. Thinly slice the slightly defrosted strawberries and stir into the blended mix. Work quickly to keep everything as cold as possible.
  5. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's directions.
  6. Enjoy! 

No oil fries in the convection oven

    To follow up on an earlier post mentioning air fryers and convection ovens,* we tried making oil-free oven fries in our oven on the convection setting, and it worked great! My husband made them, tossing them with a little soup stock instead of oil. They came out crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and were delicious. The temperature was set at 425˚F and the fries were cooked for about 35 minutes. My husband thinks that's how long he cooked them. To be continued ... The air fryer is weighing on my mind, especially when I don't want to run the oven for a small batch, or heat up the kitchen. BUT. I don't want to add another appliance to my kitchen!

    * Here's what I said in my last post on the subject of air fryers: " I've recently become aware of something called an air fryer, that fries foods with little or no oil. I read about it here on JL's blog. After doing some additional research and reading, I've learned that a convection oven, because it cooks with hot, moving air, can possibly accomplish the same thing. It so happens that my oven has a button to turn it into a convection oven, and I tried it out for the first time on the polenta I made to accompany the chili. I placed the polenta squares on a parchment-paper-lined cookie sheet and baked them in my convection oven, turning them over once during the baking. They turned out crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I intend to experiment more with using the convection oven to roast veggies, tofu, potatoes, burgers, etc. If I don't 'have to' buy another kitchen appliance for my already crowded little kitchen, all the better. We'll see. The air fryer sounds pretty great."