Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spam Sushi

I'd like to say that the idea for Spam sushi was an original one (and I did come up with it myself), but it turns out that the Hawaiians have been making and eating it for ages. They call it "musubi." Were it up to me, I'd name it "spushi." 

 So my idea was to make regular sushi, but instead of topping it with raw fish, I'd use fried Spam. Easy, right? Maybe it would've been, had I known how to make regular sushi in the first place. It turns out that my frequent consumption of sushi is not an indicator of how well I'd fare at making it. The Spam was the least of my culinary problems (as instant foods should be); I simply fried it and cut it into sushi-size pieces. It was the rice that gave me trouble.

Sushi rice is notoriously difficult to get right and, as it turns out, to work with. I prepared my rice in a rice cooker, then added a boiled mixture of vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and salt. (The recipe below has you preparing your rice on the stove, as I'd imagine that most people don't own a rice cooker.) The rice got really wet and sticky, and generally refused to behave itself. When I tried to mold it into a mound, the grains stuck to my fingers instead of each other. Finally, I let the rice sit for 15 minutes, during which time it solidified a bit and became easier to work with. I also got out my trusty bamboo mat, which is typically used to make maki (Japanese rolls) but is also very good at shaping little mounds of rice for sushi.

After figuring out the rice, I cut a sheet of seaweed into long, thin strips. Then I placed a strip on a plate, transferred a mound of rice onto it, topped the rice with a piece of Spam, and folded the strip around the whole thing.

All in all, making Spam sushi is more work than I care to put into a faux gourmet dish, but the results are delicious. The super-saltiness of the Spam and the vinegary-ness of the rice play off each other the way good instant haute cuisine should.

Spam Sushi

1 cup sushi rice

1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can Spam
1 sheet dried seaweed

Rinse the rice in a colander until the water runs clear. Combine with the water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. The rice is ready when tender. Fluff it in the pot, and let cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Cool, and stir into the cooked rice. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the Spam into 1/2-inch-thick pieces, and fry in an unoiled pan for 5 minutes on each side. (You should be using only about a third of the whole Spam block.) Transfer the pieces to a cutting board, and cut into smaller, sushi-size pieces.

Cut the sheet of dried seaweed into 1/2-inch strips.

Mold the rice into approximately 8 to 10 small mounds, about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Lay a strip of seaweed on a dry surface. Transfer one mound of rice onto the seaweed, lying perpendicularly, and top with a piece of Spam. Fold the seaweed strip around the whole thing, tucking one end underneath. Repeat with remaining material. Serve immediately. Serves two.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Rosemary

I enjoyed Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as a kid, and still do today. There's something so comforting about those skinny, stunted elbows, the garishly colorful cheese powder. Mmmmm ... so orange. During my pregnancy, I couldn't get enough of the stuff. And when I went into labor but was told by the hospital staff to wait at home until the contractions got closer together, I spent hours lying in bed, watching The King of Queens reruns, and eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese prepared by my husband. 

At first, it may seem that an instant food involving bright orange cheese dust simply cannot be dressed up. As the saying goes, it'd be like putting lipstick on a pig. And yet ... enter sun-dried tomatoes. Is it me, or can you add sun-dried tomatoes to just about any dish to make it exponentially fancier? They have a certain cachet, kind of like artichokes.

So, first I prepared the mac 'n' cheese according to Kraft's directions, with a couple of minor alterations--I added more milk than suggested and substituted the butter with olive oil, which made the resulting sauce richer and creamier. Then I threw in some chopped steamed broccoli and those magical sun-dried tomatoes. 

Here's a shot of the whole thing in the pot, before getting mixed into a steaming pot of gooey deliciousness:

Add some dried rosemary, freshly ground black pepper, and Parmesan cheese, and there you have it. A meal fit for enjoying under the Tuscan sun. Almost.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with Broccoli, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Rosemary

1 box Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
Whole milk
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 broccoli florets, steamed until tender
6 pieces sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary 
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan
1 sprig fresh parsley

1. In a medium pot, boil the macaroni according to package instructions. While the pasta is cooking, finely chop the broccoli, and slice the sun-dried tomatoes into short, thin pieces. 

2. When the pasta is done, drain, and add the contents of the cheese packet. Add the milk according to the instructions, but add 1 additional tablespoon than suggested. Instead of using butter as suggested, substitute with an equal amount of extra-virgin olive oil. Add the broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, and the rosemary, and mix well.

3. Divide the macaroni and cheese between two plates, and top with the black pepper and Parmesan. Garnish with a sprig of parsley. Serve immediately. Serves two.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Chicken Nuggets Francaise

I don't know why chicken nuggets are reserved for kids. I think they should appear on adult menus, too. They're so perfectly sized and delicious. I'm just glad I now have a toddler so there's an excuse for me to eat the stuff again.

That got me thinking about ways to dress up chicken nuggets. I finally decided to combine my favorite lemon chicken recipe with some Tyson chicken tenders, to create Chicken Nuggets Francaise.

(I'm sure this blog is a big hit in France.)

The sauce is very easy to make. Just throw together some lemon juice, sugar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and parsley.

Cook over medium heat with a pinch of flour, and slather it over the chicken. No need to add salt because I'm sure the chicken-nugget people have that department covered.

Chicken Nuggets Francaise

4 pieces chicken nuggets
2 lemons, juiced
1 teaspoon granulated white sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
3 sprigs fresh parsley, minced
A pinch of flour

1. Prepare the chicken nuggets according to the instructions found on the packaging.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the lemon juice, sugar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and parsley. Transfer the mixture to a small pot set over medium heat. Cook until simmering.

3. Throw in the pinch of flour, mixing well, to thicken the sauce. When the desired texture is reached, remove from heat, and pour over the chicken nuggets. Garnish with some lemon slices and fresh parsley. Serve immediately. Serves one.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cup Noodles Ramen with Sugar Snap Peas

I love ramen. So much so that when I visited Japan with my husband, we spent an afternoon at the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Osaka, attending a workshop on making instant ramen. Yes, that is a real thing. For five yen, you are handed an apron and taught the fine art of instant ramen-making from scratch. 

From that trip, I also learned that ramen is not always about pouring hot water into a Styrofoam cup. Ramen joints in Japan (and also in my hometown of New York City) serve up carefully prepared, artfully presented dishes with nary a reconstituted corn kernel. I decided to take a page from their book and turn a container of chicken-flavored Cup Noodles into a steaming, fragrant bowl of goodness. 

By the way, I could've sworn the name of the brand was "Cup O' Noodles" and was very confused when I saw the labeling. But then I looked it up, and it turns out the name got changed a few years ago, so I'm not crazy. But why Cup Noodles, I wonder? Cup O' Noodles makes so much more sense. Cup Noodles is just bizarre syntax. 

Anyway, the precooked Cup Noodles deserves a close-up shot for the deliciously instant dried vegetables alone...

At the instant ramen museum, there is an awesome larger-than-life-size Cup Noodles on display: 

To make your instant ramen less instant and infinitely more delicious, all you have to do is boil the noodles in a proper pot, and boost the flavor with some soy sauce, sesame oil, and garnishes like seaweed and scallion. I also like to throw in some fresh vegetables--in this case, sugar snap peas, but broccoli or spinach or enoki mushrooms would do just as well.

For the piece de la resistance, I added an egg to poach in the broth just as the noodles were approaching al dente.

Cup Noodles Ramen with Sugar Snap Peas

1 container Cup Noodles
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Handful of sugar snap peas or other fresh vegetables
1 sheet of dried seaweed, cut into 9 equal pieces
1 tablespoon finely diced scallion
1 large egg

1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to boil in a medium pot.

2. Add the container of Chicken Cup Noodles, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar snap peas. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the noodles have reached the desired texture. Add the egg to the boiling broth 1 minute before the noodles are done.

3. Transfer the contents of the pot to a large serving bowl. Garnish with seaweed and scallions. Serve immediately. Serves one.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bistro-Style Campbell's French Onion Soup

My husband is a very picky eater. He doesn't enjoy eggs. He's not into vegetables. He's suspicious of most condiments. He doesn't like seafood, not even lobster. (I know. Who doesn't like lobster?) And he categorically shuns hot liquids of any kind, including coffee, tea, hot chocolate, soup, and consomme. There is just one exception with the hot liquids, and that is French onion soup. He can't get enough of the stuff.

He claims it's because French onion soup is barely soup, what with the piece of bread soaking up most of the liquid, and the bubbly cheese masking all that disgusting soupiness. I have to agree that French onion soup is on my list of Top Five soups (the other four being New England clam chowder, won ton, beef barley, and egg drop--I'm sure you were dying to know).

So he was totally on board when I decided to turn a can of Campbell's French onion soup into one of those gorgeously gooey, piping hot bistro French onion soups, served in those cute little brown-and-white soup pots. Except I don't own any of those cute little brown-and-white soup pots, so I used some creme brulee ramekins instead.

The process was ridiculously easy. First, I heated the soup according to the directions on the can (adding one can of water). Then I cut up a fresh baguette and toasted the pieces. Then I submersed the bread in the soup, topped off the bowl with two thick slices of cheese, threw on a dusting of paprika, and broiled the whole thing for five minutes. So good.

The only thing I would've done differently is add on a few more slices of cheese--about double. My batch turned up some burnt cheese; had the cheese been thicker I don't think there would've been a problem.

Bistro-Style Campbell's French Onion Soup

1 can Campbell's French onion soup
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 French baguette
16 thick slices of Gruyere or Swiss cheese
Pinch of paprika

1. Preheat the broiler to 350 degrees F. Prepare the canned soup according to the directions found on the can. Add pepper to taste.

2. Cut the baguette into 4 1.5-inch slices. Reserve the leftover bread to serve with the soup. In a toaster oven, toast the slices until lightly browned, about 3 minutes on each side.

3. Ladle equal portions of the heated soup into 4 6-ounce ramekins, filling about 3/4 of each ramekin. Submerse the bread slices in the soup. Top with four slices of cheese each. Sprinkle on a dusting of paprika.

4. Place the ramekins on a baking tray, and transfer to the broiler. Broil for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.  

5. Remove from the broiler, and garnish with some fresh basil leaves, if desired. Serve immediately with the extra baguette. Serves four.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pop-Tart Yogurt Parfait

Pop-Tarts hold a special place in my heart. I never ate them for breakfast; they were reserved for my after-school snack, to be eaten while taking in an episode of Thundercats. Good times.

The box of Pop-Tarts that I purchased today states rather emphatically, Baked with real fruit! But of course then there's an asterisk after that declaration, which adds less emphatically, Filling made with equal to 10% fruit. As a copy editor, I am more outraged by the awkward grammar of that footnote than its content. Anyway, more real fruit would just get in the way of that blue-speckled icing goodness.

For the Pop-Tart yogurt parfait I made for breakfast, I chose Pop-Tarts filled with blueberry, my go-to breakfast pastry flavor. (Although had my supermarket carried Hello Kitty Meowberry--yes, that's real--I certainly would've chosen that.) The process is pretty easy: just layer together crumbled Pop-Tart, yogurt, and fresh fruit, and voila! 

Pop-Tart Yogurt Parfait 

2 Pop-Tarts
6 ounces plain yogurt
2 fresh strawberries, chopped
Handful of fresh blueberries

1. Crumble 1 Pop-Tart, and fill the bottom of an attractive-looking glass with the pieces.

2. Spoon the yogurt into the glass, and top with the fresh berries.

3. Cut the remaining Pop-Tart lengthwise, into sticks. Garnish the parfait with 2 Pop-Tart sticks. Serve immediately. Serves one.

Chef Boyardee Beefaroni with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil

It all started two years ago, when I was in my third month of pregnancy. I was craving only processed foods. Powdered mixes, microwaveable meals--the more chemicals the better. My obstetrician, my pregnancy books, and the doorman at my office were all telling me that I should eat more fresh, nutritious foods. But what can I say, the stomach wants what it wants.

So one morning I was dumping the contents of a Chef Boyardee beefaroni can onto a plate--it oozed out with a satisfying slurp, still in its can shape--when out of the corner of my eye, I spied a basil plant sitting on my kitchen windowsill. I thought, Why not add some?

Next thing I knew, I was digging through my fridge for other foods with nutritional value. I found some fresh mozzarella and some cherry tomatoes. I shredded the cheese, sprinkled it on, and popped my dressed-up beefaroni in the microwave. After it was done heating, I topped it off with a couple of cherry tomatoes and some freshly ground black pepper.

The dish was a thing of beauty. I almost didn't want to eat it. But of course, it didn't stand a chance--I was pregnant, and my very first instant haute meal was consumed in under two minutes. The recipe is below.

Chef Boyardee Beefaroni with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil

1 can Chef Boyardee Beefaroni
2 ounces mozzarella, shredded
6 basil leaves, shredded lengthwise

2 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Transfer contents of beefaroni can onto a microwave-safe plate. Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over the top. Cover lightly with a paper towel, and microwave according to the instructions found on the can.

2. Remove from microwave, and sprinkle basil evenly over the top. Garnish with cherry tomatoes. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Serves one.