Cucumber and Avocado Quick Nori Roll

It all started a month ago with this photo on Gena’s Instagram feed. Gena is the author of the excellent blog Choosing Raw, and she has long extolled the virtues of the vegetable nori roll as a quickly and easily assembled snack: her site offers almost a dozen examples, including this latest version.

The process is not unlike that which leads to maki, but here you forgo the seasoned rice altogether — this saves time and effort, and also means you don’t have to plan ahead — in favor of fresh vegetables, lots of them.

I was so inspired by that latest shot that I went out and got some cucumbers and sprouts the very next day to make my own, and I have been weaving variations on that theme about twice a week since then — that’s how enthused I am.

Although Gena likes to apply a thick layer of some sort of spread — think hummus or cashew cheese — directly on the nori sheet, I start with the sliced cucumbers as I prefer my nori to stay as crisp as possible* — the drier, the crisper — and find it most pleasing to bite into the crunchy layer of cucumbers first.

Having played around with various ingredients, I have now determined the foundation I like to build on (cucumber, avocado, sprouts, sesame), and will add whatever little things I have on hand — leftover chicken or fish, tofu, spread or dressing, crudités, greens, and herbs. I have a great fondness for the mango and jicama version I make as an affectionate nod to the maki served at Bob’s Kitchen.

These make for a lovely item to add to the mix when we’re composing a lunch or dinner from sundry elements (see “leftovers night” in my Menu Planning Tips & Tricks). You could offer them as finger food as well, cut into maki-style slices, and I’ve been known to fix myself a nori roll as a refreshing afternoon treat, too.

* For optimal texture, I like to eat the roll the moment it is made, but of course it’s fine to let it sit while you make the others, or if you’re packing them for lunch at the office or a picnic.

Nori Roll

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Fasting Against Jetlag

Sprouted Trail Mix: The Snack That Broke My Airplane Fast

Sprouted Trail Mix: The Snack That Broke My Airplane Fast

As the traveling season gets nearer, maybe you have some lovely, exciting plans to fly someplace distant across several time zones. In that case you’ll have to contend with jetlag, and if you do, I want to share a cool tip I first heard about from my friend Adam, who himself picked it up from Jason Kottke.

The advice is simple: you should fast for 12 to 16 hours before breakfast time at your destination.

The reasoning is that the digestive system plays a significant role in our body’s perception of time. This voluntary fast is meant to mimick an overnight fast (minus the midnight munchies) and helps to set the body’s internal clock to the new time zone.

I happened to read about this just before we left to spend some time in San Francisco in the fall, and since we were about to embark on a round trip of 12-hour flights with 9-hour time differences, I was quick to recruit myself as a guinea pig to test the technique.

And I’m thrilled to report it worked really well: I sailed through the time difference with just about the same effects I get from taking the metro, even though I got virtually no sleep on the plane, thanks to a very sweet, but very alert little boy sitting on my knee.

It was very easy to put in practice, too.

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Easy Homemade Chicken Stock

A couple of weeks ago I had a lovely lunch at a new rôtisserie shop and restaurant in my neighborhood called Solyles.

The name reads like sot-l’y-laisse, the charming French word for the “oysters” of the chicken, those two flavorsome morsels of flesh that sit in the small of the bird’s back, on either side of its spine. Sot-l’y-laisse literally means “it’s a fool who leaves it in”, allowing you to feel all kinds of smug when you know to claim them.

At Solyles we shared an excellent organic “pattes noires” (black-footed) chichen from Challans with our friends, and as we scraped our plates clean I pondered that I should have brought a container to take the bones home for stock*.

At the mention of bouillon de poulet, one of my friends got curious about how to make it. It reminded me that, however many the benefits of homemade chicken stock, it remains one of those things that too many home cooks perceive as complicated or involved, when it is, in fact:

Quick

Although it takes several hours of slow cooking to extract all the goodness from the chicken bones, it is in fact a “dump, simmer and strain” proposition that boils down (ha ha) to 10 minutes’ active work, tops. The rest of the time, your mission is to stay out of the way, and simply check on the water level from time to time.

Frugal

I know some people go out and buy ingredients — even whole birds! — to make chicken stock, but it always seemed to me like a backward way to proceed.

To me, the beauty of chicken stock is that it can be made in large part from kitchen cast-offs, things you would otherwise have thrown out: not just the carcass of that delicious chicken you roasted for Sunday lunch, but also onion skins (it is so much easier to peel onions when you don’t insist on wrestling with that outer layer that’s half flesh half papery skin, and simply set it aside for stock), carrot and mushroom trimmings, leek and fennel tops, herb stems, and miscellaneous flavoring ingredients that you have in large quantities and/or might go to waste. (Avoid using vegetables from the cabbage family or bitter greens, as they are too strong-flavored.)

And I learned just recently that you can actually reuse the bones (!!) for up to three batches of stock — this is called remouillage in French, or “re-wetting” — and still extract flavor and nutrition out of them, so this is what I’ll be doing from now on.

Flexible

Although the basic trio of onion, carrot, and celery is classically associated with the making of chicken stock, the truth is the only ingredient you really need is chicken bones. For the rest, you can delete or substitute at will to compose your own unique formula, using what you can spare from your vegetable drawer that day, or what’s stashed away in the stock box I recommend you keep in the freezer. And I take great joy in that improv moment when I plop the bones into the pot and start piling on the flavorings, plucking this thing or that from my stash and thinking about the balance of the ingredients.

If it also flexible in terms of timing. There is absolutely no obligation to make your stock as soon as you have bones available: you can just freeze the carcass and bones (break the spine in two so it will move around more easily in your pot) and get them out a few days, weeks, or months later. In fact, I like to wait until I have two chicken carcasses, to make the most of my stock-making time and get a more strongly flavored stock.

Health-promoting

When cooked slowly and made with good ingredients — most important, the bones should be from a healthy animal, not a factory-farmed one — chicken stock is a nutrient-dense food that is thought to boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and improve digestive health, among other benefits. And because it contains gelatin — when chilled, a well-made chicken stock should have the consistency of softly set jelly — it is also very good for your skin, teeth, hair, nails, and bones.

Delicious!

You can drink the stock as is, in a cup or bowl, with a scatter of snipped chives and possibly some tiny pasta shapes or Dauphiné ravioles (miniature cheese ravioli) you’ll have poached in it. You can also add a splash to deglaze the pan when you’re sautéing vegetables, and of course, it is a transformative base to use for your soups, risotti, curries, and other stews.

Join the conversation!

Do you make chicken stock or other kinds of stock as a habit? What’s your method like and how do you typically use the stock?

* Yes, I would actually do that, though discreetly, and not without a slight counter-cultural tremor.

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Black Sesame Panna Cotta

I have been enjoying Kaori Endo‘s food for years, from when she was cooking at Rose Bakery, to her charming book Une Japonaise à Paris (accessible, family-style Japanese cooking) and then to the opening of her wildly successful restaurant Nanashi*.

There she serves a short selection of dishes of Japanese inspiration, with three different bento-style meals — one with meat, one with fish, one vegetarian — that each feature a mix of whole grains, and three seasonal(ish) vegetable preparations combining the raw and the cooked.

It is all fresh and tasty and healthful — you can view pictures on their Facebook page — and it usually leaves a little bit of room for dessert, and that a good thing because you don’t want to pass up Kaori Endo’s delicate creations.

Les Bentos de Nanashi So when I received her freshly released book Les Bento de Nanashi, I was of course interested to read about her kakuni pork, her ponzu dressing, and her fried tofu with nori sauce, but I was also very happy to reach the dessert chapter and see that she had included a recipe for the restaurant’s black sesame panna cotta, which she credits to pastry cook Megumi Takehana.

You see, I had an open jar of black sesame paste in my fridge for which I’d been trying to find cool uses — including a delicious ice cream and a psyllium mochi I’ll write about sometime — and I knew this would be just the thing to showcase the uniquely irresistible, nutty notes of black sesame.

Besides, I was long overdue for a fresh batch of panna cotta (blast from the past: this strawberry panna cotta) after tiring of it when it became ubiquitous on restaurant menus ten years ago.

A few thoughts on this outstanding recipe:

  • The book recommends you make a muscovado syrup to serve with the panna cotta. I admit I wasn’t sure there was a point, but the complex and sap-like notes turn out to be the perfect complement to the black sesame flavor. You’ll have lots of syrup leftover, but it will keep forever in the fridge and you can put it to awesome use on plain yogurt or drizzled over a strawberry salad.
  • Once the panna cotta mixture is ready, the recipe has you cool it over an ice bath until slightly thickened. Although it doesn’t explain why — French cookbooks are notoriously laconic about those things — I suspect this allows the black sesame to remain suspended in the mixture, otherwise the sesame paste would separate and fall to the bottom. I am making a note of this technique, as it should also solve the maddening issue of vanilla seeds sinking to the bottom when you flavor rice pudding or tapioca pudding with real vanilla beans.
  • Look for roasted black sesame paste at natural foods stores and Japanese markets (kuro neri goma). Jean Hervé makes a fine one that is distributed at most organic stores in France. If you can’t find it, you can try the recipe with another, boldly flavored nut or seed butter, or you can grind your own toasted black sesame seeds using a high-speed blender.
  • I had leftover crème fraîche that needed using so I substituted it for about one third of the whipping cream. We loved the refreshing tang that brought, so I’ll consider it again next time. Yogurt would be lovely too.
Muscovado syrup to serve with the black sesame panna cotta.

Muscovado syrup to serve with the black sesame panna cotta.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever cooked with black sesame paste, and what are your favorite uses for it? And do you like to make panna cotta, or did you tire of it when it was all anyone would serve?

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May 2014 Desktop Calendar

At the beginning of every month in 2014, I will be offering a new wallpaper to apply on the desktop of your computer, with a food-related picture and a calendar of the current month.

As a new feature this year, the desktop calendar is available in two versions: a US-friendly version that features Sunday as the first day of the week, and a French version (shown above) that complies with international standards, featuring Monday as the first day of the week.

Our calendar for May is a picture of radishes with beurre maître d’hôtel, a classic compound butter flavored with shallot and parsley, for which I’ve included a recipe in my upcoming book on French idioms, EDIBLE FRENCH.

Instructions to get your calendar are below.

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