Handmade Sushi — Just Roll With It

Sushi at Home!

Sushi at Home!

When you make a lot of stuff from scratch, you always accept that what is handmade is not going to look exactly like that which is mass produced.  There are lumps and bumps and, very often, some cursing involved in trying to learn a new skill.  But for those of us who love to make, you always have to challenge yourself to new levels of craft.

Recently I made sushi all by myself from scratch.  The inspiration came while high-altitude lake kayaking, as I suddenly had a hankering for both sushi and baklava.  Sushi is a much more achievable a task than dozens of layers of phyllo dough, so I decided to strive for that craving.  Sushi has an aura of complexity, yet it is a very simple food that requires simple techniques and good ingredients.  As a devoted non-perfectionist, I wasn’t very intimidated for I knew that even if my rolls looked a little askew, they would at least taste good.  Or, I could just pretend that I was going for a whole deconstructed roll sort of aesthetic when they fell apart.  I started with cooking the sushi rice (adding a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar to the cooking liquid to make it sticky).  The center of my rolls was a super combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and avocado.  Once the rice cooled, it was spread one grain thick onto the nori, topped with a thin smear of cream cheese, slices of smoked salmon, and thin pieces of cucumber and avocado.   I think the toughest part of all the construction was the meticulous little slices of fillings.  I rolled without a bamboo mat and cut the rolls with a simple chef’s knife.  (Important note:  when cutting rolls, clean the knife with a wet rag after each slice.)   While slicing the rolls, my end pieces were not awesome, yet they offered up tasty samples for the sushi chef and her sweetheart.  The taste was quite splendid: the combination of the smoked salmon and cream cheese very New York,  the cucumber and avocado very simple and fresh.  In my humble opinion, pretty darn good taste for a non-traditionalist like myself.

As always, my rendition of the real thing came out costing a lot less than even the packaged sushi at our grocery and included leftover ingredients for future meals — smoked salmon, cream cheese and caper sandwiches on homemade bread for dinner, perhaps.  My rolls were far from perfect and, during the creation of said rolls, I wasn’t quite as zen as your (obviously stereotypical) image of a sushi chef.    All told, it was a fun dinner and not too much work.  Paired with a mug of miso soup, our house was transformed into a more cozy sushi bar for an evening.

Camp Stove Scalloped Potatoes

Casserole Style on the Campstove!

Casserole Style on the Campstove!

I have a soft spot for casseroles.  Perhaps this is a result of growing up in the culinary wonder that was the 1980s, or it is a latent expression of my family’s Midwestern roots, but I unequivocally enjoy a good casserole.  The foundation for a good ‘role is a starch — often potatoes  and topped off with lots of melted cheese.  Good things happen tend to happen when potatoes and cheese meet.

So, how does one create a casserole-like dish over a camp stove while backpacking?  Well, we’ve discovered a way purely by accident.  Awhile back, we had some potatoes lying around and decided to try thinly slicing them and putting them in the dehydrator for lightweight camping meals.  To prepare, we simply boiled them for a while — well, a long while by camping breakfast standards — then added melted cheese and hotsauce.   Incredibly the result of this haphazard meal was akin to a scalloped potato casserole!  The only ingredient that would have made it more tasty was some bacon, and perhaps a dash of garlic or onion powder.  The potatoes were still slightly firm with the texture of a potato casserole, impressive for a good roiling boil at high altitude.  In all, a good breakfast for a hike out of the woods.

When camping, meals are often created that would never satisfy under other circumstances.  (There is also the hunger factor with camp food, too; everything just tastes better eaten outdoors.)  Take ramen noodles and hardboiled eggs, I would never conceive of this concoction in regular home life, but before a day of kayaking, this becomes the breakfast of champions.  There are a lot of packaged meals that garner high esteem while camping — instant rice mixes, instant potatoes and mac and cheese.  They work well for camping, but they are so highly processed and full of ingredients I never learned about in chemistry class that I am turned off.  And, there is a high price for convenience.  Now, we have an alternative.  There is a hearty homey recipe that costs little, has no preservatives and takes only a little extra prep.  For the price of one boxed meal, I can dehydrate a whole bag of potatoes for a season’s worth of camp meals.  Of course there is additional time and energy (including fuel) involved, but the result is pretty satisfying and is all worth it when away from the bounty of home.

You can replicate the home kitchen outside with just a little preparation and an openness to creativity.  This time we lucked out and got scalloped potatoes.  Who knows what can be created next?