Sushi for Christmas

I’ll admit now that I went a little bit over the top with the Christmas sushi.  What started as the idea to make a couple of smoked salmon rolls turned into a production that made us ~ 2 hours late for Xmas dinner (not that anyone was counting) and left the kitchen… a bit messy… Personally, I blame the library. For it was the library that lent me two books that fueled my sushi making ambition: Easy Sushi Rolls and Miso Soups by Fiona Smith and Sushi and sashimi by Yasuko Fukuoka

(I now recommend these books  🙂

Christmas sushi Christmas sushi Christmas sushi

We mostly made futo-maki (big multi-ingredient rolls) and hoso-maki ( single ingredient rolls).  However we also made (visually spectacular and still pretty easy) battleship sushi (gunkan maki) and tried our hand at one roll of insideout sushi (uramaki – ours were avocado with chives and cashews), which looked a mess at the time but came out pretty well in the end. A personal highlight for me were the inari sushi –  I’d bought a packet of these fried tofu pockets a few months ago and not got round to trying them out (partly becasue all instruction was in japanese!)  After poaching,  the pockets were filled with a mixture of rice and toasted sesame seeds and, while several people likened them to bread rolls from McDonalds (they’re quite sweet),  I really liked them!

While most sushi I’ve made in the past has used freshly cut ingredients, several of the rolls we made included marination – particularly the asparagus and avocado rolls. I was really impressed with the added flavour from doing this, and it’s something I’ll be doing again.

A good part of the presentation is in the cutting of the roll  and I was very lucky to have help in this department.  I’m pretty sure my cutting would not have been so careful or so neat. Altogether we made 80 pieces of sushi.  Overkill definitely,  but it did look very pretty when done and more than one person asked if we’d bought them.  Still, for future catering I’d probably consider a)  preparing the rice *well* ahead of time and b) making more rolls of fewer varieties. Cos, you know, two hours late is quite late  🙂

Christmas sushi

Vanilla Extract

I think it was some time in September that I found out that:

a)  you could make vanilla extract by putting a vanilla bean in vodka (see: here, here, and here)

b) you could buy vanilla beans on eBay

I can’t even remember how I came across these facts, but I did think that real vanilla extract would be a great thing to give out as Christmas presents.  The thought simmered in my head for a couple of months but it wasn’t until R and L suggested forming a consortium to buy a stash of vanilla beans that I actually got my act together. With two other friends we bought a kilo of A-grade beanz and I received them a couple of days before Xmas Day.

Now, you can make extract in any sealed glass jar,  but I decided to do it proper-like and bought 100 mL bottles from Plasdene (awesome packaging company), and made a label too.

Vanilla Extract

I think they look pretty awesome 🙂

There’s no real recipe for this – I spilt whole vanilla beans and then put one in each bottle.  Other people  snipped the beans in pieces but I like the way the bean contorts inside.  One bean to 100 mL vodka seems to be a higher ratio of bean to vodka than is needed,  but the beauty of the extract is that you can keep refilling the bottle with vodka until the bean is completely extracted. Apparently it takes 6-8 weeks or longer to make proper extract.  My extract is dark and vanilla-y after less than a week so I’m looking forward to the final product in late February (expect to see a rise in baking then  :-). I’m also planning to make vanilla sugar, vanilla olive oil and maybe some vanilla rum, but I’ll probably do this with used beans.

Vanilla BeansMaking Vanilla ExtractMaking Vanilla ExtractMaking Vanilla Extract

Finally Bottled

You may remember I started a vat of homebrew in late November (the 30th to be precise). I was hoping it’d be ready for Christmas – a week or so fermenting, a couple of weeks bottled, and it could have been ready in time (if not really matured). However, it was not to be – not by a long shot. This brew spent a full four weeks fermenting. TBH,  I’ve never seen anything like it. Very little happened in the first week – and I was a bit worried there was something wrong.  However, it started bubbling vigorously in the second week and it kept that up until a few days ago, when it finally slowed. I kept an eye on the specific gravity  and, while it did go down,  it was the slowest I’ve ever seen and the brew remained very sweet until the final measure. Bubbling finally started slowing in the last few days, and after attending to various Xmas commitments, we found time to bottle last night (and it was definitely done by then). I took a quick test sip and I think it seems promising, although not particularly spicy – time will tell.

Anyway, let us spend a few minutes appreciating the newly bottled beer…

Finally bottled

Thanks to a monster spreadsheet Russ sent me,  I can tell you the beer is ~5.5% (v/v) alcohol and my 29 x 750 mL longnecks represent 94.3 standard drinks. Not to be drunk all at once  🙂

Christmas Ham

The Christmas Ham

Our family has had a leg of ham for Christmas for as long as I  can remember.  However,  we’ve only been baking and glazing it for a relatively short time – maybe 5 or 6 years. I think it’s definitely worth it, although it does add extra complexity to the meal as you have *another* sizeable piece of meat to cook (we’d normally have chicken or turkey as well)  and it’s usually got to be cooked at a slightly lower temperature.

This year we uncomplicated it a bit, as I  volunteered to bake the ham at my place and the bring it to my parents’ for Christmas dinner.  However,  we also complicated it a bit by choosing to buy an eight kilo ham.

We don’t normally get an 8 kilo ham – I’d guess 4-5 kilos is the norm.  However,  this year we bought our ham from Cash and Carry (magical fairytale land) and while the hams were very cheap,  they were also very big – full leg hams and the 8.3 kg one we found was the smallest there.  Once home, I had to check to make sure the ham would actually fit in both the tray I had (just, a bit of overhang)  and indeed the oven itself.  And it did, just.  I normally like to choose a different glaze each year,  though they do tend to be some combination of sugar, orange juice and mustard. This year I didn’t look too far,  and used the recipe in the December 2008 Australian Good Food Magazine. After laughing hysterically at their suggestion of buying a 4 kg picnic ham for managability,  I  removed the rind, scored the fat, decorated it with cloves, and made up double the quantity of their glaze recipe (3/4 c orange juice, 1 c brown sugar, 2 tsp ground ginger, 2 tsp dry mustard powder – I used pre-prepared dijon instead – all stirred on low heat until sugar dissolves). [1]

One interesting thing they suggested was baking the ham (180 deg or 160 dec fan-forced) for about 45 minutes before glazing,  as I think this might give better definition to the scored fat.  However,  I didn’t do this,  partly because I didn’t read it,  but also because I had stuffing and sushi to be getting on with and I just wanted the ham cooking. I was a bit worried with how long it should be baked.  The ham is cooked already,  but it does need heating through, and you’ve got to try an make sure the glaze doesn’t burn too much.  I  played it by ear (eye)  mostly,  but it got a couple of hours with foil covering it and basting every 30 minutes,  and then another hour or so uncovered ( except for those bits that were already browned sufficiently) with more basting.

We transported it to my mothers covered in foil and packed in a strong plastic bag that I’d serendipitously recieved whilst buying a shirt for one of my brothers the day before.  The foil and plastic stopped any spills and also kept it warm until we were ready to eat.  Altogether it was a resounding success!

The Christmas HamThe Christmas HamThe Christmas HamThe Christmas Ham

The Christmas HamThe Christmas HamThe Christmas Ham

[1] I do like the traditional glaze, but the mag also has a couple of alternatives that I might try in future – stout, brown sugar and cardamom, or perhaps marmalade and star anise.

Beer for Christmas

I’ve been homebrewing intermittently for about 6 or 7 years. Very intermittently for the most part – I was living in the UK for a good chunk of this time and was limited to a single brew a year when back in Perth for my holidays. I’ve now been back in Perth for good for almost 18 months, however,  and I still haven’t got round to it!

Anyway, with the imminent approach of Christmas, and just enough time to get a brew ready for the holidays,  I finally got my act together and brewed some beer yesterday.

Homebrew: Adding the water

(This is an action shot of me adding the ~20L cold water).

I am not hard core. I buy a beermaking kit, add sugar and water and then wait to bottle. My Dad has stories of boiling hops and such and, while I’d like to try it in theory,  I don’t imagine I’ll ever get around to it. Still, it was very appropriate that this post was made on Boing Boing a few days before I brewed. Homebrew is different every time you make it. As well as getting supremely cheap beer, it’s a surprise as well – not just for each batch, but within each batch too, as the beer matures in its bottles.  This time I’m making Cascade Spicy Ghost Draught. However, instead of adding 1 kg white sugar,  I’ve used 170g golden sugar, 330g brown sugar, and the rest white.  Because I could  🙂 This has upped the specific gravity from an expected 1040 to 1050, though I don’t think that’s necessarily due to extra sugar. I’ll see what it gets down to as it brews.

Homebrew: Specific GRavity

The beer is producing gas now and I expect it to be bubbling nicely over the next few days. Hopefully I’ll bottle next weekend and then we can all enjoy homebrew for Christmas! (Well I can  🙂