Category Archives: Cooking/Baking

Spam musubi & an unexpected multitasker

Canned meat (Spam, corned beef, tuna) wasn’t unusual in my house when I was growing up. However, when I was in college and began cooking for myself, I succumbed to food snobbery and eschewed Spam in all its forms.

Fast forward about 17 years, I’m in SoCal visiting family and immersed in this horrific travel experience that involves a looong flight with 3 screaming children (they were 1 and 3 years old at the time), only 1 crib at the hotel despite reserving 2, problems with the car rental, kids constantly wailing, etc; in the middle of this adventure (Matt is swearing we won’t take another family vacation for at least 10 years), my cousin takes us to a Japanese food festival. I hadn’t been to one of these since I was a kid in Chicago. I’m a wreck from the stress, and my cousin takes pity on me and brings me some food so I don’t have to get up.

He hands me a paper bag with a drink and 2 Spam musubi – for those of you unfamiliar, this is a seaweed-wrapped rice ball with a big slab of Spam in the middle – I am starving, so I cram half of one into my mouth at once, and it’s like angels are suddenly humming. OMG, it is so salty and chewy and substantial and carbalicious. It’s hits me like a childhood comfort food, and I feel so unexpectedly happier with this in my tummy.

So naturally, I come home to MN and am craving Spam after not eating it for nearly 2 decades. I browse web sites with musubi recipes, and darn if everyone isn’t using a wire slicer and musubi press. No one makes these freehand? Did they ever? I mail order the equipment via ebay from some Asian grocer in California. (It’s funny, I live not too far from Austin – home of Hormel Foods, the maker of Spam – yet nowhere in MN can I find a wire Spam slicer).

I make mine by pan-frying the slices (low sodium, please – and for the love of god, do not try the turkey Spam, so hard and jerky-like after frying) and patting off the grease with paper towels. I place the musubi mold over a sheet of nori (seaweed), press in the first bit of rice, sprinkle furikake generously (hence the lo-Na Spam), add Spam slices, top with rice, press again, unmold, and wrap with nori. I let it sit for a few minutes for the nori to adhere and then slice with a wet knife.

Shockingly, my kids love musubi. I can’t explain it.

The wire meat slicer takes up a lot of drawer space. I was unhappy about having such a big unitasker and set about finding other ways to make it useful. Once I started thinking about it, though, it wasn’t hard to come up with other ideas.

Serving its original purpose – it makes 9 slices of the exact same width, something I could never do freehand:

Avocado slices for a tacos, salads, or even California rolls:

Chopped eggs for egg salad, much faster than with a knife:

Btw – foolproof hard-boiled egg recipe here.

Sliced strawberries for strawberry shortcake or to top yogurt, cereal, or ice cream:

It would probably work for softer cheese and butter, too, if you like thick slices.

Baby cheesecakes

Last week, I developed a hella craving for cheesecake. I was reminiscing about the good old steakhouse days (before we had children, Matt and I occasionally would treat ourselves to a big steak dinner and polish off a generous slice of cheesecake afterward), and the next thing you know, I was dreaming about crunchy graham cracker crusts and clouds of sweet cheese.

One of the top hits on my blog is a recipe for NY style cheesecake. Funny how something I posted 7 years ago still has relevance today. It makes a great cake, and I still bake it for dinner parties, it’s really a fantastic recipe. However, last weekend, I wanted something smaller and faster for a family dinner. I ended up adapting a recipe from Kraft, of all places.

1 c graham cracker crumbs
2 T sugar
3 T butter, melted

2 x 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Heat the oven to 325F. Line a muffin pan with paper baking cups. Mix the crust ingredients together. Spoon into 12 equal portions.

I used an empty spice bottle to pack the crumbs tightly down into the pan. No need to bake the crust ahead of adding the filling. Note: This makes a pretty thick base, but I love a lot of crust on my cheesecakes. I could probably eat it alone as a cookie, mmm…. Reduce the crust ingredients by 1/3 if you prefer less crust.

Beat the cream cheese until light, then add sugar and beat some more. Add vanilla and 1 egg, beat, add the second egg, beat some more. I have a rubber-tipped blade on my mixer that scrapes the bowl as it beats, which I find very helpful for cheesecake. If you have a regular beater, use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and beater in between adding ingredients.

Spoon filling into the baking cups. You’ll have enough leftover batter to satisfy even the greediest of bowl lickers.

Bake the cheesecakes for ~25 minutes or until the internal temp reaches 150F (mine went a little past that, whoops, to 158F). The center will still look a little jiggly when you take it out of the oven. Let it cool in the fridge for a few hours before eating.


Double-chocolate banana bread

I’ve been eating a lot of bananas lately. I’ve been making banana bread, pseudo-Yonanas in the food processor, and of course just eating them straight. My daughters also enjoy a fresh banana, but even with all of us monkeys, we don’t always eat them before they’re overripe.

Getting a little tired of the same old same old, I thought I’d look for a banana bread recipe with yogurt as an ingredient. There was one that I tried last week – oh, awful, it was gummy and rubbery, like a half cousin to bread pudding but nastier. Figured it was still worth trying again, so I perused a few more recipes and settled on this one. This web site is a new one for me, and I am forever amused by a site called “No recipes” that actually gives fairly precise recipes. But whatever, the author seems to know what he is doing, and I really liked his yakisoba recipe, too.

This is a mild cake, not intensely chocolatey. I actually prefer it that way (too much chocolate triggers migraines). The cake part is not very sweet, but the chocolate chips bump it up to please even the sugar fiends in my family. The texture is nice. I had some trouble with the chocolate chips not releasing from the pan (hence the craters), but otherwise, this bread-cake seems pretty foolproof.

Double-chocolate banana bread, adapted from Mark Matsumoto

2 sticks (0.5 lb) unsalted butter
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 bananas, very ripe
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350 F. Let butter, eggs, and yogurt come to room temperature. Grease and flour a Bundt pan.

Cream butter into sugar and salt. Scrape down sides, add eggs 1 at a time. Add yogurt, vanilla, and bananas. Beat until homogeneous (it will look kind of like curdled milk).

In a separate bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder. The cocoa powder can clump if you skip this step, so please don’t! ๐Ÿ™‚

Add dry ingredients to wet, mix until all flour is absorbed. Add chocolate chips and stir just enough to incorporate them. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for ~60-70 minutes (use a skewer to check after 1 hour).

Let cool for 15 minutes, then flip onto a serving platter. Enjoy!

FO: Socks and…?

I’ve been slowly replenishing my worn-out sock collection. Same pattern, same mods. I’m sticking to a “1 in, 1 out” philosophy and can now toss a pair of old handknit socks.

This yarn is Knitpicks Stroll Tonal sock yarn. The positive is that they really nailed the color – it stripes nicely and doesn’t pool (at least with a 60-st circumference on size 0 needles).

However, like most (all) of Knitpicks yarns, it seems to be very loosely spun. It fuzzed even while knitting, and I have low confidence about its longevity. But it was good to try the yarn for myself and satisfy my curiosity about it.

I was hoping to post a recipe for this:

But in truth, it did not taste very good. Too… lemony, too garlicky, too something. And yet the dish seemed weirdly bland but still salty. The sauce was too thick, borderline mucous. I dunno. The family barely ate it. I even threw away leftovers, something I nearly never do.

So instead, my latest success is this:


They were an instant hit. Sometimes, ya gotta know when to give up cooking for yourself and instead cook for the majority audience.

Semi-unintentional participation in a RTW fast; also, chicken.

Sewing blogger Sarah Gunn, probably better known as GoodbyeValentino, recently went through a 12-month “RTW fast.” Basically, she stopped buying ready-to-wear (RTW) clothing and made her own clothes for the whole year. She’s a fabulous sewist with an excellent eye for high-end fashion and great fitting skill, her work was quite inspiring for me (see her “trunk show” here).

I idly entertained the notion of following suit in 2013, but my wardrobe-making ability is probably 1/100th of hers, so I didn’t officially commit. And yet here we are, more than halfway through the year, and I haven’t bought any clothing for myself, with the exceptions of a badly needed bra, a pair of shoes, and some pantyhose. (She notes “shoes, socks and underwear are permitted” in the fast.)

In addition to the RTW fast, I’ve been mercilessly culling my existing clothes – after having a gentle let’s-get-real talk with myself, I discarded the pants bought years ago that haven’t fit comfortably since the twins’ birth, tossed the tops that were too short or otherwise weird, eliminated the stuff that was edgy once but now looks dated (or dare I say “too youthful”?), and admitted some pieces have been well loved and well worn and are ready to retire (handknit socks from graduate school, sniff). Although I’m setting aside some items for future refashions, I’m curating my wearable wardrobe as far down as I can stand.

The sorry flip side is that I haven’t exactly been creating much, so my outfits, now derived from an ever-shrinking pool of candidates, are getting repetitive and slightly annoying. I’m letting this annoyance fuel my urge for selfish sewing. I don’t have the time or patience to “leave no retail stone unturned,” but I think I do have it in me to continue to learn how to sew better and fit this postpartum/premenopausal/middle-aged/what-have-you body. I signed up for a couple of Craftsy classes on fitting and construction. Although I dutifully watched the videos, but I have yet to create anything from them.

And now for something completely different.

Chicken gyros, recipe here. I made the tzatziki sauce, too, using homemade yogurt (strained using this gizmo).

The new house has a fancy gas cooktop with a built-in stainless steel grill. I’ve cooked with gas, and I’ve cooked on charcoal briquet grills, but I’ve never cooked on a gas grill before. It’s… amusing. Sort of broiler-esque in outcome, since it definitely lacks the charcoal flavor.

I’m not sure if I will still use it after the novelty wears off, though. It is a pain to clean (especially after grilling something in a sweet marinade) – the manual suggests wire brushing with water immediately after cooking, which I now do, having faced completely sugar-charred grossness that required 30 min of elbow grease plus an overnight soak in oven cleaner and then another 30 min of scrubbing.

Playing with the depth of field

Do you have any hints for cleaning charred grills? Something that doesn’t involve crazy harsh chemicals (for the girls’ safety) and doesn’t take an hour of scrubbing?

Japanese-style hotcakes

I am very fond of a certain Japanese hot cake mix. It is easily found in most Japanese groceries, but I’ve yet to see it for sale in Minnesota.

This cute article from Japan Today describes the difference between “hot cakes” and “pancakes.” For me, one of the biggest differences is thickness – see the picture on the box above, each cake is easily a half-inch tall. They also have a lot more sugar and a lot less salt (I never understand why Bisquick mix is so darn salty!), and while you could eat them with syrup, you don’t really need to because they’re already quite sweet.

Because I no longer have easy access to the Morinaga mix, I thought I’d start making hot cakes from scratch. Curiously, I had a hard time finding a recipe. I’m going out on a limb here, but I speculate that just as we Americans like our convenient mixes, so too do the Japanese. I eventually came across this Japanese recipe and used Google translate to understand what it said.

I love automatic translation, partially for its convenience but also because of the weird phrases it produces. Exactly how much is “11 milk 0g”? And I love to add “those little vanilla oil.”

Here is my revised recipe. Bowing a little to American pancake preferences (or else Matt will deem them “Weird” and will not eat any), I make the pancakes a little less sweet (so we can still use syrup) and a little flatter (so we can eat more than 1 before feeling full).

3 eggs
scant 1/3 c sugar
2 1/4 c milk
1/4 c plain yogurt
5 T butter, melted
1 T vanilla
3 c all-purpose flour
1.5 T baking powder
pinch of salt

(Whole-wheat “transitional” version: use 181 g all-purpose flour, 181 g whole wheat flour, 1 T gluten)

Heat a griddle before you start preparing the batter. I use an electric tabletop griddle, and the temp that works for me is 325 F. (Whether it really is that temperature is debatable, but that’s what the dial says when the pancakes cook nicely.)

Mix together the eggs, sugar, milk, yogurt, butter, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet, stir until homogeneous, and begin cooking pancakes immediately.

I pour hot cakes using a large cookie scoop. It makes a 4″-diameter pancake, a size that makes us all happy. This recipe makes about 30 pancakes, which is enough to feed everyone breakfast and have a few left over for pseudo-dorayaki.

Hot cakes! Eat ’em up, yum. ๐Ÿ™‚

PS. It’s also my birthday today! Go eat some cake!

Apple pie

I was looking for a “craft” that I could do with my girls, and one weekend in July, we made 2 apple pies. I bought a massive bag of Fuji apples at the warehouse club and pulled out my cranking apple peeler/corer (from 8 years ago, sheesh).

Aside from the directionality issue, my kids did a great job turning the crank, plus they did OK taking turns, not sneezing on the apples, etc. We were able to peel a lot of apples in 30 minutes – enough for 2 pies and more than enough extra for snacking. I used frozen pie crusts (from a you-bake-it chain called Gooters) and had the girls mix up the pie filling as follows (I had measured the remaining ingredients in advance):

5 c sliced Fuji apples
3/4 c sugar
juice of 1/2 large lemon (3+ T?)
1.5 T melted butter
2 T minute tapioca
cinnamon to taste (1 tsp?)

After the crusts were filled, we added a streusel topping.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup rolled oats
pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter, softened

(Mix first 4 ingredients, then rub butter into the dry mix using fingers.)

I have no idea the temp or duration of baking, but I’d hazard it was 350 F for… as long as it took to get golden brown! Cover the edges of the crust with strips of foil as needed, if they look like they might burn.

Serve warm with plenty of vanilla ice cream.

Homemade yogurt

Matt’s sisters gave me a very generous gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma last year for my birthday. I hung onto it for a while because I have a well-stocked kitchen (surprise, surprise) and didn’t need anything. Well, 2009 turned out to be the year of broken dishes, so I finally decided to use the gift to replace some of the missing pieces. I still had quite a balance left on the card afterward and browsed the site for something I wouldn’t normally consider, something “fun”… I ended up with a EuroCuisine yogurt maker.

Room enough for 7 jars

It is super cute. I’m actually not a huge fan of yogurt, to be honest, nor am I typically an advocate of single-use kitchen items, but I thought this could kill my tendency to buy the uberconvenient 1-serving yogurt cups at the supermarket. If I could save a little money, have less plastic waste (my county doesn’t recycle yogurt cups!), and perhaps be encouraged to eat more yogurt, these are all good things, right?

One of the unnecessary-but-adorable features is on the lid. You can turn a dial to the appropriate date (either the date it was made or the date it expires) to ensure the yogurt is consumed in a timely fashion, very handy for absent-minded folks like me.

Each jar holds about 6 oz of yogurt (~3/4 c), which turned out to be a really good serving size. Any smaller, it would feel like baby food; any larger, I wouldn’t be able to finish it. It’s the perfect size to fit in my lunchbox. The jar and lid can be washed in the dishwasher, but because of the curves of the jar, the spray doesn’t always clean it out completely. An easy remedy – rinse out the jar completely before washing.

My first attempt was a fruit-on-the-bottom style. I cooked up frozen blueberries with a little sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch until I had something that resembled loose pie filling. I put about a tablespoon on the bottom of each cup and poured in the inoculated milk, running it down the side of the jar. I used 1 qt of 2% milk (heated to 180 F and then cooled to 110 F), 1 C of plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 c sugar, and 1/2 c of powdered milk. I let it culture for 9 hours. The yogurt was a bit runny, so I think I’ll let it go a little longer next time. I had extra milk beyond what would fit in the jars and cultured that separately for a bit longer, it firmed up nicely and contributed to a great mango lassi.

I can taste the dried milk flavor very clearly in the yogurt, and although it seemed weird at first, I quickly got used to it. All in all, I give this a thumbs up! It is delightfully easy to make and pretty tasty.

Update: I made a cherry fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt with whole milk (starter from an earlier batch) and let it culture for 15 hours. Great consistency and thick, thick, thick! For my next trick, I’m going to cut back on the dried milk…

Pad Sie Ew

This is another recipe adapted from Real Thai. I am so behind in blogging. Can you believe we ate this back in May?!?!

2 T dark soy sauce
1 T sugar
1 T fish sauce
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
4 T vegetable oil
1 T minced garlic
3 c broccoli florets
1/2 lb chicken, sliced thin
1 lb rice noodles
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Combine soy sauce, sugar, fish sauce, and pepper. Set aside, near stove.

Mise en place

Heat 1 T of oil until very hot. Add a smidge of garlic – if it sizzles immediately, the oil is ready.

Add the rest of the garlic and toss for ~10 seconds (until it starts to brown lightly). Add broccoli and stir fry until it turns bright green (will still be kind of crunchy), remove to a plate.

Wipe out the pan, heat the ~1 1/2 T of oil, add chicken and sear lightly on the outside. Remove to the platter with the broccoli.

Wipe out the pan, heat ~1/2 T of oil, and lightly scramble the eggs. Remove them to the platter when they are soft set.

<whoops, forgot the picture>

Wipe out the pan. Heat the remaining oil, add noodles, and toss until separated.

*SCREECH* (sound of record player needle scratching)

I had read about the glories of cooking with fresh rice noodles, but despite living in an area populated with SE Asian immigrants, I could find only the refrigerated noodles (they are fresh-ish); these come in a plastic bag and look like a solid brick of rice noodle. I wasn’t sure how to prepare them for cooking. The brick grudgingly comes apart on precut noodle lines, but it is all too easy to break off chunks. All the instructions that I could find online said to just put fresh noodles into the saute pan and stir fry, so that’s what I tried.


They never came apart and cooked together in large, glommy pieces. It tasted all right, but it was Not Correct. Luckily, I had more noodles in reserve. These I plunked in warm water and gradually teased apart with my fingers for 20 minutes before attempting to fry. Much better!

OK, the noodles are heated through. Where were we again? Oh yes, pour everything from the platter (broccoli, chicken, eggs) back into the noodles, drizzle the soy sauce mixture over everything, and stir until everything is lightly coated. Serve immediately.

Chicken and saffron rice

I get the Williams-Sonoma catalog every so often because Matt and I registered there back when we were getting married. Once you are on their mailing list, they are loathe to let you go – I know that I have not ordered anything from them in a really long time. Anyway, it still is pretty eye candy, and once in a while, they have a recipe that I am drawn to, so I haven’t asked them to remove me from their list. This is one of the recipes (modified slightly by me) that accompanied their Le Crueset cookware.

If you’ve ever made the no-knead bread that was all the rage a couple years ago, somewhere in your pantry lurks an enamel-covered cast iron Dutch oven. Yes, it does work well for this dish, but so would any other heavy-weight saucepan. I was cheap and bought my enameled ironware at TJMaxx for $35. It has held up to infrequent use (ie, once a quarter for a few years), but I note that the interior bottom has a scratch and a slight bubble in it. I suspect water has broken through the coating and rusted the pan within, so its days likely are numbered.

Mise en place

1 lb chicken (2 drumsticks and 1 large chicken breast)
2 T olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
pinch of saffron
(pinch of red pepper flakes)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c sherry
1 c chicken broth
1/4 c water
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 1/2 c medium-grain rice
(1/4 c green olives, halved)
handful of flat-leaf parsley, minced

Heat oven to 350 F. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add 1 T olive oil. When oil shimmers, brown chicken in 2 batches, 7-8 minutes per batch. Add the next T of oil for the second batch. Lower heat if the fond (crust on the pan) begins to get dark, don’t let it burn.

Remove chicken, add onion, pepper, and saffron (if desired, add red pepper flakes at this stage). Cook until onion is softened and browned, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, cook for 30 seconds. Add sherry, cook for 1 minute. Return chicken, add broth and tomatoes with juice. Simmer (covered) for 20 minutes.

Add rice (and olives), generous pinch of salt and black pepper, bring to a simmer. Transfer pot to oven (covered), bake for 15 min; stir; bake another 15 minutes. If a lot of the rice seems to have a hard core after 15 minutes, add 1/4 c more water and stir. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in parsley before serving.