There are the standard small appliances that we all have –blender, toaster, coffee maker, microwave– that we use every day or at least several times a week. You rarely see a kitchen that doesn’t have a microwave anymore. I hate microwaves, but I have one anyway. It’s from 1986 and it’s been in this apartment longer than I have. The same is true of toasters, blenders, and coffee makers, with few exceptions almost every kitchen in the western world has them.
And then there are the specialized appliances that food people own. Like my bread machine, I got it a year ago and I can’t imagine living without it now. Making vegan bread is A LOT cheaper than buying it. Not only that, but it’s fresher, you know exactly what’s in it, and you have the added benefit of your house periodically smelling like baking bread. Another example is a food processor. They’re not totally necessary, and they’re on the expensive side, but once you have one you wonder how you went without it for so long. It dices, it slices, it grates, it purees . . . it does lots of cool things. Things that take forfreakingever by hand will be done in a few seconds with your friendly little food processor.
This brings me to my new toy.
I bought a rice cooker. I’m pretty sure it’s the best thing I’ve gotten in the last year.
See, I have this problem with rice. I can cook one cup of it on the stove just fine. But if I try to do more than that, it utterly fails. I end up with mushy exteriors and still hard, crunchy interiors and somehow simultaneously manage to burn it. I’m really good in the kitchen –really, I am!– just not at cooking more than one cup of rice at a time. So I’d sort of given up on feeding rice to more than two people at once.
I don’t really remember why I bought the rice cooker. My parents have one and I always use it when I’m at their house. I don’t think they use it at all . . . but they wouldn’t let me have it because it was a wedding present. Anyway… So that’s probably how the idea was planted in my head. I love rice cooker rice. It’s all perfect and chewy and delicious.
I don’t know how the things work at all. All I know is you put the rice in, you put the water in, and no matter how much you make (so long as you don’t over fill the pot), it’s perfect every time. They’re friggin’ magic as far as I can tell. You don’t set a timer, you don’t enter how much rice you put in to a little computer, you just press one button AND THE THING KNOWS WHAT TO DO! The button pops up when the rice is done. And no matter what kind of rice you make, no matter how much, it’s perfect. Every. Time. Rice cookers are either made of magic or possessed by really helpful daemons.
The best thing about my rice cooker is that it came with a steaming tray, so I can steam food while I cook rice. It’s actually fairly brilliant. Put some rice in, put some tofu in the steamer basket, turn it on, wait a while (make some sauce while waiting), add some veggies in the last few minutes of cooking and ta da! Dinner!
As a side note, I learned that steamed tofu is legitimately food. I had no idea that this was the case. Just throw a bunch of garlic sauce on top of it and it’s delicious. Steaming extra firm tofu changes the texture, so it gets to be fairly firm and chewy. Before I made it, I had no idea that it was actually a method of cooking tofu. I looked it up while things were cooking and found out that it’s actually a Korean dish, steamed tofu with sauce.
So then, after discovering all the goodness of my new toy, I decided to make some Japanese food. I’d been craving sushi for a week or two at this point. But here’s the thing with me a sushi, I had vowed never to learn to make it.
Sushi and I have a long history, not all of it good. I was in high school the first time I tried it, I nearly threw up. The taste of the nori is what got me. I couldn’t handle that very strong, distinct oceany flavor. So I went years claiming that I hated sushi. Cut to seven years later, I’m in school at UMD, it’s a nice spring day and I decide to walk to the grocery store to pick up some lunch. The grocery store closest to campus is actually pretty upscale. Arguably the most upscale grocery store in Duluth if you don’t count the Co Op. There’s a Caribou coffee inside, a full service deli, a salad bar, a cheese monger, and a cute Asian lady making sushi at a little kiosk.
I’m walking around deciding what to eat when I see the adorable, slightly older Asian lady and her sushi. Now one has to admit, whether or not they like the taste of sushi, that it has a very distinct visual appeal to it. Most Japanese food does, as far as I’ve seen (I really don’t think I’ve ever seen ugly Japanese food). I have always been one for aesthetics. So I walk up to the little cold case where the pre-made sushi is. I see little raw tuna and salmon pieces strapped to blocks of rice with nori; I see bright green steamed and salted edemame in a little plastic box; I see rainbow rolls artfully arranged on the tin tray with the transparent lid; and then I see vegetable rolls. Little, rice-side out veggie rolls made of carrots and cucumber and scallion and avocado with toasted black sesame seeds on the outside . . . and I’m curious.
I will try anything vegan once. And I know that taste buds change with age, so I was willing to give sushi one more try. I picked up the 12 pieces of veggie sushi, some chopsticks, and a few extra soy sauce packets. I grabbed a bottle of Naked juice from the produce section and then went and grabbed something else to eat, just in case I hated the sushi and gave it away (I think it was pop tarts . . .).
When I got back to campus and went to the philosophy department seminar room, the whole core group of my friends were there. They knew I hated sushi –all of them loved the stuff– and waited ever so patiently for me to try a piece. I squeezed the soy sauce out on to the lid of the tray, dipped the little roll in and lifted it to my mouth. I chewed. And chewed. Slowly, waiting for the gag response that usually accompanied me putting nori in my mouth. But it didn’t come. Dear god, I think I like this stuff. I ate the rest with gay abandon, savoring the salty soy sauce and chewy rice with the crisp fresh vegetables. Well, I ate most of the rest, Hugh and Claire were jealous, so I gave them some, too.
Since then I’ve grown to love the stuff. I have vegetable maki rolls, mostly. Occasionally I get the deep fried tofu stuffed with sushi rice … the name of which is escaping me just now. My absolute favorite kind is tempura sweet potato sushi. It’s sooooooo goooooood. The crispy, slightly sweet, oily texture of the potato paired with the astringent rice and delicate nori flavor when topped with teriaki sauce is just . . . aaak, I hate to put it this way, but an orgasm in my mouth.
Anyway . . . since I started liking sushi, I had always refused to learn how to make it. It was magic to me: A sushi chef could take that awful, disgusting nori and turn it into something I longed to taste (I do, still, hate nori). And I wanted it to stay magic.
But then I got bored over winter break. And when I get bored, I teach myself some new cooking thing. Sushi was the last food, which I love dearly, that I didn’t know how to make. Then there was the fact that I had just gotten a rice cooker, so . . . yeah.
I’m not about to try to explain how to make sushi. I’m a novice, and I’m probably making huuuuuuge mistakes somewhere. But it looks alright and it tastes good. I taught myself after watching the first episode of the Post Punk Kitchen, Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s (of Vegan with a Vengeance and Veganomicon fame) old open source cooking show. Their first episode was about sushi and cupcakes. And learning to make sushi is definitely the kind of thing you need video, if not personal, instruction for. So definitely watch that, it will help you learn sushi!
I’m also becoming obsessed with making Japanese food. I found this adorable/fantastic show on you tube called Cooking with Dog. Frances the dog narrates while a cute Japanese lady makes really pretty food! I’m in love. I’m also in the market for a bento box or two in the near future . . . I just haven’t decided which style to get. I apologize in advance for the inevitable influx of pictures of Japanese food that may happen on this blog in the near future. I’m not one of those weird american girls obsessed with everything Japan, I promise. I just really like Japanese food. And I swear to god I will never ever say “kawaii” without reference to something that can’t be referenced without saying ‘kawaii.’