DIY Sushi that will make your friends jealous

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To all our Canadian followers, Happy Canada Day!

First off I just want to point out that I know this post has been long overdue – thanks for being patient with me! Life happens!

Anywho…

Thierry and myself have our love of Asian culture and cuisine as something we have in common. It is no surprise that we love wandering around Asian Supermarkets as a way to try new things and give our food some variety. For as long as Thierry and I have been together, homemade sushi has been a thing that we both enjoy. Homemade sushi has become a Paulin family favorite.

Being married to a chef definitely has its advantages in that I know our family will always have quality meals that are delicious, creative, and cost effective.  Of course I learn a lot about food in the process… no complaints here! 

Thierry and I don’t go to restaurants often and even when we first started dating, our first date was him making me dinner. Sushi restaurants can get pretty expensive so being able to make it at home is great – especially with it being one of mine and Thierry’s favorite foods. Thierry and I often get people asking us about our homemade sushi so I thought I would share with you.  SIDE-NOTE: I know that not everyone has a rice cooker – Thierry and I typically use the rice cooker to make the rice, but I will also include a brief section to how to make it on the stove.

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The brand of rice that we use for sushi. See Below.

I remember Thierry telling me that Sushi Chef’s spend years just to perfect the rice alone. The rice is probably the biggest and most important part of making sushi – if you have a bad batch of rice, it can effect everything else. Thierry and I have gone through three rice cookers within the span of the 5 1/2 years. We bought the third (and quite frankly it was a fantastic investment) upgrade just after we got married in September. It is possible to make the rice on the stove, but if you are planning on making sushi on a regular basis like we do, a good rice cooker is the way to go. This way you don’t have to worry about the possibility of a bad batch due to temperature or time – the machine does all the work. The one we use is the Zojirushi 1.8L Induction Heated Rice Cooker which you can get on Amazon  here . 

Sushi rice, right out of the bag, can have a lot of starch on it, so the very first thing you need to do before cooking the rice, is to clean it. If you don’t clean the rice the end result is a starchy, overly sticky and somewhat gooey consistency – gross! Thierry and I had to try different kinds of sushi rice to determine what one we preferred. The brand we use is Nishiki , you can also get it off Amazon here if you don’t have access to an Asian Supermarket, or one that sells various rice brands. The rice you should go for is a good quality Japanese short grain rice. Medium grain will work in a pinch, but if you’re making sushi, use sushi rice.

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When you get a rice cooker, most of them come with rice cups that can be easily used to measure the amount of rice/water you will be using. Typically, 1 rice cooker cup is equivalent to 3/4 cup measured. 

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After putting the rice in the rice cooker bowl (or regular bowl if you are cooking on the stove), clean the rice. At first, when you mix the rice and water, the water will become cloudy; that’s just the starch coming off the rice and mixing with the water. Use your hands/fingers to gently stir the rice, making sure that the mass of rice is moved around. You will need to periodically empty the water to remove excess starch. Add new water, rinse and repeat until the water is clear. Carefully drain the remaining water from the bowl to avoid losing any rice.

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You are now ready to prepare the rice for cooking. When cooking rice, different rices require a different ratio of water to rice for optimal results. When using the rice cooker for sushi rice we use a 1:1 ratio of water to rice. Our rice cooker bowl has an indicator on the side (4 cups of rice means we will fill the bowl to the 4 line with water, while the rice is still in the bowl). If you are using the stove, we’ve had best results with a 1.2 :1 ratio of water to rice; the extra water is to account for more steam escaping during cooking. If you have a tight fitting lid on your pot, a 1:1 ratio should still work fine for you.

20180415_171744_001On the rice cooker that we use, there is a setting that full on says “sushi”. After approximately 46 minutes of cooking (not disturbing it at all), the rice is now ready for the final touches.

With our previous two rice cookers, there was no setting specific to sushi, only an ON/OFF switch, so the time it used to cook was approximately 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how much rice we had. When using our ON/OFF rice cooker, we would let it rest for an additional 5-10 minutes with the lid still on after it had finished cooking, to allow the steam to permeate through out the rice.

For those of you without a rice cooker, after cleaning the rice and adding the required water to the pot, cook your rice with the lid on at medium heat for 9 minutes. With the lid still on, turn your heat to maximum, and cook for an additional 4 minutes. After this, turn off the heat and let the rice rest for 15 minutes, lid still on. This method will result in some overcooked rice at the bottom of your pot (usually stuck). Don’t use the overcooked rice when making your sushi.

Thierry has spent a good portion of the time we have been together improving the rice – from the way he cleans it, to the ratio of each of the seasonings, to the brands of rice we use.  Preferably the rice seasoning should be prepared the night before to allow for all of the flavors to mingle. See the slideshow below for the seasoning ingredients for the rice…

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For the rice seasoning, mix the unsalted rice vinegar, sugar and salt together until the salt and sugar have dissolved, then add the Kombu. Let sit until needed. As a point of note, because we use less salt in our mix, it’s a good idea to cover and put in the fridge if you are storing it overnight.

At this point it’s time to put together your fixings. This can be done beforehand, but if you’ve made sushi rice as much as Thierry and I have, you can prepare everything while your rice is cooking. My personal favorite rolls are Philadelphia rolls while Thierry loves his California, but you can use whatever you want for the fillings.

Avocados should be the last ingredient prepared; if they’re left out they can turn rusty due to oxidation. If you’re preparing your avocado, cut them into halves, then quarters, and then strips. Keep them in a mixture of water and lemon juice to avoid them spoiling. Thierry tries to limit the time the avocado is in the water/lemon juice mix because if left for over 15 minutes, they can feel a little slimy when handling.

I will get into this in the future when I discuss how to roll the sushi, but part of the California roll includes cucumber. Before cutting the cucumber, we rub the salt on the skin of the cucumber acting as an exfoliant, getting rid of any dirt that may be still on it. This makes the cucumber’s skin softer, and takes away any bitter aftertaste. To make sure that the cucumber is cut to the correct length, that matches the seaweed, we use the sushi presses to measure. Now, there is more than one way to roll sushi depending on your comfort level but you can find these sushi presses here . Cut the cucumber in halves, then quarters, carefully remove the seeds, then cut in again into thin strips. Place on a plate and wrap with plastic wrap – refrigerate until ready to use.

If you like wasabi, you can either get the “already made in a tube” or the powder where you just add water. We use the powder kind which just requires to add water until you get the consistency you like. It is easier to add small amounts at a time rather than a large amount of water at once.

The fixings I mentioned here are just a few of the many possibilities. For the Philadelphia roll you add cream cheese – I cut the cream cheese into strips before adding to my rolls. You can make spicy mayo, or add tofu pouches (inari)… the sky is the limit…

20180415_180537Back to the rice – the seasoning that you put together earlier for the rice must now be mixed into the rice. If you are using a rice cooker, you would simply pour your rice into a mixing bowl. If you are using the pot, you would do the same but leaving the bottom 10% in the pot as it would typically be more crispy than the rest of the batch (and usually stuck to the pot).

Pour in the rice vinegar mixture over the rice paddle (if you don’t have any, you can get cute squirrel shaped ones here ) so that it goes over the rice. With a slicing motion, use the edge of the rice paddle to gently break apart the rice. The edge of the rice paddle will help to not crush any of the rice that is cooked. Scoop up the rice and gently fold it back into the bowl. Thierry and I have a system going on with this part where I will hold a fan up to the bowl to cool the rice while he mixes in the seasoning. If you don’t have a fan or another person to help with this you can use anything you have available that can act as a fan while mixing it – though it will take longer to cool down. If you have problems with the bowl sliding, take a damp towel and put under the bowl so that the bowl doesn’t slide. SIDE-NOTE: The bigger the bowl, the better. The larger surface area will help the rice cool down faster, stopping it from cooking for too long.

Once the rice is at room temperature (slightly warm is okay too) with the seasoning mixed in, place it with the rest of the fixings for assembly. 

Depending on what you prefer, you may like your sushi with some soy sauce. As a side note, there are so many kinds of soy sauce. The one below, Yamasa, is the brand we currently use but you can experiment with different brands.

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THE ASSEMBLY

When we were preparing the cucumbers I mentioned sushi presses. There is more than one way to make your sushi roll. The traditional way is the way that Sushi Chef’s use. The “cheat” way, the way that I use, is easier and I find it helps with portion control (lets face it, sushi is Stuff-your-face good).

 

 

First and foremost, you would need nori sheets (roasted seaweed). You can find these in any Asian supermarket, or in the international isle of your local grocery store. Another common place you can find them is where your grocery store sells sushi take-out. The way I make my sushi rolls is by filling the sushi press half-way with rice, I place the fixings in the middle of the press, and then add more rice on top. The sushi presses come in three pieces, with a top piece that you press down. Once you have a tube like rice structure, you place it in the middle the nori sheet. The shiny side of the nori sheet should be facing down. With these presses, you can cut your nori sheet in half to roll. One thing to note, is it is a good thing to have a bowl of cool water to wet your hands when you are handling the sushi rice as it can get VERY sticky.

Thierry still likes to do the traditional way (see below).

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The traditional way of rolling the sushi: place the whole nori sheet (shiny side down) on your sushi mat/plate (if you don’t have a sushi mat and you would like to get one you can get one here – you will notice his is covered in plastic wrap, this makes it easier to clean, and harder for rice to stick to it). You would put an even layer of rice on the nori sheet, leaving a small strip at the bottom for when it is rolled. Put your fixings along the middle as shown above. When done, roll onto itself. Using the sushi mat, you can tighten the roll by pulling it back towards yourself. It will turn out as shown below.

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Whether you decide to cut your sushi, or eat it like a burrito is up to you. Thierry and I have made it so often that we typically eat it like a burrito and dip it in soy sauce (because of laziness). Whatever you do, enjoy, and have fun. 

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Thanks again for your patience with this post! As you can see there are a lot of details required with this recipe! Next time you have company over, you can now “wow” them with homemade sushi! 🙂

And as Thierry would tell you, “If you make a mistake when making sushi, just eat it and try again.”

 Lots of love,

-Ashley

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DIY Wedding Cupcakes Your Guests Will Love!

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I’ll never forget when I was planning my own wedding and the main choice for wedding cake was fruit cake.  Yuck! Even the wedding favours were wrapped up pieces of fruit cake. I was never a fan and was very determined to have a cake that people would actually enjoy and not toss into the garbage.  Through sheer stubbornness, I got my way and we had a lovely 3-tiered vanilla wedding cake with a scrumptious butter cream icing.

Fast forward 40 years and anything goes. When the cupcakes surged in popularity, I thought it was brilliant.  Not only is there portion control, but leftovers can be saved a lot easier. It’s also much easier to plan how many to make based on the number of invited guests resulting in less waste. There’s no shortage of places to look for ideas, and the best thing of all is you can have several flavours  versus the one or two with a cake. Cost wise, it also seems to be the better option when checking out cupcake prices versus wedding cake.  The average price for wedding cupcakes is $3 per cupcake while wedding cakes are an average $5 per serving. So, for 60 people we would have been looking at $180 and for a wedding cake $300.

For Ashley’s wedding, we decided to keep costs down and do DIY cupcakes.  Now,  I’m a fair baker, but I wasn’t about to go crazy and experiment with a bunch of recipes and take the chance they wouldn’t turn out so I went with my tried and true recipes—the ones on the back of the good old cake mix!  I learned from a good friend of mine who worked in a bakery, that the secret to great cupcakes is to freeze them.  That way they are easier to frost and end up much moister and fresher tasting.  I’ve been doing them that way ever since.

So what kind of flavours did we make?  The choices we went with were carrot, chocolate, lemon and vanilla. For the first three, I pretty much followed the instructions on the back of the box.  Easy peezy!  For the vanilla, I went with a variation recipe that yielded more cupcakes as well as intensified the flavour. They turned out delicious! Here is the recipe:

White Wedding Cake Cupcakes

1 box white cake mix (Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cups water
2 tbsp. oil (vegetable or canola)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
4 large eggs (separated)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.  Place cupcake liners in cupcake pans (approx. 36)
  2. Beat egg whites until fluffy.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together cake mix, flour, sugar and salt.
  4. Add remaining ingredients (except egg whites) and beat until well blended (about 2 minutes)
  5. Fold in egg whites until blended into the mixture.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop, fill prepared cupcake tins to about 3/4 full.
  7. Bake for about 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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I originally found this recipe from Recipe Girl, but gave it a few tweeks of my own and ended up with perfect white vanilla cupcakes that tasted amazing. Recipe Girl says this recipe is also great for cakes, but I haven’t tried that yet. I’m also thinking that these tweeks will work with other cake mix flavours, but that is for another day!!

For icing I went with “easy” as well.  My children really like the sweet icing (I call it sicky sweet), but some family members like it less sweet. So how do you satisfy everyone’s taste? Well, since I was under a time constraint, I didn’t want to worry about making a DIY buttercream from scratch so I cheated and went to an old standby that I knew would work.  I bought some Betty Crocker frosting, whipped it up in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and added about 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar to get the right consistency for piping. It worked out quite well.   My daughter-in-law, Julie, who helped me to decorate the cupcakes, preferred piping with this one. To enhance the flavour,  I added some almond extract for one batch and some lemon juice and lemon extract for another.  The taste was obviously very sweet, but no one guessed it was icing from a can.

Cupcakes

The other recipe I used was one from a friend who used to be a professional baker. I really don’t like excessively sweet icing myself, and having tasted her cupcakes, prefer this icing. It doesn’t use butter or shortening or added sugar of any kind so is a better alternative for those watching their sugar and fat intake.  Since we wanted variety, I made a batch of this recipe and divided it in half so I could colour it into a pretty purple. It piped really well, giving off a pretty lacey look rather than the smoother look of the sweet icing. All in all, once the cupcakes were piped and decorated with sparkles and silver balls, both Julie and I were very happy with the results. The recipe is as follows:

Whipped Frosting (dairy free, no added sugar)

1 box Nutriwhip                                         2 envelopes Whip It (Dr. Oetker)

  1. Empty the box of Nutriwhip into your electric mixer bowl and start blending slowly.
  2. Work up to top speed and whip until bubbles form.  Stop mixer.
  3. Carefully sprinkle both envelopes of Whip It over the cream and mix together until powder incorporated into the cream (to avoid lumps).
  4. Whip at high speed until light and fluffy.
  5. Do not over whip–it will go very stiff and will be hard to spread.
  6. Add food colouring and flavouring extracts if desired.
  7. Leftovers can be frozen for another time – to reuse, just rewhip!

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So as I conclude this rather long post, I have to say that one of the best compliments you can get is when you are asked for the name of the vendor where you got the cupcakes, or when told that your efforts look as professional as any that could have been purchased.

I was happy to do this for my daughter and actually enjoyed the challenge of such an undertaking. It worked out well and in the end, leftovers were not a problem.

Take care and happy baking!

DIY Shower Favors That Your Guests Will Love! {Part 1}

As promised, I’m going to devote some time to write about some of the DIY things we did leading up to and including Ashley’s wedding, starting with some shower favours. These were so much fun to make, cost effective and appreciated by the guests. Enjoy……..

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I love going to the spa. My daughter Lindsay and I have a special mother-daughter bonding ritual once a year where we go away to the Scandinavian Spa and treat ourselves to a day of chillin, relaxation and rejuvenation. We always come away from this special time feeling like new women and wishing we could go back the next day for a repeat!! {Sigh}

Similarly, our feet need the same treatment, especially if we are on them all day or we’ve done something where they need some extra TLC…..or just because. There is nothing like a good foot soak where your feet can luxuriate in the warmth of the water as well as soak in the benefits of what you put in that water. When my tender tootsies are soaking, my feet thank me while my mind takes me back to the Scandinavian Spa….

Before making my concoctions, I used to soak my feet in Epson salts without knowing the true benefits, except that my feet felt great afterwards and I slept better. Now I know I was getting the benefits of the magnesium. What a bonus! That gave me the great idea to share my favourite mixtures as shower favours for my daughter’s bridal shower.

These gifts were very easy to make, economical and personal. They presented beautifully and were well received. The ingredients are easy to find and packaging them is only limited by your imagination. In our case, I found lovely containers at the dollar store (amazing what you can find there😊).  So here are the recipes for foot soak shower favours….

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The lavender buds in the above recipe can be optional, but they look so pretty when giving as a gift and if you happen to grow it in your garden like I do, it’s all natural and organic. To use, fill a basin with water as hot as you can stand it (not scalding!). You want to cover your ankles to get the full benefit. Sprinkle in about ½ a cup of the foot soak powder and stir to dissolve. Soak your feet for about 15 to 20 minutes and let the stress melt away! Make sure you drink some water while soaking to stay hydrated:)

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This particular soak is amazing! I love the citrusy (is that a word?) smell of this, particularly the lime which is why I gave it the green tinge. It reminds me of summer and lime mojitos! The instructions to use this mixture is the same as above. Get ready to relax and end up with lovely feet!

The next recipe is wonderful for tired, achy feet (aren’t they all?) and utilizes the powerful benefits of peppermint. I was surprised at how wonderful this mixture made my feet feel. They felt totally refreshed and my planter’s fasciitis was much less achy.

refreshing peppermint

When I did this particular mixture up for the shower (not pictured), I wanted it to look different from the others, so I experimented with the colour. I wanted a blue tinge, but more on the icy blue side so I added red to the blue, so it bordered on purple but not quite. The effect was a perfect complement to the peppermint.

The last foot soak mixture I made utilized my love of menthol crystals as a cooling agent. I’ve been menthol crystals in other things for its cooling properties, so it made sense to utilize it for hot, tired, achy feet. This recipe is a bit strong so please don’t think of using it for a body bath!

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This particular soak is one of my favorites. I totally love the cooling effect when my feet are hot, tired and hurting after a long walk or being on my feet all day. The feedback from guests was particularly positive on this one too, so that was very encouraging. To use, start at ¼ cup. The amount of essential oils may seem a bit high, so if you make this recipe, start at the lower end of the recipe and work your way up when you feel comfortable. Again, only use it for your feet because of the menthol. It would be too strong for a bath and those sensitive areas.

Whichever foot soak mixture your use to soak your feet, take advantage of this time to really pamper yourself by exfoliating the dead skin off your feet and moisturizing afterwards. I like to wear soft, comfy socks afterwards to help the moisturizer soak into my feet. If I do the soak before bed, I keep the socks on to sleep and wake up with well rested, pampered and moisturized feet!

So there you have it. Wonderful shower favours your guests will love!!   In coming posts, I will be posting how-to’s and recipes for some of the other favours. In the meantime, below is some interesting reading I found while checking out the ingredients for these foot soaks. As well, if you read my Essential Oil for Beginner’s series, you will find some useful information and links. Enjoy!

More Information: (Articles I found very interesting!)

Epson salts (found in most grocery stores, Walmart, Costco)

About Epson Salts
Benefits of Soaking Feet in Epson Salt

Sea Salt (found in most grocery stores, bulk food stores, Costco)

19 Amazing Benefits of Sea Salt
Benefits of Sea Salt for The Skin

Baking Soda

38 Extraordinary Uses For Bicarbonate Of Soda
What is Baking Soda?

Menthol

What Is The Use Of Menthol?
Menthol for Pain Relief

Essential Oils

If you are new to essential oils, check out my blog post series for beginners here. I talk about my essential oil journey and hopefully give the reader something to think about as they embark on their own!

Have questions about essential oils or looking for resources? I’ve posted quite an extensive list here.  Check it out for yourself.

Wondering where to buy essential oils, especially in Canada? When I first started using essential oils, it seemed like the only place to buy them was in the US. Since those of us who live in Canada have to deal with the dollar issue, duties and taxes, I wanted to find companies that sold good quality, pure and reasonably priced essential oils. I came up with my source list, which you can find here. Oils sold by these sources include the US, Canada and international choices. Many of these companies also sell ingredients to make other DIY bath and body products. Check them out for yourself. Please note that I am only listing them, not endorsing them as this is a pretty extensive list!

grand opening MMEMystic Moon Emporium is now open!

Did you miss my “Essential Oils For Beginners” Series?  You won’t want to miss it!!

Essential Oils for Beginners: Part 1

Essential Oils for Beginners: Part 2 {Usage Criteria}

Essential Oils for Beginners: Part 3 {Where do you buy quality essential oils?}

Essential Oils for Beginners: Part 4 {Resources}