Shiso Ume aka Japanese Plum Paste

Last night, against all better judgment, I had a few of Joel's co-workers over for sushi. Two were in town from California and one is married to an amazing Japanese cook. Needless to say, one of our distinguished guests far trumped my knowledge of sushi in the kitchen. Had I remembered this when I originally planned the menu, I would undoubtedly have cooked Italian or French or Ethiopian or Thai or...

Anyway, most of the sushi turned out well and one in particular I loved. (No pics, sorry guys.) My Caprese-style-Halibut cones were super easy and a great use of our summer veggies. I mixed diced sushi-grade halibut, chopped cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil, salt and lemon. I rolled this mixture up in nori cones with rice and served with a dipping sauce and wasabi.

The best roll of all was thanks to my out-of-town guest Matt. He brought me a gift of Shiso Ume, which is a Japanese plum paste. It comes in a bottle that looks a lot like wasabi, except it's purple. Trying it alone it has a very tart fruity flavor. As a "closer" roll, I made cucumber rolls with sesame seeds, rice and quite a bit of this paste. According to the box, the ingredients are: Japanese Plum Paste (not helpful), Cucumber, Beef Steak Plant, Xantahngum, Alcohol, Water, Lactic Accid, MSG and Natural Flavor. It was so delicious and very refreshing. Now I just need to find some in town...

Matt showed me some cool ways to make half-rolls and I shared with him how to cool sushi rice off fast with a blow dryer. Though while very awesome, would be totally not approved in his own kitchen. ;)

Have any signature rolls or great sushi tips of your own?

On Cooking Octopus and Making Beet Salad

Ever since we moved to Minnesota ten years ago, I thought the advent of spring deserved a celebration. It comes upon us so quickly here that I never get around to actually planning a welcoming spring party. However, this year, I was a bit more proactive.

I have realized recently that as I am not working in a kitchen, or taking culinary classes (rather I give them) and watch no food tv, that the only source of inspiration I have is from my cookbooks and friends.

So why not cook some recipes from these famed coffee table culinary authors? I assembled a daunting menu that I was sure would challenge and perplex myself as well as some of my guests. Octopus Terrine, Carrot Terrine, French Baguettes, Crackers, Smoked Trout Spread, Roasted Beet Salad, Chicken Liver Mousse, Ceviche, Candied Citrus Peels and Fruit Tart.

All of these were completely brand new recipes except the mousse. I tried new cooking methods, used new ingredients and combined foods in ways I hadn’t tried before. Most of my inspiration began with chefs such as Keller and Aureole, but I quickly realized that many of their ideas on paper didn’t really translate well in the kitchen.

The most fun I had was with the octopus terrine, which absolutely would not have worked out if I had followed the recipe. I did however, manage to cook it in simmering chicken stock for about 20 minutes watching as it turned from a gray jellyfish consistency to a firm purplish-red bobbing creature.

I think the biggest hit was the beet salad. I am not a beet lover, in fact I loathe them, or did. Which is why I decided to make them. I will share my recipe here with you:

Beets Micro greens (or baby spinach)
Goat cheese
Bacon crumbles
Truffle Oil
Olive Oil
Salad Dressing

Cut root end off of beet and place on top of kosher salt in a square of tin foil. Pack three beets at a time (or two if they are large) in the tin foil and bake in 350 degree oven for 2 hours or until a knife inserted into the tin foil feels like it is cutting through butter.

Let cool, peel and slice thinly (wearing gloves). Layer on a plate. Toss greens with salad dressing (below is one option) and top beet salad artfully. For a full salad, place greens underneath beets. Garnish with toasted walnuts, pieces of goat cheese, bacon crumbles or lardons and finally drizzle with truffle oil and olive oil. Sprinkle salt and pepper for good measure.

Dressing: In saucepan reduce 1 cup of port and 1 cup of wine with 2 chopped shallots by two-thirds. Slowly stir in one cup of olive oil, juice from ½ lemon, and 2 tablespoons of balsamic (more to taste). Season with salt and pepper.