Cereal/Granola Breakfast Pucks

I thought I’d tempt you all with a picture of the finished product first.

There’s really nothing fancy about these granola bars, except their shape. You change the shape and name of something, and all of a sudden, you’ve got everyone’s attention! Well, if it works, why not? I’ve been a gym/food/fitness junkie all my life, and I started to get bored of granola bars, all of them. I can’t vouch for the power bar varieties, but the snack varieties, I can. Let’s face it, processed, quickie foods … that’s all they are!

I love to experiment, and I have a handful or more guinea pigs to taste test my creations. Trust me, they are more than happy to help me with my “special projects”. Never had one complaint!

Visuals work best, so I am just going to give some of my ingredients list that way:

These are liquid sweeteners. Maple syrup can also be used, as well as honey. Just experiment, as some seed/sweetener combos do not work well together.

There are many nut butters out there, some are “raw”, which I also use. These are more natural and less processed than peanut butter, so the sweet factor is significantly less.

Chia seeds, flax seeds (must grind before using, better absorption of nutrients), hemp hearts

I have tried many protein powders, and have not liked most of them. This is what I buy most of the time, unless I receive sample packs for testing. I like these because they possess a more natural flavour, and it is on the lower side of sweet.

These are muffin “tins” made out of silicone. I have never baked in silicone moulds, though I have used a silicone mat to bake vegetables and cookies. I prefer parchment for baking cookies; but as for vegetables, I would use the mats again. They prevent vegetables from sticking or burning.

Storage of the pucks – place in a container and separate with a layer of parchment to prevent sticking.

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I’m going to share a version of this recipe, as a lot of the ingredients are interchangeable, so I always suggest you put in what you already like. Experimenting with organic or what some call “funky” ingredients can be expensive. Unless you know you already like them, stick with what you do like. For example, I paid $20 for close to 2-oz of matcha green tea powder, and $18 for less than 2 cups of cacao nibs. Good for me, I love both these ingredients, you get the picture … and I just want to mention that I use raw where I can, i.e. raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Total prep time is a measly ten minutes! I love it!

1-1/4 c crispy cereal (I used a rice crisps)
1 c quick cooking oats
2 T ground flax, hemp hearts, or chia seeds (try sesame or black sesame seeds)
1/4 c finely chopped dried fruit (I used cacao nibs)
1/4 c finely chopped nuts or seeds (I used pepitas)
1/2 c maple syrup or brown rice syrup (I used rice syrup)
1/2 c nut or seed butter (or peanut butter, Nutella?) (I used sunflower seed butter)
1 t vanilla extract

Combine dry ingredients, including dried fruits, together into a bowl and set aside. Measure syrup and butter into a pot over medium-low heat and stir to mix thoroughly – mixture will be thick. Pour over dry ingredients and quickly stir together until everything sticks together. Immediately press into moulds. Refrigerate for two hours before consumption. Must be stored in refrigerator, and can be stored for up to two weeks’ maximum.

Give this a try and share your comments, won’t you?

What are your favourite fruit and nut combinations?

 

 

Espresso-Cacao Protein Surprise

I love coffee and drink it regularly, but I have never been one to drink more than one cup/day. The more active I am, the less I want to drink it, and it has always been that way. Too much of a good thing is actually not a good thing at all.

I am still working on some recipes to add to my repertoire of protein balls. A lot of them call for peanut butter due to the amount of protein it packs in; however, I find it sickly sweet and almost detestable after a few bites.  So … had to work on a few things! Before I detail my process, and I call it a process because it isn’t merely about substitutions. Before I introduce the line-up, here is a picture of the finished product, a mini version, good to have in-between workouts; and a standard one, great for a snack in-between driving kids to and from activities, or to and from the office.

Mini version – 1 tsp scoop

Standard – 1 T scoop

Here are some of the ingredients I use:

This is the brand of instant espresso I like to use. Remember to crush the granules finely. The product on the left – by Akava – is a natural coffee alternative – derived from the chicory plant. Chicory tastes similar to coffee. I drank one cup per day for a while, and will tell you that it does not do for your body what coffee does. It can be good or bad – some people like the caffeine kick while some don’t. I used this to make my coffee cookies because they were for family members of all ages. I did not want to be feeding caffeine to children.

There are so many protein powders out there. I have been using these for a while because they are not artificially-flavoured and sickly sweet. Although protein powders are highly processed, I do turn to them once in a while, as they are a quick replacement for a banana or granola bar.

And that my friend, is matcha green tea latte. I used this for my chia breakfast jars instead of pure powder because it is less potent, adds just enough of a hint of green tea, and it does not have bitter aftertaste. Cacao is chocolate in its pure form. Although it possesses a slightly bitter taste, almost like a dark chocolate, I like it. I prefer cacao simply because it’s a healthier choice. It is an expensive ingredient, but so worth it!

I love seeds – they can be used 1:1 interchangeably. The only seed I would read up on before you use it, is chia. Chia is something I would not use in smoothies, as it thickens up to a texture I don’t really like. Also, chia can stick to your teeth and along the gum line.

Sweeteners – there are many around, but I took pictures of a few that I have on hand. I use them as a substitute for maple syrup or honey, especially when making protein balls or granola bars. The sweetness level changes with different combinations of fruits and nuts. I did not find agave syrup to be a good binder when making granola bars or protein balls; however, brown rice syrup worked well. Keep experimenting until you find a combination that works for you!

OK, here is the recipe:

1 c of old-fashioned or quick oats
2 T protein powder or skim milk powder
1/4 c instant espresso coffee granules – I crushed these to a finer granule
1/4 c cacao nibs
1/2 c flaxseed meal
1 T chia seeds
1/2 c almond butter
1/3 c maple syrup
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt

Place dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and mix until well incorporated. Cream together the almond butter, maple syrup, and vanilla extract. Pour the almond butter mixture into the dry, and fold until combined. Use a scoop to shape into balls, your hands, or press into silicone moulds for easy storage, and removal. Must be stored in refrigerator.

Keeps fresh in a tightly sealed container for up to two weeks.

Don’t like coffee? What would your “protein surprise” be?

 

Protein ball, snack or dessert?

Nutella Protein Balls and below them, Peanut Butter Power Balls (both are no-bake versions)

It was about 20 years ago when I first had a protein ball. My friend had brought some into work, and this version consisted of peanut butter, honey, milk powder, and chopped pecans. We ate it as a snack and whenever we had chocolate or “sweet” cravings. It was eaten like a treat during break times, and then we started bringing them to the gym with us. I think that’s how it evolved, and then for many years in-between, we never had them again, until recently. With the emergence of the granola bars, power bars, whatever you want to call them, the balls were phased out. I much prefer to make my own foods, as processed food is never as healthy as fresh/home-made.

These are Nutella Protein Balls – this (no-bake) version has mint chocolate chips as well as chopped, toasted walnuts.

I love making protein balls, raw foodie style, no-bake, and baked versions. They are easy, and very flexible in terms of ingredients. They can be made in different proportions, also. I prefer a 1″ scoop, as I like to have one in-between workouts. Just a little kick of energy. And it’s like a one-bite idea – pop it into your mouth, it’s done. Just the right amount of energy.

Below is another (no-bake) version of Nutella Protein Balls, containing 70%-dark chocolate chips. Here is my version:

1-1/2 c. Nutella
1/2 c. skimmed milk powder
2 T. almond milk
1/3 c. dark chocolate chips (can substitute with mint chocolate chips, toasted hemp hearts, or sesame seeds)

Mix together Nutella and almond milk, then fold in milk powder and chocolate chips. Form into 1″ balls and place into a container. For storage, cover the container, as the balls may dry up.

I don’t like to keep them too long, as they do dry out, and don’t taste as good as they did the day they were made. I suggest 7-10 days. This recipe made 28.

Pictured here are ingredients for a more exotic version of my regular Peanut Butter Power Balls. I used regular peanut butter because I ran out of my raw almond butter, a much healthier choice.

1 c. raw almond butter
1 c. honey
1 c. skimmed milk powder
1 c. chocolate protein powder
1-1/2 c. rice krispies
1/3 c. sea salt caramels

Cream together the butter and honey until well incorporated. Then add in the two powders followed by rice krispies and caramels. Shape into 1″ balls, and store in refrigerator until ready to eat. Makes approximately 50.

Here they are naked – and below, dressed, perfect for gift-giving. Put into a pretty little box, single layer, with a bow on top.

This is another way to store your protein balls. I made three different types and stored them in their own compartment.

A simple Peanut Butter Power Ball recipe is:

1 c. peanut butter
1 c. honey
2 c. skimmed milk powder
1 c. coconut flakes, toasted

Use method above to prepare.

What are your favourite combinations to make? Do you like peanut butter over raw nut butters?

 

Soup for the Soul

Butternut Squash Soup – to puree, I simply blend with my Vitamix, in several batches, then redistribute into a pot.

On this particular day, I made 12 quarts – I made to share with friends.

I ladle into casserole dishes as such, and when cooled, I put on the lid and store in freezer. When frozen, I pop them out and use my FoodSaver to wrap them up, pen in type of soup, date made, then put into deep freeze. The FoodSaver systems help to save money. Free of freezer burn for up to one year – I’ve own a system since 1997.

When I first started experimenting with soup – first making a base, then using that base as just a layer to make the soup, I thought “how daunting!”. I guess anything one is doing for the very first time can appear that way.

I experimented with Chinese soups because I felt most comfortable making them on my own. After observing my mom for years, I had acquired enough intel to do it all by myself.

Every good soup starts off with a solid base. For example, when I am making a beef based soup, I start a big pot of hot water over the stove and start to gather the ingredients – lots of beef bones and aromatics such as carrots, celery, onion, shallots, and garlic, to give a few examples. I prep the bones by rinsing them with a bit of salt – this is something I have done forever – packaged meats, turkey, etc. always get a salt rinse/rub prior to use. Ground meats, there isn’t much I can do there.

Bean n Veggie Soup

Cooling

Throw into the deep freezer

Chicken n Vegetable Soup

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Here is my process:

Base:
Salt rinse/rub bones/meat used for soup. Dice the meat into cubes and throw into marinade or seasoning. When the pot of water comes to a boil, throw in the bones and aromatics, and bring to a boil. You will see foamy brown floaties rise to the surface – some people toss out the bones and drain in a colander while some, like myself, use a fine mesh sieve to lift off the foam frequently.

When the bones and aromatics are at boiling, turn heat down to medium-low for an hour. Remove the bones and vegetables, and any foam. Turn heat down to a simmer.

I am an efficient person, so I try to do as much as I can ahead of time, or during the time it takes the pot of water to boil.

Meat:
In a saucepan, brown the marinated beef pieces and then add to the pot, along with 2-3 bay leaves.

Vegetables:
Dice them into desired sizes and add them all to the pot.

Spices:
I like to pre-measure all my spices into a bowl, then toss them into the pot at once. Keep on simmer and check every so often. Once vegetables reach desired softness, then soup is ready.

My preference is to sauté onions, garlic, and shallots in spices prior to adding them into the pot. It adds a smokiness to the mix.

Adding beans? I do the following to barley and chickpeas as well.
I prefer to soak my own beans, and add them in at the same time as the meat. My method for soaking beans: Rinse and drain a couple times, then add 3 parts water over the beans, to allow expansion. Allow it to soak overnight. In the morning, rinse and rinse again, drain.

Pasta or Orzo:
I toss these in within the last half hour of simmer stage. Stir frequently upon adding into the pot so pasta or orzo does not clump together.

Kernels of Corn:
Toss in within final half hour of simmer stage.

Potatoes:
Add in within the last hour of simmer stage.

Split Pea n Ham Soup, ready to go into the freezer

I don’t freeze all my soup, but rather, keep some in mason jars for a couple days’ maximum. Shown here are Bean; Chicken n Vegetable; and a Chinese dessert soup.

I’d love to hear what you like to add into your soups. I love trying new things. Please share when you get the chance.

Thanks!

And thank you for your patience. Life got busy, as all of ours do, and I really wanted to share some more of my experiences with you.

 

 

Kitchen Sink Cookies

A couple weeks ago, I wanted to bake.  Not really having a specific cookie in mind, I decided to “go big or go home”, so went downstairs to the pantry and grabbed as many ingredients as I could.  The bricks of butter had already been taken out to soften earlier that day.

I am a texture girl, yes, that’s almost like my tag line because that is what I am – even with art – I love different art forms, styles, media used, etc.  And well, variety IS the spice of life, I must declare.

My trip to the cellar found me packing:  raw sunflower and pumpkin seeds; granulated and coconut palm sugars; unsweetened coconut flakes; hemp hearts; milk and extra-dark chocolate chocolate chips, and dried cranberries.

I always cut my parchment paper first and line my pans first.  Some preheat their ovens as a first step, but my oven preheats quickly.  I am Triple Type A for sure when it comes to being in the kitchen – do not mess with me!

Here is what properly lined pans should look like, to me, anyway.

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I always pre-measure as much as I can both wet and dry ingredients.

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Crack the eggs and set aside in a small bowl. (Remember to add eggs one at a time, after each has been beaten slightly.)

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Sugars are mixed together, and I usually combine them before adding to the mixture.  Vanilla is put into a little condiment cup and placed with the sugar, because it typically gets added after the eggs.

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My filling ingredients are usually premixed, and the reason for this is so one is not biting into a mouthful of just chocolate chips, etc.  Nuts, seeds, hemp hearts – always, always toast!  The flavours are intensified.

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In this bowl, I put the cranberries in with the flour.  I separated them prior to coating with flour, as cranberries, raisins, and the like tend to stick together.

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I always use a cookie scoop, as I like my cookies uniform in size.

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I doubled the recipe and ended up with 133 cookies.  I like to level my scoop before releasing, while my girlfriend likes her scoop filled up, rounded.  What I’m saying is, if she levelled her scoop like I did, I would have ended up with more than 133 cookies, just sayin’ :).

Here is the recipe, doubled:

2 c butter, softened
1 c each granulated and coconut palm sugars
4 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
4-1/4 c flour
1/4 c hemp hearts, toasted
1 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1-1/2 c each milk chocolate and extra dark chocolate chips
3 c dried cranberries
3/4 c each sunflower and pumpkin seeds, toasted
1 c unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted

Use the drop cookie method for this recipe, and preheat your oven to 350F.  Bake on ungreased baking pans for 11-14 minutes.  I baked on convection, so I had to monitor much more.

I’ve talked a lot about process, but this is my madness.  If you are highly organized in the kitchen, you will have many successes.  With the way I bake, and you can ask a couple of my girlfriends who have done this with me, it’s like clockwork.  Stations are set up, it’s a no-fail!

What ingredients would you use in a Kitchen Sink recipe?

 

 

 

Frozen Bananas

All week, I have been craving bananas, but I did not want to eat a banana on its own. I wanted to make a bread item, so made my tried ‘n true Banana Bread (I have the recipe on my Banana Nut Bread entry).

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This loaf has no nuts or seeds.

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This loaf has blueberries.

I must mention that I have never used frozen bananas for anything other than my green smoothies. Finally, I tried something new. I remember people telling me all the time “Oh yes, freezing bananas are perfectly fine!” I don’t like freezing a lot of things, been resistant, actually.

If you have not read my Banana Nut Bread entry, you will not know the history of this bread. I turned a five-ingredient recipe into an 18-ingredient one over a number of years. Some of you may think I’m crazy, but I love experimenting and texture, and measuring ingredients does not bother me.

My kids  have been asking me to make a bread with zero nuts and seeds. This is not easy for me, as I LOVE texture. I added one more banana and instead of vanilla yogurt, I used coconut yogurt. I also replaced one cup of A/P flour with rice flour. The result?  A lighter, delicate bread. I made one loaf with and one without blueberries. Both turned out beautifully.

Do you like texture – seeds and nuts – in your breads? What type of seed or nut combinations do you use?

 

 

Charmoula Chicken

This is the second dish I made in my crockpot.  And I have to say, it is one of my favourites.  I’ll tell you a funny story.  I was anti-crockpot for many, many years.  Never wanted one, never was curious about them, ever!

One Christmas, my BIL and SIL bought one for us.  I have since told them, it took me over a year to crack open the box and use it.  Now, I try to use it whenever I can, because when I have a full day of events, I NEED my crockpot!

Who knew I would one day proclaim, “I love my crockpot!” ???

Charmoula Chicken:

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Searing the chicken thighs

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Measuring the lentils and placing them into the crockpot

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Topping the lentils with the sautéed chicken, onions, and spices

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Finished product

I am going to share this recipe I found in my old Canadian Living recipe book.  I love the intensity of the flavours:  I like to serve it with a side of brown rice or orzo lightly tossed with oil and spices.

*** RECIPE ***

Charmoula is a Moroccan seasoning mixture of fresh herbs (coriander and parsley) and spices (paprika, cumin and cinnamon). Adding the herbs at the end gives the freshest, brightest flavour.
By The Canadian Living Test Kitchen
Source: Canadian Living Magazine: April 2005

Ingredients
1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
8 chicken thighs, skinned
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp (5 mL) paprika
1/2 tsp (2 mL) ground cumin
1/4 tsp (1 mL) each salt and pepper
pinch cinnamon
2 tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) chicken stock
2 tbsp (30 mL) minced fresh coriander or parsley
1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh parsley
2 tsp (10 mL) lemon juice

Preparation
In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; brown chicken all over. Transfer to plate.
Drain fat from pan; fry onion, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and cinnamon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle flour over onion mixture; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in stock and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits.

Return chicken and any juices to skillet; reduce heat, cover and simmer, turning chicken once, until juices run clear when chicken is pierced, about 20 minutes. Add coriander, parsley and lemon juice.

If you don’t like lentils, you can always substitute with a legume or bean that you do like.  I’m thinking chickpeas or navy beans.

What is your favourite legume/bean?

 

 

Toaster Strudels

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I was a teenager when I took my first bite of a pop tart.  The first time my dad bought them, I had them as a snack, not as a breakfast item.  My dad treated them like a baked cookie, clever! So, I had half of one.  The thought of sinking my teeth into this gem of a find was overwhelming, having huge expectations … I was in love, yes, with a folded over, iced with sprinkles cookie that you (re)bake in a toaster/oven!  I could not wait until my dad brought home another box.  Well, that second box he bought was unfortunately our last.  Looking back, I know my parents wanted the best for us, “you are what you eat”, right?

Huge thanks to my parents, as that carved a very good path for myself, as well as my family.  I sought out a pop tart recipe after many cravings and not succumbing to them by running to get a store-bought version.

I am going to share with you the recipe I got from the Smitten Kitchen website – www.smitten kitchen.com.  This version does use all-purpose flour, so if you are/have become wheat sensitive, you may have to limit your consumption.  I have another version which uses cassava flour, but if you live in Vancouver, you will understand why I didn’t run out to get this last night!  I am excited to try this version, as it is a much healthier option.  I promise to share my experiences when I make it.

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Here is the pastry portion of the smitten kitchen’s pop tart recipe:

Homemade Pop Tarts
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Pastry
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) milk

1 additional large egg (to brush on pastry)

You can find the remainder of the recipe at www.smittenkitchen.com or www.kingarthurflour.com.

Super simple with great results!

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Do not be afraid to pinch the edges – I did not do that on a couple here, and the jam filling oozed out the edges.

My daughter and I had so much fun making these.  Normally, first-time recipes, I only make one batch, but we had a good feeling about this one.  So happy we doubled it.  The kids got up a few minutes earlier to have a couple for breakfast, and they packed one for a snack as well.

I am not a connoisseur of toaster strudels, but my first choice would be homemade jam.

What are some of your favourite fillings?  And do you like your strudels frosted and topped with sprinkles?  Do share with us.

Strata

I first stared strata in the face at a hotel brunch, and said “What’s so special about that dish?”

That’s exactly it, nothing. It’s a casserole, or a mix of ingredients, that can be found in breakfast dishes or quiches. The main events are bread cubes, eggs, and cheese.

For years, I have seen this item on restaurant menus, and in recipe books and websites. No, no, no, I will not . . . finally, I decided to make them, in the form of muffins, for breakfast/brunch. I liken this version to a deconstructed omelette meets french bread. I have to say, to no surprise, I am not a fan.

Breakfast Strata Cups:

Dice up bread into cubes.  Grate sharp cheddar cheese, adding in diced onion/green onion and mix with seasonings of your choosing.  Divide evenly among greased muffin tins.

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I then beat together eggs and some whipping cream, with a dash of salt.  Then I gently pour over the filled cups.  Be careful not to fill too full, as it may pour over the side and make a mess of your oven.

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Here is a close-up look – I could have filled them with less bread cubes.  It wasn’t until after they were cooked that I realized I could have done with less.  More is not always better.

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They do look great.  I plated them two-by-two on a light bed of lettuce, then placed a dollop of ketchup on the side.  It made for a great display.  I apologize for not taking a picture of this, though.

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Will I make them again?

Yes, I would give it a second chance, as a casserole dish (an entree), served with salad and/or with a side of vegetables.  Because it’s made as a casserole and is easy to serve, it can be a great potluck item to share.  Hey, one can even bring this with them on a camping trip.  I would – so easy to transport, too.  A foil pan would be best.

How do you “strata” – breakfast or dinner?

 

 

Making Sushi at Home

I’ve been romanced by sushi for as long as I can remember. In fact, I believe I first tried sushi after frequenting sushi bars solely for raw oysters! Yes, raw oysters. My partner-in-crime and I could not wait until we were old enough to drink sake and enjoy raw oysters on the half shell!

I know, it sounds a bit comical, doesn’t it? A lot of our friends were busy getting fake ID’s to get into clubs and here we were, thinking we were sophisticated and “all that”, having sake n sushi with our raw oysters! I was not that one to rush growing up, but then again my outlook was a little different. I embraced everything that came my way … didn’t like some things, but learned how to deal with those situations gracefully.

I got bored of raw oysters after a while. It wasn’t easy, visit after visit, never ordering the beautiful assortment of sushi that seduced me each time. I started off with nigiri sushi – a piece of raw fish, typically, atop of a rice pod, sometimes with wasabi spread in-between. Then it was onto rolls, tempura, noodle and rice dishes.

I have tried a lot of Japanese cuisine but only care for sushi and the like. When one grows up with a mom who is an amazing representation of traditional Cantonese cuisine, any other Asian versions of noodle and rice, well … meh …uneventful. If someone cooks these dishes for me, I am all for it; otherwise, I will not be paying for something I do not enjoy eating.

I have always wanted to make my own sushi, so I set out on this adventure with my kids. One New Year’s Day, we went to Fujiya in Vancouver to get all our ingredients. Since that New Year’s Day, we have made sushi a few times more.

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Cucumber and Japanese fried pancake are cut into strips for easy rolling.

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Sushi mats are very inexpensive and are easy to use.

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Filling for Negitoro Roll

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Negitoro Roll, Salmon Maki, Tuna Maki

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Tuna Roll

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My little helpers

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We saw this neat contraption at the fair, and decided to buy a few.  It is very easy to use, and makes a great stocking stuffer item (hint, hint!)

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Cube-shaped sushi – wrapping a strip of seaweed around it makes the sushi look complete.

What I love best about making sushi is that the tools are as minimal as the creations themselves. Sushi are essentially minimalist creations of art.

What is your favourite sushi?