Sushi rolls

Sushi has long been one of my favourite snacks, I love love love fresh tuna or salmon sashimi (slices of beautiful fresh raw fish – yes, RAW!) and had never tried teriyaki chicken, tinned tuna mayonnaise or smoked salmon versions until I moved to New Zealand a decade ago. I still can’t quite get my head around the tinned tuna mayo ones and think my palate would screech in disdain if I tried to eat one, but for kiddies, this is a much better option than anything raw.

My favourite restaurant in Jo’burg was in Sandton City (I can’t recall the name now) where you could watch the chefs preparing their beautiful Japanese dishes where as much effort went into creating something visibly pleasing as flavoursome. It’s awesome to watch someone move a blade that quickly and shape what is essentially a dead fish (sorry for the faint-hearted among us) into delectable delicious creations – a true artform, a tantric dance with a super sharp blade where the dancer carefully moves through the steps in a very composed yet satisfying state.

Tempura battered prawns was another favourite, but what actually got me hooked on sushi was the california roll. Now for those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting Japan, you probably didn’t see a california roll anywhere in sight, but as with many things, this is an Americanised version of the original sushi dishes brought about in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s to introduce Americans to this ethnic food, brought to America by many sushi chefs entering the US via California at that time.

The sweetness of the rice, combined with the salty soy sauce, the tangy pickled ginger, temporary burn of the wasabi, freshness of the vegetable ingredients and soft pure texture and melt-in-your mouth goodness of the fish is always enticing, not to mention the vibrant colours of any sushi dish.

But, if you aren’t into munching on raw fishy parcels, there are gazillions of other versions to try. I made Smoked Salmon california rolls for a light Saturday lunch the other day, my husband and I both being converts of many years, but my young one eyeing the meal suspiciously. After a little enticement, bordering on bribery, he munched his first sushi mouthful and then proceeded to compete with my husband to finish what was on the tray. Needless to say I was very pleased with the subsequent requests for more of these little rolls. Preparing sushi is not as difficult as it might look, in fact it is actually very simple and quite relaxing. It just takes a bit of practice to make sure the rice layer isn’t too thick and that you roll the roll evenly, giving it a gentle squeeze along the length of the roll each time you roll it further.

Smoked Salmon California Rolls

Raw salmon is much brighter than smoked salmon, so the colour isn’t too bright in this pic, but it tastes just as nice. It’s also a great way to get little people into the kitchen and interested in cooking as they get to use their hands and can choose from any number of filling options.

4 rolls of nori (black or dark green sushi seaweed squares/rectangles)
1 cup uncooked rice (preferably short-grain white sushi rice)
1 – 2 cups cold water (probably best to just cook the rice using the instructions on the packet)
2 Tbsp sugar (I like castor sugar as it is a fine grain)
5 Tbsp rice vinegar (not essential, but does have a distinct flavour – if you don’t have this, normal vinegar is a good substitute but I wouldn’t use a Balsamic type vinegar)
Fillings of your choice could include:
avocado slices
cucumber, sliced lengthwise
100 g smoked salmon

Other less “traditional” filling options might include:
thinly sliced carrots, canned tuna, cream cheese, ham, pickled gherkin, smoked or teriyaki chicken, tofu, tinned pineapple chunks, etc.

soy sauce
pickled ginger
and a bamboo sushi mat for rolling the sushi (normally pretty close to the nori sheets in any supermarket)

  1. Cook rice according to packet directions, using the water listed above. Remove from heat and cool.
  2. Meanwhile, chop the fillings of your choice into chunks or strips.
  3. Mix the sugar and vinegar and combine it with the cooled rice, stirring to incorporate evenly.  This is what gives it the flavour and stickiness.
  4. On the sushi bamboo mat, spread out 1 sheet of nori.
  5. Cover it as thinly as you can with the rice mixture. Leave an uncovered 2cm strip of nori along the top edge (to seal the roll). A tip for spreading the rice is to make sure your hands are wet and gently pat the rice into place. If your hands become too sticky, the rice will stick to you instead of the nori and it becomes quite a messy task – fun, but messy.
  6. In the centre of the nori, lay out horizontal lines of your filling. Be careful not to overload with too much filling as you may have trouble rolling it up.
  7. Now you need a little concentration: Grip the mat firmly in both hands and roll up the sushi as tightly as you can. The mat will help you apply even pressure along the roll but do give a gentle squeeze along the length as you don’t want a loose roll that falls apart when you cut it.
  8. Be careful not to roll the mat up into the sushi roll.
  9. Wet the rice-free strip of nori using a little water on your fingertip and spread it along, re-dipping your finger if necessary. This will ‘glue’ the nori pieces together.
  10. Using a very sharp knife (this is the part for the parents please!), carefully slice the sushi into 2 cm slices. Another clue is to wet the knife blade if necessary so it doesn’t stick to the rice and pull the roll out of shape.
  11. Lay the pieces out neatly on a beautiful platter and repeat steps 4 – 10. Congrats, you’re done!
  12. Pour a little soy sauce into a small bowl, garnish your platter with a bit of pickled ginger and a teeny dollop of wasabi.

Keep practicing, you’ll get better with every roll and be ridiculously pleased with yourself 🙂


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Roast Chicken and Quinoa Salad

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wa, is probably not a staple in most households just yet, but vegetarians have been touting it’s benefits for years. For those embracing the principles of a Low-GI diet (and by this I don’t mean a weight loss plan, just a healthy way of eating), you will understand what I mean when I say that quinoa is a low-GI food. Simply put, low-GI food takes longer to digest, so you feel full for longer.

One of my favourite recipe books is the Easy GI Diet by Helen Foster. She explains the secret of glucose and the glycaemic index like this: The body’s preferred fuel is a sugar called glucose, which it makes from starches and sugars (carbohydrates) found in the food that we eat. Glucose is made in the liver after the food has been digested in the stomach.  The converted glucose is then sent to the body’s cells where it is either burned immediately as we run, walk or even think, or stored in the muscles and fatty resources for later use. This happens with just about every food that contains carbohydrates, whether it is a plate of spinach or a plate of doughnuts. What differs is exactly how fast this reaction happens – and in very simple terms the glycaemic index is a measure of that speed. Foods with a high glycaemic index (known as high-GI foods) are converted rapidly to glucose, while foods with a low glycaemic index (low-GI foods) are converted more slowly.

Now back to this delicious salad. Quinoa has a very distinct flavour and nutty texture. It can be bitter because of the outer coating of the seeds, but the best way to remove this “bitterness”, which really can spoil your dish (I know from experience), is to rinse it thoroughly in a wire mesh sieve or strainer held under cold running water prior to cooking. Also check through it carefully as occasionally there may be small stone-like beads or grit left from the milling process. I found this great site that goes into a lot more detail about quinoa, it’s uses, history, classification, preparation, cooking, etc. Check it out and note that the “Tips for preparing and cooking” section is about halfway down the page:

Roast Chicken and Quinoa Salad

1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups washed and par cooked broccoli florets
1 – 2 cups cooked shredded chicken (left over roast works well)
½ cup carrots, julienne
½ cup chopped kalamata olives (adds quite an intense flavour so up to you to include or leave out)
1 sliced red or orange capsicum (pepper) (Roasted peppers can also be used – adds a sweeter flavour)
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
½ cup crumbled feta (I like a reduced salt Goat’s Feta)

For the dressing: Orange or Lemon, they’re both delicious
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ a lemon or 1 orange
zest (more of the orange, less of the lemon depending on which one you’re making)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Prepare the quinoa and fluff up with a fork once cooked.
  2. Shred the leftover chicken and par cook the broccoli.
  3. Wash, peel and finely slice the carrots (can be grated but I find you lose some of the texture)
  4. Chop the olives and slice the capsicum.
  5. Grate the parmesan.
  6. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, adding the feta last.
  7. Prepare the dressing ingredients by combining in a bottle (with a lid!) and giving a good shake or whisk together. Pour over the salad and mix gently.
  8. This salad can be served at room temperature or prepared ahead of time and left in the fridge to cool.

A very versatile, colourful, filling and tasty meal.


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Crumbed Chicken Burgers with Lemon Mayo

I’m a real fan of the good ol’ Burger, but it has to be a good one.  I can’t stand sloppy, soggy, over-filled or measley burgers and often, the prices being charged or the image prompting the purchase doesn’t quite match the product that arrives on your plate. I also understand the whole “value-for-money” ideal, but to me, that doesn’t mean I want as much as humanly possible balanced on my plate filling every square inch. To be honest, I’m really put off by an over-full plate. OK, so to put it quite plainly and if I have to admit it myself, I am FUSSY about my burgers.

To that end, I have to let you know that it has become apparent that I prefer my own home-made burgers by far.  My family also make very satisfied noises to that effect when I bail out of cooking a “real meal” and we decide on “home-made take-out”. I just haven’t perfected the wedges. They seem to be my nemesis so I will continue my quest for wedges/chips (and I don’t mean a packet of store bought oven ones…) but in the meantime, that isn’t putting me off my burgers.

Last night I decided on Chicken burgers (we enjoyed the beef ones a couple of weeks ago and I will share these another time). I always prefer using deboned and skinless thighs. The meat is darker, yes, but the flavour is far more intense than the ever popular breast.  I often find breasts tough and dry, but that could just be me. I like to crumb the flattened thighs to add another level of flavour and crunch, but grilled thighs are just as good.

Crumbed Chicken Burger

chicken thighs, 1 per burger
bread crumbs (my favourite: Panko…again)
1 or 2 eggs, depends on how many burgers you’re  making
olive oil
fresh bread rolls
lettuce, washed and dried
red onion, thinly sliced
cheese of choice (I used Gruyere, strong but perfect for these burgers! For kids I’d use something milder)
tomatoes, washed and sliced
lemon rind and juice

  1. Preheat the oven to about 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  2. Trim fat from thigh meat and place thighs into a plastic bag or between two pieces of parchment paper. Using a heavy rolling pin, bash or roll them until they are fairly flat but not too thin.
  3. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Spread the bread crumbs onto a plate. Pat the chicken dry using paper towels, then dip into the egg and smother in the bread crumbs. I like to lay them flat on a baking try or large plate and then leave them in the fridge for about a half an hour.
  4. Prepare the burger buns by adding a layer of lettuce, red onion and tomato slices.
  5. Grate a little of the lemon rind, being careful not to take the white pith as this is very bitter. Add this, along with the juice of the lemon to a tablespoon or two of your favourite mayonnaise (home-made is always good but doesn’t last as long as store bought). Again, quantities will be determined by the number of burgers you’re making, but you want the lemon flavour to sing through the mayonnaise without being too overpowering.
  6. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the crumbed thighs for about 8 minutes a side until the meat is cooked but still succulent and juicy (juices must be clear, not pink). The crumbs should be a beautiful golden colour. Depending on the size of your pan, fry 2 – 3 thighs at a time, don’t overfill the pan or the oil will cool and the food will stew instead of fry.
  7. Place the cooked “patties” onto the prepared baking try and cover with a couple of slices of your preferred cheese. Melt this under the grill for a few minutes – do this altogether once all “patties” have been cooked in the pan. Don’t leave it too long, watch it carefully until the cheese just begins to spread and bubble.
  8. Now build your burgers, finishing off with a generous dollop of the lemon mayonnaise.


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Strawberries dipped in Chocolate

This is not your average post for a person who enjoys baking and cooking, but strawberries are finally in season and hitting the shelves in sufficient quantities that the price was down to $1.99 a punnet today – so I helped myself to two punnets and couldn’t resist!

On my way to work I drive through the countryside and have been eagerly watching the strawberry fields I pass as the plants bulk up and the beautiful berries have changed colour.  Sadly, these particular strawberries are grown for export so I haven’t been able to stop and indulge on the side of the road, but the ones I purchased today are locally grown, about an hour north of our home, in a lush stretch of coastline called Omaha.

For the next few months we get to enjoy them in many dishes, strawberries and cream, home made strawberry jam, strawberry cheesecake and one of my favourites: a Smoked Chicken and Strawberry Salad with Balsamic dressing which I will share with you another day, but today’s post is to share a simple yet fun way of making afternoon tea healthy and delicious…of course chocolate is healthy…in moderation.

My son was very pleased and promptly ate most of my portion too – ah sons! What would we do without them.

Chocolate Strawberries

strawberries, as many as you can enjoy
good quality chocolate of choice

  1. Wash and dry the strawberries well – note that strawberries are like mushrooms.  It’s not a good idea to submerge them in water as they tend to absorb the liquid and become squishy. I prefer to hold them under running water and gently wipe them down, or you can simply wipe them with a wet cloth if you prefer. They must be dry before you dip them in the chocolate though.
  2. No measuring of chocolate necessary, just guess as it is so easy you can always do more if you run out.
  3. Break up the chocolate into similar sized pieces or use buttons or drops. Place them into a microwave proof bowl that is completely dry – if there is any trace of water, the chocolate will seize and be useless.
  4. Melt the chocolate in the microwave on medium heat in 40 second bursts so you don’t overdo it, stirring each time you stop, or, if your microwave has a “Melt Chocolate” setting, use that, but it still pays to check it so it doesn’t seize. If you find a few chocolate pieces are still fairly chunky, remove the bowl from the microwave and stir gently to disperse the heat throughout the bowl. This should melt the remaining pieces – you don’t want to overdo it. If destroyed, the chocolate has to go in the bin – it cannot be saved and is a terrible waste.
  5. Now dip the strawberries into the bowl, or use a spoon to drizzle it over the fruit. Lay the strawberries out onto a piece of baking paper (parchment) to allow the chocolate to cool and set or gobble them up while the chocolate is still warm and gooey.


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Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes with Chocolate Sour Cream Icing

Last weekend we went away to explore parts of this beautiful country that we haven’t seen before. Our neighbour’s little boy (not so little anymore) looked after the house and our kitty children so in order to thank him, I baked him these gorgeously delicious moist chocolate cupcakes.  They are definitely my favourite chocolate cupcakes. Sometimes I find chocolate cupcakes can taste very bland – they’re just a neutral flavour that look chocolate. But not so with these – they are heavenly and stay moist for days. Of course the icing you smother then in makes a difference too, but these work well with Ganache, Buttercream or the Chocolate Sour Cream version I chose.

I’ve also made this as one enormous cupcake cake previously, just adjust the time accordingly. They are quite rich but no-one’s complaining. If you find a normal muffin-size cupcake is a bit too big, try making mini cupcakes instead. I find these work well, especially for little hands or if you may feel guilty helping yourself to one large one. The recipe states it makes about 20, but honestly, I tend to make a selection of small and large ones so I just keep going until the batter is all used up.  Don’t be surprised at how runny the batter is – it is like a molten river of chocolate so using a decent sized scoop (my ice cream scoop works well) to fill the cupcake cases is better than trying to pour it in.

Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

250 g butter
50 g good quality cocoa
250 ml water
240 g flour
1 ml salt
400 g caster sugar
125 ml buttermilk
5 ml baking soda
2 extra large eggs
5 ml vanilla extract

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line your cupcake/muffin/cake tin(s).
  2. Melt the butter with the water and cocoa in the microwave at a medium heat for approximately 5 minutes.  Stir to blend and smooth the chocolate.
  3. Sift the flour, salt and sugar together. Pour the cocoa mixture into the flour mixture and add the buttermilk, eggs, baking soda and vanilla.
  4. Pour/Scoop the mixture into the cases and bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Although my standard cupcake/muffin size ones were done after 17 minutes and the mini cupcake ones done after 13 minutes. Just check so you don’t overcook them.
  5. If you want to remove the paper cases before serving them to show their dark chocolatiness in all it’s glory, bake them one day ahead or they will disintegrate. They literally melt in your mouth.

Chocolate Sour Cream Icing
75 g unsalted butter
175 g best quality dark chocolate (I used milk chocolate as these were for youngsters)
300 g icing sugar
1 Tbsp golden syrup
125 ml sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

  1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water – take care that the bowl fits over the pan opening tightly as you don’t want steam or water droplets escaping which could damage the chocolate or burn you! The simmering water should NOT touch the bottom of the bowl at all or the chocolate will seize. When melted, combine gently and set aside to cool a bit – it doesn’t need to be cold, just not too warm.
  2. Sieve the icing sugar into a separate bowl.
  3. Add the golden syrup to the cooled chocolate mixture, followed by the sour cream (room temperature please) and vanilla extract. Combine well, then whisk in the icing sugar.
  4. You may want to add a little boiling water – a LITTLE water please – until you reach the desired consistency. Once it’s in it’s devilishly hard to get it back out again.
  5. Now lather it all over the cupcakes and don’t feel guilty at all 🙂

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