Monday, April 28, 2014

Weight Watchers Chicken in Spicy Peanut Sauce - Deal of the Day

When Weight Watchers Chicken in Spicy Peanut Sauce meal says spicy....they mean it! Whew, the first bite of this microwaved Deal of the Day has a kick, but in a good way. Although, I bet that is why this meal ended up in the bargain deli case at my local 99c only Store.

The spicy sauce is the focus - it's very sweet with a peanut butter flavor, which helps tackle the fiery peppers. I think it's too sugary, but I'm sensitive to overly sweetened food. The sauce is like gravy and there is plenty of it.

Red and green peppers and thick-sliced carrot taste fresh frozen, and not too overcooked, plus the pieces are larger than typical TV dinner fare.

The whole wheat noodles are fatter than cheap packaged ramen and have a good flavor; I think Weight Watchers is going for Japanese buckwheat soba or udon noodles. They don't quite reach that level, it's more like spaghetti, but I give them credit for trying.

 It's tricky microwaving pasta noodles, as they are so easy to overcook into mush. These noodles retain a little firmness - I would have preferred a bit more chewiness, but that could be due to the duration of my microwaving and steaming.

Real white meat chicken is used and you get a lot. The pieces are large and tender. White meat can be bland, but it absorbed the tasty flavor of the peanut sauce.

As with most frozen dinners, the ingredients/additives list is long, but the calorie count is a low 250. And at 9 ounces it's just enough for a light meal. (Click on the photo to read all about it.)

So, on The 99 Cent Chef's Cheap$kate Dining Scale of 1 to 9, 9 being best, this Deal of the Day has all the ingredients for a perfect 9 -- but the balance is not quite right. The sauce is just a little too spicy and sweet. So Weight Watchers Chicken in Spicy Peanut Sauce still gets a solid 7 !

It's a decent deal for 99.99 cents, and I will pick up more for my office lunches, if they aren't all snapped up the next time I hit my local 99c only Store.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mushroom Nigiri Sushi

Raw fish is not for everyone's taste buds, but my Mushroom Nigiri Sushi is built to please. Thick-sliced, and tender sauteed mushrooms make a tasty vegetarian nigiri sushi.

Sushi comes in many guises. Usually it's raw or cured like Mackerel; sometimes the fish is fully cooked, like Unagi (Japanese eel, topped with a sticky sweet sauce;) and even scrambled eggs formed into a yellow block, called Tamago, is presented balanced on ovals of sushi rice.

Sticky Sushi Rice is the unifying ingredient. A ping pong ball-sized mound of rice is squeezed and formed, then the sauteed mushroom slice(s) is placed on top. You can buy a sushi rice plastic mold to press the rice into, or just do it by hand. I recommend cooking a small pot of sushi rice and practice forming rice ovals. I was sloppy at first, but quickly got better at it. While not perfectly formed, the rice held together, even when dipped in soy sauce.

You can get my Sushi Rice video recipe by clicking here. And make sure to have a small bowl of water nearby when squeezing together sushi rice - you have to keep your hand moist so the rice doesn't stick to your fingers.

The basic ingredient list is short: sauteed mushroom, sushi rice, sliced green onion and a dipping sauce (optional.) Everyone knows how cheap white rice is. I get a pound and a half for about a dollar.

Mushrooms are much more expensive, but even that turns up frequently in my local 99c only Store. I like to use large portabella mushrooms, as they fit nicely on ovals of sushi rice. You could even use easy-to-get and cheaper white button mushrooms.

Portabella mushrooms take a little extra cleaning. Just brush off any dirt and remove the stem. And it's best to scrape out the black gills underneath the mushroom cap. I slice each mushroom in half. That seems like large pieces, but they shrink considerably while sauteing. For small white mushrooms all you need to do is clean and slice them in half, stem and all.

If you've been following my Sushi Video Series then add this mushroom recipe to any sushi video you've bookmarked. Tryout sauteed mushrooms instead of spicy tuna for a vegetarian hand roll; or stuff a regular roll with cooked mushrooms.

My bite-sized vegetarian Mushroom Nigiri Sushi is earthy and tasty, plus it's one meaty morsel -- enough to tantalize anyone's taste buds.

Ingredients (about 4 pieces)
  • Portabella mushrooms - 5 ounce package. Okay to use any type of mushrooms including easy-to-get white button.
  • 1 cup cooked Sushi Rice - my recipe is a click away, here.
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil - any favorite.
  • Chopped green onion for garnish - optional.

Dipping Sauce (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce - I like low sodium.
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or sake - optional
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil - or a favorite olive oil.
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar - or favorite sweetener. Okay to add more, to taste.
*You can also dip (or drizzle-on) the Mushroom Nigiri Sushi a favorite store-bought Teriyaki sauce.

Make Sushi Rice first, and for my direction, click here.

For portabella mushrooms brush off dirt. Break off the stem. Underneath the mushroom cap are black feathery gills that are best removed. I use a spoon and gently scrape them off. If you break a piece of the mushroom cap, don't worry as you can still use that as well.

Once the portabella caps are cleaned and gills removed, slice in half. Each slice will be cooked and placed on formed rolls of Sushi Rice.

To prepare regular button mushrooms, just clean off any loose dirt and slice each one in half, to get a flat surface.

Heat a frying pan to medium and add a tablespoon of cooking oil. Add the mushroom slices and allow to cook 3 to 5 minutes until soft. Don't stir or handle too much at the beginning to keep them from breaking apart, but again, if they do they can still be used.

While mushrooms are sauteing make the Dipping Sauce from the ingredients list above. Just mix the soy sauce, wine or sake, sesame oil and sugar together in a small bowl and set aside.

If you have a favorite teriyaki sauce you could use that instead.

Thinly slice green onion for an eatable garnish - discard stringy root and yellowing stem segments.

You can also start making Sushi Rice ovals for the cooked mushrooms. Click here to see my detailed directions.

Once the mushroom slices are cooked through and soft, remove from heat and set aside for final sushi assembling.

To assemble simply place a mushroom slice (or smaller button mushroom pieces) on a prepared Sushi Rice oval. Drizzle on a small amount of Dipping Sauce and top with a few thin slices of chopped green onion.

(For a slight spicy version put a dab of horseradish or wasabi under the mushroom slice or directly on the rice.)

You can treat Mushroom Sushi like regular sushi and skip my Dipping Sauce. Just hold sushi and dip it mushroom-side into into soy sauce (or drizzle some on top, if the mushrooms are chopped into smaller pieces.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spicy Tuna Roll - Sushi Video Series

An Oriental version of a burrito, a sushi roll is a meal wrapped in dried seaweed. Almost any seafood and veggies can make up the filling, along with sushi rice. In my latest Sushi Recipe Video, I'll show you how to make a Spicy Tuna Roll.

If you were here a few weeks ago, I showed you how to make a Spicy Tuna Hand Roll -- now on to something a little more tricky to do, a typical sushi roll.

Sushi rolls are sold everywhere now, even Trader Joe's markets (at least in Los Angeles.) You can easily get colorful refrigerated sliced sushi rolls ready to go. The sushi roll selections are small, but I've seen a variety, including: California Roll, Krab, Tuna, Veggie, Salmon, and Scallop Rolls. Although these pre-packaged rolls are a bit on the expensive side.

While I like the convenience, fresh is still best. And it's not that hard to make. You only have to cook sushi rice (my recipe is here.) The trickiest ingredient to find are sheets of dried seaweed, but even that is now being carried in larger chain grocery stores.

You can use a bamboo rolling mat, also carried at larger markets and Oriental grocery stores. They look like tiny bamboo window blinds; and they are super-cheap, just click here to see (or order) online. (Here is a video that shows you how to roll with a dry kitchen towel -- you could even roll sushi with a large one-gallon plastic Ziploc bag or a flexible placemat.) And with a little practice you could try rolling it by hand.

Fresh sushi grade fish is expense, but I have a generous neighbor who supplies me with fresh, locally caught tuna for free (to see my blog post and video about him, click here.) So I can do this Sushi Recipe Series and stay in my budget - because it pays to be friendly with your neighbors. (For a cheaper sushi roll it's okay to substitute tuna with cooked imitation crab, or krab.)

My recipe uses chopped tuna, mixed with mayo and hot sauce.You can add some thin-sliced veggies to stretch out the expensive raw tuna.)

And for all my pescetarian visitors,  this post is especially for you. (A pescetarian dines on veggies and fish, but no other meat.) Plus sliced Sushi Rolls make great party appetizers.You can make them with fish or keep it vegan to include everyone. If you are new to the sushi experience, click here to see a video about how to eat sushi.

Like my other sushi recipes it takes a few tries to get good at it. So you may want to make your first couple of sushi rolls with cheaper faux crab, or just sliced veggies (avocado is a luscious seafood substitution.) But once you get the hang of it, you'll be sushi rolling often. It's actually fun to do.

  Spicy Tuna Roll  - VIDEO
Play it here, video runs 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.

Spicy Tuna Ingredients (2-4 rolls)
  • About 6 ounces of tuna - skinless and no bones. I used fatty tuna for this recipe. Okay to substitute cheaper imitation crab, also known as krab.
  • 3 tablespoons mayo - I used light mayo. Add more or less to desired creaminess.
  • 1 teaspoon Sirracha Chilli Sauce - can also use a favorite hot sauce, or a pinch of ceyanne pepper. Add a little at a time to reach your own desired spicyness.

Other Ingredients
  • About 2 cups cooked sushi rice - for my recipe click here.
  • 2-4 sheets of dried seaweed - depending how much Spicy Tuna you use for each roll.
  • Favorite veggies - optional. Thinly chopped or sliced carrot, green onions, cucumber and avocado.

Directions for Spicy Tuna Roll
Prepare Sushi Rice according to my recipe, click here for details. The rice should be room temperature when making sushi.

Roughly chop raw tuna into small pieces.

Mix mayo and Sirracha Chilli Sauce (or favorite hot sauce) in a bowl. Mix chopped tuna and spicy mayo in a bowl. Cover and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

It's optional to add veggies. Thinly slice favorite veggies such as: carrot, green onion, cucumber and avocado. Slices can be long or short. You can use packaged shredded carrot, or peel and slice your own. For cucumbers slice in half lengthwise, spoon-out seeds and slice. (You can peel some of the cucumber.) For green onion slice off and discard roots and any yellowed stems, then thinly slice.

Now time to bring it all together.

Lay out sushi mat (dry kitchen towel, or large Ziploc plastic bag.) Surface should be dry, as dried seaweed is very absorbent. Place one whole dried sheet of seaweed on center of sushi mat.

Now dampen your hands (as Sushi Rice is sticky and water will make handling easier,) and spread out an even layer of cooked rice over the dried seaweed.

You will be rolling sushi, so leave a half inch edge empty of rice. You can cover all the seaweed, on right and left sides, with rice. As for how much rice you pile on, it's up to you. I just do enough until you can't see the seaweed underneath -- about a 1/4 inch deep.

When seaweed is covered with rice (except half an inch along the closest edge to you) gently press on the rice with damp fingers, so it's spread evenly across the seaweed.

Now you can pile on all the tasty veggie toppings you like, or just keep it simple with Spicy Tuna. Cover about a quarter to a third of the rice with Spicy Tuna. I spread it across the center area, end to end. You can use a lot of spicy tuna or just a little - it's up to you. Use less tuna if you are adding sliced veggies, too.

Now time to roll it up. You can rotate the mat away from you to roll, or keep it facing you. Roll the loaded seaweed with a medium pressure as you go, tightening the roll. Keep rolling and adding pressure until you reach the half inch of clear seaweed at the end.

Dampen your fingers and moisten the seaweed edge and just press together to seal.

Once the roll is sealed, wrap the roll one more time in the mat and give the roll even squeezes from end to end. This will help keep the roll from falling apart when you finally slice it.

Remove the mat and place the whole Spicy Tuna Roll on a cutting surface. Take a sharp knife and dampen the blade with water. I start in the middle and slice in half. Then I slice each half into 4 pieces, so I get 8 slices per roll, total. You can make thicker pieces if you like, to get 6 pieces total. The object is to make each piece edible in one bite.

You can eat the sushi as is, or pour a small plate of soy sauce and dip sushi pieces as you eat them.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Onigiri Salmon Salad - Japanese Rice Sandwich

These portable packages are loaded with any tasty morsel you can wrap in sticky rice. My Origiri filling is a favorite tuna, salmon, chicken or turkey salad. Origiri is a favorite of Japanese school lunches, and found in most markets there. And check out this fun photo-filled blog post with a lot of Onigiri colorful fun shapes and other tasty fillings.

You need to make Sushi Rice, but I have your back -- here is my video recipe:

After you've made Sushi Rice, it's time to make a quick and simple salad to fill the rice ball with. I like the ease and cheap prices of canned protein. For this recipe I made a Onigiri Salmon Salad, but you could use any cooked meat, like chicken or turkey (canned, fresh cooked, or store bought roasted bird.)

The Salmon Salad for my recipe is just mayo and a 5 ounce can (or pouch) of salmon. Just drain it and lightly mix with mayo. You roll a fist sized ball of sushi rice, press in a space to add the salad, and finally top it with more rice and seal it up.

That's the stripped-down version. Wrap it with a small square of dried seaweed to give it extra flavor, thus making it easier to handle. You can sprinkle on some sesame seeds, too.

I don't know if you've notice these packages of seaweed snacks lately, I get mine at the 99c only Store, and in different flavors too! They are similar to communion wafers, and they dissolve on your tongue like one. (Also like those paper sheets of breath mints - except tasting of the sea and salt.) The thin rectangles of dried seaweed are the perfect size for wrapping the finished Onigiri. Although crisp and brittle, the seaweed moistens and bends to adhere perfectly to the rice ball.

Normally you dampen your hands and form the rice ball. It's a bit messy -- so a cleaner way is tear off a sheet of plastic, wrap the rice and form a ball.

My Onigiri Salmon Salad makes great party appetizers -- just set out a tray and see how quick they go. So now that you've mastered making Sushi Rice (or at least have a handle on it) try out my latest Japanese fast food recipe.

Ingredients (about 6 rice balls)
  • 1 cup brown or white rice - use my Sushi Rice recipe. Click here for the recipe text with photos. For this recipe I used brown rice. (But white rice gets stickier, so it holds together better - maybe better to use white rice if you are doing this for the first time?)
  • Cooked salmon - I used a 5 ounce can drained (stored in water, not oil.) You can use fresh salmon (just saute it until done.) You can also use cheap canned tuna, or any favorite cooked fish. Okay to substitute with cooked chicken or turkey (canned or homemade.)
  • 1 tablespoon mayo - okay to use more, or less,  to taste.
  • Dried seaweed - optional. I used pre-cut (about 2 by 4 inch) dried seaweed snacks. Okay to use any size really, just cut them to size with scissors.

Cook and prepare Sushi Rice. Allow to cool and reach room temperature.

Drain one can of salmon. Place in a bowl and flake salmon into smaller pieces. Remove bones, if any. Add 1 tablespoon of mayo. Mix well.

For assembly, place a sheet of plastic wrap on a dry surface. Pile on about half a cup of cooked rice in the middle of plastic sheet.

Press into the middle of rice mound to make space for the salmon/mayo. Add about a tablespoon of salmon mixture.

Pick up the four corners of plastic to start forming a ball. Add just enough rice on top of salmon mixture to cover it. Now you can close up the rice ball with plastic wrap. Lightly roll and squeeze the ball. You can keep it round, flatten one side, or form a traditional triangle shape.

You can serve or eat the rice ball right out of the plastic wrap; or use a piece of dried seaweed and partially wrap the Onigiri. The piece of seaweed gives you a dry surface to hold, for easier eating.

Plastic wrapped Onigiri can be frozen or just stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
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