Saturday, April 17, 2021

California rolls, knock-off Hot Pockets, and what I'm watching

In my last post, I introduced the United Tastes virtual travel project that my daughter and I have started, and shared what we made for the four "A" states. Our alphabetical journey continued west from Arkansas to the great state of California, the Golden State

California is a state that is golden in many ways- it bears an outsize influence on the culture of the US and the world in general. There is so much to learn and admire about this state and its people. We read three books about different aspects of California history and life. The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock is an interesting slice of history and a tale of how a leader's vision helped to put laws in place to conserve some of our outstanding natural resources in the form of national parks. Levi Strauss Gets a Bright Idea: A Fairly Fabricated Story of a Pair of Pants by Tony Johnston is a funny tale of how denim jeans came into vogue in the days of the California gold rush. In First Day in Grapes Book by L. King Pérez, the author tells a story about a migrant child who goes to a new school every few months as his family travels from place to place to pick different types of produce in California.

California food presents us with a number of choices. There is the famous San Fransisco sourdough bread, which is enjoying a trendy moment at this time but is more of a commitment than I wanted to make. The ever popular ranch dressing and green goddess dressing were both invented in California. Other choices were California club sandwiches and mission burritos. But my daughter suggested California rolls and that's what we went with. 

California rolls are a type of sushi, non-traditional but highly popular. They are characterized by being rolled inside out, with rice on the outside and the seaweed sheet inside. Usually they contain crab or imitation crab, but we followed this recipe for a vegan California roll. The other Cali-special ingredient in this roll is avocado. 

California rolls in the foreground and "regular"
sushi rolls in the background

The first order of business was to go to the local Asian store and buy some sushi rice (grown in California!) and roasted nori (seaweed) sheets. I already had seasoned rice wine vinegar at home. To serve with the sushi, I also bought a small tub of sweet pink pickled ginger. 

The vegan "crab" mixture calls for chickpeas, cabbage, carrot, etc. with a dash of cashew paste for creaminess. As odd as it might sound, it tasted really great. 

I made a cup of sushi rice in the instant pot. Then we laid out the "crab" filling, and thin slices of cucumber and avocado. We had fun rolling the inside-out California rolls with the help of a bamboo sushi mat, although they turned out far from perfect in our inexpert hands. Still very tasty, though! For a change, we also made some "regular" rolls using the same ingredients. Funny enough, the rice-out rolls tasted better to me. With the leftover ingredients, I made some sushi bowls the following day, also good to eat and very easy to put together!

It was fun to try something new, and I was gratified that it turned out tasty at the first try. Now I have 5 pound of sushi rice and will have to make these frequently over the next few months. This is good timing, as sushi rolls are a refreshing and light choice during the summer months. 

* * *

From California, we flew to Colorado, the Centennial State. We read two fascinating books about the history of the region- Down the Colorado: John Wesley Powell, the One-Armed Explorer by Deborah Kogan Ray, and The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde by Caroline Arnold. We had the opportunity to visit Colorado for a cousin's wedding a few years ago, and it is such a spectacular place.

For Colorado we considered making a Denver omelet, which is a thick and sturdy American-style omelet (almost a frittata) with onions, peppers and ham. Another choice was to make a batch of trail mix, because I strongly associate Colorado with hiking, climbing and other outdoor adventures fueled by a baggie of trail mix. 

It turns out that Hot Pockets, the frozen microwaveable snacks, were invented by a pair of immigrant brothers in Denver, CO, in the 70s. I've never actually bought or tasted Hot Pockets but this factoid reminded me of the comedian Jim Gaffigan's bit on Hot Pockets, parodying their ridiculous ad jingle. We decided to make our own Hot Pockets for this state's food.

Hot Pockets! 

I found this knock-off recipe, which calls for a quick dough that is somewhat like pie crust. Normally, I would use puff pastry dough or something as a short-cut for pastries of this sort, but this dough came together in just a few minutes. I simply used a bowl, not a stand mixer. I stuck the dough in the fridge while I made the filling- mushrooms sautéed with some onions and garlic, with a bit of tomato sauce and Italian seasoning. 

When we were ready to make the Hot Pockets, I rolled out the dough, sliced it into 8 portions, added some filling + mozzarella cheese to each pastry sheet, then folded and crimped them. The resulting mushroom Hot Pockets were absolutely delicious! The crust was tasty and it would be perfect for samosas

* * *

My TV watching time is severely limited these days. I just go to bed as soon as the kids go to bed, and sometimes even before they go to bed! But here are a few good shows from recent months.

Looking around for some light reading, I checked out Tina Fey's memoir, Bossypants, a book that has been on my to-read list for many years. I love Tina Fey's sardonic brand of humor and her work on SNL, and this book was really fun to read. I particularly enjoyed the behind the scenes chatter about 30 Rock and have now started watching 30 Rock on Prime streaming. A great escapist sitcom.

During dinner every evening, we have been watching a couple of episodes of Jeopardy! on Netflix. My husband and I are both trivia buffs. Alex Trebek hosted this show for decades; he passed away a few months ago. I happened to find Trebek's memoirs The Answer Is . . .: Reflections on My Life in the new books section of the library (yes, the library is open again and it the biggest joy to be able to browse again) and it was a very quick and fun read. With little snippets and anecdotes, Trebek shares some moments from his life and from behind the scenes at Jeopardy!

Perhaps the most gripping show I watched recently is Challenger: The Final Flight, a four part documentary series on Netflix on the ill-fated space shuttle mission. The demands of managers and bureaucrats were prioritized over the concerns of engineers, with devastating results. 

Wherever in the world you are, I hope you are safe and well. Please share snippets of your life- what are you eating? What are you watching? 

17 comments:

  1. Sushi making is a skill I've developed this pandemic...so gratifying , fun and so budget friendly lol. Oh also huge fan of Tina Fey and 30 rock hahaha ...love liz lemonisms and the quirky charcters lol

    Look forward to checking out the challenger series

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    1. Janani- That's awesome. Sushi making does take practice. I have lots of sushi rice to practice with so hoping to hone my skills this summer!

      Liz Lemon has been cheering me up a lot these days; the episodes are short and fun.

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    2. Janani srinivasanApril 30, 2021 6:25 AM

      Btw tried the California rolls and they were delish! Since I go to great lenghts to avoid using two big implements lol in one session ( and plus don't have a food processer) I first wet chopped the cabbage and carrot in the vitamix , then drained it and made the cashew paste and then combined it all. Added some of the vegan chicken seasoning from trader Joe's and some red chilli powder for a bigger spice kick.

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    3. YAY! Glad you enjoyed this recipe. I love that you managed to streamline the prep as well.

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  2. Hello from Colorado :) I didn't know that Hot Pockets were invented here! Funny enough - I made one of your recipes today. I got 4 lb of poha from a friend's pantry clean-out and used some of it as an oat substitute in granola. It turned out really well.

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    1. Hello Dr. Colorado! How are things? Interesting that you used poha instead of oats in granola, I would never have thought of that. They must be the thin poha, which we used for "chivda" (a snack mix which is absolutely addictive). The thick poha is used for a cooked dish typically eaten for breakfast. Poha is good stuff whichever way you make it :)

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    2. It was actually the thick kind - I think that the thin kind probably would have burnt during baking. I didn't hydrate it in any way, just tossed it with the oats (I did hald and half) and syrup and oil. I'm going to make another batch this weekend!

      Things are good :) Dealing with our "usual" spring snow but hopefully that will pass soon.

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  3. oh gosh how I miss eating california rolls!
    India is a hot mess currently in every sense of the word - I have been so disappointed in the govt and most of the humans. I have been trying hard to focus on the good (which becomes so difficult sometimes) and do the things in my control. Baking a biweekly sourdough is one such thing. Along with spending time tinkering in my garden growning veggies. Cooking has been pretty basic managed by hubby and myself. I just baked a sheet of granola this morning to sort out our weekly breakfast. I started reading Obama's A promised land - So So good. Everyday I look forward to my work day getting over and grabbing the book and settling myself on the couch! Stay safe Nupur!

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    1. Neha- It is terrifying to read about (and hear from- from family and friends on texts) what's happening in India this week with the COVID surge. Utterly heartbreaking. I hope you stay safe. Sending much love.

      Yes, I totally get staying busy and keeping yourself occupied with things you can control. Baking, cooking, reading, gardening- those are all good for the soul.

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  4. Hi Nupur... glad to see your new post. Here in Boston, I have been cooking predominately food I grew up eating. Various bhajis, dals, rice preparations, parathas, polis, chutneys, koshimbirs, lonches. Grateful for everything I have. With the warmer days on the horizon, I am looking forward to my small container gardening.
    You stay well and love to the babies. 😊 I have been reading you way before Lila was born!

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    1. Kavs- your menu sounds absolutely wonderful. I hope you get nice weather very soon. We in the South have been seeing some beautiful Spring weather recently. Thank you for the love and for reading this blog for all these years :) Much love to you! By the way, I have several close friends in Boston and love visiting your city.

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  5. Lovely to see your States project blossoming so deliciously! Thank you for the Challenger recommendation. I started watching last night and could not stop until I finished all 4 episodes. I vividly remembered it when it happened, just a few months after I arrived in America. I relived the horror and sadness all over again.

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    1. Hi Kamini! Yes, the states project has been a nice welcome distraction/ learning experience/ bonding experience. My daughter is always eager to see which state is coming up next, and more importantly, what we are going to cook and eat.

      So you binge-watched Challenger? Yes, it was a riveting moment from history. I heard about "O rings failure" for years but this documentary finally explained what exactly O rings are and the engineering that goes into these space shuttles.

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  6. Hi Nupur,
    How are you and hope you and family are doing well.
    Your vegan crab mixture sounds very delish! The cashewnut paste , chickpeas, cabbage and carrot sounds very interesting! Did you grind them all up or just blended it with the cashew paste?

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    1. Hi there! I hope you are doing well too!

      I soaked and ground some cashews to a thick paste in the blender. Then in a food processor, I pulsed shredded carrots and cabbage (and the other ingredients in the linked recipe on the One Ingredient Chef blog) and then once they were minced, pulsed again with the cashew paste. This made the mixture creamy but with some crunch and texture. It was nice!!

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  7. Great to read more of your culinary travels through the USA. Victoria like California is a gold rush state - so we have many vestiges of the riches, especially in some buildings. We have lots of (non-traditional) sushi too. I am going to check out that mock crab filling which sounds great! In our house I am pleased Sylvia has embraced avocado in sushi.

    I have heard of hot pockets but don't know if they are easy to find here as I don't think I have seen them.

    Tina Fey is such a star - I watched quite a bit of 30 rock years ago but am revisiting on streaming and falling in love with liz lemon all over again. I must hunt out the bio for some 30 rock back stories.

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    1. Johanna- You will love the mock crab filling. I know I will be making sushi quite a bit this summer- and of course, sushi bowls are even less work to assemble.

      Tina Fey identified her favorite 30 Rock jokes in the book and that was so much fun to read. This book came at a time when I needed some levity in life!

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