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Easy Sushi for Anyone, Anytime (For Real)

August 6th, 2014

Sweet dreams are made of these. Days like these. Ok, so imagine you are doing what you love best, {insert here} with your best friend {insert here} and you are both making a living, doing your separate dream jobs, together. FOR REAL. I’m here to share this dream with you all. This isn’t a bragging thing. This is a my-heart-soars-and-we-have-to-make-this-stay-this-way sort of thing. Today’s fun all started with the idea to use my frozen brown rice as the base for my sushi rice.  BUT first let’s go back in time……

This is my college roommate, Makiko, teaching me how to make my first sushi nearly 20 years ago (really? I mean, really?). She imparted the importance of making it “everyday” sushi, using ingredients like thin sliced egg, black forest ham and canned tuna fish with mayonnaise. I was so surprised at how she grabbed up whatever was in the fridge, sliced it up and rolled it. She showed me that sushi is something that can be made everyday if you think differently about the entire thing. Bring it down a notch. Get the rice right and then roll away. It was a total revelation! I’ve had countless sushi parties since that first day. NONE of the sushi I’ve made is remotely close to restaurant sushi, the kind that chefs study for years and years simply to get the rice right. I make home-style sushi. And today I took it to a whole new level of ease by using frozen brown rice.

Now, I know that using frozen rice sounds like an abomination. It’s even weird to me, a frozen whole grain spaz. But why haven’t I done this before now? Why? Because sushi is one of those things that sits on a pedestal in the mind. It’s unnatural to even imagine sushi short cuts.  Well I’m here to show you how to crack the super-simple-sushi-short-cut-code.  Say that 3 times fast.

Start by throwing a couple of bags of frozen brown rice  in a large saucepan with about a 1/4 cup of water. Throw a lid on it and let it come to room temperature on low, stirring every while. Leave it alone really, it’ll do it’s thing. Then, chop up whatever you have in your fridge into “rollable” form. See? You’ve got some of this laying around.

Now you’ll probably have to run to the store for some nori (seaweed) and rice vinegar but it’s everywhere now, even big supermarkets, but most certainly any natural foods store. Now got to my recipe for the rice mixture here (rice vinegar, mirin or sake, salt and sugar) and get your rice geared up and ready to roll. Read through a few suggestions. It’s that easy, seriously.

Lay out a piece of nori and with wet hands put a ball of seasoned rice in the middle and spread all over the nori a thin layer, leaving about 1/2 inch empty on one end. Now place whatever you want in that roll on the opposite end and using your thumbs to roll and other digits to hold filling in place, bring nori up and around the filling, sealing the roll with the end that has no rice on it. See!

A sushi mat is very helpful to make it uniform and pretty, but not totally necessary. But get one, it’s fun and will remind you to roll more sushi in your life when you see it in your kitchen-ware-jumble drawer. So happy rolling super easy sushi!

It turned out surprisingly good. As you can see, Dawndra was snapping photos and taste-testing with me the whole time. We may or may not have sampled the saki used in the rice. We spent an afternoon doing what each of us loves best; creating food and taking beautiful photos while laughing our heads off. The boys waited in the wings for samples and totally loved it. For real. No super-imposing, they ate the sushi!

Well, two out of three is good, right?

In the end, it was a day so very well spent. Dawndra’s photography business is booming. Her specialty is portraiture and art. She’s one of those rare artists where you can stare and stare at her work, wondering what in the world did it take to make this?! How?! And the same piece never gets old. She has art from years ago I’ve seen dozens of times and still marvel at it’s beauty and mystery. You really should check her work out here.

My business is growing rapidly as well. Just this week we made real progress on a QFC account (cross your fingers!). Our package refresh is all finished and in stores. Every day we work away at building a brand and spreading easy whole grains across the country. Every day Dawndra takes beautiful photos and is increasingly getting amazing jobs and contracts. Together we document great, easy food. She also happens to own a little bit of my company, which thrills me. Us all tangled up trying to make our own way, our own path. Sisters in arms for 20 years and surely 50 more. Hot dang life is good.

Summertime Roasting

July 28th, 2014

It’s sweet, sweet corn season. I rarely eat corn unless it’s fresh off the cob this time of year. So, today I had a big ol’ bag of Serrano chilies, a couple ears of sweet yellow happiness and enough wheat berry to kill a vegan. The end result made Bill ask for seconds, which is quite the compliment coming from the man who’s standard reply to me inquiring how he likes a dish is, “pretty good”.  He is, after all, a born and raised New Orleanian. Anyhow, this recipe was so simple and turned out so dang good that I had to write about it.

First, turn oven to broil and place rack on top spot. Then place 2-3 ears of freshly shucked (I love that word) corn and as many Serranos as you can stand on a cookie sheet. Place in oven on that top spot. No seasoning, just pure veggies being roasted. See?

Broil for 4 minutes turning everything and then broiling another 4. Remove the chilies carefully and turn the corn one more time and broil for another 4. This is what it should look like when out…

Ok now shave the corn with a knife holding it upright. Then slice up the Serranos into rounds.

In the meantime, your wheat berry should be just thawing in a bowl so that it’s room temperature or slightly chilled. This dish is best room temp. Next, chop up a big ol’ handful of parsley or cilantro. Toss all ingredients in a bowl and squirt with a generous amount of fresh lime (about 3 limes) and a good dashing of high quality, course sea salt. I’m telling you, fresh lime and good salt will rock your culinary world baby. This is the end result. The heat of the chilies varies so drastically that it is best to carefully taste test them.

This might be my favorite wheat berry dish of all time. So simple and the flavors just burst and compliment each other so well. Major hit at a bbq if you were to bring this finished with a nice cotija. Oh, not to mention this dish would take 2 hours to make if you had to cook and chill the wheat berry. Seriously, I know I’m biased, but having wheat berry in the freezer is so awesome.

Quinoa Custard W/ Lime & Orange

April 11th, 2013

p>I’d completely intended on writing about all kinds of serious things today like VegFest, Shark Tank, how fast our business is growing and the excitement/anxiety that ensues from such miracles. Alas, I’ve decided to talk about dessert. Much more fun and much less deep. Phew! As you can see from the title of this blog, it’s going to be delicious and exotic. Oh, and freakishly easy. Hooray!

So first take 4 egg yolks and beat them with the 3 teaspoons each of grated lime and orange zest. Whisk in 1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk and 1/2 cup fresh lime juice. Add 1 cup of cooked and cooled (much easier if you’ve got a bag of our grains in your freezer) quinoa and stir. This is the cool part: the lime juice essentially “cooks” the egg yolks, and once you let it sit for 30 minutes (stirring once or twice in there) it sets up all by itself!

At this point you can put it in little cups like pudding and top it with whipped cream. However, if you don’t like the idea of the yolks uncooked, spoon the custard into individual ramekins, or a pie dish. Make sure they are buttered. Bake the custard at 325 for 15-20 minutes until it’s jiggly but not sloshy.

I let mine sit for 10 minutes then unmolded them for a pretty presentation. Homemade whipped cream is a must. Maybe even some orange zest in the whipped cream? Next time I’m definitely going to put some finely diced jalepenos in this custard.  Sweet, spicy, creamy quinoa delightfulness. I’m really pretty excited about this recipe and the directions it could go. Check out the picture. Then make some. Then eat it all. Or share it and be considered a dessert genius.

Under Pressure Enchilada Success on a Cookbook Horizon

February 4th, 2013

As absurd as it sounds, I’ve decided to dive into creating a cookbook with my dearest friend and food photographer, Dawndra. Which means when she’s on her way with her camera, I need to be ready to deliver the recipe goods, for real. This means dangerously fast food chopping, frantic grain flinging, sauce explosions and a mess that looks like the Running of the Bulls took place right here in my tiny city kitchen. Never mind the three small knee-breakers that are suddenly and inexplicably hungry/tired/fighting/injured/screaming-like-their-hair-is-on-fire. Sound familiar to anyone? You get the picture.

Anyhow, I’ve wanted to create a quinoa enchilada for some time. The problem is the excruciating amount of time it takes to make a homemade sauce. Necessity being the mother of invention, I was forced to crack the code on a super delicious, totally cheater, half-homemade version of a verde sauce to go over my Quinoa Goat Cheese Enchiladas Verde. So totally tasty and simple anyone can make it and everyone will RAVE over it.

Start with a 15 oz can of any verde (green) enchilada sauce from the supermarket. Then add to it a cup of finely chopped cilantro, 3 cloves finely chopped garlic, 1 finely chopped serrano chili and 1 finely chopped tomatillo. Bring to a simmer and it’s done. For real, so insanely good and a beautiful, vibrant green color.

While the sauce heats, mash in a bowl with a fork 2 cups quinoa, 2 chopped roma tomatoes (or 1 large), 6 ounces goat cheese, 4 ounces queso fresca and half cup chopped cilantro. Squirt the whole thing with some lime then salt and pepper a bit. Roll this filling into about 6 medium sized tortillas. See? Super easy.

Now place your rolls in a baking pan and bake at 400 for about 10 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully place 2 hot enchiladas each on 3 serving plates. Top each with 1/2 cup or so of verde sauce, then sprinkle with a grated cheese blend of your choice (like that Mexican blend you can buy already grated). Avocado is nice here, too. Serve with a side of brown rice and some black beans, both sprinkled with queso fresca and chili flakes and you’ve got gourmet enchiladas really quick-like. Taaa-Daaa!

Will they make you this handsome?


Will they make you this happy?

Maybe. Give them a try and give me some advice on creating a proper cookbook while you are at it.  A nice sangria recipe would be helpful too. Now get to work! Please, oh pretty please, with avocado and habanero sauce on top….

The Nicest Surprises….

January 9th, 2013

p>Christmas vacation this year changed me. For good. Not the actual vacation, but the act of taking a vacation and it having the intended effect of chilling me out. I now know that vacations are real. A thing worthy of precious time and money. Looking back BV (before vacation) I realize I was on the brink of losing my grain-addled mind. I guess working 16 hr. days 6 days a week isn’t good for you?  Who knew! I began hallucinating that these three guys were trying to kill me. Wait, maybe….

At any rate, nearly two glorious weeks of sun-filled New Orleans replete with Saints games, French Quarter trips, po-boys and daiquiri’s has made me vow never to go a year and a half without vacation again. I am home now and feel unstoppable! I’m picking up serving shifts, creating a full demo schedule for February and March, developing recipes like they’re going out of style. I’ve even got a presentation (to Kroger) this week and I’m not even nervous. (that’s a HUGE lie) Aaaand I’m going to burn out if I don’t chill out. As you can tell.

Now to my point! Geesh. So I look at my email after vacation and I have all this feedback from consumers. Actual Consumers. Of our product. It still totally blows my mind that we have product, on shelves, and people buy it. And eat it. AND love it. How did all this happen? Why am I surprised? I mean, this is how it was all planned. I’m not self-deprecating or self-loathing or being plain negative when I say I’m surprised… I just am. So here’s an excerpt from one email:

Hi there,
I picked up a bag of the wheatberries and made an excellent pilaf last night.  Everyone loved it and the texture of the wheat was most excellent.
I served this with some nice fresh fish with a caper salsa verde and my BF raved and said he wants to eat this every week. A nice change-up from rice.
I thank you for a most wonderful product.  I’ll be purchasing more!

This is the sort of thing that inspires me to keep pitching and selling and demoing and working and developing. Thank you to everyone who has given me a big shot in the arm by reading your enjoyment of our product. It means the world to me. It keeps me going. It makes me feel like this….

May mid-winter vacation grace you all, every year, with daiquiri’s and po-boys!

*All photos, when they are amazing,  done by the beautiful and talented Dawndra Budd*

Popcorn Fixes Everything…(at least today)

November 1st, 2012

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p>Sometimes there is nothing to be done about the screaming at my house.  Nothing.  There are days where few moments are filled with all concerned parties satisfied with their lot in life. Tis part of “The Deal” you get when deciding to fill a home with the joys of sweet, sweet babes.

When arriving at the end of my rope, I will sometimes pull out the old Whirley Pop (thank you Dawndra!) and pretend there aren’t three hilariously short humans making very loud noises at my feet.  By the time I fill bowls with salty, buttery popcorn the little rascals are running to assume the usual position for popcorn; the small blue couch in the living room.  I don’t know why they want to sit  there because there is no t.v. or table.  They just do and I don’t care.  Because all I can hear is the nice crunch of whole grain popcorn between their tiny chiclet teeth.  New Yorker for 10 minutes anyone?  Yes please.  Grab me a cup of coffee while you’re at it will ya.

To the Anonymous Customer Who Dropped a Gift Card at the Restaurant….

September 8th, 2012

p>This Blog’s For You! What a very nice surprise to go to work at 5:00pm, dog tired from the day, only to be surprised with a gift card to Trader Joe’s from a customer who just wanted to congratulate us. It was a much needed shot in the arm and as sweet as pie.  It’s gestures like these that make humanity feel all warm and fuzzy. That’s why this recipe, quinoa lime custard, was made with you in mind. Thank you!

This is sooo easy, and looks fancy, but it’s not. Take 4 egg yolks and beat them with the 3 teaspoons of grated lime zest. Whisk in 1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk and 1/2 cup fresh lime juice. Add 1 cup of cooked quinoa and stir. This is the cool part: the lime juice essentially “cooks” the egg yolks (like egg ceviche??), and once you let it sit for 30 minutes (stirring once or twice in there) it sets up all by itself!

At this point you can put it in little cups like pudding and top it with whipped cream. However, if you don’t like the idea of the yolks uncooked, spoon the custard into individual ramekins, or a pie dish. Make sure they are buttered. Bake the custard at 325 for 15-20 minutes until it’s jiggly but not sloshy. I let mine sit for 10 minutes then unmolded them for a pretty presentation. Homemade whipped cream is a must. Maybe even some orange zest in the whipped cream? Next time I’m definitely going to put some finely diced jalepenos in this custard.  Sweet, spicy, creamy quinoa delightfulness. I’m really pretty excited about this recipe and the directions it could go. What to drink with a creation like this. Any suggestions?

Curried Quinoa Cakes~Guest Blogger/Photographer Melissa Fenno!

September 5th, 2012
My darling and talented friend, Melissa, sent me this recipe and blog. Check out her photography goods at facebook.com/MelissaFennoPhotography
Curried-Quinoa Cakes with Mango-Arugula Salad
These quinoa cakes are a quick, simple and satisfying solution for a last-minute dinner.  You can add just about anything you want to the cakes themselves, and the ways to serve them are endless.  I’ve served these many times, with grilled vegetables, poached eggs, roasted chicken, and even made a sweet blueberry version with maple syrup for breakfast.  Here, they are served over a simple arugula salad with a dollop of tahini.  
The ingredients:  Gretchen’s Grains Pre-Cooked Frozen Quinoa (thawed, but not hot), eggs, flour (optional), arugula, mango, carrots, tomatoes, lemon juice, tahini, curry.
-For each cup of quinoa, use one egg and 2 Tbsp of flour and 1 tsp. curry powder.  One cup of quinoa makes about 5 small cakes. Mix together and put in fridge while you prep your salad.  
 (Note: This totally works without the flour, but you just need to take a little extra care with the cakes as they cook so they don’t fall apart in the pan.)
-Chop tomatoes and mango. Instead of chopping carrots for salads, I use a vegetable peeler to make thin shavings. 
-Remove quinoa mix from the fridge, form balls and coat lightly with flour.  
-Gently flatten the balls as they cook in an oiled skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until crisp and brown.  
-Serve cakes warm over the salad, give the whole thing a generous squeeze of lemon juice and top with a spoonful of tahini if you have it. 

Potato Flower Power

July 6th, 2012

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p>I’m embarrassed to say that until today I did not know what a potato flower looked like. Or that there was even such a thing. In fact, when I started my garden this year and my grandma told me to “just cut some potato eyes out and put them in the ground facing up” I thought that nothing could possibly result from such little effort.

You see, I kill plants. I grow humans. And kill plants. No plant here gets out alive (cue Jim Morrison). I’ve tried countless times with many types, all to no avail. They are all dead. If yet another plant were to come here it would simply drop dead with fear from the lingering smell of murdered plants before it.

I digress. So I planted the potato eyes (it seemed rather ridiculous at the time) on March 26th. Come late April I was doing a mental “I told you so” to my grandmother because nothing was happening. I nearly planted flowers over the potatoes, so sure that nothing would grow. Then, it happened. A sprout. I jerked it out of the ground thinking it was the invasive ivy that pops up everywhere in our back garden. Upon closer inspection it was a tiny leaf I’d never seen. The next day, another. And another. And another!!! Long story short these big beautiful green leafy plants shot up everywhere in the area I’d planted the potato eyes. It was amazing. Then yesterday, these popped out:

I keep going out back to stare at them like a newborn baby’s face that I can’t get enough of. Aren’t they stupendous!! So apparently once the flowers die (noooooooo!!!) and the greens are wilting the potatoes are ready to be dug from their warm little dirt nests and boiled, roasted, baked and fried in my kitchen. A miracle of nature! Now hopefully my heirloom tomatoes will burst forth with black, red and purple orbs of delight in another month. I’ll keep you posted…..

Dinner for the Masses Before Heading to Work

July 1st, 2012

p>So I had a ton of the brown rice from yesterdays project (tell you about that disaster later).  Bill grabbed a pack of free-range chicken legs so I was set with the common task of combining the old with the new to make something delicious.  Not having much time before shooting off to wait tables at Circa I decided to make one big dish and call it good.  So I seasoned with salt and pepper then browned the chicken in a large saucepan. Then, I dumped all the rice on top.  Chopped a bunch of herbs, heavy on the rosemary, and tossed those in. Poured a beer, PBR, (any light beer would work, or white wine) over the whole thing, put a lid on it and done. 

It cooked for about 45 minutes and the chicken was fall-apart tender and rice infused with moisture and chicken deliciousness.  Bill gave me big props on this concoction. Waylon, my “light” eater even ate a big serving of the rice. You’re welcome Bill. I’ll take a foot rub with that glass of wine, my good man.