Monday, May 26, 2008

Backpacking Fun

Becka and I embarked on our first camping trip (together) at Weldon Springs near Clinton, IL on Saturday. We originally wanted to go to Shawnee National Forest, but I was kinda turned off by the holiday gasoline price gouge.

The park is very nice, but I wouldn't want to camp anywhere but the two backcountry sites, which are very beautiful - once you find them. Weldon Springs pays no attention to the little things such as signs, maps, or reservations. According to the map, the trail that led to our campsite had only two intersections. In reality, there were about 10 forks in the trail; only two were marked with signs of a skier or a hiker. After hiking a few miles out of the way, we found our campsite. It was very lovely.

My Hennessy Hammock is an asymetrical hammock that allows you to sleep across the curve, nearly flat. I can even sleep on my side in it. I love the way it rocks you to sleep at night. It's the best sleep I've ever had outdoors - and it's extremely light - just under two pounds.

Buddy and I Filtering Water From the Creek

Cooking Blueberry Pan Muffins. I forgot the pan attachment ring for my Jet Boil, so I had to fashion a pan rest from firewood.

Blueberry Pan Muffin Close-up

Sandy, Becka, Me, and Buddy in front of my Kelty four season tent.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Looks Great, Tastes...Well...

After crafting a delicious Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and a Pico de Gallo, I opened a brand new package of fresh masa to make some tortillas. Often, I use Masa Harina (a flour that is mixed with water and salt to make "instant" masa) or fresh masa made at the local Mexican grocery. This time, however, I purchased a tube of yellowish masa that was manufactured in Chicago. Upon opening, I noticed a distinct sour odor that I was a bit unsure about but couldn't classify it as bacterial. There was no expiration date on the package, which I thought was odd, but I continued to make tortillas anyway. They tasted "off," but not necessarily rotten; I thought perhaps it was just a different type of masa that I wasn't used to. Eventually, I just decided to throw away the entire batch. I know fresh masa only lasts a couple of days, and figured that this masa was past its prime despite containing preservatives.

I wish I could tell you that these tacos were delicious, but that's far from the truth. They were merely edible; anything else would be an over statement. The lesson here is to always buy the freshest masa, use masa harina, or make your own masa.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Brown Rice Sushi

A close chef friend of mine recently reported decent results using brown rice for sushi. Taking his advice, Becka and I whipped up the Good Eats sushi rice recipe. The substitution of short grain brown rice required a much longer cooking time (about 40 minutes) and some additional water. At first we didn't think it would be sticky enough to make nigiri, but it performed perfectly. We were concerned the flavor might overpower the fish, but it wasn't overwhelming. The texture was a bit toothier, which was a drawback, but the sushi was still pretty outstanding.

Bottom line: we will most likely use brown rice for healthier, "non-white bread" sushi and stick to authentic sushi rice for special occasions.

Pickled Ginger, Salmon Nigiri, Crab and Cucumber Maki, Crunchy Clam Maki, Salmon and Avocado Roll, Cucumber Garnish.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Puppy Picnic

Sunday was so beautiful that Becka and I decided to have a picnic. I made roasted veggie sandwiches that were decent, but not especially photo-worthy.

Becka, however, made a quick pasta salad that was as tasty as it was beautiful. She tossed Penne Pasta, Broccoli, Grated Carrot, Edamame, Slivered Almonds, Green Onions, and Chili Flakes with bottled Caesar Dressing and some Lemon Juice. A bit of salt and fresh ground pepper tied everything together. I was skeptical about the Caesar Dressing, but somehow it just worked. As you can see, it was dressed perfectly. Outstanding!

We both got a bit of sun and the puppies had a blast exploring. I didn't want to ruin the moment by taking a bunch of pictures, but I was happy with the above shot.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


Monday, I stopped in for a light supper at Sushigawa. It was packed! I couldn't believe how many people were there for a Monday night; especially for sushi. In Peoria. Anyway, I'm glad they are doing well unlike so many other restaurants in the area. I did notice, however, that the prices have gone up; not surprising.

I really wanted a light supper, but ended up ordering several greasy items; not entirely on purpose. First, I ordered a shrimp and vegetable tempura appetizer that came with two shrimp, two carrots, one zucchini, one onion ring, and fried soba noodles as a garnish. It was accompanied by a mild, unremarkable, soy based dipping sauce. Everything was decent, but fairly greasy. The carrots were a bit plain - I had hoped for something slightly more exotic. They were cooked perfectly, though.

Next, I ordered a Yellowfin Tuna and Green Onion Maki. It was very nice, but would definitely have benefited from more tuna. Hastily, I ordered a Spicy Fried Crab roll, that I though was going to be a spider roll (deep fried soft shell crab with cucumber, avocado, etc.). But it turned out to be a deep fried, inside out roll, with loads of spicy crab meat on the inside. It was hard to tell, but the crabmeat seemed authentic with little to no surimi involved. After reviewing the menu, I found my beloved Spider Roll, but time was not on my side. I went without.

I tried ordering some red bean ice cream to go, but they were out. Very disappointing. The meal came to just under $20 and I was satiated. I've had better food there, but it was not terrible. I have no qualms about returning.

How do they stretch the shrimp out that long?

I hate plastic garnishes.