Philadelphia and California Roll Dinner

Philadelphia and California Roll Dinner

Kim and I love sushi. When we are down in Vancouver one of our favorite places to order from is Maguro at 5241 Ladner Trunk Road they’ve got some of the freshest and best tasting sushi in the Lower Mainland and a warm and cozy atmosphere in which to enjoy it. Around here though there isn’t a sushi restaurant in a fifty-mile radius, so if we want to eat sushi, we have to make it ourselves. It’s no matter though as with a bit of patience and practice just about anyone can make some great tasting and great looking sushi rolls. Sourcing the tools and ingredients may be a bit tricky, but many of the items such as bamboo mats, sushi nori, kombu, ajinomoto, powdered wasabi, and pickled ginger can probably be found at your nearest Asian supermarket.

The core requirement for sushi is vinegared rice. If you don’t use the proper rice or follow a good recipe then the quality of your homemade sushi will really suffer. Rice is typically categorized by grain length and starch content. in this case, you will want to select either a premium sushi rice like calrose or in absence of that, another short grain rice such as arborio. Short grain rice contains a higher amount of starch compared to other types which is responsible for the stickiness of sushi rice or the creaminess of risotto.

Sushi Rice

2 cups short grain rice

3 cups water

2 tablespoons sake (optional but makes the rice taste better. If you use it, remove two tablespoons water)

small piece of Kombu (dried seaweed) or pinch of Ajinomoto

Sushi Rice Seasoning

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar (to taste. Some like it sweeter – up to 5 tablespoons)

pinch salt

Wash rice thoroughly with water until it runs clears to remove excess starch. This will help to keep the grains of rice individual and not stick together as much. Add rice to a medium saucepan and add kombu (Ajinomoto), sake, and water and turn on the heat. I like to boil my water in a kettle first before I put it in so I don’t have to wait as long to set my timer. Once the water just starts to bubble and boil put on a tight fitting lid, reduce heat to low, and set timer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes remove from heat and let sit for five minutes or so. Carefully transfer the rice from the pot into a mixing bowl or a rimmed sheet pan… I just invert the pot. You don’t want to damage the rice grains by smashing or cutting them as this will affect the presentation of your sushi rolls. Now this is the part where it’s good to have a kitchen assistant 🙂 Using a large flat spatula, gently turn the rice over to cool it and add seasoning mixture slowly while your assistant fans the rice. The fanning will help dry it out so it achieves its final sticky texture. Once the rice has absorbed the seasoning, feels sticky, and doesn’t seem wet, allow it to cool while you are preparing the ingredients.

Now, sushi can contain any ingredients your heart desires such as fish, vegetables, fruit, or whatever but for this recipe we are going with America’s favorite, the California roll. Named after the most populous US State this recipe was actually created by Chef Hidekazu Tojo near my home town in Vancouver. He is well known as the owner of Tojo’s Restaurant, a high-end sushi bar located on West Broadway near 12th ave. The typical recipe is an inside-out roll containing crab or imitation crab with cucumber and avocado and often garnished with flying fish roe. As crab and flying fish roe are hard to find where we are (and canned crab is just plain bad) we will be substituting these ingredients with imitation crab and sesame seeds. The star of this particular recipe is the imitation crab filling. The cucumber and avocado are simply sliced very thinly and sometimes we use carrot peelings to add a bit of color but in this case we didn’t.

Morgyn’s Imitation Crab Filling

3/4 package imitation crab, cut into chunks

1/2 cup mayonnaise

5 spring onions. just the ends, thinly sliced

half a lemon, juiced

one rasher of cooked bacon, cut into bits

1 tablespoon real brewed soy sauce

splash of fish sauce (optional, but makes the recipe better)

pinch of salt to taste

Add all the above ingredients as described to a food processor and blitz to desired consistency. Let filling sit for a half hour or so for flavors to mingle a bit.

Now for the Philadelphia rolls… these are also inside-out sushi rolls that take after a popular NYC favorite… bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese. They are of course named after the most popular brand of cream cheese out there. Typically these rolls are very similar to California rolls in the way that they also contain cucumber and avocado. We are fortunate that we are able to obtain wild smoked sockeye salmon at our ‘local’ Superstore… about an hour and a half away in Kamloops. You could probably substitute raw sockeye salmon in a pinch, but without the smoked salmon this recipe would just not be the same. There is little advanced preparation involved with this recipe other than cutting up the cream cheese into long strips and preparing cucumber and avocado in the same fashion as for California rolls.

With all the prep work done it’s time to roll! Inside-out rolls have rice on the outside so they require a two-mat process and one mat should be covered in plastic wrap so that the rice doesn’t stick. You start by placing a piece or nori on the uncovered mat and covering evenly with rice. It helps to wet your hands with water before you start and periodically as you go along. The water helps to keep the rice from sticking to your fingers. Many people just cover the whole sheet of nori with rice, but I like to keep a small ‘flap’ at the top free of rice. This flap can be tucked in when you perform the roll as shown in the video and makes it so that the fillings are defined within a circle in the middle of the roll instead of the nori making a spiral shape. The rolls are much prettier this way when done properly.

After covering the nori sheet with rice, shake on some sesame seeds (for California rolls) cover it with the cling-film covered mat and flip over vertically. This will place the ‘flap’ close to you and will be in the right position for tucking/rolling; Now it’s time to add your filling. California rolls have imitation crab, cucumber, and avocado, and Philadelphia rolls have smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, and cucumber. Once you have added your fillings bring the bottom flap up and over them and tuck/squish it in underneath, then bring the top of the nori sheet down to rest on the flap and squish the rice edges together. This can take some practice but once your technique is perfected you will be rewarded with some amazing looking sushi rolls!



Now that your California roll is holding together you can optionally garnish it with some fanned out avocado slices or in the case of Philadelphia rolls, the thinly sliced smoked salmon. Cutting the rolls is a bit tricky, but it helps to have a very sharp knife and a wet towel to wipe it on before you make each cut. I like to cut them in half, place the pieces side by side, and then finish cutting them two pieces at a time. Once you’re done you’re ready to garnish (optionally) with some hot sauce or spicy mayo.


Serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. Enjoy!

Lemon Chicken with Vegetable Chow Mein

Lemon Chicken with Vegetable Chow Mein

Let me tell you a bit of a story… I used to have a favorite Chinese restaurant and at this restaurant they served a variety of your typical Chinese take out dishes but also some incredible Indian food and a fusion of everything in between. Now this restaurant is basically located a world away from us as we live in Abbotsford and it’s in Surrey about 50km away or so…. needless to say getting take-out is pretty much out of the question.

Every year around my birthday I get asked where I’d like to eat out. Usually this is done not only to celebrate my birthday but also to facilitate a meeting of family all of whom are scattered about here and there in the Lower Mainland near Vancouver.  Having been introduced to this restaurant by a Sri-Lankan friend of mine as resident of Surrey in the early 2000’s, the place quickly became my new favorite Chinese restaurant and go-to for ‘ethnic’ cuisine. Naturally, we held family gatherings there at least once a year.

The food was always amazing and consistent. The dishes were spectacularly presented; served with an abundance of brightly colored vegetables and meticulously garnished. The vast and seemingly endless array of menu items, each with a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors, always left us something to talk about and look forward to again the next time. My most talked about dish? Chilli fish.

Until something happened. It had been a couple years since Kim and I had been there but the cravings were still strong. I often spoke of going there, but the idea always seemed so far off because of where we live… but at that particular point in time we were hungry, and passing close by on our way home from Vancouver. Now normally this place is packed full to the brim on a Friday night but when we arrived we were greeted by an unusually empty parking lot. Similarly, the dining room was nearly as empty. Being only a party of two Kim and I decided to order just three dishes, settling on a few of our favorites… chilli fish, lemon chicken, and beef chow mein.

The chilli fish was always amazing. Small bite-sized pieces of fish, deep-fried, tossed in a tangy sweet sauce , served Szechuan style sweat-inducingly hot, with an abundance of fresh chillies. This time it may have well been called ‘fish’ because there was a curious absence of any chillies, and as such the flavors fell flat and were not well balanced. Granted, I get that we are a couple of ladies and I didn’t specifically tell them I want it ‘Thai spicy!’ but when we sit down and very purposefully order ‘Chilli Fish’ you’d think we know what we want to eat.

Now up was the lemon chicken. A great looking dish, pleasantly marinaded and deep fried chicken served with a fresh lemon sauce and garnished with lemon slices, sesame seeds, and chives. It was okay but not quite what I remember.

Next arrived the beef chow mein. Now this stuff is usually the food of the gods and a visual treat but this time there was an overwhelming amount of onions. It’s like they put nearly a whole medium sized onion in this dish… underlying that, however, was a distinctly odd, old taste, and not in a good way. I was trying to work out exactly what item was responsible for this speculating it was the noodles, or beef, but didn’t get very far into that due to it being disgustingly bad. This dish was basically inedible and at the cost of $13.95  we figured instead of throwing it out we’d let the chef know politely on our way out and give the food to the dogs when we got home. We don’t normally let anyone attempt to make a dish again for us after having received even worse food back again the second time, but after mentioning that we are normally big fans of the food and there was something different about the chow mein this time as we were walking out the door the waiter insisted that we wait a moment for them to make it better. And we trusted them. We reluctantly stayed for another few minutes until the dish was made for us fresh again and put in a take-out dish.  We thought… what could we have to lose?  this dish was going to be for the dogs.

When we got home we were greeted with the usual sounds of affection! Three Corgi crosses with stubby legs and a Jack Russell Terrier… all hungry from being at home alone all day. We are thinking about how exciting it will be to share the beef chow mein with them! First, though, we figured we should try the new dish to see what it tastes like (and pick out the onions.) Opening the container, though, we are greeted with… even more onions?! Scraping our way through the dish to the actual chow mein-y bits yielded us an even lesser reward. The onions have been mixed all through! Probably in an attempt to cover up the bad taste. Yep, when we try the actual chow mein it has the same dank, disgustingly old flavour although now it has been fully and completely permeated with an overwhelming raw onion flavor. The dish reeks…

As the dogs and our excitement quickly fades, the revised beef chow mein, unsalvageable and inedible even to our dogs, was reluctantly and surreptitiously hucked into the trash.

TLDR; Restaurant changed hands/recipes but retained same menu and name. The food is now nothing like it used to be.

And so the pining and lamenting about my old favorite Chinese restaurant begins… but the cravings are still very real. Perhaps the only way I’ll get over them is to recreate their dishes!!

Here’s my take on their lemon chicken and their old vegetable chow mein! Enjoy the photos and recipe below!


Quick Pickled Onions

Fresh Ginger Garlic for Chow Mein



Celery for Chow Mein

Spring Onions

Selecting Cilantro

Chicken Marinade

Corn Starch Batter

Frying the Chicken

Ginger Garlic for Chow Mein

Adding Chow Mein Noodles

Adding Soya Sauce and Beef Stock

Adding Celery, Carrot, and Broccoli

Adding the Quick Pickled Onion

Thickening up the Lemon Sauce

Chicken After Deep Frying

Finished Lemon Chicken and Vegetable Chow Mein

Serving up Lemon Chicken and Vegetable Chow Mein

Finished Lemon Chicken


Chinese Take-Out Style Lemon Sauce


2 large lemons, juiced and zested or about 2/3 cup juice and zest

(optional) 1 lemon, sliced.

nearly one cup sugar

2 cups chicken or beef stock (as pictured above)

1/3 cup corn starch

1/3 cup cold water


Bring two cups stock and sugar nearly to a boil. Add lemon juice and zest (optionally, half the sliced lemon.) Add water to corn starch to make a slurry then add to lemon sauce. Stir until thickened then then remove from heat. Serve food immediately garnished with remaining lemon slices.


Chicken Coating


3/4 cup corn starch

1/3 tsp baking powder

2 tsp salt


Thoroughly mix together ingredients. Marinade and/or dip chicken pieces in an egg mixture before coating with this. Deep fry dredged pieces as soon as possible at 350 degrees F until golden brown.


Chinese Style Marinade for Chicken


2 large skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces

1 extra large egg, beaten

2 tblsp Shoaxing cooking wine

1 tblsp dark soy sauce

1 tblsp sesame oil


Mix all ingredients together. Marinade chicken pieces for about half an hour.


Aloo Gobi (Potato and Cauliflower Curry)

Aloo Gobi (Potato and Cauliflower Curry)

This is a simple dish most commonly served with rice or flatbreads in many home kitchens here in and around Vancouver, Canada. It comes together in just a few minutes and after a bit of steaming to cook everything through it’s all done! Total time to eat: about 25 minutes including the rice. Enjoy the photos and recipe below!




The Spice Blend

Dad's Chillies

Adding Cumin and Mustard Seeds

Adding Shallots

Add Ginger Garlic and Peppers

Adding Tomato Paste

The Spices and Aromatics

Adding Cauliflower

Add Potato

Stirring up the Vegetables

Finished Aloo Gobi

Aloo Gobi


2 tblsp butter or ghee

2 tblsp canola oil

1 small head cauliflower, in florets

2 potatoes, cubed

pinch cumin seed

pinch yellow mustard seed

1 small onion or shallot, minced

2 tblsp grated ginger

2 tblsp minced garlic

2 tsp fresh grated turmeric

pinch garam masala

2 Serrano chillies or 1 Thai chile

2 tblsp tomato paste

1/2 lemon or lime (garnish)

salt to taste


Heat butter and oil over medium-high heat until it just about reaches smoke point. Drop in cumin seeds they should sputter and pop. Add mustard seed and chillies and stir. Add ginger, garlic, and fresh turmeric and stir. Cook for 20-30 seconds then add onions or shallots. Cook until slightly translucent about one to two minutes. Add tomato paste and garam masala and mix well. Add cauliflower and potatoes and mix well. Reduce heat to low and steam for fifteen – twenty minutes until veggies are cooked through. Dress with juice from a whole lime or serve with a lemon or lime wedge. Enjoy!

Making Mozzarella

Making Mozzarella

We’ve been meaning to make mozzarella for awhile. We bought the rennet a few months ago and it’s been sitting in our fridge ever since. This is our first time making mozzarella so it was quite the learning experience. We wanted to make a nice Neapolitan style pizza to showcase the fresh mozza, but we had a few minor hiccups with the oven and baking surface so perhaps next time things will work out better for us. It was our intention to use a pizza stone to prepare this meal but ours broke 🙁 and when we tried to locate one to buy this morning we couldn’t find one anywhere… good thing there was a tile and flooring warehouse on our way! 12 6×6″ unglazed quarry tiles later and we had something that would work good enough as a pizza stone for only $6.00.


Whole Milk Avalon Dairy

Whole Milk Avalon Dairy

Whole Milk Avalon Dairy

Citric Acid

Mix Citric Acid and Bring to 95 F

Milk is Cut Five Minutes After Adding Rennet

Removing Uncooked Curd

Press Curds in Cheesecloth for 1/2 Hour

Curds Pressed in Cheesecloth

Uncooked Curds

Cutting the Curd

Cut Curds in a Bowl

Adding 180 F Water

Adding 180 F Water

Working the Curd

Making Mozza Balls

Mozzarella After a Salt Water Bath

Finished Mozzarella

Tomato Sauce

Tomato Sauce on a Pizza!

Fresh Basil

Pizza Ready to Serve

Pizza with Homemade Mozzarella on Quarry Tiles

Pizza Ready for the Oven!

Pizza Homemade Mozzarella Ready to Serve

The Pizza that Didn't Quite Make it :(


Mozzarella Cheese

1 gal whole milk

1/4 tablet rennet

1 1/2 tsp citric acid

sea salt

Add 1 gal milk to a saucepan and stir in the citric acid. Turn to medium heat and bring up to just 95 degrees F. While waiting for milk to come to temperature add the rennet to 1/4 cup water. Once the milk has reached 95F add rennet and water mixture. Remove from heat and allow to sit for five minutes. After five minutes your curd should have formed and will be like soft tofu consistency. Cut up curd and remove to a cheesecloth lined strainer. Fold curd up well with cheesecloth and apply some weight to drain excess whey. Allow to drain and cool to room temperature. Remove whole curd from cheesecloth at this point and cut into equal size pieces. Remove curd to a bowl and add 180-190 degree water. Allow to sit for a couple minutes and then begin stretching the mozzarella. When the cheese takes on smooth silky consistency remove from the hot water and drop in a cold salt water bath. Cold water bath should be salted like the sea. After a few minutes in the salt water remove the fresh mozzarella. Enjoy!