Spam Musubi


We’ve been home from our Maui vacation for five days now and I’m wondering why the towel I threw on the bathroom floor yesterday is still there and my plate of half eaten chicken salad from last night’s dinner is still on the table.

I called housekeeping and guess who answered.  Me.

In contrast to last year’s vacation where we sailed, ziplined and hiked magnificent  trails, our Maui trip this year was decidedly more chill.  We swam or snorkeled every day–even managed to swim with some exotic fish and sea turtles at Makena and Ulua Beach–and sampled a lot of great island food.  So I realized that the only way to extend our island vacation was to duplicate some of this amazing food.


Left to right:

Roasted Bone Marrow – Sweetwater Tavern, Kihei
Black Polynesian Pearl – Mama’s Fish House, Paia
Loco Moco – Kihei Cafe, Cafe
Pina Colada Cake – Tommy Bahama, Wailea
Garlic Shrimp and Mochiko Chicken – Tin Roof Maui, Kahului
Banana Bread – Mile Marker #17, Road to Hana

But I just got back from vacation, and most of the dishes above are beyond my culinary expertise and patience (Black Polynesian Pearl) so I decided to recreate this instead:


This beautiful structure is the spicy Spam Musubi from the Sugar Beach Bake Shop in Kihei.  Notice the jalapeños on top, they bring a nice texture and lots of heat.  It’s right next door to the best shave ice place on the island, Ululani’s.


Soy sauce
Oyster sauce
Rice wine
8 slices of Spam
8 pieces of nori, 2.5″x6″
Furikake, optional

Mix all the ingredients except Spam, furikake and nori.  There are no measurements because the balance of sweet/salty flavors is really up to you so make adjustments as necessary. Marinate the Spam in your sauce mixture for about 5 minutes, just enough to coat the Spam slices.  Then pan fry the Spam over medium heat and pour sauce into the pan.  Watch closely as the sweet sauce makes it easy to burn the Spam slices.  Finally, remove the pan from heat and begin to assemble your musubi.

See below:

IMG_1213The bottom layer is 2 oz of white or brown rice sprinkled with furikake, middle is Spam, top layer is rice sprinkled with furikake.  Press your mold hard with every layer and finally, fold seaweed over your musubi.


Some tips when you make Spam Musubi:

  • Get yourself these Spam gadgets: Spam slicer which cuts even slices with one move and the Spam mold, self explanatory.  You can buy them at Takahashi Market and/or Chanco
  • Without these gadgets, a knife and a hollowed out Span can will do.
  • Press hard, like put your body weight on it hard, on the mold when you’re pressing on the rice.   What you want is a tightly packed, dense Spam/rice brick.  If it’s loosely packed, your musubi will fall apart.
  • Try not to fixate on the fact that you’re eating Spam.


**Though my Musubis tasted like the real thing, I did not pack them as tightly as I would’ve liked and they consequently fell apart.  They were still delish!  Remember to press hard on your mold.


Isn’t Sushi Lovely


I took something called Conceptual Physics in high school.  It’s not real Physics; it’s Physics without all the difficult equations and concepts are translated from math into English for those not ‘mathletically’ inclined like myself.  In short, it’s Physics for dumdums. I have no shame in owning that.  I had fun in high school, cut class a lot and saw the inside of Stonestown more than classrooms during my senior year.  And I mostly turned out OK.

Baked sushi is like conceptual physics in that it is sushi for those of us who don’t have the means nor the patience and expertise to roll out real sushi.  And it turns out better than OK.  Allow me to compare and contrast:

  • Real sushi is all about fresh, good quality fish like ahi tuna and hamachi.
  • Baked sushi uses your seafood of choice, the cheaper the better like imitation crab, baby shrimp and salmon that has been roasted and flaked.
  • Real sushi is perfectly structured; either rolled in seaweed, futo maki, or hand formed, nigiri .
  • Baked sushi is a casserole–yep, I said casserole.  No bamboo mats needed, only a spatula to evenly spread your fish over a thin layer of cooked rice.


3 c of cooked white rice
1 lb salmon, roasted and flaked
1 lb imitation crab
1/2 c Japanese mayo, Kewpie*
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 lb masago
furikake seasoning**


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spread a thin layer of hot cooked rice on a 9×12 baking pan.  Cold rice is hard to spread so ensure your rice is hot enough to spread with a rice paddle or spatula.  Sprinkle furikake seasoning all over cooked rice.  Mix the rest of the ingredients together and spread evenly over the rice with an offset spatula.  Sprinkle the top of the seafood and mayo/sour cream mixture with more furikake seasoning.  Bake for 20 minutes.

You can either eat right out of the pan or take a spoonful and wrap it inside some nori.  Flavored nori comes in a jar of individually wrapped packets.

*You can substitute American mayo for the Japanese mayo.  I just find that the Japanese variety is a little less tangy and creamier than its American cousin.

**Furikake is a dry Japanese seasoning with seaweed, sesame seeds, etc.  I just found out that the ‘etc.’ is MSG and I now understand why it makes everything I put it on taste so good.

18765901_10154386790231401_6785771030543573762_nBaked sushi lovingly topped with some sriracha mayo


Hummus, where the heart Is


I used to put a bib on JJ that said “I only cry when ugly people hold me.”  I am lucky that my people understand my snarky sense of humor, at the very least tolerate it, so this did not dissuade them from holding him.  But when he did cry–well, it sent a subtle message–there is something fundamentally unlikable about you because JJ never cries when he’s held by strangers. This of course was not true.  But it was fun to watch the quiet panic and worry set in.

I feel this way about hummus.  If you don’t like hummus, there is something wrong with you and you would benefit from some thoughtful introspection.  But don’t blame the hummus.  I mean who doesn’t like the nutritious value of chickpeas, its creamy texture once pureed and the blank canvas you now have to work and get creative with, with whatever flavor you desire.

I recently found my hummus mojo with my own experimental creation , the spicy sun dried tomato hummus.  It had the tangy zip from the sun dried tomatoes and the pungent bite, but in a good way, from the garlic.  All that was smoothed out though by the creamy nuttiness of the pureed garbanzo beans mixed with some tahini.

Spicy Sun Dried Tomato Hummus


1 can of garbanzo beans washed and drained, 15 oz*
4T sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
4T tahini paste**
3T oil from sun dried tomatoes
3T lemon juice
1 t spicy pepper flakes, adjust based on your preference
salt to taste


Drain and rinse your canned garbanzo beans before using to rid it of that gloppy gel-like thing it’s been sitting in.  Put all but 1 1/2 T of the sun dried tomatoes in a food processor.  Puree till smooth.  Take 1 T of sun dried tomatoes and mix in with the pureed mixture–the whole bits of sun dried tomato is a nice texture contrast to the creamy hummus.  Top the hummus with the remaining sundried tomatoes, oil and a dusting of paprika and spicy pepper flakes.

*Some say that garbanzo beans need to be peeled in order to get that ultra creamy mixture.  I say, ain’t no body got time for that.  And it’s not necessary.

**Tahini paste is essentially toasted sesame seeds ground up and mixed with oil to create a paste.  You’ll find it in the Middle Eastern section of your market, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.   You can omit the tahini paste but your hummus will not be as creamy or complex in flavor.




Poke, Mon


I’m officially addicted to poke.   I’ve had so much poke that you need only to stand next to me to get an accurate reading of your body temperature, that’s probably how much mercury I’ve ingested from all the tuna I’ve eaten.  Let’s have a brief tutorial on the magic that is ‘poke.’

‘Poke’ pronounced ‘poe kay’, is generally now known as raw fish marinated in various spices and sauces over a bowl of hot rice or salad or on its own.  Ok, maybe not so generally–by ‘generally’ I mean in Hawaii and parts of the Bay Area and SoCal where palates for raw fish are more inherent than earned. In Hawaii, poke is sold like ham at your grocery’s deli counter.  Foodland is the Hawaiian version of Safeway but so much better because you can procure so many varieties:

My all time favorite poke place is on the Big Island, home to Da Poke Shack, a small nondescript shop in the middle of a no name condo complex and is arguably one the best restaurants (loose term) in America according to Yelp.

Thankfully, poke bowl places are all the rage in the Bay Area and poke eateries like Sunfish Poke, Poke Bowl, Limu & Shoyu have been popping up everywhere.  But lately I’ve been getting creative with my semi-homemade version which I get from–of all places–Costco.  Costco’s ahi wasabi poke is premade with seaweed, wasabi, soy sauce and it’s pretty good already.  But like Steve Kerr who upon taking over the Golden State Warriors said, “You’re good, but we’ll make you better,” I take the Costco poke to new heights by adding sriracha, sesame oil, furikake and sambal oelek.  Sambal oelek is this wonderfully spicy garlic paste you get in Chinese restaurant with your soy sauce.

If you want to make your own poke, you can go to your trusted fish monger–I go to Whole Foods for mine–and get a pound of ahi tuna that’s sushi grade.  At WF, they run about 27$ a pound and yes, that’s pricey and the answer to your other question, so worth it.


1 lb sushi grade tuna
Sambal oelek
Sesame oil
Furikake seasoning
Low sodium soy sauce
Ponzu sauce
Sesame seeds (optional)
Macadamia nuts (optional)


Cut tuna into small cubes and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients to suit your taste. You can adjust for spiciness or more citrus by adding more or less of the ponzu and sriracha. Once you’ve achieved the desired flavor of your poke–which should fall somewhere between fresh, salty and spicy–mix your sauce mixture with the cubed ahi tuna.

Spicy Chickpeas with Harissa and Sundried Tomatoes


We came back from Disneyland yesterday and it will go down as one of the most memorable vacations ever.  Why?  Because this happened:

imageimageHe was wearing a “Just Graduated” pin–because you know, they give you a pin for every occasion and accomplishment at Disneyland.  I was wearing one that says “Still able to walk upright after 9 hours at Disneyland.”  I digress.  The captain took notice of his pin, JJ said he graduated from kinder and was going to first grade, which I guess was the minimum requirement for steering the Mark Twain Riverboat.  Next thing you know, he was handling that wheel like Pat Sajak.

The other reason it was memorable of course involved a meal, which we enjoyed at Carthay Circle, a restaurant inside California Adventure–yes, inside an amusement park. Carthay Circle was an oasis of calm and elegance amidst corn dogs, cheese pizzas and turkey legs. I had the harissa marinated lamb porterhouse with a side of chickpeas. I’ve never had chickpeas that wasn’t in hummus form so off I went in search of (read: Pinterest) a chickpea recipe.  I didn’t find any to my liking so I made up my own.


2 T sundried tomatoes packed in oil (include the oil)
1 T grated parmigiano reggiano
1 cup frozen spinach, thawed
2 T harissa paste* (if spicy, adjust amount to suit your taste)
salt and pepper to taste

*Harissa is the sriracha of Middle Eastern cooking.  It’s a spicy, garlicky red pepper paste that you can use on almost anything from enhancing stews and soups to a marinade for chicken or pork.  They’re usually sold in jars in Middle Eastern stores or you can make your own.  I procured mine at a local restaurant that specializes in Moroccan and North African dishes, Cafe Grillades.  Might as well leave it to the experts, right?

Saute chickpeas in oil, using the oil in the sundried tomatoes. Add the rest of the ingredients along with salt and pepper to taste. Cook until all ingredients are heated through.  Serve as a side to your favorite protein.  I swear to you, the hardest part about it is finding the can opener to open the can of chickpeas.  The whole thing takes about 10 minutes to make, incredibly easy and such a small investment in time with big payoffs in flavor.


The holy trinity: sundried tomatoes, parmeggiano reggiano, harissa paste




Fried Maitake Mushrooms


I first had fried maitake mushrooms at RN 74, a chic lounge and restaurant at the base of the Millenium Tower in San Francisco and modeled after the Gare de Lyon station of the Paris metro.  The bar area reminds me of a very upscale Starbucks complete with retro style lounge sofas intended to be intimate seating areas for you and your friends to enjoy your French-imported beer Kronenbourg or the specialty cocktail Pims 74.  The Pims 74 is ginger beer served in a wine goblet with pomegranate seeds, cinnamon sticks and lemon slices in the glass–it looked a little like potpourri in a glass but was refreshing and sweet.

The restaurant area is surprisingly small but at a Michael Mina eatery, it’s all about the service that makes you feel as if you are the only patrons dining there.  Service was spot on, water glasses filled constantly, napkins folded upon return from the restroom and staff knowledgeable about the food and drink.

The tempura fried Maitake mushrooms were the high point of my meal.  We were trying to figure out how something like mushroom with such high moisture content could be fried so light and airy (like we were going to find maitake mushrooms at the corner Safeway); I’m guessing egg white and rice flour batter and deep fried for a couple of minutes at a really high temperature.

Years later, I found the recipe here and even better, I found the friggin’ Maitake mushroom!  No, not at Safeway but at a local Asian grocery store, Ranch 99.  Then Ranch 99 stopped carrying them and I again found them at another nearby market, Marina.  This dish cost $10 five years ago and it is $13 now, per Yelp.  The rice flour and three ounces of mushroom cost $2 each.  Do the math.  Or not.  Just know that it’s way cheaper.  And so good and easy to make!

Recipe adapted from


  •  4 to 6 ounces maitake mushrooms (also called Hen of the Woods; see Note)
  • Rice bran oil or canola oil, for frying
  • Batter:
  • 2 ounces white rice flour (about 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 ounce cornstarch (about 1/3 cup, less 4 teaspoons)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 1/2 to 4 ounces cold sparkling water + more if needed
  • Fine salt to taste (see Note)


  1. Trim maitakes if needed, then break them into 2-bite clusters; set aside. Fill a deep pot with about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of oil and preheat to 375 degrees-380 degrees.
  2. Meanwhile, combine all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. When the oil temperature reaches (or is very close to) 375 degrees, add the sparkling water all at once to the dry ingredients, lightly stirring with a rubber spatula until just combined. Do not overwork the batter, which should be the consistency of heavy cream. If you prefer a thinner batter, add another tablespoon of sparkling water. (A thinner batter will remain crisp for a longer time.) Immediately batter the mushrooms.
  3. As you lift the mushrooms out of the batter, lightly scrape them over the edge of the bowl to remove excess. Working in batches as needed, carefully place in the oil and fry until batter is crisp and mushrooms are lightly golden and cooked through, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Be careful not to overload the oil with too many mushrooms all at once because the oil temperature can rapidly drop. Turn mushrooms over if needed to brown both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and drain briefly on paper towels before sprinkling with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Note: You can also use oyster, cremini or similar mushrooms – just be sure that they are about the size of an index finger so there is a good ratio of batter to mushroom. If you try chanterelles, select ones with thin caps, and be sure they are fairly dry. RN74 serves the tempura with flavored salts. To flavor salt, whir it with ingredients like tangerine/orange zest, which provide an aromatic lift. Truffle salt is also great.  I served mine with a side of ponzu sauce.

fried maitake

Poke! From Costco. Oh.


Actually it’s not that bad. It’s no Foodland and not even in the same universe that is Da Poke Shack but if you can’t afford an island vacation or like me, made the unwise and ill-informed decision of Disneyworld in June (Really? It’s 90 degrees in Orlando now? Oh good…) then make a stop at your nearby Costco. And get your fill of ahi poke, wasabi poke, shoyu poke, etc. Prices are pretty modest at $16.99/lb.

We added some sriracha aoli to this one and made it a spicy ahi poke. If you shut your eyes real tight and play some Iz, you’ll be transported to Kona. Or Maui. Or just lunch with the peeps who talked you into Disneyworld. In June. In 90 degree heat.