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A note on the pictures: I am not exactly sure what I did differently when I shot these pictures but it is clear to me that I need to purchase more lights. I will keep you apprised of future developments.

For myself, and I think many people, sushi is the holy grail of Japanese cooking. My parents never made sushi when I was growing up. Sushi was the domain of Grandmas and served only on special occasions. When I asked my parents how sushi was prepared they just shrugged and said, “Well, it’s kind of a pain.”

I have always looked upon the creation of sushi rice as alchemical devil magic. This is because the resulting product flies in the face of all that I know about rice. Rice must be served hot! Cold rice is unpalatable! And yet… here the sushi sits, delicious in its cool tranquility. Surely making sushi rice must be difficult.

Not really.

Sushi Vinegar (Awase-zu):
The term “sushi” actually refers to the way the rice is prepared rather than the completed package of rice and topping/filling. Sushi is simply hot rice infused with a sushi vinegar mix.

You could buy it but it really is easier to make it yourself.

The first thing you will need to make sushi is a few simple ingredients (Full recipe at JustBento) :

  • Rice Vinegar (I use Marukan brand)
  • Sea Salt (Morton’s all the way!)
  • Sugar

Heat (but not boil) all three ingredients together until the salt and sugar dissolve. You only need 2-3 tablespoons for 2 cups of rice so make a big batch and store it for later. This mix is refrigerator stable.

Making Sushi:

  1. Prepare 2 cups of well washed white rice. As soon as it is done give it a quick fluffing with a rice paddle to keep it from clumping.
  2. While the rice is cooking get out the following items:
    1. A fan. I use an actual electric desk fan. JustBento suggests a blow dryer on “cool.” I have also used a book, some papers, my hand… etc
    2. Rice paddle. If you have a rice maker (and you should have a rice maker) the plastic paddle that comes with it is just fine.
    3. A large container for mixing the rice. Traditionally you are supposed to use a giant shallow wooden bowl for this. I am poor so I use one of my bigger mixing bowls.
    4. A bowl of water with a dash of rice vinegar in it. This is to keep your hands and tools moist, preventing them from sticking to the rice.
  3. When the rice is done, give it a quick fluffing with the rice paddle to keep it from clumping. Immediately transfer the rice into your mixing bowl.
  4. Put in 2-3 tablespoons of sushi vinegar (I prefer 3 tablespoons) and immediately begin folding the liquid into the rice with a cutting motion. Turn on your fan of choice and start mixing. Mix quickly but try not to beat your rice to death.
  5. If you are doing it right, the rice will rapidly cool and evenly absorb the sushi vinegar. A properly mixed bowl of sushi will have nicely glazed pieces of rice that adhere together but without turning into a lump of rice.

Assembling the Sushi Roll:

This sushi mat was on sale, you can actually make sushi just fine without one. If you lack a sushi mat just use a towel.  I use plastic wrap on my sushi mat because I used to be a laboratory technician and my natural inclination is to sterilize or throwout anything that could possibly harbor bacteria. I admit that this may be a totally irrational stance but there you go.

Lay your nori (seaweed) out on the mat and then start laying down a layer of rice with your water-vinegar soaked hands.  You are aiming for an even layer of rice with an inch margin at the top and the bottom. Use a light touch. You want to get the rice on there without smashing it into a brick of shaped rice. If you wanted that you could go to Costco.  RESPECT THE MARGINS. An under filled roll will be slightly depressing but an overfilled roll will refuse to remain rolled.

Place your filling down the center. Remember that the rice needs to completely enclose the filling so err on the side of less until you get a feel for it. I for one, am still getting a feel for it.

The spicy smoked salmon filling:

I bought a whole smoked salmon from Costco two weeks ago because:

  1. I love smoked salmon
  2. I wanted to see if I could freeze it

It turns out that you can indeed freeze smoked salmon. You just need to wrap it tightly in some handy plastic wrap.

This filling is super basic but tasty:

  1. Cook the smoked salmon through.
  2. Chill it in the refrigerator.
  3. Mix in mayo and Sriracha to taste. I went for a tuna salad consistency but you could easily use more or less.

You might want to ignore this photo and just look for a good youtube video.

I am still working on my rolling technique. Anyone who has pointers, please feel free to comment. I can use the help.

You can actually skip cutting the roll and just throw it in your lunch. Tastes just as good.

As the caption says: Do not be afraid to stop at this point and eat what you made. Cutting it up just makes it look nice. Sushi tastes just as good in a massive log.

The Finished Product:

I hope you will all be less intimidated by sushi in the future!

Edamame, spicy salmon sushi, tangerine of indeterminate origin (Phoenix Farmers Market) and a cabbage divider.

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I promised food last week and so food is what you get:

Clockwise from top: Chicken adobo and bell pepper kirpan, sliced plums, miso soup, simmered kabocha and kimchi

The adobo is via Jayden Hair and her new book, I WISH I got a kick-back for promoting her site and book so heavily but damnit, she writes recipes that work and that is saying something for Asian cooking. I am refraining from reprinting complete recipes because she (and the others I use) worked hard on making a quality product and they deserve every dime. Here is what the adobo looked like prior to being chopped up and placed on rice.

Adobe without the sauce, which my lovely assistant was in the midst of skimming of fat when I took this photo

I also made a dish called kirpan from the JustBento.com cookbook. It is a simple dish of bell peppers stir fried with soy sauce, sesame oil and red pepper flake. It is supposed to keep for about a week so expect it to make another reappearance.

Stir fry, it works.

The plums are from Sprouts and are fairly meh, I wouldn’t recommend running out and buying any but I will survive.

Miso soup is incredibly easy, I will post a detailed how-to on miso soup another day but it boils down to this: Find a bowl, put a tablespoon of miso paste in bowl, put teaspoon of instant dashi on top of that, put some dried wakame (seaweed) and diced green onions over the whole thing. Drench in just boiling water and stir vigorously. Realize that Japanese restaurants have been taking you for a ride and riot (I’ll get into homemade boba later, it is also drooling idiot easy.)

The kimchi is from Paldo Market in Tempe and it is delicious and authentic. Paldo Market is a little too specialized for my tastes (I prefer Mekong and Lee Lee) but if you want Korean food and food products, they are hard to beat.

Kabocha is a type of Japanese squash which I absolutely hated as a child but that I have come to embrace with age. This is another JustBento.com recipe that was simple and relatively quickly. The hardest part was cutting the damn kabocha down into bite size chunks. It cooks up tender but it starts out like a side of tree:

It is simmering in an instant dashi broth base, soy sauce and some sugar.

This is definitely a trend for me. There are all manner of Asian staple foods that I could not stand when I was young that I am learning to enjoy as I get older. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn how to choke down natto one day.

My understanding is that I have constructed a fairly traditional bento meal here. While this conflicts with my American upbringing, which demands meat with a side of deep-fried starch, I find that having a bunch of smaller diverse dishes makes for a very satisfying meal, particularly for lunch.

Briefly: Here are some pictures of my improved lighting system:

Somehow I didn't end up using duct tape to make any of this.

As you can see, we drank the green tea so I had to create a longer term solution. Thankfully I just so happen to have some wood and nails laying around. It surely isn’t pretty but it works. I still need to get some sort of backdrop though.

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This is supposed to be a blog about food. But a food blog needs pictures or it becomes a wall-of-text about awesome things that only I saw. In the parlance of the net at large: Pics or it never happened.

Nori (seaweed) wrapped sushi. Not at all as difficult as I was led to believe.

I am not a very good photographer and I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of photographic technique. In short, I know a great many ways to take bad photos and only take good photos on accident.

What I do know is that lighting is key. The right light on something is the difference between sharp colors and a brown blur that could be a dog or could be sasquatch. I know this because I bought this woman’s book and trust everything she says: http://steamykitchen.com/266-lowel-ego-lights-for-food-photography.html From reading her page I’ve identified that you need:

  1. Good broad spectrum lights that will give me accurate colors so I do not have to rely upon my limited knowledge of digital photo correction to fix things “post-production.”
  2. Some means of diffusing the light of the naked bulb. Spotlighting objects makes them look odd. For my purposes I guess I could call this the “sushi in the headlights look.”
  3. Something attractive to put the food on. Thankfully my fiancé has two well formed X chromosomes and has already taken the liberty of stocking our home appropriately.

Unfortunately, I do not have $200 to spend on quality lighting equipment. What I do have is a car, a budget and a Lowes nearby.  Here’s what I got instead of some fancy photographer lights:

So far it has not burned down the apartment.

-Clamp Light @ 7.85 X2= $15.70
-Sylvania 100 watt “Daylight” CFL 2 pack= $8.32
Grand Total: $26.13

It’s not pretty but it works… mostly. The naked bulbs put out some intense light so I taped paper over them to create a more diffuse light. I gleefully stole this idea from http://www.instructables.com which has a number of helpful tutorials on lighting. To answer the implicit question: Those lights are clamped to conveniently full bottles of green tea. It was not an ideal solution but one that I’ve improved upon. I will fill in the details in my next post.

GET ON WITH IT!

If this is a food blog, where the hell is the food? Rest assured that my efforts to make lunch for two on a daily basis will form the backbone of future posts. For now let me give you the teaser trailer:

The filling is egg and pickled radish.

On the left: Bulgolgi which I think is Korean for "The Best Thing Ever To Happen to Pork," On the right: My second crack at sushi.

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