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Change of pace this week. I originally planned to make chicken karaage (aka: glorious deep fried joy) but I ended up changing my mind while I was shopping. This cabbage casserole recipe has been sitting on my “to-cook” pile for weeks and I figured I should get to it before the Phoenix summer makes eating anything besides ice water a chore. There was a fair amount of prep work for this dish but in the end it boiled down to placing alternating layers of stuffing and blanched cabbage into a pot. The hardest part for me was finding a plate heavy enough to anchor the casserole but small enough to fit inside my pot. I settled on a pot lid with a water filled Pyrex container on top for weight.

The unintentional still life above is the end product of careful cabbage leafing. The cabbage was fantastic and I am glad I picked it up at the Phoenix Public Market earlier in the week.  I do not go in for the whole “organic is instantly better because the package says organic” but I do approve of local sourcing when I can.
Recipe from the always awesome JustHungry.com. It is fairly difficult to remove the cabbage leafs without shredding them. I found the easiest thing to do is use a sharp knife to slowly cut through the base of the cabbage as you pull the individual leafs off. 

If you have ever made hamburger patties, you have made this filling. Ground meat, some fragrant vegetables, rice for bulk, tofu for lightness, and an egg to bind it all together. I went with the authors suggestion of 50/50 ground pork/beef but next time I will likely try to make it with just turkey. I chopped all the vegetables but you could definitely use a food processor to speed this step up.
Next time I make this dish I will add more vegetables. A couple cloves of garlic would be fantastic, as well as some red peppers and celery.

The sauce is a straightforward combination of chicken broth, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, salt and pepper. I would suggest that this is also a prime candidate for a few cloves of garlic.

I did not get any pictures of the actual assembly process because it took about five minutes to complete. Try to think of it as putting the cabbage back together with meat between all the layers. Prior to assembly, the cabbage is blanched until just pliable. I used a strainer to hold the small bits together and a pair of tongs for the larger pieces. To line the pot I started with the small heart pieces first. You are aiming for a roughly dome shape and I found that it is prettiest to place each leaf of cabbage with the stem portion facing down. This helped contribute to the dome shape as well as stabilize the whole mess against the walls of the pot. Once you lay the last layer of cabbage, pour the sauce over the top and make sure it covers the cabbage. I had to add another cup of chicken broth to cover mine.

Here is what the casserole should look like after a couple hours of cooking. Save the broth! It makes for a good soup, either to serve the casserole in or on its own. The casserole was actually very firm when completely cooked (I let it stew on a low simmer for several hours). Extracting the casserole loaf from the pot was a bit of an adventure though. After some intense planning  my fiancé and I decided to completely drain all the fluid, invert the pot, and use the lid of the pot to catch the loaf as it slid down. It worked surprisingly well and we were able to catch the loaf, sandwich the serving plate on top, and then flip it back over into its original orientation.
A bread knife works wonders for cutting into the casserole without tearing any of the delicate outer layers.

The finished product was delicious. We were well into our second slice of cabbage pie before we remembered to take pictures. It is supposed to be served in the broth but we found it was delicious with ketchup and sriracha. If you have any questions, I would love to answer them in the comments section!

Other Thoughts:

I would consider making a personal sized version of this recipe in ramekins. I would start by cutting sheets of cabbage to fit the ramekin and then make several layers. Probably more trouble than it is worth but it would certainly look cool.

Spam is not for everyone. However, for those who do appreciate a good bit of ground pig product, spam has a charm that crosses oceans and opens hearts. Spam musubi is one of my favorite ways of consuming spam. This dish is very easy to make so I have not exhaustively photographed all these steps this week. If you have any questions I would love to answer them in the comments section.

TL;DR for Reddit: Spam=Really thick bacon.

Spam musubi ready to be wrapped for a quick and hearty snack.

I used this recipe to make my spam musubi. The amount of sauce produced by this recipe is excessive I recommend using these proportions (1 part oyster sauce, 1 part soy sauce, 2 parts sugar) to create only as much sauce as you need. I am also not convinced that the oyster sauce is vital to the recipe. It certainly adds another dimension of flavor but I think a simple 50/50 soy sauce and sugar mix would be just as good. Also, I did not marinate the spam prior to cooking because I prefer to fry the spam up before slathering it in sauce.

This picture is from the halfway mark of cooking. The mixture boiled down and caramelized fairly easily so I continually spooned sauce over the spam.

I used a single sheet of nori cut in half for my spam musubi. If you want to make the final product prettier I would suggest trimming the sheets narrower so they do not hang over ends of the musubi.

You could buy one of these to mold your musubi but I am an acolyte of His Holiness and believe that you should avoid buying kitchen gear that only has one use. To that end: Make your own musubi mold. Your spam came in a conveniently shaped container. Saw the bottom off and you have a free musubi mold. I would suggest using a hobby saw to make the cut. I used both a hobby saw and a heavy x-acto blade to make the cuts. The x-acto blade was faster but the cuts were ugly and I had to take extra time to clean it up.

Total, I used half a cup of rice for each of these musubi’s. I split the rice in half and tapped the rice down with the back of a spoon.

After I added the first layer of rice, I slipped the cooked spam down on top along with a layer of the sauce.

After laying down the last bit of rice I squeezed the can to release the stacks of delicious rice and spam.

Furikake comes in a wide assortment of flavors. I added a bit to the musubi to give it a little color and extra flavor.

Finally, I flipped the sides up and used a wet finger to seal the nori together. If you use hot rice the musubi will more or less seal the musubi for you.


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.

I will admit that I am  miso soup ambivalent. The rest of the world though, apparently loves the stuff and my fiancé begged me to figure out how to make it. Challenge accepted.

Thankfully I did not have to look far to find a recipe in JustBento’s . A quick reading revealed that miso soup, like boba, is one of those dishes that are so easy you will kick yourself for paying for them. Even better you can assemble the ingredients ahead of time and bring them along for what I think of as a soup grenade.

What you will need:

From left to right:
-Cut Wakame: This is basically tiny morsels of dried up seaweed. The start out looking like pressed flowers but bloom into small sheets of delicious… seaweed. Look I know that is not super appetizing to everyone but it is hard to have miso soup without it.

-Red and White Soybean Paste: I happen to like this brand and soy paste comes in various sorts. The red soy has a stronger flavor than the white but together they help create a complex mouth filling flavor.

-Hon dashi: If you want to cook Japanese food you need to go down to the store and buy this today. The alternative to instant dashi/bouillon (which I will cover in a future post) is time consuming, finicky and not something you can just whip up at a moments notice. Plus, hondashi tastes pretty damn good so I consider it an acceptable substitute.

-Not Shown: Tofu (I prefer silken), hot water, plastic wrap that does not suck, diced green onions.

Step 1:
Acquire tablespoon and fill half of it with red  soybean paste. It does not have to be exact and you should feel free to vary the ratio of red-to-white miso to fit your tastes.

Step 2:
Fill the other half with the other half with white soybean paste.

Step 3:
Put some wakame and some hon dashi into the center of a piece of plastic wrap. Again, the amount of each is really up to you. I happen to really like seaweed so I put a fair amount in. The wakame is going to expand like sponge when it hits the hot water so don’t throw in a whole tablespoon unless you want a seaweed salad. I will also suggest you go light on the hon dashi until you get a feel for how much you like in your soup. Putting in a full tablespoon of hon dashi will result in “fish soup with a hint of miso” and not the desired inverse.

NOTE: If you buy your plastic wrap from the supermarket, it is highly likely that you are getting a sub-par plastic wrap experience. Do yourself a favor, head to Costco and buy the giant container of Kirkland brand plastic food wrap. Trust me, you will wonder why people blow money on name brand.

Step 4:
Put some green onions onto along with your miso mixture. Leave in public places just like this to confuse people.

Step 5:
Draw the plastic wrap up by four corners, making a little pouch. Use your fingers to mash all the ingredients together as you express any remaining air from the pouch.

Step 6:
Wrap the whole thing tight by twisting the excess plastic wrap into a tail. Your miso soup bomb is ready to go! Just add hot water and stir, preferably with chopsticks or a fork.

Step 7:
When you reconsitute your soup, be sure to let it soak for a bit so the wakame will have time to rehydrate. Otherwise, it can get a little crunchy.

Step 8:
Eat your handcrafted miso soup and laugh at people who pay money for this easy and delicious dish.

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.

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.

Watch this space

Witty food blog posts soon, hilarity to follow.

Watch! A man almost burn down his apartment while experimenting with deep frying!

Come See! A poor college student throw himself at making delicious daily lunches for two!

Rejoice! At the knowledge that you can learn from his mistakes!