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Bento Buffoonery?

Almost on cue, following my epic fail of a sushi expedition, I got an email from one of my close friends, telling me that they were sorry they had missed my birthday, and that they wanted to make up for it. Attached to the email was an electronic gift card to Jlist!(she knows me well haha) Now I’ve always wanted a bento box, and in 3-5 days time, thanks to my awesome friend, I’m going to have one.

Hopefully that will mean a semi weekly segment ala Leang’s, chronicling all my bento buffoonery. I’m really looking forward to escaping the drudgery of the dining hall, as well as being able to make real lunches at home the night before work; at least for the next few weeks that I’ll be able to call it home that is. I’ve already been planning the first few dishes, and like pots full of steam, I’m ready to get it crackin’.

If you’re interested in bento boxing yourself, some great places for reading and recipes are:




More to come soon.

When Patrick Bateman cant get reservations...

When Patrick Bateman can't get lunch reservations...


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Sushi in the Swamp

Heaven help me, I've seen its face!

Heaven help me, I've seen its face!

For the first 18 years of my life, sushi was an utter mystery. Despite living in coastal Florida, sushi was hardly a staple food. My need for protein rich food on the cheap, dictated by my life in sports, also failed to help the cause, as did a serious shellfish allergy. Sushi just didn’t seem to be in the cards for me. It took a move to the northeast for college, and the browbeating of my girlfriend to finally get me to try it. As always seems to be the case, her instincts were spot on. The first time we went out for sushi, I was so assured I was going to hate it that I insisted that we eat something familiar beforehand(damn you Angry Whopper!). Sweet Jesus was I wrong. I’ve never since been as unabashedly angry at wasting money and precious stomach space on fast food. Now, I’ve become something of a dabbler, even venturing so far as to make my own rolls on occasion(a prospect that invariably never ends as well as I hope), yet until this spring break, I’d yet to try down home Florida sushi. That experience led the girlfriend and I to come away a bit more than disappointed. After living amongst the relative smorgasbord of New York and New Haven, the fish just as wasn’t fresh…something I found mind boggling considering we were steps from the ocean. Call me a simple man, but when a sushi restaurant’s ‘most popular roll’ section leads off with the Kentucky Fried Chicken roll, something is amiss.

But being he of slightly more than little faith, I decided to give my quest another go this summer.

The result was like so many other things in Florida, a dumbed down version of something, made more for people looking to reminisce than for people looking for something new and exciting. Of the three places I patroned, not one would I go to again. What was the deal? The ambiance was there, as were all the subtle touches, like real green tea made with powdered leaves, and soy sauce with all the sodium. But the fish seemed just thawed, not just caught. The rolls themselves put more emphasis on the sauces and toppings than the fish. Even the rice fell apart. The only consistency was how bad each restaurant was, and that they each inexplicably had a KFC roll. Given the fact that at each restaurant, I was accompanied by a different person, one being my father, hardly a picky, the other two being friends who were wildly different in their food preferences, all of whom were unequivocally unenthusiatic about the sushi, made me feel safe in assuming that the sushi was just empirically bad.

But this isn’t a uniquely Floridian problem. Yes we are essentially a retirement community for New York and New Jersey, but this is a nationwide problem. How does this sort of disappointment always happen? Why is it our culture to badly misappropriate things? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy American ingenuity as much as the next guy, but sometimes, being appreciative of a culture and its food means leaving well enough alone. As much as our collective palate has been shocked and corralled to where the fast food and convenience food industries want us, people now more than ever appreciate tastes other than sweet and savory. A little fresh or even ~gasp~ raw food goes a long way these days. Taking a cookie cutter approach to sushi belies a tradition of balancing the delicate flavors of a variety of ingredients, and instead eliminates the conceived risk by sticking to what works; slathering something in a sauce and hoping it goes down easy. What in other countries is a respected culinary craft has become something of a line order cook; just throw some stuff together and hope for the best.

Perhaps making my own sushi gave me a sense of how difficult it really is. Perhaps it makes me appreciate it all the more when it is done right. So while my amazing first experience has yet to be topped, I’ve always found enough good to live through the bad; but that trend could change. What I do know is that while I love the explosion in sushi popularity, I hope the quality sees an equal upswing, or it will quickly become another fad food(I’m looking at you ostrich) in many places, even some that seem natural locations for the good stuff. In the mean time, I’ll just have to wait for school to start.

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Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Popped by Whole Foods and got $16 worth of mixed greens, miso ginger dressing, cheese (which was $8 out of the total…) and BEETS. Yes, scraggly roots and clumped dirt and all! Washed and cut off the ends, wrapped one up in aluminium foil and roasted on 325 for an hour. Sliced and spread over greens, crumbled on some Bucheron goat cheese, added dressing (sparingly), then OMNOMNOM.

Couldn’t help feeling like Dwight Schrute while I was preparing the beets and getting its bloody magenta juices all over my hands. Yum.

From http://machiavelie.tumblr.com

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Poached eggs

Saturday brunch: Poached eggs

My first successful attempt at poached eggs! In the past, I ended up with watery egg drop soup, minus the MSG and cornstarch. Added more vinegar than usual (sushi vinegar instead of white, but it was fine), and poured the eggs in from a bowl rather than plop them in from the cracked shell. A bit over-cooked, but pretty decent.

Slid them onto a bed of mixed greens and crumbled goat cheese (note to self: not goat cheese next time), grated some Robusto on (any nutty hard/ gouda like cheese will work, just don’t go for the goat…), salt and pepper to taste. I also added a dollop of dijon and a leftover wedge of the Robusto:

Maybe I’ll be ballsy enough to make a real hollandaise sauce next time for my runnier poached eggs (I loooove runny eggs); emulsions are just so finicky for my brash cooking style, though (I’m an eyeballer).

From: http://machiavelie.tumblr.com

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Asparagus and Fried Plantains (Yeah I eat like a pregnant woman)

I cannot FOR THE LIFE OF ME find artichokes in Queens. Pork blood and chayote squash, however, are here in abundance. Spent all of Sunday wandering JAckson Heights looking for a market that sold those spiky buggers, but to no avail. But the longer and more futile my search became, the more I craved and became fixated on that droll but elusive vegetable. In the end, I settled for asparagus (also green, reminds me of armadillos, and a thing-white-people-like) and plantains, which are ALL OVER THE PLACE.

Usual boil, toss with olive oil, garlic, and grated Robusto (a hard block of gouda goes a long way!)

I fried the plantains in good ol’ canola, drained, and seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper. These were a bit dry andstarchy for me, but because the plantain was too unripe. To get htem as gooey and sweet as I like, I should have gotten the totally ripe black ones. These were yellow with black splotches.

From http://machiavelie.tumblr.com

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Stuffed Artichoke (yes, just one, for me)

What you need:

– Artichoke(s), lemon, bay leaves, italian sausage, garlic, parmesan, parsley, bread crumbs, onions

Prepping artichokes:
Cut off the stem and take off inedible leaves at the bottom. Snip off tips off leaves or cut the top 1/3. Rub lemon on the cut places to keep them from browning (same goes for when you cut open an avocado, you know?). Put your artichokes into a pot of water and steam it; add garlic, bay leaves, lemons, whatever your little heart desires, into the water to get some flavor. Steam for 20 min.

While steaming, prepare the filling:
Chop up Italian sausage, onion, garlic powder, add freshly chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Mix it up, add in bread crumbs and grated Parmesan. I didn’t add bread crumbs this time, and it came out a bit saltier than I’d like.

Now that you have your filling and done steaming: take your steamed artichokes out and put them upside down on a cooling rack with towels to drain. When they cool down enough to handle, spread the leaves apart to expose the chokes. Scoop out the center with a spoon (the fuzzy crap) until you hit the heart. You should have little artichoke bowls now, just like this:

Now just stuff the filling into your artichokes, including in-between the leaves. Bake on 400 for 15 min or until brown. It’s all cooked anyway, so this is more to get the filling to melt and be yummy. Voila! The juices from the filling will seep into the artichoke while you muncha away through the layers.

From: http://machiavelie.tumblr.com

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mmmm mama

Originally uploaded by curious gorge

Ramen is, needless to say, almost as big a part of the broke college student’s diet as cheap vodka (Popov ftw!). I’m extremely partial to this form of MSG delivery (hey, it’s arguably one of the most important food groups in the Asian diet, alongside rice and soysauce), and although I would normally choose having to watch Rush Limbaugh getting it on with Bill O’Reilly than subject myself to any form of nationalism, this is one area where I proudly take up the flag of the motherland.

That’s right – I am a proud Instant Noodle Nationalist, and here is what I have to say: Thai instant noodle is THE BEST IN THE WORLD. With myriads of flavours to choose from, ranging from mild pork soup to blazing hot Tom Yum Koong to dry and herby Pad Kee Mao (aka drunken noodles), you can invoke the taste of real Thailand (the street food eating, market shopping, smog breathing Thailand) in 3 minutes flat.

My poison of choice happens to be the most classic, enduring and popular ramen of them all: Mama Tom Yum Koong (Just as cola connoisseurs would adamantly insist that there is a difference between coke and pepsi, I would also like to stress that Mama’s Tom Yum Koong is different – and superior to – all other brand’s). Based off of one of Thailand’s best known dish, this baby packs flavour – and heat – like no other. Really, it’s the best 3-minute cure for any ailments from colds to nausea to nostalgia I know.

Although it is good plain, this bowl of noodles can very easily be dressed up to add variety and nutritional value. Usually, I just add an egg at the end just to be able to say, look! it’s real food! But it’s seriously good with savoury pork balls, basil, mushrooms added as well.

It’s pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a quick guide:

Open a pack of Mama and pour the flavourings into a bowl (don’t use the whole thing if you’re not sure whether you can handle the heat. Just start with half of each packet – you can always add more later) Chop up some mushrooms, pick some fresh basil leaves, knead some soy sauce, sake and ground black peppers into some ground pork, and bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Once the water is boiling, drop the ground pork into the water in one inch balls, then add the mushrooms (I usually crack an egg into the pot at this point too. Wait until everything is nearly cooked through, then add the noodles, and let cook (should take less than 3 minutes). Ladle everything into the bowl over the chili powder and paste.


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