Macaroni and Lots of Things

It was another lazy Saturday afternoon at Stu’s house.  Matt and I were over and the three of us were having a blast doing nothing together.  Relevant Calvin and Hobbes comic.

At some point, we moved over to the piano to “jam” a bit.  I say “jam” because we’re 12 or 13 in this story and our musical potential had not been unlocked yet.  Stu still barely knew how to play the drums, I knew nothing outside of my classical music training and Matt hadn’t found his passion for jazz yet.

“Are you guys hungry?”, Stu asked.

Matt and I looked at each other before agreeing, “yeah, we could eat.”

“Okay cool, be right back”, Stu got up and left us as Matt and I continued experimenting on the piano.

Not too much time passed as Stu returned with a giant bowl of Mac and Cheese with cut up hot dogs and 3 spoons.  It was one of those big bowls you would normally use to toss or serve salads in.  And looking back at it now, Stu cooked that up really fast; is there a boy scout badge for speed cooking mac and cheese?

Anyway, we moved to the kitchen area and gathered around to eat his creation.  After a few spoonfuls, Matt spoke up and said “It tastes like it’s missing something..”  I thought maybe he meant a little salt and pepper, but he and Stu went into the fridge to see what we could add.  Matt found a small container of gravy from KFC.  “This!  Let’s add this!” Matt exclaimed.  Stu was hesitant about it.  After a small Benny Hill chase sequence, Matt was finally able to pour the gravy into the mac and cheese.  To Matt’s credit, it actually tasted pretty good.  After a few more spoonfuls, Matt once again posed the question:

“What else can we add to this?”

And right here is where we should have stopped this nonsense.  Instead, we went down an exponentially faster descent of adding things and then trying to save the integrity of the mac and cheese.

There were a handful of things we mixed into the mac and cheese at first that made it taste good.  Forgive my memory as I can’t quite seem to remember them (it was so long ago).  I think it was salt, pepper, ketchup, some hot sauce and I think eventually more cheese and more hotdogs.  The part I remember vividly was when things took a weird turn.

“Cap’n Crunch!”

Stu and I barely had a chance to stop Matt as he poured some into the bowl.  It might have been fine if it was regular Cap’n Crunch, but it was actually the berry version.  So now our mac was a weird savory mix, and from this point forward, it was gross.

In an attempt to bind the flavors together and mix savory with savory, Matt added a big spoonful of peanut butter.  Good idea, but still gross.

It was around this point that Marty joined us.  We filled him in with our current dilemma and he tried his best to help.  He found a bottle of thousand island dressing in the fridge and poured some in.  Still no good.

Finding a plate of soft boiled eggs I threw those into the mix.  For a moment, we thought the mac and cheese was saved as Marty tasted it and let out a satisfying “mmmm”.  It was then pointed out that he just had a spoonful of egg without the other elements.  Not too long after, I had a brilliant idea:

“Soy sauce saves everything, right?”

The others applauded my idea as I poured in what looked like just the right amount.  We each took another spoonful only to find that though it tasted better, it was still gross tasting.

We were just about to abandon it before Matt said “Wait! I think if we add more Cap’n Crunch it’ll taste good!”

Nope.  Should have just stopped at gravy..

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So I Tried Shake Shack…

Let me start by stating that I will not be doing a direct comparison of Shake Shack to In-N-Out because it isn’t fair.  I don’t mean that in the sense that one is clearly better than the other, rather they are in two different categories of food.

Consider the following:

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In-N-Out is considered fast food.  So it’s only fair to compare it to the likes of Carl’s Jr., McDonalds or Burger King.

Shake Shack is considered fast casual food.  So it’s only fair to compare it to the likes of Habit Burger or Five Guys.

I wouldn’t compare an AFL player to a NFL player.  It’s a similar sport and both require similar skill sets, but it’s still not quite there.  It wouldn’t be right to pit teams from the two leagues against each other and say whoever wins, wins.

I’m not a burger or food connoisseur by any means, and as unbiased as I’ll try to be, I’m still born and raised in Southern California; so there’s that.  So I’ll just give a review of what I think.

For starters, a while ago I saw Wong Fu’s video segments on their reviews of the two chains:

(side note: I felt really annoyed watching this partly because Ted was so adamant about his stance on Shake Shack)

Spoiler, if you didn’t watch it, most of them liked Shake Shack more.  And so going into this, I came with an open mind.  If all these Asian Southern California natives liked it more, maybe I might too?  I was in Las Vegas, and this was probably one of my few opportunities to try it, so I did.

Let’s talk about what I liked.  There was definitely good quality in the meat patty.  You could taste the meat and it wasn’t a manufactured or frozen patty.  If it was, they made large efforts to make it not look that way (it wasn’t a perfect circle).

With the addition of pickles and onions in my hamburger, it came together nicely.  Each bite tasted fresh.

Visually, each burger looks like it was made with care, and is pleasing to the eyes (as opposed to smashed and/or falling apart).

That’s it.  That’s all I enjoyed.

Sure, there is quality in the meat, but I don’t feel like it justifies the price ($4 and up for a burger, depending on what you want).  Yes, there is menu variety, but I don’t know if I’ll ever want a hot dog or chicken burger that badly.  For example, I’m glad McDonalds has a salad selection, but I don’t think I’d ever order one.  I’ll say honorable mention to their mushroom burger because if I were vegetarian, I’d probably love this place for it (but I’m not and I don’t care for mushrooms).  If I liked desserts and sweets more, I’d appreciate that side of the menu more.  I tried their concrete, and it was pretty good.  I hear their shakes and stuff are actually good, but I’m hear to judge their burgers.

It bothered me that each burger came with ONE leaflet of lettuce.  Just barely enough to separate meat from bun.

I can’t tell you if their shack sauce is any good.  I couldn’t really taste it.  In fact, I found myself pouring on the ketchup and mustard because I felt like it was missing something.  I don’t think they put too much on it.

People make fun of me for this next piece of knowledge, but whatever.  I’ll never forget Mr. Holcomb telling us the value of cheese and what a price markup it is in Economics class.  I always order hamburgers at In-N-Out because I’d otherwise pay 35 cents more for a piece of cheese.  At Shake Shack?  One whole dollar more for a slice of cheese.  Worse yet, the cheeseburger by default does not come with pickles and onions.  Had I known, I would have asked for it.

Because it doesn’t come with pickles and onions, the cheeseburger was soggier and tasted really greasy.

The fries were okay.  Maybe because I associate crinkle cut fries with elementary school cafeterias but It wasn’t anything special to me.

The burgers are small.  Even after eating a hamburger, a cheeseburger, some fries and some of a concrete, I wasn’t exactly full.  Quality over quantity I guess?

Lastly, it was expensive.

This cost me $25:

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(wasn’t all for me, bought food for my girlfriend too)

I mean, I’m glad I tried it so that I could talk about it like this, but all in all, it’s not for me.  In two words, it sucked.  I’m all about value, and it’s a poor value.  I guess I just prefer my burgers like this:

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(and this will only cost me like $8)

Ramen Fun

Since it’s starting to become perfect ramen weather, I’ve been taking pictures of the ramen I make at home.  For the past few instances, I’ve taken on the challenge of trying something new.  Let me start by saying I’m not fancy, I definitely used packets of instant ramen and made use of what else was in the pantry or refrigerator.  I had a lot of fun.

Most of the time, whenever I’m home alone and want a bowl, it usually looks something like this:

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As it’s boiling I’ll throw in frozen dumplings, egg, and/or veggies.  For this instance, I put in a dollop of miso paste, egg, kimchi, store-bought chashu and topped with sesame seeds.  As much as possible, I always try to make it more than just a bowl of noodles and soup.  The new thing was the miso paste; I figured since I slurp up all the soup anyway, why not making it slightly more appetizing?

The next time around, I made this:

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I had learned from more than one source that adding a spoonful of peanut butter to it actually thickens the broth nicely.  I peeled some chicken into it and topped it off with red pepper and it was quite hearty.  It worked, the peanut butter wasn’t overpowering either, I was afraid it would become like a Reese’s peanut butter cup.  Power packed with protein, I made sure to run before I cooked and ate it.

Last week, I put this together:

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It was a packet of ramen where you’re supposed to drain the water and then add the sauce/seasoning to it.  To make it fancier, I put it over a bed of arugula and topped it with grape tomatoes and a hard boiled egg.  It was refreshing since it was quite hot that day.

I enjoy that ramen is kind of like a pizza, in that you can theoretically throw whatever you want on top of it.  Other things I’ve eaten with my ramen in the past include spam, bacon, cheese, spinach, basil, mint leaves, lap cheung, hot dog, corn, tilapia, avocado..

Topped off with sriracha, tapatio, sesame oil, garlic oil or soy sauce.. it’s great!

The one thing I haven’t tried yet is going to 7-Eleven, making instant ramen there and then adding chili and cheese to it from the nacho dispenser.  Smart enough to know better, but dumb enough to still try.. (for now anyway).

What do you do to your ramen?

French Fries

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I really really really like french fries.  It is one of my kryptonites.  Not in the sense that I will lose all strength around it, but rather it’s really hard for me to say no to fries.  It’s to the extent where I could be bloated from Korean barbecue and not be able to eat another bite and you asked me “do you want some fries?” I would “yes” so fast and without hesitation.  I could easily gain a second wind.. for french fries.

It’s silly.  I know that it’s just a side dish and the complex carbohydrates are terrible for me, but I’ll do it anyway.

In writing this, I totally had a flashback.  There was one summer where my sister watched a lot of the S Club 7 TV show on Fox Family.  I would watch too because there wasn’t much else to do on a lazy summer afternoon.  I recall an episode where one of the guys (also) loves french fries.  It’s hard to describe the scene and I can’t find the clip anywhere.  But the band is about to leave a diner in a hurry because they don’t want to deal with the manager, until a waitress stops them and offers them fries.  There, the guy turns around and says “wait, did you say fries?”.  And the next scene he’s eating a whole plate full.  So relatable.

I’m starting to be afraid that I might like fries as much as Day[9] likes donuts..

And don’t even get me started on carne asada fries..

Recover

So, a while back I wrote a post on how I enjoy relaxing over a hot cup of tea.  Now I’ll tell you what allows me to recover.

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Nothing get’s me on road to recovery faster than a nice bowl of ramen!  My process for going about illnesses usually goes like this:

While not feeling well-
stay in bed
if strong enough to get out of bed, eat ramen
if ramen doesn’t help, eat medicine
if nothing works, seek real help

There’s nothing magical about it, and there’s certainly not much healthy about it.  It could be physical pain, sickness, food poisoning, heartache… whatever ails me, it makes it all better.

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It’s especially delectable on a lazy Saturday morning.  Homemade or at a real ramen shop, it’s all good.  I’ve had some fun experimenting with my own ramen creations.  Though most of my homemade ramen cooking sessions end up going like this:

In my experience, Korean prepackaged ramen is the best for home cooking.  It’s more expensive for a reason.  My weirdest creation?  Using cream of chicken as a soup base.

The best of ramen I’ve had to date comes from Silverlake Ramen.  It’s one of the few places where I’ll drink up all the soup with it.  The worst?  Rutsu 18 and Modan.  Ajisen and Shinsengumi are good benchmarks.  Benten and Tamaya are up there too. (RIP Alhambra Tamaya)

Oh, pho is good too..

Call me weird, but hey, that’s just me.

What helps you recover?

 

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Experimenting with Food

Joshua Chuandra requested for more on the things I cooked in college.  I will deliver.

Probably somewhere in highschool, I introduced myself to the concept of leftover casserole.  That is, when I brought lunch to school, it would be just a mixture of two or more leftover meals from previous days.  The true concept comes from Malcom in the Middle.

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Oddly enough, that’s my favorite lunch to bring to work (or school).  Because, other than the context of a buffet, when else can you have teriyaki chicken over Mexican rice, or pasta and Chinese stir fry?  It’s through this where I kind of experienced the interesting mixes and combinations of flavors and textures.

I mean, cheese doesn’t normally exists in asian cuisine, which is a shame because it’s strangely delicious.  In particular, melting cheese on top of fried rice or ramen.  You or I wouldn’t know that unless our curiosity took us there.  It doesn’t have to weird like that either.  One thing I learned from Man Lauren is substituting pasta sauce with chicken tortilla soup (the thick kind).  With ravioli, it’s quite tasty.

A lot of things I cooked in college were made with whatever was left in the fridge/pantry or with whatever was on sale at the grocery store.  That being said, I’ve cooked some weird things.

Curry + Alfredo Sauce on your pasta.  Not too cheesy, not to curry-y.

I had a can of Pâté.  So I mixed it and onions into a red pasta sauce for a pseudo Liver and Onions dinner.  I did that to trick my roommate, because he said he would never eat liver and onions.  We both enjoyed it.

Out of pasta sauce one evening, I kind of created my own with cream cheese, a little olive oil, basil and canned clams.

Breakfast fried rice with sausage, for our traditional Fried Rice Saturdays.

Mac and Cheese with Pepperoni.

For the quarters that I went vegetarian, I still experimented.  Tofu in pasta.  Tofu based fillings for my burrito cravings.  Kidney beans or potatoes in my fried rice.  Pea Omelette.  Beating hummus into my eggs.

Call me weird, but these turned out to be pretty good.  Some of these ideas existed long before I tried them for myself too.

Although, Man Lauren would interpret this as the sole basis for my cooking.  He would often try to sneak things into my food while I was cooking.  Like blueberries and coffee.  Not cool.

 

If you have any suggestions of things for me to write or if you would like any sort of shout out, feel free to fill this out.  The same form is now embedded on this site.  Click the tab above!

 

Picky

Generally speaking, I am not a picky eater.  Frankly, I’ll eat just about anything.  Although, it wasn’t always that way.  When I was much younger, there were a lot of things I avoided like the plague.

When it came to cheeseburgers and hotdogs, I would only use ketchup.  For whatever reason, I decided I didn’t like mustard, relish, or mayo.  As for other toppings, forget tomatoes, onions, lettuce  or pickles, I didn’t like those either.

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I used to be scared of eating sashimi.  The idea of eating something raw didn’t make sense to me.  I stuck to just California rolls and such for a time.  No need for wasabi or the ginger either.

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The only dipping sauce I would enjoy with my McNuggets was sweet and sour sauce.  I didn’t even give hot mustard or bbq sauce a chance.

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Certain combinations of Asian food made me not want to eat it; like peanuts in my Vietnamese dishes or pineapple fried rice.

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I used to sit there and systematically pick out all the mushrooms on a pizza slice before I ate it.  Even if it looked like this:

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I found it hard to deviate away from familiar dishes when it came to ordering at restaurants.  The All-American Spaghetti at Twohey’s, double cheeseburger at McDonalds.. I ate no other Chinese pastry other than the Char Siu Bao.  The things I ate at dim sum were severely limited to Har Gao, Siu Mai and Cheong Fun.

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But all that changed in 8th grade.  It was a field trip day and we were at Olvera Street…

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A couple of my classmates and I just bought lunch and we sat around to eat it.  We all got some form of burrito, which came on a paper plate.  Aside from the actual burrito itself, there was a salad on it.  And when I say salad, I mean, it was literally a pile of sad looking shredded cabbage.  In fact, it was probably just there to make the plate look a little nicer.  As we were finishing up, I saw Brandon gobble down the “salad”.

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The rest of us looked at each other and teased him a bit for eating the cabbage that tasted remotely like styrofoam.  To which he replied with, “at least it’s food”.  We all dismissed that, but I reflected on that statement later in the day.  It gave me new perspective on food.  As long as something is edible and/or safe to eat, why not just eat it (especially if I was still hungry)?

And so I began to try new things.  I left the pickles in my burger.  I ate the cilantro that garnishes many plates.  I powered through the mushrooms on my pizza slice.  I tried new condiments when ketchup wasn’t available for whatever reason.  And that snowballed to where I am now; eats almost anything.

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How picky were you as a child?

The Usual

Do you have a go-to order?  You know what I mean, when you go to a restaurant and you pretty much already know what you want, however complicated it is.  I’m directing this more-so towards fast food places and/or places that encourage customization.    For example, whenever Matt and Stu go to Souplantation, they’ll always have a bowl of the chicken noodle soup with equal parts soup and cheese.  Here are some of mine:

At Panda Express, I’ll almost always get half chow mien, half steamed veggies, orange chicken and tofu eggplant. and at the end I’ll ask for some sweet and sour sauce, cause I like the zing.

At In-N-Out, I like to order two hamburgers with grilled onions, chopped chilies, extra toasted bun, double tomatoes, and a mustard fried patty.

At McDonalds, I USED to get two McDoubles and a McChicken (and asked for Big Mac Sauce).  But I haven’t been there in a while.

At Chipotle, I get the Veggie Burrito.. with everything.

Subway is a little different.  But I always default on the jalapeno cheese bread and pepper jack for the cheese.  My Brother will always default to adding Pepperoni to his order (ex: Tunaroni).

At less traditional ramen shops, I’ll sometimes order a certain bowl but ask for tonkotsu broth with it instead.  I’m sure it defeats the purpose, but hey, I enjoy tonkotsu broth.  When Tamaya was still around, my sister would always order the Sato Special.

I have yet to have a go-to order for Blaze Pizza.

At any given taco truck, I’ll always look for Lengua and Cabeza meat..

Man Lauren’s go-to order at Alberto’s is a Carne Asada Burrito and Carne Asada Fries.

 

What about you?

The Best Thing I Ever Cooked

Roasted Pork Shoulder.

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Part of what makes this so cool was the entire process I had to go through to cook it.  The pork shoulder was originally left as a gift from Dave when he moved out.  When I moved in, I got to take his room.

Preparation started a whole day in advance since I had to let it defrost in the fridge.  I premixed the dry rub since I would pretty much start the cooking process as soon as I got back from class the next day.  As soon as I got back from class I put the dry rub on and seared it in a pan to render the fat.  I also chopped some carrots and peeled garlic to add to the liquid it would be sitting in.  The sauce was a mixture of BBQ sauces, hot sauces and Jack Daniels.  La had purchased a bottle a while back and I thought I would put it to cooking use.  Inspired by Epic Meal Time of course.  Cooked the alcohol out and poured it together in a tray.  Foiled it up and stuck it in the oven for the next 4 and a half hours.

It was originally dinner for two (Cheeseburger Eddie and me) but we had company over at the time.  Rachel and Janice were going to take out Travis to dinner for his birthday, but he couldn’t say no to my cooking.  So I invited them all to stick around.  I served it with rice and a simple spinach salad.

I had never cooked this before so I had no idea how it would turn out or if adding Jack Daniels was even a good idea.  To my surprise, it was delicious.  It fell right off the bone, it was juicy and tasty.  We spent the remainder of that Friday evening fellowshipping over Uno and tea.

T’was a good night.

 

What was the best thing you cooked?

My Food Concoctions for the Average College Student

Many of you know me to be a pretty competent cook.  I learned a fair amount from watching my mom, my grandma and the Food Network.  But the brunt of my knowledge comes from a lot of trial and error.  When I was still in school, I only really cooked, I hardly went out to get a meal.  When I was still figuring some things out, I would tell people that I experimented in the kitchen (rather than cooked).  I know this will cater more to my college audience (if any), so without further adieu, I present to you some weird (good?) food combinations I came up with during the tough times and during my creative moments.  And don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Ramen + Soy Sauce + Avocado
Sort of like a deconstructed California roll

Ram-lette
Yes, a ramen omelette.  Gives new dimensions to the flavor packet

Ramen Burrito
It’s nice to pack as a lunch to-go.  It’s better when complemented by something else too (like maybe.. soy sauce and avocados?).  The joy of ramen without having to eat it out of a bowl.

Leftover Burrito
If you ever find that you want to eat something quick but don’t have time to make the rice to put it over, try wrapping it in a tortilla instead.  This is also good for a packed lunch.

Beating Eggs
I creatively learned that you can beat pretty much anything into your eggs, not just milk or water.  In lieu of milk, I once beat salsa into my eggs and from there tried other things (soy sauce, pepper, chili flakes, pork sun, etc.).  Try it!

Rice
Having made Mexican rice on more than one occasion, I explored other possibilities.  Instead of water, try putting in beef or chicken stock, and don’t be afraid to throw dry ingredients in there too.  If you want to be fancy, you can actually cook your chicken or lup chong with the rice in the rice cooker.

Pasta
Inspired by Bobby Flay, who cooked his pasta in hotdog water on Iron Chef, I tried doing the same to preseason my pasta.  The flavor is subtle, but it’s still a concept I’m exploring.  I’ve tried simple things like pepper water, to reusing boiling water that was used to cook other things (vegetables or meat).

Bread Crumbs
Inspired by Epic Meal Time, instead of bread crumbs, try using chips or Cheez-its the next time you make a hamburger patty, meatloaf or meatballs.  It’s pretty cool.

Curry + Chili + Corn
I invented this concoction with Man Lauren.  He wanted his canned chili one night, and I wanted my packet curry.  So we combined it and the results were surprisingly good.

Leftover Sauces
I’ve found that Inn-n-out spread goes well with any sort of beef.  One specific instance was with Taiwanese beef rolls.  And on that note, Chik fil A sauce goes well with any sort of chicken.  If you ever have a problem of what to do with your extra sauce packets.

Katsu Sauce
One time B man’s forgot to give me katsu sauce with my katsu bowl.  So I made my own.  Equal parts ketchup, oyster sauce and tapatio make a pretty good substitute.  Still on the topic of sauces..

Any Sauce + Mayo = An Aioli or a fancy sauce
More or less..

Cheese
The simple act of baking cheese on top of something makes it taste so much better.  Especially for something like budget box macaroni.  And that goes for pasta as well.  If you’re going through a rough quarter, microwaving cheese on top of your rice is not a bad option if you had not time to do groceries.

Mac and Cheese
Try mixing these into to your next pot of budget mac: ground beef, spam, bacon, or canned tuna and onions or peas.

Cooked carrots tossed in sweet chili sauce
It’s pretty good.

Marinating
I’ve mastered Cheeseburger Eddie’s formula for marinating chickens and steaks.  Marinate your meats in
– something salty (like soy or oyster sauce)
– something tangy (like worcestershire sauce)
– something spicy (like white pepper, or tabasco)
– something sweet (like honey)
Finding the balance between them all is the hard part.

Garlic + Vegetables
If you’re pan frying your vegetables anyway, throw some garlic in there.

Broccoli + Clam Chowder + Parmesan Cheese
Bake it altogether.  Add pepper to taste.

Mustard + Pepperoni Pizza
It works since pepperoni is like a deli meat

Put Ground Beef in your Pancake Batter
Who says you can only put fruit or chocolate chips in a pancake?  If you think about it, it’s not too far from a corn dog.  Came up with this one with Joe bro.

Try these out!  And let me know if you actually enjoy it too!
What are some weird food things that you have come up with?