Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Thai Bento

Welcome back! For my first box back from my Taiwan trip I put together a Thai themed Bento. I really like Thai food, I had to struggle with this box because there were so many great recipes in my head that I would have loved to go with. In the end because the "seed" idea for the box came forth from the desert (more on that later) which is rice based, I had to discard any ideas for a curry (besides I'll save a good curry for the Indian bento). For some reason my prep for this box wasn't very good and it cost me all of a night and some of another to crank out two sets of boxes. (lesson learned better prep == more sleep)

We start with a Pad Thai. Everyone has a variant this happens to be mind. My rice noodles were from the pantry and a little dated, so it required a bit more rehydration. I topped it off with a quick bean sprout stir fry as I had a lot leftover, extra sprouts never hurt anyone. Had to use some fake grass as I couldn't use the container since it would have limited the amount of Pad thai

We follow it up with a nice Beef Satay with a Lime and peanut sauce. I cut the beef a bit thick so it was a little tough, but the coconut spice marinade made for some good flavor. I give my self a B for this dish, I should have known better.

For the vegetable side I put together a Thai cucumber salad. Visually it looks like a standard cucumber salad, the recipe tweaks this a bit by adding ground dried shrimp and fish sauce for a bit of a savory flavor component. I figured it would lighten up the box a bit.

Last but not least the whole reason for the Thai bento. One of my wife's favorite deserts is called Bubor pulot hitam, it's a black rice pudding infused with ginger and coconut. It's not really a pudding per say as the rice doesn't get mushy, it has a harder texture with a bit of a nutty flavor. Quick garnish with some cocnut milk and we're off.

Box Contents:
  • Pad Thai topped with sauted bean sprouts
  • Beef Satay with Lime Peanut Sauce
  • Thai Cucumber Salad
  • Bubor Pulot Hitam

Friday, October 26, 2007

Inpromptu Pot Roast

Will miracles never cease, I happened to have swapped memory cards and to my delight found that my substitute memory card did contain my Pot Roast bento pics! Anyway onto the bento. It's pretty amazing what you can throw together impromptu style given some inspiration. I had intended only to do one bento for the week as I was busy preparing for my trip to Taiwan. It just so happened that with my trip to the grocery store, for buying my goods for the South American bento, I qualified for 2 free pounds of chuck roast. What better way to celebrate my good fortune than to turn it and whatever leftovers I had into a bento! So I yanked out the crockpot and got cooking. Ok you're asking, why pot roast, blah so plain. Well growing up in a Chinese family that owned a Chinese restaurant, you don't get much American food. Things like Hamburger Helper and Luby's were a treat, otherwise it was Happy family this, Kung Pao chicken that. (believe me it gets old).

The Pot roast was pretty plain, simple and straight forward, the question was how do I fill out the rest of the bento box. 3 more slots to fill and all I had was my corner grocery store (as I didn't want to get in the car and fight the crowds at the regular grocery). Time to hit the pantry:

I pulled the leftover vegetables from the Matambre and used it as part of the veggies for the pot roast. I rummaged thru the pantry and found a can of Salsify to add to the veggie mix. One down two to go.

I had to get some blue cheese to make the Jackson salad (a personal decadent favorite) I already had a can of artichokes and hearts of palm on hand. And I put the bacon bits to the side because the wife doesn't like bacon. I love this salad because most of the ingredients are easy to have on hand and the rest can be had very quickly. Ok two down one more to go, desert...

I decided to cut the corners and just pick up some snackwells while I was at the corner store easy way to round it out.

All in all, except for the blue cheese, a pretty healthy lunch relatively low in fat and the one "bad" dish I cut corners on (the Jackson salad: less oil, less cheese, optional bacon) to make it not too fat ladden lunch.

Box Contents
  • Homestyle pot roast with onion gravy
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Jackson Salad (lite)
  • Snackwell cookies

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oops technical difficulties

I accidentally deleted my memory card with the latest box (Pot roast bento)... I'll pick up again with next weeks bento boxes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

From chaos comes bentos

I'm still adjusting to this schedule of creating so many bentos on back to back days. I make two bentos one on Monday and one on Tuesday. Originally I was aiming for a Monday/Wednesday schedule, turns out that Wednesday was the day everyone went out to lunch and Thursday was way too far out so the food from the weekend might not hold. So Monday and Tuesday it is.

It's been a learning experience for me, I have to learn how to prepare these meals ahead of time with minimal prep work in the mornings (as I value my sleep), but to my surprise one of the larger headaches is actually cleaning the dishes for the bentos from Monday such that I have something ready to "plate" for the Tuesday bentos. My wife has been instrumental in helping me out on this problem. But I still feel the need to sprout some more arms in order to get everything done. My initial bentos were a harried mess in the kitchen, but I think i've learned at least some corners to cut in order to make my life a bit easier.

What I've learned: (so far)
  1. Never bank on the morning of to do anything
  2. Keep building blocks of ingredients ready (the more prep via a can or soup packet the better)
  3. Monday's bento can be really fresh stuff, Tuesdays needs to be able to hold.
  4. It is possible to have Monday/Tuesday bentos done and ready all in one night
  5. The devil is in the details, a coordinated plan of cooking is a must
  6. Learn what can freeze so you can reuse later (pesto, tomato paste, noodles)
  7. Sushi rolls (non fish) can hold over night
  8. Cold food still photographs well
  9. Stews, soups are always easiest to hold over

Monday, October 22, 2007

Just back!

Got back yesterday from my trip to Taiwan visiting the relatives! It was a blast, but more importantly, I got to try some wonderful food thanks to the many banquets we attended. We had a wonderful time (although I need a vacation from the vacation) and it was great seeing everyone.

I've compiled some new lists and recipes that I'll be trying out from my trip so look forward to some more posts. I'll try to get back into the groove of posting here soon. Sorry about the interruption.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Lets go south of the border... No farther south.

Today we go into South America for our bento. This was a hurry up offense menu creation. I was away for a business trip and didn't have much time to plan or decide on what to make, let alone figuring out if I'd make it within budget (Still working on that for this week's bentos). Somewhere in the back of my head, I decided I wanted to grill something, it all moved forward from there.

A popular favorite when I grill at a party is the matambre. I believe literally translated from it's Argentinean origins means "hunger killer". It's basically a flank steak roulade with carrots, bell peppers, kielbasa, romano cheese, ham, and celery, rolled up and grilled for about 2 hours. Unfortunately the cut that i got didn't stand up to grilling that I usually do so the matambre was both smaller and ended up a little dryer than usual. The Chimmichurri sauce helped with that.

For the sides I put together a Peruvian chickpea stew and a spicy tomato rice. From the feedback of my wife, it seemed the stew was a pretty good hit. The complex flavors of spices made it a big winner amongst my diners.

The rice was also very flavorful but I think it missed a few points because a couple of the diners were not big on spicy foods.

Finally I have an Argentinean empanada, it's a flavorful mixture of beef, onions and raisins. Turns out this was the hit of the Bento box for this time around. Although, it was the most labor intensive of all of the items, I was able to make quite a few extra to sock away in the freezer for when I start recycling, or if the wife and I get hit with an attack of the munchies

Box contents:
  • Matambre with chimmichurri sauce
  • Argentinean Empanada
  • Spicy tomato rice
  • Peruvian chickpea

Monday, October 8, 2007

Notes from Mom

So I hinted about this before in one of my earlier posts. Every bento box that I send out to my diners are accompanied with a note (pictured above). I think it's nice to send out a personal note to give them some insight into the inspiration and history behind the bento and the recipes. The picture above came from my Persian bento:

I actually learned these dishes from a good friend of mine. She, with her husband, use to own a local Persian restaurant. I trimmed down some of the ingredients to make it a bit more health conscious. You'll no doubt notice that Persian food is similar to many of it's middle eastern counterparts, lots of stews and curry. Persian food is unique in that they focus a lot of attention on the rice, there are whole cookbooks on Persian rice recipes, heck they even fight over the overcooked crunchy bits. The main stew is called Fesenjoon, it's a chicken stewed in a walnut pomegranate sauce, it's got an interesting taste, rich, sweet and sour. Above it is Baghali Polo, a lima bean dill basmati rice. To the side you have Mirza Ghasemi, eggplant with tomato dish that has a good bit of kick from the head of garlic it calls for. We finish off with a little cup of my baba ghanouj, every middle eastern culture seems to have their variant, this happens to be my take. Everything except the Baba Ghanouj should be heated. The Pita bread can be used with all of the dishes. I hope you find the dishes to your taste, I assure you the tastes are authentic.

Starting from the bottom left
#Baghali Polo
#Baba Ghanouj
#Mirza Ghasemi
#Pita on the side

Nooshe John Befarmaeed (Happy Eating!)

I usually give a brief introduction and go into each of the items, heating instructions and the like. And of course the final manifest of what's in the bento box.

<yawn> I'm a bit tired from my rushed bentos last night, I have some lessons learned so I'll be posting those when I post the boxes.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Persian bento

Today's bento is courtesy of some tutelage from couple that use to own a Persian restaurant here in Austin. For one of the dinner parties they hosted for our coworkers they were nice enough to have me over so I could watch and help prepare the meal. As with many middle eastern cuisine there's a lot of stews and curry type items, but what I found interesting was in Persian cooking, the preparation of rice is very important. There are a huge variety of recipies for the preparation of rice. For this bento I selected Baghali Polo which is a lima bean/Dill rice. I tossed in some of my Baba Ghanouj (courtesy Alton Brown, my hero).

The main stew is called Fesenjoon, it's rather unique in that the recipe calls for a pound and a half of ground walnut to be cooked until the oils are released. It's then cooked with chicken and pomegrate syrup for two hours. The result is a dish that is a little sweet, a little sour, and a very tender chicken.

The second stew is called Mirza Ghasemi, it's primarily composed of eggplants and tomato and calls for a whole head of minced garlic. You definitely get a spicy kick from the amount of garlic

And because I love the artistic nature of the shot of the baghali polo I've posted it too. Now with this rice I intentially skipped some of the flavoring as each of the stews had a strong independent flavor that I wanted the rice to help temper.
Box Contents
  • Fesenjoon
  • Baghali Polo
  • Baba Ghanouj
  • Mirza Ghasemi

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Classic Japanese Bento

So this was the original first bento I wanted to do for my eaters. It's a classic Japanese bento box. I did away with most of the compartments to give me more space, so the silicon muffin cups came in really handy this time around.

I got to use my handy egg molds too. Yes that white heart is actually a hard boiled egg! Some of the blog sites had mentioned using x-large eggs so it would fill the mold, but I found that the x-large eggs actually burst when I tried to mold them, so when I stepped down to a large size egg it fit perfectly.

The larger sauce container contains ponzu sauce for the gyozas, the smaller containers contain plain soy sauce. I liked that there was a nice balance of colors from the food and the various hardware I put into the box, it makes it more fun to shoot and no doubt more pleasing to eat.

I cheated this time around and packed in some instant Miso for a soup. In order to do this many boxes, (2 days worth 6 people each) I'm going to need to learn how to cut corners.

Box Contents

  • Maki or rolled sushi this is my mother's recipe while growing up, it has egg, pork sung and chinese pickle.
  • Homemade pork gyozas
  • Edamame beans with sea salt
  • Onigiri (rice ball) - Pork sung in the center with some cod roe furikaki
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Mochi with red bean paste covered by a cherry leaf (store bought)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tools of the Trade Pt1

Since i'm only doing two bentos a week it's hard to keep the blog full (as I'd like to keep posting daily). Today we're going to talk about some of the tools that I use for constructing my bento boxes. The colorful center pieces (bear, fish, car, bunny) are actually egg molds. It's an unusual concept, what you do is hard boil an egg, peel it hot, squish it into the egg mold and chill them in an ice bath for 10 mins. Pop them open, and lo and behold the egg is in the mold shape, it's kind freaky and cute at the same time. You'll see an example when I post the japanese blog.

Here's a (albeit washed out) picture of the rice molds that I use to create cute riceballs. Originally i had planned to stuff them with some pork sung so it's not just pure rice. It turns out they're a bit too small for that. Still they can be used for molding other items. And there are some cute things you can do with nori and rice.

Last but not least, Silicon muffin cups. These are great, they save some amount of space in my lunch boxes because they are thinner walled and can move to conform to space. Since their waterproof it's a good way to separate food. Bonus they're microwaveable and you can pop them in the toaster oven. By far one of the more versatile tools in my arsenal in my fight against hunger for my eaters :)
This is part one, in the next parts i'll show case the actual lunch boxes as well some of my other tools. It's all great fun for the tool guy in me and no doubt i'll find more cool stuff to add to the toolbox (still need to find one of those....)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Wraps a go go

So With all of my bentos I post a little index card at the front describing the contents, any inspirations I had creating the menu for the box, and of course any serving and heating instructions. It's kinda like mom's note to their kids in the lunch box, hopefully it's not too campy for my eaters. There wasn't much in theme going into this box, I was originally going for some sort of Thanksgiving theme with the turkey wrap and optional cranberry dressing, but since the rest of the items didn't match I kinda gave up on a theme so tried to work with colors and stay in the healthy rules.

Box Contents:
  1. Turkey spinach wrapped in a Sundried tomato wheat Tortilla with a side of cranberry dressing.
  2. Whole wheat penne tossed in Pesto and pine nuts
  3. Baby carrots
  4. Gingerbread men sandwitching Milano cookies
  5. Vegetable Barley soup (not pictured)