Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Dinner Chinese style

Happy Holidays! We're going a bit off topic, well mainly because I have no bentos to post for the moment. I figured at least I can do a Christmas post and let you see how our family does a holiday dinner. During the winter it's very traditional (at least from the part of China my father originated from) to have a hotpot dinner. It's a very communal event and unusual to most outsiders. Basically dinner consists of a lot of raw ingredients surrounding a large "hotpot" of broth. (as pictured above) The electric hotpot (a modern convenience) is favored above the traditional coal fired hotpot but works just as well. Once the pot gets boiling everyone has a personal strainer they put ingredients and then put the whole thing in the boiling broth to cook. Other items that can tolerate long periods in the broth are put in to help the flavor initial, this includes fried tofu, fish cakes, and various meatballs.

Part of the presentation for the dinner is arranging all the sliced meats, seafood and vegetables. As you can see here my father made a nice "meat flower" (ok it's better tasting than the label). Meats are sliced very very thin in order to shorten the amount of time necessary to cook in the hotpot.

Here you see a shrimp plate. When cooking, you try to put together items with similar cooking times, for instance with the shrimp you might cook the squid because both require very little time.

It's not an entirely carnivorous affair. Various plates bowls of spinach, chinese cabbage, and tofu are put into the mix. Once we're finished with dinner we have a wonderful soup broth that can be used later or for another meal to be slurped by itself, or as a base to a very flavorful soup.

I hope everyone had a happy holiday weekend. Have a Happy New year, may you be happy, health and prosperous in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Food for the masses

Ok I exagerate it's a good few people. Sorry for the sparce postings, my work is killing me and life's been a bit hectic.

One of the things I'm learning to deal with is figuring out how to put together all these lunches so that I'm not working all night getting it all ready. It really requires a bit of forethought and factory like mentality. Above you'll see a shipped box. Everything is wrapped nicely compartmentalized so that no sauces spill. I don't always use every compartment. On the weeks that I don't I get to pre-plate for the next day saving me a smidgen of work. In the end, for feeding five people it's not all bad, my initial endevour was to cook only for my new wife. That idea presented it's own challenges towards menu planning, it's hard to buy for a portion of one. How do you re-use your ingredients? Course there are lots of bento blogs that serve as a good resource for that problem. So going down the path to actually cook for more saves me a lot of waste and allows me to have more varied menus. The only hurdle on this "flip side" is still portioning, how do you make sure the recipes would accommodate five portions? If the recipe doesn't how do you scale it? I guess that's why I have my blog to try and put those experiences on e-paper.

Keeping track of the color schemes so everyone gets the right box is probably is a minor pain too :) I keep a map on the table. What I choose in my menus is actually influenced by how I can use the box space and what containers I can retain so I can pre-plate for day 2.

It managed to work itself somehow week after week and we end up with our final product boxed and shipped. I do miss doing my bentos at the same time, it's good to take a break and restart the planning for the next year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

w00t! new hostname finally installed

I got off my lazy bum and finally installed the URL I had originally purchased for this site. From this day forth you will be redirected to (still powered by blogger of course). Anyhow, that's it for now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tools of the Trade pt 3: Tools of preservation

As promised, I'm keeping up with the blog with tools and things I've learned. In this section I'll talk a little about preservation, specifically freezing. Many times, my recipes will yield more than required to build all of my bentos (sometimes intentionally). If I don't intend on eating the food myself immediately or it's a component that I'll re-use at a later date, I'll save and freeze the food. The tricky part about freezing is determining what will defrost well later, but in almost every case, if you don't protect the food those pesky ice crystals will form and cause the dreaded Freezer burn.

So what's the best way to protect your food? Well freezer burn results when ice crystals form from the meat or vegetables when exposed to air. The best way to stop this is storing your food in air tight packaging. I use to use a food saver it's a great tool and I still use it for some of my more "heavy duty" storage. My issue around the foodsaver is that the bags aren't resealable, or if you intend on resealing you have to make a really big bag and cut your way down every time you open the bag. Also, it is a heavy duty machine, it takes up lots of counter space and is very loud.

Never fear, there's an alternative solution that's a actually very cheap. The guys from Reynolds have recently released a more portable solution. They have a resealable bag (quart and gallon sizes) that has a small sealing "port", you can see it in the picture it's the blue dot with a clear center. You basically seal the food in, and place the vacuum pump over the dot and push the button. Assuming you properly sealed the bag, it sucks out all the air. It's a perfect solution, if you want to take some of the "stuff" out simply open up the top take some out, re-seal and vacuum the air back out. It's less loud than the food saver and easily stored. As to what I store, I'll save that for another post, but to tide you over I ran across this handy post on freezing that should be pretty good stuff to know.

As always thanks for coming by. I'm still brainstorming menus for the new year, it's coming up fast so more food posts soon!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Final Box of the year

With the holiday season upon us, my wife prevailed upon me to take a break and take sometime off bentoing to actually enjoy the holidays. So this is my final box for the year. We've got a italian inspired lunch today. I tried to stay with a lighter theme the only hearty fare today is the stew. I had a pretty big hole since I decided to move the stew into an outside container. Fortuneatly the big plump strawberries were ready to take the spot.

We start with a nice italian lamb stew, I didn't use the crockpot this time, I was actually afraid to make the meat too soft. Lots of great hearty ingredients to keep my eaters warm (it's getting cold down here). Carrots, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers potatoes, and of course lamb put that together with a hearty blend of herbs and you get some pretty tasty stuff.

This side was a bit of a struggle for me. There were plenty of sides, but part of my new mandate was that the menu had to be doable very quickly. All the other sides I originally had in mind required a great deal more effort. Fortunately my foodie magazines were able to dig me out of my predicament. I found a recipe for a great minute risotto, it looked promising with nice flavor, the reheat will melt the Parmesan and make it creamy.

I saw this awesome stand of basil sprigs that had the largest leaves I've seen in some time. Naturally had to find an application for them. Underneath that behemoth basil leaf is a standard caprese salad, which is nothing more than fresh mozzerella and tomato slices sprinkled with fresh chopped basil, dusted with a bit of kosher salt, and finished off with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Last but not least is the desert. I had some limoncello (italian lemon liqeur) and thought it would make a wonderful glaze "dressing" for the wonderful giant perfect strawberrries I had. For those that have never had limoncello, it's sweet and lemony without being sour. I think this is partly due to the process of making limoncello is using lemon rind rather than whole lemon. Anyway I digress I lobbed in the last of the blueberries from the day before and voila we finish my last bento.

I've really enjoyed making my bentos for my wife and coworkers this year. I plan on continuing next year when we start up again and recover from the holiday season. I've also had a fun time with the photography and blogging (a first for me). Fear not I'll continue posting, but this is the last "food" post until the new year. The coming posts will be some more on the tools I use in the kitchen and probably more "yammering" and reflection on how to improve my delivery process. Thanks everyone for coming and reading, I'm so excited with my ramp up of traffic. I hope you all have enjoyed reading as I have putting it all together. Cheers!

Box contents:
  • Italian Lamb stew
  • Minute Tomato Risotto
  • Caprese Salad
  • Berries with a Limoncello glaze

Monday, December 3, 2007

Preparation is king

Ok I'm sandbagging. I know there's one last bento post for the year. Aesthetically I think it is one of my better composed ones, but you'll have to wait for my grand finale. In the mean time, more insight into the pre-work I must do for the bentos. For each bento I prepare a menu list, recipe list and finally the "note from mom" that I detailed in the earlier post. From concept to execution, a bento from me requires quite a bit of thought. Most bento blogs help with creating meals from what's in the fridge, in my case, I have to carefully plan out a meal within budget and still execute in the space of one evening. Were I to rummage through the fridge I couldn't come up with anything I could stretch for so many people. My hope of course is my freezer with it's left over buliding blocks will help me out on costs (pesto, tomato sauce, chicken stock). In the meantime as you can see I have a small binder I've been adding to. Each bento is carefully considered with the food costs in mind, but i've collected all my recipes (and my modifications) . I try to cut corners where possible so I can afford to splurge in other bentos, but rest assured my eaters get their value. I've been encouraged to publish my bento collection. I'm still on the fence, but maybe one day, I mean I have the photos, so it's not a far cry to go to lulu or prescribe to the google ads, but this is still a hobby for me so no commercialization yet.

Welcome again to the laptop lunch folks, wow, so many hits over a couple of days. I hope you come back and see me, I love an audience. In the mean time, eat, drink and be happy!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Going out with a bang!

Wow, a little publicity and I triple my visits in 15 hours. Welcome all you laptop lunch newsletter readers! Again, a unsolicited plug, I *love* my lunch boxes, they are so versatile and have made it easier for me to pack these lunches for my wife and her coworkers. Back to the business at hand I've decided to go out with a bang on my last couple of bentos. The idea behind this bento was really the dessert, I had to build the entrees and the sides to make the desert fit.

Since I started the concept with desert let's start by posting about it. I was kicking around the idea of making a creme brulee for my eaters. Two obstacles around that idea . First, glycemicly or health friendly? I don't think so. Two is the logistics of packing. I'd have to pack in six ramekins, not a big deal I suppose, but I need to keep transport easy for my wife. So I settled on another idea: Banana Brulee, I just broke out the torch and got to work. Instead of ice cream, I went with vanilla yogurt as a topping. It all sounded good in theory, but in practice it turns out the yogurt softened the sugar. Everyone still loved it, but I think next time pack the yogurt in a little cup or something.

For the sides, I wanted to make this a really color ful box, so I went with this great corn and black bean salad. Mixed in a bit of vinegar and some spices and this was a light and tasty side. I loved the texture and flavors so much, I made extra so I could keep some for myself.

Keeping with the light and colorful, I put together a quick mixed green salad with pear and ginger vinaigrette. Nothing remarkable to say about this one. I had some spare pear and ginger vinegar so I figured I could lighten up the pantry a bit.

I really needed to cut down my bento creation times as much as possible, hence the easy menu items. Well, this pork tenderloin with mango mojo is no different. Picked up a marinated pork tenderloin and whizzed together a mango mojo. Packing wise, at the last second I found that the mojo leaked and would ruin desert, and the yogurt had the potential to wreak the pork. So I had to make make shift divider as my fake grass wasn't cutting it. Anyhow, this dish was a major hit with my eaters.

Although it looked like I broke my $6 per box limit, I surprisingly didn't. Staying in budget is important to me, as creating so many lunches it gets pretty costly if I oven run the food costs. As to presentation, I really enjoyed making this box, I loved the color it provided and I hope it gave you some pleasant visuals.

Welcome again to my new visitors, I hope you return soon. Bookmark, tell your friends! I promise to keep posting! I have one more box to post, but the new year comes soon and with it more boxes. In the meantime I have some tools and more 'yammering' that I can post. Stay tuned!

Contents of box
  • Pork tenderloin with mango mojo
  • Mixed green salad with Pear Ginger vinaigrette
  • Corn and black bean salad
  • Banana brulee with yogurt and blueberries