Monday, December 29, 2008

Obentec comments and a discount!

I got a nice email from the president of Obentec, they are the makers of the lunch box technology that I use. They were the first to boost my visits by adding me to their newsletter, which I'm very grateful for. She reminded me of a discount they have running, only hard part is you've got 2 days to take advantage. I highly encourage the laptop lunchbox, it's been a great way for me to make sure to limit portions and do my little bit to be green and reduce the plastic bags and such that I might have had to use.
Love your lunch photos! Just wanted to let you know that all products are 20% off at www.laptoplunches.com through Dec 31st. Use coupon code “holiday2008” (no quotes) when checking out. Feel free to pass this info on to your readers, and have a very happy New Year!

Best,
Amy Hemmert



Thanks for visiting all. And if you're from Obentec, thanks for supporting me!


Ironjack

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Fudge Factor

So every year my wife and I like to give homemade gifts from the kitchen. This year we decided to go with a bundle of fudge. This sounded like a fairly easy and straight forward idea, it turns out there's a lot more to fudge than melting some chocolate. After 3 messed up batches and a pot that has been completely ruined, I have to say I've learned a lot about fudge and the science of candy making. For you're reading pleasure I present to you my trials and tribulations.

I'm not a sweet's person, I actually dislike chocolate and ice cream ( I know I hear the gasps all the time), so I've never actually had fudge before. This really presents a challenge when that's the gift I'm to be giving. My wife was armed with a handful of recipes, and after reading them thru, I thought, how hard could this be. Turns out, VERY...

Good fudge, I learned cannot be shortcutted, the very best you can do is to take out insurance to make sure you don't mess it up. The idea is that the fudge melts evenly across the palate and the richness and flavors all come together in one smooth yummy melting bite. This is accomplished by a good bit of food science. You'll see other recipes all about melt chocolate and have it set, no, that's not true fudge. True fudge is made with precision temperature, a good bit of luck, and maybe some witchery that I learned from a kind elderly store clerk that passed me her secrets from her father. I also made use of a bit of emergency DVD episode viewing of Alton Brown's fudge recipes to understand what the heck was going on.

Ok, you can stop reading here if you don't want to hear about the science, I really dig this stuff so I'll be a bit of a windbag here.

The even melt in your mouth effect of fudge comes from the fact that there are millions of little sugar crystals that are held separated by fat and different sugar molecules. In order to accomplish this you have to basically boil away enough of the water to get the sugar into soft ball stage. After destroying 3 batches and losing my favorite pot, I learned about fudge making from a nice lady at the store I bought my replacement pot. Apparently, soft-ball stage is when the sugar is boiling to a stage that you take the super heated sugar and drop it in a some water. The result must be a ball "dropplet" (no strands) that yields under a squeeze between your thumb and forefinger, or just buy a nice candy thermometer that just tells you when that is (I believe 134 F)

The danger when you've got the sugar in a super saturated state is the slightest bump, dust, or agitation will cause the sugar solution to create a seed crystal, all the other sugar molecules then latch on to the seed crystal to form large large granules and the result is a "seized" fudge (yes it turns hard as a rock the next day). You can take out a bit of insurance in the form of fats, and alternate sugars such as corn syrup, cream of tartar, etc. Purist tend to scoff but my ruined pot made me a bit skittish. These items act as blocks between sugar molecules to prevent seed crystals from forming prematurely.

I found that once we moved the sugar off the heat it was basically safe to add the last ingredients when the sugar stops "boiling". This has slowed down the sugar molecules sufficiently such that adding the last ingredients do not cause seed crystals to form, and hence no seizing. Alton suggests when sugar has cooled to 110F and the lady at the store said, "just take it outside by the time you get there you can beat the fudge". Then you need the sugar to actually start forming crystals, but really really fine ones. This is known as "beating" the fudge, or as I call it, and exercise on trying to break your arm. You end up beating this fudge for nearly 15 mins (and it gets harder and harder as it begins to set). Your done when the fudge has become matte from glossy (probably from all the mini sugar crystals). Pour and set and you're done.

I might have to revise this but hopefully I've saved some folks from some pain. Happy Holidays to all!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Final box 2008?

Final bento of the year for me. Unfortuneatly my eaters go on winter hiatus soon, and I'll need to spend next week making our homemade holiday treats, so this will be the last bento for 2008 probably. I'll still be posting, I've got a couple of things I've promised to blog about so I hope to tide you over with those.

I didn't have a chance to come up with a good theme for this box, it's simply yummy steak goodness, that was extremely fast to put together, and a calorie friend bento to boot.

To start we have a nice Dijon herb crusted steak tenderloin. I used a bit of whole grain mustard mixed with the Dijon and a good bunch of herbs. I think this would ultimately have been better had I used a pork tenderloin. The beef tenderloin was a bit tougher than pork would have been. Alternatively, I could have cooked it slower to have things break down better.


Next we have a Roasted Cauliflower soup with Black Truffle Oil. I was gifted with a nice bottle of truffle oil and just haven't had the heart or opportunity to really use it, what better way than to share it with friends. It's not the prettiest soup out there I'll admit, but the earthy tones the truffle oil just really complements the taste of the roasted cauliflower. No cream in this one, just some onions, roasted garlic, and roasted cauliflower blended together with liquids.

For a salad I included a nice White bean and tomato salad. Very simple tossed in with some parsley, scallions and lemon. As I said this was one of my fastest lunch bentos to get put together. Not much else to say about it.




On dessert I chumped out and got these wonderful Quaker brand cookies. I'm not quite sure what they are, but they were next to the rice cakes, anyhow, a great low-cal sweet tooth satisfier.





I'm already at work on next years bento, I'm looking for a big backlog of themes that I can work from. So if any of you readers out there wanna help me out I'd really appreciate it! I know for sure we'll be going back to at least one traditional "bento" bento (I know I stretch the definition somewhat). Keep checking back, I owe you a post on that orion cooker.

Box Contents:
  • Dijon Herb crusted Beef Tenderloin
  • Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Black Truffle Oil
  • White Bean and Tomato Salad
  • Snack cookie thingies

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Italian Lite!

If your holiday season has been anything like mine then there was a lot of good food to be had and some pants to be let out. With that in mind, I wanted to bring in a low calorie, light lunch bento. Low cal does not have to mean low taste, so I set out to find a good blend of taste and technique to deliver just that kind of lunch.

We'll start with our entree: Chicken with lemon artichoke sauce. The key to lower calorie cooking is to remove your usual suspects for taste (butter, frying, fatter cuts of meat) and replace them with taste highlights (lemon zest, spices) and plenty of vegetables. The veggies of course are there for low calorie filler and provide a satisfying lunch. I took some chicken breast cutlets and lightly dusted them with a season flour mixture and finishing them in a pan coated with a bit of cooking spray. Slow cooking got the onions and artichokes nice and soft while the lemon zest and juice punched up the taste.

Next we have a polenta with mushroom ragu. I deleted the usual cream and butter used in making polenta, and relied on a decent chill in the fridge to keep them firm when I broiled them. So now that I have the texture component in, I put all the seasoning into the mushroom ragu (typical oregano and thyme) and put in a healthy dose of fresh chopped basil to bring aroma and flavor into the dish.

For a nice small side, I made a cannellini basil bean dip. It's basically an italian version of hummus. It's a bit thinner than hummus which relies on tahini to help bind it together, I probably could have added more beans to make it thicker. The dip can be served warm or cold, I personally prefer warm as it brings out the taste of the basil and garlic.


Finally for dessert, since I had a pretty good savings of calories on everything else, I splurged on a prosciutto wrapped Turkish figs glazed with honey and dusted with some Gorgonzola. Surprisingly it's not too bad weighing in at 90 calories.

If all my calculations were correct, this bountiful lunch came in just short of 420 calories not bad for a full meal. I learned a lot about how to cut corners on fat and calories by applying basic cooking tricks. I'll be using them more in the future in my continuing quest at providing yummy healthy bentos. Everyone seemed to really enjoy lunch and no one complained about the portioning so I must have done something right :) See you next time!

Box Contents:
  • Chicken with Lemon Artichoke sauce
  • Polenta with a mushroom Ragu
  • Cannellini Bean dip served with water crackers
  • Prosciutto wrapped Turkish figs glazed with honey and Gorganzola cheese

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Bento!

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. I decided to beat all of my holiday events to the punch with the first turkey meal of the season! All those potlucks and holiday meals, if you don't get in first then you're meal is just another one in the long line of holiday meals. :) This also gave me a reason to fire up my tech. (more on that in another post). We're also coming up to the holiday season where I won't have much more of a chance to cook until the new year (the company goes on an extended 2 week holiday). I admit, I relied heavily on my food blogs this time around, but this time of year folks really show off with some amazing recipes and I can't help but try them out.

We start everything up with, you guessed it, the bird. I fired up my orion smoker/cooker (I'll do a post dedicated to the review of that in the future). I first brined up this bad boy overnight (it's my first attempt at brining), then I fired up the smoker with some cherry wood. The result was *amazing* such a moist and tender turkey and the flavor from the smoking process was simply delightful.

One of the food blogs I followed had a great recipe for Mustard roasted potatoes that they adapted from Gourmet magazine. The pictures looked great, for some reason the potatoes came out a lot more "tangy" than I had imagined it in my mind's eye. By no means was it a bad dish, simply different than expected.

I'll admit for this last dish, I had to find a filler and so it's not quite in the theme of Thanksgiving, but it does give a nice healthy light filler that eases up from the heaviness of the turkey and potatoes. I know it looks like eggs, but this is actually crumbled spiced tofu with asparagus. It's a great dish, and a great way to introduce tofu to folks that might not normally eat it. Lots of tofu haters usually don't realize tofu can be used in various forms rather than the usual tasteless bricks they might see in a bad asian buffet. (or some other venue that paints tofu into a poor light)

Finally, dessert, someone posted a spiced carrot cake, I thought it would be a perfect light dessert rather than an over sugary pie. Very yummy, the cardamom really makes this cake special. It's great the way it is, but there was a suggestion for a simple sugar glaze that I splashed on which might give it some more satisfaction to the holiday sweet tooth.

Thanks for dropping by. Happy Thanksgiving folks!

Box Contents
  • Cherry wood smoked turkey
  • Mustard roasted potatoes
  • Asparagus with spicy tofu
  • Spiced Carrot cake

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A tour of Africa

We had a substitute bento eater this week that issued the challenge of African food. I eagerly went on a search for a particular cuisine that would fit the bill. Unfortuneatly, most dishes from any one country in Africa contained pepper or some other spicy tidbit, apparently the African continent is populated with a lot of fans of hot food. So, I took a culinary (virtual) tour of Africa finding recipes that would easily allow me to omit spicy components. This also proved to be the most time consuming of my bentos as I wanted to spend time cooking each individual dish (rather than the usual multitasking/get it out fast method) to fully appreciate and understand the cooking techniques and reasoning behind each recipe. I had an additional last min challenge in that the regular bento boxes were not at the house, so I had to scramble with some creative packaging. So with no further ado, here is the bento.

We start our journey in Kenya, this dish is called Kuku Na Nazi. It's a chicken coconut curry which is fantastic. It takes about an hour to put together. I kept extending the cooking time to really let the chicken break down(I chose breast meat for the healthy aspect). I had to cut some corners using lite coconut milk (and not a full measure of it) and knocking back the butter. I'm sure if I followed the recipe in full, it would have been even better, but I think my final version turned out really well. I think making use of fresh herbs instead of the powdered versions helped me out a lot.

Next we have an Ethopian Lentil salad. Lentils are a funny thing, as my wife puts it, they look horrible, but taste great. I had to use the parsley in the picture to even remotely make it look appetizing :) This is a cold lentil salad pared with something of a viniagrette dressing. The dish is very refreshing and light tasting due to the lemon juice and the fresh parsley and basil. It actually tastes better the next day as the lentils had a chance to absorb some of the various flavors.

We hop over to Cameroon next with Egusi Spinach. I've never used Egusi before and needed a quick lesson. Egusi seeds come from a cucurbitaceous plant, the seeds are both high in protein and fat. I was highly surprised at the effect of adding ground egusi seeds to this dish. I'll admit it wasn't the most popular, (receiving only one positive vote for it) but from the food scientist in me it was the most interesting. Where do you get ground Egusi? Well it just so happens we have one very obscure, very hidden African grocery store. The nice store owner was happy to point me to the right aisle. The Egusi when cooked turned the spinach into more of a creamed spinach consistency that I had not expected. The end dish was a little bitter and probably turned off a lot of my eaters, but in the name of authenticity, I think I had it right.

As we move deeper into our winter months, I'll be packing soups and stews to keep my audience warm. We move to Tanzania next with a peanut vegetable soup. Again, the ingredients and recipe blew me away. The vegetables were very ordinary, it was the spices that it called for that really made the soup, no salt at all. I had feared that there must have been some mistake, but when the soup finally came together the cinnamon, ginger, cumin, and touch of cayenne, mixed with a peanut butter base really came together. It's not a bold soup by any means, but all of the flavors represented themselves nicely.

For dessert we end our trip in Morocco with a traditional dessert called Beghrir. It's a crepe/pancake that uses yeast to give it some fluff and uses semolina flour along with normal AP flour. The recipes treat it much like a pancake, so I decided to put a spin on it and create a honey rosewater syrup (it seemed appropriate). For plating I cut the Beghrirs in half and arranged them in a rose shape so that it would match the syrup I used.

All in all, this was a very educational experience for me. It required a bit more work and research but I think I answered the challenge issued. As always, thanks for stopping by, and if you want any of the recipes I'll happily respond to the comments and put them there.

As promised I've started putting up food blogs I follow. Please go and visit and support them, they are a wonderful source of inspiration for me and many have helped encourage me along in my own adventure. I'll be adding to the list as the days go by.

Box Contents:
  • Kuku Na Nazi
  • Ethiopian Lentil Salad
  • Egusi Spinach
  • Tanzanian Vegetable soup
  • Moroccan Beghrir with Honey Rosewater syrup

Monday, November 10, 2008

New ideas + indian food = Yummy

Sorry about the no post last week. Most of my wife's coworkers were out so I busted out another wrap. It wasn't too exciting so I decided it wasn't post worthy, maybe I'll save it if I get into another drought.

I ran into this wonderful post from one of the many blogs I follow on a Pumpkin Masoor Dal. Being that it was halloween (this bento was meant for last week) I thought what better time to try out this yummy sounding recipe.

One dish does not make a full bento, at least it would leave me a lot of room, so I rummaged into the freezer to see what else I had on hand, low and behold I had a very large pork tenderloin (which turns out to be 2 normal sized packed together). I thought, wow why not a nice tandoori marinade and break out the indoor grill?! I did a bit of searching, I didn't want to ruin a perfectly good tenderloin if my hair brained idea didn't work. After a bit of google searching I came up zero. So to be safe, I experimented on some pork loin chops from the store. The result was a bit dry, I was however undeterred. I sliced the pork into 1- 1.5 inch medallions and went to work. The result was *amazing* so tender and flavorful and easy to make to boot. I might have landed an original recipe :) From my earlier experiments I feared that the pork would lack some flavor so the sauce cup contains some mango chutney.

Ok back to the Dal. I was very surprised at this combination, although searching around it's a pretty common recipe. The pumpkin added a nice rich consistency to the dish, and to my surprise it was more savory than I had thought. The complex flavors of the various spices (cumin seeds, mustard seeds, garam masala) really was a treat. I'm very happy I had leftovers for myself later.

For dessert to keep things simple, I bought some sonpapdi from the local indian grocery store. The best description I can give you is: a flaky pistachio rosewater pastry dessert which crumbles like a very loose insides of a butterfinger candy bar. I'm not sure what the process is to make this scrumptious sweet might be, it was amazingly flaky and the rosewater combination made this a nice, not too sweet desert to cap off this bento.

I hope to add my frequently trolled blog list on the site. A lot of people have been supportive of me and my blogging I want to share their blogs with you all. So look forward to that!

Box Contents
  • Tandoori Marinated Pork Tenderloin
  • Pumpkin Masoor Dal
  • Brown Rice
  • Sonpapdi

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkins!

As promised my "borg" pumpkin. 2 harddrives gave their lives to make it happen :). My wife carved the Jack "the pumpkin king" pumpkin. I've got a fun bento coming up stay tuned!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Welcome Fall!

I don't count fall here in the south unless I get a full week of cool weather. In celebration of our break (finally) into fall. I created a nice bento full of fall goodness. I managed to still keep on budget, it's for some reason getting harder and harder as the weeks go by. I'm pretty certain it's general food costs at the store :( anyhow enough whining.

So we start with a sheperd's pie, honestly this was the hardest part for me. It's hard to cook single portions in plastic cups.... I had to improvise and take the top off the finished pie and put it back onto the bento cup after the fact. The other challenge was that this recipe asked for a whole stick of butter! Definitely not on the healthy side. I managed to cut this recipe down to 2 tablespoons *and* packing this into the right form factor. I added flavor to the mashed potatos by cooking the potatos in some chicken broth (and mashed a bit of it in) to compensate for the lack of butter

We celebrate fall with a variety of roasted fall vegetables. This seemed the right accompaniment to the pie, but also I spied an opportunity to taste a vegetable I had not ever tasted, parsnips. I picked some rosemary from the front garden and out we go with an easy side dish.



As the days have turned colder, I think everyone would welcome some soup to warm their bones. I put together a nice Corn Chicken Chipotle Chowder (CCCC for short). Got this recipe from our local paper. Again with the butter and cream. I shorted out all the butter except 1 table spoon, and replaced it with 2% milk and some flour. It was a hit with my audience, but I'm sure it would have been even better with the half stick of butter it called for.

All this heavy stuff, I went with a side salad and ginger balsamic viniagrette to lighten things up. Nothing fancy, but something help everyone not feel bogged down by a big lunch.
Box Contents
  • Shepherd's Pie
  • Roasted Fall vegetables
  • Salad with Ginger Balsamic Viniagrette
  • Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back to basics

Sometimes it's easy to lose track of some of the basic principles that I set out in my early rules. Simplicity and budget are the biggest offenders, health is always on the forefront of my mind. Lots of bento bloggers are all about speed of preparation and trying to economize from what you have, be it leftovers or stock stuff from the freezer. My wife and I had a pumkin carving party so I really had to ratchet back and think really hard on how to make the fastest lunch for 5 people. I have been really skating the edge of the budget lately too, so I considered what all I had on hand.

We start with this Miso marinated chicken. Wonderful recipe, very simple miso, brown sugar and a bit of rice wine to marinate some chicken thighs over night. I picked this for two reasons, first, it's fast, second, I got a chance to break out the indoor grill again. I'm still pretty happy with the grill, it cleans up pretty fast, the heat consistency isn't as good as real fire. I really had to use to lid to get the chicken to cook, it still turned out yummy, but if getting my grill going wasn't so difficult I probably would have done it outside.

I dug through the pantry found some brown texmati rice, checked the fridge and freezer for some inspiration. I came up with basically an egg fried rice, the only difference is the egg to rice ratio I chose to use. After cooking up the rice I started the pan with just a little bit of rice, I then immediately drowned the rice in a bunch of egg. The idea was to continue to add rice to this mixture (quickly) such that each grain was coated with liquid egg. I call it eggy fried rice. Usually you have large bits of eggs in a egg fried rice, in this case every grain is coated and fried with the egg. It was an interesting experiment. The rice came out with some good moisture (more than brown rice would normally produce) with the same aroma of fried rice. It also allowed me to cut down on oil used as the egg helped with the moisture content. I sprinkled on some furikake I had on hand and voila instant side.

I kinda phoned it in with the last bits. Cherry tomatos, some lite ranch dip from the packet I had on hand. I rounded it out with dessert, a fortune cookie and a ginger chew candy.





Have to say this was one of the fastest bentos start to finish cook+box time (not counting marinating), probably 30-40 mins. Not bad for all the lunches plus some leftover for me during the week :) Hopefully my eaters still enjoyed it. I'll post carved pumkin pics when halloween rolls around. Happy eating, and thanks for stopping by!

Box Contents
  • Miso marinated Chicken
  • Eggy Fried brown rice
  • Cherry tomatos and lite ranch dip
  • Fortune Cookie with ginger chew

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Keeping it simple

It's been a tough weekend and despite that, I still really wanted to get a bento out the door. So I designed a bento that had some flash but was able to cut corners on complexity on two of the items to bring the overall effort down a notch.

We start with the entree, Chicken Saltimbocca. There are many ways to put this dish together you can either flatten the chicken and wrap it around some ingredients (in my case baby swiss, prosciutto, and roma tomatos) or you can put the ingredients on the chicken breast and secure it with the prosciutto. I happen to like my way better. This was one of the first dishes I learned to cook when I started really taking cooking seriously (moving on from the instant ramen staples of my college years). It's a lovely dish that's still impressive, you get plenty of oohs and ahhs when your diners cut into the chicken. I try to grill this by pan as I'm afraid of the chicken getting too dry if I try to bake it. Perhaps a sear on the stove and a finish in the oven. (notes for experimentation)

So yes, this is a repeat of sauteed green beans I had done earlier, it's just so easy and good for you, that you have to keep it around as a staple. A quick blanch, then saute with some chopped garlic and olive oil, see, simple! I wanted to try some new vegetables, but I need to poll my bento-eaters on what they might find palatable (e.g. brussel sprouts or something like that).


My secondary side, I wanted to play with some different textures to complement the snap of the grean beans. Orzo for me is an interesting bit of pasta that satisfy that criteria, it looks like a grain, but has the soft texture of pasta. It's light and perfect for an easy side dish. I chopped up a bit of fresh herbs (parsley, green onion) paired it up with some stir fried sliced mushrooms, dumped in the orzo, added a bit of parmesian for binding and voila, yet another simple dish.

As usually I cheated on dessert, but the high fiber of the fat free fig bars really fit with the the health profile so it was an easy fit.

All in all I cut preparations down to 1/3 of my usual outlay of time with pounding out the chicken to be the most time consuming task. Not bad, plenty of time to sit back and relax in front of the TV for the rest of the weekend. Sorry about the late post folks. More to come so stay tuned!

Edit: Wow! we just passed 8k visitors thanks so much for coming by!

Box Contents:
  • Chicken Saltimbocca
  • Sauteed Green beans
  • Orzo with Mushroom and fresh herbs
  • Fat free fig bars

Monday, October 6, 2008

Curry on my Mind (Thai Bento 2)

I've been having this craving for curry, not just any curry, but a nice Thai green curry. Of course this quickly translated into a fully formulated Thai (part 2) bento. It also just so happened that my local grocery chain was running some special on shrimp, obviously this was a sign that I had to make some Gaeng Keow Wan with Shrimp.

I will say this bento really almost did me in. I think I traversed the city twice to find everything. Everywhere I went, it was either sub par ingredients, or trusted sources for ingredients that were completely out. I think I burned more on gas than I did on the ingredients for this bento but 6 hours of shopping later I was ready to begin.

I love green curry, it's mild and has a hint sweetness to it. There's many variations to the ingredients, I used a bit of what was on hand and tossed the shrimp into it. I think the core must haves are: coconut milk, green curry (of course) and the basil. Everything else seems fairly negotiable. I would have stewed in some eggplant but I thought it would get repetitive with the side dish.

Can't have a proper curry without jasmin rice. I decided to make it more tasty and make it a coconut rice. I only hesitated because how fatty coconut milk is granted, there are studies that show that the fat in coconut milk is actually good for you, I still opted for using light version of the coconut milk (as I did with the curry). Still very tasty and at least I shaved off a few calories and more importantly fat. I used a rice cooker for this endevour which ended up turning out ok (I had to hit the button and go thru 2 cooking processes) but it might be more reliable to use the stove next time I use something other than straight water for rice.

For a side, I had a recollection of this wonderful Stir fried Eggplant with Basil at a Thai restaurant I had visited a few years back. I had to introduce that goodness to my eaters. I think I got it right, I probably should have cut back on the cornstarch and made the sauce a tad thinner. Still good though.



Dessert consists of something southeast asian region is really known for: exotic and fresh fruits. I wanted to end the meal with something light and palate cleansing but at the same time interesting. This is actually a very simple dessert. I poached some star fruit in orange juice and introduced a mango puree at the end. It's a great blend of citrus-y flavor with a smooth semi-sweet taste of mango.

Hopefully my eaters enjoyed the meal, I know I will be enjoying some more curry tonight when I get home :). Thanks for stopping by!

Box contents:
  • Thai Green Curry with Shrimp
  • Coconut Rice
  • Stir fried Eggplant with Basil and Garlic
  • Poached Star Fruit with Mango Puree

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wheatberries?! what are those?

I have to confess, I was really struggling with coming up with a bento this week. Nothing I flipped thru looked good. I had no inspirations over the week, and the few things I saw were disqualified by the "must be healthy" guideline. Non-detered, I turned to the Food Network for some help. After watching a few shows I finally saw something of interest. They had this recipe for Wheatberry salad. I know my grains fairly well, but I've never worked with (or actually heard of) wheatberries. So there we have it, I built the box based off the show. I had to do some trimming and recipe changes to make serving the lunch calorie-friendly. It's weird even though the show is about healthy eating when you add up all the proper servings for the meal it came out to something like 1/2 the USDA calorie recommendation

Anyhow, to the bento, we start things off with the main dish. I've got a do-it-yourself asian lettuce wrap. I used super lean beef and firm tofu as the basis of the dish. I have found the trick to lightening up dishes is to make them interesting in other ways (texture, more intense flavor). To make up for the lack of flavor from fat you'd get from ground beef, I punched up the sauce base with some extra spices and sauces. I don't think I pressed the tofu enough, it didn't sponge up the sauce as well but I made up for it by thickening the base with a bit of cornstarch, so that it wouldn't be soup.

Next up the wheatberries. This was really interesting and I followed the recipe exactly for this one since I needed the experience on what it should be like. The cooking instructions for the wheatberries did not allow for enough water. I had to keep adding water which slowed things down since it forced the pot to re-boil. I think I need to invest in one of those electric kettles for boiling quick water. The salad itself is pretty tart from the lemon juice dressing, but if you include a bite of the dried cherries it all works out. I think if I'm to do this again, I'll cook the wheatberries longer and then add a bit of more southern/southwestern flavor, maybe some cumin, it was just missing something.

Nothing too exciting on the other side. I went with carrots because we simply didn't need to add to the calorie count with anything else.

The second reason we have this bento is that my wife latched on to the balsamic and strawberries (A favorite of hers). I thought the ricotta cream was very interesting. Together it tasted like strawberries with vanilla icecream, without the brainfreeze from the icecream. I went with the same portioning except spread it out over 5 people instead of 4, hoping that saves a few more calories too.


All in all a tasty lunch. I think I need to work on my backlog of themes. The few I do have are a little ambitious, so I'll need to really save up some energy to get to those, but I need to generate some easy to crank out menus to speed things up on a busy weekend.

Box Contents
  • Asian lettuce wraps
  • Wheatberry salad
  • Carrot sticks
  • Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta Cream