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

Monday, September 22, 2008

1 Year Old

This blog is just about 1 year old! Can you believe it? I didn't think I could keep going for so long. Nor did I expect that I'd have as many visitors, so a big thank you to my readers. If you'll remember my first bento was based off Chinese home cooking, well, we will be revisiting Chinese home cooking for this blog's 1st birthday.

Growing up my sister and I had two different views of getting lunch. She opted for a sandwich, I on the other hand didn't mind the gawking, curious stares, and occasional requests for a nibble on my more exotic lunches. At some point my mom had to send me with more just to accommodate the nibble factor. I can only hope that my future kids would be as adventurous. Today's bento is a typical lunch that my mother would put together for me when I was a kid.

To begin we have my father's famous dumplings. Granted I didn't re-create these, my father tends to send me home with bags of dumplings every time I go to visit. He's really well known for the dumplings and has often been urged to open a dumpling shop after he retired from our family restaurant. A lot of time and technique go into making these bundles of yummy, I'm glad my father has passed that knowledge on to my sister and I so we never lack for dumplings. Here I opted for my favorite preparation which is a pan fried dumpling, my sister prefers the boiled variety.

Next we have Hsin Tsu Mei Fun, which is a rice noodle dish my mom makes. This particular dish is a famous recipe specifically from my mother's home town of Hsin Tsu. Only one other city in Taiwan is known for their noodles (Pu-Li). The cooking processes is fairly quick although the prep is a little more involved. You need plenty of chicken stock/broth heated on hand as the noodles are really able to absorb liquid, resulting in a nice tender rice noodle.

For our second side, I decided to stretch my eater's taste boundaries with a Jellyfish salad. I know, I know, a bit out there but I did promise an eating adventure. My wife loves this dish, it's a cold marinated salad with cucumbers, carrots with a heavy dose of garlic. The vinegar, salt and sugar really round out the taste to hit a lot of the major taste components of salty, sweet, sour the only one missing is hot. This salad is a great representation of a lot of Chinese cooking, where an emphasis on texture is placed as more important than "sauce". In case you're wondering, the jellyfish (when prepared correctly) has a good crunch to it despite it's rubbery appearance.

Finally, dessert consists of a favorite coconut cookie-cracker that my sister and I grew up on. Nothing fancy there.

As always it was a joy to put together lunch. If you're reading this, thanks again for stopping by, watching the visits count and reading your comments makes keeping this blog going fun and enjoyable. Here's to another year! Cheers!

Box Contents:
  • Pan Fried Pork Dumplings
  • Hsin Tsu Mei Fun
  • Jellyfish Salad
  • Coconut cracker-cookies
Edit: Oops forgot to tag

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pulled Pork Bento

I gotta give full credit to the kernel (no pun intended see corn side dish) of this box to Julie over at SporaticCook. She posted a great looking pulled pork from the "Pioneer Woman". Very good looking recipe, even better tasting! So thank you Julie for the inspiration.

I've always wanted to try my hand at pulled pork. I tried to cheap out on the time in the oven by following a short cut recipe (with the original ingrediants) that had a higher temp oven but a shorter time. It turns out that the other recipes cooking method was not long enough. I had to put the pork shoulder back in the oven another 2 hours. I bet this would have been ever more tender had I followed the original cooking instruction. From Pioneer Woman (who is she?)

So originally it was going to be a pulled pork sandwich, I decided for dietary reasons to move it to be a pulled pork taco. So I rushed to fill the vegetable slot with something kinda tex-mex/southwestern in theme. I liked the idea of a corn salad and really didn't want to redo my old corn with black bean salad. Fresh cucumber comes in to sub out for the onions and heavy cilantro comes in to make it more of a flavor component rather than a background flavor component. The little tub was for the sour cream. I figured that my eaters can choose to configure their tacos with adding a bit of the corn or just going with sour cream.

The slaw recipe was part of the original idea of a sandwich, it just so happens to still work here, besides apples are good on the dietary fiber. Very tasty sweet and sour flavor, good for some, so so for other.

I made dessert easy by lumping in a bit of fruit. All told a fairly easy labor non-intensive box. And exclaimed by my wife "the best one yet". That will be tough to top :)

Box Contents:
  • Pulled Pork
  • Cilantro Corn Salad
  • Granny Smith Apple Slaw
  • Fruit

Monday, September 8, 2008

Farmers Market Bento

I confess this week's box came from watching Food Network. I only made tweaks to the for taste reasons. The idea was to go out to the farmers market and see what was fresh and good. It just so happens all the fresh and good stuff I found conformed to the recipes for the show I was watching. It was a yummy menu so why not?

I'm not sure why but I've not really gotten around to visiting my local farmers market. It's a habit I intend to change, everything was so fresh and looked very inviting. Yes, in some cases the food is a little more expensive but it's nice to support my local farmer.

Well let's tuck in shall we? We start with a nice Pasta Primavera, originally a vegetarian recipe, I felt like I need some protein. I happened to have some marinated chicken breast in the fridge. A quick pop in the oven yielded not just the chicken I needed for my Bento-eaters lunch, but for my dinner tonight as well. I can't believe how easy it was to put together this bento, but the pasta especially. The pasta cooked up really fast, and fresh ribbons of carrot and zucchini gave it the right flavor and veggies to make it feel light.

Next we have a Chickpea salad, again another easy to put together, chopped some veggies, made a quick dressing with red wine vinegar, bang done! Were this a purely vegetarian bento, the chickpeas would have helped to backfill the protein. Either way it was easy to rummage the fridge for bits of vegetables that I needed to use up. A bit of a smorgasbord. Note to self: I think i could have used a bit more color.

I didn't take a closeup of the mini-caprese salad you get to see a pic of some of my pickings from the farmers market. I found this tub of "pearlini" sized mozzarella. To go with the wonderful tomatoes I found from the market. Simple dressing of whizzing together some fresh basil and olive oil with a touch of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.

To further "economize" my efforts. These little pecan almond cluster bits happened to be on sale at the grocery story. Works out well to finish a healthy lunch with a light snack bit

Box Contents
  • Chicken Pasta Primavera
  • Chickpea Salad with Red Wine Vinegar Dressing
  • Mini Caprese Salad
  • Pecan almond honey clusters
Edit: got a nice invite to be linked to another blog ToEveryMeal Looks like a fun blog with great info

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Traditional Chinese cooking with Lu Rou or Braised Beef Shank

No bento this week, had to relax being that it was a holiday. None the less I still have a entry in my back pocket. This one comes from my Dad. It's called "Lu Rou" , it's a braised beef shank, normally served either as a cold appetizer or if cooked a little longer in a Beef noodle soup. Growing up in a Chinese restaurant there were many restaurant recipes that I learned and many traditional things that my father produced like magic. I'm glad I have a chance to get to catalog these.

The braising liquid is a mixture of traditional Chinese five spice, a misc bag of spices and soy sauce. It's a pretty ubiquitous blend of stewing spices for many a braise which is used later for noodle soups.

The cut of meat used doesn't really have to be beef shank, however in a long slow cooking process, beef shank, having a lot of connective tissue, breaks down and gives you an interesting texture for a final product. Yes the final product isn't very pretty but it's pretty tasty. The spices infuses the meat all the way thru without being too salty. And as with many chinese dishes, texture is just as important as taste. For a cold appetizer dish the strong bite of the meat is important, in a noodle soup, the beef is braised for longer such that the shank falls apart as you bite into it.

I'm very glad I can start replicating my father's wonderful recipes, I like to think I can carry on the family traditions of a great chef. That said I still need to practice my "feel" for traditional recipes in this case I could have braised the meat a bit longer. Still good, but not as good as dad would have made it :)