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