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