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 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!

Amy Hemmert

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


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