Sunday, March 29, 2009

Pantry Raid! Gluten Free Style.

As I said last post this bento is all about economizing and making due with what I have on hand. Hopefully, you'll find my creations entertaining and fun. This certainly was a challenge for me to make some creations from a mish-mash of stuff in my pantry. As you can see my pantry is a mess, there's foodstuff from every cuisine I've ever dabbled in. The picture to the left is only the top 2 shelves, there's another two and a floor (and yes, they are packed to the brim, and yes, there's only two of us right now).

Minus the stuff I rummanged from the fridge and freezer this is what I ended up choosing for my challenge. Peanut butter, coconut milk, some rice, GF flour, some canned goods, and some obscure goodies I bought once upon a time in a japanese market. Yes there's more, but those are the highlights that got me some inspiration. My biggest problem was the lack of fresh ingrediants. All I had in the fridge was some green onion, egg and frozen chicken. Everything else seemed out of theme or save because I wish to eat it (beef ribs yum).

Our main course consists of Chicken Pasta in Asian Peanut sauce. What does that mean? Growing up, Dad would hatch up this cold noodle dish with whatever was on hand. My personal variant meant some chicken, eggs, celery, and some green onions for garnish. The heart of this cold dish was a peanut butter sauce. I happened to have all the ingrediants for the sauce and the rest was impromptu. Traditionally served cold, I advised my eaters do a reheat, the gluten free pastas need a zap in order to get back to being pliable.

Ok, I'm a bit proud of this recipe as it's not only an original (as far as I know) but it was SO YUMMY!. I saw the can of green curry and the coconut, and knew I had to do something with it. Taking some inspiration from the italian arancini, I ended up making a rice with the coconut and green curry and fried the whole thing. The coconut was really rich and subtly spicely, I packed in some Sriracha sauce to give it some "tangy" and extra kick. The whole package was beyond my expectations, the sour from the sauce kept the richness of the coconut milk from being boring! Good Stuff.

Note: Enough people have asked me for the recipe for my creation, I've put the full recipe under the comments

Kirimochi fried with Hoisin: I'll have you know I went thru two failures with the kirimochi before this fried incarnation. There's not much on the web on how to deal with this bazaar ingredient that I happened upon at the asian grocery. In fact, I had to go back and ask what to do with it. Here I chose the savory path and fried (rather than boil or broil, which I failed twice at) and coupled it with a nice hoisin sauce. I'm not sure how well this will re-heat in a microwave, but I will say at the time it was melt in your mouth. A sweet alternative will require a syrup or hefy amount of sugar to get past the blandness of mochi.

Finally, we have as my father's hot and soup with all the possible ingrediants found in the pantry. I didn't have any pork or tofu, but I think the end result here was pretty darn good. The key here is the cornstarch for thickening and the way you get the "egg flower" in the soup. (big hint, don't try to stir in egg while the soup is in full boil.)

This ended up being a fun (if not labor intensive) exercise. After digging around in the pantry, I certainly could have turned out even more stuff and I may have another theme's worth of stuff. I'll confess this probably wasn't the *most* healthy but it wasn't horrible. It was a lot of fried stuff which is kinda bad. There's only so much you can do cooking from your pantry with no trips to the grocery store as a rule.

As always thanks for tuning in. I didn't see any rabid requests that I make all recipes readily available so I'll just triage your requests as they come in as I have been. See you next time.

Box Contents:
  • Asian Chicken and cold noodles with peanut sauce
  • Green Coconut Curry Riceballs
  • Kirimochi with Hoisin Sauce
  • "On Hand" Hot and Sour Soup

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Recession Bento

I'll admit, my goal of $6 a bento is pretty hard to match at times. Recent bentos have exceeded that goal, but as I stated in my rules, I can splurge if I find myself in a surplus. Also, food prices have been soaring since I first started this blog so $6 for the amount and variety I provide is pretty hard to accomplish. With today's bento I set about "far exceeding" this goal and seeing exactly how much I can squeeze.

This would have been termed a Gluten Free Recession Bento had it not been for the condensed cream of mushroom I used for the Stroganoff. Had I found a good substitute, this menu would have been gluten free.

One more note: With the exception of spices used, I bought everything else just to see how much I can squeeze and still have a good bento. Wanna guess the final cost? I'll tell you at the end of the post.

Let's start with Beef Stroganoff. Ground beef has been a staple of cheap cooking. Yes, 80/20 ground beef is significantly cheaper than 93/7 lean beef. After doing the math, I was able to justify the more healthy ground beef. I did a bit of research on Beef Stroganoff and it has met a lot of adjustments throughout the years as people have changed and tweaked it based on culture or economy. Back in it's origin it used nice cuts of beef tenderloin and tomato paste. I think the modern world modified it significantly with the advent of the likes of Hamburger Helper and other out of the box solutions.

Next we have a wonderful tomato soup. How does this qualify as recession cooking? this particular recipe (for a serving of five) literally costs two dollars. It makes use of 2% milk and tomato paste. Other versions of tomato soup I've created over the years require whole fresh tomatoes, cream, butter etc... But the humble tomato paste and stretching it out with milk and a few spices really brings a reasonable soup to the table. I'll admit, the foodie in me wilted as I first glanced all of these seed recipes for today's production. But the frugal chef in me was delighted to see how you can have simple ingrediants and still have a quality output. (I'm guessing this is why spices have been so valued over the years to chefs on a budget)

For a vegetable side, I put together a curried blackeyed pea with collard greens. The original recipe seemed to lean on cooking a classic Indian Dal recipe. Taking a page from that and forgoing "curry" I created my own blend of curry spices that is more like a Chana Masala. This took some of the bitterness out of the collard greens and gave the simple ingredients an exotic taste.

Dessert was difficult. Gluten free desserts are *really* expensive. As luck would have it my eyes strayed outside the gluten-free section and landed on some instant pudding. Quickly checking the back I saw that it happened to be gluten free (unlike the cream of mushroom when I looked only at cooking time.... boo.) Very inexpensive and very easy to make dessert. Mission complete!

Ok bottom line. Final Price: $2.57 per bento. To be fair, this was after deducting overages. I had 2x the main entree (that I get to keep and eat) and 2x of the Curried beans and greens (which I have for the week as well). But that's right, if you measured the real cost of each bento produced it was $2.57. Not too shabby.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of cooking on the cheap. Next week I go on a "Pantry Raid" and will try to churn out a bento from my pantry and freezer. Granted, I did spend money on buy all these items, but it's re-using ingrediants I had a sunk cost for, so it's free to me. :) Wish me luck, it won't be easy to pull off a coherent menu.

Question to my readers: A few people asked why I don't automatically post my recipes. I replied that it's simply not the vision for this blog to litter it with recipes and make it a recipe site. It's about my trials and tribulations. That said I happily post a recipe in comments if requested. What do you guys think? Should I be posting all the recipes each week? Or should I find a less intrusive way that still keeps the vision clean? Or is everyone good with "on demand" recipes posted to comments?

Box Contents:
  • Beef Stroganoff
  • Zesty Tomato Soup
  • Curried Blackeyed Peas with Collard Greens
  • Sugar Free, Fat Free Chocolate Pudding.

Friday, March 20, 2009


To prepare for a couple of my future bentos (Recession bento and Pantry Raid!) I present you an impromptu meal. My wife and I are grazers, not having kids yet lets you get away with no preset meals. We tend to cook in bulk and graze on whats in the fridge as we get hungry. Usually, while I'm churning out a bento, I'm also boiling up pasta or tearing apart a roasted chicken so we have some "ingrediants" to quickly put something together.

This week, my wife had some pasta and a bottle of pasta sauce sitting on the counter and I offer to put together a big pasta dish we can munch on for the week. I thought to myself, this isn't a healthy balanced dish I'm about to put together. So, I opened up the fridge and freezer to spy what I could do.

Ah! some vacuum sealed chicken I had frozen. What else do we have? Oh, half a crudite platter i've been chomping on (I had a hankering for some raw vegetables) perfect! What's this? ooh, a chunk of parmesian. Good to go!

So I turned a boring boiled pasta + some premade sauce into a healthy Chicken Pasta Primavera! With food costs going up, it's been gnawing at me that my bentos have been a little bit extravagent lately and I *should* start using my pantry as bento inspirations rather than just dreaming up themes.

Anyhow, just wanted to tide you over until next week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Paddy's day Bento

In celebration of St. Patrick's day I got a nice reminder from Recipezaar chock full of good ideas. I picked my favorites and put together this week's bento. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the bento, "I totally cleaned my plate. err... box" so my eye for recipes must have been pretty good.

We begin with our main course: Guinness corned beef with cabbage. What kind of St. Patrick's day would it be if you didn't have corned beef and cabbage. It just can't be done any other way. Someone posted up a Guinness mustard sauce that I could resist trying, it sounded a little weird but it worked really well with the corned beef. The sauce consisted of Guinness paired with 3 types of mustard and some brown sugar. The brown sugar really cut the sauce from being too "beery".

Next we have a Irish Dublin Prawn Cocktail. I'm not sure what is so irish about this dish, but it was a good excuse to take advantage of the special they had running at the grocery store so I took it. The shrimp is prepared with a bit of seasoning and vinegar in the boiling mix. The key feature here is the sauce. I've never encountered a cream based cocktail sauce, it was kind of mellow and dumbed down the catsup which, to me, made the horseradish come out really bold. I happen to like that so it's a winner in my book.

We finish things off with a starchy side dish of a Carrot and Parsnip Mash. I opted out of making Champ because I needed something a little healthier. This was a simple little dish, I only modified the butter content as the whole recipe had 1/2 a stick of butter (I went with 2 tbsp). It was a little sweet and gave this box a healthy contingent of vegetable servings.

Happy St. Paddy's day!

Box Contents:
  • Corned beef and cabbage served with Guinness mustard
  • Shrimp with Irish Dublin coctail sauce
  • Carrot and Parsnip Mash

Friday, March 13, 2009

Foodblogger event: Fino

I got invited to another foodblogger event this time at Fino, it's a delightful Mediterranean tapas restauarant and favorite of ours so I was delighted at the invitation. Again it was great having a chance to mingle with other food bloggers and get a chance to see some of the highlights from the restaurant's wonderful menu.

Be warned long post and lots of pictures to follow, the folks at Fino were very generous and shared a lot of dishes and cocktails with us: (I'll keep the descriptions short)

We'll start with drinks (from left to right):

Strawberry and Mint Sangria: lovely light local strawberries and mint with a nice trio of white wine, brandy and prosecco. Very light yummy and a great way to start the tasting. This was my second favorite. And it packed a bit of a pow.

Bee Sting: It's a honey vodka with black pepper simple syrup, I eye'd this drink with a bit of suspicion, but I'll have to agree with one of my fellow bloggers, this is what a bee sting would taste like. Subtly, sweet with a bite of pepper. This was my favorite. This was where I wondered if I should actually be finishing each of these drinks :)

Poloma Flower: This drink had vodka and elderflower liqueur balanced out with a bit of grapefruit. I found this to be a little too flowery for my own tastes. Not for me but it still had an interesting symphony of tastes that comes thru.

Finally we have Irish Monks: whisk, chartreuse and and earl grey syrup. This was an interesting drink the bitterness of the earl grey tempered the sweetness of the sugar, I feared that the whiskey would overpower the drink when I read the description, but everything was well balanced.

Now to the food:

We start off with a fried Anchovy stuffed olive. I'm a big fan of the anchovy some of my fellow bloggers were not. It's a perfect pop of olive and anchovy with very light crunch from the crust. This quick appetizer lead us to the first bruschetta, Foie gras bruschetta topped with golden raisins and honey. I know there's all sorts of controversy on this delicacy, I'm setting all that aside (so no flames please). The honey was locally sourced was a really yummy combination with the foie gras, strangely it cut the richness of the foie gras from my taste of the appetizer.

Now we hit one of the highlights of the night. This is a Fried Goat cheese with onion jam and honey. Some of the bloggers lamented on showing up late and not getting a try. YUM this was incredible! the lite tempura batter on a ball of goat cheese and to highlight the slightly sour hit of the cheese came the onion jam and honey to bring it to a mellow end. I'm drooling right now thinking about this. I'm going to have to go back to get a whole plate of this.

From there we went to a nice tomato gazpacho and a crab and avocado bruschetta. The gazpacho was really good, had a hint of horseradish bright and refreshing. The bruschetta was good as well, I think I wished there was some more spices added to it? I think maybe I got lost in the richness of the crab salad and the equally rich avocado.

Spoons, I love the idea they did it at uchi party too. This perfect one bite (ok, I had two), a Scallop and Blood Orange Crudo. Exquisite! I'm guessing the crudo chemically cooks the scallops just the smallist bit either way it was very clean fresh and perfect scallop with the sweet blood orange and the faint savory whispers from the onions and chives. I could have easily knocked down the server and ran off with the plate.

Chef decided to surprise us again with another dish not on the tasting menu. Boquerones: Fried Anchovies with meyer lemon aioli. Again, this was a hit or miss for the crowd, I loved them. The aioli was light and tasty, not too lemony thanks to the use of the sweeter meyer lemon. With the Boquerones the staff brought out plates of coriander crusted Tuna. The crust seasoning was very good a nice hint of saltiness and a little bit of a blackened taste i'll wager from the coriander and pepper. This sat on top of a tzatzki sauce, a great complement.

More Spoons! this one is filled with a nice Pork Belly with Spring Onion and White bean puree. You can't go wrong with pork belly seriously, pork belly. I was curious to see how this particular bite would differ from the pork belly dish that Uchi presented. In this case he did not broil it into a crispy texture, it was cooked just at where the belly was cooked but it didn't incur much of the way of a crust. It was topped with a nice onion puree and sat on a bean puree both were flavorful and mello to leave pork to be the front and center of attention.

We finish out everything with Fried Littleneck Calm with a dab of paprika aioli and Za'atar Braised Lamb over a celeriac Puree. The Clams were good but I can't say I had anything remarkable to share about them. The Za'atar Braised lamb was very good. I played guess the ingrediant with one of the other bloggers. It turns out we were both off the mark. I did a little research, Za'atar is actually a middle eastern spice mix containing cumin, coriander, fennel, thyme, oregano, marjoram and sumac. An incredible mixture of flavors. The lamb tasted similar to an indian curry, but not *quite* so it was fun to try to figure it out.

Finally we finished everything off with dessert. Chef added a mini chocolate cake with dolce deleche. The big show was the Strawberry Semifreddo with Rose Water Coulis and Pistachio Tuile. Wonderful and amazing flavors and textures (big considering I don't do desserts). It was like eating something that tasted like strawberry icecream but not cold. When combined with a bit of the tuile you had a really great mix of texture from the pistachios and smooth creamy goodness from the semifreddo. I didn't get a good sense of the rose water on my taste but I tried to get a combination of all of the layers and the dessert was a resounding hit with everyone!

A great big thank you to our hosts at Fino, it was a wonderful and enjoyable event. Hopefully my photographs do the food justice.

Some of the other bloggers at this event
Tasty Touring (with our guessing at the lamb)
Coffee and Queso
Hungry engineer
Poco-Cocoa (hey post that water mark tutorial!)
Maggie's Austin
Apron Adventures

I've missed others I know. I'll edit and add as I find them.

Look forward to my next bento on Monday. It's St. Patricks Day! We're going Irish!


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bento Interior Mexico Style

My wife and I were having lunch last weekend and she had commented on not knowing much about the food of interior Mexico, things like differences between a Mole and Adobo sauces etc. That, I was able to answer, but I figured this would be an opportune time to look up and understand some of the foods you don't see in our heavily Tex-Mex laden city. This one is actually slightly not 100% gluten free (there was a bit of wheat in the pre-packaged mole) had I done this from scratch the whole meal would have indeed been gluten free.

First we start off with a Mole Poblano de Pollo, or Chicken in Mole sauce. For those of you that haven't had Mole, when folks here say Mole they specifically mean Mole Poblano (there are several types of Mole sauce most do not contain chocolate). Mole sauce has a complex rich smokey sweet flavor from the various dried peppers, nuts and of course chocolate. The process of making a proper mole sauce takes hours. I unfortuneatly do not have that much time so went with a store "concentrate" that I thinned out with chicken stock and layered in some flavor via some green pepper and onion. The results were still very tasty. Amazingly easy dish to put together, I simply seared some chicken breast, pulled them out and dumped in the veggies sauted till soft deglaze and put the Mole sauce and chicken together and dumped it in the oven.

For a salad I put together this Nopalito Salad. The ingredient list is pretty much just anything that I had on hand with a jar of Nopalito (cactus) and chopped queso fresca. I'm not sure if this was just because it was jarred nopalitos or if this is true for fresh I found they had a nice salty taste that made this dish really pre-seasoned and I only needed a bit of red wine vinegar to round it all out. Very fresh light and good for you. If you've ever had chinese pickled cucumber, nopalito is a similar texture (jarred).

Next we have arroz verde, green rice. This was an interesting dish for me to whip up. I've never cooked rice with milk and not have it be a dessert. The green is provided by cilantro and spinach and the flavors were wonderful, the milk added this hint of richness without resorting to butter. I like this one a lot and will be tagging it heavily for use at a potluck or something.

For a soup we have Sopa Albondigas. It's a meatball soup that I lightened up by using turkey instead of beef and chorizo. This is one of those soups that eats like a meal, 3 meatballs would go a long ways towards filling you up. Delicious! the cumin, oregano and cinnamon were an amazing treo that makes this simple looking soup taste great! The meatballs themselves were easy to put together and by substituting the meat makes them fairly healthy.

To finish off why not some more rice: Arroz Con Leche, Rice pudding. I had to score a mini bag of rice (I don't usually use long grain white rice) and this helped me use the rest up. Here I lightened things up by using some Splenda and Truvia (I find the combination to work well instead of all one or the other). I could have thickened things up using some condensed milk, but I favored healthy rather than rich and used some tapioca flour to get some added thickening.

My adventure into culinary interior Mexico was a lot of fun. Learned a lot of new was to use rice and it was fairly easy bento to put together. Look for a post from me about another food blogger event I was invited to over at Fino! Until then happy eating

Box Contents:
  • Mole Poblano de Pollo
  • Nopalito Salad
  • Arroz Verde
  • Sopa Albondigas
  • Arroz Con Leche

Monday, March 2, 2009

More Italian Gluten Free

Well, we have italian coming back up in rotation. I'm having trouble with coming up with new themes. Maybe we've been at it long enough that I'm exhausting my themes. Maybe, I need to be more creative. I tried to cull through my backlog of recipes that sounded interesting to produce a theme bento, but I'm stretching for a "theme". The other thing bothering me is that food costs have gone up, it's harder and harder to fit inside my $6 lunches. I'm frequently running over and I'm not quite sure what to do. I've not done a reset to compare food cost when I started, I might need to really economize better or simply charge more.

Anyhow enough whining. here's what I got.

We start off with an eggplant parmigiana GF style. I saved some of the calories and fat by baking the eggplant and using fat free mozzarella. The texture of the GF breadcrumbs we're a bit undercooked tasting. Appparently the re-heat went fine for the eaters. So maybe some of the undercooked breadcrumbs soaked up the moisture to soften the texture.

I skipped some complexity and steamed some "microwaveable veggies". For folks trying to churn out a fast meal I cannot say enough about the microwave packs of veggies. It's good for you, no oil, low cal and fast to churn out. A bit of seasoning goes a long way here and you're done with a major component of your lunch. Big thumbs up from me.

The first minor side is a Pasta with Creamy Vodka Sauce. I cut a ton of corners here with some lighter cream (half and half) and less butter. I figured that the smaller portion should make up for any real badness contributing to lunch. I think the dish could have used the full pound of pasta instead of the 12.5 oz to soak up the sauce but again, I got wide acclaim for this bento so maybe it was the right mix.

Finally dessert. This came out more like a biscotti than it did a cookie. It's sweet, but not too sweet, and more crumbly that I would have expected from a cookie. The almond and lemon peel really came out making it a flavorful dessert.

Box Contents:
  • gluten free eggplant parmigiana
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Vodka cream sauce over pasta
  • Polenta almond cookies