Monday, August 31, 2009

Eaters Favorites Bento

A trip down memory lane this week. I asked my eaters to give me their list of favorite dishes so that I can create a blast from the past lunch for them. Lots of suggestions, the tough part was picking something from everyone's list that still put a lunch with some balance of complimentary flavors. The lists were pretty big, I guess I'm doing something right. Let's explore what lunch brings us today.

We'll start off with our entree, miso glazed salmon from our Omega 3 goodness box. Topped this one off with some chives today. (not from my aerogarden) I've learned a lot from my experiments on this blog and the number one tip is to slightly undercook certain things to allow them to finish when a reheat occurs. That way the food is at perfection when the eaters actually eat lunch. Also I've learned salmon seems to be one of the rare exceptions of allowable fish to be packed in lunch. Usually, fish type lunches that are reheated get lots of complaints from co-workers on the stink factor. I'm not quite sure why Salmon is immune to the stinkage.

Primary side dish is the shitake quinoa pilaf from our Quinoa what? box. I'm so glad I rolled the dice on this grain. It's such a great and versatile ingredient, not to mention it freezes well, always a plus. Quinoa would be a natural in Asian cuisines had the grain been indigenous. It's a perfect blend of flavor and texture which is key to a lot of Asian cooking. It's so versatile and can really be used for anything even dessert (Note to self, look into quinoa dessert)

We'll shuffle along to our soup Dad's hot and sour soup. This one was featured in a few of the bentos but made it's debut on my very first bento. I think I've talked this particular soup to death so there's not much to add here. For those accustomed to the Hot and Sour soup from a typical Chinese buffet, this is the authentic real deal. No goopy cornstarch laden soup, clear broth from a braised chicken and a few simple ingredients. I actually forgot to put in the wood ear mushrooms, hopefully no one notices.

This was a surprise request from my audience, Green curry coconut Riceballs served with Srirachi sauce. This one was from Pantry Raid, I really enjoyed this creation but I figured it was too spicy for most of my eaters and didn't expect to see it in the cut. Apparently I underestimated how popular this dish was even one of the eaters that shy's away from spicy items had it on their list. I really don't know what to say, I love these little riceballs, they actually freeze quite well and perk up just fine under the microwave. It's a perfect side to nuke up and have on hand at any time. That reminds me I'll have to do another Pantry raid bento soon, I've been stocking up on all sorts of weird stuff.

Finally dessert, there really was no way to pass up the Figs in prosciutto, the figs are in season and it's a perfect time for this dessert. The honey is actually locally sourced from RoundRock Honey Co. (thank you farmers market) I actually finished this with a bit of gorgonzola crumbles that I had in the fridge. I had intended on giving two per box, but I had so much stuff crammed into lunch this week that I could only fit one in. Oh well more for sharing.

Once again surprisingly, I was pretty on budget with this bento. Most of the material I already had on hand, and the stuff I did have to buy were on sale. I compared food costs from when I first did a cost run down 2 years ago (yes I have a spreadsheet). Salmon is still selling for the same price! Anyhow. This was a great bento to do, lots of fond memories from bentos past. One of my eaters commented on the evolution of the posts and the photos, and now that I'm looking back on those links it's pretty big difference from before.

I've got some projects coming up that I'll be blogging, about thanks to TheHungryEngineer for the inspiration for both projects. Next week, I go to the farmers market to pickup my pork belly for project: cure my own bacon. And I took advantage of a sale at the local homebrewer supply store for project: Make cheese. I anticipate some good stuff on both. Anyhow, thanks for dropping by.

Box Contents
  • Miso Glazed Salmon
  • Shitake Quinoa Pilaf
  • Green Curry Coconut Riceballs
  • Hot and Sour Soup
  • Prosciutto Wrapped Figs with gorgonzola

Monday, August 24, 2009

Beef Short Rib Bento

Yes, I'm posting a bento solely around the entree, I've been wanting to work with short ribs for some time and my recent purchase of a nice dutch oven pushed me into action. The rest of the items in the bento really were, "what can I put in with short ribs?" so there's no real point in trying to fabricate a theme.

This bento did include yet another coworker from my work, he's been standing in line asking when I'd bring the bento goodness to our work. I'll admit I was a little intimidated to cook for him, he's very well traveled, well knowledged about food, and has eaten at some of the best places, and has a brother that's a chef. I cringed as I put the bento in the fridge this morning. Hopefully it is to his liking.

Ok let's just lead off with the entree. Short ribs, it's one of those things that if I see it in a menu there's going to be about a 95% chance it'll be what I'm having for dinner/lunch/breakfast whatever. Why the obsession? If executed well, it's the most tender decadent yummy morsel, and because of the long braising time, the flavors all have plenty of time to develop in the meat, so everything in the pot contributes to the whole yummmery. So I present: Braised Beef Shortribs glazed with red wine reduction served with a horseradish cream sauce. My little Aerogarden (yes, I will one day post on this miraculous device) is now yielding enough for me to cook with. I took advantage of my fresh thyme in the bouque garni. For such a delicious dish, it's amazingly simple to put together. Bunch of vegetables, seasoning and two and a half hours done. (ok it's more complicated than that, but not by much) Needless to say, I'm very happy to have left overs on this one. I went ahead and saved the aromatics which held up just fine under the braising and served it on the side (waste not want not). At first I thought that reducing the rest of the sauce would have been a waste of time, however, as it turns out it added yet another layer of flavor when paired with the beef and the horseradish.

So my first instinct was to pair the ribs up with some mashed potatoes blah blah blah boring boring boring. Then I remembered my cooking experiment with nose2tailathome on haggis, we had some wonderful mashed rutabaga (my first encounter with the vegetable). I figured rutabaga is a good source of vitamin A&C, beta carotine, it would be the healthier alternative to mashed potatoes. Just as a note, rutabaga is in the same family as the turnip, in fact they look quite similar the only difference being that rutabaga have a yellow bottom rather than white, and even early in the season they are white. There is however a taste difference, the humble rutabaga is sweeter and less spicy than his biological sibling making and it is this difference that makes them a good candidate for mashing.

Lastly, I ripped off this recipe for Chocolate cake. It's actually intended as a healthy version of the full on super-sugary-bad-for-you version. To accomplish this some really smart substituations were made. First they use beets right, I thought the same thing, "beets? really?" I tell you it works. It gave the cake a nice moistness I never would have guessed. It also called for coffee to pair and add an extra set of flavors to the chocolate thus allowing for less sugar and fat. Finally it calls for dark chocolate, which I can only guess to give the excuse of antioxidants or something. Either way as desserts go, it's not as bad as it could be. Unfortuneatly, it was lost on me due to my inhuman super power to not like dessert or sweets. (Yes that wee sprig o mint is from the aerogarden too.)

Always a joy to produce these bentos. It's great escape for me to cook for folks and it's a super bonus that I get to post about them. Thanks for coming by and reading.

Box Contents
  • Beef Short Ribs glazed in wine reduction served with horseradish cream sauce
  • Mashed Rutabaga
  • Braised vegetables
  • Chocolate Cake

Friday, August 21, 2009

Foodblogger Event: Elevation Burger

I was invited this week to a food writer/blogger event hosted at Elevation Burger. The featured speaker was Susan Leibrock from the Sustainable Food Center here in Austin. Our event was host Rob Faubion editor of Austin On Stage magazine.

Elevation Burger is a franchise owned by Danny Bone. Funny enough, I met Danny at my previous company as he was our insurance provider. As he mentioned this was his first venture into the restaurant business and he was very passionate and proud of Elevation Burger and what they were trying to achieve. This particular store was a complete Green build and he has applied for a Silver LEED Certification. (I know I had find a link to figure out what that meant too) Elevation Burger specializes in grass fed organic burgers while running an environmentally friendly and eco-sustainable business.

The burgers themselves are lower in calorie and fat than your regular corn fed burger due to the fact that the meat tends to be leaner. They feature a bun that is vegan made from potato flour, so if you order their vegi-burger it's actually a vegan burger. The french fries are cooked in 100% Olive Oil, very crisp and yummy. Everything had a pretty clean fresh taste to it, but I must confess that I like my burgers on the unhealthy side :) (more on that in a second)

Susan's speech on the Sustainable Food Center and their projects really opened my eyes about the organization, it's mission and the various neat programs they offer. I already knew they were the folks behind the local farmers markets. I didn't know that they offer quite a few programs to help people start community gardens, and help families with limit resources create strategies to eat healthier and reduce diet related diseases. It's a great cause and they have a variety of ways for people to participate, so if you find yourself able to help please do!

I had a great time loads, of old friends were there HungryEngineer, Addie Broyles, MisoHungryNow, AustinFarmtoTable, OrthogonalThought, Maggie (just to name a few) and met a new friend Peter from TheTastingBuds. At the end of the event Jennie had them put together a burger a little more my style:

nom nom nom

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Banh Mi Bento

Very exciting week this week. I turned out we didn't have many folks at my wife's office so I offered a bento to someone at my workplace. A new eater! Always nice to cook for new people, but I go thru great pains to keep my worlds separated so it's hard to put my food (specifically the stuff I post about) on display for the people I work with. I'm not sure when I developed this weird phobia. At my last job I was all about bringing in food, heck I even setup an omelette station and cooked for everyone. Maybe it's because there are so many more people here that haven't been over and tried my food *and* are foodies. It's like going to the judges table. It's irrational, I'll get over it.

This box is actually a requested "hey can you go figure this thing out" bento. I was asked to re-create a Vietnamese bbq pork sandwich called a Banh Mi. Apparently it's a big favorite around here at my work and my wife loves them too. The trick I had to get right is the specific type of Banh Mi they were all looking for. You see there are a variety of Banh Mi, some with just pork (as I've done it) some with ground pork, some with pate, the sauces and marinades all differ, so I had to do some recon and taste what it is they were talking about. We went out for vietnamese and I was able to sample what they were looking for. I futzed with a few versions of the marinade until it tasted close to what I could remember and took a few lessons from my Korean Bento and broke out the indoor grill (gotta have that char). Also, to do this right I had to do a quick pickle with the carrots and daikon. The cucumbers come courtesy of my father's garden.

Now, I didn't get to go to the vietnamese food cart that they really wanted me to replicate. So I had to go out on a limb with my cilantro mayo to try and get this close enough for their satisfaction. I used a reduced fat olive oil mayo (surprisingly good at half the calories and fat) whizzed in a bit of lime fresh cilantro very tasty (credit for this one goes to south beach diet recipes) All in all I was told it was very good and "spot on" the only thing missing from my coworker's comment was fresh slices of jalepeno. So yay me I managed to get this one right.

While at the Vietnamese restaurant, I had my coworker try jellyfish, he was instantly hooked. It was a good dish, my problem was it was pretty different from the version my dad does, it lacked the proper crunch and hence it didn't taste right. Since I had been going on and on about the difference I figured I should also do a nice batch of jellyfish to show my coworker. I also owed a jellyfish salad debt to another coworker, and my wife really likes the stuff, so it was a hat trick. Same thing as last time, you'll definitely kill some vampires with all the garlic. But it is a tasty dish.

I cheaped out on dessert and included a lychee jelly dessert so nothing special there.

This was a fun bento to make, I like the challenge of trying to create a copycat recipe. It was also fun to show *my* coworkers exactly what it is my wife and her coworkers get every Monday. They didn't realize it came in a package with a note attached. (I suppose I should get more of them to visit this blog)

Box Contents
  • Vietnamese bbq pork
  • Pickled daikon and carrots
  • Fresh cucumber
  • Cilantro Mayo
  • Jellyfish Salad
  • Lychee jelly

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Foodblogger event: Gumbo's

Gumbo's has always been a favorite for me only because I frequented the bar next door. When I was working downtown we would always head over to the Brown Bar and order off the Gumbo's appetizer menu. I'm very glad we had an opportunity to sample some of Chef Chad Jones' offerings that included some of the items I never got to order. And yes like his picture suggests he's a super nice guy that took the time to meet and greet all of us, always a pleasure to meet someone down to earth and all about his food. I'm just a blogger and not a critic, so I'm always grateful when the chef takes the time to meet with us "little people". I'm also thankful to the folks that put on these events for inviting me. It's fun and a great chance to see my blogger friends and really get to experience what the restaurant is about. Ok onto the food:

First up: Crab Cake with chipotle aioli and jicama slaw, I will say the number one thing that stood out to me was the smokey sweet flavors. If you order this appetizer do not ignore the sauce, it adds to the overall experience. I was speaking to another blogger and he's right it's so easy to get a lot of these dishes to the "average" level, it takes a special effort to make them memorable. In this case the smokey sweet really brought this crabcake to stand out from other crab cakes I've tasted. The jicama slaw was a great light complement to the whole dish. I would have called this my favorite but read on to the usurper.

Oysters rockefeller with cream spinach spiked with pernod, topped with fried oysters and grated parmesan cheese. Many of my fellow bloggers liked this dish. I don't think I got the same experience, definitely yummy and I enjoyed the food (I liked the presentation), but nothing stood out. It was an oyster on oyster bit of action.

Redfish Francine blackened, served over crawfish tails sauteed in creamy tarragon sauce. Ok umm. this was the best most yummiest thing I had to eat in a long long time. Blackened can sometimes mean overly salty or overly seasoned, which this was not, the fish was perfectly tender, and I was very grateful for such a generous portion for us to try. The tarragon sauce was light buttery but not heavy and complemented the redfish amazingly well. Chef Jones explained that the tarragon sauce is very popular and used in quite a few dishes. And talking with my blogger friends this dish is the test dish for chefs cooking cajun cuisine and it's also where many chefs make their signatured versions. If that is so, Chef Jones knocked this out of the park.

Tenderloin George blackened, topped with crabmeat bearnaise sauce, served over red wine reduction. I enjoyed this tasting, my fellows were a bit non-plussed by it. I think I could have used a knife. I believe that the tenderloin was perfectly cooked and the bearnaise sauce really a great contrast to the demiglace. Very good, but hard to handle with just a fork.

South Louisiana bread pudding served with whiskey sauce and vanilla ice cream. As I've always said, I'm not a dessert person, sweets are not generally something I like, but as always I take one for the team on these tastings. I really enjoyed this dessert, the bread pudding was very good, but mixed with the whiskey sauce swayed my no sweets mantra. The exterior had a bit of crunch to it and gave some texture to the warm bread pudding. Very delightful!

Thanks again to Chef Jones and Gumbo's for having us, I had a great time and I enjoyed the food.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Interview of me? Part two

AustinOtaku Posts the second part of his interview with me. Go have a read. Thanks for the interview @austinotaku. And go check out his blog. See two posts down for a brief description.

This section focused more on some tips and hints that I focus on to produce my lunches. Again great and thoughtful questions. I enjoyed responding to them.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Italian bento and cooking from the hip

Hi all, welcome to another Italian bento. Sorry for the late post, got really busy for me. I'm on a trip to Dallas and I have to say, I feel like I'm in a foodie wasteland. I need a proper food guide to steer me away from all the big box restaurants and grocery stories that look at me funny when I ask for various things.

One of the questions I got previously was how many of the recipes are ones that I follow versus create. That is not an easy answer, where is the line between synthesis and copying? From the one end clearly there are instances where I lifted whole menus straight out of a magazine (like when Martha Stewart invaded). Somewhere in the middle is where I typically stay, whenever I cook, (especially when it's something I've not done before) I tend to collect five to seven recipe versions of the same dish. I try to analyze what the common thread is in technique to understand the origins of a dish and see where others have taken it. I'm a guy that likes to know the why or how behind food. More often than not, the end result is a frankenstein monster and a bit of my own flair or tastes that make the final draft of my version of the dish that keeps as close as possible to the core principles of the dish. Is that copying? Is that making it my own? Beats me. What I do know is I learn a ton to add to my own cooking skills and knowledge this way and it's the best way for me to grow as a cook.

Today's bento comes from the opposite end of copying, it is a from scratch test of what I've incorporated from my experience and how well I remember things (meaning my own versions of what I've done). These tend to be more boring bento for me to make, I don't feel like I learn anything, I think it's always a good exercise to review what you know and make sure you can apply your food consistently rather than hacking together something that tastes different every single time. Practice Practice Practice.

We'll start with the salad, nothing too amazing here, just bagged salad. I whipped up a nice Pear Vinaigrette, from the book Ratios I learned if you keep to three parts oil one part vinegar as your base you can't really go wrong. (As a side note, I highly recommend the book to any food geek types even my hero Alton Brown wrote a forward for it. Ok back to the narative:) Add a teaspoon of dijon mustard, salt, pepper, maybe some herbs, how bout we sub red wine vinegar for some pear balsamic. I personally like to use then dijon mustard it keeps the dressing from separating too fast. The point is, if you know the base you can add what you like depending on what you're you're serving.

Next up, I had to use up some of that gluten free pasta knocking about in my cupboard. This dish is basically a simple pasta sauce, cooking down some tomatoes and adding in some herbs from my Aerogarden (I'll post on that one later, but I'm excited that I'm finally cooking from it.) I chose the fusilli pasta for it's ability to hold onto a lot of sauce. The basic marinara (an American Italian invention by the way) is always a happy easy sauce and a great one to whip up especially if you stock canned whole tomatoes in the pantry. It's one of those things that are easy to keep around if you need to feed a hungry army of folks in a hurry.

Ok I had have to say I stretched a bit on this one, casting about for inspiration that does stray too far away from the Italian theme. The components for this "wrap" are all Italian by nature, frittata, herb marinated flank steak. So I got a two-fer exercise in practice. But the wife had mentioned how wonderful the Chinese crepes were compared to tortillas that I had to incorporate it somehow into this bento. We have an Italian wrap with asparagus frittata, marinated flank steak, roasted bell pepper and mozzarella cheese. I really wish I had a chance for a longer marinade time, the beef came out a little tougher than I liked the flavors put together were wonderful but definitely a fork and knife job . I'm glad I didn't decide to whip up a pesto to go on, I think it would have been a bit too much.

I've been waiting to do this particular dessert. The box structure just screams for personal tiramisu! Yes I should have plated for the photo but I needed to reserve the rest of it so my wife was able to take it work and share with her non-bento coworkers. I struggled here with my memory, did I have the lightened version in my head, or did I still need to lighten the version in my head? I know it was a quick version. I went ahead and started with half the amount of sugar and it tasted fine. Didn't get any complaints so I must at least taste good :)

I have to say the box and the cooking time was extremely fast, I was able to intuitively know what can start when and where. I'm glad my one creative spinoff was successful. I'll have to keep that one and refine it a bit. Originally I was going to do a play on a sushi roll, I'll have to think about it some. Man, this post totally deserves the yammering tag. Ok thanks for coming by see you next time.

Box Contents

  • Salad with Pear vinaigrette
  • Fusilli pasta with homemade marinara Sauce
  • Italian wrap of Asparagus Frittata, marinated flank steak, roasted pepper and mozzerella
  • Homemade Tiramisu

Monday, August 3, 2009

An interview of me?!

Austin Otaku did an interview on me and posted part one. Go take a look! It's a great summary and he was kind enough to show case some of my bentos. He asked some very interesting questions which I happily went on and on to answer :) you know me, there's a reason "yammering" is a tag.

Austin Otaku's site is a wonderful collection articles about Japan, being a "Japanophile" stuck in Austin and all thing related that's found both here in Austin and on the web. Great stuff!