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

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