Monday, September 28, 2009

Surprise It's Fall Bento

What's the surprise? Well down here the first day of fall is usually still a hangover of sweltering heat from the last days of summer. I was pleasantly surprised by a beautiful week last week (actually starting on the first day of fall) into a wonderful weekend of bike riding. In honor of the awesome weather I immediately retooled my plans and scrambled for a fall inspired theme. I did a lot of browsing through my large backlog of food magazines and managed to cobble something together.
Edit: I forgot to mention this box is gluten free.

So, due to some unfortunate circumstances, my one of my lights for my light box got broken. I've been doing photos for some time now with, "just get by" gear as I didn't know how long I'd be able to keep this blog going. Well, now that you're reading post 112 I decided to go ahead and get the macro lens and flash. Yay! New toys, hopefully you'll see improved photos. Still got lots of manuals to read but I digress, back to our main entree. We have a nice butterflied pork chop stuffed with ginger basil rice (again, thank you aerogarden). The rice actually makes use of some hoisin sauce which goes well with the pork. The picture you see at right was right after my sear just prior to finishing in the oven so no, I didn't serve uncooked pork.

It *looks* like creamy mashed potatoes, it tastes like creamy mashed potatoes, but it's actually creamed cauliflower with a hint of truffle oil. I really like this dish, it's one of those "fool people into being healthy" kinda dish. Everyone usually double takes when they take their first bite, most claim they usually hate cauliflower. With no empty starch carbs of a potato, feel free to take a few bites. Had to really be careful with the truffle oil it has a tendency to overpower stuff, there was a lot of drizzle, taste, drizzle a little more, taste to make sure I didn't go overboard.

So, my experiments in bacon making have finally concluded. My pancetta finished air drying just in time for me to make this bento. What better way than to throw them into a side dish. We have a nice rosemary with cannellini beans. I rendered the pancetta and sauted a bit of onion and garlic then simply stewed the beans until they were yummy and delicious from the pancetta goodness. I think this might have only been improved had I used dry beans as they would require even more cooking to break down giving the beans even more time to absorb the flavors.

Last but not least, I have a Roasted Butternut squash soup. I picked this one up from Martha Stewart's magazine and I thought it was unusual to have shitake mushrooms in the recipe. Surprisingly, the earthy tones of the mushroom added to a nice complex flavor profile. Very simple to put together, just roasted up some butternut squash with onions and shitake mushrooms, dump in some stock and immersion blend, boom you're done. Lots going on with this soup and it's pretty good for you. No additional fats other than a tiny bit of olive oil to help the roasting process along. I think I only diverted from the original recipe by adding a bit of nutmeg, it seemed like the right thing to do.

My second bento for my new audience. Hopefully it goes well. I've had enough demand that I've opened the bentos up to twelve. We'll see if I can churn out lunch for twelve in a Sunday afternoon and not burn myself out. I have a slight break before I start the madness (office move and a visit out of town), but I plan to keep you entertained with some of my side adventures. Thanks for stopping by!

Box Contents
  • Pork Chop stuffed with ginger basil rice
  • Creamed Cauliflower
  • Rosemary with Cannellini beans
  • Roasted Butternut squash soup

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gadgetry: Aerogarden

I know I've been promising for quite some time now to post about my Aerogarden I got for my birthday. I waited until I had a no bento week so I could use this as a filler post. I'm sure most of you reading are home gardeners that, as we speak, are turning your nose up at me since I'm not actually gardening and communing with the earth. Unfortunately, I have a tendency towards killing all things green. I also have a voracious mosquito population in my backyard just waiting to feast on me. So what better way to have my fresh herbs than to turn to technology to solve my woes.

Ever since moving up north the single largest cost impact to my bentos was the "fresh" herbs I was forced to buy. I mean $3.50 for a small package of basil/oregeno/dill/chives? Really?! I was use to going to Central Market and picking up a beautiful bunch of basil for a dollar. Besides, a package of thyme was usually a waste, you only need two or three sprigs. So I was really excited at the chance to be able to pick my herbs fresh out of the "garden" and use them as I needed them.

So what does this thing come with? You get the shell and the bulbs which you have to assemble, that took all of two mins. Then you carefully read the instructions on the plant pods. The default plant pods included basil, purple basil, dill, mint, chives, cilantro, and parsley. It was all really straightforward and getting started was easy. It's a fairly sturdy contraption but fairly large so I needed a decent counter to put this on, fortunately my wet bar was the perfect spot.

Once the setup was complete, the Aerogarden regulated lighting and all I had to do was add water and nutrient tablets it even told me when to do it. You start off with little domes on the pods to create a little greenhouse effect and when they sprout, off come the domes. Every once and again as the plants got close to the light, I had to extend the hood and give my plants some more space to grow. My only caution here is that you should put the Aerogarden somewhere you won't mind an extremely bright light as it turns on in the middle of the night. Also, don't put it in a too out of the way place, you need to be able to keep an eye on the screen and remember when to put in new food tablets. Later in the growing cycle, two weeks is way too long to wait to replenish water, I top it off every five days or so. The sprouts came in pretty fast and they grow at a good rate, but you start seeing some real plant action about two or three weeks into your growing season.

Voila! Here's my garden as of today, sorry about the washed out picture, I didn't want to disturb the growing light. I've had to pick the basil several times as I fear it's a fire hazard so close to the growing light. The cilantro and parsley never really came in, they tried really really hard but never managed to grow a full bunch. I've had more than enough just picking off the plants every week to supply my cooking experiments (home made pancetta), and bentos. I think I'm going to take a chunk out and make a batch of pesto. I believe the garden is suppose to hold up for three months total. I started mine July 4th, so I'm well into 2.5 months and it's still going strong.

The Aerogarden has made me a believer, I think the only thing left to do is to get a second one so I can a have a big cherry tomato plant to go along with my herbs. I think if I had more of a green thumb a large size garden plot would yield a lot more cool veggies. But for my purposes of having fresh herbs at hand it works just fine. Besides, with an indoor garden I don't have to contend with pests or other animals that would gladly snack on an outdoor garden.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chapter 2: A new beginning

No such thing as a free lunch? There was today! My official debut to my new potential bento eaters. Six have signed up and I wanted to give them a free preview of what they were getting into. I stayed in budget and whipped up some nice little tidbits to kick things off.

I endured a soaking wet trip to the farmers market this weekend and grabbed some farm fresh made goat cheese. It's been really dry here in Austin and far be it from me to complain about rain, but it did make for quite a soaking at the market. The goat cheese stand caught my eye, and I tucked under the tarp to see what they had. I came out with a cranberry horseradish goat cheese and a garlic and chives goat cheese. Not quite knowing what I was gonna make, I took a gamble that I could build something from goat cheese. I settled on a chicken roulade two ways. I flattened out some chicken breast and spread out the goat cheese. With the garlic and chives I added a some chopped roma tomatoes. A quick sear and I finished it off in the oven.

For the side, I searched out some nice oyster mushroom, two varieties normal king oyster mushroom, and a golden oyster mushroom and put together a nice pasta with a light cream sauce. Is there really a difference in the two mushrooms? I felt like the normal oyster mushroom was dryer both in the sense of dry wine and dry texture. I chose a farfalle pasta as the slight crinkle will hold some sauce, but not as much as a fusilli as I didn't want to do a full on alfredo sauce. I discovered one of my potential eaters was trying gluten free, the box could easily have been made so by a pasta substitution and removal of the dessert. On reheat for myself I think no more cream based sauces, they are too fragile and generally don't go well esp if I'm not serving it out in person.

I felt the need to lighten things up and put together a nice cherub tomato salad with an anchovy vinaigrette. The sweet tomatoes with a caesar like vinaigrette was a perfect blend of sweet and salty. I actually had another bite this evening and it was even better than yesterday.

I had the budget and went ahead and made some prosciutto wrapped asparagus. Easy peasy here, a quick blanch, roll up and finish on the skillet. Crowd favorite and helped with lightening up the box, I finished it with a bit of lemon juice and zest. It's an easy add in, it fits in the utensils slot.

For dessert I cut corners and went with my italian theme and got some amaretti cookies. I'm still waiting for the results of the tasting, hopefully everything went well. I'm glad to have a chance to continue the blog. No bento next week, unfortunately I have stuff going on that prevents my kitchen access. But more good stuff to come!

Box Contents
  • Chicken Roulade two ways
  • Oyster Mushrooms and farfalle with light cream sauce
  • Cherub tomatoes with anchovie vinaigrette
  • Prosciutto wrapped asparagus
  • Amaretti cookies

Monday, September 14, 2009

Quick guest post!

Quick guest post here. I was amazed at this little creation from a young budding pastry chef :) I promised a post and here we have it. Rainbow cake. I was really surprised at the color layers especially when she described how she managed to get it all together. Apparently the batter is separated into equal portions and colored with food coloring. Later the whole cake is combined (carefully) and then baked. I'm amazed that the colors didn't blend more, it's got a cool lava lamp feel to it. What we have is a unique cake that has it's own color fingerprint every time. Yummy and delicious!

Thanks Megan for sharing your creation!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Final Bento: End of Chapter

It is with mix emotion that I post this bento. This bento represents some of my hardest work and my attempt at a really special lunch. The purpose of this blog was to deliver a healthy, delicious, economic meal for my wife and her coworkers. Unfortunately, I've no more wife to cook for, all the more reason to make this the best lunch I could produce, it's my last chance to cook for someone I care for and the new friends that I've come to care for. It was hard to plan out this lunch as I had to contemplate this being my last chance to cook for folks been cooking for for so long. There's just so many wonderful things I wanted to cram into this lunch and make it uber special. Here's what I came up with:

We'll start the bento with the main entree: Crab artichoke stuffed raviolis with pine nut butter sauce. I have to admit, I spent a *lot* of time on this bento, by the time I got to the raviolis I was so tired I decided that instead of standard raviolis I would make two giant raviolis per box, it worked out as a nice novelty and a good time saver. I stuffed the homemade pasta with crab, artichokes and my homemade ricotta (more on that later). I toasted some pine nuts in butter and finished the dish with lemon juice. I got a chance to learn how to make pasta from a pasta chef from a local restaurant some years back and I've been threatening for some time that I'd deliver hand made pasta, I just didn't have the chance until now.

Next up caprese salad. Yes the picture you see to your right is the epic fail of my attempt to try making homemade mozzerella. I had to lean on store bought (that you see on the left) this was probably what stretched out my cooking time since I went thru two batches of failed cheese before giving up. I suppose the good news is that my failure resulted in the best ricotta I've tasted. I pulled two kinds of basil from my aerogarden for this salad, a standard basil and a purple basil. In a side by side taste test the purple basil is a bit more mild than it's more minty cousin, just in case you were wondering.

Rounding the corner we have a standard garlic sauteed green beans. Everything I was delivering was so rich that I felt a bit guilty and launched into a quick healthy side dish. Nothing too special, a simple blanch and shock, infused a bit of extra virgin olive oil with some garlic and a quick saute.

Our last side is the blue cheese polenta cake. I was originally going to try to fry the whole thing for some texture but they fell apart during testing so I had to settle with the creamy texture on reheat. I think if I had packed them a little tighter, I probably would have gotten away with it, but the water content caused such a violent bubble that it just disintegrated in the fryer. This was a big crowd please-er to all my blue cheese fans and I'm pretty happy with the final product fried or not.

Finally dessert, I pulled out the stops and delivered a individual creme brulee. No cheaping out here, real vanilla beans were harmed in this process. The seeds just add something to a creme brulee that extract can't do. Creme Brulee is a favorite dessert (heck even I'll break my dessert rule for it) and a nice treat to top off my last bento.

So there you have it, the last hurrah, but just when you thought it was all over gentle readers, there is another chapter. I've managed to grow a following at my current employ. In fact I've had someone in line ever since he discovered my blog. So I'm happy to bring my culinary experiments and experiences to my coworkers. Chapter two on the way, it might take a small break for me to recover (I need some me time) but the bentos will continue. Look forward to new cuisines and new ingredients previously "verboten". I've also got a queue of side projects that I've been meaning to post on, so you'll see all of those coming up. Thank you all for reading and happy eating.

Box Contents
  • Homemade Crab and Artichoke Raviolis with lemon pine nut sauce
  • Caprese Salad
  • Sauteed green beans
  • Blue Cheese Polenta Cakes
  • Creme Brulee