Sunday, December 12, 2010

Noche Buena Bento

I decided to continue my theme of "Holidays around the World" by going to the Philippines this time. Sadly, I didn't get to research as much history like the Hanukkah bento I did last week. The Philippines did surprise me on the amount of traditional foods and blending of flavors so I went ahead and did a quick dive into Filipino foods to bring you this nice (and hearty) lunch. Filipino food is greatly influenced by both Spanish and it's neighboring Asian cousins. This is pretty evident in the ingredients and dishes as well as their names (some taking on Spanish names). As a former Spanish colony, there is a heavy tradition around big feasts during the holiday season, namely Noche Bueno (Good night) for Christmas. I think there's a really rich food culture here and am looking forward to exploring Filipino food more, there's even a Filipino grocery/restaurant nearby for me to check out.

Hardinera is usually made out of pork and reserved for special occasions, I wandered upon a more healthy ground chicken variant that seemed quite interesting. I had to adjust the cooking methods and the times since 30 mins didn't seem enough time for a "chicken loaf" but I'm very happy with the results. The chicken was very tender and moist thanks to the binding ingredients and I'm glad the freshly ground chicken didn't come out tough. Special occasion dishes usually mean a lot of work but this dish is something I'm ok with holding on to and serving at the next holiday potluck. The simple mushroom gravy added a lot of flavor.

The next dish is called Bam-I, I loved this recipe it's an interesting fusion of texture and flavor. It uses two types of noodles, mung bean vermicelli and canton style noodles, this gives you a mushy, plus an al dente noodle texture but then we add on the wood ear mushroom for the ultra crunch. The noodles were reconstituted in soy sauce, sugar, fish sauce and chicken broth to produce and an amazing flavor. For protein we have chinese sweet sausage, shrimp and pork I should have just added beef to round it all out. It's a cross between a lo mein, pad thai, and vermicelli bowl WOW! This was admittedly the most labor intensive but I'm very happy to keep this in the "must do" category since it epitomizes asian food in flavor and texture. It's the "meltingpot" of noodles :).

Arroz Caldo is what you see to the left. It's also known as Chicken Congee or Rice porridge with chicken. I added a bit of salted duck eggs but I think I did the epic fail with using the starchy sushi rice, I should have gone with plain jasmine. My solution is to have my diners to further water it down in the reheat. I used a lot of chicken broth instead of water for flavor. I really wanted to pop in the thousand year old eggs but I didn't have any on hand but the resulting dish was still very tasty.

For dessert Bibing Ka. It's a really simple coconut cake that almost tastes like a sponge cake. The recipe asked for a lot of baking powder so I knew it would rise by quite a bit. I'm glad it wasn't very sweet it will make a great end to the lunch. If I had to make it decadent I would have soaked this cake with a rose petal honey glaze or treat it tres leche style but that's only for the +1 bonus and were trying to stay healthy here folks.

This might be the last of the bentos for the year. Holiday season is coming up and lots of folks are out on vacation. I'll find some things to post on in the meanwhile. Have a happy and safe holiday!

Box Contents
  • Hardinera
  • Bam-I
  • Arroz Caldo
  • Bibing Ka

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tools of the Trade: FoodSaver and Special offer!

Howdy folks, quick off topic post today. I got a cool email on a special offer that I can share with you guys. The folks at FoodSaver contacted me and let me know about an offer for bloggers and food blogger readers. (more on that in a second) Normally I'm not one for adding this kind of stuff on my site, but it just so happens the FoodSaver is of my most used tools these days not only for preserving but also for my more recently frequent sous vide applications.

So I posted a bit on this topic in the past. Back then I was most concerned with preserving left overs or freezing items that I've cooked in surplus. Now that I've had a few more years to get into the groove of things I find that home vacuum sealing has quite a few applications. The obvious is storage. I've used the large robust bags to seal vacuum and seal lots of dry good products that I need preserved from oxygen, things like big bags of paprika and cumin from the indian grocery or large dried shitake mushrooms. It's a nice way to keep my pantry stocked for resupplying my spices jars and holding on to those more "obscure" ingredients.

As I've said, recently I've also been using my FoodSaver in my various sous vide applications. It's pretty great to cook up two large pork tenderloins in a bag or a bunch of chicken breast. Pictured left is a frozen sous vide spicy chicken breast. I took it straight from my rig and quick chilled and dumped the whole thing in the freezer. I simply pull out a bag and let it defrost in the fridge and I have a perfect one breast portion of extremely tender cooked chicken. I've done the same with various vegetables so I can have portions kept on hand. Re-heat is either microwave or bringing it back up to temp with my sous vide rig. As a single guy it's pretty convient to just rummage through the freezer to pick stuff to eat.

So ok this is a "Tools" post what about the gear? Of course (pictured right) there are plenty of options for your various vacuum sealing needs, I usually opt for the bags for what I do, they sell various containers for holding anything from cereal to marinating meats. For my bag use they offer pre cut bags in various sizes that you just put your stuff in and vacuum away or rolls where you can customize your bag size. I've really have yet to run into anything I couldn't vacuum with the rolls and I've sealed up some pretty big stuff. I've not made extensive use of the other containers as I only own a couple. They also have an attachment for sealing up your glass bell preserving jars it should be noted vacuum sealing is not a replacement for canning/jarring pasteurization process.

As to the units themselves from the title you can see I am now the proud owner of two FoodSavers, both are nice, I'm having trouble with the one on the right I can't seem to get it to consistently vacuum I think I just need to read the manual, but when it works it rocks. So for now I've kept my trusty twenty dollar craigslist acquistion. I like the idea of more handsfree operation which is what the one on the right promises, my current one you have to somehow hold the bag and also press down with both hands. I've got the practice down, it's just a bit inconvenient. Now, as I said in my previous post, my biggest gripe is footprint. These devices do take up some good counter space, but if you're only using them once and again in bulk pulling it out of the drawer and setting up isn't too bad. FoodSaver have recently come out with some upright models that auto store the bags, have integrated bag cutters, stowaway hosey thing for the containers, and liquid detection all in a small foot print (it's just vertical space).

Disclaimer time: Ok guys, I ain't making a dime off of this post (well ok if you click the ad to the right maybe, but not from FoodSaver). The folks at FoodSaver contacted me on this deal they were offering to bloggers and said we could pass it along. Since I use the product and everyone asks me about sous vide all the time, I figure that they probably would like to capitalize on the deal too. So bottom line, not being paid to be a shill, just passing along a cool deal I found on a product I happen to like and use.

And of course this brings me to the "cool deal". The folks that own FoodSaver recently contacted me and with cool "blogger" special basically you get up to 50% off (which is how I'm gonna justify getting the new small footprint hotness) and they'll toss in three vacuum containers! How cool is that? Anyhow here's the link to the offer. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hanukkah Bento

So I figure since it's the holiday season I'd take the time to pick a related theme. Hanukkah is a great excuse for me to do more research into the Jewish cuisine, I loved my dip into Rosh Hashanah bento and I enjoyed learning the history of the cuisine. I think I spent a week reading up on the Hanukkah food trying (in vain) to design a healthy Hanukkah bento. I think I learned a few things and my diners so far seemed to have enjoyed themselves.

The picture at the right is the brisket, but I neglected to put in the veggies and the final sauce you see in the bento box in the title picture. It's a braised brisket with a red wine reduction. Hanukkah cooking is mostly about preparations the day before so that no work is happening while the Menora is lit. I think the brisket could have done with a few more hours of cooking for my taste but every recipe I saw called for a three our cook time and since I like to at least try things the traditional way once we have what we have. The braising liquid was reduced greatly to give a nice thick sauce that was well worth the wait. The onions and carrots sweetened up nicely during the braise. The flavors really sunk in overnight, so clearly there's something to the traditional preparations.

Like the Rosh Hashanah kugel, I went with a savory Kugel (opting for noodle this time). A lot of the kugels I went thru all demanded sweet kugel, I personally don't like sweet so I hunted high and low until I found a series of savory kugels that seemed to fit my palate. Sour cream, cottage cheese, and parmesan were the main players on this dish. Dairy actually fits quite prominently in Hanukkah foods because it commemorates Yehudit (Judith) a Jewish Heroine that helps defeat the Assyrians. There's a big back story there that I won't go into, suffice it to say dairy and fried food are everywhere in Hanukkah dishes. I went for low fat cottage cheese and sour cream to help lighten things up as much as possible, and cut the oil butter in half. I added a few of the spices and sauces from another kugel recipe to compensate for the loss of fat. I can see how the "full monty" version would be very tasty and rich but I'm proud to say my "lite" version was pretty tasty too.

Next we have fried Ricotta balls. I took this recipe from Food Networks (courtesy Mario Batali) I'm not sure how this is Jewish except that it both has dairy and fried food. How does fried food fit into Hanukkah? Well the fried food features oil which symbolizes the miraculous oil that was able to light the Menora for long celebration of Hanukkah. The recipe called for goat cheese ricotta, but I couldn't find that, the ricotta was really wet and it was a struggle to hold the shape under the violent frying process. I tried my best to let the ricotta dry but I think the better bet was to double the ricotta and wringing it all out in cheese cloth. A very tasty morsel just very difficult to execute.

Finally we have Roasted Chestnut and Parsnip soup. This is probably the one and only time I'll roast chestnuts. It was humongous pain to shell and peel not to mention hard to find and expensive. The alternative was to used canned chestnuts but honestly I've never ever seen canned chestnuts, and if such a product ever existed now would be the time it should be on shelves. All the hard work resulted in a very tasty the soup, it was very creamy and thick and hint of the parsnips came through while the chestnuts added a really nice richness to the soup without adding much or any fat to thicken the soup up. I liked the result but I don't think I'll be adding this to the "must do in the future" list.

I'm so glad to have done the research to understand the symbols behind the food I loved reading up on the history and stories. I really enjoyed making the bento, a lot of it could be done in parallel so it was a simple execution. Happy Hanukkah folks!

Box Content:
  • Braised Brisket with Red Wine Reduction
  • Savory Green Onion Kugel
  • Fried Ricotta Ball
  • Roasted Chestnuts and Parsnip Soup

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slo Mo Bento

It's getting to be that time of year, holiday season. Which means a bit of a slow down on the bentos since there are a ton of things happening around family and friends. As usual I'll post up what I get and any neat food related things I run into.

Anyhow, with all this work and experimentation with my new sous vide contraptions and trying out various temperatures to perfect my cooking debut, I got this idea to make a bento where the theme would be all slow cooked/Sous vide prepared items: Slow Mo if you will. It played out great in my head, I'll just throw a bunch of stuff in my two crockpots, vacuum up a few pouches and all I'd do is wait for magic to happen. I'll have a free day to do anything I want! Didn't quite work out that way. Yes, everything took hours to cook but I was chained to the house since everything had different timings and if I wanted to make sure everything popped out at roughly the same time all of it had to be prepared in stages. Anyhow on with the post.

Sous Vide cooking still amazes me in the type of texture you can achieve. I'm still learning about the process and the scientific procedures in which usually fly in the face of what I've always learned about preparing food (and I am not a chef so not all that much learning there). Yes, in the end of the day you're vacuum sealing a bag of food and dumping it in water. I still had to do some homework to understand why it was OK to cook a pork tenderloin at 140F for four hours as opposed to the normally accepted temperature of 160~165F for pork. I certainly didn't want to get anyone sick.

Here's the quickly researched answer that I know (so far). Above 130F you are pasteurize your food (killing an optimally safe number of the nasty bugs) given you hold it to temp for a sufficiently long enough time. What's long enough? Well depends on how thick the meat is (there are tables). According to the rules if served right away or immediately quick chilled (what I did) this is considered "safe". To be extra safe and get that nice crust that we all know and love as the Maillard Effect we give it a quick sear in the cast iron over the stove (around 500F). This really does two things one: gets that caramelized crust quick and two: one more chance to burn any of the little bad things to death. (ok my post has just earned it's yammering tag) As to seasoning I simply treated the pork with a bit of salt, pepper and ground ginger before it's water bath.

Next up I crock potted this creamy potato. This took about seven hours of total cook time and not exactly "healthy", but I figure everything else was pretty ok and it's the holidays right? Slow cooker recipes tend to be pretty easy things to put together, this had a lot of attributes to make it more of a potato casserole. Either way it was a big hit, it tasted like a really loaded baked potato. I think it would have been awesome with some bacon and green onions as a topping.

For a healthier veggie entry, I pulled the recipe for fresh green peas by none other than Richard Blais of Top Chef (season four) fame. This is actually the first time I played with vegetables in the sous vide supreme. It's a simple dish, I had to go with frozen peas as it's not easy finding fresh green peas, dropped in some olive oil, lemon zest, salt/pepper and a bit of garlic powder. 185F and 40 mins later, WOW. I mean you really get that hit of that flavor of green peas. It tasted really fresh as compared to other times I've worked with frozen peas. I think part of it is not losing any flavor to a cooking liquid and letting the peas heat to temperature and squeezed right up with the seasoning. The color wasn't spectacular, but the flavor was great. I'll have to try other vegetables sous vide side by side with traditional preparation to see the difference.

Technically even though this dish comes in the dessert slot it was meant to be eaten with the pork. I cooked down a big batch of apples and put in a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon. I went with a granny smith (green apple) I felt that it would hold up it's texture since it's pretty firm and that sour component paired with the sweet brown sugar would be a bold flavor to add to the pork which is very modestly seasoned. I got a "wow this was just like my Grandma made it", always a great compliment since we all know grandmas do some of the best cooking.

Anyhow nice to get out a post. Thanks for reading!

Box Contents:
  • Ginger Spiced Pork Tenderloin
  • Creamy Potato casserole
  • Fresh Green Peas
  • Cinnamon Apple Sauce

Friday, November 5, 2010

My Guest Chef experience at the Flying Carpet

Whew. I'm starting this post at midnight here after a shift cooking at the Flying Carpet Moroccan Burger trailer. I'm beat, I served 79 people a four course dinner over 2.5 hours. Right now there's a shower and a nightcap waiting for me.

(Seffa - Couscous with ground almond milk, honey and cinnamon)

"Wha wha?! rewind splain that again?" Ok some background for everyone. The Flying Carpet features Moroccan burgers (normal, vegetarian or vegan) down on South Congress Ave. You *must* go it's amazing stuff. When Abdou puts that tomato sauce that he learned from his grandmother on the grill you're gonna start salivating. Anyhow, I digress, Maria wife and co-owner of said amazing Chef Abdou started following my humble blog and asked if I'd be a featured chef for them. This was part of the "South Congress First Thursday" event that happens every month where artists and musicians come out and it's a big street party. She told me for her trailer it was an artists type movement to give local foodies and chefs a chance to showcase their cooking and take over their trailer showcasing their Moroccan based concepts. My first reaction was, "um. me? You know I don't do this for a day job right?". She reassured me it would be fine. It sounded like an interesting challenge so I went ahead and said "ok, let's do this". I designed a menu based off my blog, usually I go full traditional menu to expose my bento-ers to the food of the region. This time I decided, two strict traditional and two my own concept dishes (let's flex those culinary muscles).

So the rest of this post, which will be sprinkled with pictures, will be a background (you just read), prep before hand, insanity moment, and what I learned. First the menu:
  • Moroccan Take on Eggs Benedict - Toast with Kefte patty, Tomato Harissa sauce and sous vide poached egg
  • Traditional Beet Root Salad with Cumin Vinaigrette
  • Japan Meets Morocco Roll - Saffron rice rolled with sous vide chicken breast spiced with Moroccan spices, fried in a panko crust with dynamite sauce
  • Seffa - Couscous served with almond milk, dusted with cinnamon and honey

(Japan Meets Morocco roll - saffron rice, sous vide poached chicken rolled up and panko crusted served with dynamite sauce)

Ok if any of you reading know me then you know I plan. My sister jokes about me having clip board on hand and planning... *everything*. I planned, I dropped a really serious amount of money on infrastructure in equipment, I rolled out sushi rolls and coated them in panko weighing before and after to understand a per unit cost of *every* dish I made. (and yes I was wrong about a lot of it, game day changes a lot of things). I think I ate the same food for three weeks in a row testing, re-testing, plating, re-plating every dish I've done. (the nicer pictures you'll see are the trials not the day of) This was my first kitchen debut and it had to be perfect. I stressed over how to sous vide 100 eggs (yeah, ok it was an excuse to buy a new sous vide rig). And the day before I was in the commissary and prepping like a mad man. Afterward I took a moment to post to facebook stating, "Somedays I ask myself if I've bitten off too much to chew. This is one of those days" (by the way the reply was "keep on chewing!". My ricecooker died on me (Bessie survived, just overheated) but just as the day looked like it was gonna die, I powered through and 14 hours later I made it the prepping madness. But for all the prep, I knew the day of event was gonna be huge unknown of working in a trailer .

Just so you know my parents owned a restaurant. I started working the moment I could stand on a chair and take money, imagine tiny Chinese kid on a chair counting out change to you (isn't there a law against that?). I've worked every part of a restaurant, I've cleaned, prepped, taken money, and for one precious day my dad let me handle full service cooking (he didn't want me to like the restaurant trade too much). Let me tell you right now, IT IS NOT THE SAME! In the trailer you are confined by space. I could only multi task on two servings at once (my fault for a four course ambitious menu). This completely does not work when you have a horde at your doorsteps. Maria counted it up and (thankfully) did not tell me there was a 25 ticket queue that I was behind on (thanks Maria for making sure I was hydrated and keeping me focused and not freaked out). I'm real sorry to those that had to wait during the busiest hour, I was doing my best but again I've never done this before.

Now I was very happy to see flashbulbs going off on the plates I was dishing (on the side is the plate, I had to use ring molds to steady the egg for service). And I got really good feedback that my food tasted good. I'm especially flattered that some Moroccan friends of the Chef did show up and were very happy with the food, and they were traditionalists on the food front. I'm glad they pulled their punches and gave me a thumbs up. (I think I won them over with the sous vide poached eggs but that's just crediting the gear). I also heard that I did a really good job on the Seffa. I also overheard a few folks that thought they only got one course for the price and were happily surprised and quickly lured in that I gave all four courses for eight bucks. Special thanks to the owner that let me price the "bento" to what I charge my bentoers. I tried really hard to limit the food costs to bare minimum to make sure they made as much as possible despite the fact they said "price was no option, this is about the art". Well to me, this was as much about livelihood, these folks entrusted me to deliver delicious food and not tarnish their good image. Abdou and Maria are an amazing team and I wasn't about to let them down.

So what did I learn? Well trailer cooking is it's own breed. Limited space puts a huge constraint on you. If I did this again I would factor that into the menu. As you can see the trailer is pretty small, I joked with my coworkers, "yup, um it's smaller than my office here at work". You don't understand the implications until you're there. I call it "game day", for a novice chef it is beyond what you expect it to be and the luxuries of a kitchen are not there. Water use is limited, plating space is limited, and if you take one step you will likely bump into someone. I managed to turned on the robot mode and powered through it but it was a lot more overwhelming than I expected. I apologize to my buddies that showed up to support me and I couldn't go out and say hi. I was slammed every moment of that service, SLAMed! And I thank everyone of you that came by and ordered food. Hopefully I delivered a nice meal for you.

Wow! Super thanks again to Maria and Abdou for having me and entrusting their trailer to me on the eve of the Gypsy Park Event(Go see them this weekend). This was a bunch of fun (and a good reminder not to go into the food biz). It was good to get away from the normal rut of cubicles and email. It was also super gratifying to see folks enjoying the meal you produced. And of course seeing my friends come and support me, I hope you guys had a good meal! I'm sure you'll tell me about it tomorrow.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

EatingInABox meets a The Flying Carpet

Just a short blurb telling everyone that I'll be down on South Congress next Thursday as the featured Chef over at the Flying Carpet! I'm both very excited and slightly nervous. I'll be taking over the trailer for the evening to execute my Moroccan menu. In keeping with the theme of the blog I've chosen two traditional dishes but am adding two more dishes that are my concepts. It's all part of the First Thursday event that happens every month down on South Congress.

Details here.
Nov 4 7pm – 9pm
Gibson Street and Congress (next to Perla’s)
Austin, TX, 78704

Please tell your friends and come and visit it should be a fun time!

Oh you want to know what I'm making? well. ok just this once diners will know my menu instead of just being surprised :)

Moroccan bento style
  • Moroccan take on egg’s benedict: Toast, topped with Kefta Patty, Sous Vide Poached egg and finished with a Tomato Harrisa Sauce
  • Traditional Moroccan Beet Salad
  • Japan meets Morocco: Tempura Fried Sushi roll with Saffron rice and Moroccan spiced chicken breast served with a dynamite sauce
  • Seffa: Traditional couscous with almond milk served with Honey and cinnamon.
All that for Eight bucks!

Post and pictures to follow of course.

UPDATE: Hey we're trying to get an idea of who all is showing up via the events page. If you're coming by it'd be awesome if you hit the like button (it's the only way I've seen to RSVP.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Simple Light Bento

It's been a tough schedule around here lately. Work's crazy and personal life is even crazier. But I did find time to pull off a bento this week. I had scheduled a pumpkin theme but decided that I needed to bust out something nice and easy since I had visitors in town. So Simple and Light was the theme, it's really the theme for this blog so I'm cheating a bit. Well lets just get down to business shall we?

First our main dish, I went with this Hoisin Dijon glazed salmon that I saw from Friendly Kitchen. Salmon is one of the few fish that reheats well without stinking up the office and it's always an easy dish to prepare. The recipe called for grilling but I opted for oven baking instead, the grill would have provided nice carmelization of the somewhat sweet Hoisin sauce, but oven baking had greater advantage in my mad dash in the kitchen. It was an interesting glaze, definitely an interesting idea to combine Hoisin and Dijon mustard, you had hints of sour and sweet.

First side dish is a Mushroom and Farfalle in a light cream sauce finished with white truffle oil. This was a no brainer, pasta is always an easy addition to a bento. I think I could have been a little more heavy handed with the truffle oil. I wanted to bring out the earthy qualities of the more plain crimini and white button mushrooms I was using. I'm overall pretty happy with the dish I eased up on the sauce to save a few calories and fat.

Next I replicated the oven roasted tomatoes I did with my friend Paula at the dinner party. Let me say, the tomatos roast down a lot faster in her convection oven then they did in my oven. Yeah, you just heard some gear envy in there. Anyhow, beautiful and delicious and so simple to make. Just cut a roma tomato in half sprinkle on your choice of herbs and top it off with minced garlic in olive oil. When you've got them all roasted down top them with a bit of cheese (I used parmesan) and hit it in the broiler till it's melty and delicious.

Finally Dessert: good old fashion Snicker doodle cookies. These and sugar cookies are one of my few dessert weaknesses. These came out a bit crunchier than I usually like. I think I needed to use a thinner dough.

Box Contents:
  • Dijon-Hoisin glazed Salmon
  • Mushroom and Farfalle pasta in a light cream sauce
  • Oven Roasted Tomatos
  • Snicker Doodle cookies

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cooking with/for friends

Sorry for the long time between posts. Work's been really busy and I've been traveling a lot so it makes it hard to post about a lunch. My last trip was to visit one of my teams in Denver, I was whining about not being able to do lunch when my friend reminded me he had a full kitchen and if I wanted I could easily do a bento remotely. I plan on taking him up on that offer the next time I, it visit should be a fun experience. I've also been invited to a special event/project that I won't share just yet.

Anyhow, last week I was invited to work with a good friend of mine to cook for a dinner party for bunch of our development leads visiting from Europe. You can see us in hustle mode up there on the title photo. I even was wearing an official chef jacket, pants and had my thermapen nicely tucked away in my shoulder pocket. My friend Paula did a lot of prep the night before and we got an early start. We ended up working for about 14 hours and churned out six courses for about 30 people. Everyone seemed quite content so we must have done a pretty good job. I didn't get a chance to take photos of every course but here's what I did get.

We started with a nice pea soup shooter with a touch of cream and some crispy pancetta. Prepping and cooking in stages is one of those skills that I've had to learn out of self preservation. If I didn't break out my bentos over a weekend, I would be seriously wiped every Sunday. This was no different, we par boiled and sauteed most of the ingredients leaving the final whizzing and plating to be the last step. Ultimately, we should have made sure we knew where the stick blender was as we ended up doing stuff in batches in a blender. Anyhow lovely flavors and a good way to kick off dinner.

The salad course was Gorgonzola Apple salad in Red wine vinaigrette and candied pecans. We served this family style which gave us plenty of time to move into our first main dish. (all about stall tactics)

Our first "main" dish was pan seared scallops with risi bisi (risotto with peas) and garlic chives. I think the downsides of pre-prepping stuff bit me on the risotto, the rice came out a bit softer than I would have preferred, but most everyone put this dish as a favorite for the evening. The scallops were all slightly different sizes so we had to cook them by feel. We were snickering through the whole dinner thinking about all the "mistakes" we made that didn't get noticed by our diners. I completely forgot to put in the crisped pancetta into the risotto, which let me tell you makes a huge difference in taste.

Our second "main" was Chicken roulade stuffed with spinach wrapped in proscuitto. I brought my sous vide supreme down with me and we sous vide the chicken. The texture quality was very silky smooth and by poaching the chicken this way we maintained a nice juicy dish. I finished the roulades off under a broiler. It took a few pouches before we figured out how to not lose the proscuitto cover while bagging. At one point I had dubbed our perfect wrapping as a "proscuitto baby", I think you had to be there to get it. We served this with a roasted tomato with a basil infused olive oil. The tomatoes by themselves were very delicious and so easy to do. We just topped them with a bit of minced garlic, basil and oregano, roasted them in an oven and topped them with a bit of cheese. I'll have to remember this for a future bento.

Our final main was seared lamb chops served with asparagus and a gorgonzola sweet potato. We piped out the sweet potato and re-heated them under the broiler and recruited someone to help us with searing off the chops in a Big green egg. The lamb was simply dressed with a bit of salt and pepper. The egg did a marvelous job of searing the meat. Everyone must have really loved the lamb as there were calls for 2nds 3rds and 4ths.

Dessert consisted of a pumpkin bread pudding, unfortuneatly by that time I was so beat I didn't manage to get a picture. Paula used Challah bread which was a good choice and eased up on the cream to prevent a french toast effect. Very delicious.

I had a *fabulous* time cooking with and for my friends. It was a bit tough walking around the next day after being on your feet for so long. Definitely squashed any aspirations for cooking for a living :) but as a once and again dinner party I'd be up for it anytime! Thanks to my friends Ross and Paula for hosting and letting play in their shiny new kitchen. Ok I promise a bento next week so please stay tuned!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Peru Bento 2

Back to Peru, I still have ingredients on hand from the last Peruvian bento so this is still a continuation of my pantry raid. There were so many awesome dishes that I spied from last time I felt it was a perfect time to sling in another Peru based theme. The cuisine is quite rich, lots of starches and heavy meat so I really struggled to make recipe alterations and pick things that would at least feel light. I think since my bento-ers eat these things in two sittings I'm still ok with the healthy theme.

We start with a Seco De Res. I again went with a Chuck Shoulder Roast cut of beef here, I think it's probably the best cut of meat to stand up to four hour slow cooking. I alternated the crock pot between high and low settings each of the four hours hoping to shorten the cooking time but still get the most out of the longer slow braise. I loved the braising liquid, it consisted of two bunches of cilantro pureed down, some aromatics and of course beer (I only had guiness on hand, seemed to work). The beef was melt in your mouth tender and the stewing liquid had a wonderful taste of cilantro. I'm really happy with this dish.

Next in a bid to use up all my gluten free spaghetti and the unopened jar of Aji peppers, I present Tallarines con Salsa de Aji. The sauce is a pureed yellow pepper that is enriched with some evaporated milk. I cut the butter and added a touch of cream and cooked the sauce down really good before adding the pasta and tossing it. The Aji peppers have a nice healthy kick to them, so it should satisfy my current audience that seem to have no fear of the capsaicin. This indeed makes the bento fully gluten free so a happy coincidence. (some of my diners or significant others are GF so it's nice when I can keep it that way.) I was quite surprised at how rich this dish came out, evaporated milk is not something I usually make use of, but seems to be very prevalent in Peruvian cooking. It might have to be something I stock in the pantry since it seems to have some versatile uses.

I looked really hard for some sort of vegetable side that wasn't full of cream or butter or starch and carbs. The best I could do is this Beet, Potato, and Carrot salad. A very simple dish, boiled root vegetables and tossed in with some olive oil mayo and mustard (I opted for both dijon and simple yellow mustard) I liked how it turned out, the beets and carrots added a good degree of sweetness to the dish without feeling too heavy, the potatoes were a nice addition and I like how they picked up stripes of the beet colors while I was cooling the veggies.

Finally for dessert, we have a Raspberry Espuma. I used some evaporated milk and whipped it like I would whipping cream and combined it with a bit of raspberry gelatin. It actually setup a lot harder than I expected. I was thinking a foamy like substance, but it was more like an airy more substantial gelatin. I garnished it simply with fresh raspberries.

Again another super fast bento, I clocked a nice three hours and 25 mins. Not too shabby. I'm gonna have to keep this trend for next week since I'll be cooking for a dinner party later in the evening. Ok enough yammering. Thanks for reading!

Box Contents
  • Seco De Res
  • Tallarines Con Salsa De Aji
  • Beet, Potato, and Carrot Salad
  • Raspberry Espuma

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pantry Raid 2

So I need to empty the pantry again so we have another Pantry Raid! I dug through the pantry and was inspired by the picture to your left. It included canned tomatoes, Gluten Free pasta, various spices, and a bunch of canned vegetables. I still had my regular staples of olive oil, butter, and spices, but I still had to buy a few things to turn out lunch. Raiding your pantry is a great way to turn over some ingredients sitting in the cupboard and supplement it with a few staples like onions, cheap fresh veggies. It's also a great chance to be creative and see what you can improvise given random ingredients. I think this also caused me to create simple dishes. A lot of my discoveries into foreign cuisines result in my picking very complicated dishes to learn new techniques.

For the main it was easy enough to break out the Sous Vide Supreme and bust out a poached chicken breast. I had some seasonings, I picked a nice hickory spice mix with some brown sugar, I figured it would go well with the pasta give it a bit of sweet to offset some heat. I recommended that my eaters don't reheat this chicken breast, when treated at 146F chicken doesn't develop that grainy texture and is amazingly tender. I was going to use a cherry pepper salsa I had bought on a whim, but I didn't want to overwhelm the chicken because I expect my diners will eat the chicken with the pasta.

I had some gluten free pasta, canned tomatos and of course my favorite Tito's vodka. I went with vodka based tomato sauce. There's no way we can do a pantry raid without some supplements, I had to buy an onion and a small bit of cream for this dish. I sauteed the artichoke before hand to give it some flavor and texture and then cooked down a basic tomato sauce. The vodka added a nice flavor and the cream rounded out some of the red pepper I pushed into the dish. I under cooked the pasta and finished it in the sauce, I really like this technique as the pasta has a more cohesive flavor and there's no chance of clumping like you have when you serve it separate. The pasta was great and perfectly cooked and I added a bit of salt to temper the cream/heavy fat taste. I like how this dish really can be pulled together from your cupboard with minimal things to buy from a grocery store.

Recipe requested you'll find it here

I had to use some of the eggs and I spotted this great simple recipe for zucchini pudding. I was able to use some of my left over saltine crackers to boot! This was probably the least "healthy" item to put in, but I managed to cut the butter to make it a bit better.I really loved the texture, the cracker soaked up a good bit of the flavors and acted as a binder that normally is handled by a potato or plain flour. I did have to buy most of the ingredients, but it's good I could still whittle away at my pantry.

Finally I felt a nice bit of fresh vegetables was in order. Since I had so much canned corn I opted for this succotash instead of the roasted broccoli that I was thinking about. The dressing was made of butter milk, thyme and some agave syrup. Sweet sour and a bit of heat from the serrano peppers added to the texture of fresh veggies. I'm glad to have a bit of this left over for munching on this week.

I really enjoy the pantry raid challenge, it makes me think outside the box on what I can do. Improv is a key to cooking, you have to know what things taste like together, granted i'm still a fan of writing down recipes because you need to be able to replicate. Sometimes you have some ingredients and you have to make them work. The challenge for me is I have to decide what will taste good in my head before I cook the dish. I actually timed my efforts because I wanted to see what these effort takes. I've started splitting my cooking into Saturday prep and Sunday cook, it requires a bit of planning, but has made my Sundays enjoyable again. This one took me exactly 3 hours and 40 mins from prepping to completely cleaning the kitchen and having the dishwasher going. Not bad for eight meals with four courses each!

Box Contents:
  • Sous vide Poached Chicken Breast
  • Artichoke pasta in vodka cream sauce
  • Zucchini pudding
  • Succotash with buttermilk sauce

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rosh Hashanah Bento

So on my business trip the NY times reported on the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah. It's pretty interesting learning about a culinary culture that has adapted to all the places it has immigrated to. The concepts of the original dishes remained true, but as Jewish settlers migrated to other places like Northern Africa they made use of spices and ingredients that they had on hand.

We start with a Mustard honey glazed chicken breast. Sweet foods are a big highlight during Rosh Hashanah, the sweetness is the blessings for a sweet new year. The sweet glazed chicken breast came up over and over again during my recipe search. The mustard honey gave the chicken a beautiful color after the oven treatment and I think helped seal in some moisture. My alternative to the chicken was fish. Fish is often eaten to symbolize fertility and abundance. I stayed away from the fish since it tends to not reheat (re: stinks in the microwave) well.

There's not any such thing as light eating in what I've found with traditional Rosh Hashanah food this Broccoli and Potato Kugel is no exception. You start with a base of potatoes that I mashed and blended with egg, mazzo meal, and mayo. I opted for a olive oil based mayo to help try to lighten things up. This was folded together with a bit of onion and broccoli and topped with some panko and baked until it's a yummy perfection. This was probably my favorite of the dishes.

I chose this great Kasha Pareve (kasha pilaf) as an accompanying side. I've never worked with Kasha and it's amazingly difficult to locate. I discovered that it is actually called toasted barley grouts (but that's still hard to find here). Looking at the kasha I expected a nutty harder texture like brown rice, or quinoa so it came as a surprise that a short 12 min simmer produced a soft mushier consistency with a nutty flavor. This will work as a great as a side to eat with the chicken.

For a vegetable side we have this Tsimmes Salad. It's a version that came from the NY times article that featured Tunesian influences on Jewish cooking. I didn't have any harissa to spice up the carrots so I slammed it with a bit of Sriracha sauce so it's a east meets middle east variation on a traditional Jewish dish. The caraway, ground coriander and cumin gave this a great sweet and savory taste, the spicy kick from the sriracha sauce rounded everything out.

Finally we finish dinner with a Kosher Cholent. This is a bean and beef stew that is cooked for about 15 hours. It's a hearty heavy rich dish using the long cooking time to break down the beans to add a creamy touch without using excess fat or cream to thicken things up. I warned my eaters that usually gobble up lunch in one sitting that even the hungriest of them will have a difficult time eating it all at once. It would be smart if you ran a full marathon or did a century ride on your bike before trying to wolf this bad boy down.

I enjoyed my little experiment in learning about Jewish cuisine. There's gonna have to be a bit more of investigation but for now this will do me. Everything was make-ahead-able so this turned out to be a fairly easy bento to make, I'm glad to be able to ease back into my cooking schedule.
I still owe you guys a post on my french food but I promise it's coming :) There's a bit more work travel coming up but I have a few more weeks before that happens. Thanks for reading!

Shana Tova Umetukah (a good and sweet new year to you)

Box Contents
  • Honey Mustard baked chicken
  • Potato and Broccoli Kugel
  • Kasha Pareve
  • Tsimmes Salad
  • Kosher Cholent