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