Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mediterranean Light Bento

Works been nuts, I've had the photos ready but haven't had a chance to proof read and fire off the post. So I did get a chance to cook up a bento this week, I just didn't get my post out. So my inspiration? My original idea centered around a stuffed chicken breast something to do with a horseradish cheddar and some ham. I was talking about it with a coworker and she really wanted something light to go with that. Ultimately I decided to go with a Mediterranean inspired bento. There's a terminology thing going on here and a bit of confusion, see Mediterranean cuisine isn't cuisine locked to a particular country, it involves food from a region, in this case countries around the Mediterranean sea, Turkey being one of them. At the same time Turkey is also counted in Middle Eastern cuisine (and depending on who you ask some of the other Mediterranean countries). The term Mediterranean cuisine was apparently coined in the 1975 as more of a marketing term. Anyhow, i've noticed a people get a bit confused when you toss around Middle Eastern and Mediterranean as descriptions so I wanted to get that figured out. All very interesting stuff as I was doing my usual food research. Anyhow enough yammering.

I started everything off with a Mediterranean stuffed chicken breast. The stuffing included kalamata olives, feta, red onion, basil and a bit of cream cheese to hold it all together. I pounded the chicken breast flat and rolled it all up and sous vide-ed the whole thing. Couple of awesome benefit of doing this sous vide, first awesome moist chicken breast, second sealing it in vacuum bag held the chicken together until the cooking process made it hold together by itself (usually I have to use toothpicks). A quick sear on the stove top gave me the brown color I needed to make the chicken look good. This came out great, everyone really enjoyed it and commented on the tenderness of the chicken.

Next, to keep things simple I put together this Orzo with olive tapenade. I was really trying to cut some corners by going with store bought tapenade, but after seeing how expensive a jar of tapenade was I ended up saving half the price and making it myself. Just wizzed together some capers, olives, garlic, parsley and olive oil. I cooked the orzo like a risotto slowly adding chicken broth, it really let me control how "al dente" I let the pasta get. Easy and a tasty filler.

For something crunchy and green I turned to the humble green bean. I somehow got it in my head that walnut mint pesto sounded good and that I could easily make it work with some green beans. It was going quite well and I mixed everything together and but as I was finishing and tasting something wasn't quite right. I ultimately fixed it with a splash of lemon juice to which I found complements the olive oil in the pesto.

Finally for dessert I went with a simple Greek yogurt with some honey and toasted walnuts. Kinda like a yogurt parfait. Not much to say here, everything else I found "Mediterranean" was really heavy or extremely sweet. So this was a good compromise to satisfy the sweet tooth but stay on the healthy side of things

Active cooking time only took me about a total hour. Granted, the sous vide sat for two hours and I did prep on pesto and tapenade the day before. But really this was one for the record books. I had a whole day to go and do as I please which is always nice. Thanks for dropping by. I've got a foodblogger event at Haddingtons that I'll be posting over the next couple of days, so watch for that!

Box Contents
  • Sous Vide Mediterranean stuffed Chicken Breast
  • Orzo with olive tapenade
  • Green Beans with Walnut Pesto
  • Greek Yogurt with Honey and Toasted Walnuts

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chinese New Year Bento

It's been a tough year to get restarted on the cooking track. I've had family visit, work interruptions all manner of excuses. I had wanted to get this bento out last week but events conspired against me. So I present Chinese New Year Bento (two weeks late). I figured I've done Valentine's day bentos in the past besides, the bento project is about exposing my diners to new foods and culture so this would be a little more.

Lions are a Chinese symbol for joy and happiness. The lion's head meatball is traditionally pretty large maybe baseball sized. I went with golf ball so I could fit three of them into the box. The greens represent the lion's mane. It's a really tasty braised pork meatball that is first seared and finished with the bok choi over the top of the meatball to steam down for the final cooking process. Lion dances and Dragon dances are a prominent tradition with Chinese New Year. Loud fire crackers and red paper were discovered to be the bane of the "Nian" monster that would yearly terrorize the ancient Chinese hence the performances and red signs everywhere to chase away the Nian.

So for New Years you must always eat Noodles to represent wishes for a long life. Not much in the way of naming creativity, simply "Long Life Noodles" the soup/sauce consists a simple soy chicken broth with egg flowers (eggs symbolize fertility to go with your long life). I added a bit of ham for flavor and some green onions. This is a very simple dish definitely a good one to have if you've done a bit too much ringing in the new year. Chinese New Year is usually celebrated over several days each day performing a different ritual from remembering your ancesters to celebrating the various Chinese deities.

Black Tea Marbled Eggs - again eggs for fertility. Usually there the eggs are of darker color when cracked open (left egg) I should have exposed more cracks per egg so I think I failed a bit on this recipe (it's only the first time I've attempted this one.) Next time more tea and soy sauce and probably a bit more time steeping.

Nian Gao with Sweet Azuki bean. Nian Gao has a double meaning as the words also sound like Yearly higher or wishing you great achievements in the new year. This is one of my Mom's favorite dishes to cook for the New Year, it's very unusual to the American palatte. It's got a sticky mochi type texture, sweet soft azuki bean and topped with a crunch crust of sesame and coconut. My mom uses soy milk instead of real milk and that flavor really comes thru on the dish. It's not terribly sweet and probably goes well with a bit of hot tea.

Really simple bento this week. I'm going to try to get back into the regular tempo, but I'm afraid some upcoming work travel will interrupt me. I'll do what I can. In the meantime thanks for stopping by.

Box Contents:
  • Lions Head Meatball
  • Long Life Noodles
  • Black Tea Marbled Egg
  • Nian Gao with Sweet Azuki Bean

Friday, February 4, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year!

Ok Belated, but this week was Chinese New Year and I had family in town to celebrate. Happy Year of the Rabbit. It's great having a house full of people and coming home to busy activity. Yes, it got old after a few days, but I had a good time with my family and hanging out with my new brother in-law. I apologize for the sparse posts and I do wish I had time for a bento but work is killing it for this next week I'm hoping to get back to it next week. Anyhow I figure I could at least post something.

So a big part of Chinese New Year is the feast. The idea of New Years is a large feast so that you don't cook for the following days. I've taken pictures of our feast and I'll share with you what we ate. We start with a happy family made with a meaty variety of squid and roasted duck.

Next we have a classic "cold plate" of beef tendon, sliced red roasted tenderloin, thousand year old egg, peel and eat shrimp, chinese sausage and quick pickled cucumber. Followed by sauteed baby bok choi.

Traditional New Years fare include noodles for long life (didn't get a picture). A rice flour based dessert because the name of the dessert has a double sounding meaning for yearly prosperity. We also always eat fish, proverb of yearly having "excess" the tradition dictates that we don't eat all of the fish to symbolize the excess. This stripe base is prepared with a simple poaching method that is finished with hot oil to bring out the aroma of the ginger and green onion. It's called "white water method".

Another special delicacy is Black Mullet roe. It's salted and dried and in the northern part of China, steamed and pan fried. What you see in the picture is a piece of roe that costs about $50 and not purchasable in the US (because part of the curing method uses saltpeter which is not FDA approved). I suspect that the curing method has been updated to include pink salt, (bacon use to be cured with saltpeter) anyhow needless to say this is hard to obtain and I horde it like precious gems in my freezer. We finish with the last plate of pan fried giant shrimp.