Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Slo Mo Bento 2

I know, I just did a SloMo theme not too long ago. I like the fire and forget nature of the slow cooker and I had plenty of dishes I wanted to try out from last time that I really had to come back and re-visit using my multiple crockpots. There's a good reason why a lot of busy parents rely on the crockpot to serve dinner. I mean who hates putting in a bunch of stuff and setting it cooking right when you leave for work and have it all ready for you by the time you come home. (well that's the dream anyway) I find practically speaking if you factor in transit time even six to nine hour cook times you will find yourself rushing home to turn it off. (perhaps it will hold that extra hour or two, sounds like a future experiment) Anyhow it's still got the no fuss, no muss factor working in it's favor, and newer models let you set on and off times. If you pair all that with my sous vide rigs you could probably setup for a large dinner party and just worry about plating when you come home. I might have to give that a shot to see if it's really that easy. Anyhow on with the show.

For the main entree we have a Tomatillo Braised Pork, as with everything in the crockpot you just dump in all the goodies and wait for it to finish, there is an oven version of this recipe. I personally like a bit of browning with my pork so I finished this uncovered for 15 min in the oven. The acid in the tomatillo salsa did a nice job of breaking down the pork, just trying to pull these out with tongs caused them to break apart. I used a fat separator on the resulting liquid to save my eaters from some of the fat in the cooking liquid. I think five pounds of pork was more than enough to prepare at least 12 bentos (I only had eight to do) so I am happily munching on the leftovers this week.

It was suggested that the pork was served over rice or quinoa. I took a quick look at their recipe and decided to go with a modified version of my mushroom quinoa from a previous bento. As I've said before I love quinoa, it's got a neat texture and is a "super food" you can read all about it here. It's actually quite simple to make, I just fry up my aromatics, dump in some stock and bring it to a boil and drop in the quinoa and wait about 20 mins. I think the only thing I do different from the various recipes I've encountered was a 1:1 ratio of quinoa to liquid. I add more liquid after the initial cook time if it comes out a little dry. The end product reminds me of the texture of tobiko (almost a delicate pop when you chew on them, not hard little rocks). Most places I've encountered quinoa I personally feel like it's overcooked, the dish is usually "mushy". I'm probably the lone cook that has it all wrong, but I've yet to have someone complain about my quinoa so I must be doing something right.

Last time it was a toss up between creamy potatoes and scalloped corn. Obviously having done the potatoes previously I had to circle back for the corn. I have to say that I prefer the corn because it was a healthier recipe (no cheese, sour cream, and a lot less butter) and I think heavy starches going with some the pork would easily put my bentoers straight into an afternoon nap. I really enjoyed this dish. Tasting it right out of the crock it had a egg custard type of texture and the sweet corn was a perfect light flavored accompaniment. I ended cutting the butter by about a further half because it seemed a tad rich in my head, I'm glad I did because even with the version I have it seemed a little rich.

For dessert we have a Fruit Compote with Ginger. Basically it's pears, dried apricot and pineapple mixed with a bit of ginger and cooked for a long long time. I use a bit of sugar (brown and white) which I suspect drew out further moisture to 1) rehydrate the apricot 2) provide a nice "sauce". I garnished it with some sliced almond and coconut that I had in my freezer. Nice and simple.

I got great thumbs up for the food this week. I'll take the gold star :) Next week's bento will be another simple one, I have a lot going on this weekend but I should be able to manufacture something tasty. My hope is that my dying camera will take it's last shots and not give up on me. I've got a Nikon d50 so anyone with any advice to give on how best to upgrade and retain all my extra batteries and lenses please help me out with some suggestions! (It's having shutter issues and I don't want to pay the bucks to send it in) I'm considering moving to the four thirds format but I it seems wasteful since I only use my "big camera" for this, food events, and big vacations. Anyone have an opinion for me?

Box Contents
  • Tomatillo Braised Pork
  • Quinoa Pilaf
  • Scalloped Corn
  • Fruit Compote with Ginger

Monday, April 18, 2011

100th bento! Sous Vide Bento

So this is a special milestone bento it's number 100! That's right, I've managed to churn out 100 of these babies. Looking back it doesn't feel like I've already been at this for nearly four years. This year has been a slower start for bento production but I'm pretty happy with my work/life/bento balance, sometimes it's not so easy to be inspired to cook up lunch other times my bentos are a refuge from the daily stress of life and work.

Enough nostalgia! What did I come up with you ask? Well for this bento I decided to go with a fully Sous Vide bento, meaning everything in the box was prepared sous vide. I recently ordered a series of books from the good people at Sous Vide Supreme. I went with this as my theme for a couple of reasons but mainly to experiment with non-meat dishes. Don't get me wrong I love the meat that the sous vide cooking process produces. The end product is always amazing and if any of you ask, yes both rigs (the commercial version and the home brew) are worth the cost and have long since paid for themselves in terms of quality of food and time savings. More recently the peas I did showed me the value of sous vide cooking for vegetables and I wanted to try more.

You can't beat the texture and tenderness of chicken, pork and beef that come out of my "water ovens". I considered re-doing my beef short ribs, a big favorite with my eaters but I ultimately decided I need to try another long cook experiment, this time beef tri-tip. The beef tri tip is a tough cut of meat that really benefits from long cook times to break down all the connective tissue. The beef tri-tip is a cheaper cut of meat often cooked with the fat cap on due to it being a leaner piece of meat. This means it benefits from a low and slow cooking method a perfect candidate for sous vide cooking. I did two batches, the first two days and the second a three day. Did it make a difference? Yes. Is it worth the extra day? Well, technically the three day tri-tip was more tender, but not to the point where it was really noticeable unless you did a side by side taste test. The tri-tip was amazing in texture and fork tender. To go with the tri-tip I whipped up a compound cilantro chile butter. Ancho chiles added a smokey flavor to complement the Mexican inspired dry rub I used with the beef.

I've never worked with pearl onions before but when I saw the recipe I knew I had to give it a try. I had to look up how to prep the onions as peeling each individual onion didn't seem to make any sense (I had over 100 to prep). Turns out the best way to go is to blanch, shock and chop the root off and the tough skin just pops right off. How did they turn out? The onions had a nice cooked texture, firm but not raw tasting a good balance of the sweetness of cooked onions without turning everything brown and yellow. I put in cooked bacon as well as some salted pork so the dish didn't suffer from an overly fatty taste of just poached pork belly. The cinnamon and thyme rounded out the slightly sweet onions and made it an interesting tasting dish.

I will say that roasted potatoes are a better way to cook this side dish. I think a nice crusty outer skin is preferable to the sous vide method. The texture was unusual in that it was a firmer potato (without tasting under cooked), but there wasn't any appreciable benefit to going the sous vide route. I'm thinking vegetables that let off lots of cooking liquid benefit from the sous vide technique because the resulting "sauce" captures all the goodness that is usually leeched off. In this case potatoes don't give off much moisture and the crispness from the oven is a desirable trait that goes missing from this cooking technique.

Finally I didn't really have a dessert scheduled, but this sweet corn tomalito (corn pudding) had enough sweetness (actually too much, I should have cut the sugar more) that it was a good middle ground between dessert and side dish. The biggest challenge here was that the baking powder gave off CO2 and caused the bags to float and I had to weigh the whole thing down with plates to keep the bags submerged. I think I could have designed a make shift snorkle to allow for keeping the bag deflated and allow for full water contact. An interesting dish with good feedback on the unusual taste but very tasty flavor. I added sage to this dish which gave it a more savory twist, a happy mistake since the sage was actually meant for the onions.

I actually got praise for this being one of my best bentos thus far :) definitely very happy that I was able to deliver on my 100th bento. I'm looking forward to trying to make it to bento number 200. Work is keeping me busy so I'm just happy to be able to post. Thank you all for coming by and visiting and supporting my little culinary endeavor. As always if you see something you like I'm happy to post any recipes just ask. Stay tuned for more!

Box Contents:
  • Sous Vide Beef Tri-Tip with Cilantro Chile Butter
  • Sweet Corn Tomalito
  • Pearl Onions withCinnamon and Bacon
  • Rosemary and Garlic New Potatoes

Thursday, April 7, 2011

WSJ Mention

Got a nice mention in the Wall Street Journal today. Welcome new visitors thanks for coming by!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Swedish Bento

Back on track with another bento! It's gotten harder and harder to come up with new themes every week and I needed a bit of inspiration so I went over to the local Half Price Books and went through their ethnic cookbooks to scratch up some ideas. I tend to look for a nice worn out "old" looking cookbooks, usually those are the ones that have the super old school recipes that interest me the most (from a research standpoint). I did pull up some nice relics, so I'll be busy compiling, testing and cooking and hopefully come up with some new ideas and themes I can try.

This week I went with the Swedish cookbook I found. I'm not certain how much of it is authentic. I know the Ärtsoppa is traditional and the rest do use typical ingredients but I avoided a lot of the items that wouldn't reheat well (fish primarily) and the more cliche items (like meatballs and dumplings) which didn't leave much left to pick from the book and I didn't have as much time as usual to do a deeper dive on the internet. So here goes:

The main dish is a blend of a few recipes. I liked this one recipe for a blue cheese lamb burger, but wasn't impressed with the amount of fat and calories, so I blended this with a famous dish called: Biff a la Lindström. Apparently this was served at Hotel Witt in Kalmar and named after a Swedish inventor that was a frequent patron and brought the recipe from Russia. The beef patty was mixed with beets and capers and finished on a skillet. I really wanted to make use of some ground lamb but for some reason lamb is in short supply, and I tried veal since it was cheaper. Ultimately, I found the Veal to be too texturally soft and gamier lamb to be a better taste complement to the salty, sour capers. Fortunately, the store had just enough lamb that I could stretch out enough patties.

What Swedish meal would be complete without some form of seafood? For a salad I put together this simple Västkust Salad (west coast salad), not sure of it's authenticity but it sure did taste good. It's a mayo based seafood salad that features, shrimp, mussels, crab, asparagus and mushrooms. I went with the lower calorie/fat olive oil mayo which in my opinion carries a ton of flavor compared to the lowfat mayos. This is the only seafood component I put into the bento, I realize that Swedish food relies heavily on seafood, but I couldn't subject the lunch room to the smells of re-heated fish from the microwave (if you haven't made this faux pas before then be warned).

The next dish, I've done in the past, I just didn't have a name for it: Kålrotmos. Basically it's a mashed rutabaga (yellow turnip). Very simple dish to prepare, you boil it until it's soft much like a potato and you dress it with a bit of butter and sour cream. I opted for less butter and low fat sourcream. The rutabaga was a nice in between for the softer creamier cauliflower cream and the starchy carb laden mashed potato. They also hold well for cooking and don't tend to break down as quickly as a potato.

Ärtsoppa is a nice pea soup made from yellow lentils. It's very similar to a split pea soup except that the yellow lentil tends to hold up better under cooking. I used pre-sliced salted pork and cooked down some Vidalia onions. Then simmered the lentils in for an hour and a half. Normally a green split pea would turn to mush under this treatment. I was pleasantly surprised to have a perfect "al dente" (as described by one of my eaters) lentil that had some mush and some bite. Next time I'll go with whole chunks of salted pork so I can cube it for better texture. The thyme lent a nice almost "sweet" flavor to the final soup.

For dessert we have a Mandel Päron which is a baked pear with ground almonds. Normally it's topped with a whipped cream but I figured the cream would breakdown over night and the bartlett pears that I used had enough sweetness to hold it's own. The lemon juice I used to keep the pears from browning added a nice little tang.

Whew another one down. Next bento will be a big one. It's Number 100! I can't believe it 100 bentos. I've got a few ideas of what I want to do. Check back here and see what I come up with. As always thanks for reading. Smaklig måltid!

Box Contents
  • Lamm a la Lindström
  • Västkust Salad
  • Kålrotmos
  • Ärtsoppa
  • Mandel Päron