Sunday, May 22, 2011

Indian Bento Four

I so love Indian food, I grew up with the cuisine in high school trading lunches with my Indian friends. I like to believe I got the good end, trading my sushi rolls, and fried rice for their home cooked yummies from their mothers (my mom made 2x to help me accomodate my trading)! Anyhow it's probably a good reason why it's been a repeated theme here. I've been collecting recipes hoping for new themes and all the ones I tended to tag recently are Indian. I centered around this menu because they are a departure from what I normally get to experience, new items that I don't always get to see on the local menu.

Butter Chicken shows up in many London menus, I don't see it much here but I couldn't resist when one of the blogs I follow did a fast/budget version that look scrumptious. I went with the more flavorful chicken thigh (instead of breast) which added a bit of flavor. I loved that the recipe called for yogurt to add some flavor instead of the usual heavy cream that most curries asked for. Super thanks to Beth from Budget Bytes for her version of butter chicken to try out. I think it'll be a good "lite" staple to keep in my Indian folder. At first I was a bit dismayed at the flat taste of the dish, but when I finished it with the yogurt it imparted a good amount of creamy texture (without the fat) and a nice sour note. Note I'm not sure how she may have added the yogurt, but it "broke" in my dish leaving white flecks, it was still very delicious. I tasted before and after adding yogurt and it's a marked difference.

Okra is a strange vegetable. I didn't get a chance to review my mentor Alton Brown's show on Okra, I know he discussed how to get by the slimy component of the veggie. I wasn't quite so successful despite my efforts on washing and re-washing the cut pieces. Anywho, I find that the spices and the nice kick from the cayenne did offset my initial reservations on serving the dish. I personally love the duality of textures the vegetable gives me but the dish was hard to work with and I was sure I had failed the dish but the flavors of the spice I added made me treasure the leftovers I ended up with. I still need to work on the slimy consistency (which are normally covered by frying, soups or stews) but I am hopeful I did well here.

Finally, I happened on this Boondi Raita. Usually raita is a quick combo of spices (usually toasted cumin seeds) some tomatoes and cucumber that is very reminiscient of tzaziki. The yogurt side is a nice cool down side dish for most spicy Indian curry. Here the different spices are added and then Boondi, a crispy spherical Indian snack is hydrated and added in for some texture. I took it a bit further and added the crispy (and unhydrated version) in to add a third layer of texture to the dish. It turns out later that the boondi absorbs the yogurt (no need for the hydration step), but if served right away the extra crunch texture was actually fun. The original recipe asked for some black salt, no doubt to add the smokey flavor to the dish. (I didn't have any on hand). I'm happy to say that I could just eat this happy chilled side dish over rice and be content rather than relegate it to a "side dish". I've never heard of this version of raita, but I'm very happy to have clipped it way back when to supplement this bento.

The thing I really like about Indian food is that the spices are always unique and it's an easy "first step" for my less adventurous diners into new foods. I find that spices are usually more acceptable as "new ingrediants" than new meats or textures. Anyhow, I'm glad to have some extras for myself. No doubt there will be an Indian bento five and beyond.

I'm off to Vegas, it's my girlfriend's first visit. I'll snap some pics of food while I'm there. I'm hoping to make it to some of the celebrity chef restaurants to taste some of the wonderful foods I've been hearing about. See you soon and wish me luck on the tables!

Box Contents
  • Butter Chicken
  • Basmati Rice
  • Indian Spiced Okra
  • Boondi Raita

Friday, May 20, 2011

Birthday Dinner

As I said, May is a tough month for my blog. Lots of travel and weekend commitments are keeping me from my usual bento delivery at work. I plan on doing one this weekend so stay tuned. In the mean time I wanted to post some pictures from my birthday dinner. My fabulous girlfriend Sophie treated me a very romatic dinner at the Mansion at Judges' Hill.

The restaurant is in fact an old Mansion that has been renovated to be a bed and breakfast. There are two dining areas one in a large hall and a smaller secondary room (about the size of a living room). We got really lucky because a large conference booked the mansion and large dinner space and they decided not to accept any further reservations or diners but since we reserved before the big group we got the whole secondary room to ourselves. (nice and cozy)

We each got the tasting menu, which at $35 per person is a really good deal for the amount and quality of the food we got. First course started with a cheese plate. The cheese is a Texas made cheese called "Eden" it's a blue brie wrapped in fig leaves. We got some candied pecans and dried apricots and it was served with a Chili jelly with Asian mustard. I was a little skeptical about the jelly, mustard combo with the cheese but it turned out to be pretty tasty.

Second course we ordered the Fried Gulf Shrimp and the Smoked Gouda and Poblano Soup. The waiter commented that the soup was the best thing on their menu and he was right! The consistency was not to thick as to feel heavy when eating it and the choice of smoked gouda was interesting, I'm not big on smoked cheese generally, but I guess when turned to soup form it's pretty good. The Shrimp was stuffed with Hatch green chilis and was very nice as well, just not as nice as the soup :).

For our main course I went with the Broken Arrow Ranch Chicken Fried Antelope. It came with a black bean Chayote hash (which I had mistaken for eggplant). I liked the antelope, it's the first time I've had any, the meat was pretty tender and had a "gamey" flavor but it was very subtle. My girlfriend got the Strube Ranch Kobe Burger, the waiter explained it was an American Kobe. It was served with some kettle chips with a bit of truffle oil. I'm not a huge burger expert so I can't say that I could tell the difference between the Kobe beef versus regular beef in this form. It was a good burger.

Last but not least dessert. There were only two selections so we just got one of each. The Texas Chevre Cheesecake with blackberry compote was good. Not too sweet and an interesting looking texture. The Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tart was just as tasty. We had a bit of trouble with the shell it was a little hard to break into but the pecan pie filling was very nice.

Thanks to my wonderful girlfriend for one of the best birthday's I've had in recent years. So happy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Quick Chinese Bento

It's gonna be a busy May for me, lots of travel and filled up weekends so I feel the need to try to get in bentos where ever I can because I know getting cooking time in will be tough. I originally had a more ambitious theme but I was reminded that my weekend was going to be packed. So in honor of the dragon boat races I was at this weekend I decided to do a super quick Chinese bento. I wasn't messing around; from a dead start to clean kitchen I was in and out in an hour and a half (a new record for me I think) I even raised my arms in victory. \(>.<)/

So what makes for a quick bento? I've given this a lot of thought because I really enjoyed my extra free time. I think the keys are familiar dishes and very few cooking steps. Take this Asian marinated pork, step one put all the stuff in bag, step two next morning put in probe thermometer set for 155F dump it into oven, step three yank it out of the oven when loud thermometer starts beeping. Step four declare great success after 10 mins of resting. Ok so yes, I did cheat a little and started the marinade the night before but that took like two mins to put together. The point being is that there are certain dishes that can be very versatile (change up the marinade depending on theme) and a great dish. This of course is why the pork tenderloin makes lots of features in my history of menu items, it just sneaks in with a different disguise everytime (like a spy). Today's marinade features soy sauce, a sesame oil, fresh garlic and a little of this and that from the spice drawer (If someone cares I can list it out for you I just can't remember right now).

Nothing easier than fried rice. I decided to serve this the way my mom use to make it for us when my sister and I were growing up: with ketchup. You gotta go with me on this, the sweet and tang of ketchup really makes a nice addition to fried rice. Apparently this is very popular in Taiwan and kind of a common "comfort" version of fried rice. I'm actually kind of surprised this doesn't make a showing in more Chinese restaurants especially the more authentic ones here around town or at least the "Taiwanese" restaurants.

Finally I close out with some garlic sauteed water spinach. I'm not quite sure how it got it's English name in Chinese it's 空心菜 (literally translated empty heart vegetable) due to the stem being hollow. I didn't know this, but the plant is considered "environmentally problematic" (the USDA calls it noxioius) because it grows so fast. This by far was the most labor intensive of the dishes, I think a lot of restaurants just chop up the spinach stem and all and quickly saute it with a bit of garlic and oil. Growing up I was taught to painstaking pluck the leaves and the little tender stem that branches from the main stem and only cook that part since the main stem can be a bit tough. (I'm a bit of a perfectionist only the best for my bentoes). So two large bunches of water spinach (much like regular spinach) cooks down to a tiny little bit of food.

There was dessert, but to really cut a corner I just purchased some almond cookies from the Asian grocery store since I needed to save a bit of time. Anyhow like I said this was speed record setting for me this weekend. I'm off on a work trip next week, maybe I'll dine on something interesting.

Box Contents
  • Asian Marinated Pork Tenderloin
  • Ketchup Fried Rice
  • Sauteed Water Spinach
  • Almond Cookie