Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Southwestern Bento

On facebook one of my friends pointed to this Cooking light dish featuring a nice Chipotle Rubbed Flank steak. She proclaimed if she were to start eating meat again it would be chopping on that dish. Looked like a keen enough menu to me so I went ahead and decided that it should be lunch for my bento-ers.

The Chipotle-Rubbed Flank Steak did look pretty yummy. I had to take it the extra mile and do a 24 sous vide treatment on the steak. It's pretty much a slam dunk using the sous vide for a couple of reasons: 1) Doesn't eat up a stove or oven 2) Flank steak has lots of connective tissue and fat that benefits from a long slow cooking process. The rub was pretty simple, powdered chipotle and paprika for a nice smokey flavor and a bit of salt for some accents. The Gorgonzola sauce was out of this world, not too rich the recipe called for 1% milk but it was a perfect complement to the spice rub on the steak.

The "menu" showed a couscous looking side dish that they didn't elaborate on or even name so I had to improvise and make my own. I decided to keep with the southwestern theme and flavor by so we have a nice cumin spiced couscous. I wanted to keep with my mantra of simple and fast so I cooked the couscous in chicken broth for some added flavor and tossed in some frozen corn, grape tomatoes and green onion. It doesn't get simpler than that.

Next we have a easy wilted baby spinach with toasted almonds and it was exactly that. Wilt some baby spinach, toast some almonds and toss them together. Nuff said.

Finally for dessert I went searching for southwestern dessert and I liked this variant on flan called Jericalla (Cinnamon Custard). Originally it was to be cooked in individual ramakins but since I had to do eight (and I didn't want to send out my nice ramakins) I cooked it as one large baking dish. I ended up using the broiler dish to set up a bain marie, that is to say I surrounded the custard baking dish with warm water to gently apply heat rather than direct baking. This is useful for custards to prevent the egg in the custard from curdling. The dish came out quite nicely and reminded me of the texture of soft silken tofu. The spare use of sugar made it very light.

Sorry, it's a sparse post but there's not much to say today. Gearing up for the 4th of July so no bento next week but as usual "I'll be back". Have a good holiday weekend for those of you in the US for the rest of you, um have a good weekend!

Box Contents
  • Chipotle-Rubbed Flank Steak in Gorgonzola cream sauce
  • Cumin spiced Couscous with corn and grape tomatoes
  • Spinach with Toasted Almonds
  • Jericalla (Cinnamon Custard)

Monday, June 20, 2011

EatingInaBox Bentos: Graphically Recorded

I've been up to a lot of stuff at work and it's kept me pretty busy and unable to tend to my poor blog so I figured I should at least share something fun that I've had the opportunity to learn. Above you'll see a Graphical Recording of my process for producing a bento box. Wait, wha? what's Graphical Recording well it's one function of a larger skill set of Graphical Facilitation. It's a way of designing, facilitating and finally recording a meeting/class in both words and graphics to encourage participation as well as create a group memory. The results create an engaging graphic that captures the details of the meeting in such a way that even those that didn't participate directly in the meeting can understand what was discussed and decided. I think that was the best I could think of as an "elevator pitch as to what I spent three days last week doing", I'm sure someone will post a nice flame chiding me with the real definition. For me it was one part adding to my facilitator toolkit but more importantly learning that doodling and drawing can and are productive things to help engage other people. (I'm not a very good artist and still left impressed with ability to pick up my skills I left behind at the age of five)

One of our group exercises was to take a member and interview them about a process and have the rest of the group design and transcribe the process onto paper (The paper above about four foot by six foot). This was one of our first exercises on the big paper and it was easiest since it was simply transcribing after hearing about the process rather than real time recording a meeting full of people Since I had a pretty well defined fun process to document I was the "interviewee" (although I did do a bit of drawing on the board once we designed the information architecture.) I was really proud of the result from our team. In one eye-catching and engaging piece of paper they were able to capture what it is I go thru for every bento.

So this post is one part showing off components of our drawings and another part describing what it takes to get one of my bentos out of the door. I actually did a post on this early on but it's kind of fun to see where this has gone (first post on this was in December of 2007 and it was a short one) and how the complexity has increased. In order to cook for (up to) twelve people a four to five course meal takes quite a bit of planning if you still wish to enjoy your weekend. So for the diagram our first order was to break up into phases obviously we broke it out into the four days up until delivery of food.

It all starts out on Friday, hopefully by then I have a theme in mind and even some dishes I've been exploring. Sometimes I draw from a backlog of ideas that I've got tagged as "future bento" in my notes software other times as I've mentioned, I've taken a trip and one of the many food magazines have managed to catch my eye. It might be a country theme that has been on my mind or in the news, ingredient, or even a technique. I usually pick out some interesting concepts and recipes from the theme to give me a general sense of what I'm going to design. I also send out an email to a giant list of people telling how many spots are open. (nope I don't tell them the theme ahead of time, it's blind faith time people!) It generally fills up pretty fast the fastest was 30 seconds the slowest was 30 mins. Finally that evening (or early Saturday) I build "The Battle Plan", I know ominous right? Well it's a detailed plan which tears apart every dish and recipe (post any alterations) I plan to make and assembles them in the order from prep to plate and I shuffle them in order so that everything is working in parallel. It's somewhat a leap of faith when I actually execute "The Plan" because half way thru you aren't quite sure where all the dishes are you just know when you are done with the plan it comes all together. This really involves a lot of historical estimation so I know I'm going to be able to pull things together or when things should start at the same time so they end near each other.

Out of the plan I also build the grocery list. Saturday is pretty uneventful it usually involves doing my shopping for the bento and is usually spread out between my local grocery and maybe some specialty stores (depends on the ingredients and theme). I spend a little bit of time doing the prep step of "The Plan" this usually fills my fridge up with a bunch of containers of chopped veggies and sauces that would be used the next day. It is a pretty fast step, but I try to balance it, the more prep I do up front the faster Sunday goes (and less hustle and confusion) I tend to get lost if I jumble everything to Sunday. I use to take one big breath and do everything from menu to end all at once but then I found I would be completely fried and the point of a relaxing weekend would be lost on me. That type of day essentially turned what was a joy into work, so I found a way to make it less stressful and more predictable to finish. Working in stages lets me add more to a stage in order to compensate for unexpected episodes (oops forgot to buy an ingredient, "this is more labor intensive than I expected", "oh that's not gonna be good, how to adjust?")

All of this planning makes cooking day a snap. I'm usually in and out pretty quickly if you count actual direct cooking time. If anything takes time at all it's because I've got stuff cooking sous vide or a in slow cooker at which time I have morning cooking (prep #2) and final cooking (finishing and plating). As each plate pops out and completes I keep a stand and some background drop cloth and do a model plate to snap a pic. After it's all done I wrap everything up and stuff it in the fridge. We skip a step in that I usually take a moment to outline what I'm posting for the blog and upload the photos I've chosen as well as write my "letters from mom" that I tape to each box. All that's done Sunday night before I hit the hay.

All that ends with driving and delivering the boxes and sending an email before I make my way into my first meeting at work. Ding! Done! Ok not quite, there's the step of collecting boxes and what not but that's an after step that is the prelude to starting the whole merry go round again. I'm particularly proud of my driver guy (right). For the drawing phase I was in charge of the "Monday" section and the pre-school rendition of the bento at the title. Before you give me too much credit the shading was done by someone else (far more talented than me)

Anyhow, I'm happy to have had a chance to take this class. I learned a lot of things that will help me with my day to day work life. Hopefully you found the post entertaining. I'll be working on the next bento and digging up a theme we'll have to see what I come up with. In the mean time thanks for visiting!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jack and Diane bento

Little ditty about Jack and Diane. Two kids growing up in the American heart land. Unfortunately that's about all the similarity this bento has with it's namesake. No chilli dogs and shade trees here I'm afraid. It's been a while since I did a fun theme name so when I had the chance I pounced on it. I get a whole lot of inspiration whenever I go on a trip, this recent trip to Vegas was no exception. I always load up on food magazines for the flight and rip out (and later scan) the recipes that seem appealing, making notes on future themes and flagging new techniques to follow up on. This trip had some great "easy exquisite" dinners for two, certainly a great seed to start up a bento.

Oh starting this post all my pictures are being taken with my nifty new Sony Nex-3. My poor beloved Nikon is starting to fail on me. The shutter keeps sticking and the only way out is to yank the battery and restart, the bad part is it's in the middle of a write operation on the memory card and starts corrupting it. I'll try to get a review in on my new camera and go over my "pick process" for any of you that are considering moving from SLR to the mirrorless NEX and micro four thirds format.

Chicken Diane was the seed recipe (along with the pasta below). Given the "Diane" my brain instantly starting playing the old 80's song Jack and Diane, it's been stuck in my head ever since I concocted the idea to name my bento "The Jack and Diane". I may be doomed as it's even now playing in my head as I'm writing this post. Yes, never mind the fact that the Diane in "steak Diane" is named after the Roman goddess of the hunt. Ok, where was I? Oh yes, about the dish I made some modifications, the chicken I sous vide'ed and then seared off because 1) sous vide produces superior results and 2) one less burner to take up while preparing. I finished the chicken with the sauce which comprised of some shallots, brandy, a sundry of other little things and some cream all "steak diane style".

I followed the entree with the suggested linguine in truffle sauce. I had some truffle infused olive oil held over from a gift and added a bit of butter for some body. This was a nice simple pasta dish that got dressed up with the truffle oil. The greens were a courtesy of parsley and chives. This was nice because the quick re-heat didn't break the sauce and gave a full filled aroma of the expensive truffle without actually adding the "worth more than it's weight in gold fungus", course with the price of gold these days I'm not sure that's still a true statement. Anyhow, this is definitely an easy but elegant dish.

So this is where the challenge really began. How do you incorporate Jack in a "Jack and Diane Bento"? Quite a few things came up while I searched for ideas, a lot of the "named" dishes didn't make sense "Jack's favorite blah blah blah" I mean if I went with that then I could simply cook whatever I wanted so I went with ingredients. Monterrey Jack cheese vegetable bake was a nice start not too heavy not too light. I cut the butter in half and used half the eggs with just the whites. It was like a frittata and pretty popular with everyone. I doubled up on the recipe because the serving size showed six and I was cooking for ten this time. Turns out a single recipe was more than enough for twelve given the portion size that I delivered.

Finally for dessert I went with good ol' gentleman Jack. These whiskey balls were on paper looked nice and easy but they turned out to the most labor intensive part of food production this time around. The "cookie" was really sticky and difficult to roll out. I tried adding more dry ingredients to make it easier to roll. Once cooled in the fridge they were fine. I was on the fence about the taste (just because I'm not a sweets person) but everyone I've spoken with loved it and the extras got snapped up immediately. No amount of corner cutting could put these in a "healthy" category, I just had to limit portions to easy my conscience.

Recipe requested: Here

"Hold on to 16 as long as you can!" Ok I'm gonna go and try to find some other song to get stuck in my head now. I've had enough Mellencamp, do you hear me?! Fun theme, I enjoyed the challenge and again this was a fairly quick meal to produce (minus the dessert)

I've been meaning to do a post on Vegas and I have a few more things queued up.

Box Contents:
Chicken Diane
Linguine in White Truffle Sauce
Monterrey Jack Vegetable Bake
Jack Daniel's Whiskey balls