Sunday, July 24, 2011

Italian Lite 2

I went with a light italian themed box today, had to really keep things simple since I had guests over and needed to put together something fast . I don't think I was quite as successful this time with a record breaking bento production time so I couldn't call it a "quicky bento". It took me roughly two hours this time (with prep), granted I did handicap myself by making breakfast at the same time for my visiting family. Quite a few additional fails too. I didn't get a good picture of the box and I missed taking a picture of the lasagna, guess I was a little distracted trying to entertain folks. As I've mentioned in the past, if you want to get thru a dinner party (or bento in my case) it pays to be organized. That means prep in stages and much like you see on TV every dish they put together magically has all the ingrediants chopped and ready to dump into a pan. This really beats trying to run from chopping block back to pan and then back to measuring out this that or the other. Do yourself a favor on your next multi-course dinner, break everything apart from preparation to execution and try to group stuff together, it'll save you a bit of time. That and if you have an audience watching you cook you look like one of those fancy TV chef/cooks that somehow make it look effortless.

Today's meal starts off with a Chicken Romano, it's a simple enough dish that packs the main part of the protein in the box. Whole chicken breast is dipped in a bit of skim milk and covered in a breadcrumb mixture of salt, basil, parsley and parmesan. I substituted for some tortilla crumbs since I had these on hand, but it's a simple substitution to make this a gluten free dish. The resulting crust is a bit more crunchy whereas the breadcrumbs would have been a lighter texture.

Had I gone with a gluten free lasagna noodle I would have gotten away with a gluten free box today, but I was already running into budget issues so I went with some whole wheat pasta to at least get a little bit of a healthy edge. These spinach lasagna rolls are a great way to create single portion lasagna instead of the giant pan and serving strings of cheese across your plate and table as you try to get the pasta from baking dish to plate. By far I got the best compliments on this dish. There's probably a billion different versions of this on the web, I just put a few together that grabbed the best of cutting calorie corners (or simply avoid bad fat, and bad carbs). I doubled up on the spinach from any of the recipes I was working with because looking at the volume it just seemed like a whole lotta cheese for so little of the good for you green stuff. In a most of the spinach lasagna that I've had at restaurants the spinach has often taken a back seat and been more like Lasagna (with spinach) if you know what I mean. I really really regret not having a photo of this dish. (guess I'll have to do it again)

Next we have a simple Cannellini beans with Pancetta. It's very similar to white beans I've done in the past. I decided to add a bit more flavor by rendering a bit of pancetta and adding some fresh rosemary from my ginormous rosemary bush out front. It's actually a pretty quick dish since I went with canned beans. Dry beans would have soaked up a bit more flavor since the cooking time would have been a lot longer but since we're trying to balance speed, flavor, and nutrition this is what I've got.

Finally, Caprese Salad on a stick. This was a nice party presentation that I wandered across in a magazine somewhere. It's exactly as you see it, tomato, mozzarella, and basil. I put a bit of cracked pepper on it, but opted not to add any salt I was afraid it would leech a ton of liquid over night so I left it to my bento-ers to add a bit of salt. If I were doing this as a party, I'd either drizzle this with some olive oil, salt and balsamic and serve immediately, or do a quick balsamic viniagrette as a dipping side. I actually like the simple presentation it brings a lot of nice color and variety to the final box.

Ok, no box this next week I need a minor break. I've still got a few more themes that I'm working out minor kinks on but there's definitely more to come. Thanks for dropping by.

Box Contents
  • Chicken Romano
  • Spinach Lasagna Rolls
  • Cannellini Beans with Pancetta
  • Caprese Salad on a Stick

Friday, July 22, 2011

Quicky Indian Bento

I hadn't intended on creating a bento this week. My return trip from Legoland had me home at around midnight, hardly enough time to get something together the next day. As it turns out this is the last week for one of my regular bento-ers and I wanted to make sure and get her one last bento before she left. I got some inspiration off a "recipe calendar" while visiting my sister's house and built the box around the Indian themed dish. Again, I think this was a record breaking preparation (I'm not sure I can get any faster), I made it into a 24 hour grocery store on my way home and had my battle plan in hand from sketching it out on the airplane.

The main dish was meant to be a kabob, specifically a Chicken Tikka Masala Kabob. I ended up using chicken breast tenders and didn't see a need to skewer them since they were already the perfect shape and size and didn't needs to be held together. This was super easy since I setup the yogurt marinade the night before (just before I went to bed), the ingredients were quite simple. The yogurt did a fine job of tenderizing the chicken. I popped the chicken on an indoor grill for the nice grill marks (I have no desire to stand in the 100+ degree weather we're having). On it's own I think the chicken could have used a bit more flavor, however along with the saffron rice and sides I think it works out perfectly.

I'm told I do a pretty good Chana Masala, I attribute it to the longer stewing that I do with my version of the dish. I've had a couple of "quick variations" pop up over the years that I've been meaning to try. I picked a couple of recipes and fused them together to approximate the flavors that I usually end up with. The "quick" version makes use of tomato sauce (instead of cooking down the tomatoes) and significantly fewer spices (both flavor and heat spices). For a quick version it's quite tasty, since it lacked some zing, I resorted to some ghost pepper sauce on hand to jazz things up. This seemed necessary since the fast cooking time kept the chickpeas from really absorbing some flavor. There's no substitute for doing it the long way, but if you're in a pinch and you need to spin up a meal this is an acceptable alternative. The dish actually provided a nice backdrop of flavor to contrast the tender and less flavor accented chicken. The heat proved to be too much for one of my eaters but the rest seemed to really enjoy the burn and all seemed to agree the bento taken as a whole had a good amount of harmony to it.

To counteract the above burn, I turned to a standard coriander raita. There are many types of raita they tend to vary by region, heck I've done another version recently. I went for the economical route opting for coriander (cilantro), instead of mint since I was already using it in the Chana Masala. Only a few simple ingredients: yogurt, garlic, toasted cumin seeds, cucumber and cilantro. A quick stir and you're ready to go, but if you give it 30 mins the flavors really blend together. Lots of people mix it into spicy curry to cool things down. I actually like it by itself over rice. I really like the toasted cumin seeds for this dish they provide a pop of smokey flavor.

As I said up top I think this is a record, all done inside of one hour, including prep. Four courses for six meals in under an hour? Kickass. But as much time as I manage to save I can't seem to get my stuff together to do a post of my LegoLand trip and I need to post my review on my new camera. But I promise I'm on it.

Box Contents
  • Grilled Chicken Tikka Masala
  • Quicky Chana Masala
  • Coriander Raita

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vegetarian Chinese Bento

Today's bento is actually a bento for one. My girlfriend wanted to do a lunch exchange with a co-worker who's Indian. Great! A cultural exchange, and this sounded like a fairly straight forward box to plan out but as my girlfriend and I starting going thru dishes and ideas it started to get harder and harder. Apparently if you remove meat, seafood (some folks make that exemption), and eggs (same) it gets kinda hard.

Always the favorite is the ketchup fried rice. Problem is fried rice usually involves some sort of meat and egg. So I simply skipped the meaty items. On our trip to the Chinese grocery store we found some vegetarian "ham". The stuff stilled tasted like soy protein but at least it gave some additional texture for the dish so I went with it. I've had some vegetarian duck that was pretty darn close and was very very tasty. So, I'm gonna go on a tangent here. Given folks are vegetarian there seems to be a huge amount of products that mimic the look and attempt to mimic the "flavor" of meat. For the ones doing it for health reasons I can get this. But those that go vegetarian for religious or moral reasons what gives? I'm sure i'll draw all sorts of fire for that simple question. Anyhow back to topic

To go with the rice I made some Garlic Eggplant with Fried Tofu. This was a tweak from my previous post. One of the challenges of cooking vegetarian Asian dishes is that a lot of our sauces do in fact have "meat" in them. Fish sauce (fish of sauce not for fish), hoisin, oyster sauce (duh, slaps head) the list just keeps on rocking. Soups all have a chicken broth base, there is just meat everywhere! Anyhow for this one I didn't have any vegetarian fish sauce on hand and and I had to go with what I knew. Fish Sauce is used in Vietnamese cooking to add salt to a dish (as opposed to soy sauce) and it has a somewhat sour component so I went with some water (to loosen the sauce) and a bit of vinegar and salt. It's obviously a pretty far substitution but you gotta do what you gotta do. The dish came out great. I liked the addition of the fried tofu it gives a bit more substance to the dish.

Nothing new here garlic sauteed water spinach, hot wok/pan oil, garlic sauteed, then down with the spinach and salt. This is usually a very authentic "Asian" vegetable that turns out to be a huge sleeper hit with non-Asians. Unlike it's English name sake, when wilted the vegetable's stem still yields a reasonable crunch. I'm not sure about the nutritional benefits of water spinach are compared to regular spinach but I have to imagine it's got a healthy amount of iron like spinach. I'll post an edit when I finally figure that one out.

Edit: So yeah it's good for you too lots of iron vitamin A,C. Lots of different sources but this one pulls it all together best.

The name for this dish is Liang Ban which really is a whole class of quick pickle/salad type dishes. This particular version uses pickling cucumbers and is simply dressed with ton of garlic, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and drizzled with a bit of sesame oil for some nice aroma. It only takes about 30 mins to setup but I really really love this dish the next day. Just be warned that you shouldn't count of meeting any one special at the bar or talking to anyone you know for that matter because the garlic is potent! I've taken a shower and thoroughly brushed my teeth and sometimes this stuff still gets you. I my final solution is to add mouthwash on top of all of that. Still it's a good yummy dish I can't seem to resist.

I've not yet heard back on how the exchange went. I will say it's been a neat challenge modifying and tinkering the sauces and dishes to meet the vegetarian requirement. I'm kinda bummed because this easily could have been a normal set of bentos, but since I was gearing up to go on vacation I decided to keep the scale to one lunch. I'll have to make it up to my bento-ers. Anyhow, as always thanks for dropping by!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Foodblogger Event: Haddingtons a second time around

I have to admit I was a bit curious about my invitation to Haddingtons for another foodblogger event. I felt like the last one was only a few months ago and checking my post, yup March was my last visit. Turns out Haddington's has relaunched with a new chef so there's new items to be had! I have to apologize in advance about the blurred picture i'm still getting the hang of my new camera and although it all looks good on the tiny LCD i should have re-checked it. I may have to reconsider either carrying an LCD booklight or using the flash (or try to find a lower light lense). It didn't help that the party room was dimly lit, but were it not a photographing event it would have been considered a cozy pub so you can't knock the lighting that bad :). The decor is the same but apparently the guys in the kitchen and bar aren't. I guess that's why we were invited.

New ideas and new menu items and this time I got a chance to speak with our host, Chef Jimmy Corwell (again, sorry for the blurry photo it's the only one I got apparently. Chef Corwell took the time to mingle with the crowd and I got a chance to ask him a few questions. He's from New Orleans and wanted to bring some of the familiar ideas from there and transform it into his interpretation of "American pub", he described his take on the oysters rockefeller a wonderful oyster poached in bacon fat topped with roasted pepper bacon and basil (YUM!) unfortuenatly that wasn't on the tasting menu for the evening, but you can bet I'll be back to give it a try. Chef Corwell also professed a love of lamb which is heavily featured in his new menu. He's a really nice guy that's totally approachable and clearly loves to talk about food. He seemed very excited to make sure everyone got a taste of everything making frequent trips to the kitchen to hussle things along as well as making lots of time to meet all his guests.

Chef Jimmy definitely wanted to show off his new menu with an impressive series of little bites. The presentations of all of these were wonderful My only regret is the few photos I was able to salvage. I'm really going to have to RTFM as I know my new Sony Nex-3 has some features that can help me fix this stuff on the fly. Anyhow to start we have Gourgeres on the left and the lamb meatball sliders and tartare. All three were quite delicious, the Gougeres were nice and crispy on the outside and perfectly airy in the center. The meatballs were something else, I'm not what's in them and they're not even on the menu (at least from their website) but when they get there you need to snap some of them up. I believe this was my girlfriend's favorite of the night, well one of them anyways. The lamb tartare was very nice, I really liked the presentation. Next up a corn fritter and cured salmon topped with creme fraiche and chives.

We restart things off with a nice agua fresca to freshen up our palates for our next scrumptious treats.Duck liver mouse was extremely tasty, there was a nice creamy texture and although I *am* a big fan of liver the usual liver taste that would put off non-liver lovers was nicely mellowed out. (still there just not as pronounced). The duck breast over melon ball was a cool sweet and salty taste paired with three different types of textures, you have the meaty duck breast, the softer melon ball, and the chewy almost tapioca topping.

Ok this was by far my favorite of the evening (I believe my girlfriend commented "wow, that look on your face") and I'm sure to get my share of grief about it: Duck and Foie Gras Meatballs it was covered in a nice sour cherry mostarda (mustard with fruit flavored syrup). In the previous Haddington's event they featured a Foie link. This is a massive improvement on the former dish (if there is any link at all). The meatball had a nice meaty meatball texture not bogged down by a lot of filler/breading and the foie gras flavor really stood out. I love it and would be a very happy guy if I had a plate of them right in front of me to scarf down.

Finally dessert the dessert tasting. (I can't wait till they produce the macro lens to this camera of mine...) On the left you'll see a nice strawberry covered in a honey gelatin. I actually liked this one, the slightly tart somewhat crisp fresh strawberry topped with this light honey jelly. The texture of the jelly was more like a tapioca jelly with a good subtantive chew, I thought it was pretty neat. The shot to the right was a "milk punch" to me it tasted like a adult milkshake (does that make sense?) , the shot of bourbon on the bottom is covered with a freshly whipped cream (no sugar) the rich cream is instantly cut when the liquor hits your mouth. I'm not sure I could drink a whole one of those but I bet a glass of that before bed will knock you out.

Great thanks to Chef Corwell for having us I really enjoyed visiting with him. (Sorry again about the blurred photo). I got a bento post to put out while I'm out on vacation (I'm at the airport now finishing this one.) Hopefully I'll get to post a shot out of my trip to Legoland!! Anyhow more soon.