Monday, April 23, 2012

Titanic Bento

April 15th 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking. There's been a small buzz in the food blog world of people having "Titanic Dinner Parties" where they feature some of the offerings of the 1st class dining menu. I was then inspired to offer my bento-ers a taste of what would become the last dinner on the Titanic. Unfortunately in order to still fit inside my budget I had to pick simple-ish dishes that I could easily buy the ingredients without breaking the bank. As usual if you see something you like I'm happy to post a recipe if requested.

So I'm sticking with my new format. I figured since I had to upload a giant image anyhow, you may as well benefit from seeing a bigger version of the photo instead of squinting at a smaller thumbnail. What do you think? It feels a little linear, but it does break up the monotony. I'm happy I'm able to use some natural lighting for my pictures recently but I miss my old Nikon, I still feel it takes better photos. I need to work on ways to distribute this natural light to erase some of these shadows. the bounce screens I have aren't doing the trick.

First, the Roast Sirloin of Beef in Forestiere Sauce (Wild Mushroom sauce). I skimped here and went with a normal sliced button mushroom. The sauce was a red-wine cream sauce. For the Sirloin it called for a two inch thick cut of Sirloin. There was a bunch of baking and roasting and browning involved in the recipe but as you know if you've been following me there's a superior way of preparing protein. I mean, it's not like I live in the stone age if I have better tech then let's not handicap ourselves. So I marinaded the steak as directed but instead of harshly treating the steak with a lot of heat, I sous vide the whole thing for about 4 hours. I dare say I may have improved upon what the chefs on the Titanic were able to produce. Sirloin is one of the cheaper cuts of steak and really benefits the most from the sous vide process. It doesn't have the benefit of as much marbling as a rib-eye or the tender qualities of a fillet mignon but when prepared sous vide it has got the boldest "meaty" taste of any of the steaks I prepare.

The Steak entree was accompanied with Chateau Potatoes. Usually the whole fingerling potatoes are peeled into little multi-faced jewels. I did not have fingerling potatoes and did not really want to cut every single one into tiny jewels (they wouldn't have fit in the box right anyhow). I opted to slice 1/4 inch thick jewels out of larger potatoes. I went with a white potato which contains less starch and hold up under this type of cooking. The potatoes were simply treated with a bit of salt and pepper and first pan fried (for the crisp) and baked until soft. I admit, some of my potatoes went a bit overcooked. These really turned out to be nicely cut "homefries" and were not anything (in my mind) to write home about.

So one of the comments I got back from my diners was that it was remarkable how the dishes  had a "old school" feeling and taste to them. I have to agree after packing up the boxes I felt a little dissatisfied with the results. This was suppose to be 1st class dining on a ship where in today's dollars the passengers paid $124K. Perhaps we've evolved in the culinary sense over 100 years or more simply put, ingredients and tastes that are more common place now were considered exotic back then. You probably couldn't get most of the ingredients year round like we can. Anyhow this Asparagus Salad with Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette was a showcase of what I'm talking about. The saffron's flavor was drowned out by the Champagne vinegar the dressing itself was a bit too subtle I actually up-ed the sugar in the dressing to pull back some of the sour. 

For dessert I opted for the Waldorf Pudding. It seemed the more interesting of desserts, it takes the contents of a Waldorf Salad (apples raisins and walnuts) and turned it into a custard. The directions asked for a ten inch pan, the resulting "custard" was about a 1/3 inch thick and fell apart on serving. I could see doing this with a bunch of shallow ramekins and serving them like a creme brulee. This barely served eight, were I to do this one again, I'd double the recipe hoping that the custard could hold a shape because of the increase depth. I think universally everyone loved the dessert but in the eye of the beholder (me) it was an ugly mess because of plating reasons.

Ok I'm glad to have gotten at least two bentos out this month. I've got a full slate of travel coming up and so I'll have to post what I can, when I can. Good news I'll have some neat photos to post soon. 

Box Contents
  • Roast Sirloin of Beef in Forestiere Sauce
  • Chateau Potatoes
  • Asparagus Salad with Champagne Saffron Vinaigrette
  • Waldorf Pudding

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Italian Light 2 Bento

Finally! A bento! I talked about easeing myself back into things. I'm very glad that I did, it's so easy to get out of the habit of doing things not just cooking but sitting down and writing. I was able to get everything cooked and photographed but just getting the time to writing this post has been tough. Ok I'm just going to launch into the bento.

I went with a "italian" light theme again, it's probably one of the easiest themes to fall back on. I started things with a sous vide poached chicken breast topped with a mint pistachio pesto. I poached the chicken with fresh rosemary, thyme, and basil. Sous vide-ing the chicken really brought out the flavors of the herbs. It was very fragrant without being overpowering paired with the bright flavor of the mint pesto really made it feel light and fresh. Of course the extra tender texture the sous vide process makes this a real winner. I'm not sure there's any other way to prepare proteins that can achieve this level of tenderness.

Next a quick pasta with chili and pecorino. Not much to say here, this is one of the reasons I like to lean on the italian themes. Pasta can easily take up a large spot as a second dish. It's versatile, you can put almost anything into it and use it as a true side dish or in this case as a supplement to the entree. Here I instructed my bento-ers to reheat the pasta gently and top it with the chicken and pesto. This allows the pesto to do double work as it works it's way into the pasta.
This turned out to be a wonderful side dish that I've been taking to a couple of potlucks and earning some rave reviews. I can't take credit for the recipe but it's a real winner. It's broccolini sauteed with kalamata olives, capers and garlic. I was curious about the origins of broccolini apparently it's a man made hybrid plant crossing broccoli and chinese broccoli with the result of a tender stalk. It's a recent invention that has only been commercially available since 1996 in the US. You've got me sold!

Finally dessert did not come out as intended. The initial recipe was from Giada De Laurentiis of an arugula salad with roasted fruits. I had to stop the ship half way thru, I made the panatone croutons and the dressing but after tasting the dressing felt it was way too over powering and I didn't believe the salad would hold up over night in a box. I decided move forward and go ahead and roast the fruits and added a bit more berries from a sack of frozen berries for smoothies and that alone seemed to be an acceptable dessert to my girlfriend. So I present dessert, Roasted fruits yeah I know not a very good name, it's all I got though.

Whew finished. I had to jam this out because I'm already prepparing for my next bento and I didn't want to be behind on pushing out a post. Sorry if it seems a little rushed.

Box Content
  • Sous Vide Herb Poached Chicken Brest with Mint Pistachio Pesto
  • Spaghetti with Chili and Pecorino
  • Broccolini sauteed with garlic, olives, and capers
  • Roasted Fruit

Friday, April 6, 2012

NIAB: Slaw, Soup and getting back into the groove

As I mentioned in my last post work's been real busy and it's been tough getting back into the regular rhythm of cooking. I was super bummed when last week because I was so slammed at work that I clean forgot to send my mail out to my bento group to solicit lunch people. I had even cleared the weekend so I could produce a bento. I suppose it was for the best since I really needed the downtime to collect myself. But as time goes by and I don't get in the kitchen to cook the thought of creating a four or five course meal for my diners gets more and more daunting. So in order to get myself back into the kitchen I decided to put together a few things just for me and my girlfriend.

I present my latest rendition of my favorite coleslaw recipe. I like coleslaw I'm not as big a fan of the mayo based slaws that you typically find. In fact my favorite "restaurant produced" coleslaw comes from the Salt Lick. It's a vinegar based dressing with no mayo. I tried my best to obtain a recipe from them but they politely refused to share the recipe. This led to months of scouring the internet and testing my own versions until I landed on this latest incarnation. I am trying to balance: obtaining a similar flavor vs knocking out unnecessary calories. And yes, I'm actually going to post the recipe, I figure this post only has two real dishes so adding a recipe won't make this unnecessarily long. (again, if you ever see something you want a recipe for just ask in the comments, I'm happy to post it if someone really cares)

I realize the Salt Lick recipe doesn't have white onion but the addition was actually quite good it adds a "bite" to it. You should let the slaw sit for at least 30 mins but I've found that overnight it gets better. It turns into a quick "pickle" much like a sauerkraut and mimics the texture of the restaurants version. So I'm betting that they salt their shredded cabbage and rinse it out. I believe I will try that next time because it might cut the bitter taste that my slaw still has that the original doesn't.

Coleslaw (Salt Lick Copy Cat Sorta)
1 (12 oz) bag of Angel hair shredded cabbage
1 medium white onion sliced thin
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp celery seed
1 tsp ground yellow mustard
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds

1. Empty the bag of salad into a salad bowl and toss with the sliced white onion.
2. In an stick blender with "dressing cup" (see picture above) or a normal blender. Add vinegar, vegetable oil, sugar, celery seed, mustard and salt. Pulse until fully combined.
3. Toss dressing in with lettuce and onion in the salad bowl
4. Add roasted sesame seeds and toss the salad again

Notes: I used a bag cabbage because it's a lot simpler. I've tried this with a whole head of cabbage that I hand shredded and I used 1.5~2x the dressing. I tried apple cider vinegar but it imparts a weird flavor to the slaw and I didn't think the salt lick would have rice wine vinegar on hand. And although (through some social engineering) someone said they had a tiny bit of mayo (specifically Miracle Whip) I find the resulting dressing looks about the same as the dressing leftover from a bowl of slaw, so I think that was a red herring. Why would you stock Miracle Whip just for your slaw when you use so very little of it. I didn't roast the sesame seeds myself I just got the pre-roasted from the Korean store. But fresh toasted would bring out more flavor, if it matters to you I would suggest a tiny touch of sesame oil.

Finally, I got a recipe for a copycat of an italian wedding soup which my girlfriend really likes. I cut the cream in half and ditched the potatoes since I'm low carb-ing it. The results were wonderful. No recipe just a pic here for you to see.

I did manage to send out my cattle call for bento eaters and I've got my menu ready to go so look forward to a real post next week!