Archive for February, 2009

Bento giveaway over at Not Exactly Bento!

February 26, 2009

One of the merry band of Bento Challenge people is creating excitement in the Just Bento forum and beyond with her Bento Giveaway.  Jenn decided to celebrate that soon she’ll have made 200 bento meals.  How great is Jenn!

I’m crossing my fingers.  I’m glad to use my recycled boxes, but an actual cute bento box?  That would be super fun to take out on the town.

Go check out Jenn’s blog, which has lots of yummy bento box lunches to look at, and join the giveaway fun.  Or, send me giveaway mojo vibes 🙂

I think this was my first actual boxed bento lunch

I think this was my first actual boxed bento lunch


Japchae with dangmyeon noodles or 잡채

February 25, 2009

I learned this dish originally from my friends Insook & Huang, and it’s one of the dishes I love the most even though it is a labour intensive cooking project in my less-than-fabulous kitchen.  A gleaming mound of transluscent sweet potato noodles shot through with jewel-like bits of bright vegetable colour, smelling deliciously of toasty sesame and sweet-savory soy.  It’s delicious either chilled or at room temperature.  Not bad hot either 🙂

A bowl of japchae goodness

A bowl of japchae goodness

A few friends hadn’t heard of it, so here is the recipe I made yesterday.  It’s adapted from one I found here, but that one needed a little more intensity for my taste.

This is one of those recipes where you want all your ingredients prepped and in place well before you start heating your wok up.  In addition to this, keep a little bowl of sugar, your bottle of soy sauce, and your dark sesame oil and cooking oil within easy reach while you’re cooking this dish.

This dish is nice in that it is cooked in stages, so I can use my relatively small cast iron wok, but a large heavy skillet would work too.  I heartily recommend using a good sturdy wok spatula; it makes it easier to do the vigorous stir-frying and scraping up that’s necessary.  You’ll also want a few bowls to put things in as you cook them, and a large bowl (like the one you soak the noodles in) to assemble and toss the finished dish in.

This recipe makes 9 8oz servings.  For me, this means 9 bento-sized servings, or 4-5  bento-sized servings and a couple of dinner-sized servings.  Nutrition info follows at the end.  Note that T means tablespoon and t means teaspoon.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 12 oz dangmyeon (sweet potato starch) vermicelli noodles

For the Yang Nyum Jang Sauce:

  • 6 T soy sauce
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1.5 T honey
  • 1 generous T sake or other rice wine or, in a pinch, dry sherry
  • 1.5 T dark sesame oil
  • 1 T gomashio *
  • 3/4 t ground pepper, green if you can get it
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 2 t minced ginger

The meat & veggie ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb lean beef, cut into strips 2″ by 1/2″  by 1/4″
  • 5 large or 9 small dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 hothouse or English cukes worth of skin (use cuke itself for sunomono)
  • 2-5 carrots, to make 1.5 cups of fine long julienne
  • 2 large peppers, to make 3 cups of pepper strips
  • 2 more t minced garlic
  • 3-4 good-sized scallions

Start by placing the noodles in as large a bowl as you have.  The noodles are often dried in a U-shape, and they’re very long.  They’re too hard to snap or cut in their dried state, but since I like them shorter in the finished dish, here’s what I do: I tie a piece of kitchen string around the bend in the noodles, i.e., in the center of their length.  I put them in a shallow big bowl, and I pour on enough boiling water to cover.  Let them soak for 20 minutes or so, turning them carefully once so that everything gets equally soaked.  Use scissors to cut the noodles in half, around where you tied the string, and then rinse and drain the noodles in a sieve or colander.  Set aside.

Put the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl with warm water to cover and set aside.

Put all the yang nyum jang ingredients in a pint jar or bowl and stir well.  The honey will dissolve, honest.

Now is the time to cut your beef into strips, and in a bowl just large enough, mix the julienned beef with 5 tablespoons of the yang nyum jang sauce and set aside.

Prep all the vegetable ingredients and set aside in little piles or in bowls or on plates.  I just make little piles on my cutting board.

For most stir-fry dishes, I do my onions thus: peel, cut in half, and then make thin slices lengthwise.

For the cucumber skins just peel them, then julienne them, put in a little bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Before using, rinse with cold water, and gently squeeze them dry.  The original recipe calls for 2 cups of these, but I only had the one cuke, so I had about 3/4 cup before salting & squeezing.  Certainly make sunomono salad or agurk salat with the cucumber itself!

I used sweet pepper strips which I had in the freezer.  I just rinsed them and put them in a colander to drain, and they were room temp by the time I got to cooking them.

Slice the scallions, both green and white parts, finely.

Last of the veggies, squeeze as much liquid from the shiitakes as possible.  Cut the stems off with scissors or a sharp knife, and slice into 1/8″ to 1/4″ julienne.

Save that mushroom reconstitution liquid as it’s soup-making gold which you can refrigerate for a few days or freeze for a month or so.

Okay, now we’re ready to cook!  It all goes very fast now ..

Heat your wok over med-high heat for a few minutes.  Swirl a tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok, and add the seasoned beef.  Spread it out and let it sizzle there for a minute or two before stir-frying; this will make the beef have a nice carmelized side.  Then stir-fry until the meat no longer shows any red.  A lot of juice will have formed, and this is fine.  It’ll add nice flavor to the dish.  Scoop meat and juices into a bowl and set aside.

Add a scant teaspoon of peanut oil to the wok and swirl around.  Add approximately 2/3 of your yang nyum jang sauce to the pan along with 1/3 cup of water.  Add your drained and cut dangmyeon noodles and stir-fry vigorously.  You’ll be turning the noodles over and over so that they all have a chance to soak up the sauce & water, and so that they all get some of the heat at the bottom of the wok.  If the noodles stick a bit, just stir-fry faster, and scrape the bottom of the wok with your wok spatula.  Faster!  Faster!

When the noodles have all changed from opaque (milky and not see-through) to transluscent (like pale amber glass), transfer to your Big bowl and spread out as much as possible so they can cool quicker.

Swirl a teaspoon of peanut oil into the wok.  Add the julienned shiitake mushrooms and add a teaspoon-sized splash each of soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil, plus a pinch of pepper.  Stir-fry for 3 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are fragrant and a bit carmelized.  Sprinkle over the noodles in the big bowl.

Another teaspoon of oil into the wok, and add the onion slices.  Stir-fry for a minute, sprinkle on a 1/2-teaspoon of salt, and stir-fry a bit more, maybe 3 minutes in all.  You want these scorched against the hot part of the wok, but not limp or soft.  Add to the big bowl.

A half-teaspoons worth of oil into the wok, and add the cucumber skin julienne.  Stir-fry for 2 minutes and add to the big bowl.

Another teaspoon or so of oil, and add the carrots.  Stir-fry for a minute, add a half-teaspoon of salt, and stir-fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, until softened but not altogether limp.  Add to the big bowl.

Another teaspoon or so of oil, and add the sweet pepper strips and 2 teaspoons of minced garlic.  stir-fry for a minute, add a generous 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, and stir-fry for an additional 2-3 minutes, until the peppers are just softened.  Turn off heat, and add the scallions.  Toss to combine, and then add to the big bowl.  Add the beef to the big bowl, and the rest of the yang nyum jang sauce.  Mix well, and enjoy your first bowl right here and now.  You must be famished!

As I said, it’s a lot of work, but it makes a lot of really delicious food.  I like that it’s well-suited to my bento box lunches, and it is chock-full of nutritious veggies.  And it’s pretty.

Yesterdays lunch with japchae

Yesterday's lunch with japchae

Each 8oz serving contains 349 calories, 47 grams of carbohydrates, and 14 grams of fat.

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February 22, 2009

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Friday the 13th

February 14, 2009

K came for dinner, and our usual viewing of Top Chef & Iron Chef America. We ate good food, called a sudden-onset crush and left love-voicemail, and were glad to wave bye-bye to Leah.

K & I made dinner

K & I made dinner

K left me with lots of delicious salad and a fancy chocolate roulade cake that was So Tasty.

Chocolatey mmm from The Bakers Studio

Chocolatey mmm from The Baker's Studio

The bento challenge over at JB ended yesterday, but I’m looking forward to continuing the challenge on into the spring, summer, and beyond. I made a lunch to take along north today; I’m off in a few with bento and a cake I made for C’s birthday. Big party & fun are promised 🙂

inarizushi, carrots with vanilla salt, simmered shiitake, and fruit salad

Today's lunch: inarizushi, carrots with vanilla salt, simmered shiitake, and fruit salad

Cook’s treat

February 13, 2009

I have a particular fondness for cook’s treats of all sorts, and last night I had cook’s treat in spades.  I roasted a small chicken for dinner, and I was just going to have it roasted simply, slathered with fresh butter,  with a slice of mom-bread, and a dollop of grainy French mustard on the side.

This wasn’t a fancy chicken, just a so-called `natural’ chicken from the local super market.  When I was washing the chicken, I took the little packet of offal from the cavity and set it aside, dried the bird off, trussed it, salted it, and put it in the hot oven.  I had taken the two little fat pads on either side of the cavity, and I put them in a little fry pan to render; mm schmaltz.

When I turned to the packet of offal I was shocked, upon opening it, to find seven whole hearts!  Seven!  There was also one fat liver and a neck too, and while I do love liver a lot, this heart bonanza was such an unexpected treat.  So I seared the liver quickly, and ate it with a sprinkling of vanilla salt in one happy bite.  Then I added the seven hearts, and fried them quickly, rolling them around.  Another sprinkle of the salt, onto a pretty plate, and happy innard bliss was mine.

Seven delicious chicken hearts

Seven delicious chicken hearts

I just remembered the pizza

February 12, 2009

Good day.  Long day, and I’m exhausted.  And I just remembered that I forgot knitting club last night.  Feh.

I visited Cedar Mountain farm today, picked up mom’s CSA & our milk, swore more than usual while chatting with farmer Kerrie, and headed north.  I sat in the parking lot at the Tip Top cafe and ate my tasty lunch, and waited for Petunia to show up for her one o’clock appointment with laoshi.  Sure enough, 3 minutes before 1pm, she showed up, and she sweetly offered to bring the second bento up to laoshi.  Lunch was good.  When I came back later for my appointment, laoshi gave me an empty box.  *beam*

I stopped at Listen (our local Salvation Army-ish store) and found some cute heart-shaped molds which will manifest themselves in a bento soonish.  I also found a little.. thing, a thing with three half-spherical depressions which will, I think, be good for small round onigiri.  It’s original purpose is altogether a mystery to me.  I hope it wasn’t some whacky toilet plumbing part, but I’m encouraged by the fact that I found it on the kitchen-stuff shelf.

Mystery object which will now mold things

Mystery object which will now mold things

After laoshi I went to mom’s and delivered her CSA veggies.  She made PIZZA.  From SCRATCH.  It was GOOD.  I also beat her & Carl’s pants off at fem hunerede.  It was GOOD.

I got home late, lugged my forty-billion pounds of groceries, CSA yummies, milk, and various crap into the house, rowed my second 10 minute piece of the day, and now it’s time to be supine.  Only I’m peckish, see.  And then as I lay here wondering what to write, I remembered that mom sent me home with a few slices of her mongo scrumptious pizza.  Life is good 🙂

I rowed!

February 9, 2009

1503 meters in 10 minutes, but seeing as I haven’t rowed since.. well, over a year I reckon, I feel super satisfied.  I’m doing the Concept2 Valentine’s Day Challenge, which is to row 14,000 meters between today and February 14th.  Back in the day I’d row that in a single session, but times, they sure have changed.

I’d done a huge house-keeping whirlwind organizing session this morning, and it just worked out that I concentrated on cleaning up all the junk that was around and on top of the rowing machine.  Then I got batteries for the little onboard computer so I can track the meters/time that I row.  Then I had lunch and was exhaustomundo.

I was sitting thinking: “I think I’ll have a smoke.  Hm.  Maybe I’ll row that 10 minutes and THEN have a smoke.”  And I did!  Two birds with one stone, too, ’cause I didn’t feel much like smoking after the row.


Bento Challenge: week 4 wrap-up

February 8, 2009

From my wrap-up post at the Bento Challenge forum:

I just noticed that I didn’t post my goals for week 4, but they were pretty much the same as previous weeks.

This week’s bento lunches were all pretty yummy, and all of them worked pretty well in terms of nutrition. I really enjoyed learning about the Japanese celebration of the start of spring, Setsubun no hi, and I loved the ehou maki I made for that day. I’ve been wanting to make some sushi for a while now. I don’t have a bamboo sushi rolling mat, but I was able to use a piece of parchment paper as a makeshift roller.

I made sushi for another of this week’s lunches, and it was also delicious. I think I’d postponed making sushi for a long while because here in Vermont it’s hard to get fresh sushi-quality fish, but the pseudo-lobster I found was actually quite delicious. I’m looking forward to using the trout I will be catching in a couple of months in bento lunches, both cooked and also in sushi-like applications. Will report back!

One of this weeks favorite lunches

One of this week's favorite lunches

The Tibetan ratatouille was excellent, and kept well, so it figured in several meals this week. I’ll be posting the recipe soon, I promise.

My johbisai figured happily in several lunches –particularly those yummy mini and even more mini meatballs. They defrost quickly, and once I warm them up in the sauce (which takes barely a minute to whip up), they are good warm, and just as good at room temperature.

I am pleased with my growing ability to create bento lunches with appropriate proportions of carbs, veggies, and protein. I think it’s interesting how my mind thinks “I need this much rice to feel satisfied,” and yet when I play my foodie edges I learn that a lesser amount of rice (or whichever carb I’m eating) is in fact completely satisfying. As a bonus, I find that lunches with more veggies and fewer starchy carbs end up making me feel more frisky, less sluggish. Yay frisky!

I continue to love the role of the Just Bento community in this challenge. I always find inspiration in the lunches that my fellow bento warriors post to the group pool, and often this translates to new foods getting added to my lunches. And I love the give & take of encouragement which this challenge has fostered.

I think I probably take more time than most to do food prep & bento creation, and I’m amazed how those of you with families and jobs outside the house manage to keep making great bentos AND have a life. Bravo! I’m curious to see how I do with bento lunches once spring truly arrives here; I traditionally spend the winters holed up in my flat, but once the snow is gone, I’m outdoors from morning ’til night. What I hope is that I’ll have gotten enough of a bento-making groove on that I’ll have excellent lunches to take kayaking, fishing, etc. Thrifty & nutritious!

As week 5 is about to commence, I’m already beginning to experience a bit of separation anxiety 😉 I hope some folks will continue to post lunches to the pool, discuss things on the forum, etc., after the challenge finishes. Onward!

The potato ricer, at last

February 6, 2009

I’ve wanted to get a potato ricer forever.  I don’t eat mashed potatoes frequently, but every now and again I get the urge, and lately I’ve been wanting to make two yummy Japanese potato dishes: oyaki & korokke.  Last week I made a little hand-written sign and hung it up on the community board where I live.  Yesterday I scored!  A woman who visits here dropped it off and said I can keep it for an indeterminate period of time. Here it is:

Potato ricer, side view

Potato ricer, side view

It’s about 3 inches in diameter, and while I thought the holes were sort of large, it turns out that they’re just right.  I really like that it’s an old ricer; it has a lovely patina that indicates many years of use.  The mechanics of the ricer are neat, and the perforated cup part can be rotated and slipped out which makes for easy clean-up.

Potato ricer from the top

Potato ricer from the top

So today I was planning a big bento johbisai-making session.  Johbisai (常備菜) is a Japanese term describing the stash of foods that you have in the freezer or pantry or fridge, ready to pop into your bento lunch box.

Today I made a delicious leek & pork soboro, a basic seasoned meat with aromatics which can be used as is, sprinkled on rice, in omelets, as filling for dumplings, etc.  This batch turned out very yummy!

I also made two Japanese potato based dishes: potato and sweet potato oyaki filled with the soboro, and then a batch of proto korokke (korokke is the Japanese name for croquette) made from the same riced potato & sweet potato.  The potato part consisted of 5 medium-sized peeled red potatoes, and one peeled sweet potato.  I riced the cooked potatoes and then split it into two portions, one bowl for the korokke, and one for the oyaki.

Potato ricer action shot!

Potato ricer action shot!

I made the korokke first since I wanted to add some of the leek & pork soboro to the potato mash before I added soy & oyster sauce to the meat.   To the potato mixture I added about 1/3 cup of the soboro (before I’d mixed in the soy & oyster sauce), a half cup of frozen petite peas, a half cup or so of minced dry-fried onion, a bit of salt and some pepper.  I mixed this up, tasted it, and adjusted the seasoning, and then formed 8 little croquettes.  I wrapped them plastic wrap and popped them in the freezer, so now I have four bento lunches worth of korokke 🙂  I call them proto korokke because I didn’t coat them in flour or breadcrumbs; I’ll do that after I’ve defrosted them, and then fry them.

Proto korroke ready for the freezer

Proto korroke ready for the freezer

To the second bowl of mixed potato mash, I added 4 or 5 tablespoons of potato starch and a bit of salt.  I used a knife to cut the dough into 8 portions, and flattened each portion into a disk.  I put around a teaspoon of the finished soboro onto the center of the disk, and then folded the dough up and over, and then shaped each one into a flattened round cake.  I fried them in a bit of olive & dark sesame oil until they were nicely browned on each side.  I’d had one runty little oyaki, and when it was barely cool enough, I tasted it: delicious!

Potato & sweet potato oyaki filled with leek & pork soboro

Potato & sweet potato oyaki filled with leek & pork soboro

I used a pot of water to boil the potatoes in, and then the sweet potatoes, and after I’d used a spider to remove each of those, I simmered the leek trimmings in the same water.  I strained this veggie water and now it’s in the fridge waiting to be made into soup one of these next days.

I also made a delicious batch of coleslaw, and there are leftovers.  Mmm leftovers 🙂

Muffins & bento & errands, oh my!

February 4, 2009

The usual Wednesday crazy fun out-and-about day, whee!  I had some blueberries which I wanted to use, so I adapted a recipe from the Joy of Baking website.  I increased it a little because I wanted to have half a dozen or so for me and for ____ & ____, and then I wanted a dozen or so teeny ones for freezing so I can add them to bento lunches.  I also substitued 1 of the 3 cups of all purpose flour with whole wheat, to give it some added nutrition.  Instead of the 3/4 cup of safflower oil, I used a scant 3/4 cup of creamed corn I had in the freezer and then topped it off with maybe 1/4 cup of olive oil.  I increased the baking soda and powder just by making the spoonfuls generous and heaping-ish rather than level.

They turned out so good!

A dozen regular and a dozen teeny blueberry-corn muffins

A dozen regular and a dozen teeny blueberry-corn muffins