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

I rolled a fat yummy maki

February 3, 2009

As I mentioned in the last post, today is Setsubun no hi, the Japanese celebration of the beginning of the spring season.  A traditional food to celebrate with is called ehou maki sushi, essentially a fat sushi roll with seven ingredients.  The ingredients can vary, but there must, according to tradtion, be seven of them because seven is a lucky number!

I made one for my bento today, and the seven ingredients I chose (i.e., had on hand) were lobster, avocado, carrot, scallion, tamagoyaki (thin omelet), delicious simmered shiitake, and cucumber.  My first ever maki roll, and it was so So SO tasty.  I ate it, following tradition, facing east north-east and in silence.

My bento lunch celebrating Setsubun no hi

My bento lunch celebrating Setsubun no hi

It was a tasty and satisfying way to spend a day in our bleak northern winter contemplating the coming sweetness of spring.  Spring!

Happy Setsubun!

February 3, 2009

Maki over at Just Hungry shared that today is Setsubun no hi, a Japanese festival celebrating the start of the spring season.  What a perfect idea, particularly as today, here in Vermont, is one of those steely grey days when spring seems almost impossible to imagine.

I started my local festivities by making a riff on taiyaki –this time I cooked fish-shaped blueberry waffles, each one dotted with 7 fat blueberries.  Yum!

A tasty way to celebrate spring, nest-ce pas?

A tasty way to celebrate spring, n'est-ce pas?

This time I used Bisquick baking mix instead of the engagingly laborious home-made version I used last time I made taiyaki.  Actually, this was really quite excellent, and a lot faster than the home-made version.  I looked at the ingredients in the Bisquick, and I wasn’t horrified, so it’s a win in terms of efficiency.

One of my bento challenge friends, Blorgie (she of the amazing plums) asked if I shaped these by hand.  I don’t!  I use my newly acquired taiyaki pan, which I found on Amazon.

Here the pan is closed, warming up on my electric stove

Here the pan is closed, warming up on my electric stove

For a fish-obsessed person like me, it was a happy find 🙂  Here it is in action:

Two blueberry waffle taiyaki ready to eat

Two blueberry waffle taiyaki ready to eat

I don’t think taiyaki are a traditional way to celebrate Setsubun no hi, but I figured with the lucky seven blueberries in each waffle (or fiffle, as I like to call them), well, Spring won’t mind.

Later today I’ll make the actual traditional food for celebrating Setsubun no hi, which is a lucky long sushi roll.  More on that later..

Ichigo daifuku

February 2, 2009

So, on Saturday I made this treat I’d been wanting to try for some time.  Ichigo daifuku are fresh strawberries daubed with sweet red bean paste and then enclosed in a soft wrapping of mochi.  Though mine look like some sort of freakish albino lumps, oh my GOODNESS how good they tasted.

Delicious if ugly mounds of strawberry goodness

Delicious if ugly mounds of strawberry goodness

I sprinkled a few toasted sesame seeds on the daifuku to make them prettier.  It didn’t help much.  Do you know how to make these prettier?  Tips?  Tricks?

Still, I’m not displeased with this first effort at all, because despite appearances, they really were a super delicious treat.  I have one idea to make them prettier and still tasty; I’ll report back as soon as I come across some more excellent strawberries.

Federer & Nadal are kings among men

February 2, 2009

I had been planning to visit Bryan & Nora & kt for a super bowl party, but the day kind of got away from me and I didn’t make it.  My Tivo had stopped working and I was panicking, but with a small but painful outlay of cash, I got it working again in time to record & watch the Australian Open men’s final, and oh man was it an amaaaazing match.  Even more fantastic than the actual match was the award ceremony afterward –it really transcended any sporting event I’ve ever watched.

Karrie came to visit, and I made us spring rolls to munch on:

We also watched Top Chef and were both sorry to see Jeff get axed..

Bento Challenge: week 3 wrap-up

January 31, 2009

This was an interesting week.  On the one hand, the whole week was plagued by a general sense of disjointedness; I kept on feeling very scattered, and this really had an impact on my bento making work-flow.  So everything felt like it took more effort.  Upon reflection I think it may be that I overbooked life a bit, so I’ll try to pull back where I can this coming week.

On the other hand, I had a GREAT doctor appointment Friday morning.  This wasn’t the nutritionist meeting I’ve been looking forward to, but a regular checkup.  I’d forgotten it until I got the little reminder on my PDA, and I was immediately aghast; I was pretty sure that I was extra-fat just now, and I imagined that my blood-work numbers were going to be horrid and that my doctor would glare at me.  Much to my great surprise & delight, I’ve lost six whole pounds!  Six!  Pounds!  Also, my HA1C (diabetes number) was down a point, and other results were similarly positive.  Yahoo!

I had goals for this week, and I met some of them, while others.. not so much.

I ate soup one night, and I had wanted to eat soup for dinner more frequently.  This is based on the idea that for me, having my main meal be lunch and having a light dinner makes me feel better.  That’s sort of happening now with bento lunches, but dinners are a bit more haphazard; I’ll often graze the fridge for dinner, and this can lead to unbalanced and ultimately unsatisfying dinners.  So, I’m going to keep trying to increase my soup-for-dinner nights.

I did not end up eating a vegetarian bento.  I kept wanting to, but I’d made this really great soboro, and it was easy to go to that.  I’m not feeling too bad about this, but I will try again next week to make just one.

The soboro was nice, and this week I ate it in lots of different ways, and I really liked the versatility of it.  I used it as a topping for rice, as part of a breakfast omelet, as part of some yummy not-fried-rice, and in a little savory dinner custard.  I have enough to have a good meal or two over the weekend as well.

Hot dog fishies & flowers are fun 🙂

I did get to use two back-o-the-pantry items this week.  Well, back of the root-cellar and freezer, but same thing –I used some of my home-grown proto pesto, and I used some beets which were, I’m sure, starting to feel neglected.  And each of these become favorites of the week!

Another goal was to try out the LIVESTRONG food diary application for the iTouch.  So far I really like the input part of the package –entering food items is so much faster, easier, more streamlined and more fun than doing it manually.  I’m still unsure if other features, things like the ability to export my data to a spreadsheet program, will work for me.  I’ll look at that over the weekend and next week and report back.

I did not uncover the rowing machine.  So this goal gets rolled over to week four ..

Hot mochi love

January 30, 2009

I told my sister NannyOgg that I would share this with her.  It’s a post I made over at the Bento Challenge forum..

So, a few years ago my sister Min taught me to make this mochi-esque dessert/snack/treat: Mix sweet/sticky/glutinous rice flour with enough water to make a batter with the consistency of heavy cream. Pour that onto a buttered flat plate or flat form so that you have a nice large 1/8″ or 1/4″ flat pool of batter. Microwave or steam (microwaving is vastly faster for me) for a minute or two, watching carefully. The batter is cooked when it has changed from bright opaque white to a more translucent white/pearly grey. Heat a tablespoon or so of red bean paste for 10 seconds (in the micro) or so, just to soften it, and spread carefully on the mochi. Roll up, and then slice into 3/4″ or so pieces. Roll each of these around in a little bowl of unsweetened coconut flakes (toasted they’re even nicer). So, this is super yummy.

Recently I learned about a more Japanese-style mochi treat called dango where you combine a generous half cup of the sweet/sticky/glutinous rice flour with *just* enough water to make a very stiff dough. It feels like a sort of silky playdoh when it’s right, and I’ve found that it’s easy to add too much water. I’ve fixed this by adding just a little water at a time, and really mixing it well with a fork. It starts out all crumbly, and with just a few more drops water begins to cohere properly.

Bring a pot of water to a boil.

Take a generous tablespoon’s worth of dough and roll into a sphere, like a large marble. Repeat with the rest of the dough. I generally make 6 or 8 mochi with the above amount of flour. Using a spoon, drop each ball into the boiling water, and boil until the balls have risen to the surface, plus 2 or 3 minutes. Use a spider or a spoon to lift each mochi ball into a bowl.

I like them with these toppings:

A sweetened soy sauce: 2 T soy sauce with 1 t of sugar –both savory and sweet and delicious
A mix of 1 T soy flour with 1 T raw or muscavado sugar (or regular sugar)

Another fun thing to do is to take each ball (before boiling) and flatten in your hand. Make a little depression in the disk of dough and put a little ball of sweet red bean paste there. Just a tiny bit, like maybe the size of a pea. Carefully fold up the disk of dough to seal in the bean paste, and then roll the ball carefully. Boil like above. When I make these, I like making a little dimple in the ball with my finger. They come out very adorable with a little innie-bellybutton like spot, and then with a drizzle of maple syrup, just a tiny bit, oh my these are good.

Another fun thing I did: I mixed a few drops of some beet water (water I saved from boiling up a mess of beets the other day) and made pink mochi. The colour was super cute, and there was no earthy odd beet flavor at all, just the pretty colour.

I understand that there is a `dark syrup’ that is traditional with Japanese mochi, and I’d love to learn to make that. Any ideas? In fact, any mochi tips, tricks, lore, topping ideas, etc. would be lovely.

This is not exactly diet food, but it’s the food I have a hot crush on right now. And in fact, I reckon in small portions as part of a diet otherwise low in sweets, well, it’s not the worst thing in the world.

Now I have some dango ideas I’m going to work on, and I’ll post later about how they work.  And pictures!

Post blizzard update

January 29, 2009

It was a fairly gentle blizzard as blizzards go, but we did get nearly two feet of new snow.  I was a little rueful about the timing –Wednesday is my busiest errand day, and I had several appointments in addition to my usual Wedensday stuff.  When I first woke up I was not happy that it looked like I might need to drive north to Lebanon twice, but then a friend suggested a great idea which allowed me to get all my things done with just the one major trip north.  It wasn’t a problem that I’d be driving in snowy blizzardy weather, it was the waste of gasoline which was bugging me!

So first I went to local hospital for bloodwork, and I scored a new pair of used wheels for my chair.  They’re used, but fifty times nicer than the ones currently on my chair.  They have TREAD!!!

Then it was on to the farm to pick up mom’s CSA share and our milk.  Then to the market to pick up a few things, and that was a highlight of the day: I got to visit with all my favorite market friends, and because of the storm, there was hardly anyone there!  It was heaven.  I ate my bento whilst chatting with Chris & Tracy & Jake in the bulk food aisle and we had lots of giggles.  I also got a nice long visit with L, and I’m sending her love even as I type.

Finally I headed to mom’s, and unloaded all the goodies.  I was torn about staying for dinner & cards, but we figured that I’d need help in either case to actually get into the parking lot at home, and from the truck into the building.  So I did stay for delicious dinner & sevearl rounds of fem hunderede; it was very cozy there with the woodstove, the licorice, and the snow all snarly outside.

Sure enough, when I got back home, the parking lot was completely inaccessible, and the ramp, path, and parking lot were all unshoveled and impassable.  It’s a good thing that I keep a blanket in my truck.  Grr!  I called the management of the building several times and they kept saying the plow hadn’t gotten there yet, so I didn’t get home until around noon today.  I think this is ridiculous.

My bento today was made & eaten late, and so welcome.  It was an attempt to emulate a bento lunch made by a lovely local Korean place called Yama, and it turned out really great:

Salmon, rice, broccoli, carrots, broccoli-carrot sushi, japchae, edamame, and salad

Salmon, rice, broccoli, carrots, broccoli-carrot sushi, japchae, edamame, and salad

This week has felt a bit disjointed, and I keep feeling like I’m not caught up, or that I’m missing something, but I’m just trundling onward, confident that I’ll feel a bit more centered in a few days.  There have been a fair number of jolts to my winter schedule, so I suppose it makes sense that it feels a bit off.

The highlight of the last week or so has been watching Oz open grand slam tennis –it’s the first grand slam of the season, and it’s been a great one so far.  The weather over there has been crazy hot –in the 120’s (F) on court!  Insane!  I was sorry to see Murray go out, and I’m still cheering Federer on.  He so hot.