This weekend was crazy busy and this morning I needed the extra sleep, so today I just made snack bentos.
We have the usual suspects: onigiri, tamagoyaki, pork shumai, fruit and veggies. I threw this together in just a few minutes.
The one stand-out item in this bento was the satsuma tangerine. I never had one of these before, and the smell when you peel it is unbelievable. This was by far the best orange/tangerine I've ever tasted.
Monday, June 30, 2008
This weekend was crazy busy and this morning I needed the extra sleep, so today I just made snack bentos.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Today is my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday Mom!
So of course, cupcakes were in order. Mom loves casino card games, so I went with a combination of winning blackjack hands and casino chips for decorations.
Here they are in my cupcake carrier earlier today, all ready for the trip to Mom's.
The cupcakes themselves are about as simple as it gets. I just made a marble fudge cake mix. I used enough of the batter to make a dozen cupcakes, and the rest I poured into a large loaf pan to make the center cake. I baked them separately since the cake took longer (about 4o minutes) and I didn't want to have to open the oven halfway through baking it to take the cupcakes out. In my experience, if you open the oven too soon when baking a cake, it doesn't raise properly.
The frosting is a plain buttercream. I used Wilton's delphinium blue to colour half of it. I love this colour! The poker chips are actually made of chocolate (purchased at a local candy store).
By far the most time consuming part were the fondant decorations. The letters in "Happy Birthday Mom" were quick enough to punch out of rolled fondant. I used a heart punch for both the hearts and spades. The cards were made by cutting rectangles out of white fondant and then rounding out the corners. The A's and K's took forever! My sister helped out though, so it went a bit faster.
I have to say though that I found that I don't particularly enjoy cake decorating as much as cupcakes. I spent way too much time trying to get the icing smooth and doing the borders. So for my mom, I would go to the trouble of making a cake, but I think I will stick to wonderful, fabulous cupcakes for everything else.
Friday, June 27, 2008
So far I haven't been able to develop a taste for umeboshi.
Umeboshi is a Japanese form of pickled plum. It's a traditional onigiri filling and it's super sour. So sour that I can't even stand a tiny piece of one. I will keep trying to develop a taste for it though, I haven't given up.
But in the meantime, I had a silly notion last night that I would make some umeboshi onigiri out of rice krispy squares. This wasn't an original idea, I was inspired by this website.
Once they were made, I put them in some nice white boxes so that BF could bring some to a friend's place where he was having lunch today. I think they turned out pretty cute.
I just used the basic rice krispy square recipe printed inside the box. While it was still hot (and working very quickly so it didn't cool down before I was done) I pressed a layer of rice in the bottom of my small triangle onigiri mold (about 1 1/2" on each side) and placed a sour cherry candy in the middle. I like these candies because they are sour like an umeboshi and look sort of like one (okay, not really, but they look more like an umeboshi than say a gummi worm does ) and they're really yummy! Then I placed another layer of rice krispies around the candy to hold it in place.
After that I closed the mold just like you would with an onigiri. It's important not to fill it too full because cereal doesn't have a lot of give to it, and the candies get dented and scratched.
I melted some semi-sweet chocolate squares in the microwave (30 seconds and stir, repeat until melted) and used a butter knife to spread it around the outer edge of half of the 'onigiri'. I placed the chocolate coated ones on wax paper and put them in the fridge to harden the chocolate.
I had some Wilton candy boxes from Michael's (I think they're the half pound size. I threw out the tag, so I can't be sure) that I lined with wax paper. I used sushi grass paper to separate the 'onigiri'. For decorations I made some 'pickled ginger' by rolling a piece of cherry ribbon candy and filled a fish shaped soy sauce bottle with chocolate syrup.
I had intended to make 'wasabi' with a mound of green fondant, but I ran out of time.
On the top of the box I wrote "Mmm....onigiri umeboshi" with a black Sharpie.
So it was kind of silly. But it was fun :)
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I have not been this excited about bento rice since I found those banana leaves and made lemper. Omg, it was so delicious today.
Last night BF was helping a friend move, so I suggested we go for some late night sushi after he got home. So I was making onigiri, thinking about the restaurant, and I started thinking about this dessert sushi I had there one time. It was made with mamenori soy paper, and it didn't stick together very well. I remember thinking that if a sushi chef can't get it to stick together, what chance did I have?
Then I had an epiphany. I would made dessert sushi for today's bento and to get it to stick together, I would brush the last couple of inches of mamenori with warmed up honey.
Worked like a charm!
The sushi is made with short grain white rice seasoned with a syrup I made by microwaving 2 Tbsp of lime juice and then mixing in 3/4 Tbsp sugar. It's filled with strawberry and kiwi slices, wrapped in sesame seed mamenori and sprinkled with a little ginger. When I cut it up this morning and saw how pretty it was, I wished I had made two rolls. At least I'll know for next time.
The meat is chicken cordon bleu (premade from the butcher, I just cooked it last night). I baked a couple of slices of acorn squash with it, and then mashed them with a little butter. It's in the little cup, sprinkled with a smidge of allspice and topped with a tiny tomato. I had never cooked squash before, but it was yummy, I'll make it again.
I steamed some more of the beet greens, some asparagus and snow peas. The edamame and sweet potato butterflies were boiled for 5 minutes.
For fruit, there are some apple hearts, cherries, raspberries and blueberries.
I thought this bento was especially delcious.
I have an interesting plan for some baking tonight. If it turns out the way I'm hoping, I'll post pics later!
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I swear I had a plan for today's bento. No, for real!
It was so gorgeous out last night, and I spent most of the evening on a patio downtown sipping pineapple and vanilla flavoured martinis with BF. I got home at 11:30pm and realized I had nothing to put in the morning's bento.
So I threw a chicken breast (cordon bleu style) and some veggies in the oven for 45 minutes, thinking that would cover off enough of it that I could just throw in some onigiris and fruit in the morning.
I was falling asleep towards the end of it, but I knew it would be worth it in the morning when the bentos were already half planned. After the 45 minutes were up, I pulled the pan out of the oven, removed the foil, and to my utter disbelief, everything was still completely raw, and the pan was only a little bit warm.
I glanced up at the temperature gauge and the oven was turned on to 350 degrees, although the light was on indicated that it was warming up. For the life of me, I can't figure out what happened. My best guess is that I didn't close the oven door all the way, but I can't even imagine that happening. I've been baking since I was like 12 and I don't ever recall not shutting the oven properly.
So it was 12:30 and I was exhausted, so I just went to bed.
And to top it off, when I got up in the morning, and went to grab some onigiri out of the freezer, I realized I was down to the very dregs of my onigiri bucket (I lost track of what I had stocked while I was on vacation), so I used everything that was there, but it meant I was a bit limited in what I could do creatively.
So I think the moral here is to plan better and don't stay out so late on weeknights. But given that the hot weather is finally here and I love summer nights, I'm not sure that's a realistic goal for me :P
Anyway, enough rambling. Here is what I came up with:
I picked up some Shang Hai bok choy on the weekend which I sauteed in sesame oil. This was the first time I had tried it, and I have to say I can't tell the difference between this and regular baby bok choy at all. I think regular bok choy is prettier with the darker green and the white, so I don't think I'll buy the Shang Hai version again.
There are some sugar snaps and asparagus pieces. I divided the broccoli florets into really small pieces because there were tiny gaps everywhere. I tucked in one of the tiny tomatos.
On the right tier, there is another onigiri (heart shaped, filled with lotus seed and white bean paste), some rolled omelette (tamagoyaki) slices, more sugar snaps and broccoli.
For fruit there are some apricot pieces, strawberries, blueberries, cherries. Dessert is a truffle.
So it was nothing fancy, but we didn't starve!
Tonight I'll be cooking up and freezing lots of rice!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Wow!! My blog has had 5000 hits!! That didn't take long at all!
I didn't have a plan this morning, but I think the bentos turned out pretty nice regardless and it was particularly tasty. I think I'm getting better at on-the-fly bento lunches.
I wasn't feeling like rice so I decided to boil up some soba noodles (they take two or three minutes). I already had dipping sauce for them in the fridge, so I just filled up a small container of sauce and tucked it in a silicone muffin cup, under the noodles. One of the tiny tomatoes is perched in the center of the noodles (it's smaller than a raspberry!). I really liked the way this sort of looked like a cupcake with a cherry on top (it's a little hard to tell from this angle, but the soba noodles were piled up, resembling frosting), so I put it in the top right of the bento where I usually put the dessert.
For protein there is a bacon wrapped chicken breast that BF baked up last night, cut into eight bite sized pieces, and the onigiri under it has ground chicken and hoisin sauce filling. There are a few cubes of cheddar cheese beneath the noodles as well.
For veggies, there are the standard asparagus, broccoli, sugar snaps and yellow zucchini slices as well as some steamed red swiss chard. This was the first time I tried red swiss chard, and it was yummy. Tastes a lot like beet greens.
For fruit there is half of a fig (I think these are so gorgeous!), raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and some locally grown strawberries (these were much more juicy and tasty than the ones we usually get, but they were more expensive). I also included two of these freaky little fruits called langsats. They look similar to lychees, but they divide naturally into wedges. I don't care a whole lot for the taste, but BF likes them. There is a truffle for dessert.
And here are some cupcakes I made last night by special request from BF. They were made from scratch (!!!) and were vanilla flavoured loaded with raspberries. The frosting was a plain buttercream and the letters and stars were made from fondant. I ran out of fondant decorations so I put candy coated chocolate sprinkles on a few of them.
Monday, June 23, 2008
My apologies for the lack of posts. I was on vacation last week and I didn't make a single bento. I truly meant to make bento lunches for BF all week but somehow I managed to sleep in every single day. And I ended up not having time to go for groceries over the weekend, so this morning when I got up to make bento I was pretty short on options and ingredients. Which is how we ended up with snack bentos instead of bento lunches.
I grabbed some onigiris from the fridge and put some faces on them. There are gyoza from a batch I made this weekend and a boiled quail egg for some added protein. For veggies there are edamame (frozen), sweet potato sakuras (I love sweet potatos, they last forever), the last two stalks of asparagus and some sugar snaps. I used a few black sesame seeds to decorate the sakuras and I think they turned out really cute. For fruit there are just two cherries in each and a few blueberries.
I used my Cinnamoroll snack bento box and BF used his blue polka dot snack bento box. From the picture it looks like mine is much larger, but they're actually about the same size, BF's is just deeper. I kind of enjoy the fact that they are different shapes because I like the mental exercise of figuring out two different layouts. It's a good little puzzle to help me wake up in the morning.
We managed to get out for groceries tonight, so it should be back to business as usual. My favorite thing that we picked up was the tiniest bunch of vine tomatoes that I have ever seen in my life. They are so small!! And so pretty still on the vine. I put a quarter next to them so you can get a feel for the size. In the back of the bunch there is the tiniest one of all, it's my favorite.
Monday, June 16, 2008
I was in a bit of a rush this morning (I just couldn't will myself out of bed!) so today's bento was pretty simple, but I think it still looks nice.
The onigiri was frozen from a batch I made a few weeks ago (remember this bento?). I used a mold that makes three tiny rounded triangles at a time, similar to my cube mold. The slices of meat are from a premade stuffed turkey breast from the butcher that I baked up last night and sliced this morning.
For veggies there are asparagus stalks, broccoli florets, steamed carrot flowers (I liked how they had the little circle in the middle), fried plantain hearts, and yellow zucchini slices.
There are a couple of tomatos, and for fruit there are grapes, white and red raspberries, a couple blueberries, strawberry slices, and green apple hearts. There's a truffle for dessert but I forget what flavor it was. It was yummy though!
Saturday, June 14, 2008
The idea this week was to make lemon meringue pie style cupcakes. The cupcakes themselves are lemon flavoured (I was lazy this week and used a mix), and then filled them with lemon curd to replicate pie filling.
I baked individual meringues using this recipe (minus the peppermint candy). They turned out like hard, melt in your mouth meringue cookies. They're really delicious, but next time I think I might try using soft meringues and a kitchen torch to brown them to make meringue more like what you find on an actual pie.
The frosting is a plain buttercream. I hadn't intended to colour it, but the meringues are so white that it didn't contrast enough. So purple was kind of a random choice but I think they turned out pretty and it matches the wrappers I used (Wilton makes them).
Definitely yummy cupcakes, but I think these ones are almost too sweet. Is that possible for a cupcake?
Thursday, June 12, 2008
BF's been on vacation all week, but I've been making him bento lunches anyway. Its just as easy to make one bento as to make two, and in some ways it's actually easier. For example, I wanted a few bites of plum in mine today. If I was only making one, then I can either include the whole plum or else the rest of the plum winds up in the fridge, needing to be used up quickly. This way I can use the whole thing but we still get lots of variety in our bentos.
Today we have (on the bottom tiers) strips of beef, leftover chicken curry from the Vietnamese restaurant we went to last night (it's a sweet, curry made with coconut milk - so delcious!), gyoza, steamed broccoli, sugar snaps and asparagus.
On the top tier are a few bites of plum, a container of pomegranate seeds and the usual assortment of berries. BF's bento is a little bit bigger than mine so I also included a chunk of cheddar (hiding under the strawberries) and a couple of daifuku.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Have I mentioned that I love banana leaves? BF used them last night on the barbecue and it was phenomenal. For supper he made some sort of coconut milk-curry-ginger-cayenne rice in banana leaf packets with bites of seasoned lamb. We made a couple of little ones for the bentos as well of course (it's in the top center). You can't really tell from the picture but the rice was crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and all stuck together sort of like rice loaf. I wasn't sure I would like crunchy rice because I thought it would just taste like uncooked rice, but it wasn't like that at all. The texture was actually really nice.
Monday, June 09, 2008
I found all kinds of new things at the grocery store this week, so I got to try some new foods in today's bento. And I learned a new way to cook - with banana leaves! They only had about six at the store. They're about two and a half feet long and about a foot wide, dark green and shiny. So today we had lemper!
Lemper is an Indonesian food that consists of coconut rice in banana leaves. Here's how I made it:
The night before, cook up some short grain white rice using two thirds coconut milk and one third water. Fried up some ground chicken with a pinch or two of curry powder and some chives, and when it's cooked, splash on a little lemon juice. Cut 5 inch squares of banana leaf and put 1 Tbsp rice in a rough sort of rectangle in the middle of the banana leaf and 1 Tbsp of the chicken mixture on top of that. Fold up the sides and tie with a small strip of banana leaf, and they're ready to go in the fridge. In the morning when making the bento, steam the lemper packets for 15 minutes (this is the longest time I've ever spent cooking anything for a bento by a long shot, but it was so worth it), remove from the steamer and let them cool for a bit before placing them in the bento. I stacked up two in mine.
This was without a doubt the best rice I've ever had in a bento. It was so moist and flavorful, just heavenly. And making them was fun. There's something about wrapping rice in leaves that feels really simple and wholesome. I have more banana leaf cooked foods planned for this week (we went back today and bought two more), so stay tuned!
Because of the small amount of rice, I packed in a whole bunch of sweet potato flowers (boiled with a little butter and cinnamon on them) for additional carbs. And because of the small amount of chicken, I packed two of the mini quiches BF made yesterday, and a couple of bites of cheddar for additional protein. There was some empty space so I threw in a couple leek dumplings.
For vegetables we have the usual broccoli, asparagus, sugar snaps and yellow zucchini. I found some new fruits though! In the bottom corner there is a fresh lychee. I had never tried these before. They have delicious flavour with a bizarre juicy-membrane like consistency. Sorry, that's best way I can think to describe it. Appetizing, right?
There are a couple of cherries next to that (they're down to $4.99 a pound so I've been eating a lot of these), and above that there red and white raspberries. I didn't even know white raspberries existed. Turns out they taste just like red ones, but I like the colour that they add to the bento. There are some blueberries and strawberries, and to finish it off, a cupcake from the batch this weekend.
Here's a diagonal shot too because I liked how the banana leaf looked in this one:
Sunday, June 08, 2008
BF and I think it's really important to eat a healthy varied diet with all kinds of different fruits and veggies. Every Sunday we stock up on produce for our bento lunches and every week we use most of it up.
In the four months that I've been making bento lunches for BF and I, everything about the way we eat has changed in a really positive way. We eat almost entirely fresh, homemade foods and have all but eliminated processed foods from our diet.
Our attitudes and tastes have changed as well. Our standards have gone up as far as what we are willing to put in our bodies. Where as before I used to love a big bowl of pasta with a heavy cream sauce and maybe some cheese or meat, now I'm shocked at the portion sizes of complex carbs (pasta, bread, white potatoes, etc) that are considered typical and find myself looking at these types of meals and wanting to fill up on vegetables instead. Rather than feeling like I'm missing out by not eating heavy foods, I feel like I'm missing out when I don't get enough fresh fruits and vegetables.
I still enjoy a bite or two of fried or fatty foods, but my tolerance for eating large quantities of them has gone way down. For example, I might eat a breaded and fried chicken strip, but I can't imagine eating six, which is a 'normal' portion size. I would want a side of veggies instead. For a lot of processed foods, I find them so salty now that I can barely eat a bite. I didn't mean to cut so much salt out of my diet as an intentional choice, it was just a result of eating more fresh foods, so now I'm much more sensitive to it.
It actually surprises me the extent to which my tastes have changed because of how heavy my diet used to be in fried/fatty/carb heavy/processed foods. I think if someone had told me I would actually prefer vegetables to french fries six months ago, I wouldn't have believed it.
So, add that to the list of reasons why I love bento! And why you should start eating bento lunches if you don't already.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
Sorry about the lack of bento yesterday. I realized when I was halfway to work yesterday that I forgot to take a picture of it
Another Saturday, another batch of cupcakes...
I made chocolate cupcakes filled with a pomegranate vanilla cream (very tart!). The purple ones have a plain buttercream frosting and the green ones have matcha green tea buttercream frosting (I looooove matcha frosting).
My sister helped me make the decorations. There are lilypads, water lilies and hearts made from green and purple fondant, and some gummy frogs on the lilypads.
The water lilies didn't turn out quite the way I wanted, but I'm still pretty new at fondant decorations, so this was one of the most complex things I've tried yet. I think they turned out to be pretty flowers, but they don't exactly look like water lilies. I'll keep trying!!
As always, you can click on the picture to get a closer look.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
This was another unplanned what-do-we-have-in-the-freezer-this-morning bento. I used the six element formula that never lets me down: rice/meat/veggies/fruit/dumplings/dessert. Aside from the fruit and veggies, everything in the bento started its morning in the freezer.
For rice we have a few plain rice cubes and a ground chicken filled triangle onigiri. The meat is marinated lamb pieces (these were so wonderfully spicy and peppery!). There are three gyoza and a hidden bottle of rice vinegar/soy sauce dipping sauce, as well as broccoli, asparagus, sugar snaps, carrot hearts and snow peas for vegetables.
I put some slices of star fruit in the bentos, but BF had never had them before and ended up not liking them. Lots of berries as usual (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, cherries and strawberries) and a "midnight mint" square. I made a batch of them on the weekend. They're similar to a nanaimo bar but with a green mint filling. The trickiest part was cutting them into tiny bites without cracking the chocolate layer on top. I managed to cut about 15 before I gave up!
Although I didn't plan anything ahead of time, this bento was still really yummy and satisfying. The downside is that the ingredients aren't as creative and it's not the cutest, that's for sure. But when I'm feeling a little lazy in the morning and want a couple of extra minutes of sleep, it's nice to know I have a freezer with lots of great options for lunch!
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
About a month ago, I tried to make a symmetric bento with little success. Today I pulled it off and I didn't even plan to!
Today's theme was Bunnies in Love
We have two bunny onigiri with a ground chicken/hoisin sauce filling and sesame seed eyes. The heart is made of rolled omelette (tamagoyaki) and steamed spinach. There are three pork shu mai (I had to cut one in half and stack it to make it fit) and some silly pasta pieces (tossed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil). The veggies are broccoli, edamame skewers, snow peas and asparagus. The fruit was mostly berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries and can you spot the blackberries?) with a couple slices of kumquat.
For dessert, I tried something new and exciting - dessert sushi! Basically, I made it like regular sushi, but with a lot of substitutions. Instead of normal rice, I used coconut rice. I used lime juice and sugar instead of sushi vinegar and soy paper (mamenori) instead of nori. The filling is peach slices sprinkled with ginger.
I had a hard time getting it to stick together (mamenori is not very sticky to begin with and the coconut rice made it even harder to work with). BF had the brilliant idea to tie it closed with strips peeled from a stalk of rhubarb and it worked perfectly. I tied six strings around it, one to hold together each piece once it was cut.
It held up perfectly in the bento and was absolutely delicious. There were so many different flavours going on in each bite, I will definitely make this again!
Monday, June 02, 2008
Last night, I ate the best steak of my life. BF cooked it on the barbecue and it was so juicy and perfect. And it was huge! Big enough to feed the two of us and still have more than enough left over for bento. I ended up making it into rice paper rolls.
To make the steak rolls, I cut the steak into strips, cut some lettuce strips, julienned some carrot and grated a little cheddar cheese and then followed the same method as in my turkey roll recipe. They were so delicious!
Below the steak rolls I managed to squeeze in a few pieces of asparagus. On the left there is broccoli, sugar snaps, some steamed miso spinach, yellow zucchini, red pepper strips, a red bean onigiri and a boiled quail egg.
On the right there is the last mini cupcake from the batch I made on the weekend, a whole lot of berries (they were really cheap this weekend so I bought a ton - strawberries, blueberries, cherries, raspberries and blackberries), a few bites of fresh pineapple and half of a sliced apricot.
One of the things I love most about bento is that if you want to have unhealthy food (like steak and cupcakes!), it's really easy to build a healthy lunch around that and still indulge yourself. The tiny, controlled portions mean that you can enjoy a few treats without the mindless eating and overindulgence that comes with large portion sizes.