Saturday, December 13, 2008

Candy Cane Cupcakes

I feel like I've been making cookies all week, so I decided to take it easy today and make some cupcakes.

Here they are; candy cane cupcakes!
I'm not going to post the recipe because these were really simple. I took a vanilla cupcake recipe (makes 36 cupcakes) and crushed about a dozen candy canes and added it to the batter along with 1/2 tsp peppermint flavouring. I crushed the candy canes by putting them in a ziplock bag and hammering them with the bottom of a wine bottle for about three minutes before deciding that the food processor would be easier (which it was!).

The frosting is a plain, white buttercream with peppermint extract instead of vanilla. To get the red and green swirls, I 'striped' a disposable icing bag. Just use a small paint brush to paint a stripe of icing colours up the inside of the bag. I did one green stripe and one red stripe opposite the green. The only downside to using this method is that you have to use a new bag every time you need to refill. The last touch was to use cupcake cups with candy cane coloured stripes. They're made by Wilton.

Here's a picture of the inside of the cupcakes. The candy canes melted while the cupcake baked, leaving little flecks of colour and a mild minty flavor.

I think the trick with these is to make sure the mint is present but not overpowering. I think I managed a pretty good balance with a mildly minty cake and a stronger flavour (but not toothpaste strong!) in the frosting.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Two Types of Christmas Cupcakes + Recipes

Two Types of Christmas Cupcakes + RecipesChristmas baking is my favorite kind of baking.
I have a whole list of things I plan to make this year and all kinds of pretty boxes and cellophane to package it and give home baked gifts to friends.

For the past few weeks, I've been trying to wrack my brain for a way to include cupcakes in my holiday baking, given their relatively short shelf life compared to something like cookies which can be frozen and thawed as needed. I generally don't like to serve cupcakes past their second day.

So, in the end I decided to make cupcakes all month before Christmas and distribute wherever I see the opportunity, and save the traditional baking for the week before Christmas. I came up with three types of cupcakes that I want to make this Christmas, two of which I made yesteday.
BF has a "Christmas Dive" today, where he and his scuba diving buddies are actually decorating a tree underwater. And what is a Christmas party without cupcakes?
I decided to go with contrasting flavours; one light and airy, and one dense and rich. I made gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and eggnog cupcakes with eggnog and orange buttercream.

Wait, eggnog and orange?

I was amazed to discover that these two flavours combine so naturally and deliciously, like a spicy creamsicle. I was doing some Christmas shopping yesterday and stopped for a smoothie break and the holiday flavour they were serving was eggnog and mandarin. I was a bit apprehensive (I automatically thought it would be curdle-y) but decided to give it a shot and was instantly in love with this combo.

In keeping with the light and airy theme, I used blue snowflake cups and sprinkled the cupcakes with a little icing sugar to represent snow. I think they turned out beautiful and were incredibly fluffy.

For the gingerbread, I had wanted to use a whipped cream frosting, but since it would be about 5 hours between when they left the house and when they would be eaten, and BF wasn't sure he would be able to refrigerate them, I went with cream cheese frosting instead. Whipped cream shouldn't be left to sit out more than 1.5 hours max.

You can't see from this picture, but they're packed in adorable cupcake cups with gingerbread men on them (they're Wilton, but they're not on the site, so I can't link to them). I also found tiny gingerbread man shaped sprinkles at my local bulk food store.

BF brought both flavours to work yesterday as well. He said that people immediately went for the bright eggnog cupcakes, but that the people who were 'stuck' with the gingerbread ones ended up being really impressed by them. Despite their modest appearance, they are truly rich and delicious.

I expect I will end up making more of these before Christmas (I've already gone through two batches of the eggnog ones!), and I plan to make some candy cane cupcakes as well. I'll post pics and a recipe when I do!

On to the recipes! The eggnog cupcake recipe is adapted from the vanilla cupcake recipe I've cited many times. The gingerbread recipe is adapted from a recipe from

Recipe: Eggnog Cupcakes with Eggnog and Orange Buttercream Frosting

Makes about 3 dozen


1 cup butter (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
4 eggs separated (room temperature)
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups eggnog

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup shortening
4 cups icing sugar
1 tsp orange extract
6 Tbsp eggnog
Orange icing colouring (just a tiny bit!)
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line muffin tins.

In a large bowl, cream together first portion of butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 4 or 5 minutes). Add two egg yolks and mix for an additional minute. Add remaining egg yolks and mix for an additional minute.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Alternate between adding dry ingredients the eggnog to the butter mixture, a little bit at a time.

In small bowl, beat egg whites on high until stiff peaks form. With a rubber spatula, add about 1/2 cup of the egg whites to the mixture and fold in gently, to separate and lighten the batter. Add remaining egg whites and fold in gently until no white streaks are present.

Fill cupcake tins half full and bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing to a wire wrack. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

For the frosting, mix remaining butter and the shortening in a medium bowl until light and fluffy (about three minutes). Add orange extract and mix until combined. Add icing sugar a little at a time, mixing until combined after each addition. Once all of the icing sugar has been mixed in, add eggnog 1 Tbsp at a time until icing has reached desired consistency. Mix in a small amount of orange colouring to acheive a colour that will contrast with the white icing sugar dust, but is not too dark.

Frost cupcakes using a 1M tip to make a swirl and dust with icing sugar by placing a few tablespoons of icing sugar in a small strainer and gently tapping the side.

Recipe: Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe makes about 2 dozen cupcakes


1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup hot water

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
1 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups icing sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease or line muffin pan.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar and butter and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg for an additional minute, and mix in the molasses.
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Blend into the creamed mixture. Stir in the hot water.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 20-25, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing to a wire wrack. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

For the frosting, cream butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about three minutes. Add vanilla and mix. Add icing sugar and blend until consistency is uniform.

Frost cupcakes by piping a swirl with Wilton tip #2A. Garnish with sprinkles.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes with Pomegranate Frosting Recipe

For the past month I've been taking Wilton cake decorating classes at Michaels. I thought I could use some help learning how to pipe flowers. It's been pretty fun so far, my sister is taking them with me. We started course 2 yesterday and we finish course 1 on Monday. So far we've worked on how to assemble and frost a cake, transferring patterns onto a cake, piping stars and shells, and piping roses, rosettes, rosebuds and chrysanthemums. Next week is royal icing.

I've had to make a cake every week for the classes, so making cupcakes on top of that seemed excessive. Which is sad, given the quality of my class cakes. I've just been using cake mixes and they require you to use the Wilton recipe for the frosting (translation: Waaaaaaaayyyyy too much shortening and tasteless). The frosting tastes so terrible I'm almost embarassed to give them away but I do anyway because they wouldn't get eaten here. I think it's worth making a few terrible cakes to learn some new skills though, so I plan to take all of the courses.

My aunt is visiting this weekend, and as a regular reader of my blog, she requested cupcakes so I made a batch especially for her.

I'd been planning to make matcha cupcakes for a long time now. I've made matcha frosting successfully, and I wanted to see how it would work in the actual cake. I was going to make these for Halloween because of the freaky green colour, but I made a Wilton cake instead, lol.

The cupcakes themselves turned out dense and moist and not too sweet, and the green tea taste is really mild but nice. I'm happy with them. The frosting is a buttercream made with pomegranate molasses and it's incredible. Definitely one of the best I've made. The two flavours work together well. All in all these are some pretty yummy cakes!
Recipe: Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes with Pomegranate Frosting

Cupcakes (Makes approx. 15 cupcakes)


  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), room temperature
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 2 eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp matcha powder plus enough all-purpose flour to make 1 1/2 cups
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy (about 3 or 4 minutes). Add egg yolks one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Add vanilla and mix until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, matcha, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture, alternating with milk and mixing well after each addition.

In another bowl, beat egg whites with clean beaters until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into the cupcake batter until the colour of the batter is uniform.

Fill lined cupcake cups half full. Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until tests done with a toothpick.



  • 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup) at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 lb (500g) bag of icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
Cream together butter and shortening. Add vanilla, milk and molasses and mix well. Gradually add icing sugar. Add more milk if necessary.

Note: The pomegranate molasses turns the frosting an ugly shade of brown, so you may wish to add a little bit of red icing colouring for a frosting a little more reminiscent of pomegranate.

The flavour of this frosting is relatively mild. If you want to kick it up a notch with some sourness, I recommend drizzling a little more of the pomegranate molasses on top of each cupcake.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thanksgiving Turkey Cupcakes

These were so much fun to make!

For Canadians, this was Thanksgiving day weekend. I hadn't made cupcakes for a week or two, so I went all out for this one!
I don't usually go to this much trouble to decorate cupcakes, but when I saw this idea in the book Hello Cupcake! I couldn't resist.

The cupcakes are pumpkin pie flavoured. I picked this flavour because it's a good traditional Thanksgiving flavour and because BF is allergic to it, so now that he's out of the country for a bit it's one of the few chances I have to make it (although of course I would rather have him back than all the pumpkin cupcakes in the world). They turned out perfect! So moist and fluffy, I was really pleased. The recipe is from Crazy About Cupcakes and it's basically a regular golden cupcake recipe with less milk and 1 1/2 cups of pureed pumpkin and lots of spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves). They were so good!

The tricky part was getting the same number of regular cupcakes and mini cupcakes. I basically just filled the muffin pans one cake at a time. It was a little nerve wracking though, because since I had exactly the same number of small cupcakes and regular cupcakes (the recipe made 20 of each), I couldn't eat one before decorating to test them out. This is the first time I've ever served something to people that I haven't tested myself so I was a bit scared, but luckily they turned out great.

The frosting is just a plain vanilla buttercream, spread on with a spatula rather than piped. The eyes are piped frosting.

For his tail feathers, I used maple cookies that are pretty common around here. They're sandwich cookies like Oreos, so I just split them in half and scraped off the frosting with the back of a butter knife. I think they turned out really pretty because they're such a nice shape for feathers. On each one, there are three pieces of candy corn attached with frosting. The nose is also made of candy corn, with a waddle cut from a piece of Fruit-by-the-foot.

For added decoration I used some cute Wilton autumn cupcake cups and rolled the cupcakes in some sprinkles (before the rest of the decorations of course).

I'm really pleased with how they turned out and they weren't nearly as difficult or time consuming as I would have expected. My sister helped out too so we were done really quickly. They were definitely a hit!

Friday, October 03, 2008


Hi Folks,

It's been a bit of a crazy week so I haven't been making bento lunches or posting.

BF was offered an opportunity to go the the Phillipines for the next couple of months. We weren't given much warning, so the last week has been pretty hectic while he gets ready to go.

I thought it was important to let everyone here know because, given that he's the one I make the bento lunches for, it means I won't have anything to post for the little while. I expect to be going back to work in the next couple of weeks though, so I'll be making bentos for myself then.

In the meantime of course, I will continue to post the cupcakes I make (I'll have to find new people to eat them!)

So I do apologize for the lack of bento lunch posts. I'm pretty excited though about everything that's going on around here. Positive change is a good thing. Although I will miss him a lot!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cherry and Almond Cupcakes Recipe

I've wanted to make these cupcakes for about a week now but I had a tough time finding a recipe for cherry cupcakes that used maraschino cherries and wasn't chocolate. In the end I wound up adapting a vanilla cupcake recipe myself. They turned out incredible! These are might just be the best cupcakes I've ever made. They are incredibly moist and fluffy andthe different flavours are strong but not overpowering.

Recipe: Cherry Cupcakes with Almond Frosting


1 cup butter (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
4 eggs separated (room temperature)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
2/3 cup marashino cherry juice
1 10oz jar of marashino cherries, finely chopped

1/2 cup salted butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 lb bag of icing sugar
2 tsp almond extract
4 to 5 Tbsp cold milk

1/2 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line muffin tins. Recipe makes about 3 dozen cupcakes.

In a large bowl, cream together first portion of butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about 4 or 5 minutes). Add two egg yolks and mix for an additional minute. Add remaining egg yolks and mix for an additional minute. Add vanilla and almond extracts and mix in.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, combine milk and marashino cherry juice. Alternate between adding dry ingredients and liquid ingredients to the butter mixture, a little bit at a time.

Fold in chopped cherries.

In small bowl, beat egg whites on high until stiff peaks form. With a rubber spatula, add about 1/2 cup of the egg whites to the mixture and fold in gently, to separate and lighten the batter. Add remaining egg whites and fold in gently until no white streaks are present.

Fill cupcake tins half full and bake for 22 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean. Allow cupcakes to cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing to a wire wrack. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

For the frosting, mix remaining butter and the shortening in a medium bowl until light and fluffy (about three minutes). Add almond extract and mix until combined. Add icing sugar a little at a time, mixing until combined after each addition. Once all of the icing sugar has been mixed in, add milk 1 Tbsp at a time until icing has reached desired consistency.

In a dry frying pan, toast almond slices over medium heat until they become fragrant and turn light brown. Keep the almonds moving and flip frequently so that they don't burn.

Pipe a swirl of frosting on each cupcake using a Wilton 1M tip. Place three or four toasted almond slices on each.

Here's a picture of the inside so you can see the pretty pink colour. Somehow I managed to cut this one where there were no cherries, but in general, there were a lot of cherries in each cupcake. You may decide you want to add more though.

Friday, September 26, 2008

September 26th Bento Lunch

I've had a bunch of early morning dentist appointments this week, so I haven't been around to make bento lunches. Poor BF has been eating food court food. Today I was home though so he got a home packed lunch.

On my trip to the grocery store yesterday, it seemed that the store had transitioned overnight from light summer foods to autumn foods. What immediately caught my eye was a bin of fresh chestnuts. When I got home, I went through my Japanese cookbooks for a chestnut recipe. In Japanese Cooking - A Simple Art, I found a recipe for chestnut rice (kuri gohan) that was described as "as autumnal in Japan as pumpkin pie is in America". BF is allergic to pumpkin pie, so I immediately wanted to make this in the hopes that it it would be a nice fall food for him although I made it in onigiri form rather than served hot.

To prepare the chestnuts, they should be soaked for two hours to soften the shell. The shell can then be cut off and the inner layer of skin can then be removed from the nut. It's a painstaking process to peel off the inner layer, but it removes any bitterness.

I made the rice by combining 3/4 cup rice, 5 chestnuts cut into sixths and 1/4 tsp salt in the rice cooker. The onigiri is filled with a little lotus seed white bean paste.

For protein there are some breaded pork strips that have been fried in a little oil as well as two gyoza.

The vegetables include steamed broccoli, asparagus and sugar snaps, as well as julienned carrot that has been fried in a little sesame oil and wrapped into bundles with chives.

For the first time in months, I couldn't get my hands on any blueberries. I think this may be the very first bento lunch I've ever made without them. I lucked out though because they had miniature kiwis instead which are about the same size. They're called grape kiwis and they don't have furry skin so you don't have to peel them. I like to cut them in half so that you can see the seeds inside.

I also included a few raspberries and slices of a pepino melon, which is a small melon (about the size of pear) with a thin rind that can either be peeled or eaten. In this case I left it on to protect the dumplings from the moisture of the fruit.

For dessert I included half of a dorayaki pancake sandwich (recipe is here) although it was probably overkill given that I also packed a dozen cupcakes up to take with him. I'll post pictures of them as soon as I get the recipe typed up.

Monday, September 22, 2008

September 22nd Bento Lunch

A note to my readers: Hi Everyone! I've been starting to feel like my blog has only been covering a small part of my kitchen adventures and as a result, it's been slipping away from its focus of bento lunches and cupcakes (muffin post, anyone?) because I want to share so much of what I create in the kitchen with all of you. So rather than fill this blog with all kinds of other stuff, I've decided to start a second blog. That way, if you want to see bento lunches and cupcakes, there's no other 'filler' here, but if you're interested in finding out about the other foods I've been exploring, it's all online for you to see.

My new blog is here:, and there's a link to it in the right sidebar of this blog too. I'll also be linking back to it from here from time to time if I put a food in a lunch for which the recipe isn't very 'bento'.

Hopefully this works well and isn't too confusing. Basically, everything will continue as per normal on this blog, but there is a second blog if you would like to check out additional content. Enjoy!

Okay, on to today's lunch!!!

No Japanese food today! Today's bento lunch was mostly made of leftovers from last nights very North American supper.

The main component of the bento is BF's amazing chili. He makes it from scratch in the slow cooker and it has everything from sausage to lamb pieces to okra to peppers. And it's super spicy! He made a tonne, so we'll be eating it for a couple of days. The thermal bento really came in handy for this.

In the larger side container are hearts cut out of cornbread I made last night (recipe is here) and a few pieces of steamed broccoli and sugar snaps. This is one of the very few times I used a plastic food divider in a bento lunch and that is because I don't want the natural moisture of the vegetables to make the cornbread soggy in parts. Generally I don't include bread products in a bento lunch, so this usually isn't an issue.

I cut the cornbread into small hearts so that BF can easily mix them into his chili if he likes. The dark hearts are cut from the bottom of the cornbread and the light hearts are cut from the tops (right now I'm snacking on the pieces left over from where I cut out the hearts. Yummy!)

I added the veggies mainly for color this time. Because there are so many vegetables in the chili, I think the lunch would have been balanced just fine without the additional greens.

In the small container is some apple crisp, also from last night (recipe is here) and placed in a silicone muffin cup, as well as some strawberry slices and blueberries.

This is definitely a heavier lunch than I typically make, but BF is working late tonight, so I think he will appreciate it.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Honey and Peanut Cupcakes

Here are some cupcakes I made earlier in the week.I followed this recipe almost exactly. The cupcake is a chiffon cake base sweetened with honey rather than sugar and with a layer of salted peanuts inside. The frosting is a cream cheese base, also sweetened with honey (as if the icing sugar doesn't sweeten it enough, right?) with chopped and salted peanuts on top.

The cupcake itself was a little on the dry side. I think that the baking time given in the recipe is too long. Next time I think I would cut it down to 19-20 minutes.

The frosting, on the other hand, is incredible. It is one of the most delicious frostings I have tried and is definitely the best cream cheese frosting recipe I've used, in terms of taste and how well it pipes. Often cream cheese frosting is too soft to hold its shape when piped, but this frosting holds a soft, delicate shape without losing the cream cheese taste and texture.

The concept is wonderful. The sweetness of the cupcakes combined with the saltiness of the peanuts is to die for. This is a great way to spice up an otherwise ordinary cupcake.

Overall, I would definitely make this style of cupcake again, but would most likely try a different cake recipe.

Friday, September 19, 2008

September 19th Bento Lunches

I couldn't resist using the new bento boxes today.

Please excuse the picture, I haven't figured out the best angles for these bento boxes yet and I was really rushing to get the pictures done so that the food didn't get cold before I had a chance to close the containers. In the thermal container we have lamb panang curry and rice. The picture was taken before I put the rice in BF's lunch so that you can see that there is in fact curry in there. I put the rice on top rather than on the bottom or mixing it in so that it acts as an insulator, keeping the curry hot a little longer.

I used this recipe, substituting store bought curry paste rather than making my own and adding shallots and sweet potatoes for vegetables, as well as some sliced fresh kaffir lime leaves for flavour. It was good but not great, so I will post a new recipe when I find one that I like better.

Panang curries are meant to be drier than red or green curry, in case you're wondering why it looks like mush rather than soup. I think the fact that I cut the sweet potato slices into pretty flowers was completely lost by how thick the curry turned out.

In the first smaller container there are two gyoza, a few pieces of asparagus, broccoli and sugar snaps all placed in a circle. In the center of the circle are some carrot flowers. all of the vegetables are steamed.

In the second small container are half of a tangerine, a strawberry cut into slices and a couple of blueberries.

I really enjoyed figuring out how to fill the small containers. They're a bit deeper than a regular bento box, so you can stand things like dumplings up on their ends. I think they're really pretty in their simplicity, which is a wonderful thing.

The thermal container did not disappoint!

I made the bentos at 8am this morning and at 1pm this afternoon when I opened it, the curry was a perfect temperature. It wasn't piping hot of course, but it was warm and delicious. I also really enjoyed eating out of the thermal container because it sits in your palm like a rice bowl unlike a regular bento box which I find is better suited to leaving on the table in front of you. Also, because you have to leave about an inch of the container empty for the deep lid, there's lots of room to mix the rice and curry together.

All in all, I'm really happy with this bento box. Everyone should have get a thermal lunch set for the winter!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Thermal Bento Boxes!

I had been eyeing these bento boxes for a long time. Almost for as long as I've been making bento lunches. Somehow though, I couldn't justify the expense because they were quite a bit pricier than any of our other bento boxes.

Then I discovered Thai curries.

I haven't been able to get the image of having hot Thai curries for lunch on a cold winter's day for about three weeks now. And I know it's not exactly winter yet, but it's best to get prepared early, right?

So I finally bit the bullet and ordered these two gorgeous Zojirushi thermal bento sets from ebay (They're available on as well but they don't ship to Canada). They arrived today and I am thrilled with them.
The blue set is mine and the black set is for BF. Each set includes a thermal container with a removable plastic liner. To use it, pour boiling water straight into the metal outside container and let it sit for two minutes to heat up. Then pour out the water, insert the plastic liner, fill it with hot food. and put the lid on it.

There are also two smaller side dish containers, each of which have wonderfully snug fitting lids, a carrying case, as well as a set of plastic chopsticks in a case. The chopsticks have textured tips to help you get a better grip on your food.

Here's a front view so you can see the difference in size. The blue set holds 640ml and the black set holds 820ml which are the perfect size for BF and I. There is a green set in the series as well which is even smaller. The insides of the containers have clear guidelines to help you avoid overfilling them.

Here they are, packed in their bags. The bags are made from nylon and are not thermal. There's a little pocket in the strap for the chopstick case and a drawstring closure at the top. The containers fit into these bags perfectly, there is no room for anything extra.
One neat feature about these lunch sets is that when you've eaten your lunch and the containers are empty, you can compact them to about half of their size. The two small containers nest inside the larger containers with the lids on top. There is a drawstring that you pull on the side to make the bag smaller, and a second snap on the handle of the bag to lock everything in place. I think this will be useful for BF who often goes to play sports straight after work, so that it won't take up much room in his gym bag.

Overall, I'm extremely impressed with the quality of these lunch sets. I can't wait to start using them!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Organizing Your Recipes

This isn't a bento or cupcake post, but I wanted to share this idea with you because I think it's a safe bet that most of the people who read my blog use the internet as a resource for creative food ideas and recipes.

Previously, I would get an idea in my head of what I want to make, search the internet for a recipe, print it out, take it to the kitchen and start cooking. If it was a dud, I'd throw out the paper when I was done. If it was really good, the paper would usually just sit on my counter for a bit or maybe on top of the fridge or microwave, getting shuffled around (and occasionally thrown out) whenever I cleaned up. So at any given time I would know I have an awesome recipe for cornbread somewhere, but I couldn't always find it in a pinch.

So it was definitely time to get organized.

This system was recommended to me by someone on one of the forums I frequent, and I'm really impressed with how simple it was and how nice the end result is. I tried to give really detailed instructions on how to set it up the way I did. Hopefully that won't make people think it's complicated because it's not, it's really easy.

To get started, you will need:

  • A nice binder
  • A package of sheet protectors
  • A package of dividers
  • Paper
  • Access to a colour printer
  • Document editing software (I use MS Office 2007)

Keep in mind that this binder will probably be spending a lot of time in your kitchen so choose items that will be okay if they get splashed with water or spatter from your mixer (that's why we're using sheet protectors). Avoid fabric binders and use dividers made from plastic rather than paper if you can.

The system is simple. Start a Word document and set it up to format your recipes the way you like. I used a preset theme in Word (called Verve) that set up font formatting for everything from the title of each recipe to the ingredient lists.

To set up your theme in Word 2007, click the Page Layout tab, and you will see the themes in the top left. Select the one you like, click on it and then click the Home tab. If you look at the bottom of the "Styles" box (over towards the right), you'll see a little arrow. Click on that and a new window opens next to your document listing the different types of texts (like Title, Subtitle, Heading, Normal Text, etc). Now you just need to highlight words and click on something in that list to format your document.

When I find a new recipe that I want to hang on to, I start a new page, click "Title", type in the title of the recipe and paste in a picture (Either one I've taken myself, or I do a Google image search to find something suitable). The pictures are really handy because they let you find recipes quickly and if, for example, BF wanted me to make something but didn't know what it was called, he can just find the picture of it.

Below the picture, I just copy/paste the recipe. The formatting is simple. I highlight the words "Ingredients" and "Directions" and click on "Heading 1" to tell Word what type of text it is so that it can format it correctly (bold pink text). I highlight the ingredients and click on "List Paragraph" to put it in bullet point form. Next I highlight the directions and click "Normal" to change the font and spacing to match the rest of my recipe book. Lastly, I go under page layout and select Page -> Page Break so that the next time I go to enter a recipe, I start on a new page.

After that, I might set up the text into columns or shift things around a little so that a long recipe fits on one page, but overall, the whole process takes less than a minute per recipe and all of the recipes are uniform in appearance and clear and easy to read.

Print out the pages of the recipes you've just added and figure out how you want to organize your binder.

I'm using six dividers labeled "Proteins", "Complex Carbs", "Dumplings", "Vegetables", "Fruits", "Desserts" and "Soups" because that's how I think about food and plan my meals. You can use any categories you like though.

Next, put the pages in the sheet protectors in the order you like. I include two sheets in each protector, one facing in each direction. I put the recipes in each section in alphabetical order and if I have a recipe that takes two pages, it has its own divider. By having each recipe on its own page, I'm able to move things around easily when I add new recipes so that I can keep everything in order.

Now whenever I find a new recipe, I can just add it to the document and print out any new recipes whenever I get a chance, to keep my binder up to date.

I've included pictures of a few sample pages for you to check out. Just click on them to get a closer look. I also threw together a quick title page and a label for the spine of the binder.

Monday, September 15, 2008

September 15th Bento Lunch

I managed to get up at a reasonable hour this morning, so I had time to put together this bento lunch.
The main dishes are the onigiri and pieces of honey glazed roasted duck leg, both of which I made yesterday. The onigiri are filled with a mixture of bonito flakes and soy sauce and wrapped with little nori strips.

The recipe I used for the duck is from the book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen (in the carousel on the left side of this blog). It's time consuming to make, but it's such an amazing recipe that I don't mind taking the time once in a while.

The duck is first marinated for 15 minutes in a mixture of sake, salt and ginger juice. I then added the marinated to the water in my steamer and steamed the duck leg for 25 minutes, to make it soft and juicy inside.

The glaze is made from a combination of ginger, garlic, sherry, Chinese 5-spice powder, honey, salt and soy sauce that is heated to boiling and then and pressed through a sieve to remove the garlic pieces and make it smooth.

The duck is roasted in the oven at 425 degrees for a further 35 minutes in order to crisp up the outside. The glaze is brushed on and then it is roasted another 5 minutes, followed by another coat of glaze and another 5 minutes of roasting time.

The dipping sauce is made by reheating the leftover glaze and mixing in some hoisin sauce for added thickness and sweetness. (There's a container of dipping sauce hidden under the kumquat slices).

I also made lotus root kinpara this morning by peeling and slicing about 2" of lotus root which is then soaked in cold water. Drain and saute in a bit of canola oil for a couple of minutes. Add a mixture of 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp mirin and cook for three more minutes, then drain.

I like the sweet crunch of this dish. I think lotus root goes well with a small serving of rice like the one in this bento, because with the lotus root's starchy, potato-like texture, the two foods together make up the main carb component of the lunch.

I included two gyoza with a bottle of dipping sauce tucked underneath. For veggies, there are steamed asparagus, broccoli, sugar snaps and snow peas. For fruit, I included some honey kiwi flowers and of course, blueberries.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cherry Cheesecake Brownie Cupcakes Recipe

The double dulce de leche cupcakes disappeared in about two minutes, and I got yet another cupcake idea last night, so I ended up making more this afternoon. At any given time I have a list in my head of at least four or five recipes I want to try, so maybe I bake too many cupcakes, but it's either that or fall behind! Although I got a lead on a good chocolate chip cookie recipe today, so I suspect that I'm no further ahead.

These cupcakes were inspired by a recipe for cherry cheesecake brownies that my Dad used to make when I was little. Don't let their humble appearance fool you. These cupcakes are dense, moist and packed with flavour. They're topped with a fudge frosting so rich that you only need a thin layer on top rather than a big swirl. Really, they don't need frosting at all.Here's the recipe. You should definitely try them!

One quick note about the recipe: I was running out of butter and cocoa towards the end of this, so I just threw together the frosting out of what I had. Feel free to use a different recipe, I just included this one for completeness.

Recipe: Cherry Cheesecake Brownie Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Makes approximately two dozen cupcakes


Brownie Batter:
  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cherry Filling:
  • 1 8oz package of cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup maraschino cherries (chopped)
Chocolate Fudge Frosting
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 (1 oz) squares unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 lb icing sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa
  • 4 Tbsp milk
To make the brownie batter, first melt the butter. Add ingredients in the order listed, mixing until combined after each addition. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl before adding to the liquid mixture.

In another bowl, beat cream cheese and 1 egg with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (about three minutes). Add sugar and flour and stir until combined. Mix in cherries.

To assemble cupcakes, first put a small spoonful of brownie batter into each cup. The batter will raise while baking, so you only need enough to cover the bottom of the cups. Use a small spatula to spread the batter out to the edges of the bottom of the cup.

Spoon a generous tablespoon of cherry filling into each cup. If you have any left over filling, you can fill any empty spots in your muffin tin with it. Its not exactly a cupcake, but it tastes good.

Top with another spoonful of brownie batter. Using a spatula, gently spread brownie batter out to the edges of the cupcake cup so that the cherry filling is completely covered (add more batter if required). The cups should be about 3/4 full.

Bake for 23 to 25 minutes. Cupcakes are done when the top center of each cupcake is cooked.

To make frosting, melt butter and chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted and smooth.

Place icing sugar, cocoa and 2 Tbsp of milk in a large bowl. Add melted butter and chocolate and mix until smooth and uniform. Add remaining milk until the frosting reaches the desired consistency. Lightly frost the cupcakes using a smooth spatula or butter knife.

Here is a picture of what the cupcakes look like inside. As you can see, the batter rises up in the middle, while the cheesecake filling stays the same size, so it makes a stripe across the inside of the cupcake.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Double Dulce de Leche Cupcakes

Fall is almost here.

I've been in a bit of denial about it. I've been wearing tank tops despite the slight chill in the air. I've seen leaves on the ground twice while walking down the street in the past few days and both times I convinced myself that they must have been there since last Fall.

Foolish right? Well today I decided to give in. I'm still wearing a tank top, but the cupcakes I baked today are a tribute to the chilly season. I put aside the fresh fruit and light ingredients and traded them for dark chocolate and creamy dulce de leche. These are the richest, most decadent cupcakes I've ever made.
I call them Double Dulce de Leche. The cupcake itself is chocolate, made using the "Rich Chocolate Cupcakes" recipe from the book Crazy About Cupcakes. They are filled with premade dulce de leche (President's Choice brand, for all you Canadians out there) and filled using the method I used last time, removing a 'plug' of cake from the middle, piping in the filling and replacing the plug.

For those who aren't familiar, dulce de leche is a luxurious type of creamy caramel made from whole milk. It's delicious on everything from cake, to ice cream, to apple slices.

The frosting is a fluffy vanilla buttercream with more dulce de leche drizzled on top.

I cut one in half to show you the filling inside. As you can see, the seams from where the cake plug was removed are barely visible (I've never had anyone even mention that they noticed it while eating a cupcake filled this way), the filling is nicely centered and the amount of filling is controlled. Yummy!

Friday, September 05, 2008

September 5th Bento Lunch

It's funny because today's bento looks like I was being lazy, but really I put more effort into this one than I usually do.

I like to make yakiudon on Fridays because by Friday I'm starting to run short on bento ideas and produce, and it's kind of junky so I think it adds a bit of fun to BF's day too.
Last time I made fried noodles, I wasn't happy about how the lunch turned out as a whole. Two many of the foods were soy sauce based or fried, so overall, the lunch was too salty and one dimensional. This time I tried to correct that, and I think I did a good job. I spent quite a bit of time this morning mixing sauces and measuring out ingredients though.

For a salty, soy flavored dish, I made stewed konbu seaweed, on the right hand side of the bottom tier. This was one of those dishes that I thought I wouldn't enjoy since I don't care for fish flavours but I was proven wrong. It has a really mild flavour and the texture is really nice.

To prepare stewed konbu, you first rinse it off and let it soak in cold water until it softens up a little. I used 15 grams of seaweed and 3/4 cup of water and that made enough for three bento lunches. Once it's soft, add 2 tsp vinegar, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp mirin, 1 Tbsp sake and 1 Tbsp sugar and boil for 15 minutes. Remove the seaweed from the pot and cut into thin strips. Return it to the pot and boil for 3 more minutes. Drain.

Next, for the yakiudon, I made a light tasting sauce with ginger and lemon flavors. I mixed the following ingredients for the sauce:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp sake

I sauteed some shredded cabbage, grated carrot and chopped green onion in canola oil for about 3 minutes, and then threw in some shredded cooked chicken thigh meat and the sauce and sauteed a little more. Lastly, I added the cooked noodles and sauteed until the noodles were coated in sauce.

It turned out delicious. One pack of udon noodles completely filled the top tier of the bento.

For a little more protein, I fried two pork shu mai in a nonstick pan. I omitted the oil since there was already a fried dish.

For some bite, I made a dressing for the asparagus by mixing white miso, mustard, a little white vinegar, sugar, nanami togarashi (Japanese chili powder) and salt. I adapted a recipe from the book Bento Boxes, Japanese Meals on the Go to come up with this combination. After the asparagus was steamed, I put the dressing on it (sparingly). The sauce has some serious bite to it! It worked really well, a bland but flavorful piece of asaparagus with a really sharp sauce.

There are, of course, some steamed broccoli and sugar snaps. And for fruit there are strawberries, blueberries and honey tangerine.

I really feel that with this one, I did an excellent job of coming up with lots of different flavours that compliment each other and create a balanced meal. It's balanced in terms of flavour, in terms of ratio of simple carbs to complex carbs to protein, in terms of fried foods to fresh/stewed foods and in terms of getting all the necessary nutrients/food groups in a single meal. Despite it's modest appearance, I think this is one of my best bento lunches yet.

And next time that I use these recipes, I'll be sure to make the sauces in advance in order to save time!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

September 4th Bento Lunch

BF was pretty grumpy this morning, so I decided to break out the big guns for his bento today - unagi nigiri sushi.

Unagi is Japanese for eel. You can buy it from the freezer section of your Asian grocer already barbecued with kabayaki sauce (similar to teriyaki sauce. I'm not actually sure what the difference is). It just needs to be toasted in the oven to reheat it and then cut into slices. And it's BF's favorite food.

Unagi is one of the few traditional types of sushi I'm comfortable putting in a bento lunch because the meat is cooked. Other types include tamago (egg), avocado and any fruit or veggie roll. I'm not comfortable using raw fish in a meal that sits at room temperature all morning (and BF has been known to get too busy to eat until even later in the day) both for health reasons and because raw fish should be served fresh, anything else doesn't do it justice.

I tucked a foil cup of pickled ginger in the top left corner and a restaurant pack of soy sauce on the side (this bento box doesn't have a little shelf on the top to hide things like that). I couldn't think of a way to include wasabi that didn't take up much space or make a mess. Does anyone have any ideas?

Below the sushi there are three gyoza and some steamed sugar snaps. I like to include dumplings with sushi because both contain a combination of carbs and protein. I like to either have one main carb and one main protein, or two items that have both, and sushi and dumplings are a perfect combination!

Above the sushi there is some steamed gai lon with dried cranberries, as well as some carrot flowers that I boiled for two minutes, just enough to soften the outside.

Beneath the sushi there are a few piece of steamed asparagus and three thin slices of kumquat to add a bit of bite. For fruit there was only room for berries today, strawberries and blueberries.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Peanut Butter and Jam Cupcakes

Marlena over at The Repressed Pastry Chef is an incredible baker. So when she said she had found the best plain cake recipe of all time, I definitely took notice. When she tried this recipe, she made Napoleon cupcakes. I decided to make peanut butter and jam cupcakes out of mine.

The recipe for the cake is here. All in all, I think it's a good recipe, the cakes turned out really light and fluffy, but I think I prefer the golden cupcakes recipe from the book Crazy About Cupcakes which I used last time. For some reason, whenever I make recipes using cake flour instead of all purpose flour, they come out a little on the dry side. I wonder if I'm doing something wrong.

The cupcakes as a whole came out awesome though. Definitely some of the best ones I've made and they disappeared in a hurry. Seriously, I barely got a picture of these three. The recipe made three dozen regular cupcakes and a dozen minis, and I only have ten cupcakes left an hour after making them. I took some to my Mom's office, BF took some in to work and the neighbours stopped by for a couple. That's really good though, I'd much rather give them away while they're fresh than have them get stale.

The frosting is a peanut butter buttercream, here is the recipe:

1/2 cup butter (salted, room temperature)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 large bag of icing sugar (500g)
5 1/2 Tbsp milk

Beat butter and peanut butter on low until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Alternate adding icing sugar about 3/4 cup at a time, and adding milk 1 Tbsp at a time, beating until combined after each addition. You may need more or less milk to get a nice consistency. The frosting is pale in colour, so add a little brown icing colouring to it if you want it to be the colour of peanut butter.

The filling is a half and half mixture of vanilla custard (using BF's secret recipe) and raspberry jam.

I had a really tough time filling these cupcakes. I tried to pipe it in but I couldn't seem to get enough filling in each cupcake, and then when I tried squeezing harder, the icing bag blew up and I had raspberry filling all over the place. Luckily it only got all over four of the cupcakes. I couldn't help but laugh.

After that didn't work, what I ended up doing was to use a 1" round cookie cutter to punch a circle into the top of the cupcake about an inch deep. I slid a knife under the circle and popped it out. I sliced a small layer off the bottom of the section I pulled out, spooned about 1 tsp of the filling into the cupcake, and replaced the section I had cut out. It was actually surprisingly fast to do once I got going, and each cupcake was perfectly filled. The frosting hid the seam of where I had replaced the plug.

I'm really happy with how these ones turned out, and would definitely make them again!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

September 2nd Bento Lunch & Poached Tamarillo Recipe

BF and I found an amazing Thai restaurant this weekend. It was so good we went two days in a row! (For my Halifax readers, check out Chabaa Thai on Queen St., near the Italian Market).

We had leftovers that we brought home, so when I was making bento this morning, I asked BF, "Do you want curry or pad Thai in your bento?"

His response: "Can't I have both?"

Sure, why not?

On the left side of the divider is a foil cup of masaman beef curry from the restaurant, made with beef, sweet potato chunks and onions. It is phenomenal, it's the first time I've ever tasted beef that literally melts in your mouth, it's so soft. So, as I'm sure you can imagine, learning to make an amazing masaman curry is near the top of my ever-changing list of cooking goals at the moment.

Masaman curry paste is used in Thai cooking, but it actually contains a lot of Indian flavours like cinnamon and cardamom, so it's a very different taste from green or red curry paste. It's definitely my new favorite.

Surrounding the curry, we have some rice. I used long grain white rice instead of the short grain that I usually use, since that is what is traditionally served with Thai food. There are a couple of steamed zucchini acorns on top of the rice for decoration.

On the right hand side of the divider, there is a foil cup of pad Thai, along with some steamed broccoli and asparagus, as well as boiled edamame. For fruit there are blueberries and poached tamarillo (recipe given below), and for dessert there is a daifuku filled with taro jam. Without a doubt, this is the softest mochi I've ever eaten, it's not chewy at all. I don't know the brand name because it's written in Japanese, so here's a picture of the box that it comes in. If you see it at the store, I definitely recommend picking it up. They make lots of different flavours, which I can't wait to try.

This morning I made poached tamarillo. It takes longer than most bento foods should (about 20 minutes) so I don't recommend this when you're in a hurry, but it's has a really interesting flavour if you have the time to make it. You can also make this the night before and refrigerate. The sourness of the tamarillo contrasts with the sweetness of the syrup and the texture of the fruit is incredibly smooth, smoother than any other fruit I can think of. It's really delicious, but I find the flavour is so powerful that I can only eat a few bites of it, which is why I think it's a perfect bento food.

I thought I would share the recipe, since when I first saw a tamarillo I had no idea what to do with it, so I'm guessing that there are lots of other people in the same boat.

Recipe: Poached Tamarillo with Cherry Syrup


  • Tamarillo
  • Sugar
  • Water
  • Slice of Orange Peel
  • Cherry Brandy

Quantities are easily adjusted depending on how many tamarillos you wish to poach.

1. Blanch the tamarillo by plunging it into boiling water for 10 seconds and then plunging into ice water for 10 seconds. Remove the peel (it should come off easily now).

2. Combine 1 part sugar to two parts of water and bring to a boil. For one tamarillo, I use 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup water and boil in the smallest pot I have so that it covers the tamarillo.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer and add tamarillo and a slice of orange rind (If you don't have orange rind, you can add orange extract at the same time as the cherry brandy). Poach for 6 minutes if it is very ripe, or 8 minutes if it is not. If the liquid doesn't entirely cover the tamarillo, poach with the pot covered and turn the tamarillo over halfway through cooking.

4. If you're not in a hurry, allow the tamarillo to cool in the syrup, and then remove the tamarillo before proceeding to the next step. If you're like me and are always in a hurry, place the tamarillo and half of the liquid in a bowl, and cover it so that the tamarillo doesn't lose moisture as it cools. Place the pot containing the other half of the liquid back on the stove.

5. Add 1 1/2 Tbsp cherry brandy per cup of water you originally used in the syrup to the liquid in the pot.

5. Boil it down for 7 to 10 minutes until you have a syrup of the consistency you like. I like a light syrup, but if you prefer a heavy syrup, boil it for longer.

6. Allow the syrup to cool.

7. Slice tamarillo and put it in a small container for your bento. Pour syrup over it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Creamsicle Cupcakes

I decided to make some simple creamsicle cupcakes this weekend. There lots of ways you can make these (last time I made homemade marshmallow topping using this recipe), but I was feeling kind of lazy this time. And to be honest, my main motivation was to work on getting one step closer to finding the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe (If I ever find it, I'll be sure to post it!). I'm definitely getting closer.

These cupcakes turned out really delicious. For me, a good cupcake should have three qualities: Fluffy cake, Frosting that is either light and fluffy or deep and rich, and amazing flavor. I managed to pull off all three with this one.

For these cupcakes, I used the recipe for golden cupcakes from the book Crazy About Cupcakes and added 2 Tbsp orange extract and about 1/2 tsp orange rind to get a light creamsicle flavour. It's definitely one of the best cake recipes I've used yet. It manages to make a dense, cakey cupcake that is still light and fluffy.

The frosting is a vanilla buttercream, also with orange extract added (I think about 2 Tbsp, I just went by taste).
I split the frosting into two parts and coloured half orange using Wilton icing colour. To get the swirl effect, you add the frosting to the icing bag one spoonful at a time, alternating between colours and pressing the spoon to opposite sides of the bag as you go, so that you have an icing bag that is full of orange frosting on one side and white on the other. You get the best results by adding small spoonfuls, especially at the narrow end of the bag. As usual, I just used a Wilton 1M tip to make big swirls.

Luckily the recipe made three dozen because they've been disappearing fast!!

Friday, August 29, 2008

August 29th Bento Lunch

I felt like making sushi this morning so making bento took quite a bit longer than usual. I was about halfway done when I realized that everything was green and yellow! Oh well, I'm sure it will still get eaten.

I made a sweet, fruit sushi today. For sweet sushi, I use 3 Tbsp of lime juice heated with 1 Tbsp sugar (to make it dissolve) instead of sushi vinegar. I also use mamenori soy wrappers instead of nori. I have to say though, it's much tougher to get this sushi to stick together than regular sushi. It's so pretty and yummy though, that I don't mind making it once in a while.

This time I used mango and avocado as fillings. I know that seems like a bit of a strange combination, but trust me, it's delicious and the texture is amazingly smooth.

First I removed the rind from the mango and the avocado, and cut very thin, flexible slices from the top of the fruit. I cut the remain fruit into strips. I rolled the fruit strips into a regular inside out maki roll and then placed the slices over the seam and rolled it again to make everything stay together. I'm really happy with how these turned out, there is so much fruit in them! I mixed up the pieces and turned them on their sides because it looks more fun than when they're all orderly.

For protein today, I made teriyaki chicken. This is really simple to do from scratch. I used two chicken thighs for BF's bento (I would only use one for mine). Here's what you do:

The night before

  • Slice chicken thighs in half
  • Place in a small ziplock bag with 1 Tbsp each of mirin, soy sauce and sugar
  • Refrigerate overnight

In the morning

  • Remove chicken from the bag and fry in a bit of oil on medium heat until browned
  • Mix 3Tbsp water with the remaining marinade and pour it into the frying pan with the chicken.
  • Cover until the chicken is cooked
  • Cook uncovered until the liquid has evaporated and the chicken has a nice glazed finish

The morning part takes less than ten minutes which is a pretty short time to cook meat in my opinion. I put the chicken in a foil tart container that I flipped up the rim on.

For veggies there is some sesame fried bok choy all around the foil cup and some asparagus that I parboiled for 90 seconds and then added to the pan with teriyaki chicken while it was cooking for another 90 seconds (teriyaki asparagus I guess?). There are also steamed green and yellow zucchini, sugar snaps and broccoli.

There was already all kinds of mango in the sushi, so for fruit I just included a few blueberries and three thin watermelon wedges.

On Fridays I try to use up all my leftover produce before the weekend, can you tell?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

August 27th Bento Lunch

I know that the majority of my readers are not Canadian, so I'll start with a bit of background. One of our largest suppliers of luncheon meat, called Maple Leaf, had a recent contamination in their products causing an outbreak of listeria. I don't really know anything about listeria other than the facts that this recent outbreak has killed six Canadians, and that it can take up to 70 days for the symptoms of the illness to show itself.

So I know people who have eaten these products within the past two months and they don't know yet whether they're going to get sick, so I guess there's some phone number they're supposed to call and then I don't know what happens after that. So there's an acute feeling of 'awareness' around here. I wouldn't call it worry, we just have it on our minds and see it in the news all the time.

When we heard about it, BF and I sat down and tried to remember any times in the last 70 days that we had eaten processed meat, and to my surprise we couldn't think of a single one. So as you can imagine, it's reaffirmed our decision to eat natural foods whenever we can (of course, had it been a contamination of say, broccoli, we'd be in trouble).

So why am I bringing this up in a blog about bento? As a result of this incident, there was an article in the newspaper that made me pause. It was entitled Panic in the Lunchbox and it talks about the fact that school starts next week and all kinds of parents across the country have no idea what to pack for lunch since sandwiches are out for the next little while. So, I guess I just wanted to say that it makes me sad that a lack of luncheon meat can inspire the use of the word 'panic' in this country. And that I'm tempted to make a list of 100 delicious lunch foods that don't involve sandwiches and anonymously mail it to everyone in the country who packs lunches.

Thanks for listening to (reading?) my rant. Okay, here was today's bento.

The center piece of today's bento lunch was the zucchini dumpling I made (the tutorial is below). I think it's so pretty! On either side there are triangle onigiri, stuffed with the same bison soboro that is in the zucchini.

For meat there are bites of marinated lamb steak that I pan fried. The veggies include steamed asparagus, broccoli and sugar snaps, and julienned carrot fried in sesame oil. For fruit there are some really juicy raspberries, blueberries, something called a damson plum, mango pieces and apple tulips.

BF sent me a message from work that said "This is an amazing tasting and looking bento!" so I think that means it was a success!

Tutorial - Zucchini Dumpling

I got the inspiration for this dumpling from the Iron Chef 2000th dish special. The amazing Hiroyuki Sakai made adorable zucchini dumplings as a part of a larger dish, and ever since I saw them I've been wanting to give my own version it a try.

It turned out pretty and yummy (which is always my goal!) so I wanted to share how I made it.

A friendly warning though: This is pretty time consuming and detailed. I definitely don't recommend trying to put one of these together in the morning before work. I suggest making it the night before and doing the final steaming in the morning.

You will need

- 1 Green zucchini
- 2 Tbsp filling (I used a mixture of rice and bison soboro. The recipe for the soboro is below)
- A big, sharp knife
- Plastic wrap
- A 6" piece of string/twine
- A vegetable steamer

First, cut a slice of zucchini about 3" long and 3/8" thick.
Slice the zucchini in strips as thin as you can. They should be opaque, but flexible. You will need 14 strips.

Cover your workspace with a piece of plastic wrap about 1 foot square. You will be cooking the zucchini in this plastic, so make sure you use a high end brand that won't leach toxins into food (I use Glad).

Select the 7 thinnest zucchini strips and place them horizontally to form a square as shown in the picture. By keeping the peel on the same side of each strip, the end result will have a subtle zigzag pattern.

The next step is to weave in the remaining 7 strips.

First slide in the first vertical strip from the left, alternating between putting it over and under the horizontal strips.

To place the next vertical strip, gently fold back every other horizontal strip and place the vertical strip on top of the remaining strips as shown. Fold the horizontal strips back to their original position and gently push the second vertical strip so that it is flush with the first.

Repeat with the remaining vertical strips until you have a woven square. The last vertical strip might look a bit messy because of differences in the lengths of the horizontal strips, but don't worry, it will look fine in the end.

Roll filling into a ball and place in the middle of the square.

Gently wrap the sides of the square around the filling. Start by picking up opposite corners of the plastic wrap and pulling them together, then do the same with the remaining two corners. The four corners of the zucchini should just barely touch at the top of the filling. If they don't quite touch, try removing some filling. If they overlap, add a little more filling.

Once all four corners are touching, gently press in the sides, trying to flatten as much possible.

Tightly twist the plastic wrap to seal the package and secure with string as shown.

Place in steamer for 7 minutes.

Remove from steamer and allow to cool enough so that you can remove the plastic wrap without burning yourself. To remove the wrap, cut off the knot and gently pull back the plastic wrap. If you pull too hard, it may displace parts of the zucchini.

Here's a picture of the underside of the dumpling after it's been cooked.

Flip it over and here is the top of this gorgeous dumpling!

The bento lunch that I used this in can be seen here.

Here is the recipe for the bison that I mixed with rice for the filling.

Recipe: Bison Soboro


  • 1/2 lb ground bison (May substitute beef or pork)
  • 2 Tbsp sake
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp mirin
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger

Place ground bison in a frying pan on medium heat and separate into small pieces. When pan is hot, add remaining ingredients. Cook until the bison is fully browned and most of the liquid has evaporated. Drain off any remaining liquid.

Can be used as a filling for dumplings or onigiri, or as a topping for a donburi.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

August 26th Bento & Rice Cooker Chicken Curry Rice Recipe

My computer caught a trojan virus last week. The trojan was then kind enough to download a bunch of other viruses to the point that my computer was unusable for about a week. But, now here we are about twenty virus scans and two hard drive reformats later and I am back up and running! So all's well that ends well. Mostly anyway. I lost all of my iTunes purchased songs, so I emailed Apple to see if they can let me download them again. *crosses fingers*

In other news, I am in love. Now I know that's a pretty strong word to use in reference to a rice cooker, but I mean it for realsies, no exaggeration. I picked up this rice cooker from The Shopping Channel (since won't ship appliances to Canada), and it finally arrived on Sunday. I used it for the first time last night and it's amazingly better than my four year old $30 Wal-Mart rice cooker I had been using up to this point.

To break it in, I made chicken curry rice (recipe below) for last night's supper (and there was enough left over for today's bento lunch). I used the keep warm function for three hours last night and put the rice back in the cooker to reheat this morning and even after all that, it didn't burn a single grain of rice. My old rice cooker always had a layer of burnt rice at the bottom, and I always felt wasteful throwing it out. Problem solved!

It has all kinds of features, like different settings for all different kinds of rice (brown rice, sweet rice, sushi rice, etc.) and delayed start so that you can set it the night before and have fresh rice in the morning when you get up to make bento. I shopped around a lot before picking this one up, and it seems to me that this particular model (Sanyo ECJ-D55S) is the best value out there if you don't want to fork out the price of a Zojirushi.

Also, just to explain something I found confusing. It's advertised as a 5.5 cup rice cooker. I thought that meant it had a 5.5 cup capacity, but its actually much larger. The 5.5 cup measurement is how much uncooked rice you can put in it, not how much cooked rice it can hold.

I definitely recommend this rice cooker to anyone in the market for a higher end computerized rice cooker. It's fabulous! (I'm not affiliated, by the way)

Ok! On to today's bento! It was slim pickin's in the fridge today because I was away all weekend and didn't get a chance to get groceries (I played outside a ton this weekend. If you ever have a chance to do Tree-Go, do it!!!).
On the left is chicken curry rice with onions, dates and tomato and an apple heart on top (I love apple with curry). On the right there are four pork shumai that have been steamed and then pan fried, pressing down with a spatula after every flip. There's a little cup of Asian cucumber pickles (flavoured with shiso and sesame rather than dill) on the bottom, and a boiled quail egg at the top. For veggies there is some steamed cauliflower sitting on top of carrot slices, broccoli, sugar snaps and green zucchini. For fruit there are tomato wedges, blueberries and watermelon slices. I prefer personal sized watermelons for bento because the rind is much thinner.

Here is the recipe for the curry rice. Note that this recipe makes a lot (around 4 to 5 cups), so you may want to scale it back if you're just making it for bento.

Recipe: Chicken Curry Rice made in a rice cooker


2 cups short grain white rice
2.5 cups water
1 large chicken breast or two small chicken breasts, cut into very small pieces (uncooked)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 inch section of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
Red chili flakes to taste (two pinches is medium spicy)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1 white onion, sliced
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1/4 cup dates, chopped
1 small can coconut milk (5.6oz/165ml)
2 Tbsp honey

Combine yogurt, honey, curry powder, shallot, garlic, ginger, chili flakes and salt in a blender and blend until smooth.

Place curry mixture along with all of the other ingredients into the rice cooker and stir well. Let the rice cooker do its thing (Use 'mixed rice' setting if available on your rice cooker). Stir before serving.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August 20th Bento Lunch

Ugh. My computer has been on the fritz for the last two days. I didn't think I'd get this entry posted today. I gave up on my computer for now and am using BF's instead.

A couple of critters made it into today's bento...

The onigiris are filled with sweet red bean paste. The fish has a nori face and the other two have sesame seed eyes. The chick's nose is made from carrot and his wing is a small spinach stem.

For protein I made ground chicken dumplings wrapped in nori this morning. BF told me when he got home tonight that he would have liked more meat, so next time I will make a couple more.

Lots of veggies today. I made some sesame and miso steamed spinach as well as steamed broccoli, asparagus, sugar snaps and yellow zucchini with a bit of pepper. I julienned some raw carrot as well to make a little nest for the chick.

For fruit there are a couple of orange wedges, blueberries and strawberry slices.

There were some leftover fruit and veggies that didn't fit in the bento box so I made myself a little snack. I thought the colours were really pretty so I took a picture.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

Would you believe I don't actually post all the cupcakes I make on my blog? I made some peaches and cream ones on the weekend, and they only lasted for a couple of hours, so I made a new batch last night. I decided on a classic theme of cookies and cream.

The cupcakes are a plain vanila cake with about ten crushed oreos mixed into the batter at the end, just before putting it into the muffin cups. The frosting is a plain vanilla buttercream (since oreo cookie filling is vanilla) and there is half an oreo cookie tucked into the frosting on each one.

Chopping the cookies in half was a bit tricky. The best way I found was to use a sharp, heavy knife, lay it across the cookie and cut it very swiftly. I found that using a diagonal cut made the cookie break into three or four pieces, but holding the knife horizontally only broke a couple out of the dozen that I cut. And cutting too slowly flattens the cookie and makes the filling come out the sides.

I wanted to top them with big dollops of frosting, but I didn't have an icing tip large enough, so I just cut the end off of an icing bag and didn't use a tip at all. I like the way the shape came out, but it left little tiny stripes on the frosting where the seam in the bag was. Looks like I'll have to try and find some seamless bags for next time.

Simple! Delicious!

Monday, August 18, 2008

August 18th Bento Lunch

BF was on vacation for most of last week which is why I haven't posted much. Everything is back to normal today though, so I got up bright and early this morning and decided to make a donburi bento. I think this is the first time I've actually made rice in the morning. Usually I make it the night before and refrigerate or freeze it. It didn't actually take too much extra time though because by the time I had the donburi topping finished, the rice was ready.
Here's a picture of what is in the donburi. The recipe is a variation on one that appears in the book 'Bento Boxes - Japanese Meals on the Go'. There is a sliced inari pouch that I boiled for a few minutes in a mixture of 1/3 cup chicken broth, 1 Tbsp each of mirin, soy sauce and sake and 1 tsp sugar. Next I added some canned mushrooms I had leftover from the weekend (mushrooms are the one vegetable that I don't eat fresh. I've never liked fresh mushrooms but I love the canned ones), and let it boil about two more minutes before adding the parsley. Once the parsley had wilted, I added a beaten egg and stirred the mixture until the egg had set. The last step was to transfer it onto the rice in the bento box. I used the bento box divider in order to be able to compact as much rice into that area of the bento as possible.

It looked a little plain so I put a couple of red pepper butterflies on top. On the right hand side of the bottom tier are slices of steak left over from last night's barbecue. Between the steak, the egg and the inari, this bento is pretty heavy on the protein, which is fine for BF. If it was for me, I would have left out the steak altogether.

The veggies are simple. Just asparagus, broccoli and sugar snaps. My grocery store has been out of asparagus for the past week so we were happy to be able to get some yesterday.

For fruit there are orange slices, half of a plum, strawberry slices, blueberries and two cherries. I learned a neat trick for orange slices, to make them easier to eat. You just slice the orange away from the rind for about two thirds of the way across the wedge. Then when you go to eat it, you can just hold it by the peel and tear the orange off the rest of the way. For dessert there is a chocolate mint square from my freezer stash.

Sadly, I think summer is nearing it's end. I saw the first sign of it this weekend: strawberries were $4.99 a box. Well, at least it's still hot out!

As an aside, this weekend I started reading "Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art" (previously I was just using it as a reference whenever I needed a recipe or ran into an ingredient I didn't know how to cook). Ordinarily I wouldn't read a cookbook cover to cover but this book is really exceptional in how much there is to learn from it. There are full chapters on knives, sashimi, sushi, soups, pickles, sweets and tea, as well as chapters on each of the fundamental cooking methods (grilling, pan frying, teaming, simmering, deep frying, etc), each with a discussion of the subject and accompanying recipes. I'm discovering all kinds of new cooking techniques and philosophies on food, it's really exciting. I made some awesome chicken udon soup this weekend, and I've been working on perfecting my own version of eggs and rice as a light breakfast. Next I think I'm going to tackle light appetizer-style soups. I definitely recommend this book, it's completely changed the way I approach cooking.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Okay, I swear this isn't going to turn into a baking blog. I wasn't planning to post anything today but these turned out so gorgeous that I wanted to share them to hopefully inspire someone else to make delicious muffins.

At this time of year, berries are in season so they come in huge containers. It's wonderful of course, but I can't fit anymore into the bento lunches than I already do, so I ended up with some leftover berries that weren't fresh enough to eat straight, but perfect for baking. I decided on muffins.
I used this recipe from and I can't rave about it enough! I'm actually not exaggerating when I say that I have never had a better muffin. And this is coming from someone who has eaten many, many muffins in my time.

I think the trick to this recipe is to whip the butter a whole lot. It makes them melt-in-your-mouth fluffy. I whipped the butter with an electric mixer for a solid minute before adding anything to it and then for a solid minute after every addition (i.e, after the sugar, after each egg and after the vanilla). Then I put the mixer away and gently folded everything else in very slowly.

I used a mixture of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. I used jumbo sized muffin cups (finally a use for these! They're way too big for cupcakes) filled almost to the top and they raised up to a great height. The recipe made 15.

The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute brown sugar for white in the streusal topping. I had never heard of a white sugar streusal before and it made me a bit nervous so I decided to stick with what I know.

It's a great weekend to make muffins. If you've got any fruit in your fridge that needs to be used up, this is a yummy way to do it!