Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recipe: Cake Balls

I felt like doing something a little different this week, so I made cake balls instead of cupcakes. This is the first time I've made them, and they are so delicious but extremely sweet.

You can use whatever cake and frosting flavors you like, so be creative! You could flavor the candy melts as well. I kept it simple, using a plain vanilla cake mix, vanilla buttercream frosting and milk chocolate melts. They didn't last long!!

Recipe: Cake Balls


  • 1 13x9 in cake
  • 2 cups frosting
  • 1 package of candy melts (14oz)

Once the cake has completely cooled, crumble it into a large bowl. The smaller the crumbs, the more consistent the inside of the cake balls will look.

Mix in half of the frosting. Continue to add frosting until the mixture has a smooth consistency.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Roll the cake mixture into 1 1/4" balls and place on the cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in the fridge for two hours or in the freezer for 30 - 40 minutes to firm up the cake balls.

In a small bowl, melt some of the candy melts by microwaving for 30 seconds and stirring. Repeat until all of the wafers are melted and the consistency is smooth. Line another cookie sheet with wax paper.

One at a time, dip the cake balls in the melted chocolate. Pass back and forth between two spoons to let any additional coating to run off and place on the new cookie sheet. When the melted chocolate starts to get low, add more melts and microwave an additional 30 seconds. Once all of the cake balls are coated, refrigerate until the coating has completely hardened.

Makes 45 to 50 cake balls.

Decorations: Cake balls can be decorated by adding sprinkles (candy sprinkles, toasted shredded coconut, nonpareils, cookie crumbs, etc.) after coating each one but before they have completely hardened, or by drizzling a contrasting colour of candy melt on the tops of the cake balls.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 30th Bento Lunch

I accidently drained the battery on BF's fancy camera, so the picture quality today isn't great since I used my little point & shoot.

Today deliciousness won out over pretty.
The main component of today's bento is rice paper rolls. They started out from a recipe in my Vietnamese cookbook, but by the end of it I had made so many substutions and changes that I think it is now an original recipe.

The rolls are filled with a layer of lettuce, followed by a few dots of hoisin sauce, strips of sausage, two egg sheet strips and topped with a layer of sweet potato matchsticks fried with canola oil and garlic. Yum! So this covered off a lot of the carbs and most of the protein for the bento.

I find it really tough to make rice paper rolls look pretty. Does anyone have any suggestions? This time I just put a few parsley leaves on them.

For added carbs, I cooked up some lotus root slices with red pepper. They're propped up against some lentil snacks that you can't see. The rest of the veggies are the standard asparagus, broccoli, sugar snaps and yellow zucchini. For fruit there is half of a clementine, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and some tiny choke cherries. I think these are super cute and they are crazy sour.

No dessert today because I sent BF into work with a batch of chocolate and vanilla cake balls. I will try to post pics/recipe later today.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

July 29th Bento Lunch

100th post!!

Now that I'm not working, I can post earlier in the day, which is nice.

I found some great foods last week during a trip to the asian grocery store. My best find was frozen banana leaves! I'm too excited to have these back again because I haven't been able to find them since that one time my local grocery store carried them. They were dirt cheap too. I got 1 lb (about 20 sheets, 1 square foot each) for $1.65. Love it!

We made coconut banana rice (Chuoi Nuong) again last night - check out this blog post for how it's made. BF said "Remind me again why we don't eat this every day?" Well, now we can! I made two extra stuffed leaves for the bentos this morning. The meat in the bento lunches today is leftover from last night as well. It's a premade cut from the butcher, a pork loin stuffed with herbs, veggies and cheese with a strip of bacon wrapped around it that we barbecued.

I included a few lentil bites as well for extra carbs. For veggies, there are some strips of green pepper sauteed in a bit of oil and salted, a couple of pieces of yellow zucchini, some asparagus, broccoli and sugar snaps (all steamed), and some awesome beet hearts.

Now I can hear my seven-year old self cringing as I call beets awesome, but oh man, these are gorgeous. The inside of the beet is alternating red and white rings and each beet is tiny, the perfect size for bento. I was able to get six heart slices from one beet which is exactly enough for two bento lunches in my opinion.

For fruit there are a couple of fresh lychees, some pluot bites (BF tells me that a pluot is a cross between a plum and an apricot), raspberries, blueberries and strawberry slices.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

New Herb Garden!

Ok, another non-bento related post. I was really excited about this though, so I wanted to share.

This morning, BF and I got up at the crack of dawn (7am on a Saturday!!) and meandered down to the farmer's market. We don't often go because we like to sleep in, but when we do it's great because we can get fresh farm eggs and organic meats and veggies.

One of the vendors was selling herbs 10 for $20, and that is how I ended up with my wonderful new herb garden.
We picked up some parsley, oregano, sage, dill, coriander, basil, chives, spearmint and arnica (if only I could find somewhere that sells Japanese herbs!).

I don't know a thing about gardening, but BF seems to know everything about everything so he hooked me up. We picked up a planter that fits perfectly over the rail of our balcony so that the plants can get lots of sunlight. Hopefully they will thrive and be wonderful!

I'm really excited about growing some edible plants. I think I'm going to pick up this book to read up on what other types of foods we can grow in an apartment. Right now we pay $1.99 each when we buy fresh herbs from the grocery store, so if this works out, it might save us a buck or two as well.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stash Pic

I want to apologize for the lack of posts. I was sick all last week and half of this week so sleep was winning out over bento. I'm off work for a few months, which means a lot of my time is freeing up so I decided to organize my bento 'equipment' today.

Previously I was just keeping everything in a wicker basket because my kitchen cupboards are filled to capacity. That was fine at first but it's gotten to the point that I would spend half of the morning digging around for stuff and as a result, I haven't been using most of my bento tools.

I found these plastic boxes as Michaels. They're made for scrapbooking but I find them great for organizing my bento stuff as well as my cake decorating tools (one of these days I'll post up a pic of those too) because of how wide and shallow they are. There's room for lots of little items, and since they're all in one layer, you can see everything at a glance (which is very helpful when you are half asleep.

As always, click on the picture to see the big version.

Believe it or not, there is some method to the madness.

The right hand box is filled almost entirely with onigiri molds so that I only have to take out one box when I'm making onigiri and one box for when I'm making bento in the morning. It also has some egg molds. Generally I put eggs in the molds the night before, so I shouldn't need them in the morning. There is a baggy on the bottom with my extra sauce bottles (I keep some prefilled on my kitchen counter to save time in the mornings), as well as a pack of longer skewers and some sushi grass.

In the left hand box are all of my punches, cutters and cups. My nori punches are all along the bottom. There are foil cups, paper cups, silicone muffin cups and plastic cups in all different shapes. To the right are my cutter wheels. Its a set of three and each wheel has several cutters on it, they're great. Above those are a couple of Hello Kitty veggie cutters that I've had for over a month and not used yet.

On the top, from left to right are my plastic cutters, my metal cutters, some fabulous tiny bamboo sporks I got at P'lovers, an eco-friendly sort of store, more egg molds (and quail egg molds) and my cute little animal skewers.

So now I have no excuse not to make cuter bento lunches. I'll be back to bento making on Monday.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

July 19th Bento Lunches

I've been pretty sick all week, so I haven't spent too much time in the kitchen. That's why I haven't been posting. Today I've completely lost my voice so I guess I'll be sick for a while yet :P

All I've really done this week was to make a couple of snack bentos, and I made a batch of chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream that disappeared faster than I could take a picture of them.

BF and my sister's bf scuba dive together mostly every week, and this week my sister and I went with them (to hang out and watch, not to dive). I wasn't going to make bentos because I still wasn't feeling well, but then at the last minute I changed my mind.

So I rushed together four bento lunches with zero prep work or planning. They're messy and the picture isn't great because everything was so rushed. I'm more posting it because I'm just impressed with myself that I pulled this off. Making four bento lunches is a tonne of work as it turns out.
They're mainly veggie because we also had a barbecue so we cooked meat on that, plus my sister is a vegetarian so her bento didn't have any meat at all (bottom right).

In each bento there are four bites of inside out chicken teriyaki sushi and four pieces of avocado maki made with soy wrapper instead of nori. BF gave me a lot of help making the sushi to save time. There are two pork shu mai 'burgers' (leek dumplings for my sister. Thank goodness for my well stocked freezer!). For added protein there is a quail egg and two bites of cheese in each.

For veggies there are sesame fried carrots, steamed miso spinach, boiled edamame and sweet potato flowers, steamed asparagus, broccoli and snow peas, and some homemade daikon pickles.

For fruit there are nectarine bites, cherries, blueberries and strawberries.

I thought it would be really challenging to fill so much space but I actually ended up with more food than I could fit in them. I only wish I had more time to pretty them up.

Monday, July 14, 2008

July 14th Bento Lunch

Hmmm....the pics didnt really turn out today. But you get the idea.

We didn't manage to get out for groceries until tonight, so it was slim pickin's for produce for today's bento. We had avocado maki and bacon wrapped chicken thigh for the main components of the bento.

In the top right corner you can see the lentil snacks I made last night. I got the recipe from a site that justbento links to. I forgot to put them in my bento, but BF said they were really yummy. It's a good thing too, because the recipe made about fifty of them.

For veggies, I used everything we had in the fridge. Steamed gai lon, broccoli, sugar snaps, carrot flowers and fried plantain tulips.

There are a few bites of cheddar in the top of the bento. For fruit I used apple slices to add more carbs since there isn't really all that much rice in the sushi. There are some butterflies cut from yellow kiwi (I actually liked this better than regular green kiwi. Its sweeter and has a smoother texture), a lychee, blueberries and some rhubarb that I cooked up with some strawberries.

I made the sushi, chicken, lentil snacks and rhubarb the night before, so this was actually really quick to throw together this morning. And considering how late I slept in this morning, that was a good thing!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bento Boxes in Halifax!

I got a gorgeous new bento box this weekend.

And most amazingly and wonderful of all, I bought it at a local store!

I got this at Drala and they had about five left. So to all of my Haligonian readers who don't make bento lunches yet, now you have no excuse! It's next to pizza corner in the same building where the bead pod used to be, in case you don't know where it is. They have them with silver butterflies too! (Disclaimer: I'm not in any way affiliated)

This bento box is huge, so I will probably only use the top tier most of the time. Each tier is about the size of my blue dragonfly bento box. Maybe I should start packing bento breakfasts so that I can use both :P

My only complaint is that the box doesn't have a rubber seal like my other bento boxes, but I never actually let them flip upside down anyway, so it should be fine. I plan to just put my red bento belt around it. It matches perfectly.

So now we will both have single tier bentos. Nice!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

July 11th Cupcakes

I have a lot of cutters.

I have heart cutters, star cutters, triangle cutters, clover cutters, pumpkin cutters, ladybug cutters, about 15 different flower cutters, leaf cutters, moon cutters, bowtie cutters, body part cutters, frog cutters, car cutters, hot pepper cutters, crown cutters, dinosaur cutters, plane cutters, alphabet cutters, and that's just the tip of the iceburg.

So it was with utter disbelief when I realized last night that I don't have a single fish cutter.

BF is taking his advanced diving class this weekend, so he's doing five dives and pretty much only coming home to sleep. He called me from the dive site last night and said it he would love a cupcake when he came home.

And for me, any excuse is a good excuse to make cupcakes.

So I was going to make them aqua blue with little fishes in all different colours in keeping with the whole ocean theme of his weekend.

But it was not to be. I could have molded them by hand of course, but I was working on another set of cupcake decorations earlier in the evening, so I didn't feel like doing that much work for this set. So he got hearts instead :P

Since these were especially for BF, I made beer & chocolate flavoured cupcakes. I used the recipe from Crazy About Cupcakes (have I mentioned how much I love this book?). The batter was so liquidy that I thought for sure that they were not going to turn out, it was like soup. But omg, these are the moistest, softest cupcakes I've ever made. The texture is incredible, and for once I managed to fill the muffin cups so that the cupcakes all rose to the perfect height.

I don't care for beer, so I found the taste of these so-so, but BF really liked them. I'm thinking about making these again but using soda instead. Maybe orange or cream soda. Does anyone know if this will work?

I went to make frosting and realized I was missing some ingredients, so I ended up using cream cheese frosting instead since I had some in the freezer. I used Wilton Teal icing gel colouring to get the blueish shade.

For decorations, I made some fondant hearts for the teal cupcakes, and sprinkled Skor bits on the white ones. They're pictured here all packed up in foil trays for BF to take to his diving class.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

July 10th Bento

This has been a pretty busy week so far. It was snack bentos mostly and they were nothing special, so I didn't bother posting them.

This morning I actually managed to get up and make a proper bento. Nothing new today, just all foods that I love!
I made two rolls of chicken teriyaki sushi (one for BF and one for me). I made a two egg and spinach omelette, which makes exactly enough to put to hearts in each bento. I fried up some gyoza and some plantain hearts together to save time. For veggies there is asparagus, broccoli, sugar snaps and sesame fried baby bok choy.

I used all kinds of different fruits today. There is half an apricot, cut into slices, two lychees, some satsuma wedges, cherries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

Simple but yummy, with lots of variety!

Monday, July 07, 2008

July 7th Bento

We went to the grocery store yesterday as usual. BF went to the meat counter and ordered some stuff. As we walked away, I asked "What do you plan to do with that ground bison?"

He replied "Give it to you to put in a bento!"

Of course.

Seeing as how this was the first I'd heard that people even eat bison, I didn't know what to do with it. Luckily I know how to use Google.

And that is how we ended up having buffaloaf for lunch.
I followed the recipe at the link above. The only changes I made were to divide it in four and use a quail egg instead of a regular egg (because it's easier than measuring a quarter of an egg). This is the first time in my life I've ever made meatloaf. I don't think I've even eaten meatloaf since I was a kid. It turned out much better than I expected. I actually prefer bison to beef as it turns out.

The other interesting component to this bento is a Vietnamese dumpling called bahn khuc. The recipe is from my Vietnamese cookbook (listed in the carousel in the left column of my blog). The basic idea is that the dumpling dough is made of spinach puree and glutinous rice flour. The filling is ground pork, mung bean paste and shallots. It's then rolled in uncooked rice and steamed for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked (I did all of this the night before and then put it straight in the bento from the fridge in the morning).

These were a whole lot of work, although I suspect it would have been faster if I had the mung bean paste already prepared, waiting in the freezer (it takes two hours to soak the beans). And for how much work they were, the taste was only so-so, so I don't think I'll make them again. The consistency was similar to a daifuku, which didn't carry over well to a dumpling in my opinion. BF wasn't so keen on them either. I really wanted to like this recipe because I thought it was a cool idea with lots of healthy ingredients, but alas, it was not to be.

For additional carbs, I included two heart shaped red bean onigiri.

For veggies there is some steamed red swiss chard (I really liked this last time so I bought another bunch this weekend), broccoli, asparagus, sugar snaps, raw carrot and daikon flowers and yellow zucchini.

For fruit there is half a fig, a strawberry that I thought was adorable, some fresh pineapple chunks, blueberries, raspberries and a cherry.

Sometimes my lunches take even me by surprise. I never would have guessed bison and mung!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

July 3rd Snack Bento + Cupcakes

Someone actually ordered cupcakes from me. I had a few leftover from a potluck last weekend so I ended up bringing them to a party afterwards. One of the guys there said he really liked my cupcakes and asked me to make him a dozen for his Friday morning meeting at work.

He didn't give me any instruction as to what he wanted "Oh, just whatever you're making would be great" so I made them the same as the ones last weekend, just with different decorations.

The cupcakes themselves are the "White Cupcakes" from book Crazy About Cupcakes. I substituted 1 3/4 cups of cake flour for the 1 1/2 cups white flour called for by the recipe and addded 1 1/2 cups of chopped mango. This is the second time I've used this recipe, and it's excellent.

They're filled with a pomegranate cream filling. I used the "Irish Cream Filling" recipe from the same book, and substituted pomegranate molasses (who knew this even existed?) for the Irish cream. I love this filling, it's amazingly creamy and tart.

The frosting is a plain buttercream and the stars are made from fondant. I was really pleased that I was able to match the frosting colours to the fondant so closely. This is the first time I was able to do that. It's actually quite a bit more purple than it looks in the picture.

I was so busy making cupcakes, I didn't really have time to make bento lunches, so it was a quick snack bento this morning.

There are three pork shu mai (I need to make another batch this weekend - almost out!), two little onigiris (buried), fried plantain hearts, asparagus, broccoli and sugar snaps, and the last of the black bean salad. The fruit is just strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and lychees.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

July 2nd Bento

BF seems to have misplaced his single tier bento box. We've looked for it everywhere but it hasn't shown up yet. It's been two days and at this point I'm not sure whether I want to find it or not. I'm a bit scared of what might be growing in it by now.

So we might be back to two tier bentos for the next little bit.

I decided I wanted to make sushi last night and BF requested inarizushi, so that's what I made. We both really enjoyed the fruit sushi I made last week, so I decided to see how it would carry over to the inari version. I made them smaller than last time by folding in the edge. I think it looks much better this way. I filled the tofu pouches with a little sushi rice and topped them with strawberry and kiwi pieces. The rice was premade and frozen, and the assembly was done this morning. Took about 5 minutes including the time it took to cut up the fruit.

They were really yummy. Because the inari skin itself is a bit sweet, I actually preferred the sweet fruit toppings rather than a savory meat topping for example.

I stabilized the sushi in the bento box with some steamed broccoli. Also in the bottom tier are slices of breaded pork cutlet, asparagus pieces and three gyoza.

On the top, there is more of the black bean salad (so delicious!), broccoli and sugar snaps, persimmon pieces, fresh lychees, blueberries, blackberries, cherries and a chocolate truffle.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

July 1st Bento

I felt like everything about today's bento was overshadowed by the fact that I overcooked the veggies. I missed the beep of the microwave timer and ended up steaming them about five minutes too long. They turned out soggy and a sickly green instead of a bright, delicious green.

Oh well, I won't make that mistake twice.

In the bottom tier there is some delicious yaki udon. I boiled one pack of noodles for three minutes and then fried with 1 Tbsp each of canola oil, soy sauce and sake. On top of that are some carrot flowers with snow pea leaves. On the other side there are some delicious seasoned lamb bites and some chinese broccoli (gai lon).

On top we have asparagus pieces, sugar snaps, a mini banana and a delicious mix of black beans, sweet onion, cilantro, red pepper, lime juice and olive oil that I picked up at the deli on the weekend. It was called a salsa, but it seems more like a salad to me, so that's how we ate it.

For fruit there are fresh lychees (yum!), cherries, the last few satsuma wedges, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

Happy Canada Day Everyone!

We're going to fireworks tonight - yay!