Monday, November 30, 2009

Hello Japan November Challenge

The Challenge for this month was to eat Japanese food. Since I eat japanese food all the time and love it, I wanted to do a more in-depth response to the challenge in keeping with the spirit of learning more about Japan. So I looked on my cookbook shelf for a book of Japanese recipes. I wanted something that I had never tried before, something outside my normal realm of taste and something that was in English. (I have tons of Japanese recipe books that are all in Japanese - I keep saying that I'm going to learn Japanese just to read these cookbooks!)

I came across a cookbook that I'd had for about a year and never cooked from. My mother had taken me on a trip to Denver and we had eaten at a fabulous Japanese restaurant called 'Domo'. They had a cookbook for sale, written by the proprieter and apparently I was so effusive in my liking for the food that the author even signed the book for me! So when I saw it I was overcome with shame for not having done anything with it, but also with a great desire to cook from it. But first I had to read it!

It's full of incredible amounts of information about traditional Japanese foods, cooking methods and food history. Reading it filled me with the joy of the geek who loves to know weird historical tidbits like the fact that tofu was originally a food reserved for nobles! But then it took me a long time to decide exactly what I wanted to cook. And then I kept changing my mind. Finally an idea hit me: I'd never eaten a Japanese breakfast so I should pick recipes from the breakfast section.

And then...I hit a stumbling block. I am more of a hidebound American than I thought because I suddenly kept putting off the actual cooking. Why, you ask? Because traditional Japanese breakfasts include things like vegetables and soy sauce, things I considered delicious for lunch and dinner but not so much for breakfast where I am fond of sweet, buttery foods. Notice the date that I am writing this - the very last day of the challenge - I was procrastinating! But this morning I folded up my sleeves, put on my apron and committed to a Japanese breakfast.

My breakfast bento was very easy to prepare and though I was initially reluctant, by the time I had finished cooking and gotten all the food in the box I was ravenous. I managed to wait long enough to take pictures of the bento and then armed with my trusty red shoyu pig and my chopsticks, I ate it all. Every bite. In record time. Even - and this is amazing - the cauliflower, which I usually hate. In fact, I only included the cauliflower in the menu because I was partly convinced I was going to not like the whole thing anyway so why not use a vegetable I despise. (I must note here that the only reason I had fresh cauliflower in the house was because at our grocery trip last week my daughter asked me "what is that? I want to try it." and I was so very proud of the fact that I didn't say "Eww, it's yucky, no way." but instead bought and cooked it and let her make her own conclusions. She likes it. Go figure!)

I am amazed at how much I really did like it. It tasted wonderful and I will be happy to have it again for breakfast! My bento was not completely traditional since I added a few items that made it more bento-ish. The traditional breakfast includes: Okayu: rice porridge, tsukemono: pickles, ohitashi: boiled vegetables, daizu seihin: soybean products, yakimono: grilled or broiled dishes and jobina: pre-prepared side dishes. The last 4 items are side dishes that you choose from, not include all in one meal.

Instead of okayu I used a rice ball because it's a bento :) For the pickles I chopped some gari and placed it on top of my soybean product which was yaki dofu. I chose carrots, snap peas and cauliflower for the ohitashi. The vegetables and tofu are supposed to be dipped in shoyu (soy sauce) and for that I had my soy sauce piggy. The tomato flower is completely out of place in a traditional breakfast, but I wanted to do something more pretty :)

The recipes were from the book "The Folk Art of Japanese Country Cooking" by Gaku Homma.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Looky, looky - New title!

Ah hah! The first of many changes: a new title picture, yay!!

There was absolutely no reason to make bentos today because we were staying home all day. It was just fun to make them anyway and play with the new letter cutters that I got from Jbox. I'd been drooling over letter cutters for about a year or so but just never could commit to getting them. But when I started making bentos for my daughter to take to school...well...I was already buying stuff for her bentos and it was the perfect time to get them cause they could piggyback on the shipping with the other stuff...and they weren't very expensive! (They were definitely worth it!)

Jasmine rice topped with carrot letters makes up the bulk of the bento. On the left side: one half of a veggie hot dog (I actually made a veggie hot dog look kind of elegant, woot!), some steamed broccoli, a baby tomato and mozzarella cheese sandwich on a star pick, a cute mozzarella and nori kitty, apple flower petals and one tiny fruit chew flower.

When we sat down to eat our bentos my daughter stole all the carrot letters from mine and ate them in about ten seconds. So I think maybe she's going to enjoy eating words in her own in the future!

Her bento had stirfried tofu and baby corn on jasmine rice, raw carrot slices in a heart container(apparently not nearly as fun or tasty as the carrot letters...), black olives on a heart pick, baby tomato, sweet pickle, and a hunormous mozzarella cheese butterfly. I had originally wanted to make the butterfly fancier and prettier, but she just wanted it plain so I complied :)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hello Kathy

A school bento made in the wee hours of the early morning with loving care and with much attention to my coffee mug.

Top layer: two small square onigiri with carrot flowers on top, a triplet of baby corn, some Morningstar Farms chik nuggets cut in halves, a purple pig filled with soy sauce and a Lady apple.

Bottom layer: Hello Kathy onigiri with carrot flower, more baby corn, a baby tomato, udon noodles with peanut sauce and carrot flowers.

My favorite part of this bento was the tiny apple which actually fit into one of the smaller bentos we own. The bunny onigiri was made by my daughter with a mould! Her favorite part was all the carrot flowers.

I'm really enjoying making her school bentos, though some are definately coming out better than others. I think it depends of the amount of prep work I have done the night before and the amount of sleep I get :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alien attacks UFO!

This was one of a series of bentos that I made for a panel on bentos that was all about how to make cool and cute bentos without any special tools. Since I tend to use the tools on a regular basis, it was a very neat challenge and got me thinking outside the box. I have to say that I love the alien, absolutely love him!!

On the very bottom is a well-packed layer of jasmine rice covered with a sheet of nori to create a space background. In the near corner I created a shaped 'bowl' of white rice, filled that in with a mound of curry and made a 'roof' over the curry with blue rice. I topped off the UFO with a black olive and some edamame.

In the other corner is the hungry alien with a croissant body, tortellini pasta and black olive eyes held together by red toothpicks, green baby spinach hair and yakiudon tentacles. The mouth is a tomato flower with a nice pickled ginger tongue - the best use of gari that I've made yet!

I couldn't wait to get to this bento after dance class, it's definately going on my list of favorites. It was so much fun and really tasty, but mostly just plain hilarious. If I ever need a good pick me up, I'm going to recreate this one :)

The box I used was just one tier of a three tier picnic box. I would generally fill it all the way up with food for a multi-person picnic. Since there was a lot of blank space (yes, it's a pun) in this bento it was perfect for just me.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Flower Pie Bento

Another Greek bento, this time with an adult flair. The experimental greek veggie and fruit pie with carrot flower petals on top was excellent! The fruit (apples and pears) added just enough sweetness to make it different and the feta just kicked it into high gear. There are also Keftethes (greek meatballs except using my meatless recipe) a greek baked potato, some steamed broccoli, cherry tomato flowers with cucumber leaves, a rolled up soy turkey slice, blueberries on a flower stick, and garlic bagel chips. It was perfect.

As fall begins to really turn cold I'm starting to feel more in the mood for heavier dishes and spicier dishes. Scottish flatpie is a fall family favorite, as is Shepherd's Pie. But while everyone else starts getting out soup recipes...I am again reminded of how much I don't like 'american' soups. I love greek soups, asian soups, Indian soups, but the generic american vegetable soups are too bland for me. It may just be that my mom made veggie soup way too often when I was growing up? Anyway...I've never really been a fan of Mr. Bento...mainly because I love the cuteness of my bento boxes and he's just too adult for my asthetic taste. But I want soup and he's perfect for soup, so he might get added to my Christmas list this year.