martedì 30 settembre 2008

Sushi Party

Sushi Party April 2008 - Here is one of my spur of the moment sushi parties. Was put together last minute since I had found some excellent fresh tuna. We made tuna, shrimp and various rolls with even super hot thai sauce tuna rolls. Fabio, Rosella and Daniele ate to their full. Mini beer keg (japanese beer I believe) rounded it off. I love eating and preparing sushi. It may take a few hours to prepare a spread like this but it is sooo worth it !

Hope it inspires you to at least try something different.
Photobucket It's always a pleasure to make sushi for Fabio and Rosella because they truly enjoy it. And so does their 6yr old son Daniele who shouts out for more "wasabi" every chance he gets. Photobucket
Some deep fried anchovies in an inside out roll topped with Tobasco. Photobucket
And some shrimp and tuna nigiri. I found these serving trays by chance at a supermarket and they work great for sushi presentation.

And the sushi vid with full presentation (in italian of course)
Sushi Party

And today's bento pic can only be of sushi :

Blog Update

It has been a while since I had put together a post so even tho the dates result the same, these blogs are actually taken from my myspace pages. So, they are not so recent. This one is from March of this year.

Well, back to some bentos. It’s been a while since I’ve updated the blog but it doesn’t mean I have been neglecting my bento making or purchases of bento material and boxes.
My latest purchase was made end last year where I found in one of my favorite sellers the nori punches I had been looking for for some time. While I bought those, I added in a few plastic food picks, some animal bottles and a new funky cheese burger bento.
It may seem small, but inside it’s quite roomy. It only cost $7.99 so definately a keeper and has proven to be one of my favorite boxes. As soon as received, I packed up this lunch for work :
In the bottom we have some P&J sandwhiches cut into flower shapes. Some prosciutto and a hot pepper and olive mini-salid. In the "lettuce" part, I made some nori, cheese slice and prosciutto roll ups and divided it from my dessert which was orange slices. Little mini crackers finished it off. The "burger" section has a fork and spoon and enough space to put in a napkin as well. Pretty funky.

I had also made one day a nice Panda Bento. I like this bento box because it’s Panda shaped but I have to be careful not to use sauces or other red based products as they will stain the white plastic. No tobasco, no meat sauces or tomato sauce of any kind. So, I stuck with salmon for this one.
I have salmon with dill sprinkles, broccoli and a cup cake holder filled with philadelphia cheese. Then I made "pancakes" for the salmon. I had eaten once at a posh french restaurant "blini" with salmon. Basically, they make pancakes, then you put slices of smoked salmon on top of them and eat. I spread philadelphia on mine, then the salmon and then a sprinkle of dill (in the red container) on top of that. Really tasty. The pancakes were a blast to make :
I had seen this woman on TV use a squeeze bottle full of pancake mix (self rising flour and an egg will do if you don’t have real pancake mix like me) to squeeze out onto the pan and make all kinds of animal shapes. I added a twist. All you have to remember is that the first layer is the one to be seen. So I made the ears, eyes nose and mouth and then filled in the rest of the head. The form fits perfectly into the bento too. Very cool and yummy to eat.

Keeping on the Panda bento theme, I had made an "ode to the panda" in his bamboo thicket.
This was fun because I created the bamboo thicket using rice, carrots and zucchini thinly sliced with a potato slicer. I actually made the face before buying the face nori punchers. So believe it or not, I did use tweezers to position it. The salad is made with carrots and radishes sprinkled with lots of salt then squeezed out. The top part of the bento has turkey slices rolled around bamboo heart. And the fruit is figs ! Don’t get to eat those often out of season.

And the last bento was made after receiving the nori punchers. I made some hard boiled egg and decorated them.
Again tweezers helped but they are tough to position. It's easier if you punch the faces out, place them on a plate then press the egg over the plate. Some salami and turkey roll ups and cheese and nori with omlette roll ups too. Small side salad of carrots and olives. And the bottom of the bento had a bunch of flowers :
Some regular brown rice was the bottom and an omlette cut up into flower shapes. Celery stalks for the stems and carrots for the centers. I have little punches in the form of dragonflies and butterflies so added those in.

So, as you can see, I still make lots of stuff when I do have time and energy. Depending on what I make, I usually only need 30 minutes to an hour to prepare. And the pancakes are prepared the night before so no big deal. I have to remind myself to take pics of the bentos tho. I have made some nice ones (food wise more than designs) with some nice recipes so I have to remember to take pics. You never know who may get inspired by my bentos.

And here is a pic of a bento which I purchased recently :
Even though the chopsticks are too long for the bag, the bento is quite spacious and a very nice quality. So, here is today's bento :
Photobucket Yuck ! EVIL CLOWN BENTO !!!!!!!!!

Bento Recipes 3 & 4

Back to the blogs!

Hopefully back to my diet program so I can get back to losing a few pounds too.
During Karen's visit, I hit a shop in Florence which sells lots of international foods and found a japanese tempura mix and breadcrumbs. So, we made some tempura the night before and the day after, I had a few veggies and seafood leftover.
Tempura isn't difficult but a few factors have to be controlled otherwise the batter and final lightly fried effect won't result. The beauty of tempura is that the food is not overfried. Veggies are still crunchy and seafood is cooked just right.
The batter is made a few ways but basically a super fine self-rising cake batter should do the trick if you can't find the real japanese tempura mix. The proportion of water to flour should be enough to leave the batter thickish and not too lumpy. The water must be very very cold. I usually throw a few icecubes into some water till it's super cold. Then it gets added to the flour and you start frying right away.
Regular frying oil is ok to use but be sure it's just hot enough to cook the pieces of food right away. This is not a deep frying kind of deal where you leave stuff in till it goes all brown and too crunchy.

It's important that you don't throw too many pieces of food into the oil at the same time otherwise you will lower the temperature of the oil and the food will not cook correctly. Another important thing to remember is to make the food pretty much the same size so that it all cooks evenly. For example, don't cut your eggplant slices too thick or they won't cook inside and be overcooked on the outside. I found also that seafood is very easy but that scallops, if bought frozen, are best cooked semi-frozen still. That way they don't reduce much during cooking. Certainly, anyone living near the seaside doesn't have to worry about finding fresh sea scallops. They are excellent in tempura.
Shrimp can be shelled (with end bit of the tail remaining) and then butterflied to give them a nice appearance on the plate.
A nice dipping sauce can be made to serve with tempura. Mix a little water with vinegar and red pepper (fresh is best but flakes will do) a bit of sesame oil and seeds to top off. If you don't have a dipping sauce, soy sauce will do.
The above tempura bento has eggplant slices, scallops and shrimp.
The lower portion is chopped fresh baby shrimp, spinach with sesame seeds and sesame oil, and scrambled eggs (adding a bit of sugar, soy and mirin into the eggs before cooking them). A few grapes finish off the bento.
Just a short note on bento bags. I recently shopped at Ikea and found them selling velvet type bags in the children's department. They are intended for putting kid's toys and such but I found they are pretty good as bento bags too. I just sewed across the bottom to square them off and I can fit even my largest bento plus my utensils without trouble.

This bento contains more fish. During the summer time I can't resist using fresh fish when possible. Once the winter arrives, we return to mostly meat or veggies and the fish is always frozen.
I cooked up some chinese noodles and tossed them with just a dash of soy sauce to stop them from sticking. I topped them with fish fillets marinated in oil and parsley. Then just a sprinkle of rice seasoning on top to taste.
The main portion is sweet green peppers filled with philadelphia cheese and shrimp. The peppers are cooked over a grill or, in this case, on a grill plate over a gas stove. The cheese is used just to cover the bottom and inside of the pepper which has been slit and cleaned of it's seeds and white ribs. I've packed two sauces too – tobasco for the peppers and soy for the fish fillets. Also here a few grapes for dessert.
I have more fun and eating pleasure creating these bentos. Since every day I eat at my desk (we have no cafeteria or lunch room to speak of) and I can't go home since it's too far to get there, eat and get back in time and furthermore, there are really no places you can buy a lunch where I work, at least I look forward to lunch time knowing I have made an effort to create a tasty dish that's nice to look at too.

Here is today's bento pic :

Bento Recipe 2

This bento contains lots of things that were easy to prepare the nite before and pack up the morning after.
The top part of the bento has blanched asparagus spears sprinkled with sesame seeds and a little oil. The right hand side has some guacamole (not so much garlic since it will be eaten during lunch time at work and we don't want to kill anyone with garlic breath) sprinkled with hot habenaro pepper. And a big fat hot green pepper. I purchased small mini-pringles for dipping which didn't make it into the picture but worked out great for the guacamole.
The bottom part of the bento has Sesame chicken and ketchup for dipping. The chicken is easy to prepare. Just make a marinade of :

1 egg white
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated
1 small garlic clove crushed or chopped
1 tsp of sesame oil
sesame seeds

Mix all the ingredients except the seeds until you get a frothy mixture. Cut the chicken breast into bite-size chunks and throw them into the marinade. Mix well and let stand in the fridge for an hour at least.
Heat some oil in a pan (about 1/4 inch of oil) and pour the seeds into a bowl. Remove the chicken pieces and let them drip off any excess marinade, roll them around in the sesame seeds and place in the oil to cook. Cook on both sides until crispy brown. Take them from the oil and place on blotting paper to remove the excess cooking oil. Let the pieces cool down before placing them into your bento. Salt to taste.

Pretty easy if you prepare the chicken for dinner the nite before and just take a few pieces to use for your lunch the day after. Most lunches are made from left-overs or from dinners the nite before. Just make a little extra for the day after !
And here is today's bento :

Bento Recipe

Here is a bento recipe which was so good that I made it twice. Don't mind the pictures. I'm not very good at getting pics that reflect how good the food was to eat.
The top part of the bento has a few options for side dishes. One is the daikon citrus salad served over mashed cauliflower. The middle is just quickly cooked rice spaghetti and the right hand side are just some sprouts. Including soy sauce and some oil, you can season everything when it comes time to eat it.

The bottom part of the bento is :

A) Chicken patties. You just need the following ingredients :

Chicken breast (raw) cut into chunks
1 tsp flour
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 small garlic clove pressed
Few sheets of nori seaweed
salt and pepper

You have to mix all the ingredients except the nori in a mixer till you obtain ground chicken meat which can be made into little patties. Form small meatball size patties and sandwhich them between strips of seaweed. Fry them in oil till they become golden brown on both sides. Cool and put them into your bento.

B) Soy Scallops
Take fresh or frozen scallops (thawed) and set aside.
In a small pan, cook 3 tblsp soy sauce, 1 tblsp sugar and 1tsp sake until the sauce starts to caramelise (become dense). Throw the scallops in until they become well coated with the glaze. Cool and put in the bento with the chicken.

C) Spinach with sesame seeds
Cook down some spinach and squeeze out the excess water. Cooked spinach will stay in the fridge for a few days too so you can use it as a veggie side for a few lunches. When you are ready to prepare, place in the bento and sprinkle with salt and sesame seeds. Add a few drops of sesame oil and bring a small container or oil to add later when it's ready for eating.

All of this food fit into the bento box I purchased on Ebay (see previous blog) and is quite small. But as you can see, you can fit a ton of food !

And here is today's bento :


Sushi is actually just fish (raw or not) prepared specially for consumption in bite-sized pieces. It doesn't have to be just fish either. It can be meat or veggies prepared in a similar fashion. Basically, the most important ingredient in preparing sushi is the rice. The rice is usually purchased as sushi rice or short grain rice. It has lots of starch in it so it needs to be washed before being cooked. Here is a "quick" sushi rice preparation :

2 cups short grain (sushi) rice (yields around 5 cups cooked)

2 cups cold water

1/2 cup sushi vinegar (you can find it in specialty stores)

Wash the rice in cold running water until the water runs clean and clear. Drain the rice for about half an hour to be sure to remove as much of the starch as possible. Put the rice in a pot and cover with the water. Place over medium heat and put the lid on. Cook till you hear the lid jiggling and usually some of the rice starch will seep out of the cover. Turn to high for about 2 minutes (still covered) then reduce to medium heat and cook another 5 minutes till the foam stops coming out and you hear a light crackling sound. Turn off the heat and let the rice sit COVERED for 15 minutes. After steaming, uncover and fluff a bit then wrap the lid in a kitchen towel and let it steam for another 15 minutes. After this, you can actually transfer the rice to a flat surface or bowl to cool the rice evenly. Be sure that you transfer the rice to a ceramic bowl - not metal - when you add the sushi vinegar otherwise the reaction with the metal may give it a bad taste. Fan the rice to cool it as much as possible. You can cover the rice with a damp towel if you're not going to use it straight away. NEVER refrigerate sushi rice ! It will not stick together as it should if it gets refridgerated. Sometimes you can heat it up in the microwave but it never sticks like it should. Besides, rice doesn't go bad over nite so why put it in the fridge ?

You can form little oval meatball shapes and lay bits of omelet or steamed and chilled shrimp on top. Or you can prepare sushi rolls. The rolls can be filled with anything you like. You can use cucumbers cut into julienne strips (carrots are great too) along with tuna salad or crab salad. Crab legs are great too. Avocado is also a wonderful sushi roll stuffer. You will need to find Nori seaweed (usually sold in packages at the grocery store. Be sure to seal it up if you don't use the whole package as it will dry out) and some wasabi (horse radish) sauce. Here is a simple cucumber roll to make :
Be sure that your hands are wet while working so the rice won't stick to you and have a sharp knife on hand to cut the rolls into even portions. There are actually little markings on most nori sheets to help you guage the cutting.
Here are two of my bentos made with sushi rolls. One with tuna salad,
and one with imitation crab leg. The green paste is the wasabi. It can be added to the soy sauce for dipping. (Thanks to Karen for the little dipping bowl!)
Remember that traditionally, the sushi is cut to size for the whole thing to go into your mouth. That's even tough for me but in any case it is considered bad manners to bite into one and put it back on your plate (sort of like "double dipping"). If you can't shove it all into your mouth on one go, at least hold on to it till you can get the second bite in. As for dipping, only the corner is usually dipped into the soy. You don't give the sushi a donut dunk. Just a touch on the end is sufficient - especially if you've seasoned your soy with the wasabi. It's customary to eat sushi with your hands so not to worry about finger fooding it. And the final touch is the pickled ginger. It can be a bit spicey but it's perfect for cleansing your mouth from one kind of fish to another.
Thanks to "The Sushi Chef Cookbook" which came with the sushi mat and pallet which I bought at the local grocery store. It has some great recipes for sushi toppings and nice suggestions for preparing a meal. And here is today's bento :

Food for your Bento

Just because a Bento Box is considered Japanese, it doesn't mean you have to put only japanese food in your bento box. You can obviously put anything that you enjoy eating in your box. There are actually some set rules for the content of the box for the japanese version (proportion of proteins and carbs etc) but as long as you avoid pre-prepared foods (ok, like hot dogs) then you are pretty sure to be making a healthy lunch. The whole point of bento boxing is taking the time to prepare a healthy meal and creating something pleasant to look at too.
Since it may or may not be possible to heat up your food in a microwave (both because not all of us have access to a microwave oven but also because not all bento boxes are microwavable), you should think "tepid" or cold food combinations. To give you an idea of a cold food combo, here was my garden bento with tuna salad (seen in last blog post).
Just normal tuna with mayo and on top a little red pepper and carrots cut into little stars. I added the seaweed for decoration.
Here is another quick bento box of mine with "crab legs" (the imitation crab fish sticks) garnished with stewed spicey seaweed and marinated citris daikon (which is a kind of radish), a side dish of steamed asparagus covered in spinach and sesame seeds. For fruit, I found lychees which I love. Notice the sauce bottles.
You could substitute the stewed seaweed with tartar sauce and the daikon with just regular radish cut into discs. It doesn't have to get complicated.

And this bento was prepared the night before. I just got some regular white fish (like haddock filets) and dredged them in seasoned whole wheat flour (you can add thyme, rosemary, basil flakes, whatever, to the flour and mix it around). Shake them off and quickly cook them in olive oil. They come out crispy but without a coating which can be heavy. Pat dry and cut the filets into bite-sized pieces, lay them on top of a bed of salad of some kind when they've cooled off and garnish them with stewed seaweed or whatever you like on fish. As a sidedish I made some red azuki beans (cooked with soy sauce and sugar), my daikon radish cut into julienne, hot green peppers all laid on top of soy spaghetti. You could simply buy some slaw as a side dish. I also added a little bit of wild boar sausage (or, as we know it, pepperoni) for a different taste. This is a bento that is best served tepid.
As you have seen, the trick is often to prepare a certain amount of side dishes ahead of time. When I found the daikon for example, I cut it all up into little pieces and threw it into a jar to marinade (sushi vinegar, water, salt, sugar, lemon peel and orange peel) and I can continue to use that as a garnish for quite a while. Same goes with the stewed seaweed. Just a little goes a long way. You can buy lots of side dish items to use from the fridge straight to the bento. Pickles, peppers, olives.....I even found these little spicey fish filets in their own individual packets.
Same goes for fruit. I located indiviudally wrapped dried prunes ! Kewl.
So, to get you started, here is a little recipe for a side dish or garnish that you can make and then store in the fridge. Thanks to the book BENTO BOXES Japanese Meals on the Go by Naomi Kijima which has a ton of ideas for bento boxing.

"Sprinkles keep in the fridge for up to a week and make a delicious combination with any of the side items....

4oz shrimp, peeled and deveined.
1 Tbsp each sugar, mirin and sake (you can find in the grocery store),
1 Tbsp water,

1. Boil the shrimp, drain and mince into little tiny pieces.
2. Put the shrimp in a pot with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Stir until the liquid is absorbed. Cool."

This is today's bento (dedicated to my sister!) Again thanks to E-obento :


Bento Tools

When putting together a bento, it helps to have certain kitchen tools to create interesting shapes and designs.
After surfing thru the internet, a few sites give some great ideas of what can be used to help you create an interesting bento both in content and design. For example, paper punches used in scrap booking are great for punching out different shapes from nori seaweed sheets. I located some pretty economical ones at a hobby store. There are stars and flowers, butterflies and insects and even letters so you can spell out messages or names to be used in the decoration of the bento food. Cookie cutters are fantastic for giving food nice shapes and trims.
Even craft scissors are nice if you need to make strips of nori seaweed to use as decorations. This morning, with very little time on hand, I quickly pulled out this little garden :
I used a regular food cutter for the carrots to shape them into stars. Nori seaweed for the flower stems, punch cutters for the dragon flies and frog. Using hot-pepper powder, I sprinkled a little to give the idea of soil and used salad for the garden leaves. Underneath is just regular tuna salad. You don't need much time or planning to pull this off.
Some other useful tools are cupcake papers or better, foil cupcake baking papers.
Or better yet, made from silicone that can be reused many times :
These fit in the box and isolate foods that may have been marinated in oil or other liquids to keep them from contaminating other foods in the box. Often artificial grass : Photobucket
is used too. This is a good divider between two kinds of foods - perhaps one spicey and the other not - to keep them from rubbing together for unwanted mixing of flavors.
Skewers are another great idea. Making small meatballs and then creating mini keebabs with the skewers makes eating easier. Another must are rice molds.
If you like to have rice as a side dish (instead of the usual bread) you can buy these molds which can be used to make different shapes. You can also use your hands to shape the race but some of the rice molds are cute giving you the opportunity to make little rice bears, stars, hearts, etc. with nori seaweed faces. Some bento boxes actually come with rice molds which can be pressed into the mound of rice in the box separating it and making it easier for eating either with chopsticks or a fork. (Rice here is usually intended sushi-type rice which tends to stick together very well anyway and makes for easy chop stick eating).

A really strange mold is the egg mold and a weiner mold pictured here :
Photobucket flower weiners.....

It works best with qual eggs or smaller size chicken eggs but comes in various types. I have some that once cooled, come out with a panda or teddy bear face which you can then decorate with nori to enhance the face. You have to put it in the mold while hot, otherwise it won't work . But the final effect is fantastic! I also found a microwave egg cooker which makes an egg super fast and perfect every time. Small trick is to wipe a bit of oil in the egg cooker so that once cooked and cooled, it will slide out easily and fit straight into a cupcake paper. Also remember to break the yolk with a toothpick before cooking and cook on the outside of the rotating dish, otherwise the egg will explode.

Purchasing small sauce containers seems silly but it's a life saver.
You can easily find places on Ebay that will sell packages of 15 or more in one lot. Check out Asian Utensils for accessories like sauce bottles and artificial grass. Some sellers are even offering a few sauce bottles when you purchase a bento set from them. You can put anything liquid that you normally use to season your food. It's always best to season when you are ready to eat instead of having something like rice sit in soy sauce all day only to be soggy when it's time to eat it. I put tobasco, soy sauce, seasame oil, lemon juice, you name it.

You can check out more by going to Cooking Cute's site and checking out her links. It's a great site and very much worth the visit !
Next time we will begin checking out some recipes so be back! Here's today's bento :Photobucket

sabato 27 settembre 2008

Choosing a Bento Box

Bento boxes come in a variety of sizes and shapes and volume. Some are more adaptable to snack size meals while others are for "man sized" portions. You can actually find some boxes which are very masculine in their design and colour and are made specifically with men's appetites in mind.
I had the good fortune of discovering Ebay as a source of bento boxes. I had traveled to Tokyo many years ago and found these boxes purely by chance. I was looking for traditional wooden lacquered boxes and stumbled upon the more modern plastic lunch boxes. I found two in a large department store called Mitsukoshi which sells just about everything. One was a two-tier blue with a hidden compartment on the top which kept a pair of chop sticks. Over time, the closing mechinism broke and I began searching on the internet for similar boxes with no luck. Only until about a year ago did I stumble upon the bento fanatics in cyberspace like me. And of course I couldn't resist. I just had to replace that old box.
I found both under the Ebay shop Japan Souvenir. The prices were pretty decent for one (the larger of the two) and the second a little more. The first one I purchased for my husband since it was pretty big. It's a two-tier with one of the tiers having its own cover. It has a little compartment for chop-sticks which were included.

The other was a little more expensive since it also was a two-tier but came with its own bento strap (a heavy duty strap which keeps the bento box closed) and its matching bag. Plus it has a nice japanese kanji graffiti design.
I've also purchased from 21stcenturyfineartgiclee also off of Ebay this very nice green bento set. Not only is it a two-tier, it came with a matching elastic strap, utensils, bottles, towel, carrying bag and even plastic grass which is used as a food separator when you make your bento meals. (see upcoming blogs about packing bento boxes). It's not as resistant as the above two but it's a nice matching set and works well for a good quantity of food.

This box was for me a particular bargain given its size and that all the accessories match. Usually you have to buy them all separately.

Many boxes have different themes. You can imagine how many Hello Kitty bentos are out there. Here is one based on a manga pig called Monokuro (I think).
There are also sexy manga boxes too ! Here is one called the Lolita Goth Bento Box. It actually comes with a garter belt as the bento strap. And of course it comes with a matching can check the sexy bentos at JBox. They are a little more expensive than most but they have a very interesting collection. I never ended up buying this one and to tell you the truth I wish I had. Together with its matching bag of course !

No matter what you end up choosing to put in the box, the contents become all the more precious when you close it all up and pack up your lunch bag. Leaves something to be desired when you think of the old brown bag lunch!!! Here is this blogs bento :