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 :