Monday, December 22, 2008

Brussels Sprout Overload

Oh man, brussels sprouts. I like them, really, I do. I just discovered them last year via this very popular recipe on 101 Cookbooks. It's pretty much the only way I cook them although I've also had them roasted in the oven and cut into thin strips for a hash. But what was a thinking when I bought this monster stalk of sprouts??

This turned out to be 6+ servings of brussels sprouts. Thank goodness the bf likes them too so really it was only 3 different meals with sprouts, but I STILL HAVE A FEW LEFT and they are probably going to be wasted as I am leaving for the holidays tomorrow. Poor baby sprouts.

They do photograph beautifully though, especially when they're a bit charred on the bottoms and sprinkled with a lovely white shower of grated Parmesan. And they fit neatly into bentos (although I can't say that my officemates have all enjoyed the sulfurous smell as much as I have).

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Food Coma

That's where I've been for the past couple months... in a food-induced coma that prohibits me from blogging. Really. :)

Truthfully, it's just been a mess of too much work, school, and hibernation. Something about the cold weather makes me really sleepy and extremely lazy. I've taken a few more pictures of my food lately but nothing that excites me. There may be some more food inspiration in the near future though. I'm planning on making half a dozen baking kits in glass jars as holiday presents, which I'm sure will photograph nicely. Also, I'm having laser eye surgery at the end of the week - it's the kind that requires a longer recovery time so after about 4 days of very poor vision and being able to do nothing but sit on the couch, I MIGHT just want to cook/blog!

We'll see though. I've become quite a bear in the winter. Zzz....

Friday, November 14, 2008

Finally, an update!

November has been sooooo busy so far! Work and school are completely taking over my life (having a new Wii doesn't help either). I've been making lunches sporadically but they aren't very inspired and thus not quite photo-worthy. Also, stupid daylight savings has stolen my lovely natural light and it shows in my pictures. Grrr. Anyway, here are a couple bentos that actually turned out decent.

pan-fried smoked turkey sausage, colby jack cheese cubes, grapes, bbq sauce in container

Trader Joe's mushroom turnovers, grapes underneath bear egg

all put together in a new bento box

spam musubi and siu mai on a bed of edamame

pb soba noodles, carrot kinpara, simmered kabocha, miso chicken

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Ingredients: Miso, Kabocha, and Shitake

Making bento has really inspired me to try new foods, especially Japanese ones! While at the Korean market a few weeks ago, I picked up a big tub of white miso, a smallish kabocha squash, and a package of fresh shitake mushrooms. I had been reading about miso on Just Hungry and although I have had miso soup at Japanese restaurants, I have never tried cooking with it. For my first miso attempt, I modified this recipe and simmered some cubes of kabocha in a miso, ginger, garlic, soy, and brown sugar broth. After just 15 minutes, the squash was delightfully tender and almost creamy. The broth was addictive and I couldn't stop drinking it straight from the pot!

Next, I used the miso to flavor a stir-fry of pork and shitake mushrooms. While the miso by itself had an overwhelmingly salty flavor (and this is the mild kind!), the saltiness was toned down nicely when blended with the rest of the ingredients. I combined the miso pork stir-fry with the kabocha in a variety of ways:

kabocha, curry tuna onigiri, miso pork/shitake, grape tomatoes, seckel pear (so cute and tiny!)

miso pork/shitake, kabocha, furikake mixed onigiri on a bed of edamame

pork/shitake and kabocha with soba in miso broth

Finally, I made a dish to showcase the fresh shitakes - mushroom risotto with shitake, button mushrooms, lots of shallots, and fresh thyme. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough arborio rice so I added some short-grain Japanese rice and some of the kernels didn't seem to cook enough so some bits were extra chewy! Whoops...

Top: bratwurst, tomato/mozzarella skewers
Bottom: mushroom risotto
Side: raspberry cookies and freeze-dried mango

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Food in Color

I couldn't resist sharing the bounty from my local farmer's market with its gorgeous palette. The colors make my usual meals seem gray and lifeless. Unfortunately, the potato lurking in the back was SUPPOSED to be a purple sweet potato (Okinawan) but turned out to be yellow. :( Still tasted great!

I also picked up fresh beans for the first time. These were labeled birds egg beans but, using my expert Googling skills, I discovered that they are more commonly known as borlotti or cranberry beans. They were delicious simmered till tender, then tossed with bacon, garlic, red pepper, and pasta.

The colors inspired me to include more color in my bentos. I am particularly proud of this one:

Top: Sauteed peppers, hash browns with carrot flower
Bottom: Edamame, carrot sticks, ham/cheese rollups, golden grape tomato, mayo/mustard mix in the container

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fish Burgers and Cakes

Maki over at Just Bento posted a tuna/tofu burger recipe back in April. I finally got around to trying it but with oyster sauce instead of miso. (I've been meaning to pick up miso at my local Asian grocery store but haven't had the time to venture farther than Harris Teeter!) They were still pretty good and especially cute in bear, heart, and star shapes! I ate a few right away and packed some more in a couple of bentos, including the one seen in this post, but I still have a few waiting in the freezer...

tuna/tofu burgers browning in the pan

Soon after this experiment, I had some frozen tilapia-esque fish (not sure of the name) begging to be used. I baked two almond-crusted fillets, ate one for dinner that night and planned to use the second fillet as-is in a bento. Unfortunately, the almond crust wasn't quite as tasty as I had envisioned and I found myself dreading more mediocre fish for lunch. The solution? Fish cakes!

I found some interesting looking recipes for Thai fish cakes with curry and fish sauce, so I improvised and made my own version with a beaten egg, panko breadcrumbs, fish sauce, curry powder, and green onion. I was really pleased with how they turned out and they were the perfect size for fitting into a bento!

curry fish cakes over fettucine alfredo with slivered almonds, roasted zucchini, cherry tomatoes

There are still a couple fish cakes leftover, keeping company with my tuna/tofu burgers, and I think maybe this week they will make another appearance! Mmm, I sense some tasty lunches on the horizon...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Couple More Bentos

I have a post coming up about the tuna/tofu burgers from the previous post, but for now here is a picture of a couple recent bentos:

edamame, paprika chicken, mashed potatoes

top: cheez-its, 100-calorie pack carrot cakes (so cute but not that tasty), peachy gummy, Hershey's milk chocolate with almonds
bottom: beef and bean chili

a makeshift two-tier bento box with two small containers held together by an onigiri bento band

Friday, September 26, 2008

Trying New Things

I like to think I'm a pretty adventurous eater, but my forays into new and unique foods are typically contained to restaurant eating. I rarely buy new types of food when grocery shopping, preferring to stick to my staple vegetables, meats, pasta, etc. But once in a while, something will catch my eye and I'll be compelled to buy it even if I don't have any idea what to do with it!

This time, it was figs. I don't think I'd ever had a fresh fig before. In fact, the only form of a fig I'd ever had was probably in a Fig Newton. I had never even SEEN a fresh fig until Harris Teeter had them in stock last week, a pile of gorgeous black mission and brown turkey figs, three for 99 cents! I bought three of each type and stuck them in the fridge pending further research for good fig recipes. I soon realized the ideal way to eat them was as-is, without any embellishment.

brown turkey figs (black mission behind)

I tried a black mission fig first. Mine were perhaps a touch on the overripe side, but the sugary taste was undeniably satisfying. The brown turkey figs were a better texture but not as sweet. Having had a taste as-is, I decided to try them with cheese. I broiled a few with slices of parmesan cheese on top, then drizzled them with honey. The honey improved the taste of the brown turkey figs while the sharp flavor of the cheese paired nicely with the sweet black mission figs. But ultimately, I think I prefer them fresh.

I'm happy to say I've now had fresh figs and perhaps I'll had a couple more weeks to enjoy them before they quickly go out of season! I even managed to incorporate them into a bento:

top: raspberry cookies in the lid
middle: corn, tuna/tofu burgers, soy sauce
bottom: figs and edamame

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bento Backlog

It seems that all I do on this blog lately is post pictures of my bentos. Should this become BentoOverload? Or are two O's superfluous? Bentoverload... that looks strange, somehow.

Anyway, on to the bentos!

Leftover Thai bento: fried rice, straw mushrooms (picked out of the bf's leftovers), fried tofu dumpling, bottle of soy sauce

top tier (which was really the bottom tier): cube onigiri and edamame
bottom tier: fried spam slices, avocado and tomato salad, clementine wedges, bottle of soy sauce
notes: This was a really weird combo and I decided that I dislike leftover avocado

Another make-your-own fajita bento: black beans, shredded chicken, flour tortillas, peppers and onions, a clementine, shredded cheese in a snack-size plastic baggie (not shown)
notes: I love how everything fits in this box! I used the subcontainers from another box and they fit rather well.

Hard-boiled egg shaped like a star (but looks like a flower), apricots, zucchini gratin covered with parmesan, black beans, curry couscous with sausage, green beans
Notes: There was too much food in this box. Also, I put too much parm on the gratin and you can't see the pretty yellow/green zukes.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Favorite Sandwich

I'm not a huge fan of sandwiches for lunch - they seem so monotonous in both flavor and texture. A good deli sandwich can be appetizing when made fresh, but somehow prepacked sandwiches look bland and lifeless when removed from their plastic baggies.

I vastly prefer a grilled or pressed sandwich. The toasty bread and melted cheese transform an otherwise boring meal into a delicious treat. Grilled cheese is the universal favorite but my twist on this adds avocado and deli meat for an out-of-this-world sandwich for which I occasionally develop huge cravings!

You can use any kind of cheese or deli meat but the key to this sandwich is mashed avocado (I like mine slightly chunky) which provides moisture, eliminating the need for mayonnaise. I also add a bit of garlic salt, pepper, and lemon juice to the mash. Above, smoked provolone and turkey give the sandwich a burst of saltiness that pairs well with the creamy avocado and toasty bread. I've had this with tomato soup too (a la the classic grilled cheese/soup combo) and it's fantastic for dipping!

Now if only I had a portable sandwich press to take to work... I'd have grilled sandwiches every day!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Rediscovering Rice

When I was little, my mom had to force me to finish a bowl of rice at dinner. I refused to eat it plain and had to top if with some kind of sauce. My dad was offended by my rejection of his beloved rice and frequently scolded me for drowning the rice in sauce, turning it into a stew or soup. As I got older, the rice became an expected part of the meal, not a burden but not a delight.

It wasn't until my recent forays into bento that I realized the endless possibilities of rice. I'd always liked it as a base for stir-fry but now I'm also using it as a portable snack and a shell for savory fillings. Additionally, rice is easy to freeze and defrost, making it a quick and convenient addition to my lunches. Now I'm using it almost daily and really enjoying it!

Top tier: stir-fried tofu cubes, leftover chicken, peas
Bottom tier: rice cubes with salmon furikake, string cheese

Pork mango picadillo, rice with furikake

Pork mango picadillo, rice, mooncake, Laughing Cow cheese and crackers

Spam musubi (minus terikyaki glaze)

Furikake mixed rice in adorable bear, star, and heart shapes

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lazy Bentos

I bought frozen mini-meatballs from Trader Joe's, thinking they'd be good for a quick spaghetti and meatballs dinner. Instead, I discovered that they are perfect for a few bites of meat in my bentos! The instructions said to microwave on high for 4 minutes which resulted in extremely hard, burnt, and smelly meatballs. Next I tried 2 minutes which worked initially but in subsequent trials also resulted in overcooked meatballs. 1 minute turned out to be just right!

mini-meatballs over orzo, laughing cow cheese and mini nutter butters (crackers underneath)

I've also been buying all varieties of premade pasta from Harris Teeter. So far, the only one that's appealed to me is the veal-stuffed agnolotti, while the cheese and veg stuffed versions have been slightly too chewy and unappetizing. Last night, I tried a five-cheese tortellini which did not taste very good, even with the addition of a ricotta tomato sauce.

tortellini with peas in ricotta tomato sauce, meatballs, mini red pepper, laughing cow cheese with crackers underneath

What other lazy foods can I use in my bentos? I've got frozen mushroom turnovers in the fridge, courtesy of Trader Joe's. They need to be baked but could probably be refrigerated after that and reheated in the microwave at work. I'm out of edamame but that is one great space filler which will be used more frequently in my bentos once I remember to pick some up at the store. I love lazy food!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tuna and Orzo Bento

Harris Teeter had yellowfin tuna steaks on sale for $4.99/lb the other day! I was going to buy salmon but decided last minute to get a pound of the tuna. I've never cooked fresh tuna before so it was interesting to experiment. I wanted an Asian marinade, something with soy sauce and sesame oil. As I started to pull out the ingredients, I noticed in my fridge an unopened bottle of Gyoza dipping sauce from Trader Joe's! It had most of the ingredients I wanted in my marinade so I saved lots of time and measuring by using that, with the addition of a squeeze of honey and a teaspoon more of sesame oil (love that stuff).

The steaks marinated for an hour before being pan-fried over high heat. In retrospect, the honey mixed with high heat was perhaps a bad idea as the tuna got a bit too dark on the outside. They tasted pretty good though, especially topped with the remaining marinade (boiled to kill any germs) then paired with orzo and fresh corn on the cob. One pound of tuna was definitely too much food for me and my boyfriend so I put the remainder into a really cute bento!

Top: orzo with garlic, onion, and zucchini, topped with toasted slivered almonds
Bottom: Sliced fresh tuna, skewered cornichons, adorable mini sweet pepper, bottle of gyoza dipping sauce for tuna

I've been experimenting with the settings on my point-and-shoot digicam (Canon SD1000) to find the best combination for indoor food pictures using the flash. These didn't come out too bad. I lowered the exposure setting, set the color scheme on "vivid" to bring out the colors of the food, and used the macro lens. Still not the greatest though. I'll have to experiment some more...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Texas Food!

If the food I ate this past weekend was indicative of what Texans eat all the time... well, all I can say is that I love Texas. It wasn't the most healthy food, not by a long shot, but boy was it tasty. My girlfriends and I pigged out in San Antonio and Austin with BBQ, Mexican/Tex-Mex, and multiple trips to Sonic. And, of course, I have pictures of every meal we ate!

Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q

We stopped at the side of a highway for this authentic no-plates BBQ joint. It wasn't until I saw the "sause" bottles that I realized it was the same Rudy's from a coworker had bought me a bottle of BBQ sauce. We ordered a bit of everything... beef brisket, pork ribs, half a chicken, sausage, creamed corn, baked beans, and potato salad. My favorites were the ribs and creamed corn.

Although I'd seen it on TV, it was my first time eating piles of barbecued meat on waxed paper. We sat at picnic tables surrounded by Rudy's "kitsch" including this hilarious yet disturbing sign:

La Fogata

This Mexican restaurant had quite the flashy and tacky decor with hundreds of strings of lights woven in and around the outdoor patios, bubbling fountains, and neon signs. But the food? Well, I only have one picture of my meal (beef quesadilla), which is evidence of how good it really was.


What is it about Sonic that makes it sooo good? Maybe it's because there are none in DC (always want what you can't have, right?) or because the drive-in concept is so quaint yet novel, or maybe it's because they serve one of my favorite foods - tater tots! Whatever the reason, we went there twice in our brief weekend trip.

Chili cheese tator tots

Chili cheese Coney

I read about this place on both Chow and Yelp, so I recommended that we go there for brunch. The restaurant is in kind of a sketchy neighborhood at the side of a highway, and the building is extremely ramshackle on the outside. Inside, your senses are assaulted with pink walls and slanted floors that feel somewhat fun house-esque. I could tell my friends were skeptical but the food definitely upstaged the decor. I particularly loved the scrambled egg-covered tortilla chips that were still slightly crispy with a hint of smokiness.

Hibiscus and mint iced tea with ginger and white grape juice

Refried beans, guac salsa, scrambled eggs with tortilla chips

Guac salsa and refried beans on a special roll with garlic sausage

Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill

I'm pretty picky about choosing a restaurant so I felt a bit uneasy letting a friend of a friend book us reservations for dinner in Austin. But we likely never would have found this affordable and delicious place on our own so I'm extremely grateful! The decor was very nice with stone walls and low lighting, and our waitress was the friendliest server you could ask for, even going out of her way to ring up separate checks for our party of 13. Everything I tried was good and the complimentary cornbread, which had its own huge box advertisement on the menu, was out of this world especially when paired with creamy honey butter.

Chorizo-stuffed pork tenderloin

Five-cheese macaroni and achiote chicken

Miso-grilled salmon

Seafood enchiladas

The infamous cornbread

Casa de Trimi

This last meal was a hearty breakfast lovingly prepared by one of my best girlfriends after a long night of drinking and only 4 hours of sleep. Sometimes you just can't beat home cooking.