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