Sunday, October 18, 2009

A change of scene

Well, once again I haven't updated in quite some time. This time, my excuse is that I was moving overseas in stages throughout the summer: to Seoul, South Korea. We arrived in late August and have been settling in these last two months.

Because we were unable to move into our more permanent apartment until late September, we have spent the better part of these last two months eating in restaurants. Although I had my reservations initially, eating out at every meal here has actually proved to be quite fun, tasty, and economical.

Here is a picture of my current favorite breakfast:

Contents (clockwise from left): seaweed, doenjangjjigae (basically Korean miso soup - it's loaded with vegetables, tofu and hot peppers. This restaurant makes my favorite version so far) with white rice; kimchi; damuji (sp)-the yellow pickled radish; Mandu (dumplings), some kind of greens in a cold "soup," and spicy beansprouts. We ordered the doenjangjjigae and mandu, and everything else came with the meal (typical here; the gratis side dishes are called "banchan" in Korean).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Article on Friday Muslim Market in Shanghai

It's been several months since I've posted anything here. Mostly I've been too busy to post, and when I do get the chance to post, I've been posting to Aidan Bento Society.

I wanted to link to this post on Appetite for China about the Friday Muslim market in Shanghai.

While I was living in Shanghai in the fall of 2002, I didn't know about this market. If I had known, I definitely would have gone. My favorite street food there was always the lamb skewers (羊肉串 yangrou chuan) and bread (nan). The pictures look very appetizing. I miss that bread...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ajvar, burek, ćevapčići: A Serbian food primer

It's snowing, and we're snowed in out here at the house where we are house sitting (in the NoVA 'burbs). Both M. and I aren't going in to work today. The roads were pretty treacherous last night, and it's currently (lightly) snowing like the dickens (love that phrase, definitely underused) and windy to boot (another great phrase). School was canceled for me (not D.C. schools though, maybe in part because of what our president had to say the last time DC public schools closed for inclement weather? ).

What can I say? It warms this Minnesota ex-pat's heart. I'm enjoying my day of cooking (for the first Bento Society bento, to be delivered tomorrow) and catching up on blogging and work and such. Hopefully we can take the dogs out later for a snow walk when M. gets up.

M. and I had a great weekend, food-wise. On Saturday A. threw a belated birthday dinner party for him, a Twin Peaks-themed vegan meal complete with homemade cherry pie (her first, definitely an achievement!) and home baked bread. Pretty awesome - thanks again, A.!

Twin Peaks Meal - Pie not pictured...

Then, last night we drove back into town for my Serbian teacher's party, complete with buffet spread, which was also amazing. It was my first time having a Serbian meal. Our hostess did a commendable job - it was a lot of food, and I believe there were over 20 guests there!

Loading up our plates

Bread, ćevapčići, and burek (in the back)

Here's a sampling of the menu, with links for the curious:
* ćevapčići (my teacher told me it was from Restaurant Cosmopolitan in Alexandria) with delicious fluffy-chewy bread reminiscent of ciabatta but fluffier, and raw onions and sour cream-butter
* burek (also from Restaurant Cosmopolitan)
* gibanica - really buttery and delicious
* sarma - Serbian cabbage rolls. I was told by another dinner guest that they are made with pickled cabbage leaves, unlike the Russian/Polish versions (golubtsy/golabki). The Wikipedia article I've referenced here states that sarma can be made with either fresh or pickled cabbage.
* proja/projara - mini muffin style
* several different salads: green salad with radishes, potato salad with peas (was too full to try that one), and a cucumber and tomato salad topped with grated kefalotiri
* ajvar - I finally got to try it! Roasted red pepper spread - delicious.
* a stewed dish of chicken, carrots, and potatoes whose name I did not catch
* two desserts: "the prince's doughnuts" (basically cream puffs) and this layered creamy nutty bar that was really good. I can't remember all of the food names, unfortunately...
* all kinds of alcohol including šljivovica. We also tried this Serbian Coke (Cockto) and red wine concoction called bambus ("bamboo"); I had heard the term calimocho before for the Spanish version of the same

While poking around Wikipedia, I learned that the word sarma is derived from the Turkish verb "sarmak," meaning "wrapping" or "rolling." A different etymology from the Polish term for the same dish, golabki, which means "little pigeons."

Made me want to go on a food tour of the Balkans. So good. I also miss Serbian class...that was a great semester.

To my Serbian teacher: Hvala for the odlicno meal!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Bento Blog

I mentioned recently that I was thinking about starting a blog devoted to the bento lunches that I will be making for my coworkers. The blog is now up and running; you can view it here. I am only offering my bento lunches to my coworkers, but anyone is free to comment on the contents of my bento lunches and the blog posts in general.

The first set of menus is up next week, for March 3-5.

Here we go...Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

JK Bento for today

Whew, busy. First I was sick, and now I'm (still sick) busy!

I have just enough time to post about today's bento for my coworker, "JK," including a link to the original recipe. She loved this particular one, and at least one other coworker is also interested in the recipe. So, here it is - if you click on the name it will take you to the original recipe, which I basically followed as written. The only difference? More fish sauce for me (love that fish sauce. What can I say; I'm my father's daughter). Oh, also, I used water instead of vegetable stock.

JK Bento #5:
*Thai tofu and squash curry
*Steamed jasmine rice
*Accompaniments: Crushed peanuts (never again; it's a peanut-free school!), lime wedges, and chopped cilantro

No photo, unfortunately - I forgot to take one! I was so involved in planning and cooking this bento lunch that photographing it slipped my mind.

A word on the red Thai curry paste that I use: I usually use Mae Ploy brand (cheaper, and it comes in a larger tub - it's the one on the right here at this link), which Dad always uses, but this time I had to grab something from Harris Teeter, so I ended up with a small jar of Thai Kitchen red curry paste. Good in a pinch, but I think I'll go back to Mae Ploy when I get the chance to buy some more.

Lately I've been thinking about starting a new blog devoted exclusively to my work bento lunches. Stay tuned...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blah. (or, Why I Have Not Published My Week 5 Report Until Now)

It's been busy this weekend (well, either I've been busy or sick or both), with hardly any time to update. I was just now able to publish my Valentine's Day post! So, hopefully I can wrap up my bento challenge report thoroughly (i.e., review goals, more bento thoughts) soon.

Now, time for a Woody Allen movie, and then bed.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Week 5 of Just Bento Challenge Final Wrap-up report

Happy Valentine's Day! We started our Valentine's Day off right: in the emergency room at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been developing some kind of upper-respiratory infection over the last few days. Yesterday I had the day off, so I took the opportunity to rest in bed all day. By the time I thought to take my temperature and saw how high it was, our doctor's office was closed, but the on-call physician I got in touch with recommended that I get checked out. Since it was the weekend, the emergency room was the only option, joy. M and I have had to do this before - when I fainted in November 2007 and we spent 8 hours in the Georgetown University hospital emergency room (again, on a Friday night, what is with my timing on these things?) to find out that I had "a touch of pneumonia" (ha).

This time, the verdict was "you have a virus, get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids." And, I think my fever broke this morning, so hopefully no more fever.

My timing could not have been worse. Last night we had to miss the pre-birthday celebration at Black Cat for M and V's birthday (so it effectively became , Valentine's Day is today (luckily we did not make any reservations or formal plans) and M's birthday is tomorrow! Hopefully I will be up for going to SpaWorld to celebrate as planned.

So, to get to my somewhat belated wrap-up report for the Just Bento Challenge! This week I made at least one obento every weekday, for a total of 9.

Monday 02.09.09 Leftovers Obento x2

-Steak with coq au vin sauce
-roasted brussels sprouts
-roasted delicata squash from our CSA, with berebere
-short-grain white rice

Tuesday 02.10.09 - my lunch and our dinner

My lunch obento:
-leftover Thai-style steamed pork meatballs
-soy simmered carrots and mushrooms with ginger
-broccoli trees
-white rice with homemade noritama furikake (recipe courtesy Just Bento, here)

Our pre-class dinner bento - Steak sandwich fixings:
-sliced steak leftover from our Sunday dinner
-crumbled blue cheese
-thinly sliced onion
-salad savoy (the purple stuff underneath the onion)
-sliced bread
-Dijon mustard
-black bean and pork soup

Wednesday 02.11.09 Asian mish-mash obento for me and JK

My bento contents:
-instant bi bim naeng myun leftover from midnight snack
-lazy easy tea egg
-broccoli tree
-green beans in miso-sesame-soy sauce dressing
-homemade daikon pickles
-cold spiced Szechuan shrimp
-mandarin oranges

JK's bento contents:
-stir-fried shirataki noodles (I basically followed the recipe here at Just Bento)
-lazy easy tea egg
-green beans in miso-sesame-soy sauce dressing
-broccoli trees
-homemade daikon pickles
-cold spiced Szechuan shrimp
-mandarin oranges

Thursday 02.12.09 Separate obento for me and JK

JK's bento contents:
-2 onigiri (made using this method, so easy and fun!) one plain covered in noritama furikake, one with cream cheese and homegrown radish sprouts filling, covered in gomashio made by another coworker
-Simmered CSA kabocha squash (delicious - I was snacking on it as I was filling the bento)
-green beans in miso-sesame-soy dressing
-Cold spiced Szechuan shrimp

My bento contents:
-Shirataki noodles
-Leftover kul pa jun (Korean green onion and oyster pancake) from a yummy dinner at Yechon, a 24-hour Korean restaurant in Annandale

Friday 02.13.09 M's Valentine's Day Omuraisu (オムライス) "love wife bento" (ラブワイフ弁当)

M's bento Contents:
-Omuraisu (omelette rice): I pretty much followed Maki's recipe at Just Bento for this (and took her idea of making Omuraisu for special occasions. Thanks, Maki!).
The fried rice filling was seasoned with ketchup, soy sauce, and mirin, and for veggies I used shitake mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, onions and ginger.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Coworker Bento #2

Just got back from checking our van out in Oakton and having dinner at a 24-hour Korean restaurant in Annandale. Needless to say, I'm really tired (and coming down with some kind of upper respiratory nastiness). Just wanted to take a quick minute to post details on the latest bento I made for my coworker:

*stir-fried shirataki noodles based on Maki's recipe on Just Bento (but without gochujang, unfortunately, because I haven't been able to obtain any yet!): tofu, green pepper, carrot
*lazy easy tea egg
*chilled Szechuan spiced shrimp (recipe from a cookbook I have at home generically titled "Chinese Cooking" from JG Press)
*green beans in sesame-miso-soy sauce dressing
*homemade daikon pickles made in my tabletop pickle pot, a present from my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, who live in Tokyo
*broccoli trees
*mandarin orange segments

Gearing up for the long weekend: Tomorrow is my last day of work for the week, since we have an in-service day at school and specialty teachers are not required to attend, followed by the 3-day President's Day weekend. It will be Valentine's Day and birthday celebrations for M. the entire time, including a birthday trip out to SpaWorld on Sunday and a possible Valentine's Day trip somewhere else (Annapolis?) on Saturday. Thus the need to get our van checked out (which we had not used since Thanksgiving, and then only to take it for a test drive around the neighborhood - we really don't use a car at all).

And now, to bed!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Just Bento Challenge Final Week Goals

It's the eve of Week 5 of Maki's Getting Started Bento Challenge, so here I go: my goals for this week.

What have you learned? What can you work on?

I have really enjoyed doing this challenge, and I think that it has served as a great start to a regular bento-making routine. I have also found that confining my efforts to a limited, definable space has enhanced my creativity when it comes to recipes and food pairings. Finally, it just feels really good to sit down to a full, beautiful meal of food every day at lunchtime - a great way to de-stress. M. also appreciates my efforts, although one surprise of doing this challenge has been that he doesn't need lunch as much as I thought he did, so the bento-making is mainly for me.

I want to work on building a stash and also an "arsenal" of go-to recipes that I can whip up in the morning. Obviously Just Bento has been very helpful in this regard, as well as Lunch in a Box.

Today gave us a head start on the week:
* I put up a batch of radish sprouts in my BioStarter, for maki sushi later in the week
* I roasted a couple of winter squash from our CSA when the oven was still on after making roasted brussels sprouts for our dinner
* I made a batch of tsubu an (chunky adzuki bean jam) to have on hand (numerous potential uses - I'm sure it'll turn up in at least one bento this week!). I use a recipe from Washoku, by Elizabeth Andoh.
* I marinated and M. then cooked up a London Broil that was on sale at Harris Teeter - we had this for dinner with rice and brussels sprouts, and the leftovers are going into our Monday obento.

Although I certainly don't have the luxury of time every weekend to put up so many things in preparation for the coming week, I plan on taking advantage of the time when I have it, because I feel so much more prepared having done all of that work today.

Is there any area of focus that was a stumbling block for you?

The hardest part for me has been getting organized to make bentos: setting up my mise en place. With the recent added challenge of making bento for my coworker and possibly additional coworkers in the near future, organization has become paramount to me not going insane.

I started working on this over the weekend, in taking the time to clear out and re-organize our fridge and freezer. I feel much better having done that, because now I know the exact contents of both fridge and freezer, and where everything is located!

I also found that I was focusing too much on bento making and not enough on dinner. I forgot how incorporating dinner leftovers into bentos can simplify and shorten the process of making bentos. For this coming week, I plan to focus a little more on dinner, in the hopes that it will decrease the amount of time that I spend on our bentos, particularly in the morning.

Finally, I think that in order for me to keep this up in the long run it's best to "keep it simple, stupid." While I would like to use bento making as a way to expand my cooking repertoire and be creative, I want to keep in mind that I am doing it to feel Less stressed, and back off a bit if I get to the point where bento making is becoming too time-consuming and overwhelming everything else in my life.

Where do bentos fit in your life?
Making bentos every workday for myself is definitely essential, since I don't have the time to go out to eat (better for my budget and my health, anyway, so it works out for the best!). However, I have discovered that M. only needs a bento a couple times a week. Also, bentos are becoming a source of income for me, as I have started making bento a couple of times a week for a coworker who pays me for them.

Reasons I want to continue making bentos:
* I have to! (otherwise I would skip lunch most days at work)
* It's a good way for me to expand my cooking repertoire
* It's a potential source of income for me (now and maybe in an expanded form in the future)
* It's fun!
* It gives me a reason to keep my kitchen organized, which helps me to feel less stressed in general.

My goals for this week are:
* Dinner bentos for Tuesday
* Plan a dinner every night that we're going to be at home
* Use of leftovers, and starting to put up a stash
* Finish a draft of a plan for offering my bento-making services to additional coworkers

Aside from everything that I've discussed here, this challenge has given me something to write about!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Two meals, back to back: A study in contrasts

Here's what we had for breakfast at home this morning:

Thai-style jook with steamed pork meatballs (thanks for the suggestion to steam them, Mom! They were really light)

And here's what we made last night for our late-night dinner to break in my new Le Creuset pot:

Coq au Vin (Julia Child's recipe, found online here) with roasted brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes

The new pot, with lid:

First of many Le Creuset meals to come, I'm sure.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Just Bento Challenge Week 4 Wrap-up Report's the end of Week 4 of the Just Bento Getting Started Bento Challenge, and I'm tired.

In the spirit of making bentos for others (which was coincidentally the challenge theme for this week), I have taken on one "client" - a coworker who has been admiring my lunches for a while. JK, as we'll call her, was willing to pay me for my efforts, so as of Thursday I have started making her obento for most days that she is at school.

So, I have most certainly met the Week 4 challenge theme head-on. As it turns out, M. only needed a lunch a couple of days this week, so adding JK was not really that much extra effort. However, after this coming week there is a good chance that I will be adding more customers! Many people at work were interested in signing up for whatever I was able to offer them. My lunches have been attracting some attention around the lunch table for some time. It's a vast improvement from the fall, where I was habitually scrambling to find something that I could eat in the 20-30 minutes that I have to eat lunch (I have recess duty). So, I know that I will continue to make obento for myself, and making bento for others doesn't seem like that much of a stretch (plus, I would be getting paid!)

Here's what I ended up making for obento this week (seven total bento on all five weekdays):

Monday 02.02.09
You know what, I didn't take a picture, and I can't remember what I ate this
I think it might have been curry, just like last Monday, plus some greens or something.

Tuesday 02.03.09 Tuna Salad Futomaki (fat roll) Bento, for me

-One tuna salad roll (tuna, Kewpie mayo, yuzu togarashi, scallions)
-One lazy tea egg, quartered
-Dribs and drabs of veg: lima beans and carrots; roasted CSA beets and parsnips with fennel
-Raw carrot sticks

Wednesday 02.04.09 First Korokke Bento (for me)

-3 beef korokke made with beef "soboro," previously frozen and then thawed, on a bed of shredded cabbage
-Kewpie mayo for dipping the korokke
-Steamed carrot coins
-Mushroom pasta with shoyu bata (soy sauce-butter) sauce, garnished with parsley, made fresh that morning

Thursday 02.05.09 First Coworker Bento day

JK bento contents:
-2 vegetable korokke (potato, scallion, a little cheese)
-Mushroom pasta with shoyu bata sauce
-Carrot sticks
-Garlicky white bean dip with lemon and scallions
-Green grapes

My Bento contents:
-Short-grain brown rice
-Beef soboro
-Boiled gailan (Chinese broccoli) in soy sauce and water, squeezed dry and chopped (the gailan was a little old so I wanted to make it tender)
-Raw carrot coins
-One potato korokke
-Green grapes

Friday 02.06.09 Grownups Like Octodogs, Too!

(My bento is on the left; M.'s is on the right, the only difference is that he had one extra octodog)
-Mac and cheese with tomatoes (leftovers from the night before, recipe courtesy Alton Brown, it was good except we would reduce the amount of dry mustard next time - what were you thinking, Alton?)
-Carrot chunks, simmered in a little water with ginger root; bit of salt added
-Green grapes

I made two new items this week, both of which turned out well: deep-fried korokke, and octodogs (great tutorial on Lunch in a Box, here) - I will go on record as saying that the octodogs are going to be the limit of cute in my obento.

As far as meeting my specific Week 4 goals:
* Re-organize freezer and designate a bento box for my bento "stash" (johbisai) - Not yet, it's on the weekend to-do list though.
* Designate a section of the fridge for the same purpose - ditto.
* Come up with a set list of stash items to keep on hand near-constantly (such as tofu, carrots, and canned tuna) - Been thinking about it a lot, just need to commit it to paper.
* At least plan (and possibly even make!) one lunch for my coworker this week - Done, and in style, even!
* Plan dinner bentos for next Tuesday's Korean class (the bento dinners for this week kind of made themselves; M ended up not needing his bento lunch for today so it's carrying over into tomorrow for our dinner) - No but this will also be part of the weekend planning.

Reflections: I found that I was planning my bento contents more the night before, but still feeling like things were taking a long time (like, 45 minutes to put together a bento with only one component that I had to make fresh!). Part of this was due to cases where we had clean dishes sitting in the dishwasher overnight (and thus the dishwasher was not readily available for dirty dishes from bento prep/sink was full of dishes waiting to go in the dishwasher), or hand washed dishes set out to dry that took up valuable counter space. Also, earlier in the week we had two incidents early in the morning that impeded my bento-making: First, M. dropped a glass lid, which shattered all over the place (we have subsequently instituted a "slippers 24/7" policy in the apartment). Then, our sink backed up, so we couldn't wash any more dishes (or had to cart them to the bathroom). So, although those things could not be anticipated, I *really* want to do better with the whole "mise en place" thing for the final week of the challenge.

Also, I find that I shop very differently post-challenge. For example, the frilly pink and light green leafy cabbage-like vegetable ("savoy salad") on one of the top shelves of the refrigerated produce section would have normally gone unnoticed, but I snapped one up on my last trip to the store, since it would make a great bento box garnish! I also pick up things like grapes and broccoli to use as gap fillers that I rarely purchased before.

I have been putting so much energy into making bento lunches that I frequently run out of ideas for dinner. (The Coq au Vin that we're making for dinner tonight is definitely an exception to this pattern).

I also know that I am going to have to be more organized, and this is where I feel that Maki and her Just Bento site are really going to come in handy. I'm definitely going to be utilizing her bento planner. I really want to be able to sustain cooking for JK, and add bento "clients," but I know that I'm going to have to find ways to be more efficient, or I'm going to burn out fast!

This evening has been devoted to relaxing - made some delicious and creamy spinach and artichoke dip, and now we're starting to make the aforementioned late dinner of Coq au Vin, in my new Le Creuset 5.5 quart pot, (in Kiwi) which I purchased with gift certificates over the last two Christmases given to me by my aunt. I thought that making Coq au Vin would be a fitting way to break in my new cooking vessel. Looking forward to trying it out.

Korokke recipe

Since a few people have been commenting on and asking me about my deep-fried korokke (original post here), I thought I'd post more information about the recipe that I used.

The recipe comes from a bilingual cookbook published in 2003 by Kodansha called "Japanese Family-Style Recipes," by Urakami Hiroko, that I received as a Christmas gift in 2007 from my brother-in-law and his girlfriend, who live in Tokyo. I didn't check for sure (heading to work), but if you're interested in tracking it down, you can try Kinokuniya - we used to go to the one in the Uwajimaya in Seattle.

For the beef korokke, I used leftover beef "soboro" that I took out of the freezer (I put it in quotes because I didn't really follow a recipe) from when I made a bibimbap-esque dish a couple weeks ago.

For the veg korokke, I mixed in a couple of chopped scallions with a little shredded cheddar cheese along with the potato.

To cook them, I just dropped in 3 at a time into my Fry Daddy and deep-fried, turning occasionally, until golden-brown, and then drained on paper towels. When cool, I refrigerated them. Then, I heated them up in the oven before packing them in bentos the morning of.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Just wondering...

...would you be willing to pay me for this?

* Mushroom pasta with soy-butter sauce
* 2 potato korokke with green onions and a little cheese
* Garlicky white bean dip with lemon and green onions
* Organic carrot sticks (from CSA)
* Green grapes

Apologies for the shameless self-promotion; I'm really not like this too often! Something about bento making brings it out...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reflections of a soon-to-be quasi-professional chef

On the eve of my official debut into the world of commercial food (i.e. making my first meal for someone else that I will get paid for), anticipating the possibility of getting bogged down in practicalities and losing sight of why I embarked on this in the first place, I wanted to revisit the core of why I am so interested in food (and, indeed, in making food for other people).

My maternal grandfather, a Chinese immigrant, was a professional chef who at one point was asked to serve as personal chef to a Middle Eastern oil baron. One of my earliest memories is of sitting on a stool in the kitchen of his restaurant, watching him stir-fry. I might have concocted this memory from the anecdotes of others (namely, my mother) but it still stands out as a memory of my past, whatever its origins.

At age 10 I served an omelette to my dad, who deemed it "restaurant quality" (i.e., that he would pay for it). I recall that he was on the phone with someone when I presented his omelette to him, and after taking a bite (while still talking) he gave me the silent thumbs-up, and I felt proud.

Since I first started cooking, I have enjoyed seeing how people respond to the food I create. Somehow I don't feel that cooking is a waste of time (although I don't particularly enjoy the clean-up afterwards). It's one of those rare things for me where I actually enjoy the process as well as the product, and the response of the people I cook for is a big part of process and product.

What I've realized I most like about making bento boxes is that it provides you with a set of parameters, within which you have free reign to exercise your creativity. Whether it's our CSA share (where the seasons provide the parameters) or a bento box (where there are physical parameters, and sometimes other guidelines), I feel most creative when I am given limits. Otherwise, anxiety takes over.

Wish me luck!

(Finally, I feel that I have been focusing altogether too much on the food part of this blog, and neglecting the language and linguistics part. I hope to remedy this in the near future.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I just made...

...21 korokke (and here, an article on croquettes in general)!

We got home from GWU at 10 pm, after which I was almost immediately in the kitchen prepping potatoes and getting ready to make a large batch of deep-fried korokke for tomorrow's and Thursday's bento lunches (and probably beyond; the rest will go into the freezer). While the potatoes cooked, I worked on updating my school journal (I've been keeping a journal on my first-year teaching experiences). By 11:30 pm, the korokke were all fried to a golden brown and draining on paper towels.

This was my first time ever making korokke, although I have consumed a decent number of them in the past, both here and in Japan, and I must say that they turned out great. M. discovered that they tasted really good dipped in Kewpie mayo (as an alternative, or in addition to, the more traditional Bulldog sauce). I have only recently started using the Fry Daddy that we received as a wedding gift; I was scared to use it for awhile, but now after I tried it out at a work party (for making samosas) I've been trying to come up with excuses to use it, since it's so easy to use: quick and not messy at all.

The korokke were really fun to shape and fry, and it was a great use of the leftover ground beef from when I made a sort of "bi bim bap" rice dish the other weekend. There is still a decent amount of filling left (I didn't want to be frying past midnight tonight), so I'll probably have to make another batch later in the week.

As I mentioned before, I am starting to make bentos a few times a week for a friend at work. She does not eat red meat or chicken, so, in keeping with the theme for this week of the Getting Started Bento Challenge at Just Bento, "Making bentos for other people," I present a picture of my korokke tray ("meat" ones indicate those stuffed with a ground beef, soboro-type mixture that I had stashed in the freezer):

The "veg" label, for those made with just green onions and a little cheese in addition to the potato, is covered up by delicious korokke!

So, "mystery coworker," if you're reading this, you just caught a glimpse of what's going into your first bento!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Great Job!

In the spirit of writing more often, I am taking a few minutes to dash off my Week 4 of the Getting Started Bento Challenge goals for this week. The theme for this week is "Making bentos for others," and I might just start making bentos for a coworker this week in addition to myself and M. (who doesn't typically need a lunch bento every weekday, anyway):

* Re-organize freezer and designate a bento box for my bento "stash" (johbisai)
* Designate a section of the fridge for the same purpose
* Come up with a set list of stash items to keep on hand near-constantly (such as tofu, carrots, and canned tuna)
* At least plan (and possibly even make!) one lunch for my coworker this week
* Plan dinner bentos for next Tuesday's Korean class (the bento dinners for this week kind of made themselves; M ended up not needing his bento lunch for today so it's carrying over into tomorrow for our dinner)

Busy busy. The weekend filled up with socializing and subsequently flew by. Tonight we went to Matchbox for dinner (my weekend activities prevented me from having the time/energy to prepare dinner bentos for tonight) before catching the Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! 2009 tour performance at the "6th and I historic synagogue." We were wondering why the synagogue changed their name to the "6th and I historic synagogue" from the perfectly respectable "Adas Israel." I would not really recommend Matchbox (we got their pizza, which doesn't really measure up to either Paradiso or 2 Amy's). Seeing Awesome Show in a synagogue was oddly appropriate. Loved Tim and Eric's spandex jumpsuits with glow in the dark details!


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bento Challenge Week 3 Report

Here's my Getting Started Bento Challenge report for Week 3! I was out in Arlington last night so I haven't had a chance to update until now.

I ended up making bentos on four out of five weekdays: I would have made five, except that I didn't eat the bento I made for Monday's lunch. I was too busy at work with the preparations for making Chinese dumplings with my students in honor of Chinese New Year, so I actually skipped lunch completely (not a good idea, I know) and ended up eating my Monday bento on Tuesday. Also, we had a snow day on Wednesday, so I only made a bento for M. on that day.

Monday 01.26.09 (no picture)
-Leftover Japanese chicken curry with rice
-Braised gailan (Chinese broccoli)

Tuesday 01.27.09 (ate Monday's bento today; M. packed something else for himself which I can't remember)

Wednesday 01.28.09 Snow Day Bento for M., who had to work

-Leftover Japanese chicken curry, in Stanley thermos
-Steamed white rice
-Steamed broccoli trees
-Carrot kinpira made with powdered ginger because we didn't have any fresh

Thursday 01.29.09 "First" Onigiri bento (for me; M. had lunch provided for him at a seminar that day)

-4 onigiri rolled in furikake
-raw carrot sticks
-roasted beets and parsnips with fennel
-marinated baked tofu cubes - I basically followed this recipe and just added Sichuan peppercorns (花椒)
-2 tuna tofu miso mini-burgers

Friday 01.30.09 Flavor Explosion Bento, for me and M. (M.'s bento is pictured)

-Leftover kubideh kabob, rice, and bread from Moby Dick's House of Kabob
-Simmered lima beans and carrots flavored with dried thyme and sherry
-Roasted beets and parsnips with fennel
-Marinated baked tofu slices (M.)
-2 tuna tofu miso mini-burgers (M.)

My favorite bento of the week was probably Thursday's - I'm definitely going to be making onigiri more often! I was also very pleased with how the lima beans turned out. M. commented that he thought the components in Friday's bento, while tasty on their own, didn't really harmonize very well in the bento. Since his bento also included the tuna tofu miso mini-burgers and the marinated tofu with Sichuan peppercorns, I could see that. I thought mine went together very well.

On meeting my goals for this week: I narrowed my bento-making goals down to three: Frugality (in keeping with the week's challenge), Variety, and Trying a new recipe. I succeeded in achieving all three goals, and did particularly well in the Frugality department, if I do say so myself: We used up leftovers (chicken curry; black bean soup) and I used up most of the tofu that I had in the fridge and dipped into our pantry a bit when making this week's bentos. I also used some of the frozen lima beans lurking in our fridge and overall thought that I did very well at using up odds and ends that we had around the pantry, in addition to restaurant leftovers (from Moby Dick). I managed to pack more of a variety of okazu into one bento on Thursday and Friday; and I tried three new recipes: roasted root vegetables (which I had never made before - more of a technique than a recipe, really), baked tofu (again, more of a technique than an actual recipe; I added huajiao, Sichuan peppercorns, to the marinade and it turned out great), and Maki's tuna-tofu-miso mini-burgers, which were delicious - thanks, Maki!

I need to expand my thinking on bentos to include dinners, especially since we started our Korean class on Tuesday evenings, and my husband occasionally attends evening seminars immediately after work. On Thursday I had the opportunity to make him a dinner bento, and it wouldn't have required more than the normal level of effort, since he didn't need a lunch bento that day - but it did not occur to me, so we ended up eating out Thursday night, not the most frugal thing to do. I also might be adding on an additional person to make bentos for at least a couple days a week (more on that later).

While I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to incorporate more of a variety of foods into one bento, I would like to try for bentos with a variety of foods that harmonize well together, by possibly balancing bland foods with more flavorful foods in the same box.

For next week I'd like to start packing us two bentos on Tuesdays so that we don't have to grab something out before our class.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Belated Week 3 Bento Challenge Goals

恭喜发财-Happy Year of the Ox!

Our week started off very busily - we attended a house party in honor of Chinese New Year on Monday, and our Korean language class at GW started on Tuesday evening. In celebration of Chinese New Year, I decided to teach my students how to make jiaozi (dumplings) this week, and have been busy with the preparations for that. The weather has also been rather nasty here in D.C. and the surrounding area (and much of the Northeast, I've heard) - we had snow earlier in the week, followed close on its heels by freezing rain on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning:

Close-up of snow on the Duke Ellington bridge, taken on my way to work Tuesday morning

School was canceled yesterday due to the aforementioned weather, so I thought I'd have time to update - I got started on this post, but then didn't finish it!

My Week 3 report on the Get Started Bento Challenge over at Just Bento is "due" tomorrow, so I'm posting my goals here and now to reflect upon in that post:

* Frugality - I didn't know that the theme was "Money-Saving" when we did this, but last weekend M. and I made a pot of chicken curry and a pot of black bean soup (from dried beans and a pork bone that I had saved in the freezer, very frugal!), both of which I plan to use in this week's bento lunches. Also want to use up some of the tofu we have in the fridge; I bought several packages of tofu last weekend when I thought I was going to be using them for the filling in the dumplings at school this week, but we ended up using mock duck instead, so now I have a surplus of tofu that needs to get eaten!

* Variety - To try and include more foods in smaller amounts in the same bento, and different, healthier types of protein (other than Spam, which figured more than I would have liked to in last week's lunches), such as chicken, tofu, or beans. Also, more and varied veggies.

* Try a New Recipe - Such as Maki's turnip cakes, or her tuna tofu miso mini-burgers.

So far this week has yielded several bento-related "revelations." Stay tuned...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bento Challenge Week 2 Recap

So, it's Friday already! It's been quite the week, ending on a low note of sorts: I had a horrible, throbbing headache all morning that made me queasy and forced me to skip out on teaching my afternoon class today. Slept all afternoon, woke up still feeling horrible. When M. got home from work he made me some jook/okayu, the best convalescent food, with umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum), and I took an ibuprofen. Feeling a little better now after a second nap and lots and lots of water - the lights aren't making me queasy anymore!

Friday means that it's time to re-visit my goals for Week 2 of Maki's Just Bento challenge, with the theme "Healthy Bentos." I made bento lunches on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of this week. Following are descriptions of the contents of each:

Sunday 01.18.09 Kimbap snack bento

-Korean-style sushi with leftover bi bim bap ingredients: ground beef, pea shoots, egg, carrot kinpira, kimchee

Tuesday 01.20.09 Obama Inaugural Bento

-spam musubi with broccoli trees (4 for M., me, and S. to share)(pictured)
-tea eggs on top of steamed broccoli, carrot kinpira, and pea shoots (not pictured)
-celery sticks (not pictured)
-assorted candy (not pictured)

Wednesday 01.21.09 Back to Work Bento (made two: one for M. and one for me)

-leftover Indonesian-y "mee goreng" stir-fried noodles with cabbage and carrot, seasoned with shrimp paste and ketchup and etc., topped with ground peanuts
-steamed broccoli trees
-half of a tea egg with black sesame seed garnish
-red grapes
-snack mix: wasabi peas, peanuts, and raisins

Thursday 01.22.09 Kidney Beans to the Rescue Bento (no picture)
-More mee goreng noodles
-salad of steamed carrot chunks and canned kidney beans, seasoned with bottled Pietro sesame dressing
-one orange, sliced
-wasabi pea, raisin, and peanut snack mix, again

Friday 01.22.09 Orange All Over Bento

This bento was prepared entirely the night before, and it still tasted good the next day (although maybe I shouldn't trust that judgment since I wasn't in the best shape at lunchtime...)
-Kimchee chahan (fried rice) prepared by M with spam chunks, kimchee, and egg
-Simmered vegetable medley: green cabbage, carrot, and reconstituted wakame, in a broth of water, soy sauce, and Japanese cooking wine, with black sesame seeds and gomashio (This gomashio was made and given to me by a coworker as a holiday gift - a very nice one, I might add!).
-Cheese chunks and red grapes
-The same orange from yesterday (not pictured)

As far as meeting my goals for this week, I did fairly okay.

1. Healthy - My need to honor the President with spam musubi was greater than that of rising to the "healthy" part of the bento challenge, and much spam was consumed this week, so I'm not sure how well I did on that score, but I did try to balance out the salty processed meat with simmered or raw veggie side dishes with minimal flavor enhancers (if any). I succeeded in including at least one veggie in every bento - frequently more.

2. "Beefing up" the bento with protein fillers - This worked really well, especially when I stumbled across the idea for the trail mix. I felt much fuller, and was also able to eat a bit of my lunch at lunchtime and save the rest for later in the afternoon, which helped prevent hunger pangs.

3. New recipe - Didn't get to it this week, with all the craziness. Maybe next week! I did purchase some shirataki noodles and konnyaku at our neighborhood Japanese market yesterday that I plan to use soon.

4. Make large portions of something to freeze - There is leftover beef soboro in the freezer. Didn't get to make gyoza, though, although I will be making a bunch of gyoza this coming week for Chinese New Year (jiaozi).

5. Making onigiri - If the musubi counts, then yes. Otherwise, no.

6. Looking at bento supplies online - Yes, I have started narrowing down my choices for actual bento boxes for us. I am partial to the tiffin-esque stainless steel bento boxes like these (Japanese page) because of their clean, timeless look and durability. I also looked at accessories, though I haven't purchased anything yet.

I also started using Maki's meal planner, which worked well for the lunches but was neglected for the other meals (and might have come in use, had I utilized it! We ended up going out to eat last night because we couldn't figure out what to make with what we had at home and didn't want to spend the time shopping and then preparing).

Two weeks down, three to go!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spam Musubi on the Mall: A slightly belated inauguration report


It's been a busy few days, to say the least.

M. and I just got back from a long evening out with friends, first to see The Wrestler at the E Street Cinema (highly recommended, it's a great movie!), and then to Nando's Peri Peri Chicken in Chinatown for dinner (which merits a separate post). Most of the dinner conversation centered around our separate experiences at the inauguration and what we had heard/read of others' experiences and events around town.

Overall, especially after hearing others' tales of inauguration day woe (ticket holders enduring freezing temperatures for hours starting at the crack of dawn, only to be turned away at the gate and miss the entire inauguration proceedings) I feel extremely lucky: Our inauguration experience went very smoothly.

Yesterday morning at 7:30 found me somewhat blearily assembling spam musubi (with brown short-grain rice and fried spam slices marinated overnight in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and Japanese cooking wine) in our kitchen. I was faced with several challenges: getting the rice to stick together, and getting it to hold its shape. I finally got the rice to stick together after the third attempt, involving a small rectangular greased tupperware, even, firm pressure of my fingertips, and tightly wrapped plastic around each of the 4 finished musubi.

The rest of our inaugural bento snack included 3 lazy tea eggs on top of layered veggies (leftover carrot kinpira, pea shoots, and broccoli) and interspersed with grapes, celery sticks, and some assorted candy and chocolates. My idea was to assemble a small, tightly packed assortment of edibles that would keep outside for an extended period and save us from having to wait in line for hours in order to receive overpriced (and probably not very tasty) food purchased from Mall vendors.

My efforts were successful - not only did the food sustain us through the day, but we were able to enjoy it on the Mall in full view of one of the Jumbotron screens! We (M., S., and I) left our neighborhood about 8:00 am and found our viewing spot in front of the Washington Monument, facing the capital, at about 9:15. En route we were traveling in a steadily increasing crowd of people, and greeted by passersby cradling mugs of coffee and waving at us from their front steps.

I wasn't able to get a photo of the tea egg bento box, since my camera died (apparently, the batteries were unhappy in the cold).

In retrospect, I probably didn't need to plan my bento so that its contents would be enjoyable at room temperature, since the "room" in which the bento was enjoyed was the freezing cold Mall. We discovered that the spam musubi held together the best in the cold! (one was enjoyed afterwards, in the warmth of M.'s office a few blocks away).

Later that evening, while we were recuperating at home, I made some kind of variation on mee goreng (Indonesian/Malaysian fried noodles), with carrots, cabbage, and onions, seasoned with fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp paste, sugar, and ketchup.

Given the time, I would have included these as part of the inaugural bento, a nod to the President's Indonesian background. However, considering the fact that I could barely manipulate the chopsticks with my frozen fingers to pick up pieces of carrot kinpira, it was probably better that I didn't manage to pack it.

Watching the President get sworn in yesterday, in the midst of such a huge and exuberant crowd, was an amazing experience. I feel extremely grateful that we were able to be there!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Week 2 Bento Challenge Goals

The theme for Week 2 of the Just Bento Challenge is healthy bento lunches. Here are my goals for the week, some of which directly relate to the theme:

* Pad my bento lunches with healthy protein "fillers" such as nuts, furikake, an egg, small cheese cubes, or bean dip, so that I don't get hungry in the middle of the afternoon and end up eating a large snack right before dinner, spoiling my appetite.
* Include at least two different vegetables in every bento lunch.
* Work on my onigiri-making skills by including them in at least one bento lunch this week.
* Try a new recipe (the quick version of Maki's turnip cakes, or something with shirataki noodles or konnyaku).
* Make large portions of at least one food for bento to freeze (gyoza or korokke).
* Look at bento supplies online: boxes and small sauce containers.

It's a short week for "regular" bento since we're off on Monday (for MLK Day) and Tuesday (for the inauguration), but still, looking forward to it! And, planning on bringing a bento along on Tuesday to the inauguration craziness.

Back from the inaugural concert, and kim bap!

Today, my friend S. and I spent six continuous hours outside, on our feet, in near-freezing temperatures.

Along with, I've heard, over 700,000 others - we were all at the Lincoln Memorial for President-elect Obama's inaugural kick-off concert.

It was pretty amazing to be a part of such a huge and energetic crowd, although we didn't get to see the concert continuously. Even with 6 Jumbotrons placed along the reflecting pool, it was often hard to see with so many (taller) people in front of us. Additionally, speakers placed at various locations produced a "phasing" effect of the sound being broadcast from the Memorial. I probably would have gotten a better viewing of the concert if I had watched it at home on our computer.

However, we still enjoyed ourselves (wouldn't have wanted to miss it!), and one of the highlights, at least for me, was enjoying the Korean-style rolled sushi (I'll call it kim bap, which literally means "seaweed" and "rice" in Korean) that I made with leftovers from yesterday's bi bim bap lunch.

Kim bap contents:
-rice, seasoned with sesame oil, vinegar, sugar, and salt
-carrot kinpira
-ground beef soboro (for a similar recipe to what I did, see Maki's recipe at Just Bento)
-egg ribbons
-pea sprouts

The kim bap sustained us through the entire afternoon out in the cold! At least one person commented on the fact that I had sushi with me, and I even shared one with a fellow concertgoer. It saved me from having to purchase one of the over-priced, foil-wrapped items from the vendors that dotted the mall (and losing our spot in the process!). Another plus: We also did not produce any trash (the scene on the ground was pretty chaotic afterwards - the garbage cans could only hold so much...).

Now I'm looking forward to the challenge of packing a lunch for two people that will fit in a container of these dimensions for the inauguration on Tuesday! All I know is that it will at least contain spam musubi in honor of our new president's Hawaiian background. Not healthy for Week 2 of the Just Bento challenge, but so appropriate that I couldn't leave it out!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Recipe for ground beef topping

This is how I made the ground beef that went into the bi bim bap for lunch today. I wanted to make enough so that I could have extra for kim bap (Korean rolled sushi) and bento lunches next week. I was very pleased with how it turned out; it was just a little salty. So, here's basically what I did. It's kind of like soboro, a Japanese ground meat dish that can be made with all kinds of meat, from chicken to beef to tuna. Although it is different from my recipe, you may want to look at Maki's recipe for basic meat soboro for additional information.

2 pounds ground beef
3 Tablespoons Japanese cooking wine (ryorishu), or mirin
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
about a 1-inch piece of ginger root, minced
sesame seeds, salt, and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mix the beef with the cooking wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil, and set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes, or in the fridge until you're ready to use it (I just let it sit out while I made the other toppings and rice for the bi bim bap).

In a wok or frying pan, heat a small amount of oil (vegetable or peanut oil) over high
heat. When oil is hot, add the garlic and ginger and stir, cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the marinated meat and stir until it is pretty much broken up and starting to brown. Leave it in the wok pan, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has pretty much evaporated. Add the sesame seeds, black pepper and salt towards the end.

When the meat is completely cooked and the liquid is cooked off, taste and adjust for seasonings.

Serve as the ground beef topping for bi bim bap, or as a bento protein item, or in kim bap, etc.

"Bi Bim Bap" Lunch at Home

It continues to be freezing cold here. Last night, on his way back from the laundry room, M. encountered a man snoring in the stairwell. I wouldn't want to sleep outside in weather like this!

This afternoon we visited the Natural History Museum and its Korean and Rastafari exhibits. The celadon pottery they had on display in the Korean exhibit was beautiful. I also like the sentence that supposedly kicks off many Korean folktales, "Back when tigers smoked and rabbits talked to dragons..."

Although my original plan had been to make a lunch to take with us on our outing, it ended up making more sense to eat lunch at home, so I made my version of bi bim bap (Korean mixed rice):

and the dish, once mixed:

-Short grain brown rice topped with...
...carrot kinpira (original recipe on Just Bento, here
...seasoned ground beef (for a description of what I did, see here)
...handful of pea shoots from our CSA that we just picked up this morning
...a soft fried egg, placed on top of the pea shoots so that they cooked a little

Such a beautiful and satisfying bowl of food! I wasn't hungry at all for the entire afternoon. This would fit well into a bento box; the only change that I would make would be to hard-cook the fried egg.

Heading out tomorrow for the opening inaugural ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial. Freezing in a crowd of hundreds of thousands and eating kimbap in front of a jumbotron, can't wait! (In fact, this is one of those things that I would seriously regret if I did not at least try to attend it...)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Just Bento Challenge, Week 1 Recap

Brr it's cold out today! I felt like I was back home in Minnesota, especially when I had to carefully wrap my scarf around my nose and mouth in order to brave my morning trek across the Duke Ellington bridge.

Here is my recap of Week 1 of the Just Bento challenge. I'm not including a calorie count for each bento, but just a general summary of what each bento contained. Click on the day of the week to link to a picture of the bento (only applies to Thursday and Friday of this week).

Monday (01.12.09):
-leftover curried lentils
-two homemade chapati
-butter lettuce salad with sesame dressing
-one orange which went uneaten

Tuesday (01.13.09):
-one leftover soy-stewed chicken leg (recipe from Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh)
-leftover spaghetti with red sauce and chicken sausage
-another orange that went uneaten

Wednesday (01.14.09):
-leftover curried lentils
-short grain brown rice
-carrots simmered with ginger, mirin, and soy sauce

Thursday (01.15.09):
-Four red kidney bean fritters on butter lettuce leaves
-brown rice with black sesame seeds
-shredded raw green cabbage salad with prepared sesame dressing
-Gold Rush apple that went uneaten

Friday (01.16.09):
-one egg salmon omelette seasoned with dried thyme, rolled and cut into strips, served atop brown rice with raw diced celery garnish
-leftover steamed blue potatoes with rosemary, salt, and pepper
-carrot simmered with a little water, honey, and cinnamon
-leftover "quick sauerkraut" made with shredded green cabbage, sliced apple and onion, seasoned with caraway seeds and simmered in apple cider vinegar

Even though I packed fruit every day (either an orange or an apple) I never managed to get to it. I think that for next week I'll start cutting up the fruit to see if that will encourage me to eat it. I tended to underpack my bento and got hungry well before dinnertime, forcing me to scrounge for a snack when I got home from work. I had anticipated that I would be making an additional bento for my husband every day, but only ended up having to make him 3 since he got lunch elsewhere for two weekday lunches.

Goals for the coming week:
-Actually plan out my meals using the meal planner
-Assemble my mise the night before
-Make ahead at least one of the following: turnip cakes, salmon korokke, gyoza
-Make onigiri
-Buy some johbisai (staples) for my pantry: dried shitake mushrooms, tofu, shiritake noodles
-Bulk up my bento with fillers so that I don't get hungry by late afternoon
-Purchase small sauce bottles

My Week 2 of the challenge starts tomorrow, since I will be making bento for our daily treks to the Mall over the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day/Inauguration weekend - I decided we should pack our own food, in anticipation of restaurants being extremely crowded.

End of the week bento

I've decided to take Just Bento's Getting Started with Bento 5 week challenge. Here is a breakdown of my bento for today, which took about 10-15 minutes to put together (I just had to make the carrots and omelette):

-short-grain brown rice; steamed blue potatoes with rosemary from last night
-one egg, mixed with some milk and dried thyme, made into a thin omelette and filled with about half a can of salmon, cut into strips
-one carrot, cut up and simmered with a bit of water, honey, and cinnamon, cooked until soft and the liquid evaporated
-leftover cabbage from last night (cooked with cider vinegar, onion, apple, caraway seeds)

I'm interested to see how the flavors of today's bento will go together. I thought that the cinnamon in the carrots might complement the caraway in the cabbage, and I decided to just make them sweet as opposed to sweet and sour (my original plan), since the cabbage contains vinegar.

I'm also trying to keep track of how long I can go in the afternoon after eating my bento before I start to get hungry.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Happy New Year and the Just Bento challenge!

Too much time has passed since my last posting (October??) but in the spirit of a new year, a new page in the life of the Culinary Linguist if you will, I am jumping ahead with...

The Getting Started 5 Week Just Bento Challenge! (which you can read more about by clicking on the link).

I have been starting to make my own bento, or Japanese-style lunchboxes, since mid-fall or so. I barely get a half hour lunch break at the elementary school where I work, so eating out is not an option (plus, it gets to be very expensive and not satisfying). Making my own bento allows me to save money, and has also given me the chance to be creative. I was heavily inspired by Maki of Just Bento, and so I felt that taking her bento challenge (which officially started on January 12) would be a fitting way to start a new year of bento making.

My goals for this challenge, subject to revision, are:
-To try and make substantial, healthy bento that will get me through dinner
-To eat a variety of vegetables
-To expand my bento-making repertoire

Here are the contents of my first bento (for a picture, go to my Flickr page, here):

4 kidney bean fritters (for "recipe," see below) on top of butter lettuce leaves
short-grain brown rice with black sesame seeds
shredded green cabbage with bottled sesame dressing (Pietro)
a Gold Rush apple from our CSA box

I dreamed up the fritter recipe in bed this morning: one can of kidney beans, drained and mashed with a splash of soy sauce, to which I then added one finely minced garlic clove, a finely chopped stalk of celery, about a quarter cup of panko breadcrumbs (didn't measure), a generous sprinkling of goma shio (sesame salt), and black pepper. I then formed them into patties of approximately equal size and pan fried them in olive oil on both sides until golden brown. One 15.5 ounce can of beans made 5 fritters.

My bento turned out to be great at room temperature. The fritters were very flavorful. Not as elaborate as some of the other bento I've seen in the Flickr pool for the challenge, but overall it was a success. Next time I might add carrot to the fritters, and serve a sauteed dark green leafy vegetable like kale with it instead of the raw green cabbage salad.


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