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.


Related Posts with Thumbnails