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!



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