Sunday, August 31, 2008

Inspired bento

Ever since Thursday night, I've been craving to make a bento. I know...that's really sad. But I've been spending the last few days trawling through bento websites, and I had so many ideas of what I wanted to make going through my head nonstop! It actually got to the point that I got up at 1am so I could write down some of my ideas. I'm a woman obsessed. Anyway, being a Sunday night, I had a bit more energy to try something more creative with my bento. It'll make Monday so much easier to deal with, although tomorrow won't be so bad because I had to work today.

Top left: Sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, takuan (Pickled radish) and crab, bean and egg roll*
Bottom left: Crab, bean and egg roll, asparagus beef roll^
Right: Boiled rice with furikake (Japanese sprinkles, this one has bonito, seaweed and sesame amongst other things)

* The crab bean and egg roll was super easy to make. I pan fried a super thin egg omlette using my tamago pan. Cut a defrosted fake crab stick in half and blanched some green beans. I stacked them together, rolled and cut. The egg was a bit too thick so it started to unravel. I used a bit of seaweed to wrap around it to keep it in place.

^ Asparagus beef roll - Too easy. I defrosted the beef rissoles my mum made and wrapped it around a stalk of asparagus. Pan fry until cooked, cool and cut.

I also hit a Japanese grocery store and picked up a heap of new ingredients to play with. Can't wait to eat this tomorrow! Better start planning for what bentos to make tomorrow night! It won't be as elaborate tomorrow night since we're having people over, and I won't have the kitchen to myself :(

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Soba and mandu bento

I've decided to venture from the "rice" bento after having it in ever bento box I've packed. I found a packet of Cha Soba in my pantry, which is basically green tea soba noodles. I boiled them up and refreshed it under cold water. After draining them well, I curled them into little bite size pieces, as soba tends to stick together in clumps after chilling. Its a wonderful little tip I picked up from Lunch in a box.

I stored the soba dipping sauce in a little container with a screwtop lid. Hopefully there will be no spillages on my way to work tomorrow. I also thinly sliced a shallot and some seaweed which I'll add to the sauce tomorrow.

When I cooked the soba, I threw in the last of my sugar snap peas into the water to quickly blanch which I then dunked into ice cold water to retain the crunchiness. The pattern on the outside of the carrot was done by scraping it with the tines of the fork. We used to do something similar at our restaurant, except we used an old fashion fish scaler to give it that lovely ridged patter.

I also had a bag of frozen Korean seafood mandu, which is similar to gyoza or dumplings. They can be eaten either boiled or panfried. I always thought there was a bit of work to cook these mandus. Well, not compared to making it from scratch. But I always spent about 10mins to cook any of these frozen dumplings, that is until I went to my Korean friend's place one day and saw her make these. I cannot believe what a quick snack it is.

1. Turn on the stove and wack a pan onto it
2. In the meantime, put a few of the mandus on a plate and shove it into the microwave for about 1min whilst the pan heats up
3. Once the mandu is slightly defrosted in the microwave, pour a little oil into the pan and chuck the mandu in.
4. Pan fry until golden on the outside (usually 1-2mins).
5. Eat

The mandu skin is thinner and seems to be semi cooked compared to traditional chinese frozen dumplings. And because of they're generally quite thin, even if the microwave doesn't defrost the mandu properly, it will cook supremely fast in the pan.

Really quick bento box to pack. The most time consuming was the noodle curling and carrot decorating. I can't wait to eat this tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Bento box bandwagon

Its funny how things work out. Ever since I started work, I've always hated bringing my own lunch to work. My lunches are driven by cravings, mood and weather. So packing my lunch the day before, means I'll have to predict how I will feel the next day. And added ontop of that, I'm not a big fan of leftovers. As much as I love my mum's cooking, they don't look too crash hot the next day. Besides, working near Wynyard meant there was a huge range of fantastic food at fairly reasonable prices, why bring my own lunch?

Suddenly, everything's changed since my new job. I'm over at Martin Place now, and although its only a 5-10min walk to all my favourite food joints in Wynyard, I'm suddenly too lazy to go. All the food offerings around Martin Place are a bit......dull. Overpriced and dull. I resorted to going to the local coles and buying sandwich ingredients to make my own lunch. Then I started reading all the bento boxes The Food Pornographer put up. They just looked sooo healthy, yet strangely appetising. I never really thought the 2 could go together. Healthy and appetising!

Its been more than a few weeks of reading TFP's bento posts, and one day, I just decided to pack my own bento lunch. Since I buy sooooo many plastic containers, I had more than enough choice to fashion my own bento box look alike thing. Plus, I've been buying bento gear online, like my egg moulds which I bought over a year ago, and I've never used it! So here are my early attempts at a cheaper, healthier and well balanced lunch.

Large compartment contains boiled rice, with slices of vietnamese meatloaf. Its basically the slice of meatload you get when you order Vietnamese broken rice. These were made by my sister and I absolutely love it. Infact, I think I like it more than her kids and my family does. She used to bring over a few slices when she makes them, but she's since learned to make me a whole loaf! hehe

Small blue compartment contains a mix of tomatoes and cucumber. Pink compartment had celery and carrots topped by a hard boiled egg. Do you notice anything strange about the egg? Here's a close up:

Bad photo, but its actually a little bunny rabbit. It was my first time using it, and it wasn't as successful as I had hoped, simply because the eggs I had were too big for the mould. The egg just exploded out of the sides! I tried my fish mould first, which resulted in crumbled eggs, then I tried the rabbit again thinking it'll be easier. Luckily, its the eggs and not me ;) I sliced the egg in half so I could have it with soya sauce.

This was a last minute bento box I packed when I got home late one night after volleyball (like at 11pm) and quickly rushed to pack something. I know it doesn't look like much, boiled rice, veggies and grapes? What type of lunch is that??? Its O-K! I have a plan!

Tadah! Salt and vinegar chicken strips x 3. Yeah I know, it doesn't exactly go with the healthy balanced meal thing, but the fact that I packed my own rice and veggies, meant that I wasn't going to get chips and gravy with it, which is generally what I would've done. These chicken strips were from the Coles hot food section where they sell chicken schnitzel, chips, bbq chicken, pies pizza etc. They extremely crispy and have a really nice kick of vinegar to it. I noticed they also sell these in the frozen section, so I might buy some and just oven bake them next time.

Over the weekend, I decided to be more prepared and actually shopped for some bento ingredients. Big compartment has boiled rice and skin free teriyaki chicken thigh pieces. My mum was sweet enough to go through the chicken thigh and cut out every piece of fat she could see! The marinade was simply soya sauce, sugar and sake.

Small blue compartment has cherry tomatoes and lightly blanched sugar snap peas to take away the rawness but retaining the crunch.

Small pink compartment has cucumber strips and dashimaki tamago (Egg omlette with dashi stock). I bought a tamago pan when I went to Singapore earlier in the year, and its been sitting in my room gathering dust, I thought what better chance to bust it out and give it a try. It was much easier than I thought, so tamago will be a frequent component of my bento boxes I think.

To make sure I stick with the whole healthy bento eating, I went and ordered a bento box off eBay (and I have asked my bestest friend in the whole wide world to bring me a few from Japan! Don't forget please my sweetieeeeeeeee!! :D ). I can't believe how tiny the size is compared to what I usually eat. The recommended size for a woman of my height and age is 600ml. The bento box is 550ml in volume (Close enough). The scary thing about it is, I can walk into any food court or take away restaurant, and almost be guaranteed that their serves will be bigger than what I fit in my bento. Looks like another positive side of the bento is portion control? (could spell the end of my White Cocktatoo days!)

Left: Dashimaki Tamago, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes and sakura shaped carrot pieces. I cut these using the new cutter that came with my bento set.
Right: Broccoli, rice and beef rissoles.

The rissoles were made by my mum. Being Chinese, my mum has never really made rissoles for me. We get plenty of the steamed or boiled meatballs you get at yum cha and hot pot, but no a rissole. So when I found a rissole sandwich in the kitchen the other day, I thought she had bought it from a shop (she did wrap it in a paper bag). And the rissole was amazing! It tasted better than most rissoles you will find out there. When I found out that she made it, I immediately went and got more beef mince and asked her to make up a huge batch for me to freeze. Its basically beef mince, onions, carrots and our home grown chinese celery. The veggies made the rissole incredible moist and tender.

This is my Malaysian/Korean/Japanese fusion Nasi Lemak wannabe bento box. I've got boiled rice sprinkled with black sesame (In place of the coconut rice that comes with a nasi lemak) in one container. In the other, I've got Korean Banchan anchovies, that are spicy, sweet and sticky. One of my favourite banchan dishes to replace the ikan bilis and sambal you get in a nasi lemak. Cucumbers, cherry tomato and the last of my dashimaki tamago. And yes, that was the egg component of my nasi lemak wannabe.

I've also been talking to my friend about my bento obsession, and she's thinking its a great way for her to save money and eat healthy for lunch as well. And she's also thinking of packing a bento for her kids to take to school, instead of ham and cheese sandwiches. I've been getting alot of bento inspirations from The Food Pornographer, Lunch in a box and The Daily Tiffin. Lets see how long this obsession lasts ;)

The Apprentice (of the Non-TV kind)

Ever since I found out about the existence of The Apprentice, I've been meaning to make a booking. Its taken me almost a year and a half to make a booking, but hey, I got there...right? The Apprentice is basically a training ground for thei culinary and hospitality students as a way to gain experience by running their own high end dining a fraction of the price.

A sent a few emails to my friends, and next thing you know, a date was set and we had a booking. After gorging on all sorts of sweets for morning tea, I arrived at The Apprentice expecting a 4 course meal. Can I indulge or what?

There were no choices from the menu and all food was to be served banquet style with alternating dishes on the table.

Bread roll - made by the students

I know bread rolls are nothing special in general, but these ones are made by the students. And there were real mixed reviews on these. Some of my friends had lovely crusty bread rolls, some had soft fluffy ones, whilst I drew the short straw and had a ROCK HARD roll. I was able to play out a tune by bashing my knife against the bread, and accidently caused the bread to go flying across the table when I tried to cut it. Others enjoyed their bread with alot less playing than me ;) They were also very generous with the bread, bringing the bread basket around a few times.

Appetisers: (L) Prawn, avocado and grapefruit salad
(R) Carrot and red pepper soup

This was the first service ever for the students working tonight. So there was quite a bit of confusion as to what was going on, meaning I ended up being given 2 appetisers instead of 1. The prawn, avocado and grapefruit salad was basically a done up version of a prawn cocktail. The addition of the grapefruit did give it a lovely tang though. My favourite would have to be the carrot and red pepper soup though. It was thick and hearty. I would love a big bowl of the soup and bread on a cold winters day.

Scallop with pea puree sauce, spicy tomato and roasted capsicum coulis

I'm pretty sure the scallops on this dish should be warm, but they were stone cold as if they were taken out of the fridge to come to room temperature. I actually didn't mind the fact that they were cold, but I wished the scallops were slightly bigger. Each scallop was about the size of a 10c piece. With those complaints aside, the pea puree was heavenly. Fresh and creamy with a slight nutty taste. I tried to scrape as much of the pea puree off the plate without looking like I was trying to lick it.

Lamb filo triangles with tzatziki dip

These tasted similar to the Turkish Icili Koftes and was filled with lovely spicy lamb mince, plump sultanas and pinenuts. This would be my favourite out of the two entrees.

Rabbit Fricasse with fettucine

I'm a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay's "The F Word". I was watching it with my friend once, when Gordon Ramsay made a Rabbit Fricasse with Tagliatelle. My friend immediately went "OMG!! YUM!!! MAKE THIS FOR ME!!". So when I saw the same dish on the menu, I just HAD to get my hands on it. So when all the mains came out, there was a lot of swapping around, and somehow I managed to get the rabbit.

Now, although I've never eaten Ramsay's version of the meal, I know it did not taste like this. For one, the rabbit was severly overcooked, to the stage that a few of us could not cut into the meat. I was expecting the rabbit to be lightly pan fried,to keep it moist, or stewed until it falls apart. This was neither, and the same goes with the pasta. Parts of them were al dente, clumps of them were undercooked and stuck together. However, the sauce for this was delicious. I would've been happy with the pasta and just the sauce.

Twice baked Yarra River Salmon on truffled mash and beurre blanc

I didn't try the fish, but it looked too overcooked and dry for my liking. I like my salmon really pink in the middle. This was completely cooked through.

Roast Sirloin of Beef, dijion jus, black pepper crust and roasted root vegetables

Despite the beef looking fairly pink, I was told the beef was extremely tough. Some people got well cooked pieces (see below) and some medium rare, but all commented on how tough the beef was. It looks like they had cut the beef on the wrong grain making it impossible to cut through with the dinner knives they gave us.

I think all the mains were quite disappointing for our table. Luckily, dessert made up for some of that disappointment.

Chocolate Orange Meringue Gateau with chocolate sauce and orange cream anglaise

I'm definitely not a chocolate orange fan, but I didn't mind this. The gateau was more of a choc orange brownie with meringue ontop, but it was still a nice dessert.

Tuiles basket with berry sorbet and berry coulis

The sorbet was more like ice cream, but it was still lovely and fresh anyway. The tuiles were light and crispy and went really well with the ice cream.

Despite my criticisms above, I actually really enjoyed myself. Its probably a good idea to keep in mind that they're students in training, and don't expect a 5 star cuisine and service. SOME people were quite inconsiderate of how nervous some of the students were. Mainly, a waitress was clearing our table of the mains, and this inconsiderate guy, PUSHED past her, knocking her plates over and onto our stuff. Now, he could easily have waited the 10secs, or walk around the table, but he had to push past her.

For $27, you get a 4 course meal, and they even served tea and coffee afterwards. What a bargain! We're planning on going back in a few weeks after the students have had more experience and were less nervous.

Cancer Council Daffodil Morning Tea

My new team at work are generally younger than my previous team, with a big number of them being in their first jobs since uni. So I find it surprising that a few of them actually love cooking and love talking about food as much as me! We're always talking about what new recipes we've tried, what we want to make and how to improve each other's recipes. One day I said that we should really have a bake-off considering how we're always talking about food. It so happens that our group assistant overheard our conversation, and agreed that we should have a bakeoff. I mentioned that the Cancer Council Daffodil day was coming up, and next thing you know, we have a charity bake-off!

I was originally going to make chocolate macroons, but something came up and I just didn't have the time to make it. So I opted to make rocky road instead (since most of our team loves it).

My contribution - Rocky Road

My rocky road was made with a combination of marshmallows, peanuts and honeycomb. I made it the night before and cut them up into blocks so it'll fit into my containers, but the honeycomb went a bit funny and looked like it had melted. Luckily, the inside was still incredibly light and crunchy. It just didn't look that great.

Here are some of the other things people brought in for the morning tea:

Coconut macaroons

Custard scroll thing

Another custard scroll/tart thing

Cupcakes with buttercream frosting

Strawberry creams


Chocolate coated cookies and home made anzac cookies

Caramel Slice

The spread

I took the photo of the lunch room before all the morning tea contributions had arrived. There were big bags of chips, more cupcakes and cookies. The morning tea was a real success, and we managed to raise almost $300 for charity. We've also applied to our work charity foundation to see if they'll match the donations. Oh, and ontop of all the money we made, we had soooooo much yummy food to eat, that I got a massive sugar high and sat at my desk giggling to myself for 5mins. Then the head spins kicked in. Next time, I'm going to make something savoury!