Saturday, August 28, 2010

August Bento Days (4)

This 4 tier Tiffin box was my best buy for kitchen things this year! Everytime I think of packing food into its lovely tone of colors roundish compartments, I feel happy and excited! It might sound strange to hear an affection for a container but believe me, once you are a Bento enthusiast, even a simple plastic container will attract you! I am a confessed Bento addict and would love to spread the joy and fun in this lunch or meal packing craft to all my friends. What better to do with lots of imaginations of food, a young family and a form of craft that is fun and good to eat at the end of the day? On another note, I am very happy that I have been able to inspire my good mommy friend, Li to start this picnic bento-ing and yes, I snagged the same and last tiffin box for her to start her off on this fun weekend hobby!

We were out and about again for this Saturday for more than 1 hour drive north to see an airshow of which my kids and Curry were so looking forward to! This was our third time exposing our ears to tremendous roaring engines from jet fighters and bombers but it was this time that both my kids were ready to enjoy the spectacle of the Blue Angels performance without fear. I myself also love mechanical stuffs, including locomotives and anything that moves, although most of the time I appear to people as sedentary and a very womanly person who is into kitchen and home stuffs only! But I am a very efficient person and always on the move too!

The much awaited heavy rain had fed our tomato plants with enough water and they are popping green and red so fast and plenty. The good thing about planting our own is that I can have the vines attached and choose the sizes that conform to the size of this Bento box. Broccoli is a must have in my fridge and maybe I should give the different colored Cauliflowers a try next time. Perhaps it is a psychological thing, seeing green in the Bento box gives me the assurance that I fed my kids vegetable for the day! I managed to get some Longan , which is sweet and juicy in this time of the year. The flesh is very juicy and definitely a change from the usual grapes. I sliced some black olives and scattered them on the broccoli which created another visual appeal which is my tactic to entice my kids to try it out.

I baked some sliced pork meat which was earlier marinated with scallion, sesame oil, white pepper and salt. Since the kids love the crunchy and slight crisp texture of this dish, I just alternate and substitute the marinate for the meat with different herbs and sauce everytime and bake with it with the Japanese breadcrumb panko. Chicken meat works fine too cooked this way but probably not beef for the reason that beef tends to get tough if overcooked. In Japan, deep fried pork slices is served with a special sauce which is both sweet and tangy and in this Bento, I included some in individual sauce containers. In the other box, I prepared some Onigiri rice in the triangle shape, flavored and garnished with salmon flavored Furikake mixture.

I tried making some marbled eggs out of soy sauce and they didn't turn out very patterned. Should have let them soak overnight but the taste is fine. First I boiled the eggs for about 7 mins and using a spoon, I tapped each to create random cracks and added dark soy sauce to the boiling water to continue the cooking for another 7 mins. Marbled tea and herb eggs is very popular in Asia and I think I will attempt the recipe soon. The eggs are required to be boiled and simmered in their shells for a long period of time and the addition of fragrant spices like star anise and cassia bark which resembles the warm aroma of cinnamon together with strong black tea makes the eggs very good to eat, especially on cold days. Corn is at its peak now and they just taste so sweet and very plentiful in the market at a very whopping cheap price of $1.99 for 10 ears! And what kid doesn't love corn, my kids will have it anytime of the day.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

August Bento Days (3)

Another Sunday leading to the end of the summer vacation and we are trying to do as much as we can with the kids. I know I have been pretty lazy in the kitchen this summer and was able to make Bento only but nothing else. Perhaps the Autumn crisp and cool air will inspire me to turn on the oven again and bake something nice and sweet. Currently, the weather is still summer hot and I am unwilling to trade my flip flops days with anything more than a microwave re-heat button! But with these past few practices, I think I have improved in my Bento skills and able to introduce more different ingredients and dishes to my kids, which I needed as I will be packing Bento everyday for my daughter once the school term starts. Well of course, once in a while, I will let her have the fun to go queue up in the line with her peers to get her hot lunch. It is very important not to tire myself and bore her as the school days during the cold months of Autumn and Winter seem to be forever!

We went to our local neighborhood park this morning with our good family friends. I am very clueless at times and only realised the existence of my local park this summer when Miss E had her tennis lessons there! I guess I am always too comfortable on where I am and very less an adventurer outside. Time to make a change for myself to go all out and explore! It will be totally ironic if I prepare my kids for the world and all I am doing to myself is getting reclusive!

For today's Picnic, I went easy and packed lighter that needed less cooking. I love okra and trying to convince my kids to eat the slimy greens who so far have been quite willing to eat it. I just boiled it in the microwave together with the broccoli, sliced some cold cucumber slices and skewered up some quail eggs with small black olives for the salad sides. Blueberries and strawberries are still plenty in the market despite the arrival of peaches and figs and small grapes completed the fruits box.

My Marjoram and Oregano successfully sprouted and I am so delighted to have my first herb pot, all green and plenty to be used in my culinary experiment. Both herbs are closely related in all aspects and I planted them in one pot. Because of its pungent lemony and citrusy flavor, a small sprig goes a long way. I dissected some chicken wings into all their 3 parts and marinated them overnight with the herbs, grated garlic, salt, black pepper, cooking oil and honey. The drummets, with wings and tips were then baked for 40 mins in a 375'F oven, uncovered to get the beautiful brown roasted color on the outside and the moist inner part.

For the last tier of the Bento box, I packed some hot dogs and cut them into half to fit in the box nicely. To keep the bread soft and dry, I put some mayo inside the bun before putting in the sausages. The only thing I forgotten about was to pack a separate container of ketchup! The kids and adults loved these mini hot dogs and they were gone in seconds. A very appropriate food item for kids bento too!

Despite the occasional rain drizzle, we enjoyed ourselves! The kids had a great time trying to fish but instead caught more weeds and unidentified objects and playing in the lake. Sometimes, or rather most of the time, a getaway need not be far away as long as you have the right company of people and one or few activities to go along with it. For a period of almost 4 hours, we all had our fill of fun and still have time to go home and spend the Sunday quietly on our comfy sofa. Life is good!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

August Bento Days (2)

My daughter is attending a whole day summer camp this week and I am free to roam about with my son alone to anywhere and everywhere he or I fancy! True enough, being the second child is not always fun, having older siblings bossing them around, always having to share things and expected to take hand me downs, my son is no different from any other little brother or sister. He acts differently and always very defensive when Miss E is around but when he is alone, he seems more peaceful in his own thoughts, taking time to play his mini cars and trains and sometimes even Legos blocks that drives me nuts but he finds intriguing for his little hands. Sometimes we think he is stubborn and difficult but maybe all he needs is a whole day to himself with the full attention of mommy and lots of tender loving care all the way. I don't adopt a very patient attitude with my kids and they simply cringe at the sound of my yell. I believe in discipline since young and even my own mom commented I am too much at times when telling my 2 kids about facts of life at their tender ages! I would love to give them everything if I am more financially able to but reality means choices have to be made and sometimes I overlook the attention part and how to shower affection towards my 2 kids. So for this week, I would love to make up to my son who just turned 4 and let him tell me his mind, ideas and show me his energy.

I packed a picnic lunch bento for us both and visited the local farm with his little Buddy, Nik and his mommy. The mini pita breads I got from Trader Joe's were great for little hands and I toasted them, added a bit of mayo and filled them up with turkey ham omelette. The rest of the ingredients were fruits and baby tomatoes, of which are very easy and cool to eat outside on this humid day. I cut up some banana nut bread slices and filled up the box. It took me only a total of 10 mins to pack this Bento.

Today, my son and his little Buddy Nik proved to me and my friend that they are very good mannered boys and really understand the concept of sharing.  Nik was sharing his strawberry slices with my son and the proudest moment for me is when my son picked up the last piece of the strawberry slices from Nik's lunch box and suddenly realized that it was not his strawberry to start with and gave it back to Nik and Nik in return shared it with my son, with one bite each alternately till the last bite. That was the sweetest moment for me as I realized that my son is not that difficult anyway, it is just that he feels defensive towards his own sister who has more say in the house but outside he treats other kids well and never once sulk over minor things nor play unfairly. His good behavior reflects and says alot of my daily teachings and I am happy to see this side of him. Thank you Prince D for making mommy so happy today.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

August Bento Days (1)

Summer Vacation will end soon for my kids and suddenly I wish time will stall and stay idle. Every year, we make an effort to enjoy the outdoors with summer berries picking, lazing and soaking at the neighborhood pool and having short trips to family friendly places around the state that I live in. Although we never travel far away from home, summer is equally fun if we really can spend time together as a family, reminisce what happened at the end of last school year and talking about the coming new school year with expectations and hopes. I can feel anxious every time my kids go to the next grade or new classes and sometimes I don't really understand why I have all these thoughts! Perhaps, each summer vacation represents to me that my kids have grown up, with a new busy school year looming  plus extra activities that will keep them more busier than myself and before I know it, they rather go to summer camps with their friends than cramped into mommy's Minivan for a road trip. Summer is so short and yet all the best memories with my kids are jam packed into this season. This year I started doing more picnic Bento for them and Curry and hopefully their summer days will be filled with good food and fun all the time!

For today's Picnic bento, I used the same 4 tier tiffin box as last week and packed something more substantial as we were out about hiking and biking in the State parks. Our home grown tomatoes were popping red and plenty because of the recent hot weather and home grown ones seem to taste juicier. I used frozen broccoli and cauliflower as it was faster to pop them out from the bags and boil them for 2 mins, drained and arranged into the box. I did this salad and fruit bento the night before.

For the next box, I made some rice Musubi, simply Japanese rice with rice vinegar and flavored with salt, shaped into a triangle or any shape of available moulds. I added pan fried turkey bacon pieces to the cooked rice for added texture and flavor. To make them fancy, I digged out all my small punches and punched out different shapes and patterns of strips of nori and wrapped them around the Musubi. Musubi is larger in size than sushi rolls and packed compactly, which one piece is more than enough for a kid's portion.

The next tier contained rice noodles, which I fried with soy sauce, grated garlic and julienned carrot strips. To save me time in the morning, I parboiled the noodles the night before, and kept them in the fridge together with the prepared carrot and garlic cloves. I like to grate the garlic as it releases more flavor and fragrant when pan fried. A very simple and quick dish to make.

The last box contained oven baked pork chops and made the same way as my previous oven baked chicken strips. I usually use pork butt meat as they are more tender after cooking and comes in the right sizes and cut. The meat slices were first marinated overnight in salt, pepper, cooking oil, chopped up cilantro leaves and orange juice. The acidity in the juice works to tenderize and flavor the meat. In the morning I just coated the meat in beaten egg and panko and baked them in the oven at 375F for 50 mins. This is definitely a better option than deep frying and cleaning is a cinch, especially when we have to rush out early in the morning as I didn't want to scrub the oily pot or come home after a whole day out to do it! I also made some Japanese rolled omelette with nori to slot in the empty spaces in the box.