My bento love story

In the Philippines lunchboxes mostly contained only protein and carbohydrates. A high number of those lunchboxes are under this “baon” group: hotdog+rice, tapa (cured meat)+rice, eggs+rice, adobo+rice. Back when my brother was still in high school we always expect at least a 3 day tapa (cured meat) breakfast as it is also his “baon”. It’s not a complaint just an observation. So, imagine my delight when I discovered Japanese lunchboxes widely known as bento. It was love at first sight.

I have here a few of my bento creations over the past couple of months. Some I love some I’m disappointed with. I’ll get better though. I promise you that.

chick ben

The chicks were made with boiled quail eggs soaked in egg yellow soup base. The faces were made with teeny tiny nori sheet cut outs.

pen ben

The chicken is deep fried and coated with sesame seeds! They smell divine. The penguins were shaped then covered with cut nori sheets and cut carrots for the mouth.

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squas ben

The squash were made using boiled quail eggs, shaped using plastic wrap and loom bands then soaked in “curry soup”.

yoojin ben

Yoo Jin is the name of my favorite alarm clock. She fell once and she’s not working anymore bu she this pretty face so I made her a bento equivalent. There’s cured pork underneath, hence the “surprise”.

twin kitty ben

Oh this. Hmmm, I don’t know. I wasn’t really pleased with the end result. That by the way is fried rice, and some purple sweet potato and carrots cut out.

Deep Fried Tofu

deep fried tofu soaked in stock

deep fried tofu soaked in stock

Deep Fried Tofu (soaked in stock)

2 blocks soft tofu 30 grams each
Oil for deep frying

For the stock:
1 ½ cups chicken stock
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin

Garnish:
Toasted black seeds
Chopped scallion

1. Drain the tofu by wrapping it in kitchen paper towels. Next, set it on a cookie/cake cooling rack with a plate underneath to catch drippings. Finally, set a plate on top of the wrapped tofu. The weight will help drain the tofu without squishing it. Unwrap and cut into cubes (1”x1” inch) after about 6-8 minutes. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a frying, deep fry the tofu in batches. Set aside.
3. In a sauce pan, bring the mirin to a boil. Add the soy sauce and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then set heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Assemble. In a bowl, place deep fried tofu. Pour sauce, then sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallion. Serve warm.
*In addition, you may continue to simmer the stock until thick and add in the deep fried tofu. It’s a variation similar to how I’d make adobo. That manner of cooking is more familiar with the people I share the dish with.
**This dish was inspired by a Japanese dish called Agedashi Tofu.

deep fried tofu close

To the good days ahead.

Ceramics and Oyakodon

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According to all of the Japanese food blogs (the ones written in English) Oyakdon literally means “parent-child bowl”. My first thought was that it referred to a mother’s dish shared with her child. Really, that’s what I thought, it made sense. According to Nami-san of Just One Cookbook however, it referred to parent=chicken and child=egg. That made more sense. I’m not much into donburi or rice bowl dishes but I sometimes crave it for reasons I still do not know. I get over this unexplained desire and uncertainty by making myself a donburi.

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Oyakodon (Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl)
2 boneless chicken breast
3 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 ½ tbsp sugar
1 cup chicken stock (or preferably dashi)
1 large onion
2 eggs slightly beaten
Scallions for garnish, chopped

Instructions:
1. Wash and pat dry the boneless chicken breast. Cut into chunks. Peel and slice the onion thinly. Set aside.
2. In a saucepan, bring mirin to a boil (the recipes where I based this listed an addition of 2 tbsp sake, I skipped it since I don’t have sake).
3. Add chicken stock (or dashi if you have it), soy sauce and sugar. Bring to a boil again.
4. Once boiling, add the thinly sliced onion and chicken chunks then cook covered over medium heat. I used free range chicken that we raise in our farm. This type of chicken is best for stews or soups since it’s a bit tough, so for this recipe I cooked it a little longer than the original recipe required. By the way, as the chicken, the broth smelled so good I had to stop and sit for a while, immersing myself in the aroma.
5. Once the chicken is tender enough, I drizzled the eggs over the chicken, cook until set covered. I must admit I overcooked some of the eggs, it turned brown, so I drizzled another egg and carefully made sure I don’t overcook it this time. Add the chopped scallions then turn the heat down.
6. Pour the chicken and eggs over freshly steamed rice and drizzle as much sauce as desired. Serve immediately.

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Oh, it just came to me. The reason I wanted to make a donburi was because of this new ceramic bowl. I found a glass wares store that sells Japanese (and some that are noticeably Chinese) ceramic plates, bowls and tea cups. I was ecstatic. I kept coming back, the owner insisted to take my phone number in case they have new items available. How sweet!

I miss missing you

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There are times when I wish I lived in a time where technology isn’t amplified, to a world where 90 % of humanity’s daily life is dependent on being connected online. Now, it seems, is the time where correspondence is equals to 120 characters or a single photograph. Spending time with friends has now become an instant update of activities chosen from a drop down list and tiny facial icons. I do no find anything wrong with all of these. If I did, I could easily choose not be a part of it. I do enjoy and is grateful for the progress of modernity. I just desire for a small fraction of time where I can sit in a small corner café and have a face to face conversation with friends. Such a small matter has become something a bit troublesome to most.

That last bit however, I confess, most of it is my fault. I chose to move. It’s not all that bad you know. Now I rely mostly on technology to see how the life I left behind is doing. It’s not so bad after all.

Moving on.

I’ve been thinking of making this afternoon snack for some time and finally did it yesterday. I’ve been juggling ideas as to what flavour the croquettes should be. There’s curry, shepherd’s pie and cheese. In the end I made a basic recipe, salt and pepper.

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Potato Croquettes

(makes about 10)

4-6 medium sized potatoes (the ones used for stews)

1-2 TBSP unsalted butter

1 medium sized egg

2 TBS full cream milk

¼ to ½ TSP salt

Pepper

Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Oil for deep frying

Procedure:

  1. Peel and cut the potato in quarters. Lay in a single layer on a bed of a steamer and steam for about 15 minutes or until toothpick easily pricks a piece. You may of course choose to boil them in water, skin on, to be peeled later on. I just found this step to be easier and I can clean up the mess the potato cooks.
  2. Once steamed, gather the potatoes on a plate and let rest for at least 5 minutes allowing the remaining moisture to evaporate. The potatoes should still be moist as you mash it. I kept a few chunky pieces.
  3. Add a tablespoon of butter for every 1 ½ cup of mashed potato, mix thoroughly. Then add the milk and pepper. Add a small amount of salt first, mix then adjust accordingly. Meanwhile heat the oil.
  4. Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the mashed potatoes then dunk them in a lightly scrambled egg. Turn it around to coat evenly. Scoop it out, wiping the excess egg wash then into a bed of panko. Coat each piece evenly, shake off excess. Once all the pieces are evenly coated with the batter deep fry until golden brown. Scoop with a slotted spoon or kitchen thongs then keep covered as you cook the rest of the croquettes. Serve while still hot.

The croquette came out creamy and the batter crunchy and thin. It smelled really good thanks to the butter.

Darkened Tuna Soboro don

soboro don

I am quite happy with the fact that I spent my early youth being bitter and angry at the world for reasons I now find completely abject. My old notebooks evidently say I should go through the “wild child” phase since it was de riguer. The pursuant of that misread goal was a fool’s errand. I couldn’t help it; I just did what adults suggested I should. I didn’t meet anyone whose advice best served its purpose until I was way into my last year in college. She was a professor. We accidentally spent a short walk one afternoon and she offered me words that resounded loud and clear within me. That unintended suggestion allowed in ending poring over unnecessary habits. I am and always will be grateful.

I am quite happy because I now spend most of my time doing things that I truly enjoy and believe in. I am no longer plagued with unrealized dreams, misplaced “life quotes” and irrational leanings. I’ve now reconciled with who I really am as a person. I truly am comfortable with how I became the person that I am.

It is true that I’ve knowingly let go of opportunities that might’ve turned my life around. I’ve made choices that wasted more than five years of my life that could’ve been spent elsewhere. Whatever happened, it was my decision and regrets have no place in it. Even if that decision lead to a declared misfortune and disappointment, like I said regret has no place in it. It might not have been an equal trade but it made into a person who obtained an unshakable faith in how beautiful life truly is.

These thoughts were running through my mind as the pedicab driver braved his way through the floody streets on our way home. A floody street in the rural (very rural) area is not a pleasing sight. I was deposited in the front gate a good 8 meters away from the front door. I surprisingly got to the door fairly dry but decided to shower anyways. After I got settled I decided that I’d be making Soboro don the next day.

I’ve mentioned before (in this site) that I watch NHK World regularly. One of the shows that I watch is Your Japanese Kitchen with Harumi Kurihara-san. This episode is a repeat and since I’ve been seeing a lot of Donburi all over TV, anime and manga that I can no longer resist the urge to make one.

I’ve read a post in No Recipes by Chef Matsumoto where the cooking method was different. What I wanted was an explanation of what Soboro don actually is so I turned to Google search to find out why.

The one I made is completely different. The closest resemblance that it has in both Chef Matsumoto and Chef Harumi Kurihara is that the topping looks crumbly.

soboro don

Darkened Tuna Soboro don

1 cup freshly steamed white rice
1/2 cup tuna (I used the canned variety in brine)
2 med eggs
1 bunch green onions
salt
pepper

Cook the eggs. Heat a thin layer of oil in a pan over medium low. Break the eggs into a small bowl , season with salt and pepper (this is my preferred method when I scramble eggs). Pour the eggs into the pan and keep on scrambling with a fork or whisk or cooking chopsticks as they cook. Toss the eggs on a small plate and set aside.

Prepare the tuna. In a pan, heat a thin layer of oil. Once hot, place the tuna and repeatedly scramble the flakes into crumb like pieces with a fork or cooking chopsticks. Since I used a canned tuna I decided to stir fry it and brown it as I desired. Toss the cooked tuna in a small bowl and set aside.

Chop a bunch of green onions. Set aside

Assemble the Sobodo don. In a bowl, scoop enough freshly steamed rice almost to the brim. Fill top half of the bowl with the eggs. Fill the other half with the tuna. Line the middle part with the chopped green onions. Done.

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EXTRA! EXTRA!

pork cutlet bento full

Pork Cutlet Bento

6 pcs pork tocino
3 string beans
cornstarch
salt and pepper

For the string beans:
Remove the tops and ends of each string beans. In a small pan, heat a thin layer of oil over medium-low. Once hot quickly stir fry the string beans, season with salt and pepper then add a spoonful of water, cover with a drop lid for a minute. Check for doneness, and then set aside.

For the pork cutlets:

Slice the pork tocino cutlets into at least 1″x.5″ pieces. Sprinkle cornstarch over the cutlets then carefully coat each piece with the cornstarch. Make sure that each piece is coated with cornstarh evenly yet thinly. Heat enough oil in a pan to deep fry the pork cutlets set aside.

Please excuse my poorly executed “berry”. I am new to this type of bento making. I shall work harder and hopefully amaze you.

Also here’s some omurice:

omurice

Yakitori and Karaage

yakitori

Yakitori (grilled chicken on a stick)

yakitori b

4-6 chicken breast
small red onion, quartered
tare (sauce):
100 ml mirin
100 ml soy sauce
2 TBSP sugar

Cut the chicken pieces into bite size pieces. You may opt to use boneless chiicken breast or the darker boneless chicken thigh. Also, you may opt to remove the skin.

For the tare (sauce):Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. On high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Turn heat to low, swirl the pan to make sure sugar is evenly dissolved then simmer for 5 minutes.

(I was very glad that I found myself a small bottle of mirin. It is very difficult to find Japanese food ingredients in my part of the country.)

In a bamboo skewer, spear a piece of quartered onion (the original recipe asks for naganegi but since I wasn’t able to get a bunch I opted for the small red onion). Next, add a piece of chicken. Repeat the process leaving at least half an inch free at the tip of the skewer.

Heat a grill pan over low heat. Add about 2 tablespoon of oil then spread evenly. Arange the skewered chicken on the grill pan. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes on each side. Pour 1/4 – 1/2 cup of the sauce over the chicken, cover and cook until the sauce thickens and coats the chicken.

yakitori

Arrange on a plate and pour the remaining sauce over them. Serve warm.

Karaage (Chinese-Japanese fried chicken)

karaage
The thing is I haven’t a concrete proof how tis dish became a fusion of chinese and japanese cooking. I suspect it has something to do with the ingredients and method. After all the kara- refers to chinese cooking method and age- japanese word meaning fried.
The traditional recipe requires a quick marinade of grated ginger, soy suce and sake. I switched gears and decided to use the remainder of my yakitori sauce.

Ingredients:

2-4 boneless chicken thigs

1 cup tare (sauce)

cornstarch

Procedure: Cut the boneless chicken thighs into bite size pieces. Put the chicken pieces in a clean dry bowl. Pour the marinade over and gently massage into the chicken. Marinate for about 30 minutes and no longer than an hour.
Meanwhile heat enough oil to deep fry small pieces of chicken. Remove excess marinade before coating the chicken, it should be damp enough for the cornstarch to cling nicely into the meat. Coat each chicken piece with enough cornstarch to completely cover them.
Deep fry a few pieces at a time until deep golden brown.

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Vanilla Cupcake with buttercream frosting

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Vanilla Cupcakes

Adapted from Vanilla Cupcake recipe by Patty Loanzon of Heny Sison Culinary School thru Yummy Magazine online.

Makes about 16 to 18 pieces
3 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1¾ cups white sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a muffin pan with paper cups. Meanwhile, separate the yolks from white. Set aside.

2 Sift cake flour onto a big bowl. Add baking powder, and salt set aside.

3 Using a hand mixer in another bowl, whisk the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.

4 Add egg yolks at at a time, carefully mixing at each addtion. At this time I used a wire whisk, you know the non-electric kind.

5 Still using the wire whisk, gently but alternately add the dry ingredients and milk. Start with the flour then milk. It should end with the dry ingredients.

6 In another bowl that is completely dry, beat egg whites until stiff and peaks form. Using a spatula gently add into the batter using the cut and fold method.

7 Scoop into muffin pan lined with paper cups, about 3/4 full and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until center of each cupcake is springy when lightly touched. Or you may choose to insert a toothpick in the center, it should come out dry.

8 Once cooked take it out of the oven and cool completely before adding any frosting. You may also serve it plain.

Butter cream frosting

1/2 cup butter, unsalted (the texture should be like ice soft serve ice cream)

1 1/4 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar

2 tbsp milk
In a bowl, using an electric mixer in high speed, whisk butter until light in color and no longer lumpy, about less than a minute. Add sugar 1/3 cup at a time until it reaches your desired sweetness. Whisk in medium speed until the butter and sugar is well combined. The milk is added ( half tablespoon at atime) if you find the frosting to be too thick.
Notes: I only made 16 using a 2 oz papercup liner. The frosting was enough for a moderately thin layer. If you wish to make a high rise type of frosting then just double the indicated amount in the recipe.

If they were alive they’d be a year old today.

Since my dogs died of accidental poisoning before they reached their first birthday it seemed wrong to still celebrate it. Out of the four puppies only one survived and she’s been living with her new family a few months after birth. They were the first batch lucky a wawa

lucky died

lucky shiro moo

I’ve decided however to make dinner for them tonight. As for the new puppies they love this thing that I hate so much–macaroons.

I made some for last year’s class reunion and since its easy to make and they like it (my grade school classmates and the puppies), I didn’t mind making them again.

macaroons

I found the recipe in an old notebook owned by my mother. It didn’t have an exact procedure written except mixing everything in a bowl then bake.

Macaroons

1 pack desiccated coconuts ( the only ones available in the supermarket were from RAM 200g)
1 can condensed milk ( I used Alaska)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup butter (I used salted)
1 cup brown sugar (that’s what we have in the pantry)
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Slightly beat the eggs in a large bowl then dump the rest of the ingredients then mix thoroughly. The mixture looked and felt wet and runny but it held its shape once I baked it. I scooped 1/2 tbsp in each 3/4 oz cupcake liner I got from RM.
Bake for 35 minutes at 170 C (approx 350 F). The yield was about 90 pieces.

Let cool completely.

Oatmeal, Dried fruits and Toasted Peanuts Cookies

 

dried fruits and oatmeal cookies

 

As I wait, or during lull times, I like to nibble on little treats. Mostly I prefer savory biscuits but sweet treats are always welcome.

Oatmeal, Dried fruits and Toasted Peanuts Cookies
(Makes about 24 cookies Prep time about 30 minutes Baking Time 8-10 minutes)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 ½ cups quick cooking oatmeal
½ cup dried fruits (I used a combination of melon, papaya, pineapple)
½ cup pan toasted peanuts

 

Based on a recipe by Roshan Santani
Procedure: Toasting the peanuts
1. Toast peanuts. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Slowly place 1 cup of raw peanuts, skin on, and toast for about 3-5 minutes or until black spots start to appear. Turn off heat.

pan roasted peanuts

2. Lay a dry towel flat on a table. Place the toasted peanuts on the towel, wrap the towel over them then gently rub the skin off. To separate the skin and nuts, use a hair blower to easily send the skin flying.

Procedure: Baking the cookies
1. Pre-heat oven to 375°F. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Beat well.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Add flour mixture at a slow speed. Stir in oatmeal, dried fruits and toasted nuts.
3. Drop dough by heaping teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Cool on cookie sheets for 5 minutes then transfer to cooling racks.

dried fruits mix