Thursday, 27 October 2011

SmartCooks Bentos 6-10

SmartCooks here.

Bentos encore!  Numbers 6-10 for Week 2 of "Let's Go Bento-ing"!   

I can't get enough of the Just Bento and Just Hungry websites and cookbook.  They are full of nutritious, healthy, Japanese-style cooking tips, primarily vegetables but not exclusively.

The recipes for Bentos 6-10 are posted below.  I redid two dishes from last week:  Celeriac/Carrot Salad (far right) and Cucumber/Cabbage Pickles (in a silicone cup on left side) so won't include those recipes in this posting. The Red Onion and Parsley Salad is shown in the middle compartment on the bottom, the Stir Fry Bok Choy is top right and Chicken/3-colour Peppers is on the left side. 

All 3 new Bentos were easy, not large quantities and kept well in storage:  
- Red Onion and Parsley Salad;
- Stir-Fry Bok Choy; and
- Chicken with Three-Colour Peppers Stir Fry.

In addition, I made two other dishes for use during the week:  Tonkatsu Pork Chops and Sushi Rice.  I'm doing separate, short, blog postings for those two recipes as I plan to return to them again and again.  

First, New Staples!

Following my successful shopping adventure to the ever-so-claustrophically crowded T&T Supermarket in Ottawa, I was ready to go.  I now have Shichimi pepper, my new "go-to" pepper.  It is a mix of seven different spices. It’s not really that spicy in small amounts. It’s mainly used to add a little heat to dishes and as a garnish. The mix is typically made from:
Ground red pepper
Sesame seeds
Poppy seeds
Sansho pepper*
Dried citrus peel
Nori (seaweed)

And, since I've never heard of Sansho pepper, I checked  the Japanese Kitchen website.  Despite its name, Sansho pepper is not actually a pepper -- more of a spice with a bit of lemon. Sansho pepper is usually sold ground, but you can also buy the berries and grind it yourself. It’s typically used on grilled foods like yakitori (chicken).  The sansho or prickly ash tree also yields the fragrant kinome leaves -  which are often used as a garnish.

So, yummm.  A new spice to add to my collection.  

Bento Recipes

1) Red Onion and Parsley Salad (Let's Bento)

1/2 medium red onion, very thinly sliced (I used a mandoline)
pinch salt
Small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (I used half curly, half flat leaf)
black pepper
1 tsp rice vinegar
pinch sugar

Sprinkle the onion with a pinch of salt, and massage the salt into the onion with your hands. This takes away much of the harsh flavour of the onion slices, leaving them softened yet still crunchy.  The onion will exude a lot of water.  Squeeze to expel as much moisture as possible.  (I left them in a colander for half an hour).  Mix ingredients well and store.  (Note:  This easily lasts 3 days in the refrigerator, well covered, so judge quantities accordingly.)

2) Stir-Fry Bok Choy (Bryson's Farms )

1 lb bok choy (I used what I would call one 'head' of bok choy
4 ounces (1/2 cup) chopped mushrooms (shitake, oyster)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T. ginger, minced
3 T. canola oil
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Few drops of sesame oil
Vegetable or Chicken stock (if on hand)
(Note:  I added a few sprigs of other greens to this since I have so MUCH green stuff.  I also cut the bok choy into smaller pieces so it fit into the Bento box)
Trim the bok choy of any discoloured leaves and slice it into 1 ½ inch pieces.  Heat the oil in a preheated frying pan or wok. Add the mushrooms, garlic, ginger, salt and stir fry for a minute or so. Add the bok choy and sugar and cook for 45 seconds or so. Add 2-3 tablespoons water or vegetable or chicken stock and cover. Cook for another minute until just tender.  Season lightly with some sesame oil and serve.
3) Chicken with Three-Colour Pepper Stir Fry 
1/2 T olive or other vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
3 T roughly chopped green onions
2 tsp peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 each of medium-sized red, green and yellow sweet peppers, de-seeded and cut into 1/2 inch chunks (can also do strips)
salt, for sprinkling
2 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (can do more chicken... I did) 
black pepper, to taste
1 T soy sauce
1 tsp Sriracha sauce (optional) 
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the green onion and ginger and stir fry for 1-2 minutes until the oil is fragrant.  Turn the heat to the highest setting and add the peppers to the pan.  Stir fry with a spatula or long chopsticks.  Sprinkle in some salt to draw out moisture from the vegetables and cook them faster.  Continue stir frying for 4-5 minutes, until the peppers are cooked. 
Push vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the chicken to the pan.  Leave for a couple of minutes to cook, then turn over to finish cooking.  Stir everything together, and add black pepper, soy sauce and Sriracha (if using). 
Put the stir fry from the pan onto a cold plate to cool rapidly.  When cooled, pack into a container and store in refrigerator.  


Aside #13: Community Supported Agriculture

October 26, 2011

Two weeks gone in a flash.... where does the time go? 

Basket Number 3 from Bryson's Farms and Organic Home Delivery arrived Tuesday afternoon, as part of my commitment to Community Supported Agriculture (see previous posts on this.) 

Every two weeks a pile of fresh, organic vegetables arrives, neatly packed in re-usable, recyclable plastic bags and placed neatly in my picnic basket on the back deck. 

I did OK in terms of making it through the basket from two weeks ago.  I gave some of #2 away because it arrived just after the Thanksgiving feast and the frig was already full.  I was more careful in the lead up to basket #3 and the frig was not bad at all, space-wise.

Nonetheless, it is a daunting pile to receive.  I feel somewhat pressured by the freshness of it all .... picked the day before and packaged away.  Where to start? How long will it stay fresh, recognizing that the stuff in the supermarkets could have been there for a week or more before being bought..

PLUS I still don't recognize a few of greens etc.  Bryson's doesn't list exactly what they're putting in the baskets.  It would help me if they included a list in the picnic basket. 

My strategy with the baskets is to include some of the micro greens and greens (this time looks like wild arugula and mustard greens) in lunches and have at least two vegetables at dinner (e.g., a stir fry of turnip and radish or a 3-pepper chicken stir fry or bok choy or kale with garlic sauce).  Some are used as the staples in the Bentos for this week (recipes to follow in another posting.)

The heirloom radishes and Japanese turnips are the real discoveries for me in these baskets.  I just love them ...hehe almost wrote "relish" them but didn't want to convey the wrong impression of how I'm eating them. hehe

I committed (to myself) to trying 4 baskets (so two months) and will then assess if it's too much for one person.  I think it is unless I start splitting it or we start having more company on weekends.  Unfortunately, I find that difficult to do often, given the lack of a proper dining room.  Alas, the back deck dining room is yet one more memory of Summer 2011. 


Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Aside #12: Most Memorable Moments in Japan

An aside .....

Japanese Bento cooking and Japan, yes ....
From looking at a series of blog entries, it's easy to notice that I'm trying to adopt a Japanese, Bento, smaller portions, health-conscious friendly style of cooking and eating.  Heavy on the vegetables, protein and lighter on carbs.  A serving of fresh fruit as well and less grapes of wine (ahem...)

Every time I browse some of the websites, or open up the Let's Bento cookbook, or eat a Bento Box with chopsticks, my memories of Japan return fondly to the years 1997 to 2000ish.  It was in those years that I had the opportunity to travel to Japan a few times (Kyoto, Tokyo, and a small town in the mountains) where I had the time of my life, both professionally and personally.  As well, it was the first time travelling overseas!  

Traveller, not....
First, somewhat of a personal note (not too personal though).  I'm not much of a world traveller.  Some days I am embarrassed that I haven't travelled more widely than I have.  Bottom line is that I am perfectly happy in my own surroundings, don't like planes at all, have gotten better with them over the years but, honestly, prefer to stay mostly home.

In fact, anxiety attacks plagued me in my 20s when I first started travelling. Flying was the worst.  I set forth on my own to do a Vancouver-Ottawa plane-train-bus trek across the country.  Time-honoured youth hostel style.  But, on the flight from Toronto to Vancouver, I had a major anxiety attack and demanded that the pilot put the plane down immediately (and the fact that the plane was over the Rockies didn't deter me AT ALL).  On the same tour, I demanded to be let off the train headed for Calgary (again in the Rockies). Once in Calgary, I tried to do Banff by bus... same reaction.  So, I gave up and flew home. But I kept trying for the next few years.  I made it to Mexico City for a UN meeting on population growth but had a major anxiety attack one evening and left the next morning on the first plane home.  I did the same thing at a UN Women's Conference in Chicago.  Sadly, I've even cut holidays short.  

But, as I aged, found good anti-anxiety travel drugs, and became fitness buff-y, the anxiety faded to a manageable level.  I was able to travel on planes, trains and, yes, automobiles (!) for work purposes.  I managed a whistle-stop tour of 27 cities handling communications at Public Hearings for a Royal Commission and for various Advisory Council media tours when there were major research launches.  Fed-prov meetings were manageable. I gradually forgot about my earlier issues with anxiety. 

Kyoto and Tokyo, BIG GrEAT travel...
But domestic travel is one thing.  I've never been keen on across-the-ocean type travel.  Continental tours of Britain, Europe and elsewhere were never high on my 'must-do' or even 'might-do' lists... plane, train, cruise ship or whatever... something about confined spaces or out of my comfort zone or whatever. 

But, in 1997, a work opportunity arose to go to Kyoto, Japan, for an international conference on climate change.  Kyoto Protocol, perchance... 12-16 hours of travel each way were involved but I simply could not say NO.  In fact, I travelled to Japan twice over a two-year period and once to Buenos Aires in Argentina.  All occurred without drugs or having to admit my anxiety-prone youth experiences.  All I need on a plane is distraction.  I don't sleep.  I sip nervously during turbulence... water in my alcohol-less days; scotch if not. A laptop or TV also works like a charm to keep me calm.  

But Japan was worth fighting against myself and my travel-related hesitancies.  There are priceless moments and memories and I will relate the top four. 

Most Memorable Moments:  #1
The hotel in Kyoto was very modern, American influence but with Japanese decor and touches, like a hot pot for tea rather than a coffee maker in the hotel room.  But what really stumped me was the bathroom.  I mistook the toilet for the shower.  I kid you not.  I have the picture to prove it.  The buttons were next to the toilet and walk-in shower and were clearly labelled in both English and Japanese. I wanted a shower so I pushed the button for 'Shower' and was promptly sprayed from head to toe with, ah yes indeed, toilet water.  Lesson #1:  Do Research on Bathroom Culture BEFORE Travelling Overseas. 

Most Memorable Moments:  #2

Recovering from the 'Shower' follies, I went downstairs to the lobby to meet some of the delegation and set out for dinner somewhere close to the hotel.  I'm relatively short but still taller than most Japanese folks.  My dinner companions were all in the 6 foot plus range, tall and lean.  We went up and down very narrow streets filled with very tiny restaurants and sushi bars.  We must have looked like a band of alien giants to the owners; some of whom waved us away and asked us not to come in.  But finally, success.  As we were shown to a table, we set off a huge wave of shouting with waiters rushing toward us, not happy at all, shouting a version of 'hey, stop'.  It turned out we hadn't removed our shoes! Then, the table was very near the floor with mats to sit on.  Fine for height-challenged me but not so easy for 6 foot plus types.  But the real trouble started with the ordering.  "No sushi, I kept saying", waving my hands about.  Whatever I was doing was interpreted as "yes, sushi".  I kept frantically trying to look up the word for 'vegetables' in my little dictionary; in the end, I made do with rice.  It was a lean week for me.  Raw sushi and I have never been the best of friends.  Lesson #2:  Always Learn a Few Basic Words. 

Most Memorable Moments:  #3  
I loved the bicycles (called 'jitensha' or 'chari') I saw everywhere in Kyoto.  Loved them.  Everyone had one, everyone seemed to ride them, from CEO types in business suits with briefcases to mothers with kids out shopping.  The best memory was of a Buddhist monk holding an umbrella as he rode along.  No lycra, no flashy weird jerseys. Just clothes.  There were plenty of 'mamacharis' as well, designed with a sturdy basket for a child on the front handlebars.  (There's some controversy now about two children on a bike with two baskets.)

Anyway, there were fabulous bike parkades near shopping districts.  Most bikes weren't locked.  Folks in Kyoto rode in waves along the canal bike paths, but slowly and sedately, without helmets, and not like the speed demons we have here.  Bikes were practical, not flashy, and generally just a few speeds (I've NEVER mastered the art of changing gears).  I couldn't help comparing the culture of biking as a form of transportation there to Ottawa and our less-than-friendly infrastructure.  

I almost took more pictures of bikes than I did of any touristy sites. You see, in those days you didn't see an upright style bike in Canada, at least not in my world.  Everyone either rode hunched over, which I find most uncomfortable, or kindof a little bit upright.  But these bikes were my size, my style, practical, and NOT expensive.  I inquired about taking one back to Canada with me but, alas, not.  I vowed to find the equivalent version back in Ottawa.  HA!! Dream on.  Husband and I looked and looked.  It took us a few years to finally find a bike somewhat like it, referred to as 'women's' style (a putdown for sure). It's impossibly heavy and a bit big for me but I do ride upright.  I will never ride any other way!  Lesson #3:  Find a Way to Bring it Back Next Time!

Most Memorable Moments: #4
The shopping.  Sigh, the shopping.  In both Kyoto and Tokyo, I did my absolute best to help contribute the maximum amount possible in the shortest period of time to the national and local economies.  I was successful to a point; I could have spent more if I had more than two hands and two feet.  I have this 'thing' for interesting plates and bowls and dragged back as many as I could.  I still have them all.  I did ALL my Christmas shopping ... kimonos for my mother and sister, sushi bowls. I even bought sweets from a market in Tokyo. (Note to self and others:  sweets in Japan are not sweet.... packaging is best part)

But of course I made one fatal mistake.  I had to get everything home.  I didn't want to pack my purchases in my luggage as they were 95% breakable.  I was blase about it carrying it all.  I rationalized this stupid decision (in hindsight very stupid) to myself by saying that the Canadian embassy staff were driving us (through traffic jams you NEVER see in Canada) and would drop us at the airport. 

Well, the embassy personnel did indeed drive us to the airport and then ushered us through the maze inside the Tokyo airport to the VIP section and from there to the homebound plane.  EXCEPT the walk to get there was endless. We walked .... fast ... for ages in crowds ... also walking fast ... the likes of which I've never seen before or again.  I was in good shape but 10 minutes into the marathon I was panting and sweating and falling far behind my colleagues.  My arms were dead.  We finally made it, and in time, and for once in my life, I was delighted to get on a plane! Lesson #4:  Shop and SHIP it Home!

Final Aside:

Were the visits to Japan worth it? Absolutely yes and yes.  To this day, I can still remember the expression on my mother's face as she opened the kimono Christmas present. She never travelled outside Canada, indeed barely outside southwestern Ontario.  A kimono from Japan was beyond her wildest comprehension.  Sadly, she was afraid to wear it.  Years later, after she died, I found it, original wrapping intact, tucked safely away in her drawer.  I have it to this day as a memory of both Japan and my mother. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

SmartCooks Bento Box Lunches 1-5:

SmartCooks here finally....

Where were we before I got distracted by Buffy the Vampire Slayer?...  Oh yes, the ipad is propped up against the TV and held upright by a broken cutting board and a salt and pepper shaker as I watch the demon fantasy world and begin some serious Bento-ing on a Sunday night.  My goal is 1-5 dishes to mix and match for five days of Bento lunches.  I've got a serious case of Bento bug!

By the way, I found some lovely premium bottles of Mirin and Soy Sauce at T&T Supermarket .  Brands and quality you just don't see at Blob-blaws. T&T is a super big store and Husband and I have learned to pick our times to go there quite carefully as it is often jammed to the doors. 

This weekend I'm planning on a mission to find Sushi Rice, Sushi Vinegar, a Sushi Bamboo rolling mat, Shichimi pepper and Yuzu.... I'm planning vegetarian sushi in Bento boxes next week lunches.  More later on this culinary adventure or disaster....  I'm still watching the How-To Roll YouTube videos ... (I can already rock so now I have to learn to roll.. bad joke I know).

First, the staples: Bento Book and Bento Boxes.


The Bento cookbook is found at Just Bento website.  If you visit the site, you must read the hilarious entries about "The Guy" (aka her boyfriend or husband) making his first Bentos.  It's quite cute.  Not sure his reaction is quite the same as hers or mine but it's a nice read.  Clearly, they are both committed to the Bento experience and lifestyle. 

Makiko Itoh (the author) says the ideally balanced bento has a 1:1:2 (or more) ratio of carbs:protein:vegetables, meaning the half the lunchtime Bento should include vegeys.  No problemo.... 

Recipes below were the basics for the boxes.  I added kale, micro greens, pickes, a cut up Fuji Apple (in keeping with the theme) etc.


I chose two Bento boxes for the week.

The first one is Ojyu, a red-patterned, two-tier box with black lacquer on the inside and a matching drawstring lunch bag.  I use it often, with a pair of chopsticks (not shown). It's from the Sakura collection, and features some of the traditional Japanese patterns and symbols.  The white, black and red flowers represent the cherry blossom, and symbolize ephemeral beauty... fragile, delicate, colourful.  This box is one of many in the Sakura series that I saw at CasaBento, which seems to be based in Europe or France somewhere.  Anyway, very pretty. 

The second Bento Box is called Shikiri Box (or "dividers" as you can see from the picture it is aptly named) but the name on top of the box says "Ideal".  So I will go with the latter. 

It actually has six small compartments but one side is easily removed and leaves four compartments.  The chopsticks fit under the lid and the whole Box locks snugly (there's handles on the sides that lock the lid to the base).  Very clever.  And perfect for what I made for the week. 

Bento Box Accessories

I haven't gone to accessories and decorating the Bentos ... yet. 

There's something so nice about opening up a Colourful, Flavourful, Cheery, Happy, Giggly Bento Box on a Dreary Week in Capital Town.  The Bento websites are full of a full range of inventive little lunch box accessories to make manga characters, animals or even scenes.  You can decorate the top of the rice or make rice balls and decorate with apricots or other fruits.  Seaweed (nori) is black and is also fun for decorating.  Most decorations are edible.
Wanna bet I try my own before too long?

The Bento Box-ers Recipes for the Week 
(Adapted from the Just Bento cookbook)

Recall that a traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more type of pickled or cooked vegetables. So that was goal #1 for Bentos for the week.  I also cooked in quantity Sunday night so that I wouldn't have to do any serious lunch cooking for most of the week .... just pack up the Bento for the next day.  That was goal #2 and it's working so far.... it's Wednesday night. 

I made five dishes Sunday night, none of them difficult; in fact, very quick to assemble. I mixed and matched throughout the week with various meats or eggs.   

Bento Box-er #1:  Spicy Quinoa Pilau with Vegetables

1 cup cooked quinoa (I used white)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1.5 ounces of pancetta (could use bacon)
1/2 small red onion, chopped
1 garlic glove, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 yellow sweet pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1/2 small zucchini, sliced into small rounds
2 cups of no-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp allspice
1 cup of leftover chopped, cooked vegetables 
(e.g., Japanese turnips, black radish and carrots)
1/2 to 1 tsp of harissa or other hot red chili paste (I used Sriracha), to taste  

Rinse the quinoa in cold water and drain well in a fine-mesh colander (actually, I used a fine-mesh cooking bag that I found for doing ice cream custards). 

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat.  Add the pancetta (or bacon) and sauté for 3-4 minutes.  Add the onion, garlic and yellow pepper.  Add the quinoa and sauté until the seeds start to brown.  Add the stock and bring to a boil.  Put in the bay leaf, allspice, zucchini, and chopped vegetables.  Lower the heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the liquid has just about evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn off the heat and cover.  Let stand for a few minutes until the quinoa has absorbed any remaining liquid.  Stir in the harissa or red chili paste (Sriracha).  This is delicious hot or cold. It keeps for 2-3 days (3 days is my maximum). 

((((A word about quinoa since I'm new to it.  (I still can't pronounce it properly.... "keen-wah").  It originated in the times of the South Andean Inca populations.  It's supposedly the new, rediscovered 'superfood' just like brown rice or couscous was a few years back. It's a grain or rather a seed from the Goosefoot plant. It's a complete protein, has high levels of iron and fibre, is gluten free, low in sodium and, oh yeah, it comes in very pretty colours, actually 120 of them ranging from pinks to red, ivories to white to almost black but red, white and black are mainly cultivated for consumption.   It has a delicious nutty flavour. It needs to be rinsed before cooking because it has a hard outer shell (easily rinsed off) that keeps birds away.  It used to be hard to find (Herb and Spice type stores) but I noticed Blob-blaws is now carrying it in a package like couscous. It's a keeper in my pantry.))))  

Bento Box-er #2:  Shredded Carrot and Celeriac Salad

Winter Root Vegetable Slaw
This recipe is super easy, very colourful and stays fresh for up to a week in a tightly covered container.  I used it in four days of Bento lunches and will throw out the remaining bits tonight.  

Celeriac looks so ugly in its natural root state.  In fact, most of the websites I looked at call it the ugly prince of the vegetable world.  Another site called it the "troll's orb of warts and roots".  Appetizing not. 

But, once peeled, the underlying flesh root is a perfect ivory colour and unblemished.  The true prince emerges with a taste which is a blend of celery and parsley.  Half a cup is 30 calories so can't go wrong there...) and contains no fat.  I prefer it to potatoes.  It's apparently been around since the ancient times of Homer and is known as "celeriac", "celery root", "knob celery" etc.  It is used widely in French cuisine, especially in a dish called "celerie remoulade" which I will definitely try one of these days soon.  It's becoming a staple of my diet. 

1 large celeriac, peeled thickly to remove the knobby warty skin
2 large or 3 medium carrots (heirloom are nicest)
juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 tsp of sea salt
black pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil

Slice the celeriac and carrots into long, thin shreds.  I used a mandoline and a vegetable peeler would work just as well.  In a bowl, toss the shredded vegetables with the other ingredients.  Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. It tastes better as it mellows for a few hours.   

Bento Box-er #3:  Chicken Kijiyaki

In Japanese, "kijiyaki" refers to a traditional way of cooking bland foods such as chicken or tofu so that they mimic a delicacy in feudal Japan called blue pheasant.  Personally, I would never eat such a thing but I DID enjoy the taste of this chicken and it was super, super simple.  

The only modification I made was to use boneless, no skin, chicken breast.  The original recipe suggests chicken thigh with skin in order to get a crispy skin.  I can do without the extra calories so opted, instead, for the no-skin, organic, hormone-free, chicken breasts that I buy from Saslov's.  I almost always have some on hand in the freezer.   

The recipe is meant for 1 serving but is easily increased to 2 or 3 if you don't mind having the same thing two days in a row (I certainly don't...)

4 oz boneless chicken thigh with skin (above I explain why I went with boneless, skinless breast)
1 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
Shichimi pepper, to taste (it's 7 spices and similar to chili pepper.  I used poppy seeds as I didn't have any).  Link explains what it is.  

I cut the chicken so that it wasn't more than 1" or so thick.  Pierce the chicken all over on the skin side (if using; if not, just one side).  This helps the meat to lay flat in the pan and cook evenly.  Place a dry nonstick frying pan over high heat and put in the chicken, skin side down.  Fry until the skin is brown and crispy, pressing down on chicken occasionally.  Turn the chicken and cook until done.  (I just made sure the chicken was a golden brown on all sides.)  It's done when you poke the middle with a fork or knife tip and the juices run clear. 

Remove the chicken from the pan and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel.  Put the mirin, soy sauce and sugar in the pan over medium heat, and stir until the sugar melts.  When the sauce bubbles, return the chicken to the pan and coat it with the sauce on both sides.  Remove from the pan to a plate and let cool.  Slice and pack it up.  Sprinkle with shichimi pepper if using. (I sprinkled some poppy seeds.)

Bento Box Box-er #4:  Cucumber and Turnip Salad with Yuzu

Yuzu is a tart, slightly bitter citrus fruit that is common in Japanese cuisine and apparently becoming more available in North America.  I plan to look for it during my next T&T adventure.  It looks like a small grapefruit or large lemon and can be yellow or green.  Its flavour is similar to lime so I substituted that for yozu until I find some. 

This salad is very refreshing and crunchy.  The amounts in the recipe will last for about 4 bentos. 

(Small aside:  the silicone cup holding the salad is also very Japanese bento-ish. Depending on your Box, the cups are used as dividers. I bought two on-line when I bought the Bentos and use them often especially in the Ojyu Bento.)   

1 medium English cucumber (or a garden one is fine).  Just Bento recommends English because typically it is narrower and has less seeds. 
2 small Japanese turnips, or 1/2 large Western turnip. I encourage you to try the Japanese turnips.. the flavour is mild, tender and crunchy. 
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp grated or dried yuzu peel, or lime peel
1/2 Tbsp fresh or bottled yuzu juice, or lime juice

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds with spoon if needed.  Slice thinly, using a vegetable slicer or mandoline. 

Slice the turnips and cut the slices into pieces about the same size as the cucumber slices
Massage the salt into the vegetables with your hands until the vegetables are limp.  Squeeze well to expel excess moisture and discard it.  Add the yuzu peel and juice and mix well.  Let it rest, covered, for a minimum of 20 minutes, overnight if possible.

Bento Box-er #5:  Meatball Bento
Any recipe for meatballs will fit the bill here.  Just make them small and perfect sizes for a Bento box.  However, in keeping with the theme, I chose a recipe with ingredients like Mirin Sauce and Saké (and can sip on it too!).  I could have frozen them but made enough for 3 days, plus a meatloaf for Husband and I.  Delicious. 

1/2 lb ground pork (hormone-free, lean)
1/2 lb ground beef (hormone-free, lean)
2 tsp soy sauce 
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I prefer Panko)  
2 tsp saké
2 tsp grated ginger root
2 chopped green scallions 
1 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp cornstarch
Olive oil for the wok (or Pam spray if really trying to go lean. I put a tiny bit of oil.  I've seen some recipes say you can also use a deep fryer.... I didn't)

Sweet and Sour Glaze (optional):
1 1/4 cups chicken broth (low-sodium)
4 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sea salt
6 Tbsp rice vinegar

For the Meatballs:
Combine the ground meats, soy sauce, sake, ginger, onion, salt, panko breadcrumbs and starch and mix well. Form into 30 or so (1-inch) balls. Heat the oil in a wok. Cook the meatballs until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon or Chinese deep-fry ladle. Drain on paper towels.  (Note: Make the meatballs the night before you plan to fix the bento boxes.)

For the Sweet and Sour Glaze:
Combine the broth, sugar, soy sauce, salt and rice vinegar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tsp of water and add to the broth mixture. Continue cooking until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken, about 1 minute.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Aside #11: Reminiscing about Buffy while Bento Boxing

October 2011

SmartCooks here for an aside....

I spent hours Sunday night in the kitchen preparing Bento Box Lunches for the week.  Now, lest you feel sorry for me, let me assure you I wasn't alone and I had a grEAT time. 

Cat-friendlies first....

Furry friends of the cat kind paid the first visit.  Whine-y Girl Grace Cat did her frantic Meow-thing at the back door, pleading 'pleeeez' to be let out (it's so not going to happen Grace!) and was finally turfed for failing to stop the insanity and get with the program.  Sir BB -- Big Boy Will -- flopped on top of a recipe and asked for a head scritch; after 100 or so (never enough) he too got turfed.  Head Girl Spice Queen came in for a drink of fresh water and gave me one of her silently mouthed meow-s of "Hi" and "I love you" before heading wearily back to bed. ;)

Scooby Gang next....

So, furry friends gone, kitchen was then cleaned and sterilized, and the door to the family room tightly closed and my back turned on the little noses pressed up against the glass pawing at the door... I then invited in the next group of friends to help cook.  

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Second Season

I'm talking about the ipad Netflix episodes of Buffy:  The Vampire Slayer and the "Scooby Gang" of Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Dawn, Anya, Tara, Watcher Rupert Files (my personal favourite from his days as Anthony Stewart Head in the Nescafe/Taster's Choice commercials in the early 1990s) and of course Buffy Summers.  The Buffy series ran from 1996 until 2003 and I didn't miss an episode, thanks to VCRs and PVRs and renting or buying the DVDs.  And I can't forget vampires and demons Angel, Spike, Glorificus, Drusilla, the Master etcetera ...

I blame Husband for my original addiction.  He first found or rented the pilot movie, called, appropriately, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with Donald Sutherland.  We were both hooked from the moment we watched it.  There's something about "Valley Girl" speak that debuted in the movie e.g., Buffy to dead guy vampire:  "Excuse much!  Rude or anything?"  Or her cheerleader chant:  "How funky is your chicken? How funky is your chicken? How loose is your goose? Our goose is totally loose! So come on all you Hog fans, so come on all you Hog fans and shake your caboose, and shake your caboose! WHoooO!" (And I thought my high school/university chants were lame....) 

I spent 7 seasons in Buffyverse -- 145 episodes. I blame Husband for my re-addiction, this time via Netflix with no commercials.  I'm in Buffy-dom heaven, or Hellmouth this is.  I'm well into Season 2, where Angel has just made out with Buffy for her first time ever, but tragically cursed he loses his soul by giving his heart to a mortal Buffy.  And now he's an uber baddie vampire again, in league with another uber baddie vampire  named Spike and creepy, crazy maxvamp-y Druscilla. 

File:OnceMoreWithFeelingPoster.jpgI can't wait for the 7th episode of the 6th season!! Why, you ask? Because it is the only episode in the entire series done as a musical.  Called "Once More with Feeling", a demon compels the entire population of Sunnydale to break into song at random moments to express hidden truths.  After the singer sings the taboo 'truth', the demon invites him/her to sing it again... "Once More With Feeling"... and the singer, umm, bursts back into song and goes down in flames (i.e., combusts, flames out... should I stop?) and dies (it's an ironic vampire series after all...).

Big secret (shhhh!) is that I know every single line and musical note in the episode. I  have it on a separate CD/DVD thanks to a former colleague/friend.  More truth... I sing it OUT LOUD in deeply felt off-key harmony with the cast whenever I'm alone and feeling like a pick-me-up. I haven't yet exploded into flames. I might if anyone ever hears me. 

And, according to Slayage: The Online Journal of Buffy Studies (I kid you not!) apparently the episode went into the theatres for a bit for a theatre-goers sing a-long (aka Rocky Horror) but, 'natch, there was some kind of financial dispute (always about the $$$) and now we can only get it by watching the re-run episodes. 

The episode has deeper undertones (scoff at your peril) but the whole story arc and plot of the series progresses in this episode as the characters reveal previously deeply kept secrets about themselves (e.g., Willow's attraction to Tara and spell she casts on her, Buffy's burgeoning sick desire for baddie Spike etc).  The episode is similar to one I liked from Season 4, called "Hush" when a demon takes away everyone's voice but they manage to communicate anyway. 

SmartCooks:  Bento Box Lunch recipes in next posting.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Aside #10: Update on Constance Creek Wildlife Refuge

October Update:

Well, we had an upsetting call Tuesday night

The Wildlife Refuge Centre, opened so cheerfully and with tons of people at the Opening just weeks ago, was raided on Tuesday afternoon by the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources.  Some of the animals (I think raccoons) were seized!  It's still murky why but may be paperwork is not all in order or such is the claim by wildlife resources. 

Note:  (I wrote about our adventures with Huey, Dewey and Louie Raccoons in September and how Husband found this new Wildlife Refuge Centre.... check out the posting and see why I am now upset). 

Anyway, how incredibly bureaucratically small-mindedly stupid.... Can you spell D-U-M-B.... what a waste of taxpayer resources to send people out to confront and seize animals being cared for.  Did the phone not work? Is email not an option? A simple messge saying better hold off.... few more questions.  No, it gets elevated to the level of an operation....

Maybe there's more to the story.  Will wait and see what Husband gets next. 

The Ottawa Citizen ran a story Thursday. 

Ministry officers raid woman's private wildlife rescue centre.  I tried to copy it over but seems the technology is resisting me. 

Hang in there Lady Goat.

Anne Marie