Wednesday, February 29

Blackened Sesame Tuna Steaks

Tuna is an extremely versatile fish. it has a very "meaty" flavor and texture which makes it widely popular. It is a great fish for those who don't like "fishy" fish and has great health benefits including low-fat proteins and omega-3.

Tuna steaks can be one of the easiest meals to create on a short time frame. Searing them off only takes a few minutes per side and they can easily by marinaded ahead of time. Making tuna a great weeknight meal.

Serves 2-4
Full time: 2 1/2 hours to 8 1/2 hours (based on how long you marinade)
You will need:

2-4 tuna steaks, 1 per person

For marinade:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp dried cilantro
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

For crusting:
1/2 cup sesame seeds

Let us begin:

In a large zip-top bag place all marinade ingredients, shake bag lightly to mix
Place tuna in bag, close and place in you refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours maximum of 8 hours
When ready to cook, heat a saute pan over medium-high heat

Carefully remove tuna steaks from bag and place in remaining sesame seeds, push lightly to encrust.

Flip over and repeat on second side.

Place tuna in hot pan and sear 4-6 minutes

Flip over only once tuna is freely moving on its own and sear second side 4-6 minutes

Remove tuna from pan and serve immediately to avoid cooling off too much. This will be a nice medium-rare steak

Throw out any remaining marinade

Saturday, February 25

Baked tarragon Salmon with Green Beans

Tarragon is a great herb. It has a very noticeable and distinct flavor. Some people say it tastes of anise or licorice but I beg to differ. Although, it does has similar floral notes tarragon tastes nothing like licorice. It does has a sweet flavor which accompanies a variety of food well. I love parring it with seafood, creme fresh, or vegetables. I also goes well in hummus.

Serves 2-4
Full time: 30 minutes

You will need:

1 1/2 lb pink salmon fillet
1 lb frozen green beans
4 celery ribs, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 bunch fresh tarragon, divided into thirds
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon-pepper seasoning

Let us begin:

Preheat oven to 400

On a large sheet of aluminum foil take your butter and coat half the sheet with a thin layer
Place the salmon fillet on the buttered half, set aside

In a saute pan, add 1/2 of the butter, 1/2 of the onion, 1/2 of the celery, and the lemon juice. Saute over medium heat until vegetables turn translucent

Add in 1/3 of the tarragon and wilt.

Pour this mixture over the fish


Now carefully fold aluminum foil and crimp edges to create a nice package (en papillote). Place package on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes

While this bakes, in the saute pan place remaining butter, onion, celery and seasoning. Saute over medium heat until vegetables turn translucent.


Add in frozen green beans, cook on low heat until fish is ready.


Remove fish from oven and let rest for 2-3 minutes

Add 1/3 tarragon to saute pan and wilt. Move bean mixture to a large serving platter

Carefully open foil package and unveil your fish


Place fish on top of bean on the platter and top with remaining tarragon

Thursday, February 23

Coconut Pudding

Coconut pudding is an amazingly simple thing to make. It contains four ingredients, one being water, cooks down in under ten minutes, and tastes like you spent hours preparing it. The pudding itself has a silky texture when eating. It is a firmer pudding similar to a loose gelatin and has a very subtle sweetness to it. Coconut pudding can be commonly found in bento boxes, Asian cuisines, and world food markets.

This will make 6-8 servings
Full time: 1 hours 15 minutes to 3 1/2 hours (based on desired cooling/firmness time)
You will need:

1 can (14.5 or 15 oz) coconut milk, not coconut water or beverage
1 1/2 cup water
5 tbsp sugar
5 tbsp tapioca starch or corn starch

Let us begin:

Start by putting coconut milk in a sauce pot,  you may notice the solids have separated from the liquid, if this has happened you'll want to stir the milk and fully incorporate the liquid back into the solids

Once your incorporated, add in water and give a good stir. Turn heat on to medium high and stir for 3-4 minutes, you'll end up with a smooth milky liquid

Add in your sugar and stir 2-3 minutes until completely dissolved

Add in the starch and stir continuously until mixture has thickened. (Photo is not so easy to see the difference)

Pour thickened mixture into a square pan and place in refrigerator. If you want an extremely firm gelatin texture then keep in refrigerator for 3 hours to set. However, it can be eaten after 45 minutes.

I like to top mine with fresh fruit!

Tuesday, February 21

Beginner Bentos


A day ago, I posted a blog about Bento Boxes and answered a few questions concerning them. Turns out this is a very popular subject, in fact if a recipe was included in the post it would have already taken over the number one spot on the most popular list. So I decided to give a few simple ideas and how to(s) for your bento.

COLORING YOUR STARCH

Colored rice(or pasta) is a mainstay of bento boxes. Serving as your grain and usually takes up on layer or compartment of the box. This allows you to create a base canvas or just spruce up a layer which would normally appear solid white. To do this you want to add 4-5 drops of food coloring for every 3 cups of water. Put coloring in at very beginning of process and allow the water to boil already colored. It will soak into the pasta and rice more evenly if done this way. Just a side note if your using a brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or a starch that has a slight color before cooking, remember to add extra coloring and think about what color you select. Brown rice should never be died blue or green, it looks very unappetizing. Also, run warn water over rice or pasta after cooking, since excess water will drain off while it sits, you don't want a pool of colored water forming in your box.
PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD

Nothing says bento like having a little fun with your food. The easiest trick out there is using a cookie cutter to get a little creative. Using American cheese and turkey pepperoni slices is one of my favorite garnishes. Just one slice of cheese and a half dozen pepperoni slices will go along way. Use these little cut outs to top sandwich wraps, salads, vegetable slices, or even a plain stack of crackers. Just a quick little punch turn basic foods into a great little expression of love. I really like using the heart and star cookie cutters, it is my way of including a silent little message into the meal. Little bits of love for the starts of my life.
This will also work with slices of left over turkey, ham, chicken. Just use larger cookie cutters to create a unexpected image when the box is open. In fact anything can be cut into a cute and artistic shape if it has a few simple properties. It needs to be firm, dense, or a heavy solidified texture which will stay in shape once cut. Look for foods which are normally served sliced, it's a great place to start.
FUN WITH FRUIT

Fruit slices, garnishes, and wedges are very common in most bento boxes. There really isn't anything to fancy required to using fruit. Sometimes it can be as simple as using small blueberries or grapes to make smiling faces. I like topping pudding, yogurt, or cottage cheese with these faces. Of course there are a ton of other fruits out there which are just as much fun to play with. Melon ball-ers create nice little drops of taste and texture. Try using a ball-er on pears, melons, kiwi, or water heavy fruits. Just keep in mind some fruits do slowly brown when exposed to air, combat this by soaking fruit for 30 secs to a minute in an ice cold water bath with lemon juice. The lemon flavor won't really soak in but the acid will stop the browning process.

Fancier fruit garnishes a lot of fun if you want to include a whole piece of fruit. My favorite is an apple tree (photo on left). To create an apple tree start by coring an apple and then cut it in half. One half will serve as the bottom of tree, move this into your water/lemon bath. The other half will need to be cut in half again, so you will be working with one quarter of the apple. Carefully follow the angle of the apple and cut a slight wedge of the apple out. Now repeat this cutting method with the wedge you just cut out. Soak wedges in water/lemon bath. Replace the cut pieces back into each other slightly off center to create a evergreen tree shape (see photo on right). This works great with larger more oval shaped apples such as Red Delicious or Ruby Reds. Small apple trees can be created by just using the wedges.

Strawberries are another perfect fruit for bento boxes. They easily dice, slice, cube, and bring a great red color to the box. Try topping puddings, cakes, or cereal with a classic strawberry fan. Fanning a strawberry is extremely simple. Start with a firm, ripe strawberry, one that is not too round. Carefully smooth back leaves, but leave attached. Gently run a small knife into strawberry making slices 1/4" thick, but only cut 3/4 of the way down. Now twist slices apart to gently fan open.



DID YOU SAY CUCUMBER UNSUSHI?

Vegetables are by far the best thing to play with when making a bento box. They almost never brown, hold shape extremely well, come in tons of colors, and bonus gets vegetables into the diet. My favorite is the cucumber unsushi roll. It has this great sushi appearance but isn't one bit sushi, hence the name unsushi. This takes about a minute to create and looks great in a box or on a plate. Start with a baby carrot, your going to want a wide or thicker one. Now place it next to a cucumber and cut off a piece of cucumber the same length as the carrot. Grab a small core remover and push it into the cucumber. Slide the carrot into the hole in the cucumber. Now just slice into pieces roughly 1/4" thick. This will work with other vegetable combinations if desired.

EGG-CITING ENDINGS

If you follow my blog on a regular basis, then you know my love of eggs. What you may not know is I developed that love while in China and Hong Kong. Eggs are a huge staple of noodle bowls, main corses, and Asian recipes. They are a very substainable protein source, rather inexpensive, and can be cooked in a varity of methods. Most bento box will include eggs that have been hard boiled. They are pushed into egg molds when still warm and take on fun shapes. These are then tucked into the boxes. I have even seen the eyes colored.
If you want to invest in some molds I say go for it, I have a few but you don't really need them to have a great bento box egg experiance. You can easily just cut them in half and sprinkle over real bacon bits, cheese, or seasoning. Eggs are great when packing bento boxes which will be eaten earlier in the day. I work most days from 6am to 2 pm, so my lunches are packed for both breakfast and a small lunch. Having a bento box allows for the perfect portion for both! Try my early risers bento (see below) for a great classic combination of flavors. 

HERE IS A LITTLE INSPIRATION

Just a few bento ideas that can be made quickly, easily, and from similar ingredeints. It is always great to think ahead a few days and try to get things you can mix and match.Remember bento boxes don't have to be traditional, they can easily be modified to fit your families and your tastes.

Spinach Salad For Bento:

1 1/2 oz baby spinach leaves on the bottom of box
1 cherry tomato, quartered
1 cucumber slice, quartered
1 slice American cheese, heart cookie cutter
6 slices turkey pepperoni, star cookie cutter


Tomato Basil Salad For Bento:

2 large basil leaves on the bottom of box
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 kalamata olives slices
salt and pepper

Garden Salad For Bento:

2 oz baby spinach or lettuce, on bottom of box
1 cherry tomato, cut in half
5 slices cucumber unsushi (see directions above)
1/2 pepper, heart cookie cutter


Cucumber Unsushi For Bento:
2 baby spinach leaves on bottom of box, optional
5 slices cumber unsushi (see directions above)
1 slice American cheese, heart cookie cutter
6 slices turkey pepperoni, star cookie cutter


Garden Sampler For Bento:

1 oz baby spinach on bottom of box, optional
1 small apple tree (see directions above)
5 slices cucumber unsushi (see directions above)


Traditional Breakfast For Bento:

1/2 cup cooked colored rice
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
1 tbsp real bacon bits

Modern Breakfast Bento:

section 1: 1 hard boiled egg, cut in half
1 tbsp real bacon bits

section 2: 1/2 cup dry cereal

section 3: 1 apple tree (see directions above)
1 small container with lid milk



Pasta Flower For Bento:

1/2 cup cooked pasta mixed with 1/2 tbsp butter
1/4 pepper, wedged
6 turkey pepperoni slices, wedged



Great Day Bento:

section 1: Tomato Basil Salad bento

section 2: Coconut pudding with blueberries

section 3: sandwich wrap
1 slice American cheese, heart cookie cutter
4 slices turkey pepperoni, star cookie cutter

Early Risers Bento:

Layer 1: traditional breakfast bento

Layer 2: garden salad bento

Antipasti For Bento:

Shredded spinach on bottom of box. 2 small slices cheddar cheese, quartered. 2 Kalamata olives, half tomato, molded egg cut in half, 3 thin slices cucumber. Lunch meat roll up






Peace, Love, and Happiness Bento:

Section 1: butterscotch pudding, chocolate chips

Section 2: pasta salad. 1 slice cheddar cheese, heart cutter

Section 3: spinach leaves on bottom, optional. Molded egg. Sandwich wrap, 1 slice lunch meat cut in half and wrapped over. Cucumber round, cut in half for smiles. Small pieces of cheese for eyes

Salad and Sandwich Combo Bentos

The wrap combo Bento
Section 1: butterscotch pudding with strawberry fan

Section 2: garden salad

Section 3: spinach leaves, on bottom of box, optional. Sandwich wrap with toothpicks covered in olives, 6 small crackers. 1 slice cheese, flower cutter. 6 slices pepperoni, flower cutter



Large salad small sandwich combo Bento

Section 1: grapes

Section 2: pound cake, butterfly cutter. 2 diced strawberries, 1 strawberry fan

Section 3: spinach salad, on bottom of box. Turkey sandwich, sandwich cutter (butterfly) placed on top, half tomato garnish
Leftovers For Bento
Arrange last nights meal in a cute little package, add some fresh basil garnish and your all set to go.






Monday, February 20

Bento Box Basics

Recently Bento Boxes have been on the rise of popularity, but there are a few people who don't actually know what a bento box is. I thought I would spend a few moments answering a few common questions and fixing a few misgivings about a bento box.

To begin with a bento box is really a lunch box, a Japanese lunch box to be exact. Japanese mothers tend to express their love by preparing elaborate lunches full of color and texture. These lunches have a basic food balance which is delivered in a clever little package. Knowing that people, especially children eat with their eyes first, bento boxes are designed to make the meal look like mini works of art. Now, I should probably pause and say that bento boxes are not just for children. Many wives, fiances, and girlfriends also prepare bento boxes for their counterparts. In tradition a bento box is a way of showing how much you care for the person, by expressing it through the care and preparation you put into a box.

Sounds extremely labor intensive, doesn't it. In truth traditional bento boxes can take hours to prepare and those preparing them get up in the early morning hours to start. But, let us be honest, I don't have the energy or time for that, do you? No-well it's okay because bento boxes are actually very easy to make. You can still be extremely creative and artistic by mildly editing what you put in the box. And it can be done in the same time it normally takes to pack a lunch.

Lets start with the box itself. First, traditional bento boxes come in all sorts of fun shapes and sizes. Most are two or three layers high. (the photo at beginning is a traditional box, are sold for around $16-$35). But you don't need a traditional bento box to actually make a bento lunch. Several companies including Ziploc have great reusable plastic food storage containers that work just as good. (photo to left of Ziploc 3 compartment container, sold 2 in a package for approx $5). I actually prefer this box for packing lunches, it slides right into a standard lunch box and still gives you room for notes, water bottles, or random extras.

Now lets talk about the contents of your bento box. It is wise to remember the main factor behind bento boxes. Artistic representation of a well balanced, healthy, portion controlled lunch. With obesity and over eating on the rise these days, looking at this traditional formula will really help fix some diet concerns. Most bentos have a balance formula 4-3-2-1, which means 4 parts vegetables, 3 parts proteins, 2 parts grains, 1 part fruit or dessert. It may seem like a difficult balance but, it really isn't. In fact, once you get the hang of it, it becomes hard to decide what you use and what to save for the next day.


In traditional boxes the top layer is reserved for hot foods, much like a thermos would be. This is usually your rice which is considered the grain part. But, I don't actually like eating rice everyday and some don't like it at all. So here is a great fix, substitute 1/2 cup small pasta. Since bento boxes are colorful, small amounts of food coloring are added to boiling water when cooking the rice, allowing the rice to absorb the color. And guess what, it works with pasta, in fact I use the Quick Cook pasta and food coloring, making this step take less the the time it takes to actually boil the water!

I pair this small amount of pasta with a basic sandwich, such as turkey or ham with cheese. It gives it a great counter balance and allow for the protein to sneak in. Other great ways to get the protein in are hard boiled eggs, you can easily slice them, dye them, or even mold them into different shapes. Just be aware of your spacing when packing the lunch. Leftovers also work great for this, how about a slice of turkey you cut into a fun shape? Or chicken slices that can be rolled with cheese?


Now, on to the next part the vegetables. Unless, your really lucky most people don't like eating straight wedges of vegetables. Grape tomatoes, baby carrots, or pepper slices are about the only vegetable which don't look weird when put in a container. However, if you want to be able to expand the vegetable assortment, this is where traditional boxes have it down. They use cutters to punch out pieces of vegetables and cookie cutters work perfect for this. Different vegetables lend themselves to using cookie cutters. Cucumbers are the easiest. Peppers need a little extra love, use a metal cutter and press hard from the skin side of the pepper.Now, just tuckyour vegetables in along side your protein or sandwich and this is ready to go.


We now have three of the four elements done. The last is the dessert part. I always keep mine in a separate container. You can easily put in a a snack bag of cookies, or chips, or even my favorite, the pudding cup. Remember to look at your overall meal and keep an eye on the balance. Your dessert don't technically have to be super sweet or sugar filled. Based on what you have in the box, your dessert can easily be apple wedges, yogurt or a combination of things. I like to use pudding topped with fresh fruit. Chocolate pudding topped with fresh raspberries, or a sliced strawberry goes along way. Balancing both the healthy and sweet aspects of dessert. Try coconut pudding topped with grapes, blueberries, or little melon balls for a more traditional dessert.

What ever you decided to put in your box, remember it really is that easy. If you can make a sandwich, slice a few vegetables, put leftover in containers, and pack them together you can easily create a well balanced bento. There are several bento blogs, books, and great resources to help guide you through your packing. I hope now that I have shared how easy it is to create you'll give it a try. Remember, nothing is impossible, you just have to get out of your own way. Building a bento can easily be done without investing large amounts of money into fancy cutters, molds, or presses. You can easily use basic garnish techniques to jazz up standard lunch boxes and leftovers, all you have to do it is go for it!

For a few bento ideas or if you want to know how to do what you see in my photos try my beginner bento post: