Friday, January 29, 2010

How To - Make Gyoza

It probably isn't a secret by now that I love dumplings. Gyoza and pot stickers are pretty much the same thing - Gyoza are the Japanese version, and are usually cooked in a specific way (browned on the bottom and then steamed in the same pan) instead of being boiled or steamed. They also make a pretty decent addition to a bento, since they're fairly small and can be pre-made in massive amounts.

Frozen pot stickers can be found in even mainstream supermarkets, but making your own can be much more fun. The pleating can be a little intimidating, but many Asian markets and online stores sell a little plastic device to help fold and seal the dumpling.

To make a batch, you will need the following:

A: Some filling for the dumplings.

This is made with:

1 lb ground chicken
3 cloves of garlic, pressed
1/8th cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 of a shallot, chopped
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Note: This is just what I used for this batch. In the past I've used tofu, peppers, peas, green onions, and more!

B: A package of wrappers

C: A device to make the dumplings

D: A small container of water

To make the dumplings,

Extract a wrapper from the package and put it on the maker.

Put about a tablespoon of the meat mixture in the middle of the wrapper.

Dip a finger in the water and moisten the edges of the wrapper.

Fold the maker in half and press firmly to make sure all edges are sealed.

Take the sealed dumpling out of the maker and set it on a clean plate.

Keep making dumplings until you run out meat, wrappers, or patience.

To cook the gyoza, heat some vegetable oil in a skillet (one that has a lid) on medium heat. Place the dumplings flat side down in the pan and make sure that none are touching. Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until the bottoms are brown. Add 1/3 cup water to the pan and cook with the lid on for 3-5 minutes, or until all water is gone. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the gyoza from the pan.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gyoza Bento

I've mentioned it before, but I'm nuts for dumplings. Making shumai is still beyond me, mainly because I haven't been able to find the needed wrappers in my midwest city, but gyoza? These I can handle!

This bento contains chicken-filled gyoza, kameboko, and spring greens in the oval container. The Cinnamaroll-shaped container has rice (with wasabi furikake) and cut strawberries.

The fan cut kameboko (fish cake) was cut using instructions from Hapa Bento , and turned out pretty good! The gyoza were hand made by me, and I'm hoping to have a tutorial out tomorrow on that.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm tired. Here's a kitty.

I have plans for a tutorial on making gyoza, but I'm a little too tired to actually finish the processing on the pictures and the typing tonight.

So, instead, I give you a picture of my cat, doing what I want to do right now. Go to sleep.

Night night!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bento Organization

I've seen a number of ways that people have organized their bento box collection, which can get pretty challenging as the collection grows. Some people have the fortune to have enough cupboard space in their kitchen to dedicate soley to bento impliments. I've also seen people use freestanding cupboards, book cases, or whatever spare space in their dwelling that they could scrounge.

Though my apartment is relatively well endowed with closet space, most of it isn't conducive to holding small plastic boxes. Thus, I've had to improvise.

Voila! Plastic bin of bento boxes!

This holds all of my boxes, bags, egg and rice molds, along with a few random drink bottles. Stacking things vertically helps keep the mess contained, since I don't have to worry about a box avalanche if I'm grabbing a box on the bottom. Usually, the top is closed, so the boxes stay nice and clean. The only down side is that finding something specific can take a little work if it is stored on the bottom.

Does anyone else have any interesting bento storage methods?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shumai Bento

I'm a bit of a dumpling nut. These crab and shrimp shumai were ones I picked up frozen from a local Asian market, but were still pretty good. The top of the box has 2 rice balls stuffed with tuna and a hard boiled egg. Spring greens lining both halves of the box.

Visually it is kinda bleh, but since I didn't have any colorful fruit in the house when I made it, I had to make do with what I had on hand.

As for the portability of the lunch:

The camera phone confirms that it looks pretty good after a few hours of being bounced around. One of the rice balls is a little flattened and cracked, but it isn't anything I can't live with.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mmm. Sushi.

Sushi made by Wakame Bistro, Minneapolis, MN.

Salmon may be my favorite fish to use in sushi. There's just something about the simpleness of the flavor of the fish and rice together.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Building a Better Bento - Sushi, Strawberry, and Pea Bento

Date of Creation: 2/16/09

Ingredients: Top - Sliced strawberries and snow peas.
Bottom - Sushi roll with fake crab and cucumber, soy sauce, wasabi, and spreadable cheese wedge.

I think this was my first attempt at rolling sushi with a mat, and definately the first bento I took where I made my own sushi. This was also my first attempt at using brown rice for sushi. I think it worked out pretty well taste wise. My main complaint with brown rice in sushi is that it doesn't have the same visual impact, but I can live with that sacrifice in the name of better nutrition. All in all, I'm fairly pleased with this lunch, at least color wise. I still like the contrast between the peas and the strawberries.

Improvements: There isn't too much I would do with this box, aside from rolling the sushi better, and using some of the rind of the cucumber, instead of the insides, to give a better color varience in the sushi. Also, the cheese wedge was pretty extra in this box. It didn't go as well with the peas as I had hoped. Also, I wouldn't use a piggy sauce bottle for the wasabi. It was hard to get in there, it didn't come out at lunch when I wanted to use it, and it was a pain in the butt to wash the bottle afterwards.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rabbit Bento

Even though it is the middle of January (or possibly because), I'm starting to get the need for spring. There's still snow on the ground here, but at least my bento has bunnies.

The top tier has the couscous from my post yesterday, fish seasoned with lime, Cajun spice mix, and paprika, and some broccoli.

The bottom tier has an apple bunny, broccoli, and salad.

Since my bentos usually go with me to work every day, I'm starting to work at creating lunches that will still look good after they've travelled and then sat in the work fridge for a few hours.

This was taken with my cellphone camera. The top of the fish looks a little flattened by the lid, and my apple is browning a little, but otherwise it looks pretty good!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How To - Make Couscous

Couscous is one of those things that I should use in bentos more often than I do. It's a carbohydrate that's decently full of fiber, fairly filling, and a fun break from rice or bread. Most of the couscous that's sold in the US is instant, which also a plus for speed bento making in the morning.

This morning I made some for my lunch, and this is the fastest and easiest way to prepare it that I have found.

First up - measure 1/4 cup of the dried couscous into a container that has a tight fitting lid. Plastic wrap can be used instead of the lid, if needed.

Boil just a little more than 1/4 cup of water. You'll lose some of the water to steam, so you only need to go a little bit over the 1/4 measure mark to compensate. I'm using the favorite appliance of college students - a hot pot. If you're only boiling a small amount of water, it works really fast.

Couscous on its own can be a little bland. While the water boiled, I added a little instant dashi and some garlic powder to the mix.

Once the water has boiled, pour into to the container with the couscous.

Quickly put the lid on the container and let sit for 5 minutes. This is enough time to do other lunch prep, or, as I did this morning, run and get ready to go to work.

After the five minutes are up, you'll need to fluff the couscous with a fork. By this time it will have gone from being the hard granules to quite fluffy and soft in nature, and will be ready to eat or put in your lunch!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fuzzy Kitty

I'm totally envious of my cat. She gets to lie and sleep all day.

Seriously. Could she look any more spoiled and contented?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Salad Bento

Salad Bento
Contents: Spring Mix greens, Tuna (leftover from a past lunch), Hard Boiled Egg

I'm a huge soup nut, and will often times take either a can of soup or a container full of soup I made for lunch. The problem is that lower fat and healthier soups aren't necessarily full of protein, and thus, not terribly filling for the afternoon. Usually the soup has a good sized carb element, so I wasn't concerned about fitting it into this bento. This lunch was a good companion to the can of soup I brought, and was pretty tasty.

This was also pretty quick to throw together in the morning. It only took 2-3 minutes to put the lettuce in the box, scoop the tuna on top, and carefully dislodge my egg from the mold. Taking the picture took longer! Of course, there's no way I could have put it together that fast if I hadn't done some prep. Some box staples will keep better than others, but keeping things on hand when possible will help for those mornings where you need to put a lunch together quickly!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Building a Better Bento: Poking at a Theme Bento

Date of Creation: 3/16/09

Ingredients: Top - Sushi rolls made with cucumber and smoked salmon, wasabi on cucumber. Bottom - Slices of green apple, green pepper, and cucumber. White Mint chocolate square on the side.

I made this bento for St. Patrick's Day, which was a bit of a change. I don't usually do theme bento (unless the theme is "yummy"!), so some of the specific tricks, like dying rice, was new to me. The slices in the sidecar were really excellent, but the top part was less than stellar.

Improvements: Lesson number one from this - CUCUMBER DOES NOT WORK TO HOLD WASABI! Cucumbers are fairly watery, which meant that my wasabi dissolved in the cucumber juice and then spread across the bottom of the box. Mm. Wet, wasabi/cucumbery sushi. Yeah, not. When I look back at this picture, the main thing I remember from this lunch was the taste of wasabi overpowering everything else in the sushi roll. Now, when I use wasabi as a condiment in a box, I'll put it either in a little condiment container or in a little silicone cup.

Also, the sushi rolls could have been done better. I'm not sure if I had a sushi mat at this point or not, but better rolling technique would have helped. Now, 10 months later, I'm still trying to get a passable roll, so I know I still need practice on this. Since I was going for a visual impact of green, I should have centered the salmon a little better before rolling up the roll. It would have looked better if I had the pink salmon totally encircling the cucumber pieces. Lastly, the green food coloring in the rice is not working. I'm pretty sure I did a good amount of mixing, but it still ended up blotchy. I've read about people using actual food and spices to dye rice. It may have been worth it to do some research on what to use to get a green color.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

How To - Egg Molds

In the Sandwich Bento I posted yesterday, I included a hardboiled egg shaped like a fish. Getting a molded egg to turn out correctly can be a little tricky, because it requires timing and a little patience, but the result can really add a neat element to your lunch!

These are egg molds, and came in a two pack. The same maker also has a bunny and bear two pack out there, and I believe these 4 shapes are the most commonly seen in recent bento pictures in various communities.

This is one of the molds opened up. On the left is the tab that fastens the two halves together. In the middle is the hinge, which also lets the two sides separate for cleaning. Inside the molds you can see the ridges which stamp features into the eggs.

These are two slightly different types of egg molds, and are probably the second most common. These don't have a hinge like the previous ones, but have a tab on each side. I think this makes it a little easier to get the mold to close properly around the egg. Also, though this photo doesn't show it, each of these has a teeny hole in the back to help drain moisture out.

There are also significantly smaller molds out there, meant for quail eggs. I have one of those molds, but since I haven't been able to locate quail eggs in my small Midwestern city, I haven't been able to try it. I understand the process for using them is very much the same, but since I haven't done it personally, I can't guarantee it for those.

To use the molds, the first thing you need is a fresh boiled egg* out of its shell. And by fresh, I mean just finished cooking and run under just enough cold water to keep my fingers from melting when I peel it.

When the egg is really hot, you'll find that peeling the shell is more difficult than when the egg is cool. This is where the patience comes in. Don't try and force big amounts of the shell off at one time, or else you'll end up tearing your egg - which will taste the same, but won't look as cute. Also, you'll also notice that the egg is somewhat pliable when hot. This is good! The more pliable, the better that your molded egg will turn out.

When you have the egg peeled, place it in the mold in the direction that makes the most sense. This fish is more or less oval shaped, like an egg, but since the mouth of the fish is a little pointier than the tail, I put the pointier end of the egg in that side. For the previously mentioned heart and star molds, I've actually had the best results by putting the egg on its end instead of lengthwise.

You can also see that my egg is pretty much the same size as the mold. That is a good thing! To get the best mold, you'll want an egg that is a tight fit, but not too large for the mold. In American markets, eggs tend to come packaged in various sizes, such as Medium, Large, and Extra Large (this is probably true for other countries as well, but since I have never gone egg shopping out of the country, I couldn't say where). Here, I'm using a large egg, and have had the best results with that size. I am thinking of experimenting with extra large eggs with the heart and star molds, since a large egg gives an "ok" but not "great" result.

Also, some people prefer to give the molds a little spritz with a cooking spray before placing the egg inside. This may help if you have problems removing the egg.

Once the egg is placed in the mold, carefully and slowly close the top. If you close it too fast, more egg may get stuck in the middle, and you may not get the egg to fill all of the corners of the mold. If you see the egg start to escape the mold, you can use a finger to carefully poke it inwards. When the mold is closed, use the tab to fasten it.

Now, place the mold in the fridge and let it sit. I usually do a few eggs at a time, so mine chill for overnight or longer. If you're in a hurry and need the egg for a bento in the next hour or so, try placing it in a bowl of ice water in the fridge. In order for the egg to keep its shape, you want to make sure the egg is completely cooled before you remove it from the mold.

Here's my egg the next morning! Be sure to be slow and careful in removing the egg from the mold, since the egg may want to stick to some of the detailing. You can see that I had a little egg spillover, so once I remove the egg from the mold, I would trim the excess with a sharp knife.

And, here's the finished result!

Friday, January 15, 2010

How To - Snack Sandwich Bento

The same night that I made my near-disaster salmon bento, I also did the sandwich cutter experiment and packed the resulting sandwich into a snack bento for the next day. Normally I don't eat such a large afternoon snack, but I had an appointment after work and knew that supper would be a bit delayed.

This was the (slightly blurry) sandwich that I ended up with after my test run with my sandwich cutter. After making the tuna sandwich, I still had a good deal of bread left from the two pieces I had used.

I wanted something a little sweet, so I made a second smaller sandwich from the ends of the bread with some no-sugar added apple butter. Apple butter is sweet enough on its own; it doesn't need more.

Both sandwiches went in the box, along with a blue silicone cup. I had a good deal of carrot left over from making the salmon bento, so I cut that up and added it to the two empty corners of the box.

The next morning, I added the fish-shaped hard boiled egg that had been setting in the fridge over night to the box, and was ready to rock and roll!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Experimentation with a Sandwich Cutter

A month ago I ordered this sandwich cutter from J-list (my husband's Christmas gift came from there, and since I was already paying for shipping...), which I had been wanting to make adorable little sealed sandwiches. Fortunately, the instructions that came with it had decent pictures, which is good, because I'm about 5 years removed from the Japanese class that didn't get to a quarter of the kanji in use in the instructions.

To start, I pulled the leftover tuna mixture from here and grabbed two slices of bread. These are two slices of the Sara Lee 45 calorie bread, the whole wheat variety.

Tuna piled in the mold...

Top slice on and sandwich cutter flipped over.

Pressing down on the cutter.

Opposite side of the bread after cutting. I ended up pushing from the other side to try and help it along.

It looks good from this angle...

But not so much from this one. Hmm.

I did notice that the best seal was on the long side of the triangle, so that may mean that the crusts weren't allowing the shorter edges to get a good "squish". Next time, I think I'll try either cutting the crusts off the bread first, and possibly moving the cutter further into the center of the bread. That may help me get a good seal all along.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to - (and how not to) Salmon Bento

Last night I was feeling pretty motivated, and did a big bento session, trying to do more things at the same time than was a good idea.

These are my new favorite bento staple. Often times my local grocery store will run individual fish fillets for 11 for $10, and I usually stock up. These are just the right size for lunch, full of protein, and low in fat! Cooking is pretty fast, too, just a few minutes in the microwave, but they can be bland if you don't give them some pre-cooking TLC.

Warning: The handling of raw fish may cause you to need to fend off a cat.

First I unwrapped the fillet, stuck it on a plate, and added some lemon juice.

Next, a squirt of wasabi paste, which I rubbed in to the fish.

Last of all, some low-sodium soy sauce, which I also rubbed in.

Then, I covered it in plastic wrap and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes. This would later turn out to be a bad move. I would not advise the use of plastic wrap for this!

Since my fillet was wider than thick, I grabbed a more shallow box to use to put everything together. This is the point where I heard a suspicious sizzle from the microwave.

My fish! You can't see it as well as I hoped, but some of the escaping marinade from the fish started to boil, causing the plastic to melt (but not on the fish, thank goodness). I tossed the abused plastic wrap, and since there was still a good 50 seconds left on the cooking time, I searched around for something else to cover it.

Aha! Overturned bowl will stand in for a lid!

While the fish was finishing cooking (and then cooling in the fridge), I lined the box with a spring mix.

As well as some cilantro. I love cilantro, and have found that if I sprinkle it on a salad, I don't need a dressing. Your mileage may vary on this taste point, but I find it an easy way to save on fat and calories.

The now cooked and cooled salmon fillet! I put it in the fridge to chill so that it wouldn't wilt the lettuce.

The salmon went in the box, but the lunch was still wanting for some decoration. It looks a bit plain as-is.

A few carrot slices and a decorative pick helped.

The good news - the salmon was nice and moist the next day when I ate it. However, now that I look at the pictures, I could have fit more lettuce in the box. Ah well. It was still an excellent lunch!