Today was my turn to post over at the new Ladies of Comicazi blog. I would love you forever if you go check it out. Warning: There are monsters.
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Here is a quick bento I made the other day after really enjoying some cod fish cakes at my mothers. To make these a bit more friendly for everyday eating, I baked them rather than frying them in a pan. Other than that, they are simply a mix of tuna, breadcrumbs, seasoning, and an egg to bind them together. Think meat balls only with tuna. I added some spicy mayo sauce to make things interesting anf finshed off the bento with some roasted squash. Not too shabby.
This year I participated in my second baking competition. My local comic shop decided to revamp their earlier cookie competition and since I found myself award-less in their first event, I decided that my approach could also use some revamping.
In order to participate, each contestant is asked to participate in three categories: chocolate chip, bar cookie, and wild card. The last go round, I can’t even tell you what I made. All I remember was a few sleepless nights filled with a ton of quality time with a hot oven and a wooden spoon. And yeah, that last sentence sounds much dirtier than I had intended. But the point is, I waited until the last minute and ended up miserable.
This year though, I had a plan. There was even test baking and an odd friendship made with the guy who restocks the baking aisle at the supermarket early Saturday mornings. That’s right people, the secret ingredient was effort. And, for the chocolate chip category, a little special chocolate from a local company called Taza.
Taza makes incredible chocolate. It’s chocolate for people who like their chocolate dark and complex. There is no milk involved and the chocolate is almost gritty due to the fact that it is stone ground. They make several varieties of chocolate (as can be seen on their website), but my absolute favorite is their Salt and Pepper chocolate. Yeah, it sounds kinda odd, but you are going to have to make my word on this one – it is so so good!
I knew that using this chocolate would be risky. It would certainly make me stand out, but that isn’t always a good thing. The judges were either going to like it or not, so I decided to follow all those various cliches: go big or go home, nothing ventured..blah blah blah. And if it was gross, at least it would be something to talk about. So I chopped up my precious chocolate and even added some extra course sea salt and freshly ground pepper to the mix as well.
The result? Third place, bee-yotch! Right behind a professional baker and a friend who I consider to be one of the best non-professional bakers around. Not too shabby if you ask me. Not too shabby at all. In fact, I already have an idea for what I am going to do next year. Look out fellow bakers, I’m coming for ya next time!
I realize this blog often lacks a sense of focus. I kinda post about whatever I feel like regardless of all my promises to focus on western-style bentos with an Italian-American twist. Yeah, yeah, it does sounds pretty neat when I put it like that…but considering I can sometimes have the attention span of juvenile ferret with a coke habit, sometimes we just have to learn to make do with what we have. See that? I’ve already stopped making sense.
Anyway, my friend Sara recently celebrated her birthday. Her one request was that her friends take a moment to spread the word about her blog, The Ink and Pixel Club. Sara is well versed in her field and quite the writer to boot. I myself have pretty much been obsessively reading her blog for the past two weeks. If you have any interest in animation as an art form or even in film studies in general, this is a great website to keep under your cap.
Did I mention that Sara is also an expert on Muppets as well? Yeah, so all 10 of you who read this blog, get ye over there. Just don’t forget to come back here from time to time. I can get lonely.
Yes, another terrible picture from my phone, but I wanted to show off this super quick bento. While I am not always a fan of paying for pre-made ingredients, I did let myself off the hook a bit with this one. The secret to making this bento was buying pre-made and cooked chicken cutlets. I can’t remember their exact name, but they were some sort of Perdue baked option. To make them a bit more special, I made my own tomato sauce and used a light babybel cheese on the top. It was super fast and made the boy a very happy guy.
Here is the pic:
Chicken Cutlets with Sauce and cheese
Whole Wheat elbows with butter and Romano cheese
Steamed green beans
And today we learn an important lesson about why I need to post more often, or at least learn to take some sort of notes about what is actually in my bentos after I snap a pic and plan to have it on my blog.
“Gosh Smalerie,” you might be thinking to yourself right now. “That sure looks tasty. But if you don’t mind my asking, what exactly is in that every-so-attractive bento?”
First of all, I can smell your sarcasm from a mile away…smarty pants… And second of all, I have no freaking clue!
All I can remember is that this was the result of my desire to make a chicken salad that had mustard in it and did not contain mayonnaise. I packed all the elements separately so that I wouldn’t find myself with a squishy mess come lunch time. Salad components included parsley, scallions, cucumber, and tomato.
Good God, I can’t even remember if I even liked this bento. So I don’t even know if this little experiment of mine was a success. Has Smalerie been able to create a yummy low-fat chicken salad? Like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.
I have a wonderful co-worker who drives me home almost everyday. My house is pretty much on her way, and since we make each other laugh, it’s a pretty fun drive. When we are not comparing pet stories or talking about work, we get to discussing dinner and various recipes we enjoy. One day, I mentioned that I was trying to figure out what to make for a friend of mine who just had surgery, and she suggested a simple casserole dish. This caused a problem because the only casserole I could think of was baked ziti or lasagna, neither of which I felt like making.
The next day my co-worker brought me in a surprise – a vintage casserole cookbook.
I was over the moon because not only could it give me ideas, but really…look at that cover! You can just tell by looking that this baby is a classic! Romantic pics of your casserole by the fireside? Check! “Low Calorie” recipes that involve frying? Check! A section on how to make a sophisticated garnish out of cherry tomatoes and a lemon slice? You got it baby. To be honest, I am tempted not to give this little gem of a resource back. 😉
For my friends, I decided to make the Lemon Chicken, a recipe found in the “low calorie” section of the book. Obviously, we have different ideas of “low” because the recipe involved frying the chicken with it’s skin on in a pan of vegetable oil.
I was pleased to discover that the recipe was quite easy and ending up looking just like it did on the picture. Other than that, I couldn’t really tell you much about taste, but it certainly seemed VERY lemony.
Behold! The amalgamation of lemon and chicken into an amazing one dish meal of retro goodness!
I know. It’s pretty powerful. I’ll look away if you need a moment to yourself to bask in it’s yellowy-brown glory. 😉
This bento is a bit of an old one, but I found a bunch of pics I that never used on the site. Rather than just throw them in my flickr account, I figured they deserved their spotlight time.
breaded chicken breast strips (my own kinda shake and bake)
bbq sauce with chili sauce swirl
reduced fat cheese
This bento was fun because i had a good time using the chili sauce not only to spice things up in terms of taste, but also in the look of things as well. The trick is to make sure you mix it into the other food before you eat it if you want things to be a bit more mild.
The chicken was really simple to make. While you can buy pre-cut chicken strips and pre-seasoned bread crumbs, I often like to do these things myself. Buying whole chicken pieces can help you cut down on the cost, and making your own bread crumbs from that bread you forgot about helps reduce waste. Also to be sure these stay healthy, I baked these in the toaster oven rather then fried them. It’s nice and fast and makes a pretty satisfying lunch.
Recently a restaurant near me had added carpaccio to their menu for a limted time. I was thrilled, we are talking all kinds of excited and demanded we go for it AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. When we placed our order at the restaurant, I noticed that the chef came out with a plate and the waitstaff all kinda crowded around him. They talked for a few moments and the chef himself came over without plate. It turns out that we were the first people to order the dish, and the chef wanted to know about our background, experience with the dish, and to pretty much give us a culinary pat on the back.
I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to discover that no one was ordering the carpaccio, but considering that very thinly sliced or pounded raw beef is one of the main ingredients, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.
For a pretty decent picture of what all this looks like, check out this link.
The meaning of what carpaccio is has changed a bit over time to be pretty much any thinly sliced raw meat or fish (even fruit or veggies sometimes too) with some sort of dressing on top. When I was a kid however, carpaccio was always the same thing: very thin raw beef topped with shaved Parmesan, a drizzle of good olive oil, capers, and perhaps some lemon juice. Yes, yes, I know, raw beef can be challenging for some people to eat (and even scary considering Mad Cow Disease and all that), but when prepared by a reputable chef, it might be one of my favorite dishes of all time. Imagine if you will the beef melting on your tongue, set off by the sharp and salty toppings…. I am getting hungry just thinking about it!
If this sounds appealing to you in anyway, I highly suggest you try it. The Boy tried it for the first time that night and we have already gone back a second time for more (only to discover that we are still the only people ordering it). Alton Brown even has a pretty easy recipe for those of you who want to take things one step further and make it at home. Considering my level of obsession, this might be a better option than camping outside my local restaurant every Wednesday night for the summer.
I have to admit that I am pretty lucky when it comes to friends. I’ve managed to surround myself with a pretty adventurous crowd of people who always like to push their culinary boundaries. May it be braving the snow to fry a turkey in the back yard, or seeking out Chinese soup dumplings and cold pig ear salad, my friends are pretty much up for anything. And yes, this includes the infamous durian fruit.
So one afternoon I found myself at the home of The Red Menace for my first durian tasting. For those of you not familiar with durian, allow me to point you towards the Wikipedia article. It will save us both some time I’m sure.
I do admit to being pretty nervous about this afternoon. I was genuinely worried that the smell would get the best of me. I had visions of myself turning green and hiding under a bush with a clothespin on my nose, or worst yet…getting an unexpected visit from my breakfast.
The durian itself is heavy with hollow spikes. This is definitely something that is not something you want to carry around with you. Regardless, we all insisted on touching it anyway:
Before we cut into it, there really wasn’t that much of a smell coming from the durian. There was just a faint smell of onions oddly enough. Nothing too scary. So we all prepared ourselves as to dive on in.
When the smell hit me, it started off rather sweet. Not so bad. But then the durian got closer and I got a better whiff of the finish. Think sweet fruit and onions that have been left out in the sun and are just starting to turn. It smells like it’s rotting. Much to my relief though, the smell wasn’t nearly as strong as I thought it was going to be and it was just kinda icky rather than horrifying and vomit inducing. The Red Menace suspected that the smell wasn’t too strong because the durian might have been previously frozen, also she had heard that durian from different regions can vary in strength.
The durian itself reminded me of an almond custard. There was a sweet fruitiness at the beginning that reminded me of melon, but then the finish was almost creamy and tasted like almond butter. All-in-all I could see why people would go nuts over this. The consistency was custard-like as well, but had fibers running through it, kinda like the furry stuff around a mango pit, only these fibers were longer and maybe even a bit tougher. The fibers also had a drying quality that coats the top of your mouth like when you eat a really unripe banana or persimmon.
Final consensus was that I liked it, but I was too afraid to go back and eat more because some people were reporting an onion taste in their bites. I figured it was best to quit while I was ahead. Escaping with no regrets can often be essential to having a positive food adventure experience.