Archive for March, 2009

Tea Jelly Recipe

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

NOTE:  I have just been informed that the product below is actually gelatin and not actually seaweed powder!!!  This is extremely annoying as the label on the back clearly says “seaweed powder” in English.  Since I have bought this product several times, I can even justify that it might have been a one time mistake.  Shame on you store where I bought this! Normally, I would go to the store and correct them…but the store is no longer in business.  I am leaving the pic so you know NOT to use it if you are vegan.

In my guest post for Just Bento last week, I admit to getting a little lazy.  Realizing it would be silly to fill an entire bento with mini cakes and rice crispie treats, I decided to add an extra filler.  You know, a little something that I could eat since cake and I never really meshed as friends.  Ensuring that my filler would be quick and pretty, I reached for a staple that I always keep in my cupboard: agar powder.

Agar powder (also known as agar agar) is actually a powder made from seaweed.  Rather then getting into a long discussion about it, there are two things that you need to know.  One, it works just like gelatin, and two, its vegan.  I could wax poetic about how versatile it is and all that fun stuff, but like I said: vegan gelatin.  Any recipe I list using this stuff could just as easily be made using plain gelatin.  So no need to worry about getting to an asian market.

Agar itself can actually come in more than one form.  I prefer the powder because it dissolves a lot faster, but agar can also be purchased in sheets.  These work pretty much the same way, you just need to wait for the pieces to dissolve.  I used the sheets once in high school and never bought them again because I was too impatient and I ended up with little hard bits in my jelly.  I’d assume avoid the trouble all together and get the powder, just make sure you mix it in well.

I purchase agar powder from my local Japanese Market. and the box looks like this:

PLEASE SEE NOTE ABOVE REGARDING THIS PICTURE – it really is gelatin and was mislabeled when i bought it.

Agar Powder

Thankfully the ingredient label on the back was in english, otherwise I never would have been able to figure out what this was.  It also took a little trial and error with figuring out how much agar powder to use because I wasn’t clever enough at first to notice that those numbers on the package are saying 1 packet per 250ml of water.  But hey, if I’m wrong, please feel free to correct me.

And now for the recipe:

Tea Jelly

Tea Jelly

500ml of water
4+ tea bags of your choice
sugar to taste (I use raw cane sugar, but I’ve even used Splenda)
2 packets of agar powder

Prepare tea with brewing method best for tea choice (I say this because I have been scolded many times for letting my water come to a full rolling boil when making green tea).  When you brew, shoot for a tea that is about twice as strong as you would normally like without letting it get too bitter.  Once tea is brewed (and off the burner), add sugar according to your taste.  This is another time when I’d advise that you make it a little sweeter than you would normally like.  Once sugar is dissolved, add packets of agar powder one at a time, making sure the first one is completely dissolved before adding the second.  Once all powder is dissolved allow to cool slightly before pouring into into a mold or container.  Refrigerate until set.

Option:  If you like milk in your tea, you can add that too.  Just don’t boil the milk.  Add it when you add your sugar.  Just make sure that you use slightly less water to accommodate for the amount of milk you are using.  You can also add powdered milk and use the same water measurement.

I personally like to pour mine into a pyrex container.  This allows me the option to either cut the jelly into cubes or use small cookie cutters for a fancier effect.

So there it is, it really couldn’t be any more simple than that.  If you can make jello, you can make this.  Also feel free to get creative, add layers, use coconut milk.  And don’t forget to add a few cubes to your bento as a little dessert the next day!

Oh, and one more fun fact about agar!  Agar is about 80% fiber.  This means that it makes a great intestinal regulator and makes you feel more full.  Gelatin on the other hand, is 98-99% protein.

Blast from the Past – My first bento!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

I started making bentos back in 2006. Don’t ask me how I discovered it exactly, but I remember watching too much anime and being jealous that their lunches always looked so much better than mine. I should probably blame the discovery of Cooking Cute as my final motivation to scour the internet and find the perfect bento box for me. So over 2 years, one apartment, and one very bad camera set up ago, I make this:

First Bento!

and this:

Sister's First Bento

The first one was for me, and the second for my sister. I cooked and cooled some soba, steamed some veggies that came in a pre-cut pack, and tried to get creative. Though these bentos are pretty simple, I was really surprised by how you could get such results with a little work. After my sister came home that night and told me she loved her lunch, but had to eat the eyes off the little birdies first so they couldn’t look at her as she ate them, I knew I was hooked.

My bentos have grown a bit since then, so I am hoping from time to time to pull out some older bentos and talk about how I could have improved them with just a little more imagination and effort.

These bentos for instance, could have used a bit more variety. While I’m sure the second one was filling enough, the first one was a little bit short. Also, I think that the veggie nugget could have been packed a bit better, something could have been used to fill the empty space around it. The sad thing is that I don’t even have a picture of what I had put in the other tier. Still, for a first try, it was pretty cute.

Does anyone else have any first attempts they would like to share? Also, when you first started making bentos, what did you find the most challenging?

Thanks for reading!

New RSS Feed!

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Once again, I never even thought that people would be that interested in it, but I just had my friend add an RSS feed. Please feel free to use it to track the goings on over here. You can find the link underneath the ad over on the right hand side of the page.

Some things to look forward to:

-How to make jellies like the ones in my dessert bento
-some reviews and pics of places to get bentos and accessories in the Boston area
-maybe even a contest or two
-and of course, more recipes and bentos!

My Friend Squid

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

This recipe was more of a learning experience for me. I’ve tried twice to buy frozen squid at Asian markets and both times I have been disappointed. I’m not sure what is going wrong, but both times I’ve found myself with fishy smelling stuff once it is defrosted. Needless to say, I was not all that happy with the result. The recipe itself is still good though, as I’ve made it lots of time with fresh or frozen squid that I purchased either at the supermarket or at a restaurant supply depot. You live and you learn I suppose, but I promise that this simple cold salad is really tasty when the warmer weather comes around.

My father once told me that cooking squid is simple so long as you remember one rule: To avoid rubbery squid, you must remember to cook it for either one minute or one hour. Seriously, boil your water and pop the squid in, after a minute they are done (they will become opaque and shrink a bit). The lemon in the recipe will take care of any rareness that might be left, so don’t be nervous. You and the squid are friends.

Squid Salad

Squid Salad

squid (about 1lb, but remember that squid shrinks a lot from cooking, so you might want more than you think)
extra virgin olive oil, 3 tbs
fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
one clove or less crushed garlic
one chopped scallion (optional)
chopped cilantro, 1-2 tbs
crushed red pepper (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

As I said above, cook the squid in boiling water for one minute, drain and put aside. To another bowl add olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic, scallion and crushed red pepper if you are using them, and salt and pepper to taste. Once you are happy with the seasoning, add the warm squid and mix to coat. At this point, you can either add the cilantro now or wait for the squid to cool off more. Adding the cilantro while the squid is warm will make it wilt and darken a bit. If this bothers you, you can add the chopped cilantro right before serving. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving to let the squid marinate and the flavors mix.

This recipe is really versatile, so feel free to experiment and make things more according to your taste. I love eating this in the summer with a big side of mixed greens and tomatoes from my garden. It also makes a great addition to any antipasto.

Guest Post on Just Bento! Oh yeah, and another bento too…

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Today marks my brush with the bento stratosphere. My guest post is up over at Just Bento, so give it a gander if you’d like to see my fancy dessert bento and mini cakes!

To those of you checking me out from just bento, welcome! I hope you stop by again because I have a few things to post from this weekend, including a pretty awesome squid salad I made yesterday.

In the meantime, here is my bento from Friday:

March 18

I was still trying to use up the two large bunches of cilantro I had bought at Haymarket. While most of it ended up in a pesto-like sauce I now have in my freezer, I decided to add a bunch of it to my salad to mix things up a bit. Adding fresh herbs to salads is a great idea to add some extra flavor without adding any fat or sodium. You’d be surprised how they can freshen things up, especially if you are like me and have been eating the same salad mix for 4 days. Also packed with this lunch was a small container of light rice wine vinegar for my cucumbers and lettuce.

PS – Journey of Will has a new layout and more regular posts. Check it out.

Variation on a theme…

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

As I mentioned in my last post, I ended up with 2 frittatas. This means that the other one needed to make an appearance in my lunch the following day. There was also some tomato salad that still needed a home (in my bell-ay!), so this lunch ended up being a no brainer. Add some grilled eggplant from dinner and tada!

March 17

I wanted to add a bit more food this time around because the day before I found myself very hungry by late afternoon. I was pretty pleased with the result and the eggplant was great in the salad!

Starring…

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Yes, I know that I have posted a bento very much like this one in the past. but the thing is that once you find something that works for you, you should stick with it, right?

March 16

There are a few differences to the baked egg star this time around. The first being the use of egg substitute. Each serving of this egg substitute is about 2 eggs, and that made two stars. The best thing about these little star frittatas is that I make them when I need to use up leftovers. The only thing that was required was some chopping, mixing, and baking in the toaster oven. The whole process was done in less than 20mins, and most of that time involved me watching Pushing Daises while the little guys cooked away.

The tomato salad in this bento is also meant to be used as a dressing for the salad. I intend to simply dump it out and mix it so that the yummy oil, garlic, and cilantro also mix with everything else. However, I did pack a little extra dressing just in case, but I don’t think I will be needing it.

Basically, my plan for today was something nice and light. There are no carbs, but to be honest that was not the intention. Really, I just wanted a quick bento that I could make before leaving for a birthday party last night. Tomorrow’s lunch will probably be something similar, but I might try something new for presentation.

Click on the picture for more details on contents of the bento.

The Boy Drinks Soda!

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Today the part of Smal will be played by the boy. And now I bring you yet another item of mystery from the Super 88 store. Sodas. Now you may remember from my previous post, how a trip to this supermarket yields in foods and beverages of interesting tastes and flavors. These drinks are certainly no exception. So the main item on the agenda is Apple Soda.

Apple Soda

Now I know what you’re thinking. Apple soda, so what? Well I’ll tell you what’s what. This has to be the strangest carbonated beverage I’ve ever had. And believe me, I’ve drank just about every energy drink out there and lived to tell about it, but that’s a guest blog for another time. . . .

Anyway this Apple soda is both delicious and yet repugnant at the same time. I still can’t quite decide if’s good or not. Kinda like those left overs in your fridge that your not sure are still good or not. As matter of fact why don’t you go check on them right now and make sure they’re still edible.. Go on I’ll wait. . . Back? Ok. While you were checking I just hacked your bank account. Mwa hah aha ha. –ahem- Moving right along this soda has a really strange taste. It’s like Apple juice, soda water and something else. I’m not quite sure what, extra sugar perhaps? I tired to replicate it at home but soda water and Apple juice just don’t mix well. A closer look at the ingredients reveals no deep dark secrets or coded messages as to anything out of the ordinary. So I’m at a loss as to what it may be. And yet there is a kind of sweetness and refreshing taste to the drink that I can’t quite place my finger on. In any event It’s an acquired taste and if you can get past that first swallow, then it’s really not that bad. This is the kind of soda I’d recommend as a dessert soda, kinda like those dessert wines that go with pastries. In any event I have to give this item a 33/4 out 5 fish flavored vegetarian meat floss.

Lunch – European Style

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Sometimes I think that I could eat like this everyday, other times I’d rather just have hot food and would be better off with something less salty (I’m looking in your general direction yummy cured meats!).

sandwich

This bento took less than 5 mins to make and has all my bases covered, including an apple for a snack later in the afternoon. Not too exciting, but still filled with all things I like and will be happy to eat at lunchtime. That seems to be the trick for me when I am watching what I am eating. Just make sure that your options are things you like to eat. Sure, something like oatmeal or yogurt might be good options for weight loss and be good for you, but you are only going to be miserable and cheat if you force yourself to eat them when you don’t like them. And yes, I realize that white Italian bread and salami are not the best choices, but you can’t deny yourself of everything either. I can use the bento to help me control portions when it comes to the “bad for me” stuff.

More food please…

Friday, March 6th, 2009

You might have noticed in my last post that one of the bentos included a fancy salad and some omlette. In case you forgot, please feel free to look down. I can wait…just don’t take too long cause I got something to tell you. See it? Great. I have a question for you, does that look like a lot of food? No? Good point. On the day I ate that bento my co-worker discovered me later that afternoon, singing ballads of undying love to a bag of Chex Mix. Seriously, I was starving, so much that I didn’t even do my usual OCD habit of eating each chex mix-y item in the order of how much I like them. Starting with the okay pretzels and ending with the yummy salty chex themselves. Don’t look at me like that, you know you do it too.

So the next day, I decided to stuff myself with food that I liked that wouldn’t result in me taking that long walk of shame down to the vending machine. Here is the result:

More Food Please

This baby is filled with veggies, especially ones that I like. I didn’t feel like making things cute, so I used my cute new puppy container for some salad dressing to dip my carrot sticks in. The rest of the bento contains the following: celery and shrimp ball stir-fry, and chinese broccoli with a touch of hoisen mixed in with spicy schezuan sauce. You can tell that I just had a recent trip to the asian market, huh?

I am happy to report that I survived the afternoon that day without snacking. In fact, I was barely able to finish all the food. I also realized after the fact that this bento is also friendly for those of you who are watching their carbs. Just make sure you are careful with your salad dressing. Some of them have a surprising amount of sugar.