Friday, August 29, 2008

Pan-Fried Chicken Patties

I'm seriously in love with Just Bento. Aside from the fact that Maki is a great blogger with amazing pictures and good ideas for packing a healthier lunch, there's a bevy of amazing recipes to use. Reading through, looking for things that are easily premade and frozen, I stumbled on a delicious recipe for pan-fried chicken burgers, or tsukune. If you want to see some awesome pictures, you can click the link and check them out, but I've got some cell-quality pics below.

Here's the recipe I followed, taken from Just Bento:
- 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 4 tbsp grated carrot
- 1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 egg yolk + 1/2 egg white (just spoon a bit off)
- 2 tbsp cornstarch

Throw the chicken into the Cuisinart, and pulse until coarsely ground. Add everything else and process until all smooth, pausing to scrape down the Cuisinart when needed. Form into patties using two spoons, pan-fry in a nonstick pan over medium heat until golden and crispy on each side. Sauce with teriyaki or oyster sauce and cook for another minute or so until glazed. That's all! They come out nothing like I'd expected - light and airy and gingery. Absolutely delicious, for little to no prep time required.

Here's what the chicken looked like after processing. It should be a nice orange-pink color.

The size of each of the mini-burgers was about the size of a chicken nugget.

Some thoughts on cooking:
- I had asked Stephanie if we had carrots in the house, to which she replied "yes". In my mind, I was asking about full-size regular carrots. In Stephanie's mind, I was asking about baby carrots. Needless to say, I ended up grating baby carrots for what seemed like eternity, thanks to that error in communication.
- I'm going to try to make bigger portions next time, depending on how well 3 or 4 of the little guys satisfy Steph and I as a lunch portion. I'm looking forward to using my new fish sauce squeeze bottles to store some teriyaki sauce for these tasty treats.
- Steph suggested slicing up some scallions to put into the next batch. What a great idea!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One step closer to bento nirvana

My Lock and Locks came in today (finally). Tomorrow I'm going to play around with some more recipes and cook up a big batch of rice to freeze. Perhaps some more pictures, too.

I promise I'll take a picture of the bento I pack for the first day of school. That's the way it always was with me, my parents taking a picture of me waiting for the bus on the first day. I still have the one from kindergarten. I used to be so cute...what the hell happened?

Monday, August 25, 2008

The most amazing bento ever

I'm planning on posting pictures of my bento lunches once I start making them in earnest. However, don't ever expect to see me posting pictures of bento lunches that look like these.

Seriously, I am simultaneously impressed and horrified. Where does one find the discretionary time to assemble those? It's Japanese Martha Stewart...on gallons of Red Bull.

Bonnie's Law of Cooking #2

There are people who don't ever like to follow recipes - they like to open up the fridge, find some ingredients, throw them together and hope for the best, and usually end up with good results. However, I am not one of these people. I am a sucker for reading cookbooks and recipes. I have a shelf devoted just to the cookbooks I own. I subscribe to three cooking magazines (Cooks Illustrated, Cook's Country and Martha Stewart Everyday Food) and I know I'll have them coming every month from now into perpetuity because thanks to my amazing wife.

I'm the guy who loves to clip recipes off the back of jars and cans and bags of food. Do you know why? Do you know how much test cooking and focus grouping Nestle has put into making sure that their Toll House Cookie recipe on the back of your bag of chocolate chips will come out the exact same way every time? Or how much money Hellmans has spent to ensure that their recipe for potato salad is hands down the easiest and tastiest? If you're ever looking for a recipe, trust the back of your food packages.

As I was typing this, I forgot that I set the pot I was sauteeing up some sweet pepper and onion confit on to high and here is the result:

Alas, I was able to salvage some of it, but that will teach me to blog and saute at the same time.

I am a big believer in reading and following recipes, if only to learn a new technique, flavor combination, or just to find an easy way to make something you've always wanted to cook. Even though I've said cookbooks really aren't needed in today's Internet-driven society, I still like reading them and I still enjoy getting them as gifts.

This brings us to Bonnie's Law of Cooking #2, which is as follows: When following a recipe for the first time, follow the recipe exactly. Only then can you make modifications the next time you make it. Now, this is not always a hard and fast rule, and I definitely violate it every now and again (sorry, Mom). For instance, any recipe calling for walnuts gets immediately substituted with pecans (my allergy) and most of the time anything overtly spicy gets reduced (for Steph). Of course, not all ingredients are necessarily availible. I was making Cooked to Death Hot and Sweet Peppers and they only had Italian long peppers instead of the Hungarian variety. Not a problem!

Bonnie's Law of Cooking #2 has been one of the principles that guides my work in my kitchen, and it should be in yours as well, my readers. Recipes are designed for pretty much anyone to follow, and then when you've made it once, you can add ingredients, increase or decrease cooking time, whatever you decide. Just make sure you note it in your cookbook, right where the change is made. Then you'll never have to worry about it again, and you'll take standardized printed recipes and make them your own.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Bento" Box

My mom is a tremendous fan of the Lock & Lock series of containers, as they're heavy-duty, microwavable and completely leakproof. I've been looking around for bento boxes, and reading up on different types of boxes to use. A site I've been reading plenty of, This Little Bento, uses small Lock & Lock containers in the place of traditional Japanese bentos, and so I was inspired to pick some up. Here's a link to the one I bought (sorry, no picture). I like it because it's got 4 removable cups that go into the main box. This will be handy if I've got any parts of the meal that need individual heating.

Next week: recipe testing!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Things I Like to Eat: Steamed Pork Buns

There's really nothing more sublime than a tasty morsel of sweet pork, onions and spices, wrapped in simple yeast dough, then steamed until delicious. Normally, the only time I'd ever eat these was on the rare occasion that I'd be in Chinatown or out for dim-sum, but my recent trip to Hong Kong Supermarket (Rt. 18S, East Brunswick) in search of bento boxes and Asian ingredients prompted me to pick up a package of 9 pork buns. Seeing that I didn't have a bamboo steamer, I had to pick up one as well.

Aside: it's really a sin that I didn't own a bamboo steamer, as it's one of the easiest, healthiest way of preparing food. Seeing that Steph and I are always looking to eat healthier, without sacrificing flavor, this should've been a staple in the kitchen. Needless to say, I now don't have to worry about it, and I think we're having steamed chicken, shrimp and veggies for dinner tomorrow.

So I really should make pork buns myself and freeze them, as I think they'd make a fun addition to a bento lunch, but for now, I'm satisfied in buying them from the Asian market. I'm not entirely sure how to wrap them, but this site has a really nice video on how to fill and pleat the dough, much like you would the edge of a pie crust. I wonder if there'd need to be any sort of modifications to freeze them, and if so, how that affects cooking time.

I think the question is this: who's coming over one weekend while I practice making steamed pork buns?

Monday, August 18, 2008


As teachers, Stephanie and I never experience any shortage of snack foods at school, which usually take the form of cookies, cake, candies or other stuff that is generally not healthy for us. We try to bring lunch whenever we can, Stephanie packing a salad, me with a sandwich and various sides. Steph, especially, has found her usual lunches not as filling, and I've found mine filling but not always the most healthy. Browsing around on the Internet one day brought me to Lunch in a Box, which is a blog put together by a mother out in California all about bento.

What is bento? As far as I can tell, it's the Japanese method of packing a healthy and filling meal in a small box that is easily transported. After I read more, I found myself getting into the idea of using the precepts of bento to prepare more nutritious and filling lunches not only for Stephanie, but for myself, too. I was equally inspired by the fact that the writer of Lunch in a Box lost over 30 lb by switching from regular lunches to bento-style. Wow.

So right now I'm in the midst of doing a few things in the kitchen: I'm making gomashio, which is a furikake (savory seasoning) that is going to get sprinkled over rice. I've also got some medium-grain rice cooking on the stove for onigiri, which are rice balls. The idea is that I can make them on the weekends, freeze them, then pack them during the week to provide a quick and portion-controlled starch for lunch. Combine that with some protein (usually prepared the night before) and some veggies (yes, even I am going to try to increase my veggie intake), and I think I've got a quick way of making filling and tasty lunches.

All of this right now is just prep and experimentation to see whether bento-style lunches are going to be both filling and practical. I'm probably going to be writing plenty about this simply because this will be occupying my culinary time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Peanut Butter on a Hamburger?

I'll admit, I was a bit weirded out when I first saw that offering on the menu at Cheeburger Cheeburger, so I asked the waitress if anybody actually ordered it. She was more than happy to tell me that she was surprised that there was a small minority that regularly asked for it on their hamburgers. I went home and read a bit about it here, here, and here and happened a burger construction method that I thought I would find appealing: peanut butter, pepper jack cheese, and bacon. I was all about trying it, but never found the opportunity to head back to Cheeburger Cheeburger to give it a whirl.

Fast forward to last night, myself and Steph, the parents, Rory and her boyfriend Drew hit it up for an impromptu birthday dinner for Rorycles. Everyone's ordering their burgers (or portabello mushrooms) with cheddar, sauteed onions, tomato...pretty standard stuff. The waitress gets to me, and I order my medium burger with peanut butter, pepper jack and bacon...and the waitress is stunned. My family is interested in the combination, and I definitely endure some ribbing about my choice, but I would not be constrained by the boundaries that society has put on burger toppings!

Allow me to take this time to disparage Cheeburger Cheeburger. I'm no professional, but I am fully capable of testing to see whether a hamburger is cooked to medium, medium-well, or well done through the use of a instant-read thermometer, or even simply by poking the hamburger. What kind of place CUTS open the hamburger to see if it's done? All that does (and did, yet again last night) is cause the burger to cook unevenly, giving me areas that are well-done and areas that are medium. Get with it people: hire cooks who know how to cook hamburgers!

So my burger comes out, and I'm slightly disappointed from the get-go. Everything I had read and seen about peanut butter on hamburgers is that the peanut butter is spread right on the burger, so it gets melty and gooey - my burger had the peanut butter spread on the top bun :-( Not to be denied, I took a big bite...and was pleasantly surprised! The smokiness of the bacon, the earthiness of the peanut butter and the creamy/spicy from the pepper jack cheese was a great combination with the burger. Next time, I'm going to have them put it directly on the burger.

Would I order it again, or even try making it myself? Absolutely*.

*Just not from Cheeburger Cheeburger.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Failures in Baking

I've said before that I don't consider myself a very good baker. Today, I have concrete evidence, yet again.

Stephanie enjoys baking quite a bit, especially cookies, so we bought the Martha Stewart Cookies cookbook. We both liked this book because A) it was from Martha Stewart and B) there are full-color pictures of every cookie in the book. This is a big pet-peeve of Steph's, that you don't always know what the end result is supposed to look like in most cookbooks.

We decided that if we were going to turn on the oven in the summertime, it needed to be for a summery cookie (even though I had already made brandy snaps, which were not exactly summery, 2 days before), so we decided on Lime Flowers (or Stars, in our case). Limes are one of our favorite ingredients, and the recipe seemed really easy to follow.

Now, maybe I did something wrong, but the dough was so goddamn sticky, it was ridiculous, and that was with floured hands and a floured work surface. I don't know just where we went wrong (we froze the dough an extra 15 minutes to make sure it was chilled!) but as soon as I started rolling the dough out, it became a sticky mess. Needless to say, that dough went into the trash as it was SO impossible to work with.

I've got another 1/2 recipe chilling in the freezer. Maybe I'll try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Cookbook Review: Martha Stewart - The New Classics

Go ahead, say what you want about Martha Stewart. You might say that she's amazingly creative and has created an entire industry out of what housewives would do in their spare time between laundry and cleaning. You might say she's a lunatic who has way too much time on her hands. You might say she's a kind spirit who seems to want to welcome everyone into her home. You might say she's an evil witch who eats PAs alive for not bringing her a glass of Merlot. Whatever you think of Martha, there's one inescapable fact - she's got an awesome staff of chefs working for her putting together and publishing recipes.

Now, you might not necessarily find some tried-and-true American favorites like you would in, say, Fannie Farmer (which is a *MUST OWN* if you do not already have a copy) but this book has updated takes on practically everything. Easy to follow, easy to read and, like most of Martha's recipes, easy to perform. My personal favorite section is the "seasonal menus" which is nice because I think everyone could do to cook using more seasonal ingredients (instead of doing something dumb like trying to make tomato salad in the wintertime).

Maybe because it's late and I'm running out of the house, that I feel that I'm not doing this splendid work of culinary instruction justice. Just trust me, when it comes to a general, broad-spectrum cookbook, this one is pretty damn good.