Bento

bento

A quick and easy bento, but I love the colours in this one.

Rice sprinkled with Perilla furikake, some tamago pieces and various vegetables. I cut the vegetables in small sticks so they could be packed tightly, standing upright. And there is another piece of tamago hiding underneath the raspberries.

This bento box comes with a tray and cutlery, but this time I filled it right up till the top and took some chopsticks separately with me.

Many sides make a main

bento sidedishesThis weekend I looked in my fridge/cupboard and there were quite a lot of ingredients that needed to be used within the next couple of days, so I decided to make lots of side dishes to pack for my lunches this week.

The side dishes I made are all Korean (banchan);

  • Some Gamja Jorim (potato side dish, which I have made before) sprinkled with sesame seeds
  • Crispy tofu cubes, marinated in soy sauce/sesame oil and oven baked. I accidentally over baked them and they are very very crispy! But still nice:-)
  • Oi-muchim: spicy cucumber salad, I used this recipe from Maangchi, only omitted the onion and replaced that with more green onion instead
  • A few Jang Jorim: quail eggs simmer in soy sauce (I always use this recipe) which are resting on a pickled radish/carrot salad.

Jorim is a Korean name for a type of cooking which means, “food in a boiled-down soy sauce or other seasonings”, and it makes for very tasty food but unfortunately it does make everything look rather “brown”. Because of that (and also to avoid mixing the “wet dishes”), I packed my lunch in this box which has colourful compartments and a leak-proof lid. I also used lots of food picks and added a few melon balls, both for colour and for some refreshing sweetness.

I won’t need to prepare more food for this week’s lunches so I can focus on my bakes for class (see previous post)😉

 

Farm cake

FarmcakeThis week I made a farm cake!

As you know, aside from making lunches, I love to bake! I learned baking from my mum, I can recall standing next to her (on a stool) in the kitchen rolling out pastry for an apple pie or mixing cake batter (and licking the beaters). She used to bake every Friday, and I can still visualise how the baked goods were stored on a plate in the china cabinet under a cover of foil and pinching thin slices of cake when she wasn’t looking (and of course acting very surprised when it got discovered there was much less cake than there should have been) >*<

The bakes were all quite straight forward, marble sponges and lemon cakes, butter cake or apple pie and in the summer we would make no-bake cheesecakes. We didn’t use buttercream or icing/fondant, although sometimes we would have sweetened whipped cream. These were also the kind of cakes that I made during my student and later years, and it wasn’t until I moved to the UK that I really discovered the world of cake decorating:-)

I think it was a Christmas 4 years ago, or better said, the months before that Christmas, that I made my first Christmas cake, using a pre-measured baking kit from the supermarket. The kit came with marzipan/fondant included and also simple tips on how to decorate it. I can’t actually remember what decoration I made, I think something with stars, but anyway, since that moment I have been totally hooked on cake decorating!

There are lots of tutorials on YouTube or blogs and websites, and I have learned a lot from watching and just doing, but recently I have enrolled on a cake decoration course to learn the tips & tricks of the trade. During the 10 week course we will be learning about the different types of icing, using modelling tools, colouring fondant, creating flowers and of course decorating cakes. We didn’t have to bring in an actual cake until this week, as up to now we had been practising on (fondant covered) cake boards but this week our mission was to create a novelty themed cake using the skills learned so far.

We had to prepare the cake before class, and also make the buttercream and any decorations used, but during class we learned how to level and layer a cake (aka torting), to fill and re stack evenly, to crumb coat the cake and how to cover in fondant.

After some deliberation (and input from friends) I decided to make a farm cake and chose green fondant to cover my Madeira cake. A Madeira cake is denser and firmer than a Victoria Sponge so therefore more suitable for covering with heavy fondant. I had never made a Madeira cake before, but mine turned out pretty good with only a slight dome. After slicing that dome off,  I turned the cake up side down so that the flat bottom became the top. Because the cake had risen very well and was quite high, I decided to cut it in three layers which I re stacked after filling with green – to match the outside – buttercream and some strawberry jam.

After crumb coating and chilling, I applied a second thin layer of buttercream before attempting to cover the whole cake in fondant. This was rather challenging! The green fondant that I had chosen was very soft and sticky and a nightmare to roll out. It didn’t help that the class room was quite warm so the fondant kept sticking to the counter and I had to use quite a bit of icing sugar. Also, my rolling pin was too short and I had to borrow the one from the tutor, but eventually I managed to cover the cake without too many ripples, bubbles or other fondant disasters.

To turn my very green cake into a farm cake I used brown fondant to make a fence around the cake, with a few flowers and grass tucked in. The fence was made by cutting small strips of thinly rolled paste and attaching these to the cake with some edible glue. I added the wood grain texture and nails with a modeling tool and deliberately made it all a bit wonky looking (in case you’re wondering…). The mud pool for my piggy was also made from brown fondant  and I coloured some more paste to create the pool, rocks and a tiny duck. I also attached some flowers to make a field of flowers for the sheep to eat.

I had made the piggies and sheep in the weekend before, using modelling paste as this is firmer and dries up harder.  The piggies were a bit of a nightmare as the legs and heads kept falling off and various bits broke off during transport so I had to make some emergency repairs with royal icing.

Unfortunately I didn’t make any photos during any of this because I was way too busy kneading and rolling plus had hands covered in icing sugar, but I will try to write a blog post one day on how I created the pigs and sheep. I especially love the sheep and he has been a big hit with everyone that has seen (and eaten) the cake. And don’t worry, he and his friends did not get eaten!

Below are some photos that I did manage to make before and after, and also some tips on how to cut a cake in slices instead of wedges (although as you can see from the photo this method was only partly used)

 

 

Temari sushi bento

temari sushi bento

Today I packed some temari sushi which is very easy to make. Basically they are little sushi rice balls with your favourite topping.

To create these, you first need to make some sushi rice. Cook short grain rice according to instructions on the pack and mix with sushi vinegar. If you want, you can use ready bought sushi vinegar/seasoning, but it is very simple to make yourself, for example Just One Cookbook has this step by step recipe.

For the toppings in my temari sushi, I used smoked salmon, cucumber, avocado and also made a thin omelet.  Any topping goes as long as it is sliced thinly and where needed cooked/blanched/prepped. Also, the temari sushi will look prettiest if you use contrasting colours (like salmon and cucumber) or bright coloured food so it stands out from the rice.

To form the temari sushi balls, you first place the topping of choice in the middle of a piece of clingfilm and then add about 1/4 -1/3 rice spoon  of cooked rice on top*. Now gather up the cling film around the rice, twist and shape the rice/topping into a ball. By twisting the cling film and tightening up the rice ball, you ensure that the topping “follows” the curve of the ball.

Keep the temari sushi wrapped until you have finished with all your ingredients. Remove the cling film and garnish with herbs, small food flowers or nori strips. These are great for serving as appetizers or on a buffet. Or in your bento:-)

 

* Alternatively, if you want to make sure your Temari sushi are all even sized, you can pre-portion your rice balls either by weight, or by using an an onigiri mold. In either case keep the rice balls covered until you use them to avoid drying out.

 

Not an egg roll

Bento with egg

Didn’t know what to call this bento today.

That’s the thing with blogging, not only coming up with ideas to pack for my lunch that are “blogworthy” (looking a bit pretty in a box) but also writing a blog post about it and coming up with a title. Sometimes I have a title or blog post in my head before even making the lunch but often it’s the other way around.

Anyway, my bento today doesn’t have an egg roll in it but it when I was rolling up the green beans in omelet strips it did make me think of egg rolls somehow. Not sure how my brain was working this morning… The egg roll that I was thinking off this morning are the savoury, deep fried ones, stuffed with bean sprouts or vegetables but I just googled egg roll and according to wiki, here in the UK an egg roll can also refer to fried egg in a bread roll. Isn’t language funny?

Aside from the “beans-in-omelet-roll”, I also packed another egg. This one is hard boiled, and you might not be able to see it properly but I “squared” it in my nifty egg cube shaper before cutting it in half to fit into my bento box. I don’t often have fruit in my bento, usually pack/eat it separately but am eating lots of black grapes at the moment and they fitted in nicely. The compartment with rice looks a bit small, but I compressed the rice quite tightly and managed to squeeze in quite a lot.

Although not very pretty, this is one of my favourite bento boxes because it’s so practical.  It has lots of lovely compartments – which makes it easy to pack lots of different items – and they can be taken out to use the box in different ways. And of course the handy chop sticks in the lid.

I posted a long time ago about all my different bento boxes (I have loads – see this post...) and if you are interested in bento boxes, I also wrote a few blog posts about specific boxes in my collection. If you select “bento box review” in the categories you can read more or click here and here.

Happy bentoing!

 

P.s. I just looked back at my post of October 2014 with my bento box collection and I have been quite good! Good in the sense of using most of them regularly and not adding too many new boxes. I did get a few large bento boxes  that are more suitable for a sit down lunch or dinner than for packing lunch, and also one or two other ones. Am currently dithering about whether to get a Monbento one or not. They look pretty (I love the limited edition food battle or floral one) and practical  and have good reviews but am just not sure how much added value they would bring to my collection (size and shape wise) …

Hmm… to be continued:-)

 

Roses for the weekend

It is May Bank Holiday this weekend here in the UK, Orthodox Easter in some countries and I am sure there are other holidays or special days all over the world. Thought it would be nice to “give” you some flowers for whatever occasion you might celebrate/enjoy this weekend!rose-smiley

(I learned this week how to create these sugarpaste (fondant) roses.)

Am away for the weekend so there won’t be a lunch blog post on Monday, but am planning one for Tuesday.

French Macarons

macarons

Some more baking. Not sure if anyone noticed but I changed the subtitle of my blog to better reflect what I am blogging about. Next week it will be back to bento lunches again:-)

Sometimes I can get a bit obsessed with something and macarons has been my latest obsession. I just wanted to be able to make them, not for any particular reason, but they look cute, they are ridiculously expensive to buy and of course because I love eating them.

So I googled and read lots about French macarons, Italian macarons, eggs aging, whipping, over-whipping, folding, over or under folding, feet, hollow shells, cracks and ….sigh…it got all very confusing. Lots of websites and bloggers seem to have their own fool-proof recipe but unfortunately lots of them also seem to be contradicting each other…

Anyway, I thought, let’s just give it a try and made some a few months ago…total failure. Never mind, try again… and again failure (luckily the good thing is that even failures taste very nice)…I think the problem, or my problem was, that although I followed a recipe, I didn’t make proper notes of what I did – and consequently of what went wrong (no feet, over-baked, cracking all over).

Last week I had some time off, and dedicated a full day (!) to macaron making. A friend of mine gave me two very useful links  (here and here) and her own recipe, and with a few small twists, I managed to make some pretty perfect macarons! There are still a few bumps, some pointy tips and a few cracked shells (obviously I chose the prettiest ones for the photo) but they have feet (!), are nicely risen and evenly sized, and they taste good!

I made three small batches, noting down for each batch the ” what/how/how much/temp” which resulted in those lovely macarons of the photo.  The ones with stripes was the first batch which coloured a bit too brown in the oven. For the second batch I added some food colouring to make them light pink and for the third batch a bit more), to make them pink(er).

I can’t promise this recipe works for you (or whether it will work for me next time*), as everyone’s kitchen, equipment and technique will be slightly different, but this is what I did:

  • Blitz 60 gr ground Almonds with 115 gr icing sugar in a food processor (use pulse option to avoid overblitzing) and sieve. Repeat this twice. With the last sieve, discard the big lumps.
  • In a spotless bowl, whisk (I used the balloon attachment on my hand mixer) 70 gr of egg white (I used pasteurised eggs at room temperature) with 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar for 30 seconds on low speed until frothy. Up the speed to medium high for 2 minutes whilst slowly adding 35 gr castor sugar. If you want to add colouring, add now. Whip for a further 3 or 4 minutes until stiff peaks.
  • Add your almond/icing mixture to the egg whites and fold in carefully with a spatula. I added the mixture in 4 batches and used about 10 folds for each batch plus a few more until the batter drops like lava from the spatula. Under mixing is better than overmixing! Read my notes on folding further down.
  • Transfer to piping bag with a 1 cm round tip and pipe your macarons on your baking sheet covered with baking parchment. Using a template is recommended, it’s much easier and makes even size shells… I used the one provided here.
  • The recipe above makes for 40 shells, so I piped 1 large sheet with 32 and a smaller sheet with 8.  (I baked the smaller sheet first, this helped me to check the oven temp and timing).
  • RAP/TAP those sheets. Whack the air out of your shells by rapping/tapping your baking sheet against a flat surface. This helps to get rid of air bubbles.
  • Rest your macarons. Whilst resting the macarons (until the tops are no longer tacky) I preheated my (fan)oven to 140C.
  • I baked the macarons for a total of 15 min, on the lower rack.  First I baked them for 8 minutes, then I turned the sheet around and baked for a further 7 min.
  • Remove from oven and let them cool down on the baking sheet for 10 min, transfer to a rack for further cooling down.
  • Fill with filling of choice…and wait….
  • and wait…
  • Unfortunately, after all that work, macarons are at their best if you let them mature with the filling for at least 24 hours. (Best to do this in an airtight container in the fridge).
  • When you want to eat them, take them out of the fridge and let them get at room temperature.
  • Enjoy!!!

Some notes:

  • I couldn’t seem to get my egg whites whipped until super stiff peaks, mine kept being a bit “droopy”. I read somewhere that this is partly because of using cream of tartar which apparently stops over-whipping. I whipped until the egg white had semi stiff peaks and “clumped” in my balloon whisk;
  • Colouring macarons. My first shells coloured slightly brown, so for my second batch I added a heavy baking sheet on the top rack, which seemed to help. Better yet, I added some food colouring paste to my second and third batch. I am happiest with the colour of my third batch, they turned out really pretty.  (After baking, I used some raspberry coulis to add some colour stripes to the first batch of shells).
  • Folding: I felt this is the trickiest part. Make sure you watch a few videos to see what the consistency should be. I found the description and video of Joy of Baking very helpful.
  • Filling: I filled mine with raspberry buttercream. Just make a plain buttercream but instead of using milk to “loosen up”, add some raspberry coulis.
  • Maturing and storing: macarons taste best if you let them mature with the filling for at least 24 hours… They keep very well for up to 5 days in an airtight container in the fridge and you can also freeze them.
  • I didn’t make many photos during the process but below a few photos of the  “peak” and “clumped” stiff egg whites and of the mixture when ready for piping. (I just noticed I made the photos at different batches so the colours don’t match..)

 

* I actually made 3 more batches after this day, with mixed results. For one batch I doubled the ingredients and I used a non stick liner instead of baking parchment. Both were not a good idea. Firstly, despite doubling the ingredients it made less shells, partly because it was more difficult to handle the fuller piping bag. And non stick liner…perfectly fine for other stuff but my macarons shells stuck! They were still nice (filled with chocolate ganache) but not photo worthy.

The other two batches I made were better, although the Violet food colouring I used faded a bit whilst baking and the shells didn’t want to rise fully, but the pink batch turned out perfectly. I packed some of these in a gift box I made for friend.

Piggies on a picnic

pig onigiri bento

Felt like making some cute onigiri today and created this piggy family going on a picnic.

I made these onigiri piggies before (see my step by step tutorial); they are very easy to make although it helps if you have the pink sushi rice colouring (I buy mine from Japan, but you could use natural food colouring like beet).

The picnic the piggies took with them was: some salmon – hidden inside themselves:-), edamame and green beans, mini corn,  flowers made from carrot and omelet and some pickled radish in soy sauce (나래 오보채). Also for dessert a choco pie.

It is quite a lot of rice, so I packed it in one of my larger bento boxes.

To make a maki

maki roll

Making maki rolls are not my strong point, especially when in a hurry. I know “practise makes perfect”, but I am an impatient girl and I need my maki, now!

To avoid getting into a trantrum (never good when hungry), I bought myself this nifty plastic maki roll maker thingie. They come in slim and fat (I am sure they have more appropriate names, but can’t recall them – o yes, hosomaki and futomaki) and as I prefer futomaki, I got myself the fat one.

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It’s very simple, prep your rice and fillings as usual. Instead of using a bamboo mat, you just rinse the plastic mould – which comes in two parts-  in water (this helps the rice from sticking to the mould).

In the bottom part, you first add a layer of rice and distribute this evenly. I found it helps to sort of follow the round shape and have a bit of a groove along the center to allow for the ingredients. Place the ingredients and top with a second layer of rice. Make sure you also add some rice on the sides before pressing with the top part of the mould. You should now have a tidy roll which you can flip over onto your nori sheet and roll.

The only reason why my futomaki doesn’t look perfectly round in the top photo is because I forgot to wipe the knife with a hot wet cloth between each cut, so it dragged a bit. The fillings this time are pretty simple, avocado, egg roll, crabstick and cucumber.

I bought mine at the Korean supermarket but you can buy (thin and fat ones) at the Japan Centre, see here.

돌솥 비빔밥

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After an exhausting week (we moved office this weekend – and guess who was the project coordinator…) I treated myself to Dolsot Bibimbap at one of the many Korean restaurants in New Malden.

The bowl (dolsot) was even hotter than usual, which made for lovely crusty rice. I actually had to immediately stir the rice after taking the above photo otherwise it would have burned!

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Although a lot of Korean food is about sharing, I don’t mind going (sometimes) for lunch on my own. It means I get to eat all the banchan 😋

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