Carrot men eating my lunch…

imageHelp, my lunch is being eaten by the carrot men!

Made a very quick lunch today and thought to add some fun by punching out these little men out of some carrot disks. I have not really gotten around to make a lot of bento recently. Partly that’s because I am so busy with decorating this year’s Christmas cakes. I made 4 (!) which will all be decorated differently and although it’s fun to do, it does take a lot of time. I’m hoping to post a photo of them all before Christmas. Currently no 2 is finished and have started on no 3….

Another reason why I haven’t been making a lot of bento is because I have been eating a lot less rice in recent weeks. Since winter has started, and temperatures dropping, I have been craving lots of comfort food like stews and oven dishes. Although I did make some Korean comfort food like Sundubu Jjigae, most other food has included potatoes and pasta. My taste buds seem to work that way, some months can go by without me eating any pasta at all, but than suddenly all I seem to want is spaghetti, macaroni cheese and lasagne! The same for potatoes, for the last weeks I’m yearning for mash, mash and more mash!  At some point my taste buds will call out for rice again, but for the moment I am indulging them.

However, even potatoes can be turned into a lunch, and I have packed them in the past, like with this Gamjajorim dish. Today’s lunch had potatoes in the form of a tortilla, always easy to make,  it can be prepared in advance and you can use up any left overs you have.

Recipe: Heat some oil in an non stick, oven proof, frying pan and add your filling of choice. I used onion, potatoes and garlic sausage. Fry for a few minutes until lightly coloured, whilst stirring regularly, and until potatoes are halfway cooked. Preheat oven or grill. Beat 2-3 eggs with some seasoning and add to frying pan, making sure the filing is evenly distributed. Fry for a minute more until slightly set and finish off under grill/in oven until firmly set. Can be eaten warm, tepid or cooled down and cut in pieces for your lunch 🙂

 

Avocado salad and corn fritters recipe

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Today’s lunch was another healthy one… at least… until I mixed in the goat cheese and bacon 😛

The Sistema lunch box was used again again, and the big compartment holds an avocado salad. Very simple, just cubed avocado with sliced cucumber and scattered with crispy bacon and some goat cheese. Delicious! I also added some radishes, blueberries, tomato and some corn fritters to my lunch.

I quite like corn, especially corn on the cob with lashings of butter and salt, but often forget about this vegetable. I guess it’s because – other than the corn on the cob when in season – you don’t really see fresh corn in the shop, mostly it’s tinned or frozen. I keep tins, cans, unopened packets of flour, pasta and such in our utility kitchen, so I tend to overlook these when cooking. The other day I had to rearrange the shelves (to fit in another few kilo of flour for all my baking..) and discovered 4 tins of corn, so I thought up these corn fritters to make.

There are probably plenty of corn fritter recipes out there, I didn’t really look any up but just sort of guesstimated a recipe/method. Basically I blitzed 3 small tins of corn in the food processor, together with some green onions, 2 eggs and 2 heaped tablespoons of SR flour into a rough batter. I added another tin of corn to this mixture and seasoned it. Then I just fried large spoonfuls of the batter in a lightly greased frying pan and that’s it. Quick and easy.  The mixture made quite a few so I froze several ready for packing in my lunches.

These can be eaten hot, cold or at room temp. You could also pack them frozen (it will keep your lunch cool) and just reheat in the microwave. Anyway, not really a recipe but you sort of get the gist of how these were made. All kind of variations are possible, adding herbs, or maybe some chili peppers would be nice, something to try out next time 🙂

 

Yaki onigiri

Yaki Onigiri

Some left over rice turned into a simple but tasty snack: Yaki Onigiri!

Yaki means grilled, and Onigiri is a rice ball. Usually Onigiri are filled with all kinds of ingredients and/or wrapped in seaweed, but instead of filling, a Yaki Onigiri is grilled on a BBQ and brushed with soy sauce or miso.

Instead of a BBQ, I am using a heavy duty frying pan to obtain the same effect. First I shape the rice into triangles, making sure I really press the rice firmly together as otherwise it will fall apart later.

I then fry each side for a few minutes in a little oil on medium heat.  You can use vegetable oil or even butter but I like add some sesame oil to plain vegetable oil to enhance the flavour. After each side has crisped up – this usually takes a few minutes, avoiding to turn too often, I brush some soy sauce on each side before frying a further minute until done. Instead of soy sauce you could also use miso paste or even BBQ sauce!

I like eating Yaki Onigiri with some pickles.

 

Mango Sorbet

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Whilst most of the UK population is enjoying the sunshine outside, I have to confess that I have been hiding indoors to escape the heat!  Don’t get me wrong, I do like the sun, but all in moderation and the temperatures that we had this week here in London are just a bit too high for me.

However, it was a great reason to use up those mangoes I had and turn them into mango sorbet.

We have a biweekly vegetable and fruit box delivery, and although there is the option to have a “surprise” box, sometimes I opt to pre-select my choices and order a custom box. So, I was a bit surprised to discover two mangoes in the box instead of the two avocados I had ordered! They were very green mangoes…so I guess the person who packed them isn’t very familiar with either….

mango

Anyway, the mangoes were very green, ie unripe, so I just stored them in the brown bag until they were nice and ripe to be used this weekend.   I have never made mango sorbet before, but a quick google learned I only need mango (✓), sugar (✓) and water (✓). And an ice cream maker….Hmm… definitely lacking an ice cream maker, but apparently you can make it by hand as well, just a little bit more work.

So, first, I peeled the mango and roughly cubed it, before blending it into a smooth puree.  The recipes I found online all indicated a 4:1 ratio puree and sugar syrup. My puree was just over 500 grams, so I made a simple syrup by dissolving 125 grams of castor sugar into 125 ml of water. Mixed up the two together, transferred to a metal bowl (to speed up the freezing process), covered with some cling film and popped into the freezer.

For the next 4-5 hours I took out the sorbet every 45 minutes or so, and stirred the mixture. For the first hours, the mango sorbet just changed from very fluid to a sort of slushy mixture, but after 2 hours it started to turn slowly into a sorbet, mainly along the sides of the bowl. In the end it took almost 6 hours to more or less freeze enough to transfer to sorbet from it’s bowl to it’s container and another night until fully scoop-able.

Lovely and refreshing!

 

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.

Happy Easter (cake)

easter cake

Made this Easter Cake this week for the office.

It is a standard Chocolate Victoria Sponge – my non fail recipe uses 225 gr butter and 225 gr castor sugar creamed together, with 4 large (UK size) eggs, 175 gr selfraising flour, 50 gr Dutch cacao, a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder added. This cake mixture is divided over two 8 inch baking tins and baked (in preheated oven 180C) for 25 min.

To turn it into a Easter cake, I choose some chocolate finger biscuits*, mini chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies and of course those two cute chicks.  I also made a double batch of vanilla buttercream (300 gr butter, 600 gr icing sugar, 1 tbs vanilla essence). This I divided over two bowls, approx 2/3 left plain, and to 1/3 I added a few drops of green food colouring.**

After the baked cakes had cooled down properly, I used the plain buttercream to sandwich the cakes together and to crumb coat the cake. Crumb coating is done to seal in any crumbs, usually before adding a fondant layer but even when not using fondant, I feel it makes it easier to decorate the cake further. I let this crumb coat “stiffen” up a bit in the fridge, before adding a second layer of buttercream to the sides of the cake, which I used to attach the chocolate fingers. Once the cake was completely surrounded, I tied up with a little ribbon.

For the grass I used a special grass piping nozzle (Wilton 233). I can’t pipe buttercream and make photos at the same time, but it’s pretty simple a matter of placing your filled piping bag at a right angle to the top of the cake, squeeze and lift – with releasing the pressure on the bag whilst lifting. Make sure you vary the “length” of the grass a bit for a natural effect (i.e. like someone was too lazy to mow the lawn…).

Finally I added some mini chocolate eggs and bunnies. Initially I was going to put the bunnies on top of the cake as well, but the container I used for transporting this cake isn’t deep enough, so now the bunnies are standing “guard” outside the cake – attached with a little left over butter cream.

They were rather useless guards though as they got eaten… as did the cake 🙂

 

*alternatively you can use Kit Kat. I used Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, 2 1/2 packs were needed for a 8 inch cake.

** this makes a lot of icing! You can store leftover buttercream in the fridge for a couple of days, or even freeze it. I used the leftover icing for another cake I had made for OH’s office.

 

Oh, and this is how the cake looked when cut

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Comfort food: Kimchi guk

Kimchi Guk

Some days you just need come comfort food!

I don’t know why, but I find a lot of Korean food qualifies as comfort food. I guess it’s all the soups and stews, and of course the Bibimbap!

This Kimchi Guk (Kimchi soup) is very simple to make, it only needs 3 to 5 (+ water) ingredients and I can eat bowl after bowl of it. It’s also a great way to use up old kimchi, or to be more precise it needs old kimchi as it just doesn’t taste the same if made with fresh kimchi.  Ideally you use that half pot of kimchi that you have lurking in the depths of your fridge and that is a week over date or so 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of well fermented, old kimchi + juice.
  • 300 grams pork belly
  • 4-5 cups of water
  • 1 block of firm tofu
  • optional: gochujang
  • optional: green onion

Method:

  • Chop up the kimchi. I find it easiest to just take some scissors and chop it up in the pot itself.
  • Put kimchi and the kimchi juices in a heavy bottomed pan.
  • Slize the pork belly in bite size pieces and add to pan.
  • Add 4 cups of water.
  • Optional: depending on how spicy you like your soup, you can add a table spoon (or 2) of Gochujang.
  • Bring to the boil and cook for half an hour or so.
  • Cube the (drained) tofu, add to the soup and heat through for further 10 minutes.
  • Optional: add some green/spring onion.

If the kimchi is extremely sour, you could also add a little bit of sugar, or if it’s too fresh and not sour enough, you could add some vinegar instead.

Serve with steamed rice.

Chocolate Crunchie Cake

More cake!

I know. This blog was initially set up to show my Korean-Japanese food inspired lunch boxes, but recently I have been doing a lot more baking.  Plus, I had some of this cake for lunch 🙂

The cake was made for a colleague’s birthday last month, and I knew he likes Crunchie bars, so I wanted a cake that was inspired by those flavours: honeycomb and chocolate.

This was the first time that I made  honeycomb, and even though the recipe looked very simple… the reality was a bit scarier. It took ages for the sugar/syrup to melt, and I was afraid to turn up the heat, in case it would burn. Luckily it turned out fairly ok, a bit less crunchie than I had hoped, but still very good 🙂

How I made this cake:

First I made a Chocolate Victoria Sponge: I tend to use a very basic recipe with equal quantities egg, sugar, butter and self raising flour (225 grams, 4 large eggs) but I replaced 50 gr of the flour by 50 gr unsweetened cacao powder.  Divide equally over 2 round tins and bake for 25 minutes in preheated (180 degrees) oven until springy to touch. Cool down.

Make Chocolate Ganache. I actually still had some in the freezer from the month before which I defrosted…can’t remember the quantities, but I always use equal parts double cream and good quality dark chocolate. If you make from scratch, you can read some good guidelines on how to make chocolate ganache here. Just cool down until thick but still spreadable.

Make honeycomb: I used this recipe from BBC Good Food. Instead of buttering a tin, I used magic non stick liner / reusable baking liner which I had greased very very lightly with neutral oil. Don’t use normal baking paper, I read that it will just stick to the honeycomb. This recipe makes quite a lot, and I only used about half of it for the cake …not that I minded…I just ate the rest 🙂

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Make Honeycomb buttercream: 125 gr soft butter, whipped until creamy. Add 200-225 gr icing sugar to it and continue to mix until pale and fluffy. Add honey comb dust, which you make by blitzing 100 gr honeycomb in a food processor until you have a mixture of dust/crumbs. Do this just before you mix it into the buttercream as otherwise your dust will all clog together.

Ensemble: please make sure the cake and ganache have cooled down!

  • Take one chocolate cake for the bottom layer (I “glued” mine to the board with some ganache to avoid it moving during transport)
  • Pile on the buttercream, you can see it has become a bit golden coloured because of the honeycomb mixture
  • Carefully add the top chocolate cake layer
  • Spread the cake sides and top with the chocolate ganache
  • Decorate with some chopped up crunchie bars

P.s. the photos which also show the fruit were made by a colleague of mine, although another colleague remarked she couldn’t understand why we even had bothered putting fruit next to the cake….

This post is part of the monthly link up party Our Growing Edge. This event aims to connect food bloggers and inspire us to try new things. This month is hosted by Caroline from Shrinking Single. The theme is Treat Yourself.

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Watermelon feta and black olive salad

watermelon feta olive saladAfter Hello Kitty enjoying some watermelon (in my previous post), I thought to turn some of the remaining watermelon into this refreshing salad.

My recipe is based on Nigella’s (see link here), but I made a few minor changes.

Ingredients

  • banana shallot, in thin slices
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • approx 750 watermelon, cubed
  • 150 grams feta cheese, cubed
  • 75 grams pitted black olives
  • 1/2 bunch mint, large leaves roughly torn, smaller leaves whole
  • black pepper

Method

  • Marinate the shallot in the lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Carefully toss watermelon, feta and olives together.
  • Add the shallot/juice/oil with  juices plus the mint and mix again, very gently so it doesn’t break up.
  • Season with black pepper.

My changes:

Nigella’s recipe has larger quantities, so I roughly halved the ingredients. She also uses limes instead of lemon, but I only had a lemon and didn’t want to go to the shop for just one ingredient. That’s also why I omitted the parsley from her recipe. Finally, I felt that the olive oil detracted a bit from the “freshness” of the salad, that’s why I mixed it with the shallot and only used 1 tablespoon, but you can of course up that according to your taste.

I packed the salad in my lunch box and added some a tomato, mini bread rolls and cherries to it. The green container holds some red wine chorizo slices.

A Bear in Bath

Bear-in-bath

I do wonder whether Bear will actually get clean in this bath…..

The “bathwater” is some Japanese curry (see recipe below) and the bear is made with rice and carrot and nori face details. The hands and feet are quail eggs and nori.

Japanese curry is very popular in Japan and quite different in taste from Indian or Thai curry. Curry was introduced to Japan by the British in late 1800 and adapted to the Japanese taste, it’s quite thick and sweet and always served with rice. There are usually three degrees of spiciness: mild, medium hot or hot.

You can make your own Japanese curry powder (see this recipe from Just Hungry) but it’s much easier to buy a box of Japanese curry roux!  You can find Japanese curry sauce/roux in Asian supermarkets or sometimes in the Asian aisle of your regular supermarket. As I had never made this before, I wasn’t quite sure which brand to choose, in the end I choose S&B Golden Curry (sauce mix), Medium Hot as it had a very easy recipe on the back 🙂

Recipe for 2-3 persons

  • Heat 1-2 table spoon vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed pan (I like using Le Creuset iron cast pans for these kind of dishes)
  • Fry 1 large chopped onion in the oil together with 200-300 gr cubed chicken (or beef) until the onions are soft and slightly brown. (I used 3 chicken thighs)
  • Add 1 medium potato per person, cubed and 1 medium carrot per person, also cubed. Stir and fry gentle for a few more minutes.
  • Add about 600 ml water, bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer until meat is tender and potato/carrot are cooked, approx 15-20 minutes.
  • Add the quantity roux cubes as needed. The packet had 8 portions, divided in 2 x 4 cubes in foil packed containers. I added 2 cubes to my dish (I stored the left over 2 cubes in an air tight container in the fridge).
  • Make sure you stir well until the cubes are completely melted, the mixture will thicken very quickly, so you might want to add a bit more water if needed.
  • Continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes whilst constantly stirring.
  • Serve hot with rice (or with bear…)

Enjoy!