Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rice, salted salmon in teriyaki sauce and cry baby cucumbers

A rather simple bento lunch, rice with ume and sesame seeds, salted salmon cooked in a teriyaki sauce, some cry baby cucumbers (these are quickly becoming my second favourite way to eat cucumbers after nuka - scroll down for the recipe) and because the beans in the fridge had gone bad when I wasn't looking, I stuck some frozen peas and corn (blanched) in the corner to stand in for veg.

I was surprised to discover that frozen peas and corn actually taste good on their own with no sauces or anything, even cold.  Although, when I opened the bento they had gone everywhere  and made a right mess of things.

Although I like cooking teriyaki sauce (soy-sub, sake, salt, honey, and a few drops of rice vinegar usually do the trick), I don't think it goes well with this salmon.  The salted salmon is already too strong in taste, all the sauce did was to highlight the fishy-ness of the fish (which is the part of the fish I like least).

The background is an onigiri rice ball with some of the salmon for filling.  The Captain, not a big fan of seaweed, said don't bother with the nori wrapper.  He won't be saying that again as now he knows it's not just for taste, it's to keep your hands from getting all sticky.

This bento shared at...
Bento Lunch

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Using South River Chickpea Miso to make yaki onigiri

For a person like me, with soy allergies and an almost obsessive love of Japanese food, finding a soy-free miso paste is a real joy.  Almost as much fun as learning how to use it.

I'm starting to enjoy using this chickpea miso to make soup, but what I really want it for is to make sauces to cook other things with.  Time to try some soy free yaki-onigiri.

The miso pastes is quite chunky.  This can be useful, but not for making a smooth sauces.  So I took a small amount in a bowl and mashed it with the back of a spoon.  Not the best consistency, but smooth enough for my purposes.  

as you can see, the paste includes flavourful chunks
and the occasional whole pea
I put a few drops of sake in with the miso and mixed it very well.  This really intensified the flavour of the miso and added a whole other dimension to the taste.

Next, I made some onigiri with tuna-mayo filling.  I choose two of them for frying and spread the miso paste evenly on the large sides.  Then fried them like cookingwithdog does in her onigiri video.

Somehow, my yakionigiri always falls apart these days.  What a dog's breakfast I made of frying that eh?

The miso paste cooks really fast, so keep an eye on it.  The taste of the South River miso is pretty good on yaki onigiri.  Maybe if I could get the hang of cooking it better, then it would taste better.  This is something I plan to try again, and again, and again, until I get the flavours and method right.

And a mid morning snack for two.  Two tuna-mayo onigiri, two yaki onigiri and some salted cucumbers with a few drops of lime juice massaged in.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bento Videos I Enjoy

As the title says, here are a few bento related videos that I enjoy.  Most of them are recipes, but this first one is actually an IKEA add.

It's short and sweet, and the look on her face when she finally fits that final tamagoyaki in the bento box is fantastic.  She's one of those people who can express an entire novel worth or emotion in a few seconds.  I first came across this video on the JustBento site, here.

Since we are talking about commercials, this bento related add always brings a tear to my eye.  Here's a version with English Subtitles, but personally I think the message comes across just fine even without them.

I think it would be a great deal of fun to try making each recipe in this video.  Anyone want to take on that challenge with me?

Speaking about mums, I kind of wish this next woman was my mum.  What an amazing cook.

Cooking With Dog (no, it's not what you think.  There's a dog, it's cute, and it sits diligently beside the woman as she cooks yummy food.  Really, it's cooking along side a dog, but that doesn't have the same ring to it, does it now?) has a whole series of videos for Japanese cooking.  They are easy to follow and if you go to the video's main page, the recipes are written out for you underneath the video.

I have made the potato salad from this video and it is a Huge Hit in our house.  Even The Ancient gobbles it up.  I haven't had a chance to take a photo of it yet because it gets eaten the moment I've finished making it.

I can't wait to try the chicken.

Another delicious video by her and her dog is this Onigiri video.

I don't know how she gets her yaki onigiri to stay together so well.  Mine always fall apart.

And a rather amusing and upbeat take on onigiri:

FeastofFiction make some highly entertaining cooking videos.  

Here's a non-bento related video for you, in honour of the new season of Doctor Who starting this week.

After watching this video, I feel strangely compelled to try this.  It doesn't look anywhere near as repulsive as it did when I first saw The Doctor eat it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

where I find some soy-free miso paste and eat pasta on Friday

Scroll down for recipe for very quick, Cry-Baby Cucumber Pickles.

If you ever are in a grocery store and you see a person with a foolish grin on her face cradling a bottle of something in her arms as if it's a precious and fragile as a baby chick, then you probably saw me yesterday.

I've looked everywhere I could think of in town for No-Soy Miso.  I'm surprised by how little miso is for sale in town these days, soy or otherwise.  Finally took a long shot and went across town to one final health food shop.  Thought I would have to beg for them to order it in, but nope.  As soon as I got inside I saw a huge double fridge full of miso, with one whole shelf dedicated to South River non-soy Miso paste.  Absolutely thrilled.

I choose a chickpea miso as it's the one everyone seems to talk about.  There is no soy in it.  It's made with salt, rice, koji and chickpeas.  It smells and tastes a lot like I remember white miso paste and tastes relatively mild.  It has a chunky texture with the occasional whole chickpea in it.

Once I got home, I realized that it's been over a decade since I've used miso.  I stopped cooking with it even before I knew I had a soy sensitivity due to the stomach ache.  I couldn't remember what to do with it.

I took a small taste and the first thing that came to mind is that it would taste good with popcorn.  It's the oddest food intuition I've ever had and I don't know if it is something I want to try, but there you have it, first reaction.

Instead of popcorn, I took a spoon full in a small mug, finely chopped some chives and added boiling water.

It was Okay, but tasted a lot like I remember miso tasting.  Since my body is use to getting sick from eating traditional, soy based miso, it was difficult to get over the negative physical reaction my body has to miso soup.

The South River's miso is very chunky in texture and I don't think this is the best way to eat it as it tasted like hot water, with flavourful chunks in it.  I think if I wanted to make an 'instant' miso soup I would mash this up quite a bit more.  Might add a pinch of Shio Koji if I were to make some miso balls.

I don't know if it's a function of his age, but The Ancient has a bit of a mean streak and usually takes it out on me.  I call this the dinner of tears as I needed comfort food after one of his insensitivities.

Chick Pea miso soup I talked about before, some anise bread, salami, garlic pasta (because it's Friday) and  cry-baby cucumber pickles.

Cry-Baby Cucumber Pickles

Half a young cucumber
small pinch of salt
1 drop sesame oil
pinch of sesame seeds

  • Thinly slice the cucumber in half moon slices.
  • In a bowl, massage cucumber with salt until they start to weep.
  • With your hands, squeeze out your frustration and excess moisture from cucumber.
  • Gently massage one or two drops of sesame oil in with the cucumber slices.
  • Top with tear drop shaped sesame seeds.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Soy-Sub update Aug 2012

Updated the list of soy sauce substitutes (Soy-Sub) to include a link to a possible recipe that I'm keen to try and to include a photo of this Rice based Soy-Sub that I get from Japan.

The ingredients list is Rice and Salt, and it is somehow fermented to make a taste very close to a light soy sauce.  This is by far the best soy-sub I've ever had.  It's really delicious, acts like soy sauce when you cook with it, but is very hard to come by.

However, I've just discovered a service called JapanOnly, which claims to be able to acquire those rare and hard to find Japan only goods and send them to you for a small fee.  If they can get this sauce, it will be well worth it.   Fingers Crossed.

I'm constantly updating the Soy-Sub list whenever I find some new soy-free-soy-sauce, so keep an eye on it.  It's not just about soy-sub recipes, but also about what soy sauce does and why some soy-sub works sometimes and not others.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lunch for a little person

I really have no idea what toddlers eat.  I figure it must be something like human food, only cuter and softer.  But I've been watching (very closely) what mummies feed their kids, and I finally decided to take a chance and offer to cook lunch for both parent and tike.

Since most of the adult lunch is pretty simple, tamagoyaki, shio-koji chicken, potato salad (from this Cooking with Dog video, only scaled up a lot!), carrot gobo kimpura, and rice, I figured that he could have mostly what we are having plus a little bit of something special just for him.

So I made him some boiled veg and onigiri.

Only it's never quite that simple, is it?

What has this crazy person done to these carrots?

My friend told me that calcium is important for kids, so I added some goat cheese hearts and a cheddar flower, with a nori centre.  In case you are wondering, kids adore nori.  I haven't met a person under the age of 5 that won't gobble it up given the chance.  I couldn't get the nori to stick to the cheese, so I used a bit of potato salad as a glue.  He didn't seem to mind.

And a cute container to wrap it up in.

For a kid just entering the hight of the NO stage, he sure said yes to this lunch.  Although, to be honest, he liked the onigiri and the potato salad much better than the veg, but *shrug*, what can one do?

This bento shared at...
Bento Lunch

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cavena Nuda - Adding Naked Oats to Rice

They call it Rice of the Prairies, but it's actually a fancy new kind of oat.  Developed in part by Agriculture Canada (and heavily promoted by said government agency), these oats are hull-less, so they require fewer resources to process and are therefore suppose to be environmentally friendly.  My problem is, I don't know if these are a GM food or not, it was all rather sudden when they started appearing in the agricultural magazines, then a couple of months later they were on the shelf ready to eat.  The big government push behind this grain makes me instantly suspicious, but apparently not enough to avoid eating it.

Because it's so high in trace nutrients and because being on a low-to-no fibre diet means avoiding whole grains as a dietary staple, my Dr suggested I add a bit of this to my rice to help balance my nutritional profile.  For relatively little fibre, I'm able to gain a great deal of nutrients, and it doesn't taste all that bad either.

You can see the little brown specks if you squint and move extra close to your computer monitor.  They are the oats.

The oats add a mildly nutty flavour to the rice and have a similar texture to adding brown rice.   They taste exceptionally good in yakionigiri (fried rice balls).  They are very simple to add to rice.  However, I have noticed that if you don't give them a good wash before cooking, they won't cook as well and tend to stay quite hard.

First I measure my rice, and for each cup of white rice, I remove one tsp and replace it with 1 tsp of oats.  Then I wash as per normal, put in the rice cooker as per normal 'mixed' rice setting, and eat as per normal.  Very simple, very quick, and rather yummy.  

What's for Lunch Wednesday - bento blogs step right up

Every Wednesday Shannon over on hosts something called What's for Lunch Wednesday?

Bento Lunch

It's a really great idea.  People can share a thumbnail picture and link to their recent bento lunches and curious people like myself can come a long and click on them all.  What better way to discover active bento blogs?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nuka Pickle Vat delicious followed by troubleshooting

After five days of stirring twice a day, my nuka vat finally smelled like nuka.  For the first try I used Albanian cucumbers and carrots, both fresh from the garden.

After stirring the vat, place the veg on top and press them in.  then cover the veg with the paste.

You still have to mix the paste twice a day, even with the veg in it.  But just make sure you cover them up again if they aren't ready to eat yet.

Before I put any veg in the vat, I usually rub them with a sprinkle of salt and leave them for half an hour to sweat.  Then I dry them off carefully with a paper towel and put them in the vat.  In theory this will stop the nukazuke from being too wet and going off.  In theory.

Troubleshooting my Nukazuke vat

It's now been ten days since I first started my vat.  This morning when I opened it up to stir, I was greeted by a sweet and sour smell and a puddle of liquid forming in the vat.  What!  No!  How can it go bad already?  I've only got three helpings of pickles out of it.

Great sadness overwhelmed me.  'It must be Tuesday', I though, 'I never could get the hang of Tuesdays'.

I've been dedicated in stirring it twice a day, so I can't imagine it went bad from neglect (like my commercial nuka paste usually does).  Could it be I didn't add enough salt?  Am I using too many cucumbers and it's making the vat wet?  Does the world of fermented foodstuff simply hate me?

Time to consult Google.

 Troubleshooting your Nukazuke Vat and Nukamiso Guide were very helpful.

It's possible I've been keeping it too air tight.  So I discarded the cling wrap and left it covered by one poorly fitting plate for a lid.  Hope the flies don't get in.

I'll mop up the moisture with a paper towel (wish I had read this before stirring the moisture into the vat again) and stir it three times a day instead of twice.

I don't use any strong soaps or lotions on my hands, and always give them an extra rinse before siring the vat, so I don't think that's the problem.

I have plenty of eggs here on the farm, so I'll see what I can do about adding eggshells.  Most old household manuals suggest dry frying the shells before grinding them to kill any bacteria, but this article just says use 'clean' ones, whatever that means.  I'm pretty desperate to save this, so I'll give it a try.

Hope this can be saved!  I love nuka more than any other way of eating vegetables.  I'll be praying to his divine noodliness for guidance with this challenge.

Anyone out there have their own nuka pickle vat?  Please feel free to share some suggestions.  I would welcome all the help I can get.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Bento Brunch and Snack: I crave protein today

There is something you need to know about me.  I hate breakfast.

Strange for a person who is as much in love with cooking as I am, to hate an entire meal, but there you have it.  I hate breakfast, passionately.  I almost never eat it, and will usually break my fast a good 4 to 10 hours after I start my day.  It's just the way my body works best.  If I eat early in the day, then I feel sluggish and HUNGRY all day long.  I can't get any work done for eating and by the end of the day I feel huge as Sushi Cat.

On busy days like Mondays, where we get up early, harvest fresh veg at the farm and take them into town for the restaurants, I like to cook myself a bento brunch that I can eat in the car.

That way I'm not tempted to pick up some pre-fab-junkfood or worse, start munching on the profits.

Today I made rice with shio-koji chicken, fried pepperoni slices, and fingerling potatoes (all except the rice are left overs and re-fried this morning).  In the little cup I placed some spicy cucumber pickles.  Very protein and carb rich, but that's what I felt like this morning.  The pickles, especially the onions in it, really balance the heavy meal.  The other option would be to use kim chi but I hate packing that in a bento in hot weather.

This is packed in the upper half of my Eco Lunchbox.  The thing I like most about that box is how you can use only one or two sections when you don't feel like eating a whole lot of food.  Most bento boxes seem to be all or nothing and I often end up lugging around empty compartments.

For The Capitan, I made an ume onigiri and packed some shio koji in the lower section.  It's not very colourful today, which is a pity, but I was rushed for time and this snack was an afterthought.

I finally feel that I've gotten the entire 'fit as much food as possible into the small box' part of bento making down, now it's time to start working on presentation, especially colour.  Washoku cooking talks about combining different colours, flavours and cooking methods so that the meal becomes delicious and nutritious.    Although I don't have (cannot afford) the book at this time, I still hope to play around with this idea.  I'll start with the five colours and go from there.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cook Book Review: Hello, Bento!

Hello, Bento! - A Collection of Simple Japanese Bento Recipes is all about making a packed lunch, Japanese style.

I give this book a reluctant six out of ten, as it has a lot of good staple recipes but to me, but is far from becoming a regular on my cookbookshelf.  It reads more like someone's second draft but with some (considerable) editing, has the potential to be an excellent introduction to bento cooking.

Written by a Westerner for the Western market, this book aims to be an introduction to making healthy, appetizing  lunches to go.  The recipes chosen are those that appeal to North American tastes and are usually what one thinks about when one thinks bento.  The recipes are simple to make and seldom require unusual ingredients.  Because it included all the bento staples, from onigiri to tonkatsu, it get's an extra star.

There is a culture here in North America that worries about food spoiling.  I mean, we keep eggs in the FRIDGE!  This is a side effect of the industrial food system that, despite everyone's best efforts (I'm sure), deadly pathogens creep into our food.

This fear of food spoiling is so deeply ingrained that... well the conversation I had yesterday with a random stranger about cheese.  Apparently even leaving brie out on the counter for 20 min. to soften before serving constitutes a call to the health authority and a trip to the hospital.  (this is not an actual need, brie is quite safe and tastes best if allowed to soften or ripen for up to several hours, weather dependent, prior to serving.)  But the fear we have here is hammered so strongly into our culture that people cannot seem to think clearly about food safety.

Before refrigeration was common, there were many methods to keep food from spoiling.  Although pre-industrial revolution statistics are hard to come by, I feel very strongly that the per-capita incidence of food poisoning was a great deal lower than it is today.  People knew that cooking meats with salt and vinegar reduced spoilage.  There are all sorts of methods that one can employ to keep food fresh at room temperature for at least long enough to call it lunch.

Problem these days, is that most people in the West don't know about them.

Hello, Bento!  is all about cooking up some food, plopping it in a box, and eating it for lunch.  And yet, many of the recipes have reduced salt content compared to the traditional foods these are based on.  There is no discussion on how to keep your bento lunch safe.  (see for a nice overview on how to do this).

For me, not including Health and Safety in a bento cook book is tantamount to a crime!

The recipes included are the basic bento staples.  Everything on how to wash rice, to tonkatsu are included.  Some of the ingredients are a little hard to come by, but can be ordered via if you live in the US and don't have a near by Japanese grocer.  Those of us in Canada are a little less lucky (unless you can tell me a good place to mail order Japanese ingredients within Canada, please!).

The instructions in most of the recipes are a bit hard to follow even if you are familiarly with Japanese cooking.  The sentence structure and general language usage is, well, as bad as mine.  But then again I'm seriously dyslexic and this is a blog.  This is little better than a second draft.  You don't actually have to pay me to read this (all four of you).  A published book usually requires higher standards (even an ebook).

Vegan friendly?: some is, some isn't.  It's up to the educated young vegan about town to decide which recipes are animal friendly.  There are very few indications within the book itself

Allergy Friendly?: sigh, I would have to say no.  The recipes in this book are not easily modified for people with allergies.  Many of the ingredients such as soy act to preserve the food, as well as add flavour.  Because of the safety issues surrounding bento lunches and the lack of information included in this book, it makes it difficult to adjust for allergies.

On the whole, I feel this book needs to be reworked.  It has some great ideas in it, but the work is rather shoddy and basically yells self-published rush job.  But, if it could be expanded and edited properly, it has the makings of a fantastic cook book.

Hello, Bento! - A Collection of Simple Japanese Bento Recipes
by Cooking Penguin
ebook format only at the moment
6 out of 10

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bento Lunch: hot weather picnic and a quick fix for an eco lunch box

What better way to test out my new bento box than to go on a picnic. 

The Captain's lunch (in my old Eco Lunchbox) has rice with peas and corn, ume and grilled salted salmon in the bottom and cabbage kimpira, nuka pickles and spicy cucumber on the top.  

My box has the same with a bit of mini-anchovies preserved in soy-sub, sake and honey mix.  

On top of the rice is a light sprinkling of spicy sprinkles.

I choose these bento fillings as they keep well in hot weather.  I was very careful to make everything (but the pickles) piping hot as I packed it in the bento, then allowed it to cool to room temperature before placing the lids on top.  Allowing them to cool before sealing them up reduces the amount of moisture and helps the food keep fresh longer.  

Quick fix for an Eco Lunchbox that doesn't fit together snugly any more:

At the end, when I was rushing out the door, I noticed that the metal box didn't fit snugly any more.  Not having time to re-pack into a different box, or to fix the box properly, I had to do a quick-fix which is actually quite simple.  Here's what I did:

If the clips that fasten the bottom to the top are a bit loose, and you're in too much of a rush to do a proper fix, rest the bottom of the clip on the counter and gently press in on the wires where my thumb is.  You may need to do one wire at a time as it's quite stiff.  Bend the wire just a little bit at a time and test it frequently.  This should keep well enough for the day, but then again, this box was never leek proof anyway, especially the bottom section.  

The problem with the box is that the lower section is somehow squeezed out on one end and pushed in on the other.  Although over 8 months old, it's never been banged around or received any sort of damage I know of.  In fact, I almost never use the bottom half.  I'm going to have to reshape it somehow to make it a bit less drafty down there.  But until I can get around to doing that, I guess no more rice or things that dry out quickly in that section.     

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hello Bento - amazon kindle book

ETA: Sorry guys, looks like it is back to the regular price of $3.95.  I read it last night and have lots to say (both good and critical).  Hope to write a review for you today or tomorrow.

I haven't read this yet, but I noticed it's currently free on for the kindle version of the book Hello, Bento! - A Collection of Simple Japanese Bento Recipes

No idea if this is a long term price, so might as well grab it while it's free.

If you don't happen to have a kindle, you can still 'buy' this free book and read it through the Amazon Cloud Reader, which allows you to read books on your computer, phone, &c.

When I have a read of it, I'll let you know what I think.  I find a lot of bento books, especially the ones compiled by Westerners, tend to be hit and miss.

Review: Bento & Co.

I practically ran to the post office as soon as I heard.  My parcel from Bento & Co. had arrived!

Actually I drove (at the speed limit even).  The post office is rather a long distance from my house and most athletes take almost three hours to run that far over that many hills.  Driving is much faster.

This is one of two parcels I've ordered from them.  What happened is that a few days after they shipped this, they decided to have a sale (the blighters) and then I ended up ordering a bunch more.  The sale is on for another day or two.  There are some good deals there well worth having a look.

So, here is what I got and some first impressions:

Cooking chopsticks: very nice and well priced set of four chopsticks.  These are about two inches longer than I am use to for cooking chopsticks.  I thought at first this would be a problem, but once I tried them out, they actually feel quite nice in my stubby little hands.

Travel Chopsticks:  Now these are exactly my size.  I like short thin chopsticks for eating with.  I bought this so that I could try and learn the hiragana spelling of the words Itedakemasu (let's eat) and gochisosama (finished eating).  Although my spelling might be a bit off, I'm still learning.

The chopsticks fit very nicely in my hand, but I have small hands with stubby fingers.  It wouldn't fit a man's or large woman's hands.

I especially like how the case keeps the chopsticks from getting dirty or from getting everything else dirty.  This is going to be a regular part of my bento from now on.

Onigiri holder: This is going to be FANTASTIC.

The black area is a small compartment with a leek proof or almost leek proof lid, then on top of that you place one onigiri (rice ball).  It's the perfect snack container.

The look is like lacquered wood and feels a bit like it, but is obviously plastic.  We will see how it holds up.

I'm very fond of the little tabs and how snugly the whole thing fits together.  I can see this being used almost daily.

Silicon cups: two reusable cups, one red and one black for separating things in bento boxes.  These are a bit flimsy compared to the ones you usually find around here for baking, but they are the perfect size for bento dividers and I like the reusable aspect of them.  

And my favourite item, the one thing that inspired me to order from this shop...

It's Just Leftovers Bento Box:  the writing translates as 'I'm afraid it's just leftovers' which is basically what I use in my bento boxes anyway.  Although a bit larger than I usually use, I fell in love with the box the moment I saw it.

It's a two level box with optional divider section.  The leak resistant lid fits on the upper level and the divider will fit in top or bottom.  The elastic keeps everything together nicely.

First impressions is that this is going to fit A LOT of food.  Possibly more food than I can eat in a day.  But on those long term outings, you really do need lots to eat otherwise one gets tempted to go shopping.

I don't normally go for a plastic food container.  This and the onigiri holder above, are the first.  But I figured, I don't reheat food in the microwave (I use the microwave about once a year, and that's usually to melt butter) and since the food is cooled relatively quickly before adding the lid, I don't think I'll get too much plastic in my food.  I figured the joy of the box out weighs the detriments of using plastic and having a container that inspires me to make better and healthier food is always a good idea.

I'm very happy ordering from Bento & Co.  and will be doing so again in the future.  The shipping took 2 and a half weeks (which is faster than coming from Ontario) on the second to cheapest shipping.  I wouldn't have paid for the tracking if I had known the tracking is only useful while the parcel is still in Japan.  I should have read the fine print on that one.

Even with the cost of shipping, the products worked out the same price or less than buying them in town or from a Canadian shop.  Many of the products aren't available locally, so they also have that going for them.

I admit, I probably would have bought more if the yen wasn't so high.  But I am happy with what I did get and can hardly wait until tomorrow's bento.

Bento Snack - onigiri with pickles

When it's hot like this, I do all my cooking as early in the day as possible.  Even though I'm home all day, I still make myself a few bento meals.  I find it very difficult to digest solid food when I'm overheated, so I try to make the tastes as mild and appealing as possible.

Today's bento: one onigiri (rice ball) with ume plum and nori wrap, one yakionigiri with tuna mayo filling and a side of Nuka Pickles.

Nice, simple, slightly colourful but not overwhelming.

Just so you know, I didn't eat the tuna-mayo onigiri.  I forgot that both fish and mayo spoil really quickly when stored at 35degrees C.  Just one bite was enough to know this is not safe for my stomach.

These are my first pickles in my new nuka vat.  They are okay and there is a defiantly a nuka favour there, but I think it needs to mature a few more days before it's ready.

I love how the optional inner section of this box has an almost leek proof lid for keeping the flavours separate

And for those of you wondering why it's Friday and I'm not eating pasta: Being a dedicated Pastafarian does not mean that I can only eat pasta on Fridays (our holy days), but rather that we must consume at least some pasta on Fridays (and beer, the beer is just as important).  Besides there are many lapsed Pastafarians who do not eat noodles every Friday.  It's a matter of personal preference.

For those who are super-curious, tonight will be a late night helping of garlic pasta with a side of spicy sausage and any left over veg (mostly fennel kimpura and pickles) that I can find in the fridge.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Namuru - or how I learned to love greens

 I'm not a natural leaf eater. 

It wasn't until my late teens that I learned that the tops off beets weren't poisonous and another ten years after that before I could find a way to stomach them.  Other than frying them with bacon, there really aren't that many ways to eat greens like chard, beet greens or kale, that doesn't feel like you are eating slug vomit.

But then, Japanese cooking comes to the rescue (yet again).  Or, rather a Japanese take on an old Korean recipe.

This namuru I made with beet greens.  I basically follow the recipe in the Just Bento cookbook, changing the amounts depending on the amount of greens I have.  The recipe found here, the website by the same author, is basically perfect.   So I'll just refer you there than writing it all out again here.

I do have a few hints that make the namuru even more yummy.

  • Chop up the stems quite small.  If the stems are wider like chard, chop them finer, if they are thinner like the beets, the chop them coarser.  
beet greens are leggy as it's mid summer and in the middle of a drought
Chard chopped up and ready for blanching (don't blanch the garlic)
  • Bring the water to the boil and toss the stems in first.  Cook them 1 to 4 minutes.  If it's early spring and the greens are tender, then they don't need much cooking, but if it's the middle of a hot period, the stems especially, become tough and need about 2 to 3 minutes.  If there has been a frost, then cook the stems a whole 4 minutes   
  • Once the stems are partly cooked, toss the leafs in the same water (leave the stems in there) and cook for between 2 to 6 minuets.  The key is not to overcook these, especially if you want to eat them in a bento.  Like the stems, it depends on the weather, but also on the freshness of the greens (garden fresh greens need less time than store bought ones).
  • If you are making this for bento the next day, use slightly less salt.  Salt brings out moisture in the greens and seems to intensify the garlic flavour in this dish. But don't be too sparing with the salt, as it also preserves the garlic which can cause quite a stomach ache if it spoils.
  • If you are using a wooden bento box, be sure to put the namuru in one of those little cups.  Otherwise, the oil may stain the wood.
  • After you blanch the greens, squeeze them really well to get rid of the excess moisture before mixing with the garlic and oil.  

Namaru is a wonderful side dish that tastes good hot or cold and will last up to three days in the fridge.  It's surprisingly popular with guests who have conveniently stopped by right around lunch time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How to harvest poppy seeds

I love poppies in the garden, their fleeting flashes of colour, their rich history of illicit substances, the memories of post battle fields filled with bright red flowers.  There is a great deal of history, both joyful and painful, that surrounds this simple flower.

Aside from the 'special' substances that can be derived from their juices, poppies are more commonly known for their seeds.  You can make so many different things with these seeds, from pasta sauce to bagels from these charcoal dots.  

This year I grew bread poppies.  They have pink flowers and are known for their large pods packed full of seeds.

Pick the pods by cutting a couple of inches down the stems.  Do this at the heat of the day and only pick the dry ones that rattle when you shake them.

Cut the tops off the seed pod with some sheers.  Do not use sewing sheers for this, it will dull them and people might yell at you.

You can see the compartment where the seeds live.  Now up end this in a shallow dish, carefully picking out any bits of pod that fall in.

Leave it to dry a few days, gently stirring every day.  Store in an air tight container for future use.