Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cookbook Review: A Cook's Journey to Japan

This is the second cookbook I'm choosing to review at the request of Tuttle Publishing: A Cook's Journey to Japan - 100 Homestyle Recipes from Japanese Kitchens, by Sarah Marx Feldner. It's a large paperback volume filled with clearly written recipes and prose accompanied by vibrant full-color photos on every high-quality glossy page.

The author is an American woman who wanted to develop a cookbook based upon recipes which she obtained by traveling on her own through small towns and talking with the people she met along the way.

I found this to be a good reference for people wanting to learn the basics of Japanese cooking along with a selection of specific dishes which she introduces with short anecdotes.

I made two recipes from this cookbook. The first was Hiyashi Chuka, or Cold Sesame Noodle Salad. I found the instructions to be straightforward and easy to follow. I substituted cherry tomatoes (since that's what I had), and used furikake (because we like it). The salad was delicious, and perfect on this hot summer day. The two photos below are mine, which I point out because I neglected to watermark them with my blog url and name.

It was a hit with the family too. I also made Soy-Glazed Chicken Wings. This was very good as well, and I should have made much more. The skin browned nicely, and the flavor was excellent.

Beautiful, aren't they? There are a number of other recipes I am definitely going to try from this book, and I recommend it even as an interesting read with interesting tidbits about Japanese culture and cuisine. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cookbook Review: My Japanese Table

Hello! It's been awhile since I've posted, since we've been on summer break from school since beginning of June. The kids have been busy with the usual summer schedule: various sports, arts, and craft camps, travel with us, and general hanging out. Remember how nice that summer agenda was when we were kids?

I'm posting again because I was asked by someone at a publishing company to review a few cookbooks that they thought would be of interest to me. I read through them and this one caught my attention first. It's called My Japanese Table, by Debra Samuels. The author is an American woman who found herself living in Japan for several years throughout her adult life, and became enamored of Japanese cooking while there. This book contains general staples as well as a selection of various types of dishes suitable for home cooking and bento. I made a few recipes from her book.

The first one I tried was her recipe for sweet and spicy celery salad. It is a simple recipe, with only a few ingredients for making the sauce. It came out a little darker than her picture in the book, but it was tasty and the kids liked it.

The next one I tried was crabmeat and seaweed salad. I've eaten this before and it's utterly simple as well: just shaved Japanese cucumbers, reconstituted wakame, topped with crabmeat. The dressing is a light vinegar and I had all the ingredients in my pantry for this. It was refreshing and delicious.

Next I made simple mixed pickles, also known as tsukemono. I love tsukemono, and it brings back memories of dinners with my dad, who always had tsukemono alongside. I never realized how easy it is to make! It's a quick "pickle" procedure, and you can use all kinds of vegetables besides cabbage, including cucumbers, carrots, and even radish. This had a subtle flavor, the vegetables were slightly softened, and everyone loved it. I made what I thought would be a huge batch, but the family ended up eating the whole thing.

Finally, I made this main dish, named Shoko's Summer Sesame Chicken Salad. It was perfect on this warm summery day. I changed the recipe a little by adding chopped romaine lettuce underneath the poached chicken. The added vegetables and tangy dressing made this a nice and substantial supper. It was a hit with everyone.

This is an overhead shot of the dinner I made my family using recipes from My Japanese Table. First thing I appreciated was how beautiful it all looks! And then I realized that I need to buy more varyingly sized Japanese dishes. I was very pleased with how everything tasted and looked, and my family agreed. I am looking forward to trying more of the recipes in this book in the future. The writing is clear and concise, there is a large color picture to accompany each recipe, and the ingredients are easy to come by. There is even a bento section, which I thought was a nice addition to the whole idea of a Japanese Table. I recommend this book without hesitation; if you get a chance to check it out, please do. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cute Character Bento Competition Results

Remember that bento contest I wrote about last month? It was a Cute Character Bento making contest organized by the Japan General Consulate in Los Angeles along with BentoUSA to celebrate the traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese. Of the 400 entries, 10 were chosen to be exhibited at the Japan Foundation. I was honored and excited to have my photographed entry chosen for display in the gallery. I was able to make a trip to L.A. to check it out in person, and it was pretty cool!

The other 9 entries were very impressive. I didn't realize they would be enlarged to such a degree, and it really felt like walking through an art gallery. I asked whether we might take our prints home, thinking they would otherwise be disposed of, but was told they planned to donate them to schools and hospitals. Wow, that's even better!

I was awarded second place, and received this beautiful gold embossed certificate, signed by the Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles. It's pretty big (I placed the food picks there for scale). The sponsoring companies were very generous in their prizes; I was surprised to learn. I can't wait to cook from this gorgeous hardcover cookbook from Kinokuniya:

A box of snacks and treats from Nijiya Market:

More treats and super cute bento tools from BentoUSA and CuteZCute:

And an induction rice cooker:

I am so blown away by the generosity of the sponsors; and the organizers were very helpful and encouraging. The Japan Foundation is a wonderful resource for Japanese culture and books, and if you get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it. I think they also host demonstrations and classes as well. 

I've been on something of a bento hiatus, since all this occurred right before our Spring Break, when we were off school for a week, and then while I took some extra time to get back into bentomaking, my 11-year-old MisterMan has taken up the responsibility of preparing the bento for himself and TinySprite. Who am I to intercede? I will try to return here soon, though. We have one more quarter (7 weeks) left of this school year to go. Hope you are enjoying the arrival of Spring! Happy Bentomaking!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Totoro Calzone Bento

Aw, it's Totoro! You may have to use your imagination, though. I made pizzas for dinner, and always try to make some kind of cute calzone at the same time. You can see my past attempts if you do a search in the blog search bar. I know, I made his chevrons wrong. Shoots! He has a spinach leaf umbrella, and a tomato balloon. I hope he's happy! And I hope you are too ^__^

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Shoyu Chicken LunchBots Cinco Bento

Second time using the big-size Lunchbots Cinco, and like the first time, I packed chicken once again! This time it's shoyu chicken, with broccoli and potatoes on top of a few lettuce leaves. Pasta goes in the side (again!) with mushrooms and parmesan. Are you sensing a theme here? On top: chopped sweet red pepper, mandarin, and carrots. I like using this box, but for some reason I get nervous that I won't have enough to fill it. Maybe the third time we'll see something really exciting! Let's hope! ^__^

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Mermaid Pasta Quinoa Bento!

Hi! This one is a "just for fun" snack bento that I made for a contest. I wanted to try making a mermaid using pasta for hair and quinoa for sand. I know now why I don't regularly make decorative charaben -- it is very time-consuming! At least for me. I knew I was going to use a quail egg for her face, and cheese for her body, and Okinawan sweet potato for her colorful tail and bikini, but the execution and cutting and placement took a lot longer than I envisioned. Luckily my miniature garden kale came in handy as seaweed stand-ins, and carrots and strawberries added color as other sea creatures. It was fun though, and the littles got a kick out of it. ^__^

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Paddy's Day Green(ish) Bento!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone! In honor of this holiday, I've made a "green" Lunchbots Quad bento for TinySprite: okay, maybe half green. The right half. The green part: kiwi, pasta with pesto, and green pepper "shamrock." I also nearly every green pick I own, which turns out to be quite a few. Yay! The other half: tomato, mandarin, and sausage/mushroom. Fork/spoon/knife combo utensil by Light My Fire.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Banana Peanut Butter Pita Pals Bento!

Since using these tiny miniature pita breads (in this previous bento), I wanted to see how they would fare with peanut butter filling. Since TinySprite loves bananas, and I never use them in bento, I sliced some up and put them in too. They begged for faces, so that's what they got! This was an at-home snack bento, but if I were to send it to school I might replace the nut butter with sunflower seed butter, and maybe flatten the banana slice to make a kind of "seal" for the pita pocket. I added blood oranges, watermelon balls, blueberries and edamame in tiny silicone cups, and filled in the rest of the spaces with carrots. She thought it was pretty fun to eat!

In other news, I wanted to let you know that last week, my Kitty Has A Fish bento (that I posted here) won second prize in a contest sponsored by the Japan General Consulate in Los Angeles. There was a reception and presentation of certificates, and the 10 winning entries will be displayed in an exhibition at the Japan Foundation until March 28th, 2015. It is an honor to have been selected in the top 10 from among so many cute entries! If you would like to see the list of all ten winners, it is shown here

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Herby Chicken Lunchbot Cinco Bento

This is my first time using the large Cinco box from Lunchbots, and I was very excited to see what my middle-schooler thought of it! We are heavy users of the company's other boxes (Duo, Trio and Quad, as well as the Clicks series) and I heartily endorse the quality of those containers. I've been packing home lunch in these boxes their whole school lives, and they are all still in use after 6-7 years, none the worse for wear. I thought this larger size would be just right for my boy, who has a pretty big appetite. I took the opportunity to pack a whole chicken thigh and a serving of spinach pasta with potatoes and asparagus in the two biggest sections. That left me still with three more, smaller, sections which I filled with pickled carrots and daikon, sliced kiwi, and grapes, strawberry and tomato. He loved  it; had no problem finishing all the food. While the box is a bit larger in size than our other Lunchbots, it still fit nicely inside his insulated tote bag. I have a feeling this new box will be getting a lot of use in the coming years. Thumbs up!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Bunny Riceball and Salted Salmon Bento

Salted salmon and rice for TinySprite today. Have you made shiozake before? The method I use is one from LovelyLanvin's recipe: I salt the fish overnight, then slice into small strips before broiling. It packs very well for bento and tastes delicious cold or room temperature. It's nice to serve with plain rice because the salmon itself has lots of flavor. I decorated the rice with nori into a bunny face, and using lettuce as a liner means she can either wrap the whole thing up or eat it with a fork. This cute divided box lets me add blood oranges and grapes in a separate section, alongside steamed Okinawan sweet purple potatoes, carrots, and cucumbers. Simple, but so delicious! This is one of my own favorite meals as well. ^__^

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Puppy Pals Mini-Sandwiches Ecolunchboxes Bento

These are the same Kings Hawaiian bread dinner rolls I used for the Hinamatsuri bento. Turns out they fit perfectly inside the Ecolunchboxes Solo Cube container too! Ham and cheese with lettuce sandwiches again for the little girl. This time I decorated the tops with cheese and nori for puppy faces. They are holding hands. Awww! The rest of the box contains: grapes, heart-shaped radishes, Okinawan sweet potato, blueberries, satsuma mandarin, and broccoli. I can get used to making these cute little mini buns bento. So easy and fun!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Pork Chop and Shredded Veggies Bento

Today I made pan-fried Vietnamese style thin pork chops, which I choose because I can slice them into strips for the kiddos' bento. I lay them on a bed of shredded lettuce - I think it looks nice that way. If you like, you can drizzle some of the reduced sauce on top, but I omitted that. I also quick pickled some shredded carrots and daikon and added a couple sweet purple potato hearts. This fit nicely in the Zen box I got from Bento & Co.

In the side box: blood orange chunks, grape tomatoes, and a tiny cup of chocolate covered raisins. 

Happy Wednesday! This week is flying by!