Dear friends, last week I was in New York City filming live for Little Things’ Facebook cooking show “SLICE.” My challenge? Cook a dish for two using $12 worth of ingredients in under 20 minutes. I almost didn’t make it but I pulled through at the last minute. And I came in way under budget!
Deb and I have only communicated via email and social media, but when I heard she was coming to town, I eagerly volunteered to help. I was delighted to discover that Deb is every bit as lovely in person!
We spent the day of the event (we were expecting 150 people!) prepping, prepping, and prepping.
Here is a slideshow with some highlights:
I’m sure many of you are dying to try your hand at bento “box-ing” so I asked Debra to give us some guidance on putting one together. Note that her focus is on kids’ bento boxes.
1. What are the most important elements of a bento box?
It’s all about balance and using foods that span 5 different colors: red, black/brown, white, green, yellow. With those colors it is deemed that you have a balanced meal
Have a variety of foods, whether in texture, cooking methods (boiled, stir-fry, fried) as well as types of food
Make it visually pleasing
Pay attention to nutritional value and portion sizes. Have smaller amounts of each food but a greater variety (see above, they are closely linked)
And my Japanese friends say “LOVE” is in the box
Usually rice or a carbohydrate (bread or pasta are fine too!) takes up to at least 1/3 of the box for a girl and up to half for a boy
Protein is also important. Sometimes boys will get 2 kinds of protein
Otherwise, meat, fish and chicken are often seen as okazu–side dishes–so they share equally in portion size with vegetables, fruit, etc.
2. What tips can you share with us newbies?
Look at a bento box as a food sampler of sorts
Concentrate on the colors
Have a few neat picks so that you can create a kabob, for example: skewer a turkey meatball, steamed broccoli and a cherry tomato and brush all with a glaze of teriyaki sauce (find cute picks and more bento accessories on Amazon.com!)
View this as a good opportunity to give your child some new foods in smaller amounts
Stock up on silicon cups and put mini salads in them: pasta, leafy greens
Prepare ahead of time: Have several (see-through) containers of precut and cooked veggies, corkscrew pasta, cut fruit, mini-meatballs
Good leftovers equal a good lunch so make more than you need for dinner. The point is to re-fashion it creatively
Definitely add a small treat (try Deb’s matcha mochi cupcakes below)
For me, there are almost no ‘no-no’s.
3. What’s the difference between an adult’s and a kid’s bento box?
Mainly the difference is volume. There are also differences in volume between bento boxes for men and women. Men’s boxes have an interior space that can contain about 30% more food. Also the types of food that go into the box could be heavier on protein and carbs for men, and more fried foods as well.
As far as presentation is concerned, it still has to be pleasing to the eye. The Japanese say “me de taberu” they eat with their eyes. The same care is given to a 5-year-old’s lunch as is to a 15 or 50-year- old. A bento box for an adult may be less cute, but it will still be attractive.
From My Japanese Table (Tuttle Publishing, 2011) by Debra Samuels
“Thai sweet rice (glutinous) flour doesn’t work in this recipe. The best results are with Koda Farms Mochiko. I first learned about mochi cupcakes when a Boston friend who is married to a Japanese-American man. She got the recipe from her mother-in-law’s Buddhist Temple Community cookbook from Los Angeles. It has since been tweaked several times by other cooks.” ~ Debra
Makes about 16
3 cups (one 1-pound box) Koda Farms Mochiko (sweet rice flour, available at Asian Markets and some Whole Foods Markets)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons matcha (green tea powder)
3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 can (15 ounces) sweet adzuki beans (optional)
Set the oven at 375 degrees F. Line a muffin tin with paper or foil cups.
In a bowl, combine the rice flour, baking powder, salt, and green tea. Whisk well.
In another larger bowl, mix the oil and sugar. Add the eggs and milk and whisk vigorously.
Add the rice flour mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until completely blended.
Fill the cupcake papers half full with the batter. Add a scant tablespoon of the adzuki beans. Spoon a little more batter over the beans. This should come just below the tops of the papers.
Bake the cupcakes for 20 to 25 minutes or until they begin to crack. Set on a wire rack to cool.
I’ve been thinking about kaya a lot lately—that creamy, unctuous coconut egg jam that was the foundation of many a childhood breakfast. I ate kaya at home between toasted sandwich slices (Gardenia, of course). I ate the holy trinity of Singapore breakfasts–kaya toast, soft-boiled egg, and iced Milo–at the neighborhood kopitiam (coffee shop). And I ate kaya swirled into soft loaves of bread that my mom bought from the local bakery.
I was definitely craving kaya. Unfortunately, the store-bought specimens looked like jam only ET could love but maybe even he would be put off by the fluorescent yellow or green hue. And not surprisingly, it tasted bad too.
So I did a little research to see what it would take to make kaya at home. After skimming a few recipes that required freshly-squeezed coconut milk, 10 eggs, and/or hours of stirring over a hot water bath, I all but gave up.
Then it hit me. Kaya’s ingredients and texture are similar to a curd! So I looked up the recipe for lemon curd in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook and realized it would be so easy to tweak to make kaya. The ingredients are surprisingly similar. The biggest difference was that instead of whole eggs, only the yolks are used. And it takes only about 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish!
To be honest, I was a little skeptical. But the recipe was easy to follow and the curd/custard turned out perfect in taste and texture the very first time!
Thank you, Martha!
Easy Kaya (Coconut Egg Jam) à la Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart didn’t really come up with a kaya recipe but her lemon curd recipe was the inspiration for my version. Instead of palm sugar, you can also use brown sugar—light or dark, it doesn’t matter–and/or use a mix of white granulated and brown. And feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. If you can’t find pandan leaves, don’t fret, just leave them out. Or you might want to try vanilla. Personally, I don’t find vanilla to be an adequate substitute for the complex flavor and aroma of pandan leaves. But, if you didn’t grow up with it, you probably won’t care. Just sayin’.
Makes: 1 cup
Time: 15 minutes
¾ cup unsweetened coconut milk (not light coconut milk please!)
4 egg yolks
3-1/2 ounces palm sugar (2 discs), crushed, or 1/2 cup sugar
2 to 3 pandan leaves, tied into a knot
Combine the coconut milk, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan and whisk until smooth. Add the pandan leaves and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. To be doubly sure the custard is cooked, it should register 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides!
Remove the saucepan from the heat and discard the pandan leaves. Strain through a fine sieve into a small glass bowl or jar with a lid. Leave uncovered until completely cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
The authentic way to make kaya toast is to grill your sandwich slices—white bread is best, Gardenia or WonderBread is even better–is over coals. Since this is not always possible, just toast it. Slather a thick layer of butter (at least ½-inch according to some sources), followed by a hefty layer of kaya. This is not meant to be diet food!! Remove the crusts, halve, and serve with coffee, tea, or Milo!
Many recipes claim to be quick and easy, but few live up to expectations.
With the craziness of the holiday season, I’ve been wanting–and needing—quick-to-pull-together lunches. Given the choice, I prefer not to have cold lunches so sandwiches or salads are out. In the end, I usually have leftovers or cook something easy.
When Stephanie Stiavetti sent me her just-released cookbook co-authored with Garrett McCord, Melt—The Art of Macaroni and Cheese (Little, Brown & Company, November, 2013), I was blown away by the gorgeous photography and creative mac and cheese combinations.
While flipping through the book, I came across a recipe that called for soba, Brussels sprouts and parmesan. It sounds like an odd combo, but if you’re an eclectic cook like me, you probably have these ingredients sitting right in your pantry. The recipe was oh-so brief and simple; I was sold!
I did tweak the recipe a little, using frozen Brussels sprouts instead of fresh ones and the dish came together in barely 15 minutes. Now the true test—did it taste good? Given its simplicity, I was astonished at how tasty it was—the bittersweet sprouts played very nicely with the salty Parmesan and the chewy soba bundled the flavors together well.
This recipe is a winner on so many levels: it satisfies, uses few, easily available ingredients, and is indeed a 15-minute meal.
For more info about Melt, please visit Stephanie’s blog: theculinarylife.com or check out their book trailer here. It’s perfect for the cheese-lover on your Christmas list!
Soba with Parmesan and Pan Fried Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord
The original recipe uses fresh Brussels sprouts but I had frozen ones in the freezer. They added to the brevity of cooking time. If you do use fresh, be sure to remove the stems and outer leaves. Halve them and blanche them for quicker cooking. Wholewheat spaghetti would be an excellent substitute for the soba.
Makes: 2 entree servings
Time: 15 minutes
8 ounces frozen petite Brussels sprouts (about 20)
2 bundles soba (about 6-8 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Chili flakes (optional)
2 garlic cloves, minced
Finely grated Parmesan
Thaw/cook the Brussels sprouts in the microwave on high for about 4 minutes. Drain excess water.
Meanwhile, prepare the soba per the manufacturer’s instructions. Once they are cooked, immediately drain and rinse under cool water for a moment, drain again, and then toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Do this regardless of what the noodle instructions say at that point, as some may instruct you not to add oil. Set aside.
Place the remaining tablepoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the Brussels sprouts. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts start to turn golden brown, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Toss the soba in the hot pan for about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and add an extra glug of oil, if you desire. Plate and shower liberally with Parmesan. Serve immediately.
**Disclaimer: Melt was gifted to me by Stephanie Stiavetti but I think this is a great recipe and it’s a great book!**
I’ve been on a meatball kick lately, which is a little strange since I’m not a huge meat-eater. Maybe it’s the cooler weather. Maybe it’s all the spaghetti and meatball recipes I keep seeing. Who knows?
That being said, I didn’t want my meatballs to be too stodgy so I decided to lighten them up.
Scouring the Web and my cookbooks, I found suggestions for using extra fillers (breadcrumbs, oats, rice), adding beans, hiding veggies in the meatballs, etc. Then it came to me: why not add tofu just like the Japanese hamburger recipe in my cookbook (pg. 153).
After experimenting with ingredients and proportions, I first tossed the resulting meatballs into my favorite tomato sauce with spaghetti. My husband and son gobbled dinner up none the wiser!
Inspired by Jill, I decided to tweak her sauce and came up with my own sweet, sour, and spicy version.
Asian Meatballs with Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Sauce
These half-tofu-half-pork meatballs are awesome as party appetizers. I’d make several batches because they will go fast, especially when chased with a cocktail or beer. They’re that good. And your guests will never know they’re made with–gasp–tofu!
Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 30 1-inch meatballs
7 ounces firm or medium-firm tofu
1 pound 4 ounces ground pork, turkey, or beef (not super-lean please!)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped green onions (1 stalk)
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Place the tofu in a non-terry dish towel or sturdy paper towel. Over the sink, wring out as much excess liquid as possible. Do this a few times until the tofu is dry and crumbly.
In a medium bowl, combine the tofu, ground pork, soy sauce, green onions, cilantro, sea salt, black pepper, and mix until smooth. Hint: use your hands! I like to microwave a little of the mixture and taste it to see if it needs any more seasoning.
Roll into 1-inch balls and place them on the prepared baking sheets about an inch apart.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the meatballs are golden and cooked through. Toss cooked meatballs with warm sauce and serve.
Sweet and Spicy Tamarind Sauce
Makes about 3/4 cup of sauce
1/3 cup wet tamarind (about 3 ounces)
3/4 cup water
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (About 1-inch chunk ginger, peeled and grated)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons palm sugar (or light brown sugar)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons sambal oelek (chili paste)
In a medium saucepan, combine the tamarind paste with water. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir until the paste softens into a thick puree. Add the ginger, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, and chili paste. Keep stirring to prevent the sauce from burning or sticking, until the sauce becomes thick and sticky, about 10 minutes. Press this mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl or deep dish to remove any solids. Gently toss the cooked meatballs in the warm sauce.
This sauce can also be made a few days ahead of serving and reheated when needed.
You might think me crazy for craving rice pudding in the middle of summer. But this past week or two, we’ve had a deluge of thunderstorms here in northern Virginia.
And we all know there’s nothing more comforting than curling up on the couch with a rich, creamy bowl of rice pudding as you listen to the pitter patter of raindrops and spy the occasional flash of lightning above the rooftops. Especially when it’s chocolate rice pudding!
Now rice pudding recipes are as common as golden poppies carpeting a California hillside, but I was delighted to find Marvin Gapultos’s Filipino champorado (Chocolate and Coffee Rice Pudding) in his new cookbook, “The Adobo Road Cookbook–A Filipino Food Journey–From Food Blog, To Food Truck, And Beyond” (Tuttle Books, May 2013). If you didn’t know already, Marvin is the voice behind the very entertaining Burnt Lumpia blog. And if you haven’t visited his blog, you should!
While I was making the champorado, I imagined Gloria standing next to me in the kitchen reminding me to constantly stir the rice. “C’mon, Pat, keep stirring.” I have to admit, without Gloria at my side, I was a delinquent student and only picked up the spoon maybe once every 10 to 15 minutes. Thankfully, the rice didn’t burn and meld to the bottom of the pot (well, at least very little did!).
You are probably thinking, “I’m not going to make rice pudding in summer.” Oh, but you should.
I don’t have a problem eating hot foods in summer–I grew up eating steaming noodles and hot dessert soups in 100 degree F weather. However, as Marvin mentions, you can refrigerate the rice pudding for a few hours and eat it cold. And when the rice pudding gets cold and thickens up a little, you can do fancy things with it.
Aside from giving you Marvin’s awesome champorado recipe, I’m also giving you a chance to win Marvin’s cookbook. Tuttle Books has generously donated 3 copies of “The Adobo Road Cookbook” so please leave me a comment telling me how you like your rice pudding and any special touches you add. Or just say, “hi!”
The giveaway ends Friday, July 26, 2013. (Sorry, we can only mail the book to U.S. addresses.)
Marvin writes in his book that Filipinos eat champorado for breakfast, and accompanied with dried salted fish. Being the modern Pinoy that he is, Marvin adds his own twist to with bacon. I, on the other hand, chose to eat it plain. Sorry, Marvin, couldn’t do it! Know that this recipe is so simple and so adaptable. If you prefer to eat rice pudding for an afternoon snack or dessert after dinner, then use decaf coffee. Or leave it out entirely (substitute with water) if you’d like to feed it to your kids. If you don’t have malagkit, use Japanese sweet rice (short grain glutinous rice) or any short grain rice like Japanese sushi rice. Even Arborio will do. You can also vary the type of chocolate. I used a bar of bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet chocolate chips.
3/4 cup (150 grams) malagkit
3 cups (750 ml) milk
1 cup (250 ml) strongly brewed coffee
1/3 cup (75 grams) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 (6 ounce) bar bittersweet chocolate, crushed, or 1/3 cup (250 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (optional)
Combine the rice, milk, coffee, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over high heat. While stirring frequently, bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender and the mixture thickens, 30 to 40 minutes. (Be the better cook and stir more often than I did!).
Remove the rice mixture from the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until they are melted and thoroughly incorporated into the rice. Stir in the coffee liqueur if using.
Spoon the pudding into individual bowls and serve warm. Or cover and chill till cold and serve with fresh berries.
Notes: If you’d like to garnish your rice pudding with bacon, cook a couple of slices till crisp, in a pan or in the oven (my preferred method—no splatter). Crumble and sprinkle over your champorado.
Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win one of three copies of “The Adobo Road Cookbook!”
Full disclosure: I tested recipes for Marvin and my lovely quote also appears on the cover of his cookbook. Plus, I received a free copy. However, I am writing this post because I think it’s a great cookbook and you should buy it!
Almond tofu or almond jelly is one of the most popular desserts to come out of the Chinese restaurant. It’s almost always served at the end of a Chinese banquet, usually with canned longans in syrup and/or fruit cocktail.
As a little girl in swishy pigtails, I liked almond tofu enough but I lived for the bright pink cherries bobbing like rubies alongside the squishy grapes, soggy pear chunks, and soft peach slices in the accompanying fruit cocktail. With only two or three cherries to a can, a catfight inevitably broke out among the kids.
Flash forward three decades. I am older, wiser, and most importantly, I have enough money to buy as many cans of fruit cocktail as I desire.
However it does seem silly to stock up on canned fruit when cherry season is in full swing here in the Northwest. I am surrounded by cherries. Everywhere I look I see dark purple, almost black, Bing cherries, cheery-yellow Rainier cherries blushing with rouge, bright red sour cherries beckoning like sirens from a neighbor’s yard.
In what can only be defined as an aha moment, I realized I could have all the fruit cocktail-esque cherries I wanted, no hair-pulling required.
The cherries were easy. Next, it was on to the almond tofu.
The descriptor “tofu” is somewhat of a misnomer as the dessert’s ingredients usually comprise agar agar (a vegan gelling agent made from seaweed), and evaporated milk (which is cheaper and more common than fresh milk in Asia). I suppose the resulting color and delicate texture is similar to silken tofu. You could use soymilk to make it true to its moniker, a great substitute too if you can’t have dairy.
Almond tofu mixes are readily available at Asian stores but I like to make mine from scratch. I went in search of the agar agar brand my mom always used, Swallow Globe. The bright yellow packets are usually unmistakable on the shelf but it was out of stock at my Asian market so I settled for Golden Coins brand manufactured in Santa Fe Springs, CA.
I removed the sachet from the box to discover the mix already includes sugar, which isn’t usually the case with other brands. Fortunately, the box had detailed instructions for making almond tofu so I didn’t have to guess.
I more or less followed the instructions, except I used only 1 cup of half-and-half instead of 3 cups of whole milk. I wanted to use these cute little molds my mom had bought in Singapore and I wanted to ensure they were firm enough to unmold cleanly. To use pure agar agar or gelatin, try this recipe, which will yield a more tofu-like consistency.
Right now, I’m lovin’ eating syrupy cherries to my heart’s content! And for me, almond tofu and cherries go together like black tea and milk in the British Isles.
If you have a cherry pitter, by all means use it. I try to keep my kitchen gadgets to a minimum so I simply thwack my cherries with a large chef’s knife. With crimson juice splattering everywhere, it’s messy but lots of fun and you can save the juice to add to the syrup. It’s also very therapeutic. I used red Bing cherries but go ahead and use any type of cherry just not sour cherries. I have my eye on Rainier cherries for next time!
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: 35 minutes active
Syrupy Smashed Cherries:
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3-inch curl of lemon zest
2-inch piece vanilla bean, seeds scraped
2 cups pitted cherries of your choice (about 1 pound)
1 (6 ounce) box of Golden Coins agar agar powder
1/2 cup sugar
6 cups water
1 cup half-and-half
2 teaspoons almond extract
2-quart shallow pan or mold(s)
Place the sugar, water, lemon curl, and vanilla pod and seeds in a medium saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and add the cherries (plus juice, if any). Let cool and pour into a 16-ounce jar. Cover and refrigerate at least overnight, or up to one week.
Make the almond tofu. Place the contents of the box together with the sugar and water in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the agar agar and sugar completely dissolve. Remove from the heat and add the half-and-half and almond extract. Let cool a little.
Rinse the pan or molds with water to make it easier to unmold. I use hot water but I don’t think it matters, just don’t wipe it out. Pour the cooled mixture slowly into the pan or mold.
Refrigerate until the agar agar is set, about 2 hours. Serve with the smashed cherries.