love bears bento and contest winner

8 02 2010

tomorrow’s bento features kong bap (frozen several weeks ago for my bento stash and then thawed tonight), sesame tofu, cheese-and-vegetarian-ham bears, cheese-and-nori hearts, a tamagoyaki heart, broccoli, carrot sticks, tomatoes, pea pods, and a strawberry mochi with a strawberry heart (in a valentine’s food cup you can’t really see from this angle).  the background paper is from a sweet bento pal, and the cool see-through fork is from a recyclable kids’ set!

[as seen on carnet diaphane: the japanese tradition of bento]

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since the sesame tofu — leftover from dinner — is buried under the kong bap, i thought i’d include a picture of that as well…

here’s my quick and easy recipe:

super simple, not-too-sweet sesame tofu

  • 1 package extra firm tofu, cubed (i like 1/2″ cubes)
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • canola oil to coat a frying pan
  • 4 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. gochu garu (korean red pepper flakes)
  • 2 scallion stems, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. sesame seeds
  1. in a seal-able container, mix the cornstarch, garlic powder, ginger and cayenne.  once those ingredients are evenly combined, add the tofu and press the lid onto the container to seal it tightly.  shake the container vigorously until the cubes are evenly coated with the spice-and-cornstarch mixture.
  2. add the canola oil to your frying pan and heat it up.  you don’t need to deep fry this tofu, but once the oil is hot add the coated cubes in one even layer.  (if your frying pan is too small to fit all the tofu, fry in batches.)  when the bottom side of the cube layer has browned, use a spatula to turn multiple cubes at a time.  fry for about 1 minute on each side until the cubes are crispy and evenly browned.  move the cubes onto paper towels so that some of the surface oil can be absorbed.
  3. in the frying pan you used for the tofu cubes (no need to clean), add the soy sauce, honey, fresh garlic, sesame oil and pepper flakes.  once the honey warms up it will thin out, and then you will be able to stir these ingredients together.  once they’re mixed, add the tofu cubes back in and jiggle them around to coat with the glaze.
  4. once the cubes are glazed, add the sesame seeds (the cubes will now be sticky enough to hold them).  the sesame tofu is now ready to serve — garnish with chopped scallions, and serve with rice and veggies of your choosing!

— ♥ —

thanks to everyone who participated in the vacation contest!  you all shared such beautiful bentos and wonderful recipes and bento ideas in the comments, i have really enjoyed reading them (and will definitely be referring back to this list when i need inspiration)!  we had 74 entries (not counting incorrect destination guesses), and the winner proved that playing the odds can really pay off.  she had the most correct entries of all the participants, and so i wasn’t that surprised when the random integer generator picked one of her numbers!  (i had already used the list randomizer to assign numbers to all the correct entries; a portion of the list is visible below.)

congratulations to angelene t.!!  please get in touch with your address information so that i can ship out your prize package.  and to all the other participants, sorry you didn’t win this time, but i hope you enjoyed the links everyone shared… and stay tuned, there will be more bento zen contests in the future!

happy 101 award and new rice cooker

14 01 2010

lia (from one of my favorite bento blogs, my bentolicious) and lexi (from diary of a delinquent housewife), both passed along this award to me — thanks ladies!

the rules for this award are as follows:  copy the award image into a post; list 10 things that make you happy; tag 10 bloggers who brighten your day; link to their blogs; and notify the award recipients (who should link back to the sender’s blog).  ok, 10 things that make me happy shouldn’t be too hard, right?  here goes (not in order of importance):

  1. my boyfriend and my dog.  whenever i am upset about work or whatever, they both always have a way to make me smile.  (ok, sometimes more the dog than the boyfriend, but dogs are just like that — they are always game to give you affection, and never have their own problems going on that would prevent them from focusing on you!)
  2. new bento supplies!!!  i’ve received/am about to receive a few great new things from bento pals, and i am very excited to debut them here soon — keep your eyes out for some cool new decorative accents in my bento lunches!
  3. horror movies.  i know that it’s weird to be happy about people getting killed and stuff, but come on, it’s fictional.  and they’re such a guilty pleasure, and i love that my boyfriend puts up with watching them all the time, even though he hates them.  thanks honey!
  4. time with my dad.  i’ve always been a daddy’s girl, and always will be.
  5. um, FOOD!  obviously!  i eat when i’m happy and it makes me happier, i eat when i’m stressed and it calms me down, i eat when i’m bored and it entertains me.  i love exploring new dishes and types of cuisine, new restaurants, new cooking techniques — everything about food (ok, except maybe the “cleaning up” part…).
  6. new shoes!  need i say more?
  7. music.  in college (and even after, in law school) i used to be really into staying “up” on a lot of different new music scenes and going to shows all the time.  now that i work a real job, i rarely have the energy for shows, and tend to spend my free time doing other things besides researching new bands and what’s “hip.”  but my favorite music is still my favorite music, and there is a certain special happiness that comes from listening to something you love but haven’t heard in a while, or making a great mix for a road trip, etc.
  8. fall.  it’s my favorite season, and every year, as september starts to dwindle and we approach the crisp and crackle of chilly october evenings, i get super excited.  halloween is my favorite holiday, and it’s sort of the highlight of a season full of other things that make me happy, like apple picking and taking out my scarves and sweaters.
  9. my friends.  i’m so lucky to have a great hodge-podge of old friends (still have the same best friend i made when i was 14), new friends who share my professional interests, medium-old friends (from college and law school), straight and gay friends, friends of different sizes/colors/religions, friends from and/or living in different parts of the world.  i don’t know what i’d do without this network of support, commiseration, fun, etc.  knowing i have access to all these different people (and their ideas and perspectives) makes me truly happy.
  10. being organized.  i’m kind of anal, and i get extremely satisfied (which is a kind of happiness, no?) when i have labelled things or come up with a new system for storing stuff, etc.  one year for chanukah my boyfriend got me a p-touch labeler; i know it’s kinda weird, but it was one of the best presents i ever got!

ok, so now you know how big of a dork/corn-ball i really am.  oh well!  here are the ten bloggers to whom i am passing along this award.  hey blogger friends, if i didn’t pick you, it’s not because i don’t love ya!  some of you had just already been selected by previous happy 101 recipients.

1. karina at bunches and bits; 2. hippomum at chara-ben workout; 3. mook at french bento; 4. lian mama at lian mama obento; 5. shoppingmum at mothering corner; 6. babykins! at soul soup soap; 7. texasmomof4; 8. dicentragirl at touch of nectar; 9. javapot at mycuppatales; 10. tammy (aka kashmirkat) at an american in bento.

— ♥ —

i wasn’t going to update the blog today, since i didn’t bring a lunch to work (i had a lunch meeting with a client).  but since i got the cool award from lia and am posting anyway, i thought i’d take the opportunity to discuss my new rice cooker.  i also noticed last night that, since i did my post on kong bap, a bunch of people have clicked through to the amazon link i provided to my new toy.

yup, that’s my baby.  ok, so cuckoos are not that sleek or modern (unlike this zojirushi i looked at) — in fact, some of them have really corny designs, like pearlized red with old-lady-ish flowers.  BUT, after my boyfriend and i did a TON of research on this, we determined that this cuckoo model would be the most versatile.  it has a “multi cook” setting for foods other than rice (so that i can do stews, chili, kalbi jjim, etc.), and it is a pressure cooker, so it’s able to cook brown rice (and beans, or brown rice and beans together, which is kong bap) much more quickly than a regular rice cooker.  we tried the pressure setting with white rice as well, and it came out surprisingly tender (but not mushy), with the right amount of moistness and stickiness.  most of the zojirushi models are NOT pressure cookers, and the one that is costs waaaay more than my cuckoo.

plus, when it’s getting ready to vent steam, it makes noises that remind me of a choo-choo train, and it even goes “toot toot” (or maybe it’s “coo koo” or “choo choo”)!  not kidding!  the rest of the time it talks to me in korean, and it sings a little song when my rice is completely done.   if you want a giggle, check out this cuckoo commercial, in which the woman literally cuddles with her cooker at the end, or this one, which is apparently aimed at the “stylish” rice cooking set.

what will they come up with next?  a rice-cooking robot who actually stands in your kitchen and rinses the rice for you before cooking it perfectly?

kong bap bento

10 01 2010

this is my second entry into hapa bento’s b.o.m.b. contest, so i’ll discuss my theme-requisite roasted veggies first.  i roasted sweet potato slices and brussels sprouts in the toaster (great for saving energy on a small batch), with olive oil, salt, pepper, and gochugaru (korean red pepper flakes) – yum!  the roasted veggies are propped up on some lemon-pepper tofu.  in the top left we have nashi and peach fans with a few strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.  in the top right is a small green salad (just a few slices of cucumber and carrot, with two takuwan flowers and three grape tomatoes).  in the center hole i have a bottle of citrus-yuzu dressing for the salad.

what, you may be thinking, is that weird brown-ish rice-and-beans mixture in the bottom left compartment?  drumroll, please… it’s kong bap (공밮), and my boyfriend’s mom is pretty confident that it’s the key to a long and healthy life!

i finally took the plunge and invested in a new cuckoo rice cooker… it’s a korean brand that uses “fuzzy logic” technology (like the zojirushis, which i also looked at but passed up because the cuckoo seemed more versatile, allowing me to cook soups and stews as well as all kinds of rice… more on my plans for jigae and kalbi-jjim in the future!).

although kong bap is historically associated with prison food, it’s still a staple in many korean homes, and it’s SUPER healthy.  there are many variants on this extremely basic recipe, but the all-korean “cooking guide” that came with my rice maker (causing me to spend more than an hour on google translate to figure out just three recipes, grrr) is as follows:

  • 2 cups white rice
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1/3 cup dried red beans
  • 3.5 cups water

i substituted black beans and mung beans for the red beans, and used closer to a 1/2 cup than a 1/3 cup of beans in total, and it still came out fine.  i used the “turbo” (pressure) setting on my cooker, and it took about 40 minutes, which is a dramatic time saver compared to soaking the beans overnight.

if you don’t have a fancy-schmancy rice cooker, don’t worry!  you can make brown rice on the stovetop, using between 2 and 2.5 cups of water for every 1 cup of uncooked brown rice (i like to add a tbsp. of olive oil as well), and simmering in a 2-quart or larger saucepan for 45-50 minutes until tender.  fluff with a fork once all the liquid has been absorbed.  you will want to make the beans in a separate pot (if you are using dried beans, cooking them is a much longer process that you should start the day before; however, you could also used canned beans), and mix with the rice when both components are fully cooked.

i love the nutty flavor and wettish, sticky texture of kong bap… plus, when i feel like i’m eating something good for my body, that often makes it taste better.  at least that’s what i’ve convinced myself!