Archive for July, 2007

Summer salads! After a week of stressing and eating out way too often (very bad for my stomach!) I felt like a cold dinner for once. And I had this craving for salads…

The bentobox contains the leftovers:

  • Caprese: Mozarella, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil (I use “fruttato”, which means that it has a very strong flavor, for my salads), balsamico vinegar. Salt and pepper. Pure and lovely!
  • Corn and pineapple with red onions, mayo (I stretched it with light creme fraiche to avoid becoming too fatty), herbes de provence, salt and pepper. And a bit of juice from the canned pineapple to sweeten.
  • Tabbouleh: cooked couscous, chopped fresh mint and parsley (I have both frozen, so it’s a simple matter of shaking it out of a bag for me), crumbled feta, chopped cherry tomatoes. Add lime juice, some olive oil, salt and pepper and knead the whole thing so the flavour starts working! (And yes. It could be greener. Somehow I never have the courage to add enough parsley, as I’m not that fond of it.)
  • and something experimental with brown rice, grapes, cauliflower and curry, which I have to tweak a little still before I can offer a recipe.

    In the middle some pieces of baguette, and I’ll probably take another one which I’ll toast in the morning (I have frozen readybaked baguettes in my freezer, for such emergencies).

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Leftovers from the tapas (yes, still) as a quick breakfast/snackbox. Not much more to say…
Oh, right. There’s aioli and Ajvar in the little condiment cup (which I sneakily took from the local burger chain’s stash). Ss_biggie reminded me how much I loved Ajvar, so I grabbed a glass at the supermarket the other day. And since I like hot stuff (and can handle it), of course I took hot.
Big mistake. I so love the taste, but my mouth burns too much to eat a lot of it at once! *cries*

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Wah! Kao-chan, I hold you in a whole new respect as photography goddess after trying out taking photos with my BF’s digital SLR. So many options! And after all of this torture to my wrists from holding, aiming, and setting the (bloody heavy) thing I found out I had the wrong ISO setting and the pictures turned out grainy anyway. *cries*
Luckily ever-paranoid, I had taken some pictures with my regular camera too. But they don’t look nearly as good as the SLR ones as I’m already able to tell! Oh well, I guess I’ll be taking pictures in parallel for a while until I have it figured out.

On to the bento…

Main course: Spanish potato tortilla on a bed of salad. Black garlic olives.
Side dish: Cherry tomato salad with red onion and fresh basil; green garlic olive.
Dessert: Freshly-picked forest berries on yoghurt, all frozen to serve as ice pack (this goes back into the freezer until tomorrow).

I love summer! Not just because it’s warm and nice but it’s also the season of fruits, herbs and berrypicking. My grandmother used to go to the forest with me to pick berries and I plan to do the same with my children and grandchildren, if I ever have any. It’s so important to know where the food comes from when it’s not bought in the supermarket. How to live off the land and what delicacies there are hiding in our own forests and meadows is starting to become a sadly forgotten art, and even though I grew up mostly in a city myself it saddens me when I meet people my age who can barely tell a chestnut tree from a cherry tree and would never eat anything straight from the forest. (I say to hell with hygiene, forest berries taste the best when fresh from the branch.)
Today I went to the forest in search of mushrooms. I didn’t find any yet, although the weather was perfect – I guess there were too many mushroom pickers before me! – but I did find an abundance of wild raspberries, forest strawberries and blueberries. I’m especially happy about the forest strawberries (or smultron as they are called in Swedish) because they taste so much better than the giant strawberries you can buy in supermarkets. Talk about a taste explosion in every single, tiny berry you pick. I had a hard time picking any for later and not putting every berry in my mouth immediately!

It is no coincidence or photographic accessorizing though that amidst all the berries, there is also a flower. When I went out to the forest with my grandmother, we did not only pick berries and mushrooms!
The yellow flower giving such a pretty contrast to the red and blue berries is called St. John’s Wort or in German, Johanniskraut and can be used dried as a tea, or steeped in alcohol as an antibiotic tincture that speeds up wound healing. It is rumoured to be good against mild depressions even!
When I saw it growing wild and abundant in the forests close to here, I remembered how we used to collect it and decided to pick and dry some of my own. Herbal medicine, and knowledge of wild herbs is sadly a vanishing art here in Europe, and I am very interested in keeping the knowledge of living off the land alive, at least as little as I ever learned about it! I’m planning to write more articles on vanishing vegetable sorts and herbs on this blog as I stumble across them. Did you know, for example, that you can eat dandelion leaves as a salad in spring, if you pick them very young and before they grow flowers? (I plan to sneak that into a bento next spring, if I get the chance…)

I put the rest of the berries on top of yoghurt into muffin cups (I took two for each cup as I was worried one alone might be too soft) and froze them. I wonder if freezing yoghurt is such a good idea? But on the other hand, I do like frozen yoghurt, and I like the possibility of using it as an icepack as well, so I’ll keep you updated on whether the cups held up to the abuse when I manage to integrate them into another bento…

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Weekend cooking: Tapas!

I love Spanish tapas. While I can’t eat all of them, there’s always something lovely and savoury for me in it. And when I feel blue and don’t know what to eat/cook, tapas are the perfect food to nibble! Colourful, savoury and delicious. A little here, a little there, toss in a salad or a caprese or some cheese (I like parmesan/grana which is just parmesan by another name) and bread and you’re set!

Some of my staple ingredients for tapas:

Olives – whenever I manage to get to an ethnic foodstore, I buy a big pint of fresh olives to bring home. The supermarkets here only have either canned olives or very oily ones – I prefer them marinated in brine with herbs. Shown here are green and black olives marinated with garlic and lemon.

Garlic grilled prawns – I don’t need to put a recipe here, right?

Peperonata – fried bell peppers with balsamico vinegar
* Cut bell peppers into about 1cm wide strips. If you take three different-coloured bell peppers it will look even better – I only had yellow bell pepper at home, sadly. Peel a garlic clove and slice or quarter it.
* Heat a few spoons of olive oil in a deep pan. Fry the bell peppers with the garlic until they start to become soft, but still have a crunch.
* Take the pan off the heat, then pour in balsamico vinegar – enough to quench the heat. Cook a little, remove the garlic and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm or cold.

Tortilla Espagnola (Spanish Potato Omelette)
This is a very good way of using up leftover cooked potatoes, but delicious on its own as well! I don’t add anything to the omelette other than potatoes, eggs and salt/pepper, but you can vary the recipe by adding vegetables or spice it up with onions and garlic.
* Take some leftover cooked potatoes, or cook some new ones. Peel them if they’re not this year’s potatoes (mine are and I like the thin, edible bark, so they’re not peeled but just washed and scrubbed thoroughly.)
* Slice the potatoes into 0.5cm wide discs.
* In a bowl, scramble eggs (I used 4 for my pie, take more or less depending on the size of your pan and grade of hungriness) with salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you like.
* Take an ovenfast pan or pie form and spray it with olive oil. Put down a layer of potato slices on the bottom, not overlapping.
* Pour some of the egg mixture over the potatoes to cover them, spread it out with a spoon so the potatoes are covered by a thin layer of egg.
* Repeat until you run out of either potatoes, egg or pan.
* Put in the oven at 200 degrees and bake until the egg is no longer runny and nicely brown on top. Cut into wedges and serve warm or cold. Voilà! Or maybe, Olé!

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I haven’t forgotten my intentions of working up my cookbooks over the vacation! Just before I left, I bought lovely baby eggplants in order to prepare them after a recipe I found in my Thai cookbook. Today I made them!

Upper layer: Grilled Thai eggplant slices with dipsauce and mint on a bed of mixed rice.
Lower layer: More dipsauce (“that evil stuff”, as I call it), tamago, red bell pepper and a muffin cup with kiwi and melon cubes (I’m at the end of the melon soon! I promise!).

The eggplant is another food for the veggie grill: sliced, salted and dripped off, brushed with marinade, fanned up and grilled in the oven or on the barbecue grill. I think that the barbecue would give a lovely smoky taste to it! But then I’m a fan of Baba Ghanoush.
The dipping sauce is a variation on my favourite Asian dip: Roast chili and garlic slices in sesame oil, soy and sugar and lime juice instead of the rice vinegar I usually add. It complements the taste of the eggplant very well together with somce chopped mint leaves!

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Today’s box features, in the Totoro box I should really be using more often:

Green vegetable Strudel made from puff pastry dough I found in my freezer, red and yellow bell peppers; Kiwi tropical blossoms on melon slices surrounding a delicious W.A. Mozart!
Not shown: Sidecontainer with yoghurt-and-chives dip for the Strudel (which I promptly forgot to use this lunch), sidecontainer with a miso ball for a relaxing soup.

It always amazes me how few people know that you can put other things in a Strudel than apples and similar fruit! Despite its appearance, it’s really easy to make (much easier than say, fixing the two different sauces for a lasagna) and there are virtually endless possibilities for stuffings.
I must shamefully admit that despite being Austrian, I have always shied from making my own Strudel dough. But all cookbooks as well as all my family assure me that it’s really easy, cheap and a much better alternative than storebought frozen Filodough or puff pastry. I shall make it some day, I’m sure.
Here is a good recipe that has the technique of pulling out the dough over your hand (“so thin that you can read your newspaper through it”) outlined in a photo guide.

For the filling of this green Strudel, I looked at several recipes, hmphed at the choice of vegetables and decided to make my own with vegetables scoured from my fridge. Why is it that the vegetarian dish of choice in most German-speaking (==meatloving) cultures consists entirely of canned peas, carrots and green beans? There are so many nice vegetables that you could use instead – I figure they are just trying to torture us.
I ended up raiding my fridge, picking up some green asparagus, leek, zucchini, yellow bell pepper and spinach leaves and quickly panfried all of them with some chili oil. Then I mixed them with the yolk of an egg, some crumbled Feta, a few spoons of yoghurt (that should really have been sourcream, but I prefer yoghurt as a remainder of my fat-free days), salt, pepper, chopped mint and parsley and nutmeg. The whole mixture was spread onto a thinly rolled-out puff pastry sheet that I had laid on a towel to help rolling. Then it was just a matter of folding in the edges, rolling the Strudel into a roll, brushing it with eggwhite and popping it in the oven while I hurriedly posted my Daily Tiffin post for this month, because I came home late from work, as I do every time.

For other savoury fillings, why not try a filling of white beans with roast onion, parsley (and bacon if you’re not vegetarian) or spinach, feta and raisins?

Oh, and the bento features another Austrian celebrity: Mr. Mozart in his sweetest form, a handmade truffle filled with nougat and pistachio marzipan in dark chocolate. The machinemade ones just don’t compare!

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  • Big compartment: Wholewheat Farfalle pasta with grilled zucchetti (baby courgettes), yellow bell pepper and butter-melted tomatoes, Parmesan.
  • Small compartments: A very happy Babybel cheese in his natural habitat: toasted dark bread pieces!
    Recently, my parents visited and brought me dark bread from Austria – now my freezer is full of it! When I was little, I was amazed that friends living abroad would ask their parents to send them bread now and then, or bring it when they visited. Now I know why – there’s nothing better than fresh, dark bread from home! While I like Swedish food and even Swedish bread, I jumped on the opportunity to have “a taste of home” in my freezer.

  • The other compartment has spits of melon and organic kiwi.

I try to follow the rule of colours in every bento I make: Red, yellow, green, light (Pasta/Parmesan) and dark (bread). This is not something that I do because I feel bentos should be done according to strict rules – I was doing this long before I ever read that such a rule existed! I like contrasts and use them – you will find that even in bentos that strive to be monochrome, the creator uses contrasts artfully to make the bento visually appealing.
These techniques do not only ensure a pretty to look at bento, but also force me to balance the lunch with healthy fresh vegetables and fruit! Doesn’t fresh fruit have the best colours you can think of?
If I find that my bento is complete in ingredients but still needs another touch of colour, I use minicontainers or add a piece of fruit or candy as dessert to balance out the colors.

Sorted by colour, you can mix and match a lot of ingredients:

Red/Orange: Bell peppers, carrots, radishes, red apples, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, cranberries… take your pick!
Yellow: Bell peppers, yellow carrots, yellow squash sorts, pickled radish, egg yellow/tamagoyaki, apples and pears…
Green: Again, bell peppers (can you see a pattern?), all kinds of leaf vegetables, cucumbers and zucchini, leeks/chives/spring onions, green grapes, green apples and pears, gooseberries…
Light: This is traditionally the domain of starch: Rice, pasta, noodles, potatoes (if you don’t count them as yellow). But also egg white, white sesame seeds, parmesan or chopped leek as contrast on meaty or saucy dishes.
Dark: Traditionally you think of nori. But dark bread, any kind of meat that is prepared with a brown sauce like teriyaki, and a lot of fruit (purple grapes, blackberries, plums…) fall in that category… be creative!

There aren’t many foods that are naturally blue, and because of that, the human mind will often find blue-colored food unappetizing. There are however several types of fruit and vegetable called “blue” which you will find are really purple: blue potatoes, blueberries, “blue” cabbage…
I tend to class those shades into the “dark” category and avoid artificially-colored food, but there are other bento bloggers who specialize in blue-tinted food!

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