Sunday, November 30, 2008

Making Your Own Temaki (Handrolls)

california roll ingred

A great way to enjoy sushi at home without all the fuss of rolling and slicing, is to make temaki sushi (handrolls). Temaki sushi is simply sushi rice with various toppings on a rectangular piece of nori seaweed, which is then rolled up into a cone-shape (imagine an ice-cream cone, where everything is inside the cone instead of on top, although I shudder a little at making that comparison). 

Your temaki sushi may be as beautiful or as ugly as you wish - mine turned out so ugly I couldn't bear to photograph them, but their looks didn't detract from the taste. Anyway, the whole point of making these handrolls is to enjoy the sushi, without worrying about how it looks. As presentation in sushi is usually very important, making ugly handrolls for private home consumption is actually quite liberating...

This is also a great dinner party suggestion, where guests can roll up their own temaki handrolls - it's interactive, and great if you have fussy eaters or a mix of vegetarians and carnivores at the table... Also, you can prepare all cooked meats/seafood, so those wary of raw Japanese food can also enjoy this dish... 
Continue reading...

What you need to make your Temaki Sushi (handrolls):
  • A pot of sushi rice (Maki at Just Hungry has detailed instructions on how to make sushi rice. If you are lazy like me though, I just cook some white, short-grained Japanese rice using a rice cooker, then mix in a little sushi vinegar and stir through whilst rapidly fanning it);
  • Rectangular sized pieces of nori seaweed (you can buy them in long rectangles - look for pictures of temaki sushi on the packet - or you can buy large squares of nori and cut it into half);
  • Sauces - Japanese mayonnaise (eg. Kewpie), soya sauce, wasabi;
  • A platter of fillings for the handrolls. There are a huge variety of fillings that you can add, and feel free to be as traditional or as non-traditional as you wish. Just slice everything up into strips. Here's what I had on my platter -
Imitation Crab sticks
Tonkatsu Pork (I cut the pork into strips first, then battered and fried it)
Fried Egg (cut into strips)
Tobiko (flying fish roe)
Teriyaki Chicken
The various combinations of handrolls I made were:
California - avocado, cucumber, crab sticks, egg, tobiko and japanese mayonnaise;
Teriyaki Chicken - teriyaki chicken, cucumber, egg, avocado and mayo;
Tonkatsu - tonkatsu pork, cucumber, avocado, mayo.
Other suggestions for handroll fillings:
Raw salmon or tuna (buy sashimi quality fish, and slice them up into long strips)
Canned tuna (with mayonnaise)
Canned salmon
Crab meat
Prawns (boiled or battered)
Butter lettuce
  1. Scoop and flatten some sushi rice onto one end of a rectangular piece of nori seaweed. 
  2. Lay the fillings on top of the rice.
  3. Roll up the nori seaweed with the rice and fillings inside to form a cone-shape.
  4. Dip the handroll into a little soya sauce mixed with wasabi (optional) and eat!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Lamb Wrap Bento

lamb wrap bento
Although bento is a great way of using up any leftover food you may have, sometimes I will purposely cook a little extra when preparing dinner and set it aside for lunch the next day. It saves time, and is energy efficient, too. Last night, I made grilled lamb with speedy roast potatoes and broccoli. I set aside some lamb, potato and broccoli, and made today's bento with it. If you have a compulsion to finish up everything in front of you (as I do), remember to set aside some food before serving it for dinner. All too often I prepare more, thinking I will keep the leftovers, but I make the mistake of serving everything at the table and finishing it all up!

Anyway, back to today's bento... I sliced up the leftover lamb and made some wraps filled with lamb, tahini, spicy tomato sauce and rocket leaves (rolled up in a flour tortilla). Accompanying the lamb wraps are some red and yellow peppers/capsicum I roasted, as well as the leftover potatoes, broccoli, and some blackberries. In another small container (not pictured) I also packed some raw carrot sticks and a container of hummus).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ciabatta Bento

ciabatta bento
It's back to a simple bento today, with a ciabatta bread sandwich of turkey slices, avocado and cheese, with some carrot sticks and hummus (to eat with the carrots sticks), and some sliced kiwifruit.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Birthday Maki Bento

birthday maki bento
It's my birthday today! and I spent the morning in the kitchen, making bento... not sure if this was my idea of an ideal birthday activity... but it was fun to eat the bento, outdoors, under the warm sun and cloudless bright blue sky. For some reason, the slightly cool weather disappeared for the day and it was very hot.

I wanted this bento to be a little special, yet not too tedious to make. I finally decided on making large maki rolls containing (real) crab meat, prawns, avocado, egg, cucumber and kewpie mayo. Surrounding the rolls are edamame and the 3rd tier in the bento contains apples, kiwifruit and blueberries.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Scallop & Sausage Aglio Olio

sausage scallop pasta
This is another of my favourite pastas. Usually I just make this pasta with sausage, but on special days I like to add some scallops to it. Continue reading for the recipe...

Scallop & Sausage Aglio Olio Spaghetti
(serves 2)
250g spaghetti
1 whole bulb garlic (or less if you are not a garlic fan)
light olive oil
2 polish sausages (use 3 -4 sausages if you making the sausage version without the scallops)
8 large scallops, sliced into half
wild rocket leaves (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cook the spaghetti in salted boiling water according to the packet instructions (less one minute).
  2. Peel and finely chop the garlic, slice the sausages thinly and slice the scallops into half.
  3. When the spaghetti is cooked, rinse with cold water to stop the spaghetti cooking, drain and set aside.
  4. In a saucepan (I use the same one I boiled the spaghetti in), heat up the chopped garlic with some light olive oil over low heat.
  5. Fry the garlic until golden and fragrant (make sure it doesn't brown or burn). 
  6. Turn up the heat to medium and fry the scallops until they are just cooked, then remove them from the saucepan and set aside.
  7. Add the sausages and fry a little, then add the spaghetti into the saucepan. (You may need to loosen the spaghetti a little first with some water as it may have clumped together.) 
  8. Mix well, then add the scallops back to the saucepan and stir gently. 
  9. Season with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. 
  10. Top with some wild rocket leaves (optional).
Tip: Add some chilli flakes or chilli oil to the pasta for a spicy version.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

California Soba Salad Bento

soba bento
Today's my Chinese birthday! My mum always insists we eat some noodles on our birthday (esp the Chinese birthday, as noodles represent long life). I've been eating noodles constantly for the last few days, but I sort of felt obliged to eat more, today's very yellow-green bento contains a soba salad which I call California Soba Salad because it has avocado, cucumber and crab sticks mixed with the soba (ingredients often put into California rolls). I must confess I have a weakness for California rolls even though they are not very authentic (Japanese-wise) and crabsticks (even though they are a poor substitute for real crab).

The second tier contains edamame, blueberries and chopped kiwifruit. The little rabbit container has extra tsuyu (soba dipping sauce) for the soba, and there's some shredded nori (seaweed) in a little packet under the lid to shake over the noodles just before eating. Continue reading for the California Soba Salad recipe...

This soba salad is really easy to make, it's basically - just chop everything and mix it together...I won't include actual quantities, because you can really make as much of or as little of it as you wish, according to how many people you are preparing it for.

California Soba Salad
soba or cha soba (green tea soba) - dried soba from a packet is fine.
cucumber, chopped into small cubes
avocado, thinly sliced
crab sticks, sliced
soba dipping sauce (I use Yamasa brand)
light olive oil/sesame oil
shredded nori seaweed (optional)
  1. Boil water in a saucepan. When the water is boiling, add the soba noodles and stir.
  2. When the noodles are cooked (they should be cooked through but still firm), drain and wash well under cold water until the liquid runs clear (ie. to remove the starch). Add a few drops of light olive oil/sesame oil into the noodles and mix well. Set aside.
  3. Chop and slice the cucumber, avocado and crab sticks, then add them to the soba.
  4. Add some tsuyu and gently mix together.
  5. Sprinkle some nori seaweed on top just before eating (optional).
Note: the oil will keep the soba noodles from clumping and sticking together.

Tip: If packing the soba into a bento box, pack some additional soba sauce in a little container. Pour the soba sauce over the soba just before eating to help loosen up the noodles further.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tung Hoon (Glass Noodle) Bento

tunghoon bento
My bento lunch for today was fried tung hoon (glass noodles), ie. leftovers from last night's dinner. It's packed in a microwavable container for re-heating. I squeezed some lime juice over the sambal belachan chilli and added some water over the noodles before microwaving the bento, so the noodles didn't dry out. Accompanying the noodles are some papaya cubes with a little lime juice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fried Tung Hoon (Glass Noodles)

I was at a loss as to what to cook for dinner tonight, especially when I took out the mushrooms I'd just purchased and found they had gone mouldy! However, I still ended up proceeding with my initial plan of frying some tung hoon (glass noodles) with the few ingredients I had lying around. It would have been better with a few more ingredients, for example, mushrooms or beansprouts, but it was still tasty, especially if you are a glass noodle fan (as I am)...

Continue reading...

Fried Tung Hoon (Glass Noodles)
200g glass noodles
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100g baby spinach 
Other vegetables, eg. mushrooms, beansprouts etc. (optional)
135g/0.3 lb beef, thinly sliced (or chicken/pork, if you prefer)
1 -2 eggs
dash soya sauce
dash sesame oil
dash chicken stock powder (optional)
1 heaped tsp sambal chilli (optional)
light olive oil (or other oil for frying)
  1. Put the dry glass noodles into some boiled water. Stir, and leave for 3-5 minutes until softened. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized wok, over medium heat, fry the garlic in a little oil, and add some sambal chilli if you like your noodles spicy.
  3. Add the meat and fry until cooked.
  4. Pour in the vegetables you wish to add (eg. mushrooms and beansprouts, but not the spinach) and fry a little.
  5. Add the glass noodles, and splash in some soya sauce and sesame oil. Stir well to combine the noodles with the other ingredients.
  6. Add the baby spinach and mix until the leaves have withered.
  7. Break 1 - 2 eggs inside the wok, and fry everything together.
  8. Taste test, and add a little more soya sauce if necessary. You can also add a shake of chicken stock powder for added taste (optional).

You get quite a large amount of noodles with this recipe. Enough to feed at least 3 people, or 2 very hungry people, or one person over a few days...


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Char Siew & Kon Loh Meen Bento

charsiew bento
Today's bento is a Malaysian-style bento, containing Char Siew (Chinese barbecued pork) and Kon Loh Meen (soya sauce noodles), with haricot beans stir-fried in sambal belachan chilli. I've packed this bento in a microwavable container, as this dish tastes better warm.

Kon Loh Meen (lit. dry, mixed noodles) is a popular noodle dish in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. There are many variations, usually with some combination of garlic, oil, and soya sauce mixed together with cooked noodles. This is my mother's version, that she makes to accompany her homemade Char Siew (Chinese barbecued pork). Kon Loh Meen is usually made with thin egg noodles, but when I was young, we didn't have access to a large variety of Chinese noodles, hence my mother used instant noodles instead. Now, although I can easily buy thin egg noodles, I still like using instant noodles to make this dish - old habits die hard!

Continue reading...

Kon Loh Meen (Dry Soya Sauce noodles)
(serves 1)
1 packet instant noodles or thin egg noodles
3/4 Tbsp light soya sauce
3/4 Tbsp thick dark soya sauce
1 Tbsp garlic oil
dash of oyster sauce
dash of pepper
  1. Mix the soya sauces, garlic oil, oyster and pepper on a medium-sized plate.
  2. Boil some water in a saucepan, and add the noodles to the boiling water. Stir to loosen the noodles.
  3. When the noodles are cooked, drain, then immediately pour them onto the plate with the sauce. 
  4. Stir well to combine the noodles with the sauce. (You have to mix them immediately when the noodles are warm, or the sauce won't coat the noodles evenly.)
  5. Taste, and add more seasoning (soya sauce/oyster sauce/garlic oil) if required.
To make garlic oil:
Over low heat, fry some finely chopped garlic in light olive oil until the garlic is fragrant and golden (but not brown or burnt).

(It's handy to make extra garlic oil and keep it on hand to use for noodles or pasta)

Note: The thick, dark soya sauce is known as kicap pekat in Malaysia. It is a dark soya sauce, slightly thicker than the normal Chinese dark soya sauce, and a little sweet.

Serve these noodles with Char Siew (Chinese Barbecued Pork).


Homemade Char Siew (Chinese Barbecued Pork)

char siew

Char Siew (lit. fork roast) or Chinese barbecued pork, is a popular method of cooking pork in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Traditionally, long strips of marinated boneless pork are skewered with long forks (hence the name) and cooked in an oven or over a fire. This recipe is my mum's homemade version, and is based on the dark char siew common in Malaysia (as opposed to the red char siew version). It's very easy to make, and the taste is pretty authentic, especially taking into account how simple it is to prepare. 

Continue reading...

Homemade Char Siew (Chinese Barbecued Pork)
1/2 - 1 lb shoulder pork
1 Tbsp light soya sauce
1 Tbsp thick dark soya sauce
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp honey or golden syrup
dash of pepper
  1. Trim any larger amounts of fat from the pork. Slice the pork into 1.5 - 2 inch strips.
  2. Mix the soya sauces, oyster sauce, honey and pepper together to form the marinade. (There is enough marinade for up to around 1 lb pork)
  3. Marinate the pork for 1 -2 hours.
  4. Heat up a non-stick pan/pot, and cook the strips of pork until cooked, basting frequently with the marinade. You can also grill the pork (basting frequently). 
  5. Slice and serve with rice or noodles.
Update: The thick dark soya sauce I use is Kicap Pekat, a Malaysian soya sauce that is thick and slightly sweet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lazy Tuna Mentaiko Spaghetti

lazy mentaiko
I usually use fresh mentaiko when making mentaiko spaghetti, but on days I'm feeling extremely lazy, I do resort to using a packet of pre-made mentaiko sauce. At first I was a little suspicious of mentaiko from a packet, but it isn't too bad, and the MSG it contains naturally makes it taste better. I find adding some canned tuna also adds to the flavour.
Continue reading...

Lazy Tuna Mentaiko Spaghetti
(serves 2)
200g spaghetti
1 packet mentaiko spaghetti sauce (I use S&B Spicy Cod Roe Spaghetti Sauce - there are 2 sauce sachets inside each packet, as well as shredded nori seaweed)
1 can tuna, drained (preferably in olive oil)
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions, less one minute.
  2. Add the drained tuna and mentaiko sauce to the spaghetti, and combine well over low heat. 
  3. Sprinkle with shredded nori and serve immediately.
Note: There are many different brands of pre-made mentaiko sauces/mixes; some are dried, others a thickened sauce. Naturally, choose a brand which you prefer. They should be available at your local Japanese grocer or in supermarkets that stock Japanese products.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bento Partee!

bento party
On the weekend, I attempted something quite ambitious - making 7 bento for some friends at a small gathering. I had several things working against me - I was cooking in a strange kitchen (which I'm not used to), I was feeling under the weather (so I couldn't taste-test the food that well), I was cooking in much larger proportions than I'm used to (hence everything takes that much longer to prepare), and I only had 3.5 hours to prepare everything! Yes, all the excuses are rolling out!

Continue reading...

It was around 1:30pm, and everyone was getting hungry and angsty, and I was still hastily trying to pack the food in a semi-respectable manner. I guess my strategy to "make 'em so hungry they will eat anything" sort of worked..? It came to my mind very strongly that this is why building a bento stash (even if it's for the week ahead) is so important - there really isn't time to prepare everything from scratch, especially if you are packing 3 or more varieties of food.

The menu in the end (minus the cherry tomato flowers I had no time to prepare):

Flower-shaped onigiri filled with preserved baby anchovy
Spicy carrot kinpira
Stir-fried Haricot Beans
Onion & Sweet Peppers
Yam Somen noodles with salmon flakes
Skewers of Edamame and Glazed Fried Luncheon Meat flowers
Chicken Teriyaki Meatballs
Slices of Baby Corn
Blanched Snow Peas

Everyone got to take home their bento box, furoshiki and chopsticks, which was my small gift to them. To my delight, one friend has said she may start packing bento for her boyfriend using the boxes they received. Looking back, it was a little stressful, but fun. I think I was too ambitious with the menu and should have kept it simpler, but oh well! Something to keep in mind for the next time.. :)

wrapped bento


Batman Bento

batman bento
My godson J is currently into Batman, so when I went over to visit, I attempted to make a Batman Bento for him. Batman to me is rather dark and gloomy, but as J is only 4 years old, the bento is a light-hearted one, with little masked onigiri (rice balls), chicken teriyaki meatballs, and a batman emblem cut out of nori (seaweed) sitting on top of an oval tamagoyaki (fried egg omelette). Edamame, slices of baby corn and glazed fried luncheon meat stars complete the bento. 

Continue reading for the Glazed Fried Luncheon Meat recipe...

Glazed Fried Luncheon Meat
Luncheon meat is not the healthiest, but it is extremely tasty and I do indulge once in a while. Try to buy a good quality luncheon meat. For this recipe, I used Spam Lite, but other brands would work just as well. The ingredients used for the marinade and glaze are similar to those for a teriyaki sauce, except for the soya sauce, as the luncheon meat is already very salty.
Luncheon meat
Mirin (Japanese rice wine)
  1. Slice and cut the luncheon meat into decorative shapes, or cubes.
  2. Mix together equal amounts of mirin, sake and sugar in a bowl and add the cut luncheon meat. Stir gently to coat the luncheon meat. Add more marinade if necessary. (For half a small tin of luncheon meat, I added 1 Tbsp each of mirin, sake and sugar)
  3. Heat up a non-stick frying pan over medium low heat. Add a very small amount of oil if desired, although I prefer not to add any oil, as the fat in the luncheon meat will exude when it is fried.
  4. Fry the luncheon meat on both sides until browned.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Beef & Tofu Meatballs

Meatballs are a great bento staple. They freeze well, defrost quickly, can be combined with a variety of different sauces, and are tasty eaten at room temperature. I like combining tofu with beef, as it is slightly healthier and the tofu keeps the meatballs juicy, even after being defrosted and refried. And for those who don't quite like tofu, once it is mixed with the beef, you can't taste the tofu. 
Continue reading for the Beef & Tofu Meatball recipe...

Beef & Tofu Meatballs
(makes around 33 small meatballs)
380g silken tofu (or less if you don't wish to add so much tofu)
250g minced beef (as lean as possible)
8 Tbsp breadcrumbs
1 small onion
2 Tbsp soya sauce
oil for cooking (I use light olive oil)
  1. Chop the onions finely, and fry them in a little oil until soft.
  2. Drain the tofu and mash it in a bowl.
  3. Add the minced beef, cooked onions, breadcrumbs and soya sauce and combine well. Add more breadcrumbs if necessary if the mixture is too soft.
  4. Heat up a little oil in a frying pan or small saucepan on medium heat.
  5. Drop little balls of meatball mixture into the oil and pan-fry on both sides until browned. Optional: If you are using the meatballs straight away, glaze them with some sauce (see below). 
  6. Cool, pack into your bento, or freeze them (unglazed) in small portions in sealable, freezer-safe bags.
To defrost the meatballs, place the frozen meatballs in a small frying pan over low heat and cover with a lid. When the meatballs are soft, turn the heat up, and add some sauce to glaze the meatballs. Pan-fry until the sauce thickens and the meatballs are well coated. Cool, then pack into your bento. Suggested sauces are tomato sauce, tonkatsu sauce, or teriyaki sauce. I like to use a combination of tomato sauce and tonkatsu sauce (Bulldog brand) mixed together.

Tip: I use a small ice-cream scoop to form the meatballs, which I find is a quick and easy way to make the meatballs all a similar size.

Freeze the meatballs in small batches according to how many you would usually use.

Here's my homemade teriyaki sauce I use to glaze these meatballs. The quantity can glaze around 12 of my mini meatballs.

Teriyaki sauce
4 Tbsp soya sauce
3 Tbsp sake
3 Tbsp mirin
2 Tbsp sugar

Mix all the ingredients together in a small frying pan, and heat over medium heat until bubbling. Keep the sauce bubbling (adjusting the heat lower if necessary) until the liquid reduces and thickens. Add the meatballs and coat with the sauce. (If you are defrosting the meatballs, make sure you fry them until the meatballs are fully heated through.)