Thursday, February 26, 2009

SOS (Save Our Salad)

Salad greens are a handy item to have in your bento stash. Not only do they make a salad, but you can use them to make tasty roll-ups, shred to combine with soup or noodles, or just fill dead spots in the bento. Problem is that most bag salad is not only pre-chopped, but it's expensive and covered in chemical compounds to keep it fresh. But here is a way to keep your greens fresh and tasty for weeks at a time. Buy using this technique, I can make sure I always have fresh, clean greens at hand.

Wash The Greens
Fill a sink or large pot with cold water. Separate the head into individual leaves, discarding any that are bruised or wilted.

Submerge the greens and swish them gently through the water. Gently lift them out place in a colander. Goggle at the amount of sediment left in the bottom. Eew! Drain the water (and sediment), fill up the container and repeat until the water is clear (about 2-3 times total).

After the greens have been washed, place them in the salad spinner to dry them. Alternatively, for those who don't have a salad spinner, place them in a clean, dry pillowcase. Take the pillowcase and spin it around over your head (I recommend doing this outside). It works beautifully, plus there is no need for yet another one-purpose kitchen gadget.

Pack The Greens
Take a paper towel and place a single layer of leaves on it, making sure none of the leaves touch each other. Place another paper towel, then another layer of leaves. Continue until you have placed all the leaves, ending with a paper towel layer.

Slide the stack of paper and leaves into the plastic bag and seal it part way. Gently compress so that most of the air is gone and seal the bag.

That's it! Put the bag in the refrigerator and remove the leaves as you need them. The method works wonders for keeping the greens fresh by 1) keeping them dry on the surface and 2) reducing respiration, so the leaves retain their moisture. It also works great for tender herbs, such as parsley, sage, or even green onions. Plus the plastic bags are really easy to store and remove from the vegetable bag.

I also have this as an eHow article. If you liked this, or have comments to share, please visit the article and rate it!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

One of the things I am always looking for in BentoLand are tasty items that can be served room temperature. One delicious option comes from Italy, in the form of polenta. Cooked to firmness, fried or grilled, and then either topped or eaten plain, it is a filling and tasty alternative to rice or a sandwich.

Aside from it's obvious charms, another thing that converted me to polenta was learning an easy, hands-off method of cooking. It's as simple as can be, plus it can be prepared the night before, cooled, and cut into shapes, grilled, or what-have-you at your leisure.

When I found this method, it really took a leap of faith. But since I was turned off by the idea of standing over a pot of splattering cornmeal (almost as much as I was turned off by those tubes of pre-made polenta in the grocery stores), I decided to give this method a try.

And am I glad I did!

This no-stir method produces fabulous results - creamy and voluptuous, plus the hands-off method leaves you free to make the stew, greens, or whatever else you are having with it.

Types of Polenta
Very soft polenta: 6 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. The consistency of grits, best served in a bowl with the toppings of your choice.

Soft polenta: 5 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. The consistency of mashed potatoes, works in a bowl, or as a bed for stews.

Firm polents: 4 parts liquid to 1 part cornmeal. When warm, it's like a thick pudding and can be used as a bed for stews, or cooled and sliced into wedges to fry or broil and serve with toppings.

Very firm polenta: 3 to 3 1/2 parts cornmeal. This is the type of firmness like you see in pre-made polenta, made primarily to cool and slice.

Basic Polenta Recipe
1 cup medium-coarse or coarse cornmeal
3 to 6 cups water (or half water, half milk)
1 Tbs. butter or olive oil
1 tsp salt more to taste

Heat oven to 350. Grease a 3 quart ovenproof skillet, preferably non-stick. Pour in the cornmeal, water, milk (if using) butter, and salt, and stir until there are no more dry clumps. The mixture will separate. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. Stir the polenta, taste, add salt if needed, and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest in the pan for 10 minutes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm back, baby!

Err, my dog ate my blog?

First, I must apologize for the long hiatus. Basically, everyday life decided to throw a tantrum and proclaim "It's all about me, Me ME!!!!". Then there were server and isp provider issues, so finally I took the advice of my Darling Genius Husband, and used a standard blog provider. So here I am.

And it's almost Valentine's Day! So her are a few pics of fabulous heart and flower bentos.

This is one from one of my favorite artists. I love the little apple bunny - it's really easy to make. The rice decorations are so curvy and organic. Scatter few hearts around and voila! You have Valentine's Day!