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Monday, June 3, 2013

Reunion Bento

An unusual thing happened on the way to this blog post, about a month ago, I received an email from a old friend, it had been almost 30 years since we had last spoken, and he was seeking to organize a reunion of our Landscape Architecture class, folks that I spent 3 of the most enjoyable, and torturous years of my life with. I looked forward to this event like few other. I wanted to cook something special, something that reflects me, as a person and a cook, and that is the particular fusion of Japanese and American food I have grown to appreciate more and more. I made enough that I felt I could generously share, as that was what I hoped this event would be about.

Bento, as I grew up knowing it, existed as a picnic food, not the formalized boxes we see in restaurants, but, the neat little boxes of food, in my youth, these were wonderful lacquered wood that would stack and tie. I used the modern, and sadly lacking, plastic box version. The ones for clumsy children, like me! On to the photos...

Chuka Wakame and Kuromame

I bought these, sweet black soy beans, and a sesame seaweed salad. To be honest, I could have made them, but, the store bought is quite good and I had limited time to prepare the foods. This was a great cheat. All of the food here was prepared and cooked in a split 5 hour period.

Simplified Oden

I ended up making a simple and quick dashi, as I know of no other way to prepare Japanese food, this was one of the dishes that needed it, a simple oden, of seared kamaboko, braised carrots and shiitake mushrooms, with a broth of the dashi seasoned with sweet potato.

Tsukemono, Moyashi and Kuri

A basic salt and sugar pickle, the standard for my family, Moyashi, the bean sprouts, accented with a little toasted sesame oil and rayu. The Kuri, cucumbers, with just the vinegar. These are needed, as they provide a great counterpoint to the rice and richer dishes. Sweet and sour is one of the basic flavor profiles of all Asian foods.

Char-siu, Takuan, Onigiri
I made a basic char-siu, which is a recipe I have covered previously in my blogs, this was cooked in the oven, due to time restraints. It was still terrific, and since it was to be served cold, the lack of smoke was not a bad thing, as smoke would have affected the other elements in the box. The takuan was a purchased item, although I plan on making some, this was not the time. The onigiri, which forms the basis of the next three boxes was a very high quality rice, with I dressed with a 'su' and added some nori furikake, a seasoning for rice, in this case, nori, sesame seeds and katsuoboshi (dried bonito ground to fine flakes), and sea salt. I also topped the pork with the same.

Thai-influenced Chicken Wings, Onigiri
Okay, a touch of fusion here, these are not Teriyaki wings, they were marinated in a mixture of fresh ginger, fish sauce (as usual, Red Boat), lime, green onions, whiskey, shoyu, chile pepper and rice syrup. The object was to add just a little top note from the pepper, still trying to stay with a Japanese palate, so not the typical heat one might expect.

Onigiri, Gomae, Tamagoyaki
Here, you can see the seasoned rice balls (onigiri, onee-gee-dee, please, not on-ee-gear-ee), along with the spinach gomae, a blanched spinach seasoned with toasted sesame oil, and the tamagoyaki, my nemesis, a rolled egg omelet, in this case seasoned with a little sweet sake, sake, shoyu, and dashi. It is my nemesis, as the rolling often doesn't work for me. My family does not do the thick layers so common now, our standard would be layers that are more like thick paper.

Strawberries macerated in whiskey, balsamic, rice syrup
Something fresh and sweet is always a nice way to finish. I happen to like strawberries just plain, but, wanted to dress these up a bit. These were organic, as was all of the produce I used, and these were coastal grown from older, non-hybrid plants, so the berries are smaller, more uniformly ripe and with a sweet and tart flavor that stood up to the flavors nicely.

I ended up bringing a little bit home, but, the food held up beautifully as it sat on the picnic table. One of the great things about these types of Japanese foods is that they adapt well to being served cold, tepid or hot. As for the reunion itself, it was as if 30 years melted into a day apart, when we saw each other, time disappeared and we were the same people, except for the fact that we were a little grayer and a lot less worried about turning in our projects.

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