23 February 2009

Strategic planning

About two weeks ago (shortly after my last post) I came down with a fast-moving but thoroughly miserable flu -- the achey, feverish, can't do anything for more than 20 minutes without needing a nap kind -- and have been struggling to catch back up ever since.

Since I'm always running just as fast as I can to stay in one place, perhaps that's not really an excuse. Still, it feels like I've been marching double-quick just to maintain my current spot on the map.

Such knitting mojo as I've had has been directed at trying to finish my sister's Christmas present, now two months late.

Such cooking mojo as I've had has been directed toward better planning. Being sick pointed up some of the flaws in my kitchen operation, and most of it boiled down to needing to plan better. The goal is for there to be a stockpile of things-to-eat available so we're not reduced to canned soup or carry-out because I've got flu or slipped on a banana peel and can't stand up to cook.

Quite by accident I stumbled into the Temple of Bento and while I'm not quite willing to convert to the faith, I am intrigued and wish to read their newsletter. I kid, but only a little; there do seem to be people for whom the Japanese art of the boxed lunch is a religion.

At any rate, what impresses me most about the whole bento thang is that it's got style. As elsewhere in Japanese cooking, presentation is important to good bento. I also like that it's about so much more than sandwiches. I am not a great fan of the packed sandwich; it's too easily squished or ensoggened. And, excellently, thinking bento-wise also makes me think about things like cooking big and managing leftovers so there are things to pack into a lunchbox.

So, a few things I've cooked recently with all that in mind (sorry, no pictures):

Venetian Marinade for beef, only I used round steak instead of ribeye, because round steak was on special. The thing most surprising about this was how potent the orange peel was. I made up my teaspoon from what I rasped off a navel orange, so nothing special, really, but powerful. Plan ahead points: I tossed a few minute steaks into the marinade as well; they don't take long to cook and can be sliced up and frozen for later strewing over salad (or making into sandwiches).

Mochi Chicken, which is more or less the Hawaiian way of frying chicken. I did a half-batch just to see if I liked it and was pleased with the results, though next time I'll probably add some chile powder to the mix. Frying food is sufficiently a nuisance that doing a full-sized batch and portioning it out makes sense. To my surprise, the local Safeway had mochiko flour in the Asian food section along with the soy sauce and glass noodles.

Pear, Leek, and Gruyère turnovers really were about using up leftover stuff in the fridge. I'd made fondue and had both leeks and Gruyère left over. I used a red Anjou pear, plain pie crust rather than the phyllo pastry, and made the turnovers smaller overall -- just big enough to hold about a tablespoon of the filling. Do not be tempted to leave out the teaspoon of sugar. I think that's what keeps the pears from getting lost in the cheese and leeks. And again, easily portioned out and frozen, and will be nice with a little bit of green salad and some cold sliced meat.

I should probably admit that none of the above have yet made it into my lunchbox, and that today I had a ploughman's lunch. I should probably also post my recipe for pickled onions sometime.

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