Tiffin Tuesday - Adding Color

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Posted by Petra Hildebrandt

Need to make your lunches visually more interesting? Try playing with colors.

The green in this lunch comes from wasabi coated peanuts, the red are small long red peppers, cut into rounds, stuffed, and studded with a dried chili. Aside from the canned mango juice (a special treat for DH) and baby bananas on the side, there is a cashew and a black sesame bar (from the Asian grocery store) as well as dried mango and papaya to snack on.

Since no meal would be perfect without real veggies, I added steamed cauliflower colored with turmeric.

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This Post was written by Petra from FoodFreak in Hamburg, Germany

Tiffin Tuesday: Pita bento

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Posted by jokergirl@wererabbits

Small pitas stuffed with rucola, fried eggplant and zucchini slices, yellow bell pepper, some ajvar and an aioli-yoghurt dip.
Some more rucola, peppers and a cherry tomato for a salad with a fishy of balsamic vinegar as dressing.
The cup holds frozen raspberries and chocolate covered coffee beans.

BF gets the same, with one more pita (I was still hungry when I stuffed the boxes - I ate my fourth!).

The boxes used here are lunch boxes of the brand Curver - I always associate the brand with somewhat bigger storage containers and trash cans (!) but the boxes caught my eye at the supermarket. The lid is white with locking flaps and grey rubber inserts for isolation and leak protection. It has a microwave steam opening in the lid, protected by the same material. With its somewhat larger size of 700ml, it fits European bento-hunger rather well!
I don't usually have clear see-through boxes, but if you can't find a bento box or are afraid of the small sizes, this is a perfect box to start with. Flat for perfect food presentation, leakproof and microwaveable.

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This Post was written by jokergirl from WereRabbits

Tasks for Kids in the Kitchen

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Posted by Kristen - Dine & Dish

I think it is very important to get kids into the kitchen as early in their life as possible. There are so many tasks that they can handle at a young age and by allowing them the opportunity to help out, you are giving them the confidence they need to feel like a valuable contributor to the family. In addition, there are some things that my four year old daughter swears up and down she doesn't like to eat, but put her in the kitchen and have her actually help to make the dish, and it is a completely different story. She has pride in what she helped make, therefore she is excited to eat it when it is presented to her at the table.

Here are just a few things you can do to involve your children with tasks in the kitchen:

  • Washing Vegetables - Put a stool up by the sink for them to stand on, give them a veggie scrubber brush and let them go to town. They will love it so much, you will probably have the cleanest veggies around!
  • Rolling Dough - Give a kid a rolling pin and some dough and you have got a fun and productive activity way for them to get involved in mealtime!
  • Chopping Veggies - I know... this probably makes you nervous. I learned a great tip from the blog Steamy Kitchen. Give your children (age 5+) what I know as a "Crinkle Cutter" and a child size fork. Have them hold the veggie in place with the fork while with the other hand using the Crinkle Cutter to chop vegetables. Of course, your child should always be supervised when performing this task!
  • Measuring and pouring - By allowing your kids to learn about the measurements involved in cooking, you are teaching them valuable math skills. They won't even realize they are learning something when they are in the kitchen with you!
  • Stirring - This is one of the simplest tasks for the smallest of children. Don't fret if they make a small mess doing this. Just let them go and have fun!
  • Cookie Dough - My kids love to help make cookie dough into balls or to roll and cut dough into cookies.
You may have to give up the fight to keep a pristine kitchen when your kids are helping out, but the sacrifice is well worth the smiles you will receive in the end!

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This Post was written by Kristen Doyle from Dine & Dish

Fruit Addicts Anonymous: how you can survive the seasons

Monday, September 15, 2008

Posted by Mike of Mike's Table

As my interest in food and cooking has grown, so has my love for fruit. Growing up, I was never all that into it, but now, I just can't get by without it. I love baking, but 9 times out of 10, its all about the fruit. My proverbial brown bag lunch isn't complete without two servings of fruit. The produce section of the grocery store is one of the most enjoyable sections for me, and when something new and exotic shows up, well, I can't help myself. What can I say, I have a problem...but its a pretty good problem, so I don't plan on changing it any time soon.

Of course, there's a tricky thing about fruit: those darn seasons. Sure, we can have things like apples year-round thanks to the miracle of globalization, but not every fruit is going to be on the shelves all year. If you're a fig fiend like myself, as you gorge yourself on these fruits during the autumn months, you dread the coming winter and spring months. And what about blueberries--just when I got comfortable and took them for granted, they're gone! So what's a fruit lover to do? I tend to do three things:

  1. Over-indulge as if I'll never see the fruit again. This may not be the best strategy long-term, but short-term, you'll feel like you're doing your part.

  2. Make ice cream. This buys you some time since it will sit happily in your freezer for quite some time. I think you can never have too many flavors of ice cream handy in the freezer--hey, I like options!

  3. What our forefathers have been doing for ages: preserve them. Jams, jellies, and the countless other fun ways to put fruit into jars.

Number three is what I'd like to focus on today. Its one of those things that used to really scare me. We've all been taught the dangers of canned food, what with scary things like botulism and its highly toxic friends. Canned food gone bad can be pretty serious stuff. However, as I'd learned more about it, I'd come to appreciate the simple precautions that one can take to do things right. With the basics on proper procedure, canning is actually an amazingly simple thing to add to your kitchen repertoire, and soon, you'll be making more preserves than you can keep up with (I told you I have a problem ;-) ). Plus, you can try something more exciting than the usual concord grape jelly (and make delicious things you won't find at the grocery store), enjoy more vibrant flavors, save money, and spare yourself more preservatives with names you can't pronounce.

The first thing you'll need is some good looking fruit and wash it well. If the idea of canning/preserving is to keep something for a long time until you can get to it, why go to the trouble of keeping something subpar around (and more importantly, why voluntarily introduce mold or who knows what into your jar?). Then, you're going to need some good jars. When I first started, I thought I could just re-use some empty jars from other stuff in my pantry. Don't do that. Go out and buy some mason jars. These jars come in various sizes, they're sturdy, and they can be properly sealed so as to form a vacuum. Junky jars can cause you real problems (e.g. shattering during the heating process, forming a poor seal leading to contamination, corroding and tainting the flavor of your preserves, etc). The jars themselves are re-usable, but the lids are not (but don't worry--they're cheap!).

So now that you have the two vital ingredients, usually, there's not much else to it recipe-wise. Basic jams and jellies often are a simple mix of fruit, sugar, and pectin. Pectin is a gelling agent that gives jelly that jiggly, jelly texture. It naturally occurs in some fruits (e.g. apples have a lot of it), so for the fruits that are low in it, you can simply add it in powdered form for the same effect. This very simple trio of ingredients can yield a variety of delicious flavors. Some are even as simple to prepare as using the microwave.

As simple as the recipes are though, like I've mentioned, good practice is important. Firstly, you've cleaned your fruit, but you also need to clean your jars. There are many suggestions about how to properly sterilize a jar out there (e.g. dishwasher, oven, etc), but I go with something I am certain of: boiling water. Simply fill a large stock pot with enough water to cover the jar(s) about an inch taller than the height of the jar, get it boiling, and then boil the empty, open jars in the water for at least 10 minutes. While the jars are sterilizing, you can prepare your preserve (which is usually a fairly quick process).

The other piece you need to clean: the jar lids. While these are mostly made of metal, they also usually have a rubber seal. As such, you don't want to boil the lids to sterilize them as well or you risk ruining the rubber seal. So instead, 5 minutes prior to when you expect to be canning, you can simply put the lids in hot (but not boiling) water. This will soften the rubber a bit, making for a better seal later.

Once the jars have finished sterilizing, carefully remove them from the boiling water (with tongs or some sturdy tool), empty the water from the jar as best you can, and set them on a towel on your countertop. Don't wipe them down or go handling them very much--you don't want to undo all of that sterilizing you just did. Simply pour in your preserves, leaving about 1/4 inch of the jar empty, and put the lid on tightly.

Depending on what you're canning, there might very well still be another step remaining: more boiling! While you sterilized the jar earlier, your jam isn't exactly sterile, and maybe in that brief period where your jar was out in the open, it happened to catch a bunch of junk that was floating around in the air. So the idea is that with your jar sealed, you put it back into the boiling water and continue to cook it for about 10 minutes or so (this depends on what you're preserving) to kill any contaminants that might have found their way into your jar. This also ought to truly seal the lid to your jar.

Once time is up, you should carefully remove your jar from the water and let it slowly come back to room temperature for about a day before you do anything with it. At this point, you can probably put it in your pantry and come back to it some time during the next few months. Before you do though, take a look at the lid of the jar. Does it seem sealed? Does the center of the lid bulge or is it sucked down and inwards? If you're not absolutely sure of the seal quality, put the jar in the fridge and try to use your preserve soonish like you would any open jar of jelly. Otherwise, you ought to be set for some time, but of course, when you do finally open the jar, again, inspect the lid. Is it bulging? Do the contents still have the right color? If things look at all spoiled, toss it. If things went bad in the jar, it can be a serious health risk. Luckily, I haven't experienced this yet, and hopefully you haven't either (and neither of us ever will!).

Now unfortunately, this technique isn't a one size fits all solution. For instance, if you were preserving a chutney vs a jam vs pickles vs sauce, etc, there a few differences you need to account for. For instance, in jellies, the high amount of sugar is the preservative that keeps the fruit in an edible state for months to come, whereas in other recipes, you'll add something like vinegar (or some other acid), in others, salt, and some times, even alcohol. Other recipes require special equipment for canning so that you can pressurize the can. This all depends on the final goal and what you're preserving (e.g. some fruits are very low in sugar and acid, so you might need to add that). Since I am no expert and am still relatively new to the canning world myself, I unfortunately don't have all the answers, but I'm having a lot of fun learning about them, and I hope that you do, too. If you're considering canning for the first time, take some time to do some further reading from more official sources than me--better safe than sorry, right?

If you'd like a ton of mouth-watering canning ideas, check out "Putting Up," a preserves-oriented food event that Pixie of You Say Tomato I Say Tomato hosted a few months ago. There's a ton of gems on there. Also included is an interview with a food blogger, Rosie, who is more versed in canning with several tips.

Do any of you more experienced canners have any tips, tricks, or favorites? Let us all know about it in the comments.

Are you interested in contributing to The Daily Tiffin? Drop us an email: thedailytiffin@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing your ideas.

This Post was written by Mike from Mike's Table

Are you picky about what your kids eat?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Posted by Dharm

In my last article, I talked about ‘forcing’ your child to eat everything and anything in order to avoid raising a picky eater. That is something that I believe in quite firmly but I need to say that it is only what I believe and I’m not trying to tell you how to raise your own kids.

This time, I want to address another ‘controversial’ issue. I want to discuss children’s eating habits. This topic is actually fairly broad and covers not only what they eat, but how they eat – as in how they eat their food. Should we limit what our children eat? Should we be concerned with what our kids put into their mouths? Should we worry about how much fat, sugar and carbohydrates goes into our kids bodies?

As far as my children are concerned, I’m not really concerned with what they eat. I know some parents that limit their children’s intake of sweets and chocolates. The ice-cream is rationed and only low-sugar drinks are allowed. Some even disallow carbonated drinks.

I respect the fact that you want to inculcate good dietary habits but I also feel that children should be allowed to be children and enjoy all the 'sinful' food while they can. As adults, we are constantly watching what we eat and somehow it's a lot less fun now.

My children are allowed to eat whatever they want. I exercise moderation but never, ever ration what they eat. They can have their fair share of ice-cream, cakes and chocolate – anytime they want – as long as it doesn’t interfere with their main meal. Sometimes, they feel like having cereal for dinner and although I tend to frown a little on this, I still let allow it every now and again. After all, cereal IS one of the five food groups isn’t ir?

Before any of you get aghast at my allowing my kids as much chocolate, ice-cream, cake and other desserts as they want, hear me out. I reckon that kids are so active that they burn up and convert almost everything they eat into energy anyway. So as long as my kids are active and are getting their proper nutrition, I allow them to indulge. After all, as I said earlier, we all don’t stay kids for ever and there will come a time when they themselves will have to watch what they eat.

But what if they get so used to sweets and desserts that they will always want it? Ahhh, fair point. I think the secret here is that if you allow them as much of anything as they want, then they don’t yearn for it so much. Its kind of like reverse psychology. The other thing is that we are constantly educating the children that too much sweets or for that matter too much of anything is not good for you. We don’t restrict them from eating anything but we give them a healthy dose of advise whenever we see them overindulging. And you know what? They hardly ever overindulge.

The next point I want to make is ‘how’ they eat. See, I’m rather particular about using the proper utensils and I want to train my kids to have proper table manners from a young age. To complicate things further, I believe that Chinese food should be eaten with chopsticks, Pasta should be eaten with the fork in the right hand and Indian food, especially rice and curry, should be eaten with the fingers. I also strongly believe in sitting down at the dining table for a meal rather than eating while watching TV.

I have to admit that the Lovely Wife and I are sometimes guilty of sitting the kids down in front of the TV for a meal but that is getting few and far between as they get older and learn the import of a proper meal. Kids also seem to have this habit of not sitting on chairs properly and will have one leg hanging of the side with their bodies contorted in strange angles while they feed themselves. I know they will eventually grow out of this but it still gets them a ticking off when they don’t sit down properly at the table.

So those are my rules when it comes to food. You can eat anything you want and most anytime you want it – just be sure that you eat what you eat properly.

What do you think?

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This Post was written by Dharm from Dad ~ Baker & Chef

Tiffin Tuesday - Potato salad bento

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Posted by jokergirl@wererabbits

I finally cracked and made my own potato salad and "meatball" bento - looks Scandianvian, doesn't it?
Homemade potato salad though, and the "meatballs" are falafels.
I can't stand storebought potato salad, so it's made from scratch. I got lazy with the falafels instead - they come pre-fried and just need microwaving. Very handy!
Then there's some gardengrown salad and some cherry tomatoes, a skewered pickle and some red beets (which were the last of my freezer stash).

Pretty simple bento, but I came home late from training and STILL made the potato salad from scratch then. (I make my own mayonaise - I can't stand salad with storebought mayo.) So - simple-looking, but not that simple.

Potato salad

About 600g potatoes, boiled, peeled and still warm! Boil while you make the mayo and chop the rest of the ingredients.

Mayonaise: 1 room-temperature egg
unflavoured oil (I use corn or sunflower)
1 Tsp. mustard

Beat the egg, then beat in the oil in a thin stream until emulsion forms. Add salt and mustard. I did the whole thing in a food processor and added 4-5 small pickles in the end, which got chopped up in the mayonaise. Saves time.

2-3 Tsp. Sourcream (I don't like sourcream all that much, so I use thick yoghurt. It gives a different taste though, which is somewhat rougher than sourcream.)
1/2 red onion, chopped
2-3 Tsp. vinegar (preferable apple, if you have it)
Mix with the mayonaise. Add salt and pepper to taste (and don't be afraid to file on the recipe a little until it matches your taste!)

Peel the potatoes and chop them into slices. Toss with the salad while still warm. Cool at room temperature and enjoy!

It's not the most spectacular or complicated recipe, actually. I like simple and tasty things - even when eating vegetarian!

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This Post was written by jokergirl from WereRabbits

5 Foods That Can Help You Sleep Better!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Posted by Mansi

Do you suffer from insomnia? Or are you one of the 75% of the people who find it hard to sleep at night, simply because you worry too much, or take a lot of stress in life? Well, fret not, for rather than taking sleeping-pills, here are a few foods that can keep you calm and satiated, and help you sleep better by stimulating sleep-inducing hormones like Serotonin and Melatonin. Sleep brings more energy into people and can make us think clear and in a more positive way. Nothing can replace those 7-8 hours of sleep; but when you've just had a bad day, preparing slides for an early presentation tomorrow morning, or lack of sleep thinking about your move to a new town, there are some foods that can act as sleep-inducers and help you rest better!

Bananas contain melatonin and serotonin which are practically some of the best sleep stimulating substances (such substances are frequently used in pharmaceutical industry). In addition, bananas contain magnesium which has a relaxing effect on muscles.

Warm Milk
There is definitely some significance to why our moms and granny's asked us to drink a cup of warm milk before going to bed! The explanation for this would be that milk contains tryptophane, which is an amino acid that has a sedative effect. Moreover, calcium contained by milk also helps the absorption of tryptophane.

Chamomile Tea
Trust the traditional herbs to soothe and calm your senses! Chamomile, one of the oldest garden herbs, has been known for its relaxing effect. Chamomile tea is generally known for its sedating effect, as well as a nerve-relaxant, serving to be the perfect natural antidote for stressed minds and bodies.

With all that starch in it, I have no doubt Potatoes would induce sleep! but jokes apart. they can help get rid of acids which can interfere with tryptophan amino acid. Baked potatoes can have an even greater sleep inducing effect if they are combined with warm milk when eaten. Aah, I wish they had a little fewer calories too!

Oats are good for a good night’s sleep because they stimulate the production of melatonin. Also, with their high fiber content, they fill you up fast, triggering messages to your brain that you are satiated, hence serving to be relaxants and sleep-inducers at the same time!

There's nothing like a good night's sleep, and you should never deprive yourself of at least 6-8 hours sleep at night. but there are times when life gets really hectic (pretty much everyday!!), and its hard to force your mind to sleep! So try these natural sleep-inducers; they'll silently do their work and do what you failed to do - ask your mind and body to sleep tonight, so you can be fresh and energetic to meet a new tomorrow!

Related Articles:
Daily Habits for a Better Lifestyle
Why Avocados are Good for You!
Health Benefits of Wheat Grass Juice

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This Post was written by Mansi from Fun & Food

Spices- The cornerstones of cuisines - III

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Posted by Dee

This is the final article of this series and yet I feel there is so much more to write!

Nigella , Ground Nutmeg , Peppercorns and Vanilla bean

Nigella : This is commonly known as nutmeg flower, black cumin, roman coriander and fennel flower. Its a popular spice in Tunisia , Turkey , India, Greece and Egypt.They are known as Kalonji in India and are used as a pickling spice. The flavor is said to be nutty and acrid with a faint flavor of oregano. The seeds are said to benefit digestion and are usually dry roasted to enhance the flavor and aroma. They are commonly added to vegetable curries, pulse dishes and sprinkled over rice pilafs.

Nutmeg: The inner seed of the nutmeg tree lying inside the filigree covering of mace is the nutmeg that is widely used to flavor everything from ice cream to cookies. The flavor is sweeter than that of mace and has a fresh warming after taste. Nutmeg is used in treating the digestive system. The oil of small or damaged nutmeg seeds is extracted and used in the cosmetic industry. Nutmeg is its own best storage container and whole spices will keep 3-4 years. Small quantities can be shredded from the whole when needed.

Paprika: Bright red paprika is made from red bell peppers and has more flavor and less heat that cayenne pepper. Its bitterness depends on how much seed is used. Ideally only the dried fruit should be used to make good paprika. The lighter in color the red peppers used, the hotter the spice. It is a common ingredient in cajun seasoning, and can also be used to add a dash of color while garnishing. Paprika doesn't keep very well. It quickly loses color and flavor and should be bought in small quantities. It is also available smoked.

Pepper: Peppercorns don't have to be black. They are available in several colors and all have a slightly different flavor making them indispensable in the kitchen. The white, green and pink peppercorns all come from the same plant. Berries that are picked unripe and green are allowed to dry in the sun to turn them into black pepper. It has a strong and pungent flavor. Berries that ripen on the vine turn red and are sold as pink pepper pickled in brine or freeze dried. They are more aromatic than pungent. If the ripe berries are picked and soaked to get rid of the outer red husk, the inner skinless peppercorn can be dried and sold as white pepper. They are milder in flavor and less aromatic. Peppers contain an oil that helps stimulate the digestion of meat and high protein foods.

Poppy: Poppy seeds are an invaluable extra proving a nutty topping for various pastries and cakes. They can even be tossed on classic Italian dishes like pastas. The Indian poppy is cream in color, brown in Turkey and Slate Gray in Europe. They have been used for their pain relieving properties in ancient Greece, Egypt, Italy, India and the middle east.

Saffron: At various times, Saffron has been more expensive than gold, and it still is the most expensive spice in the world. It is highly rated in the kitchen, where fortunately a little goes a long long way. It is native to Turkey. You can infuse saffron to make a herbal tea that is taken as a warming soothing drink to clear the head. In India, Saffron threads are broken and infused in a little hot water or milk, the strained liquid is the added to the dish to get the required color and flavor.

Sesame: It is a native of India, Indonesia, Africa and China. It is one of the earliest spices known to have been used for both its seed as well as oil. The seeds have a sweet nutty flavor when lightly dry roasted. The oil is extracted and bottled as a flavoring. Black sesame seed and oil are used widely in Chinese cooking.

Star Anise: One of the most instantly recognizable spices, it is easy to see how Star Anise gets its name. The fruit is shaped like a star and tastes like anise seed though it is unrelated to anise seed. Its essential oil also known as oil of anise seed is used to flavor liqueurs such as pastis in Italy, Germany and France. The seed of star anise can be chewed to sweeten the breath. It is a natural diuretic and appetite stimulant. It can be used whole or ground.

Sumac: Not well known in the west, but Sumac is worth tracking down, to give recipes an extra flash of tangy seasoning. When ground it is deep rusty red in color. Sumac is valued for its high tannin content and its astringent flavor. It gives a fruity sour flavor to a dish in the same way as lemon or vinegar. It is taken as a sour drink to relieve mild stomach complaints.

Szechuan pepper: This is a stimulant that works on the spleen and the stomach. It is very warming and is good for relieving the symptoms of cold and flu. It can be used in the same way as pepper, but is much hotter, aromatic and woody. It should be used in smaller quantities. It is an essential ingredient in five spice powder.

Tamarind: If you like lemon or limes, try tamarind. Slightly sharp, it gives an extra edge to a wide range of meals and refreshing drinks. It is also called as an Indian date. The taste can be described as sweet, sour, aromatic and fruity. You can also purchase the sticky pulp as tamarind paste which is the husk without the seeds. It has a souring action greater than either lemon or lime juice. It is also available in a dried and ground form.

Vanilla: Real vanilla is very expensive and the cheaper imitations have been developed. The imitations are far inferior in flavor. True vanilla has a rich mellow sweet aroma with a flavor to match. Indonesia produces around 80% of the worlds supply of Vanilla.

Wasabi: A spice from the creeping root of a Japanese plant, whose name means "mountain hollyhock", it has a strong pungent aroma and strong acrid cleansing flavor. Wasabi belongs to the same family as horseradish, radishes and mustard, all which contain pungent sulphur glycosides. The fresh root is seldom available outside of Japan. However the wasabi powder or paste is available. It is used as a digestive stimulant. It is used as a condiment to go with raw fish and rice sushi, with pickled ginger and dark soy sauce.

Zedoary: Similar to ginger and often combined with pepper, cinnamon and honey, it is highly rated in the perfume industry for its musky undertones and in the kitchen for its flavor. It is a rhizome and is dried to provide a spice resembling ginger. It has a resinous and slightly pungent flavor reminiscent of rosemary. Where the spice is grown, it is used to flavor condiments as an alternative to ginger or turmeric. It is called as Sonthi in India.

Check out my previous posts here and here

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This Post was written by Dee from Ammalu's Kitchen