Monday, March 25, 2013

Seaweed Tofu Cakes Bento

My latest bento adventure comes in the form of a Seaweed Tofu Cakes lunchbox, accompanied by some lovely sticky rice, potatoes and even a little dessert of some healthy strawberries.

Definitely much prettier than my last bento attempt, this time I was incredibly lucky indeed to have some extra bento treats to play with. Thanks to the amazing Tokyo Purple Girl, who very very kindly sent me a parcel of the most amazing collection of bento accessories, I now have enough cute bento stuff in my bento drawer (yes, I made a drawer for it) to last me a lifetime. 

There's loads of beautiful stuff but I tried not to use too much of it this time because part of the appeal of the lovely things I've been sent is the amazing Japanese packaging it's all in (some of it featuring my favourite Hello Kitty) and I want to keep that for as long as possible. However, one thing I couldn't wait to try was the delicious sounding Wasabi Sprinkles. I love wasabi and these were amazing, giving that beautiful intense wasabi taste to my sticky rice with just a light smattering.

I also couldn't resist opening the amazing soy sauce bottles which had little animal heads for lids! So sweet!

I was also very excited to discover that my new Aldi rice cooker makes perfect Japanese sticky rice - can't believe how much time and effort knowing that is going to save me. Frequent sushi making, here I come.

I also received an amazing little mini cutter for making shapes out of veggies and things, so inspired by the carrot flowers in the sauce during my recent visit to Pho 68, I made some little flowers by slicing carrots into rounds then cutting little bits out. These looked pretty cool (from a distance at least).

The Seaweed Tofu Cakes were actually adapted from a chicken recipe from a weirdly good Vicky Bhogal book we've got on our cookbook shelf. 

I swapped the chicken out for tofu and had to add quite a lot of breadcrumbs to the recipe to thicken it up but the end result was delicious. The Seaweed Tofu cakes were nice on the night (we had big versions in burger buns as some kind of Japanese burger) but were beautiful cold the next day.

I loved making my Seaweed Tofu Cakes Bento and was so proud of the end result. Having a bento is awesome because it actually makes you want to go to work just so you can show off your lunch. None of my colleagues could believe it when they saw me whip the bad boy out, they then also started saying that if I have time to be making bentos, I'm clearly not doing enough marking... Well here's what I think, if you build making a bento into your routine and eat the bento ingredients as part of your tea like we did, it's not time consuming at all and you still have plenty of time left for marking and suchlike!!

I would definitely make the cakes again but for next time I would definitely serve with a little pot of Kewpie Mayonnaise - I think a nice light and vinegary mayo would have been the perfect accompaniment.

For the Seaweed Tofu Cakes
1 packet of firm tofu (I use Cauldron - 396g)
1 large handful coriander
2 garlic cloves
1 red chilli
4 slices wholemeal bread
The zest of 2 limes
1 tsp fish sauce
2 sheets nori
Salt and Pepper

To serve
Japanese sticky rice, cooked to packet instructions, seasoned and sprinkled with sushi vinegar
Wasabi Sprinkles
Slices of carrot made into flower shapes
Soy Sauce
Roasted potatoes

Start by drying out the tofu by layering it with kitchen paper before pressing the layers down by putting something heavy on top.

Meanwhile, finely chop the coriander, garlic and chilli and add them to a large mixing bowl.

Chop the tofu into chunks and add to the mixing bowl. Stir together.

Using a hand blender, blend the contents of the mixing bowl to a fine paste resembling houmous.

Gradually add the slices of bread and blend them into the mixture - this will thicken it up. Add the lime zest and fish sauce. Take the two sheets of nori and fold them in half once then in half again. Snip the nori into tiny squares over the bowl so they fall into the mixture. Thoroughly stir in these little bits of nori then season the mixture to taste.

Place the mixing bowl in the fridge while you prepare the Japanese sticky rice, potatoes and other bits and bobs.

Heat up a large frying pan and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Add blobs about the size of large heaped teaspoons of the tofu mixture to the pan and try to flatten down a little bit with the back of a teaspoon.

Leave the the blobs in the pan to get a nice bit of colour on them before flipping. Once flipped you can flatten the blobs a little more to form nice round patties.

Your Seaweed Tofu Cakes are now ready to be put in the bento box! Start by putting the sticky rice into the bento box and sprinkling with the wasabi sprinkles and adorning with carrot flowers.

Place two silicone cupcake cases in the corner of the bento box. In the remaining corner, line the bottom of the bento box with lettuce leaves that come up round the sides of the box - they will act as a holder for your Seaweed Tofu Cakes.

Put the roast potatoes and yummy strawberries for dessert in the two cupcake cases. You can stick some bento picks  into the strawberries if you like.

Take your Seaweed Tofu Cakes Bento to work and be the envy of your colleagues! Be sure to whip it out and show people though! Alternatively, make the bento for a loved one as a nice lunchtime surprise.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Easter Afghan Biscuits

Last Sunday I was desperate to try out my new Aldi food mixer that lovely Bailey had snapped up for me on a recent visit - an absolute bargain at a mere 35 quid. I decided I would try out an intriguing recipe from the Primrose Bakery - the unusually-named Afghan Biscuits - apparently a popular treat in New Zealand and Australia.

Apparently no one knows why these bad boys are actually called Afghan Biscuits, although I do like the theory that they are named after those funny afghan hounds. Whatever the origin of the name may be, these are no ordinary biscuit - they are so rich with butter and chocolate that the texture is very crumbly and dense, almost like a cross between a super chocolatey brownie and a biscuit. They also contain cornflakes!

I decided I would make a few tweaks to my Afghan Biscuits to make them more Eastery - firstly replacing the walnut halves on top of the biscuits with a couple of my all-time favourite Easter treats - Mini Eggs. You can't beat a Mini Egg. Secondly I replaced the dark choc in the buttercream with milk choc. Finally, Bailey's face lit up at the suggestion of using Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in the biscuits, as this would mean he would have a box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, a.k.a. crack, in the house.

As the mixture for Afghan Biscuits is very buttery with no other 'moist' ingredients, my Aldi food mixer was really put to the test, but it fared very well and I ended up with a really nice biscuit mix. It also made the most lovely light and smooth buttercream I've ever managed to make at home. Good old Aldi - what a bargain.

And as for the Afghan Biscuits, well they went down a treat. Bailey gobbled his plate up in a matter of moments and the plate I took into the staffroom soon disappeared, despite me forgetting that loads of people at work had given up chocolate for Lent and I got lots of requests for the recipe!

For the Afghan Biscuits
400g butter
150g golden caster sugar
350g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
100g Crunchy Nut Cornflakes

For the Buttercream Icing
175g milk chocolate
115g butter
125g icing sugar
1/2 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To serve
2 bags Mini Eggs

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 / 180 degrees C. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the flour and cocoa powder gradually - as there are no wet ingredients  the mixture is quite dry so it may take a while.

Add the cornflakes and stir until they are all mixed in. You might need to get your hands in there.

Take an oven tray and cover with greaseproof paper. Take spoonfuls of the mixture about the size of golf balls and make into flat little biscuit shapes with your hands before placing them onto the tray.

Put the tray in the oven and bake the biscuits for around 15-20 minutes or until they're just starting to firm up. I did mine in two batches. Leave the biscuits to cool in the tray before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Meanwhile, make the buttercream by melting down the chocolate over a saucepan of simmering water.

Beat together the butter, icing sugar, milk and vanilla extract.

Add the melted chocolate and beat until the icing is smooth and creamy.

Once the biscuits have cooled, top with a large blob of the buttecream icing, smooth it down and add two Mini Eggs to the top for the Easter touch. The biscuits are particularly nice after a bit of time in the fridge and with a glass of milk!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pho 68

Last week I was on a course in Sheffield on a day that was so very cold, the water on the 'Cutting Edge' sculpture by the train station froze. 

After my course I met my mum for some shopping and a catch up. It was so cold that the actual marrow in our bones started to hurt, so when thinking up a location to to meet my dad for dinner, it had to be somewhere cosy where we could thaw out.

My mum had the perfect suggestion. Pho 68 - a Vietnamese café on London Road (same foodie locale as our other Steel City favourites, Wasabi Sabi and Zeugma) where we could get a huge steaming bowl of hot Pho to warm our cockles. Apparently my brother (the jet-setter of the family. Currently residing in Melbourne) had been waxing lyrical to Mum about the wonders of Vietnamese food since his recent visit there (COULDN'T BE MORE WELL JEL IF I TRIED) and she had wanted to give it a go ever since. I know very little about Vietnamese food - something I've been meaning to rectify but as yet have not. Mum and Dad were seasoned pros compared to me as I'd packed them off to Vnam Café while we were at a birthday bash at El Rincón the other week. My mum was sold on the Vietnamese nosh, describing it as delicious, fresh and healthy.

We started off the meal with a cup of Vietnamese Green Tea and a basket of prawn crackers that we ate so quickly we didn't even save any for Dad let alone take a picture. The tea was so subtle and lovely - the perfect way to start our meal.

When Dad arrived, he was very reasonable about the missing crackers and treated himself to a pint of Sunlik Beer. He was a fan of this, even though I've just discovered it's not actually Vietnamese.

Starters were Rice Paper Rolls all round. My mum absolutely loved these at Vnam Café and couldn't wait to get some more of these bad boys. Me and Mum both went for the Fresh Rice Paper Rolls with Bean Curd.

We couldn't believe the size of these things when they arrived - they barely fit in the palm of my mitt and we could easily have shared one between two. However they were so splendid I was happy to be a greedy pig and eat a portion all to myself. Lovely soft vermicelli noodles, crispy beancurd, crunchy cucumber and a nice bit of corriander. I loved the sweet, vinegar dip that came with them and the fact there were tiny flowers made of carrot floating about it in. A beautiful starter.

Although I love bean curd I got a bit of prawn envy from the beautiful pink prawns peeking out of Roy's Fresh Rice Paper Rolls with King Prawns. Although the Pho 68 rolls were ace, my mum said the Vnam Café's take on these were even better.

However, the thing that did beat the VNam Café was the gorgeous bowls, or should I say buckets, of hot Pho that were deposited at our table. They were huge! Plus you got to pick your favourite out of Thick/Thin Vermicelli, Flat Rice or Udon Noodles. My mum actually looked at her bucket of Steamed Chicken Noodle Soup in disbelief and said "How am I going to get that (pointing at bowl) into here (pointing at tum)?" I was impressed that for a little lady she managed a fair old bit and said the chicken was delicious.

My dad had chosen the Won Ton Noodle Soup with Thin Vermicelli and this also looked fantastic - full of pak choi and little won tons. I was surprised that despite giving it a good go, Roy could not put this entire soup away. I really thought he would do it.

There was a short wait on my soup which I didn't mind too much as I'm used to things arriving at different times in Asian restaurants. It was worth the wait and my soup was jam packed with every type of vegetable imaginable - all beautifully crunchy/al dente, as well as more of that dreamy beancurd.

I'd chosen to have the Flat Rice Noodles in my soup and these were gorgeous - nice and thick and a little bit sticky.

The broth was also lovely - very light and a more subtle than Japanese broths I've had in places like Kyotoya. I got stuck right in to the plate of lettuce and beansprouts that we'd been given to accompany our soup - I definitely got my 5 a day that day. I'd also spent a quid on a portion of chopped chillis to put in my soup which was a quid well spent.

Eating the entire dish was a delight and even when I too had to give up (I managed about as much as my dad though - score) I wanted to carry on. Despite the fact we'd eaten a massive amount of food, we all said you could tell the food would be easily digested and we didn't feel at all gross like you do when you eat a load of greasy food.

Our meal at Pho 68 definitely did the job of warming us up, in fact it was so nice and warming that the window we were sat next to steamed up. Just the ticket for a horrible cold day.

When the bill arrived, my dad couldn't believe it and exclaimed "That's absurdly cheap!" We then started discussing the fact that if we were students living on London Road, there would basically be no point in ever cooking yourself a meal as it would just be cheaper to go to Pho 68 for a soup. So if any London Road students are reading this, that's what you should do from now on. You're welcome.

We all LOVED Pho 68 and for me this was a superb introduction to Vietnamese food. When I told Bailey about it, he was well jel (not as jel as me about my brother actually going to Vietnam but it's all relative) and I promised him I'd take him in when we're in Sheff sometime so I for one will definitely be returning. My mum and dad said they couldn't wait to recommend it to friends.

If you're looking for a foodie hotspot in Sheffield, London Road is definitely it. I haven't had a bad meal there in my life. Pho 68 was packed with people and it's such a vibrant spot - we could see all the restaurants in close proximity were full up and the Oriental supermarket across the road looked fantastic. If you're in Sheffield and looking for an exotic bite to eat, get yourself down there!

If Roy Morris likes it, it must be good.

Pho 68 on Urbanspoon


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