Umami Works: Revenge of the Bento Box (Review & Overall Experience)

7:30:00 AM

Senpai, Notice Me!

Cue the bento box with the heart-shaped furikake.

Before I jump into my first meet-up, I want to apologize for being MIA. My “new-ish” job has consumed my life for the time-being as I’m wrestling to find a work/life balance. I’m in the midst of preparing for a conference in Monterey next month and it wouldn’t be a lie to say that a lot of things have fallen wayside while that’s happening. While I’m still fairly active on Instagram (@ifyouseekemilie), the blog has been thoroughly neglected.

So, if you want to stay up-to-date with my food adventures, add me on Instagram!

Now, let’s get into the good stuff.

Umami Works is a Meetup Group dedicated to Japanese Cooking. It’s put on by these two lovely ladies: Natsumi and Maiki who organizes different cooking classes centered around a theme. They’ve had past classes centered around New Year’s Food, Cafe Food, Sushi, Japanese Home Cooking and more.

Always wanted my mom to make me something like this for school. 

In this particular class, we focused around the concept of Bento. And if you don’t know what a Bento is, it’s essentially a packed lunch, but with a Japanese flair.

Don’t think pasta in a bowl. Or a sandwich wrapped in foil. We’re talking about something that’s usually rice based with a main dish and a couple of side dishes, all assembled into a box-- and color coordinated. Because presentation is IMPORTANT.

The class costs $48 to join and they buy all the ingredients and as the student, we will show up to the location to learn how to cook inside their kitchen. This particular class is a REPEAT of a class back in January (?) or February (?) that never happened because one of the instructors, Natsumi went into labor. There’s a lot of things you can predict, but you can’t tell a baby that wants to come out to stop coming out.

So fast forward to May, we met last weekend at Natsumi’s apartment for the get together. The menu for the day was onigiri (3 ways: takana, niku miso, and grilled salmon), pork shogayaki, tamagoyaki and nori asparagus. Cook. Assemble. Eat.

Scroll through the photos and can you say we did a good job?

(Left to Right) Sake, Mirin, Soy Sauce, Light Soy Sauce, Nori (seaweed), Umeboshi (salted plum)

Measure out the rice (they use a short grain). They have a snazzy Japanese rice cooker. #want

Leave the rice to sit for 30 mins. It helps develop the texture. 

Dice up the gobo for the niku miso filling in the onigiri. 

Red miso (tastes almost like black bean paste that we use in Chinese cooking) + Awase miso (a mix of white & red miso)

No eyeballing here. We're talking surgical precision.

Separated the egg yolk and whites. Used the yolk for the niku miso mixture. 

Whisk together the two miso, sugar, sake & egg yolk before adding to the pan with ground chicken, minced gobo & shiitake.

This was ground chicken, but you can easily substitute with ground pork as well.

Combine and cook down the miso mixture until you have a concentrated meat paste. If it's too runny, it won't hold well with the rice. 

The consistency you're looking for.

Salt both sides. Let sit for 10 mins and pat dry before grilling.

Trick I learned today: line your pan with parchment paper and it'll make clean up a cinch. And guarantee no fishy smell left on your pan either. You'll still have the same crispy skin using this method. 

Shred and use as stuffing for your onigiri

Slice up onions for the Pork Shogayaki (Ginger Pork).

Flash boil your pork to skim off the foam. As soon as it's semi-cooked, take it out and throw it in chilled water to stop the cooking process. 

Snap off the stems of the asparagus before slicing.

Spread onto a baking sheet and stick it into the oven for 12-15 mins. Mix with salt, sesame oil & nori for taste.

You want to initially cook the onions & meat together. But remove the meat and further cook down the onions & sauce before adding the pork back in. Add the grated ginger last for a punch!

The finished product. I have to say I didn't do too bad~

And suprise! They also prepared a sweet dessert for us to cool down! It was 90 degrees that day. Shaved ice sweetened with a matcha sauce and condensed milk. Hit the spot even though I was rolling in a food coma by that point. 

I didn't take any photos of the tamagoyaki making, but I feel like that wouldn't have captured the glory. Instead, I have video! Bear with me because these were from my Instagram. Hence the 15 seconds clip.

As my first meet up, I think it was a great success. I had a lot of fun, learned how to cook, ate a great meal and it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. I’m looking forward to see what else Umami Works has up their sleeves for the rest of this year. Be sure to follow them on Facebook or Meetup to join the fun. Who knows? You might run into me there. 

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