March 31 - La Cocina y Un Bento


I am very much a creature of impulse. Oftentimes it lands me in some pretty wacky situations, but I am a slave to my whims. It's not always a bad thing, sometimes it ends in me getting exactly what I want.

And sometimes what I want is a big, gooey mess of tex-mex goodness. There's a common complaint heard in Seattle regarding Mexican food - that the authentic stuff is available and of good quality, but the border style stuff is lacking. I wouldn't go as far as to complain about this, since I've found La Cocina & Cantina to be perfectly acceptable Mexicanesque food.

Tacos and enchiladas and taquitos, oh my!

Having escaped the land of the buffet, I tend to steer clear of them these days. This being the case, the buffet at Cocina doesn't appeal too much to me, but my date couldn't resist her siren's song. The offerings seemed to be pretty decent, especially with the inclusion of a dish seductively named "chicken baked in juices."

Juice-chicken, ceviche, and a crispy thing.

I feel a certain guilt when I eat at texymexy restaurants because I pretty much always get the same thing: a chimichanga. Why? Well, partially because it's fun to say. But also, it's pretty much the ideal sloppy tasty mexy food: shredded marinated beef wrapped up in a crispy tortilla, accompanied by the typical rice/bean/lettuce party.

Say it with me: chimichanga!

My favorite version of the chimichanga comes smothered in a saucy sauce with tons of very un-Mexican cheese, but the Cocina gets points anyway for putting theirs out with a healthy portion of their very tasty guacamole.

Man I love guacamole.

You know I'm a sucker for the innards.

My one buffet avoidance related regret is that it comes with a complimentary dessert. Note to restaurant owners: free dessert is always always a good idea. It's long been established that pho needs to come with cream puffs (because they're so Vietnamese?) and has recently been discovered that Thai food is most favorably remembered when followed by red bean pudding.

The boy passed up the flan in favor of fried ice cream. Because he is a fool.

Well, it's no flan.

Going out to eat was awesome since I didn't have to pay for it, but preparation for the work week reminded me that I have to keep to my budget when planning my lunches. Enter: the vegetable bento.

I'm no bento expert, but I have embraced the idea. First off, bentos are adorable. Really really adorable. On top of that, I can make them delicious, healthy, and cheap - so I'm pretty well on board.

Stir-fry is a pretty simple concept, too, so bonus. The only tricky part is that it requires some serious heat, so preparation is key. I gave my broccoli a quick blanch and prepped the rest of my vegables for stir-frylation.

Check out that steam, baby.

I decided to work with onion, red and yellow bell peppers, some mini bok-choy I picked up at Viet Wah, a can of baby corn, and the aforementioned broccoli. After my biz was all set up, I set out my wok (yeah, I have a wok-what of it?) and put it on the very highest setting. When it was dangerously hot, I added a couple tablespoons of sesame oil and some minced garlic and my onion. Right as the garlic was coloring I added all of my other vegetables, and the secret ingredient.

Rabbit food!

Yes. Stir fry sauce from the Nine Dragons, otherwise known as the midwestern king of Chinese cuisine. My parents own it, so the family secret recipes are mine for the stealing. But not for the sharing. Sorry. If I told you I'd have to kill you.

The murky depths of secret mystery.

The magic of the sauce lies in its ability to season the dish and create a nice thick tasty goo to marry the vegetables together and bring the lovely flavors to the rice. It's actually not very complicated. You could probably come up with something similar to make your vegetables into stir frys, it just wouldn't be as good.

Ha ha.

So this dish is really about 2 minutes in the wok from start to finish. I just toss things about until the green wilt and everything seems cooked. It sounds vague, I know, but the only concern I ever have is overcooking the vegetables. Which hasn't happened yet, so it's pretty avoidable.

That's what it looks like when it's done.

And that's it! Packed into my little bento with some string cheese, a tangerine, and some furikake to season any leftover rice, it's a nice lunch I can easily consume while enjoying my latest guilty internet pleasure.

It's-a bento!

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