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Posted on Mar 12, 2007 in Bento, Equipment, For Kids, Gluten Free, Meat, Parent Hacks, Potatoes, Recipe, Tips, Tutorial or How-to | 47 comments

Mini shepherd’s pie & skewered tomato/cheese “sandwiches”

Mini shepherd’s pie & skewered tomato/cheese “sandwiches”

Speed Tip: When you’re making dinner, make a little extra that can be eaten for lunch (either as is or as a Leftover Remake). Sometimes you can make miniature versions of the dish (like the mini Shepherd’s pie below), other times you can just separate the excess into individual portions and store those in the refrigerator or freezer to speed morning packing. Don’t be ashamed of your leftovers!!! They are your arsenal against boring lunches or spending an hour in the kitchen in the morning when you could be sleeping.

Bug’s lunch today took about 5 minutes to throw together. There are leftover green beans with pecans, mini skewered tomato/cheese “sandwiches” and a mini shepherd’s pie (which Bug devoured). A couple of nights ago I made a big shepherd’s pie (mashed potatoes and cheese on top of a layer of ground or chopped meat and vegetables that have been simmered in flavored broth: simple web recipe here). At the same time, I took two thick aluminum cups (see equipment note below) and made miniature versions that could hang out in the fridge or freezer until I wanted them for lunch. This didn’t take me any extra time when making dinner — just separated out a little into lunch-friendly containers.

Shepherd's pie lunch for toddler お弁当

The little tomato/cheese skewers are very fast and simple, but add a splash of color and fun to a lunch (I got this idea from Japanese bento cookbook おいしいお弁当 “Oishii Obento”.). Cut a slice of cheese (here I’m using Jarlsberg) into four strips, then fold one strip into quarters. Sandwich the cheese between two cherry tomato halves, and skewer the whole thing with a toothpick or long plastic pick (here I’ve used long Anpanman picks). Hollowing out the bottom half of one of the tomatoes and filling it with a dab of pesto sauce would be a good variation — like a mini caprese salad.

Prep for skewered tomato

My latest trip to Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally) yielded extra-thick aluminum cups for cooking in (US$1.50 per package, see my SF Bay Area shopping guide to bento gear). Whereas previously I’ve used two regular foil cups together for strength when cooking (see the stovetop mini frittata), these thick cups are touted as being strong enough to cook in on their own (only needing one cup). My experience bore this out, as I was able to fill one with all the shepherd’s pie makings, then easily place it on a baking sheet with my hands). That said, doubling up on foil cups or just using a cupcake liner in a muffin tin would yield the same result, so if I can’t get any more I won’t sweat it. They’re safe for the oven and toaster oven, but not the microwave. Interesting.

Extra-thick aluminum food cups for cooking

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  1. oh, totally awesome.
    one of these days I fully intend to make a totally Speed Bento Tip dishes.

  2. I just found out there is Daiso here in Seattle. I definately have to check it out now.

  3. =O ohhh… I’ll keep an eye out for those! =^.^= I plan on hitting up Daiso and Uwajimaya this weekend!

  4. How did that recipe turn out for you? I didn’t use that one, but it looked like a good, fast introduction to Shepherd’s pie for people not familiar with it. I used a different recipe I printed out from the web about eight years ago (now all yellowing, in a folder in the kitchen), but unfortunately there was no URL on it (just says “Web Recipe”). Involves a mirepoix and corn, plus wine, chicken stock and tomato paste — I added fresh thyme on a whim. Lovely, but not fast cooking!

  5. Oh cool! Savory dishes in individual muffin cups are so convenient to pop into a lunch in the morning.

  6. Ah, it looks like Seattle has lots of bento gear, no? Have fun!

  7. I look at them as time that I can spend doing something else. That could be sleeping or getting my son ready for the day, or it could also be spending extra time on one non-speed bento item (you know, making something new in the morning or really decorating a lunch).

  8. Enjoy! Those US$1.50 purchases do add up, though — I just keep throwing things into my basket, thinking it’s so cheap (d’oh!).

  9. mmm, I havnt done a really prettily decorated one yet, and Ive really been wanting to. I think wednesday morning shall be the time for such a thing…. expect the rest of the bento to be your tips :-D

  10. It went great! Well, I didn’t follow to a T for this recipe. I replaced beff stock with red wine and added sausages. Some recipes require to be followed exactly but not Shepherd pie. Any ingredient can go into it. I have to try one with the tomato sauce or pasta sauce in it one of these days. :)

    BTW, we have Daiso here in Singapore too, and I love the place! =)

  11. I haven’t yet packed one frozen — I packed this one straight from the refrigerator. It was still a little cool when Bug ate it this afternoon, but not hard/yucky or anything. I might run one under the broiler next time (if I had a toaster oven I could throw it in there briefly). So happy your daughter liked the frittata! I’m so happy you made it, considering all of the other speed bento tips you can read on the web in Japanese!

  12. mm, I wish I had a Daiso ToT I loev tomato skewers,they always brighten things up :D

  13. That’s beautiful! My daughter would love that…although she’s not allowed to bring chopsticks or toothpick/skewers in her bento at school. (hazardous to toddlers) Do you have any alternative things I could use for a skewer? My friend recommended an uncooked spaghetti noodle. Not sure how much safer that is.
    Your site has changed my life. My freezer is full of frozen bento items. Just froze a batch of pb&j sandwiches and sliced pink kamaboko! I’m in the “what else can i possibly freeze?” mode. I went to the Japanese bookstore in search of some inspiring bento books, although many were so cute, your site inspires me most. I like that you fill your bentos with a variety of ethnic and regional foods. And they are stylish but efficient! I don’t have time to craft sleeping bunny rabbits in my inari sushi–although that is adorable and fun and awesome. I guess the other tiny detail is that your site is in ENGLISH! Arigato Gozaimasu!
    what is this insulated lunchbox from Daiso look like? i’m so curious.
    cheers, julie

  14. Guhhhhhhhhhh how is it possible for something so simple and cute to look so delicious? The tomato skewers are such a fantastic idea, and I fully support creating a mini-caprese salad. Even bring reduced balsamic vinegar in a small container. The possbilities are endless.

    I know my husband will love shepherd’s pie. I think they were different in New Orleans, where he’s from, but everything is different there. :)

    We are planning to move to Japan for him to be an ALT next spring, so I should really practice bento creation before we end up over there. (Although I will have LOTS of free time to do just that when I get there, I think!) I’m not sure where we’ll be, since they don’t have locations near Yokosuka (where I wanted to do), but I would prefer somewhere kind of near Yokohama at least.

  15. I’ve been using leftovers for years but using the ziploc/glad reusable containers. It think it’s time to find myself a bento box – thank you, again, for posting these wonderful tips (and beautiful boxes).

  16. Indeed it does. Two Uwajimayas (mostly carrying Hakoya bentos) and FOUR Daiso’s (in Lynnwood, Federal Way, Puyallup and downtown Seattle). The one in downtown Seattle is the biggest, but it’s just under half the size of the Daly City one (which I was in a week ago).

    Thank you for the fast bento tips. I’m starting to bring my lunch more often to work now!

  17. I’m so obsessed! :-)

    Now to work on my Japanese so I can visit the six-floor Daiso in Tokyo!

  18. Yup, Daily City. If it’s convenient for you to hit San Francisco first, I’d definitely recommend stopping by Ichiban Kan in Japantown first. Depending on where they are in their inventory cycle, they’ve got a lot of bento gear for $1 ($0.50 cheaper than Daiso, but Daiso has more stuff). Ichiban Kan also started stocking those insulated bento kits (with the thermal jar for rice, two side dish containers, a fork & case, and insulated carrying case) for $20 — cheaper than you’ll find pretty much anywhere else (I think I saw them at Kukje for about $40 if memory serves).

  19. Drop a line if you get to SF this summer and I’ll let you know which stores are flush with bento gear that week.

  20. The tomato skewers were fun to make (uh, mostly because it was maximum fun/cute for minimal effort).

  21. Good for you with packing leftovers, however they get packed! I’m all for bringing the most delicious food I can with a minimum of effort in the morning.

  22. Nice idea on the balsamic vinegar — there really are endless variations if we all get creative.

    Wow, big life change to move to Japan next year! It’ll definitely be good for your Japanese! Why Yokosuka? Military?

  23. I’m looking for something that holds the food together, yet when stabbed into another child’s arm, will break. I’ve never heard of anyone being injured by a fettucini noodle, have you?
    I’ll try the fetuccini noodle and see what the sensei says. Thanks for the tip!
    Ooooh. I want that lunch box! I’ve never seen that over here. I’ll make a trip to Koreatown, there’s a store called Love Art that sells korean style bento items. Our japanese dollar stores here have been lacking in the bento department lately.
    –julie

  24. Jaa, ganbatte ne!

  25. ありがとうございます

  26. I think I will use the shepard’s pie recipe for my new bento’s first “outing” ;).

    Ack. Daiso has stores almost everywhere except Australia >_<. Good thing I’m visiting Singapore soon so I can stock up ^_^

  27. Ooh, enjoy the food in Singapore. My mouth is watering now with all of the great food memories from there!!!

  28. Lol thanks! I will try to enjoy the food – but it’s kind of tricky because I have to find gluten-free alternatives, but I’m sure there’s yummy alternatives (like the Hainanese chicken rice):D

  29. Ah. I truly understand your situation as my husband was misdiagnosed with celiac disease in 2005 and we went totally gluten-free for nine months before he was “undiagnosed”. That’s actually what got me into packing lunches (bentos, Laptop Lunches, thermal lunch jars, etc.). Full story on my profile here.

  30. Julie, any word from the sensei? I was also thinking that the little tiny straws from juice boxes could also work.

  31. What about using the silicone baking cups that Wilton and others offer, instead of the foil? They’re a little pricey, but colourful, reusable and microwave-safe.

  32. You know, I really need to pick some of those up. It’s a great idea, but I just haven’t bought them yet.

  33. Thanks for the info, sff_corgi!

  34. You know, I’ve seen a couple of the more common shapes in Albertson’s and Safeway locally, but they seemed a little big for my bentos. They are cool, though!

  35. :foreheadthwap: Ach, of course. They don’t really have anything for scale in those photos, but I forgot to consider that, too!

  36. But remember that a lot of my bentos are pretty miniature (for Bug) — if I’m going to make something cute it’s going to be for him. I have seen other people using these in their larger boxes, though!

  37. I tried your stovetop frittata and tomato skewers today – those tomato skewers especially were WONDERFUL. Just genius! (Seen via Flickr). Thanks so much for spreading your knowledge around!

  38. Glad to hear they worked out for you! :-)

  39. Did you find you had to adjust the cooking time significantly for the baby shepherd’s pies as opposed to a full-sized one?

  40. You know, I don’t think I did, but it was a while ago. Just keep an eye on the cheese on top and pull it when it’s melted and just turning golden brown.

  41. I am wondering if cocktail straws or paper lollipop sticks (trimmed to whatever size) would be considered safe for child lunch skewers?

  42. @51 from arlofay: You know, I was experimenting with juice box straws as skewers, and they were working quite well. Lollipop sticks sound good as well, although I guess it would depend on the school…

  43. Hi Biggie –

    Wow! I stumbled onto your website a couple of days ago — what a gold mine! You’ve put an amazing amount of effort into this site and I am quite appreciative. My daughter will be, too, when school starts up again this year – her lunches were pretty boring last year – LOL! I got a Laptop Lunchbox for her last year due to the waste-free aspect of it, never realizing the bento world that’s out there that your site has now introduced me to. You also introduced me to Ichiban Kan, which I’ve already visited online – placed an order for about 50 bento thingys and can’t wait for the box to arrive!

    I have a question for you about the mini pies above. Because they are smaller, do they need to be cooked for less time, or do you cook them along with the large pie for the same amount of time?

    Thanks again for all of your info! I’m going through your posts chronologically and printing out lots of stuff. You’ve inspired me to make a bento lunch binder filled with speed tips and recipes from your site.

  44. Oops, I just read above the answer to the cooking time question. Should have read through the comments first – doh!

  45. @55/56 from jenipen: Hooray, you found your answer about the mini pies! I just wrote up a Bento FAQ that might help you get situated — welcome, and enjoy!