Archive for July, 2007
Packing lunches in such a way that the food stays fresh and safe is important for all of us, but the feeling of responsibility is especially strong when you’re packing for someone else. I’m willing to take minor food safety risks with my own lunches, but don’t ever want my son to get sick because I packed his lunch unwisely. As part of an earlier post on food safety for packed lunches, I recommended keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, using thermal jars and cold packs. Today’s tip is a delicious variation on the standard ice pack.
You’ve probably heard of the standard Mommy trick of freezing a bottle of water or juice, and packing that inside an insulated lunch box. It melts by lunchtime, keeps the lunch cool, provides a drink, and lightens the load on the way home. Similarly, you can freeze canned fruit or fruit cocktail in little lidded containers (details here), or take it a step further by freezing pre-packaged jellies or puddings. I froze all of the puddings/jellies in the photo above and did a taste test, and there were no ill effects on taste or texture. Hey, think of Bill Cosby’s pudding pops — same concept. The tiniest pudding cups (as above) can be packed right inside of a bento lunch, or you can make your own in small lidded condiment cups (like the ones I used for jello fruit cups) that are cheap and widely available at restaurant supply stores. Get creative — make your own frozen treat, and share your brilliance with us in comments!
(Shown in photo: Chinese Lychee pudding, mango pudding, Kiku brand “Petit Pudding”, and canned Thai fruit cocktail.)
- Freeze canned fruit in little containers, use as an ice pack
- Hot vs. cold lunch packing considerations
- Food safety for packed lunches
- Biggie’s list of Top Speed Tips, tutorials and equipment reviews
- Read other Lunch in a Box posts about freezing
Published by Biggie on July 31st, 2007 tagged freezing, parenthacks, tips, vegetarian | 35 Comments »
Bay Area readers will be happy to hear that Daiso, a Japanese dollar store with branches internationally, has opened a new store in San Jose’s Eastridge Mall selling cheap bento and household goods. Evidently it’s smaller than the Daly City branch in Serramonte Mall, but it’s a lot closer for South Bay folks. The San Jose store’s grand opening was July 28, so expect crowds. Shout out to reader Lynne and LJ user sw33ts0rr0w for pointing this out!
Eastridge Mall, San Jose, CA 95122
(Daiso website in English)
Newly opened branch of Japanese dollar store (okay, $1.50 store). The Daly City branch has a selection of cheap bento boxes, accessories, antibacterial bento sheets and food cups, freezer containers, cooking equipment, metal bento boxes, mini microwave steamers, stovetop fish/veggie grills, home products, dishes, hobby gear, childrenâ€™s toys and books in Japanese, etc.
Ichiban Kan update:
In other news, I stopped by the Ichiban Kan dollar store in San Francisco’s Japantown today and asked them a little more about anticipated shipping policies for their online store to open in November 2007 (details in my original post here). They said theyâ€™re still planning the details: shipping within the U.S. is definitely fine, but no decision yet on international.
- SF Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear (newly updated)
- Ichiban Kan dollar store to open online store in November 2007
- SF Bay Area guide to ethnic markets
Published by Biggie on July 31st, 2007 tagged SF Bay Area local, equipment, shopping | 15 Comments »
Having a stash of individually portioned lunch staples in the freezer can rescue you on busy mornings when you don’t have leftovers to pack. When you have time to cook in the evenings or on the weekends, make a little extra and store it away for weekday lunches — you won’t regret it.
In a variation on freezing pasta in individual servings, you can freeze leftover sauced pasta in muffin liners set directly in a freezer container like the one in the photo. No need to freeze them individually in muffin tins first (although you can if you like). Two ways to pack one in a lunch: 1) just take one out of the freezer and drop it into a lunch frozen solid (it’ll thaw by lunchtime and act as an ice pack at the same time). 2) If you’ve frozen the pasta in non-aluminum cups, microwave either before packing or eating to restore the texture. I like to pack a little extra pasta sauce in a small container to remoisten the pasta just prior to eating, but that’s personal preference.
A reader of Japanese home magazine Shufu no Tomo submitted this as a tip that made it into their book on freezing. Use the frozen pasta within one month of freezing for best flavor. For maximum protection against freezer burn, remove the lid and slip the container into a freezer bag. Seal the bag, using a straw to suck the excess air out of the bag (like a DIY FoodSaver vacuum sealer), and replace the lid. Freeze.
- Freezing unsauced pasta
- Freezing spaghetti cups in mini muffin tins
- Freeze canned fruit, use as an ice pack
- Use magnets to track freezer inventory
- Biggie’s list of Top Speed Tips, tutorials and equipment reviews
Published by Biggie on July 31st, 2007 tagged freezing, pasta or noodles, tips, tutorial or how to | 11 Comments »
Contents of my lunch: Pork and Chinese spinach gyoza (boiled) with soy/vinegar dipping sauce, sauteed purple kale with garlic and red wine vinegar (loose recipe below), curly green-leaf lettuce, tiny black Corinth Champagne grapes, and a fresh lychee. I didn’t know that Zante currants are actually dried black Corinth grapes, and not actually true currants! The purple kale was strikingly beautiful in the store, and cooked up simply with a basic recipe from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. I turn to the Chez Panisse Vegetables book when I’ve got an interesting new vegetable from the farmer’s market but haven’t yet figured out how to showcase its flavor — trust Alice Waters to bring out the peak flavor of fresh, local produce.
Morning prep time: 12 minutes, mostly because it took a while to bring the water to a boil for the store-bought frozen dumplings. The kale was leftover from dinner, and I used pre-filled sauce containers for speed.
Packing: I used the curly leaf lettuce as an edible divider to keep the kale away from the fruit. I drained the kale in a mini strainer and bowl before packing to keep the sauce from leaking into the rest of the lunch, and for better packed lunch food safety. Packed in a 500ml Leaflet bento box.
Cooking: Saute a head of chopped, washed, slightly wet kale leaves (minus stems) in a little olive oil. Once the kale has reduced down, add a little extra water and a minced garlic clove, cover, and cook on medium-low heat until tender (5-15 minutes, depending upon the maturity of the kale). When tender, remove lid and let the remaining water evaporate. Add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar per head of kale (or to taste), salt and pepper, and serve. I added a teaspoon of sugar in hopes that Bug would eat it (taking the edge off of the bitter greens), but no go. Big hit with the adults, though!
Contents of preschooler lunch: Same as mine, with the addition of a cheese triangle and plum tomatoes. Bug appears to be on a strike against purple food, though, as he was unimpressed with the purple kale (green seems to be okay, though).
Packing: The cheese wedge acted as a divider to keep the flavor of the kale away from the rest of the lunch. Bug ate (inhaled?) the gyoza with his hands — it’s one of his favorites. Packed in two tiers (180ml & 280ml) of a 4-tier nesting Thomas the Tank Engine box.
My husband loves kale, so he got extra. I pre-peeled the lychee to make it easier to eat. Packed in a 600ml two-tier box.
- Need for speed: A mommy’s lunch manifesto
- How to pack a bento lunch and fill gaps
- Choosing the right size bento box
- Packed lunch food safety
- Biggieâ€™s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews
Published by Biggie on July 28th, 2007 tagged bento, dumplings or buns, for kids, lactose free, meat, recipe | 13 Comments »
Contents of preschooler lunch: Gold kiwi, blueberries, spinach and cheese ravioli with tomato sauce (with sauteed pancetta and yellow bell peppers), buttered green peas and Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. Bug wasn’t into the purple potatoes, but gave everything else the big two-and-a-half year old Thumbs Up.
Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using leftover sauced ravioli. The one thing I cooked this morning was the pea and potato dish: I peeled and thinly sliced a wedge of purple potato, microwaved it on high in a lot of water for the potato, drained and tossed with butter, salt and pepper.
Packing: I cut up the kiwi and ravioli for easier preschooler eating, and packed the ravioli on top of a thick layer of extra sauce (for mixing just before eating for improved texture). Dividers built into the box keep everything nice and separate, preventing flavors from mingling. Packed in one 350ml tier of a Lock & Lock bento set.
Ingredients: Gold kiwifruit is in the stores again! It’s much like regular green kiwi, but with a faintly melon taste and no fuzz on the skin. If you like, you can eat the skin after washing it, like an apple. I also picked up some Okinawan purple sweet potatoes on a whim — I usually get small purple boiling potatoes, but these were much larger (and more expensive). I enjoyed the flavor and have a lot left; maybe I’ll try the purple sweet potato pie recipe in the link.
Contents: Same as Bug’s lunch, with the addition of fresh lychees (a.k.a. litchis).
Morning prep time: 9 minutes (same as above, minus the cutting of the ravioli).
Packing: I packed the two raviolis on top of a thick layer of extra sauce so that I could re-sauce just prior to eating for best texture. Because this box does not have built-in dividers, I used two cupcake liners to contain the rolling peas and blueberries, keeping the lychees clean and dry. Silicone cupcake liners, reusable plastic food cups, or other food dividers (edible dividers like lettuce or flat veggies, or non-edible dividers like sushi grass or other plastic dividers) would work just as well.
Equipment: Packed in a two-tier Feel at Ease box that I got for US$1.50 at Ichiban Kan; unfortunately the design is coming off of the lid due to repeated trips through the dishwasher (guess I should have actually listened to the Japanese care instructions and hand-washed it after all — a warning to those of you with Feel at Ease boxes!). The two-tier 580ml Urara dragonfly box is of a similar design, size and price, and has worn much better through nine month’s worth of trips through the dishwasher (boxes and top lid only, not the more delicate inner lids). If you have a choice between the two, definitely opt for the Urara if you plan to run it through the dishwasher.