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Posted on Oct 2, 2007 in Bento, Curry, Dumplings or Buns, Food Jar, For Kids, Lactose Free, Meat, Poultry, Rice | 21 comments

Empanada & curry lunches

Empanada & curry lunches

Bug actually started preschool yesterday, but this lunch is the last of my photo backlog before I switch gears. I tried out some frozen empanadas that were pretty good heated in the oven, not much good heated in the microwave (soggy steamed crusts, blech). Now that I’ll be packing a lunch for Bug every morning, I think I’m going to give in and get a convection toaster oven so that it’ll speed up cooking of convenience food (both homemade and store-bought) like the empanadas — faster cooking than conventional heating, more energy efficient, and less time to preheat than a big oven. Time to cash that birthday check from my Dad! If you have any feedback on convection toaster ovens, please feel free to comment before I go out and plunk down money… I’ve looked at ratings from Consumer Reports and Cooks Illustrated so far.


Curry & empanada lunch

Contents of my lunch: Thai red curry (with chicken, eggplant and red bell peppers), papaya chunks, dolmas (in this case, seasoned rice wrapped in grape leaves), beef empanadas and dipping sauce that went unused. Master recipe for the Thai curry is here.

Morning prep time: 17 minutes, largely inactive prep time heating the frozen empanadas in the oven. The Thai curry was leftover from an earlier dinner, and the dolmas were from a can (given, not the most amazing taste sensation ever, but a quick pantry item that easily adds variety to a lunch).

Packing: I preheated food jar with hot tap water while I microwaved the curry and heated the empanadas. I used a 560ml insulated bento set (240ml rice jar and 160ml side dishes), which is handy in that the lid of the thermos lifts off instead of screwing off, so it’s easy for little hands to open. As long as you pack the jar inside its carrying case, it’s just as secure as a regular food jar with screw-on lid (I did an experiment by filling the food jar with water, putting it on its side in the trunk of my car while I drove around, and shaking the set upside down). Although similar sets sell here and here for about US$40 (ouch), you can duplicate this setup on the cheap by using a thermal food jar and separate bento box packed in an insulated lunch bag to take both hot and cold foods at the same time.

Curry lunch under

Contents of husband’s lunch: Same as mine, but with a folded slice of ham (a la my earlier “salami curls”) and yellow rice packed in a layer on top of the Thai curry.

Morning prep time: 6 minutes, using leftover curry and rice, plus canned dolmas. In the morning I heated the curry/rice and sliced the papaya.

Packing: I used the “rice lid” technique described here to keep both rice and curry warm in a single container. Packed in a 300ml thermal food jar and 190ml metal side dish container.

Empanada lunch for toddler
Preschooler lunch: Wrapped cheese triangle, empanadas and papaya. Packed in one 350ml tier of a Lock & Lock lunch set.


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  1. I just found you from Flikr (and a post on Simply Recipes – – about Apples, go figure!) We have a severely Autistic child who is allergic to dairy in all forms… I’m sold! Thank you a dozen times over for this amazing reference! I’m ordering a Laptop set tonight and digging through your site to find ideas… finally, our little one will be able to have GOOD food, rather than “whatever is dairy free” at his therapy school!

  2. Oh, I want a toaster oven! My microwave is giving in, thinking about replacing it with a toaster oven only. All I do in the microwave anyway is soften butter and reheat ocassional lunch and dinners (I’m singel).

    Now, this might be a stupid idea. But I use cold-/hotpacks from 3M. They’re actually for burns and/or achy muscles and stuff. You pop them in the freezer and/or in the microwave. I took two and put them in a freezer bag to transport some frozen food. Perfect. Plus I can use them for my achy joints later ;).

  3. Hello, I’ve been following your blogs for a while. The food looks great and healthy.

    About the convection toaster oven, my family uses the Oster 6-slice convection toaster oven. It comes in 2 colors- red and black. It also comes with a removable tray for crumbs. Target sells them for about $50 when on sale. $60 when not. Here’s the link online to see the picture:

  4. Hello, I’ve heard of you so many times by Mook (from French Bento) that I eventually decided to visit you ! I really like your blog ! I still haven’t received my first bento but I’m waiting for it with much impatience !
    What is funny is the English name “dolma” as, in greek, they are called “dolmadakia”. I made some with my “grandmother” (not really my grandmother but well, it’s the same…) It’s very good !
    See you

  5. Hi Biggie, Thank you for your helpful website! I’m in the eastbay and visit your site frequently. I’ll have to cross the bridge one of these days to check out your shopping haunts. Can you tell me which brands of empanadas you prefer? Does Costco still sell your fav tamales?

    Toaster ovens: I like to follow Cooks Illustrated too. I’ve had both Black & Decker and currently Euro Pro. Euro Pro is build to last, does the job but my timer never worked. I also have to remember that one side of the oven browns faster than the other side. Just my experience.

  6. Took my first bento meal to work today, and I used your Master Thai Curry recipe. It was great! I used turkey Spam for the meat in the recipe–I know, sounds awful, but 100% turkey-meat Spam is not all that bad, nutritionally. Anyway, it worked great, and next time I’ll be using chicken. This was a fun lunch!

  7. @1 from Dagny: Welcome! Bento-style lunches really are ideal for food allergies or special diets — you can totally control what you eat, plus pack it compactly and attractively so that you feel spoiled at lunchtime instead of deprived. More power to you!

  8. @2 from Jessica: What’s stupid about using the hot/cold packs for your lunch? Sounds like a great idea!

  9. @3 from Beanbean: Will do, Beanbean. One of my top criteria is that it has to do toast well (a challenge for toaster ovens) so that I can replace my slot-style toaster with the TO. I don’t have the free counter space either! Unfortunately this is probably going to push me up into a higher price range than I was anticipating as I’m reading that only the pricier models do toast as well as a standard toaster. Ugh.

  10. @4 from Han: Thanks for the kind words, Han! How does your toaster oven do with toast itself (fast/slow and even/uneven)? Any thoughts/feedback?

  11. @5 from Maïlys: Thanks for stopping by! I think Mook is doing a great job on FrenchBento of bringing bento info to a French-speaking audience — more power to her! I also found your blog interesting as I wasn’t that aware of Basque foods. One of these days I’ll try my hand at homemade dolmas; if only I had a Greek “grandmother” like you! ;-)

  12. @7 from neverenoughjam: Turkey spam curry? Never say never! I’m not one to nay-say until I’ve actually tried it. Reminds me of the first time I made spam musubi (sushi) about 6 years ago for a friend’s luau party. I made it almost as a joke because it sounded so awful(but classically Hawaiian), but in the midst of making it I tasted some and discovered that it was actually quite tasty! Now I make it in large quantities at least once a year for the annual luau party.

  13. Hi Biggie – love your site. I’ve been faithfully packing lunches in several different Lock & Lock containers ever since I stumbled onto this resource in August and I can’t believe how wonderful the “bento box” concept is for my needs. Anyway, we bought a Hamilton Beach Toastation about a six months ago and it’s great – I was unsure whether it would be good at toasting and heating since dual-purpose products are usually mediocre at best, but we really like it. Here’s the link for reference sake
    Thanks again!

  14. Whoops! That’s not a convection oven – sorry!

  15. @14 from Erin: That’s great that you’ve found a good method for your needs in the bento box! They can be as simple or elaborate as you’re up to — no special rules, really! Thanks for the Hamilton Beach toaster oven reference (although I’ll hold out for the convection feature so I can shave off even another minute or two in the mornings).

  16. @17 from Jennifer: Thanks for the feedback, Jennifer! I’m looking to make a decision this weekend and place my order or pick one up.

  17. I have the Cuisinart Convection oven which I LOVE! My oven was out of commission for a while, and I cooked EVERYTHING in there… chicken, cakes, bread… you name it. The toast does come out a little uneven, but overall, great.

  18. @19 from Kelly: Do you happen to know which model it is that you have?

  19. @9, Biggie,
    These packs contains a gel similar to those depicted in your food safety pictorial. Thought that you might have considered these packs or those like it already.
    3M’s is called Nexcare. I have four that I switch around with. Nexcare is however, not designed for food use, it is for cold/hot pad therapy of injuries. I use it for food transports.

  20. @21 from Jessica: Yes, I have heard of people using the hot/cold packs before — it’s a good idea. Reminds me of a CorningWare insulated potluck dish carrier I was looking at today in Bed, Bath & Beyond. Comes with those hot/cold gel pack to hold the hot or cold dish at the right temperature for longer.