Archive for November, 2007
One of my main goals in starting this blog was to show other lunch packers ways to speed up their morning lunch prep, based on the popular speed bento movement in Japan. You know, to prove that you can still make an appealing bento lunch even if you don’t spend hours making decorative food art. One important basic is having frozen stapes like rice on hand, no matter how you’ve frozen the fresh, moist rice: as shaped onigiri rice balls, shaped to fit your bento box perfectly, inarizushi stuffed sushi, in a freezer container, or even just wrapped in plastic wrap. This provides great flexibility in the morning when you remember that you’re not tied to using the rice in the shape that you originally froze it. After you warm the rice in the microwave (turning it over halfway through for even defrosting), feel free to reshape it, plop it into your lunch container, make quick “mixed rice” dishes such as this or this or this, or mix it with other add-ins as I’ve done below.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Sliced fish cake (”minch ball”) on skewers, fruit cup with tangerine, blueberries and raspberries, onigiri rice balls mixed with pink sakura denbu and green hana-ebi, cherry tomatoes and steamed broccoli. Sakura denbu is a sweet powder of ground codfish that’s often used in chirashizushi and children’s bento lunches, and hana ebi is a savory shrimp powder from Hawaii that comes in either red or green. You can see the results of all three types here in an early snack bento for my son.
Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using frozen rice. In the morning I made the rice balls with the plastic wrap method, quickly cooked the broccoli in my microwave mini steamer, and sliced the tomatoes and fish cakes. The tangerine segment was leftover from the previous day.
Packing: This was a finger-friendly meal, so no separate utensils were necessary. The sliced fish cake went on animal skewers (bought at Daiso dollar store with branches internationally, US$1.50 for an assorted set of 10 or 12), the vegetables went in reusable silicone baking cup to keep them from the dry rice balls, and the delicate fruits went into a hard plastic food cup to prevent bruising. Lunch packed in one undivided 350ml tier of a Lock & Lock lunch set.
Verdict: I was overly confident about this lunch; I thought that Bug would eat it all up at preschool because it was cute and finger-friendly. Think again! He ate the onigiri, fruit and tomatoes, leaving the broccoli and most of the fish cake. At the playground after school, he ate the broccoli but gave the fish cake a thumbs down (sometimes he likes it, but not that day). I had thought that he’d reject the tomatoes if anything, but kids are full of surprises once you think you have them figured out! (Click for full details of the second lunch with mini bagel sandwich…)
Published by Biggie on November 30th, 2007 tagged bento, fish or seafood, for kids, glutenfree, lactose free, onigiri or sushi, sandwich or wrap, tips, tofu | 15 Comments »
One of my speed bento tips has been to make a little extra when you’re cooking another meal, and set it aside for lunches. Planned leftovers can be divided into individual portions and frozen, or just stashed in the refrigerator for quick use. So when I had time over the Thanksgiving holiday to make buttermilk pancakes, I made mini pancakes with the excess batter at the same time and froze them for a quick lunch option. My son was excited to get pancakes for lunch as a treat, and it was a fast and easy option for me: win, win.
Over the holiday, I made the iconic Thanksgiving dish of green bean casserole from scratch with this Alton Brown recipe, using fresh mushrooms and green beans, but minus the canned soup. When I first saw this on AB’s Good Eats TV show, I thought it was way too much effort for a single dish on a day when the cook would presumably be working on other dishes. Then I realized that it would be an ideal candidate to bring along to a potluck Thanksgiving, what we did this year. Everything turned out beautifully except for the onions, which other readers on the Food Network site had problems with as well. Either turn the heat down and watch them like a hawk, or buy a can of fried onions (you can also find these sold at Thai markets in addition to the mainstream Durkee’s at chain supermarkets). Overall, I’d say it was worth the effort; I especially liked the large slices of fresh mushroom and crisp green beans throughout.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Buttermilk pancakes and maple syrup, deconstructed green bean casserole (mushrooms in the food cup, green beans on the side), scrambled egg ball with peas, and pomegranate seeds. I shaped the egg purses with plastic wrap, as in the how-to here. Using frozen mini pancakes was a variation on this lunch.
Morning prep time: 12 minutes, using frozen pancakes, leftover green bean casserole, and a sauce container pre-filled with syrup. The night before, I put a little stack of two frozen pancakes into the refrigerator to defrost naturally. This worked passably well, but on seeing that there was more room in the box in the morning, I microwaved an additional frozen pancake. The microwaved pancake came out softer than the naturally defrosted pancake, and is how I’ll reheat them going forward.
Packing: For some reason, my son doesn’t like green beans when they have sauce on them, so I simply picked them out of the casserole, rinsed them off, and dried them well before packing them alongside. Bug ate them with his fingers. I packed the mushrooms in a reusable plastic food cup that I thought was shaped like a cow, but my son pointed out that it also looked like a car when you looked at it ‘upside down’. It was like looking at a trompe d’oeuil drawing of a vase, and suddenly seeing it morph into two faces, depending upon how you look at it. Packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-divider removed.
Verdict: Good over time. Surprisingly, when I picked Bug up from preschool he had only eaten one pancake and all of the mushrooms, leaving everything else. In the car afterwards, though, he happily ate everything except the green peas and the pomegranate. When pressed, Bug said he ran out of time, but I’m thinking the pancakes and egg might have been frustrating for him to eat on his own as I hadn’t cut them up into bite-sized pieces. (Click to read the full entry with pancake freezing directions, adult bento, and review of a “Pon de Lion” box from Mister Donut…)
Published by Biggie on November 28th, 2007 tagged bento, eggs, equipment, fish or seafood, for kids, freezing, phyllo or pancake or other | 22 Comments »
In a follow up to my review of Japanese-language speed bento and freezing books on my bookshelf, here are some children’s bento cookbooks that I have with thoughts. Some are focused on simple lunches, others more on decorative food art with garnishing tips. All are trade paperback “Mooks” (magazine books), usually with multiple color photos on every page. I’ve indicated which books might be informative even without understanding Japanese, and will follow up with a review of my general bento books. Have you got a favorite Japanese-language bento cookbook? Leave a comment and tell us know what it is!
I got most of these at Kinokuniya, a big Japanese bookstore chain with branches worldwide. I go to the branch in San Francisco’s Japantown, the chain’s first overseas store, but have mixed feelings about them. When I lived in Japan throughout the nineties they were pretty much the only place to find a selection of English books, and boy did they ever charge you for it! The foreign ‘gaijin’ community finally got more choice (and a much-needed drop in prices) when Tower Records opened up stores in Japan and Amazon.com came on the scene. So now I’m experiencing the opposite flow: buying Japanese books in the U.S. — prices are still high (US$14 for a 1000-yen book a year ago).
If there’s no Japanese bookstore or library near you, Amazon Japan ships books, CDs, DVDs and videos internationally (shipping info in English here), and you can turn most of the site into English by clicking on the “In English” button on the right of the red bar at the top of the page. Each Amazon entry shows the book’s ISBN number, which might be helpful if you’re trying to look them up or special order them. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links; purchases made by accessing Amazon Japan through these links supports Lunch in a Box.) (Read the full cookbook reviews here…)
Published by Biggie on November 26th, 2007 tagged shopping, tips | 6 Comments »
Bento boxes come in all shapes and styles, from small and cute to big and mannish. I’ve been curious about the triangular boxes that are designed to hold triangular onigiri rice balls. I picked up a couple from local Japanese dollar stores, but so far I’ve only seen cheaper onigiri boxes without proper seals (fine if your lunch is not too moist). I’d welcome feedback from people with other versions, though; have you found one with a really secure seal? (Feel free to provide links to your photos or blog entries.)
Contents of preschooler lunch: Oinarizushi (sushi rice in seasoned abura-age tofu wrappers), fried fish fillets with built-in tartar sauce (Akebono Nichiro brand, reviewed here), edamame skewers, cherry tomatoes, kiwifruit, and pomegranate arils.
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using homemade frozen inarizushi (freezing instructions here), frozen fish fillets, frozen edamame and leftover pomegranate arils. In the morning I microwaved the frozen items and assembled the fruits/veggies.
Packing: I threaded the edamame onto thin Anpanman food picks; if you try to do this with thick or wide skewers the edamame will split apart and won’t stay on. The fruit went into a medium-sized reusable silicone baking cup that I picked up at Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally, 3 cups for US$1.50), and the kiwi got a little dog-shaped pick with four prongs as legs (from Daiso).
Container: The lunch was packed in a two-tier Clickety Click onigiri bento box with the Mink Monkey character; the bottom tier is 230ml with a lid, and the 550ml top tier is large enough to hold two convenience-store-sized onigiri (rice balls). 780ml is way too big for a 3-year-old’s lunch, though, so I packed the upper tier lightly with three oinarizushi rice balls for an estimated total volume of 400ml or so (still slightly too large). I picked this box up for US$1.50 at Ichiban Kan in San Francisco, along with a matching dessert box and mayonnaise cups (shown below). Quality’s a little flimsy and the seal is not secure, but at that price who cares? (Just be sure to pack non-liquidy foods inside.) Store details at the SF Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear. There’s no real fastener on this box, so I used a mushroom-themed elastic bento band from Daiso (US$1.50) to keep it all closed in transit. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)
Verdict: Pretty good, but there was too much food. Bug ate all of the sushi, edamame and kiwi, and half of the fish and pomegranate. Tomatoes were a no-go, though. Sometimes he gobbles them up, other times not — I’m finding he has irritatingly good taste and will inhale ripe heirloom tomatoes in season, but reject tougher, less tasty tomatoes. Reminds me of the line on the cartoon King of the Hill, just before Hank Hill tastes organic tomatoes for the first time, “You two are just talking nonsense. Tomatoes don’t have any taste!”
- Making and freezing rice balls (onigiri & yaki onigiri)
- Biggie’s recipes
- How to pack a bento lunch and use â€œgap fillersâ€
- 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 November 24th, 2007 tagged bento, equipment, fish or seafood, for kids, lactose free, onigiri or sushi, rice, sandwich or wrap, tofu | 21 Comments »
This was my son’s first pomegranate — Bug was asking for a snack the day before this lunch, so we sat together at the kitchen table with a big bowl filled with water and picked apart the pomegranate. We had fun watching the arils fall to the bottom and the pith float to the top, and Bug quickly started popping the seeds into his mouth. That snack was half play, half food, so packing the remaining pomegranate arils in the next day’s bento was a little reminder to him of the fun we had earlier.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Roast chicken, sauteed sugar snap peas, pomegranate arils and Puerto Rican yellow rice with alcaparrado.
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using leftover yellow rice, chicken and pomegranate. In the morning I made the sugar snap peas, and lightly microwaved the yellow rice to restore the texture.
Packing: I made a couple of fatal errors in packing this lunch. The key to packing a bento that will survive rough treatment in transport is packing it tight, with no gaps. At first glance this lunch would seem to be fine, but the pomegranate seeds and yellow rice are very loose and need to be contained. In an effort to do just that, I covered the pomegranate arils with a bear-shaped â€œsurprise animal capâ€ and put an antibacterial lunch sheet over the rice before putting the lid on. This might have been fine, but walking into preschool I watched my son drop his whole lunch bag upside down as he was putting it into his cubbyhole, then pick it up and drop it again on its side. Ouch! Had it been a normal lunch it might have withstood this dropping, but it was a little on the fragile side to begin with, so the rice and pomegranate both jumped around in the box. Pomegranate arils are packed in a heart-shaped reusable plastic food cup from Daiso, and the whole lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-divider removed to accommodate more food.
Verdict: Not so great. Once the rice mixed with the pomegranate, Bug didn’t want to eat either, so he just ate the chicken and sugar snap peas. If I were to re-pack this, I’d either use a different box like the Lock & Lock one below, or securely cover the pomegranate and rice with either plastic wrap or Glad Pressâ€™n Seal.
* * * * *
Contents of my lunch: Salad of spring greens, pomegranate arils, and pine nuts with a black fig vinaigrette. Yellow rice, kiwifruit, wrapped cheese, and roast chicken. I got the black fig vinegar from the Hop Kiln winery in the Russian River Valley a while back — a picturesque winery with a lot of Zinfandels.
Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using leftover rice, chicken and pomegranate. In the morning I just made the salad, threw in a pre-filled sauce container with vinaigrette to save time, and cut the kiwi in half to eat with a spoon. The rice got a brief spin in the microwave to restore texture.
Packing: This was the right way to pack the loose yellow rice — in a 700ml Lock & Lock bento set with built-in dividers that come right up to the lid (no room for rice to jump compartments, even if dropped).
- Keep rice warm and soft in a food jar
- Hot vs. cold lunch packing considerations
- Top 7 things to do with leftover food scraps
- Tips for packing smelly food
- Biggieâ€™s list of top speed tips, tutorials and equipment reviews