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…)
Freezing: To freeze the pancakes, thoroughly cool, then wrap individual servings in plastic wrap (I made stacks of two). Place the wrapped pancakes in a freezer bag or plastic freezer container, and freeze. If using a freezer bag, use a straw to suck the excess air out of the bag before sealing to reduce the chance of freezer burn. Eat within a month for best quality, although technically they can be kept indefinitely if stored below 0 degrees C (not F). My Shufu no Tomo book on freezing says that allowing frozen pancakes to thaw naturally causes them to lose fluffiness and collapse, so to unwrap the frozen pancake, rewrap in aluminum foil, and reheat in a toaster oven or oven. My pancakes didn’t collapse when I let them defrost in the refrigerator, but I preferred the light, fluffy texture when I microwaved them briefly on medium heat. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)
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Contents of my lunch: Pancakes with orange cranberry sauce, olives, green bean casserole, pickled herring and pomegranate arils. I really enjoyed the pancakes with cranberry sauce, it was reminiscent of Swedish pancakes with ligonberries…
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using all leftovers.
Packing: The cranberries went into a lidded disposable condiment cup, the kind that I used for jello cups. The green bean casserole went into a short, large silicone baking cup with fluted edges that I picked up from Daiso (2 for US$1.50). Packed in the 465ml two-tier Pon de Lion box from Mister Donut described below.
Container: My friend Mami gave me a limited edition bento box from the doughnut chain Mister Donut, given to customers in Japan accumulating enough points on cards given with a purchase from March to May 2007. The “Pon de Lion” character is a play on the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and one of the chain’s new products, a filled donut that looks like the outside ring of the lion’s head. The box itself is 465ml total, with a 190ml top tier and a 265ml bottom tier. The upper tier has a flat, tight-sealing white lid, and the top tier can be turned over when empty and nested into the bottom tier, reducing the size of the empty container you carry home. The outer lid isn’t latched and the bottom tier lid is essentially the bottom of the top tier itself, so best to be sure that foods packed inside aren’t wet. The box is all held together with the yellow elastic bento band, and sits inside a non-insulated matching cloth bag. It’s a little on the small side for my lunches, but Bug is quite taken with it (good when I pack bulky foods or when he gets a little older).
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