Archive for January, 2008
Instead of packing a lunch bento and a separate snack bento for my three-year-old, lately I’ve been packing larger lunches that do double duty. This works for us as I’m around after preschool to prompt him to finish up his leftovers, but if he were eating his afternoon snack on his own I’d want to pack a separate side dish container with a snack to make it a little more neat and special.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Papaya chunks, sauteed snow peas with garlic and Mae Krua Thai oyster sauce (my favorite, product spotlight here), broiled tilapia with Kewpie mayonnaise, and Korean-style inarizushi triangles.
Morning prep time: 15 minutes, including cooling time for the fish and inarizushi. In the morning I popped the fish into the toaster oven while I made the inarizushi with leftover refrigerated rice (warming the rice first in the microwave to restore the texture). The snow peas were leftover from dinner, and I’d peeled and cut the papaya the day before as a snack.
Packing: I had initially broiled the fish in a low, extra-thick aluminum baking cup (shown at left) in my convection toaster oven, thinking I’d pack it in the same cup. But I found the extra-thick cup to be too large and low for this bento box, so I wound up using very plain aluminum food cups to pack both the drained/cooled fish and the drained/cooled snow peas. I packed the lunch in two tiers (280ml & 180ml) of a four-tier stacking and nesting Thomas the Tank Engine bento box set, and bound the two tiers together with a decorative elastic bento band. This is large for a three-year-old according to the bento box size guidelines, but there’s a lot of empty space in the larger container because of the shape of the inarizushi.
Verdict: Mixed. Bug ate all of the inarizushi at preschool, and that was it. After school he ate the papaya and snow peas as a snack in the car, but announced that he didn’t like the fish after trying one piece of it. I asked him if he’d eat the fish if it had pesto sauce on it (magic sauce for Bug, which I can’t send to preschool because of their food allergy policy) and he said yes, but a night later I tried making that for dinner and he rejected it. Oh well. It just reinforces my feeling that introducing a totally new food item through Bug’s bento isn’t optimal — he’s much more open to new foods when I’m there eating it with him. (Click to read the full post with additional lunch…)
Published by Biggie on January 31st, 2008 tagged bento, dumplings or buns, fish or seafood, lactose free | 14 Comments »
When I started this blog it seemed like there weren’t that many active packed lunch blogs, but lately I’m seeing all kinds of new ones and I haven’t been able to keep up. I’d like to put together a full, organized list of packed lunch blogs to update my Link list, so I’m throwing it open to all of you. Do you have a current blog that’s mostly focused on packed lunches? It doesn’t matter if you use bento boxes, Laptop Lunchboxes, Mr. Bento-style thermal lunch jars, or a brown bag — I’m interested in your lunch contents and packing methods.
Comment here or e-mail me at lunchinabox (AT) gmail (DOT) com with the following:
- The name and URL of your blog
- Any special focus you have. Vegetarian? Gluten-free? Lactose-free? Diet? Food art? Regional food? One particular style of container (Mr. Bento or Laptop Lunchbox)?
- Are the lunches made for children, adults, or both?
- The language of your blog, if it’s not English.
In the meantime, here are a couple of bento blogs I’m taken with.
LJ user commoi has created a quirky bento blog with intelligent anthropological commentary, striking photos, and fun drawings.
An American mom born and raised in Japan makes adorable “kyara-ben” or food art character bentos for her children. Back in Tokyo and blogging again after a one-year hiatus, she sheds light on how to create cute food art and comments on bento-making in Japan.
Published by Biggie on January 31st, 2008 tagged admin | 87 Comments »
Bento lunches don’t have to be filled with a multitude of different dishes in order to be appealing; focus on packing a balance of food groups and contrasting natural colors in your meal and you’ll find that a simple lunch can be just as attractive and satisfying as an ornate one. Other visually simple lunches I’ve made include zarusoba, chili con carne, and chicken curry pasta (a Leftover Remake).
This lunch revisits the meatball-stuffed onigiri rice “bombs” that I packed in an adult lunch last year (photo below, click for detail) after spying them in a Japanese-language onigiri cookbook. Making them is pretty straightforward: with your hands or ball-shaped onigiri mold (photo below), cover a meatball with warm short- or medium-grain rice, then completely cover that with moistened scraps of nori seaweed. I used pre-made teriyaki meatballs that I picked up at Costco and seasoned Korean seaweed for flavor, but regular Japanese nori is easier to work with and keeps its shape better afterwards as it’s less delicate.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Onigiri rice “bombs” stuffed with teriyaki pineapple chicken meatballs (my favorite, Aidells brand), grape tomatoes and steamed bell pepper with Korean barbecue sauce. I keep a bottle of Korean barbecue sauce in my fridge to quickly flavor any number of protein or vegetable dishes; having a few premade sauces on hand (store-bought or homemade, any of your favorite flavors) is an easy way to speed up your lunch prep. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)
Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using leftover refrigerated rice, store-bought meatballs, and leftover bell pepper. In the morning I microwaved the rice to restore its soft texture so I could work with it, and microwaved the meatballs to kill off any surface bacteria (see my post on packed lunch food safety). I made these without the molds at left, wetting my hands when I put the pieces of seaweed on in order to get them to stick. Honestly, it was just too much effort to dig the mold out from under my stove — I need to revisit my bento gear organization system to make the larger accessories more accessible.
Packing: Initially I just plopped the rice bombs down into the plain, unlined box, but they looked sad and lonely with the bare box bottom staring back up at me. So I grabbed a piece of lettuce from the refrigerator and lined the box with it for some nice color contrast (I’m guilty of unnecessary garnish here — Bug totally ignored the lettuce). Much better. The bell pepper went into a hard plastic food cup (yellow, to amplify the yellow of the bell pepper), and the grape tomatoes acted as gap fillers to stabilize the lunch in transit. The lunch is packed in one 350ml box from a Lock & Lock lunch set.
Verdict: A qualified thumbs up. Three-year-old Bug ate both of the rice bombs at preschool, and the rest afterwards as a snack. His preschool teacher said that the he had a little trouble eating the rice bombs as they were a little crumbly; this was my fault as I’d let the rice sit too long in the rice cooker before refrigerating it, and it dried out a little. For best results, either use fresh rice or be sure to freeze/refrigerate your leftover rice soon after cooking it, while it’s still at its most moist. (Click to read the full post with an additional lunch…)
Published by Biggie on January 29th, 2008 tagged bento, for kids, lactose free, onigiri or sushi, poultry, rice, vegetarian | 32 Comments »
Please don’t tell my husband that I’ve fallen in love — with our new convection toaster oven. Our seventies-era wall ovens are a serious energy suck, and the electricity bill reflects this whenever I do a lot of cooking or baking in them. We’ll probably wind up replacing them eventually, but in the meantime we splashed out for a cool convection toaster oven from Krups that won Cook’s Illustrated’s top ranking in their product testing (the FBC512 in white, but black is cheaper even with the free shipping). Convection ovens have a fan that circulates the hot air evenly throughout the oven for faster and more even browning at lower temperatures than conventional ovens, and that extra speed was the deciding factor for me in shelling out for convection. The drawback to toaster ovens is that they take up more counter space than regular toasters, but I’ve made my peace with that tradeoff for the sake of versatility. Amazon carries a variety of convection toaster ovens and regular toaster ovens at all price points, but you can often save on shipping by going to your local superstore or kitchen store.
When I lived in Japan, it was unusual for a kitchen to have a proper oven, and most people had toaster ovens that they used for cooking, baking and making bento lunches. They’re perfect when cooking lunches for one or two people, as I don’t hesitate to reach for the toaster oven when I wouldn’t fire up a full-size oven in the morning. I’ve been experimenting with cooking other dishes in it for our lunches, broiling small pieces of fish, vegetables, little gratins in the extra-thick aluminum baking cups, eggs, etc. Expect to see more food made in toaster ovens from me, often using the multi-broiling speed bento technique.
Today’s lunches show the first of my toaster oven fun, using frozen puff pastry appetizers that I picked up from Costco. I’ve been having good luck exploring the different frozen appetizers at Costco, including the spanakopita, mini crab cakes, meatballs, etc. The San Jose Mercury News recently did a tasting round-up of Costco frozen appetizers that gives a thumbs up to the appetizers below, among others (free registration required to view the article. EDIT: use bugmenot.com to avoid registration if you like). Have a favorite toaster oven dish? Share it in comments.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Tamagoyaki rolled egg (my tutorials here for both traditional and shortcut versions), teriyaki pineapple chicken meatballs (Aidells brand, my favorite), orange wedge, cheese cube, steamed broccoli and red bell pepper, and puff pastry appetizers with sweet sauteed onion, sage and Gorgonzola cheese (review below).
Morning prep time: 20 minutes, using frozen appetizer pastries and ready-made meatballs. In the morning I popped the frozen pastries into the toaster oven while I made the tamagoyaki. Because the toaster oven is convection, I set it 25 deg. F cooler and 4 minutes shorter than instructed on the package to avoid burning. I used my microwave mini steamer to quickly make the broccoli, and the bell pepper was leftover from this lunch. (Click here to read the full post with product reviews and an additional lunch…)
Published by Biggie on January 26th, 2008 tagged bento, eggs, equipment, for kids, meat, phyllo or pancake or other, review, tips | 42 Comments »
Faced with no leftovers to throw into my son’s packed lunch, I took two different approaches. With one lunch I drew from my freezer stash, and with the other I used multi-sauteeing, a speed cooking technique described here where you cook multiple foods at once in the same frying pan. This is a commonly featured technique in Japanese speed bento cookbooks as a way to cut morning prep time when you’re cooking from scratch. Similarly, you can also boil, grill, broil or microwave different foods together to save time, just be sure to check everything separately for doneness and don’t assume all foods will be done at the same time.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Cocktail sausages and ketchup for dipping, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed cabbage with Korean barbecue sauce, rice balls mixed with salmon-flavored furikake rice seasoning, blueberries and raspberries.
Morning prep time: 15 minutes, using frozen rice and the multi-sauteeing technique for the cabbage, mushrooms and sausages. In the morning I microwaved the frozen rice, mixed in the furikake, and shaped them into balls using plastic wrap (similar to making scrambled egg purses). I cut the mushrooms with a knife, but could have sped up the process by using an egg slicer to cut them instead. After sauteeing the sausages and vegetables, I sauced the cabbage with bottled Korean barbecue sauce and let everything cool on a mini cooling rack. This minimized condensation inside the box for optimum bento food safety and ease of opening the box itself. If I’d been feeling more ambitious I could have cut the little sausages into animal shapes like an octopus, crab or rabbit.
Packing: The delicate raspberries went into a hard plastic food cup in the side dish container to protect them from bruising in transit. The lunch is packed in a 350ml Power Rangers (”Geki Rangers”) box with both sub-containers removed, and a 100ml side dish container from Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches internationally). Ketchup went into a small condiment cup for easy dipping. A silicone baking cup holds the cabbage, and a reusable plastic food cup shaped like a dog’s head holds the mushroom.
Verdict: Pretty good. Bug ate everything at preschool except the cabbage and raspberries, telling me he doesn’t like cabbage. That said, I know he wolfs down okonomiyaki (recipe here), so it’s just a presentation issue. Bug’s been eating more than usual lately, so I packed extra, but in retrospect he ate just about what the bento box size guidelines set out for a three-year-old. (Click here for the full post with an additional lunch…)
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