A couple of highlights today. Inarizushi is basically sushi rice stuffed into seasoned abura-age fried tofu wrappers. If you have a Japanese or Korean market nearby, you can often find preseasoned wrappers in the refrigerated section (shaped like rectangles or triangles). Just gently open them up and fill with seasoned sushi rice (cooking tips below). A fun variation on normal inarizushi is to fold down the top edge, stuff with seasoned rice, and top with anything you like. Toppings can be really creative: I’ve seen shrimp, cucumber, ornate food art that makes little characters sitting in the inari “boats”, soboro (fried and seasoned ground meat — think dry Sloppy Joe filling), etc. Think outside the box with this kid favorite!
You can speed up morning sushi or rice ball prep by freezing cooked rice; below I review a couple of Japanese food containers specially designed for freezing and reheating rice in the microwave oven.
Contents of preschooler lunch: Inarizushi stuffed sushi topped with pink sakura denbu and sauteed ground pork and barbecue sauce. Steamed broccoli with vinaigrette, plum tomatoes and grapes round out the meal. Sakura denbu is a sweet powder of ground codfish that’s often used in chirashizushi and children’s bento lunches. Adds a nice shot of pink when you’re packing by color.
Morning prep time: 13 minutes, using frozen rice, pre-packaged abura-age seasoned tofu wrappers, an individual-sized portion of frozen ground pork, and premade barbecue sauce. In the morning I microwaved a small portion of frozen rice, flavored it with seasoned rice vinegar, and made a couple of inarizushi with the lip turned down to leave the rice exposed at the top. (Read on for packing details, cooking tips, a review of rice containers for freezing, and an additional pizza bento lunch.)
Cooking tip: A common pitfall when making inarizushi is trying to stuff the delicate wrappers with rice bit by bit. This tends to put too much pressure on the tofu skin, leading to tearing. A better way is to wet your hands and form a small football-shaped lump of rice, and then gently insert the whole rice football into the tofu wrapper. Minimal tearing, and less headache for you. Once you’ve made a batch, you can wrap and freeze the inarizushi for later if by some miracle you’re able to keep people in your house from devouring them as quickly as you make them.
Packing: No fancy tricks today. The broccoli went into a reusable silicone baking cup to keep the vinaigrette away from the grapes, and I removed one of the box’s removable subcontainers to make room for the two inarizushi. The lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box, my three-year-old’s current favorite.
Verdict: Big thumbs up. Bug ate everything at preschool, no leftovers. I was a little curious about how he’d do with the two inarizushi as it was the first time I’d topped them with anything for him, but he did fine (gee, is hunger a motivator?).
Gear: I picked up a couple of different kinds of little containers at Daiso (Japanese dollar store with branches worldwide) for freezing and reheating cooked rice. I usually use plastic wrap to make little packets of rice for freezing, but it does take a little time to wrap each packet, and after I reheat the rice I tend to throw away the plastic wrap (bad Biggie!). So when I saw these little containers designed specially for freezing and microwaving rice with the lids on, I was intrigued. The lids of the regular Tupperware-type small food containers that I have all warp and deform in the heat of the microwave, so these Japanese products are designed to avoid that problem. They’re fine for the microwave, but not for direct heat like the toaster oven or stove top. The manufacturers advise against using them to heat food high in oil, fat, sugar or tomato to avoid stains and pitting to the plastic.
The smaller containers with blue lids in the photo above on the left come in two sizes (105ml and 240ml), and have little flaps that open to expose a venting hole (“air valve”). This way when you microwave the frozen rice, you can leave the lid tightly closed with the little flap open. There were three smaller containers to a pack, two larger containers in a pack (US$1.50 per pack). (Disclaimer: I have no commercial affiliations with Daiso.)
The larger 400ml container in the photo above on the right takes a different approach, more like my microwave mini steamer. There’s a shallow steamer basket in the hard plastic container that suspends the rice above the bottom, so that any condensation drips away to avoid soggy rice. The lid doesn’t have built-in venting holes like the microwave mini steamer, though, so it’s necessary to open the lid slightly when microwaving. (US$1.50 for one)
People who don’t like to microwave food in plastic won’t be thrilled with microwaving either of these, but I do like the convenience and speed of the little containers when I’m looking at packing up half a rice cooker full of rice. To avoid plastic in the microwave, transfer the frozen rice to a microwave-safe container like a regular bowl, cover, and microwave. To refresh frozen rice without using a microwave oven, you can either reheat the in a rice cooker on the reheat setting or put the rice in a small metal colander and resteam on the stovetop. At the moment I’m using a mixture of the little blue containers, the rice steamer container, plastic wrap, and freezer bags to pack up freshly cooked rice. In the long run I hope I’m saving energy by making big batches of rice once a week or so, and freezing the excess. I know I’m definitely saving time!
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Contents of preschooler lunch:Mushroom pizza, sauteed pea shoots Chinese-style, blueberries and cherries.
Morning prep time: 7 minutes, using all leftovers. In the morning I sliced the pizza and plated the pea shoots.
Packing: I cut the pizza into bite-sized pieces for my preschooler, and put the pea shoots into a lidded disposable condiment cup that I originally got from pizza delivery filled with parmesan cheese. (Yes, I’m so cheap that I wash and reuse little disposable containers like this — they’re the perfect size!) The pea shoots were a little juicy, so a lidded container kept the sauce put, and not all over the fruit or pizza. The pizza is packed in two layers, and the lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one subcontainer removed to accommodate the pizza.
Verdict: Mostly thumbs up, but with one critical error on my part. Bug ate everything at preschool except half of the pea shoots, which initially puzzled me as he gobbled them up at dinner earlier in the week. Mystery was solved the next day when Bug’s teacher told me that the long pea shoots got all tangled up, and Bug put all of them in his mouth at once — then choked on his huge mouthful and spit them out. The teacher recommended cutting the pea shoots up into small pieces the next time. (I love the teachers’ attention to small details like this; makes me feel like Bug is well cared for at school. Thanks sensei!) The next time I packed them I used clean kitchen scissors to cut up the pea shoots right in the box, and Bug ate them all. Good feedback.
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