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Posted on Jun 15, 2008 in Bento, For Kids, Meat, Pasta or Noodles, Phyllo or Pancake or Other, Review, Vegetarian | 52 comments

Ravioli & spray pancake bento lunches

Ravioli & spray pancake bento lunches

I’m definitely not above using convenience products for speedy lunches. Convenience foods come in many different forms: frozen foods (homemade or store-bought, like appetizers, potstickers, rice, rice balls, waffles), canned foods (baked beans, regular beans, dolmas), store-bought deli foods, etc. Today’s lunches use different kinds of convenience food. First off is frozen ravioli, a fast-cooking pasta option. The second is pancakes made with terrifying but surprisingly acceptable batter from a spray can. Read on for a full product review of Batter Blaster spray pancake and waffle batter.

Ravioli bento lunch for preschooler

One danger of packing pasta with tomato sauce is that the pasta tends to soak up moisture in the sauce while sitting in the container, making the pasta mushy and the sauce dry. You can work around this a few different ways. Sticking with oil-based pasta sauces gets around the problem, but is limiting. Another way is to use a donburi bento box or equivalent (i.e. a small thermal food jar or watertight container for the sauce and a larger bento box or food container big enough to hold both pasta and sauce when combined), toss the al dente pasta with olive oil or butter to keep it from sticking together, and pack the sauce totally separate from the pasta. Combine the two just before eating, and warm in the microwave if available.

Today I used a different packing method to minimize texture damage: toss the cooked pasta with a little olive oil or butter to create a moisture barrier between the sauce and the pasta, lightly sauce the pasta and pack in the lunch container, and pack extra sauce (just spooned in gaps around the edges, but you can also pack it in lidded condiment cups).

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Spinach and mozzarella raviolis with roasted garlic tomato sauce, blueberries, strawberry, and broccoli with Thai oyster sauce. (Read on for lunch packing details, and an additional preschooler lunch with review of Batter Blaster spray pancake batter.)

Microwave mini steamerMorning prep time: 14 minutes, mostly spent boiling the frozen ravioli (it takes a certain amount of time to get a pot of water to a boil, which you can speed up by using a small pot or even a saute pan, which brings water to a boil faster because of the pan’s increased surface area on the bottom). In the morning I steamed the broccoli in my microwave mini steamer while the ravioli boiled.

Packing: After tossing the cooked raviolis in a bit of olive oil and lightly saucing them, I packed them in the 280ml tier of a 4-tier Thomas the Tank Engine nesting/stacking bento box set and spooned some extra sauce into the gaps on either end. The fruit and vegetables went into the smallest tier (100ml), for a total lunch volume of 380ml, in line with the bento box size guidelines for my 3.5-year-old. I put the broccoli into a reusable silicone baking cup to keep the oyster sauce away from the sweet strawberry. I hulled and cut the strawberry in half to fit it into the shallow box, and threw in a little Anpanman food pick for little hands to eat the broccoli.

Nesting bento boxes with band Nested bento boxes: Thomas theTank Engine

Verdict: A home run today. Bug ate everything at preschool, no leftovers. :-)

* * * * *

Batter Blaster

Product review: So I’d seen these trippy spray cans of Batter Blaster refrigerated pancake and waffle batter at Costco for a while now, but just couldn’t bring myself to buy the three-pack in order to try it out. I was interested from a speedy food prep standpoint, but wondered if spray pancakes were simply going too far. I finally broke down and bought a single can at Safeway so that I could try it for the blog, in a state of disbelief that I was actually spending money on spray pancake batter.

Everything about this product feels wrong to me. The label touts the organic status of something that feels processed and unnatural. There are eggs in the batter, so the can needs to be refrigerated and used up by the expiration date printed on the bottom. I wonder about the environmental footprint of the packaging, although the can would make it handy to throw into an ice chest when going car camping.

But when I made pancakes with it for my family the other weekend, Bug happily scarfed them down and even my skeptical husband declared them quite good. They weren’t on par with fabulous gourmet pancakes or anything, but I have to admit they they tasted just fine. (They probably would have been even better had I sprinkled some blueberries on them during the cooking.) The batter looked oddly light and airy coming out of the can, almost like whipped cream, but consequently cooked up fluffy, not dense.

This morning I decided to cook up the rest of the can for waffles, having read online that it really shines with those. This was a strange cooking experience, as the waffles didn’t actually crisp up in the waffle maker like with regular waffle batter, but only after removing them. After I let them sit on the plates about 30-45 seconds, however, they crisped up and tasted good with butter and maple syrup (even plain).

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how good the pancakes and waffles turned out with this spray-can batter, and I could see why some people might want to have a can around for fast hot breakfasts. That said, I think I’ll stick to making homemade pancakes and waffles in larger batches on the weekends, wrapping and freezing the excess for speedy breakfasts or lunches. No firmly logical reason why, it just doesn’t feel like real food to me. (See my posts on how to properly freeze and defrost homemade pancakes and waffles, and a full list of products reviewed on Lunch in a Box.)

* * * * *

Pancake & scrapple bento lunch for preschoolerContents of preschooler bento lunch: Crispy pan-fried Dietz & Watson scrapple that I brought back from a recent trip to Philadelphia, ketchup for the scrapple, broccoli with Korean barbecue sauce, orange slice, cheese cube, and pancakes with a little sauce container of maple syrup.

Morning prep time: 10 minutes, using leftover pancakes and scrapple that I pre-sliced when I opened the package. In the morning I fried up the scrapple, sliced the orange, and cooked the broccoli in my microwave mini steamer. I didn’t have any pre-filled sauce containers with maple syrup to speed things up, so I quickly poured some maple syrup into a silicone pinch bowl, and filled the sauce container with the suction method (squeeze & release).

Condiment containers for packed lunchesPacking: I cooled the scrapple before packing it so that it would retain its crispiness. I used a couple of little sauce containers today; a rectangular blue one for the maple syrup, and a tomato-themed one with a flip-top for ketchup. The lunch went into a 350ml subdivided Lock & Lock container from an insulated bento set. I’m a big fan of Lock & Lock products as they’re fantastically watertight, the lids are secure and easy even for my preschooler to open, and you can throw the whole thing into the dishwasher (even with heated dry cycle). Total workhorses. Check out the online bento store list for online sources, or the worldwide Bento Store Locator for bento gear stores near you. (Disclaimer: I have no commercial affiliations with Lock & Lock or Batter Blaster.)
Lock & Lock insulated bento set

Verdict: So-so. Bug ate most of the scrapple, the cheese, orange and broccoli and preschool, but left most of the pancakes. When I brought back two packages of frozen scrapple in an insulated lunch bag on the plane from Philly, I was half hoping that my family wouldn’t like it (more for me!). Unfortunately, it seems I’ve converted my husband to scrapple, so we went through my first package really quickly. Now I have to ration my last package out, or put my nose to the grindstone on finding a local scrapple source in the Bay Area. Any leads? (Oh, and be careful of how you pack those big bricks of frozen scrapple when going through airport security. The scrapple was right in front of my computer cord in my carry-on bag, and TSA thought it a bomb on the X-ray machine!)

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  1. If you find something that works for you, then go with it. I use waffle mix all the time. A friend told me all her difficulties in making a decent choux dough, thinking I, the foodie knew ways around it.
    Oh, I buy a mix for those ;). We didn’t get profiteroles that dinner, but chocolate pudding ;).

  2. Love the ravioli lunch!! Cute!! :0)

    I saw those spray cans at the store – I was quite skeptical about them (and still am, haha).

  3. Funny to read about scrapple on your blog. I am from PA and never had scrapple until I met my husband. I do not like it. At all. And I have to admit, I just keep shaking my head.

    :)

    I found a link for you to order scrapple. If you scroll down, just a little, you will find it.

    http://www.jonesdairyfarm.com/StoreCategory.aspx?c=30

    Enjoy!

  4. Scrapple with ketchup? In my part of Philadelphia it’s properly served with maple syrup. Then again, my friends mock me for putting ketchup on a fried egg sandwich, so who am I to judge?

  5. Ha. Can’t wait to try out the batter. Your scrapple story reminds me of hauling home frozen hawaiian food to the east coast.

  6. Hey Biggie – My boyfriend and I purchased that can of Batter Blaster at Molly Stones and we were also very surprised how yummy they were… We never did buy another one, but it was a fun gimick for one go around wasn’t it? haha

  7. I tried that batter out as well, and my problem was that it cooked too fast for my distracted self and I burned quite a few until I forced myself to watch them. It appeared they took half as long to cook than conventional pancakes and required less heat.

  8. I’m trying to imagine the scene at the airport with your ultra-dangerous scrapple going through security.

  9. My friend clued me in to the spray pancake batter and how I mocked her until I gave it a try. I mean come on, how real is anything out of a can… I just made some Father’s Day pancakes using the spray pancakes and we thought they were pretty decent. Berries next time! Got our can at Whole Foods for around $5. Though, come to think of it, perhaps you could just make a smaller batch of pancake/waffle batter and stick it in a squeeze bottle…

    I’d get the can again. It really is a rather easy way of making pancakes and now that I know they carry it at Safeway (which is closer to me than Whole Foods), I might just pick up a can now and then. Three cans is more than we could consume in a few months, I think. There’s an expiration date on the bottom and ours was dated for August, 2008.

  10. Hmmm. Yeah, I’m alternately intrigued and repelled by the pancake-in-a-can idea. How many pancakes does it make? I could see it making things really simple on those mornings when I would like to make a full breakfast but the kids (and my husband) want something NOW.

    Anybody seen them in the Minneapolis area? I no longer have a Costco membership.

  11. O.o Now I’ve seen everything! Batter in a can! Wow! This is.. weird in a totally awesome way!
    And scrapple.. sounds interesting (I checked the Wiki link) I’m trying to think if there’s anything danish that resembles it, but so far I’ve come up short (well other than ordinary meatloaf and the likes)

  12. I was lucky enough to visit Costco while they were demo-ing the spray can pancakes. My daughter was awestruck by them. I’ve figured I’ll buy some at some point so she can “help” make breakfast.
    @1 , Jessika-Alton Brown (foodnetwork.com) has a great recipe for choux.
    I first saw scrapple on Ace of Cakes. They had a scrapple “Iron Chef” challenge and then the crew made Duff a cake to look like scrapple. The stuff scares me, though I have yet to see it in person much less try it. What does it taste like?

  13. Longtime lurker here delurking about scrapple of all things. I would go with the Stoltzfus scrapple- my sister brings me some every once in a while up from Pa to my home in Syracuse.

    I have always preferred scrapple with maple syrup, but I could get where ketchup eaters would like it that way too.

  14. Scrapple!!! The greatest foodstuff on the planet. Have you tried it with apple butter? That’s my favorite, but ketchup is good too.

  15. @1 from Jessika: I didn’t know there’s a mix for choux! I’ve only ever made it by hand, a tiring process. I think I once stuffed them with garlic chili shrimp as a savory appetizer. Those disappeared in a hurry — yum.

  16. @2 from VeggieGirl: I’m still skeptical, and I even tried it out! I should probably embrace it, but it just feels too strange for comfort.

  17. @4 from keararott: Thanks for those two scrapple online links, keararott! I’ll check them out.

  18. @5 from Jackie: I’ve had scrapple both ways: with ketchup and maple syrup. I seem to recall my grandma always serving it with ketchup, though, and that’s how I like it. The sweetness of the maple syrup is a nice complement to the pork in the scrapple, though.

  19. @6 from m: Which Hawaiian foods did you freeze and bring to the East coast? I’m curious.

  20. @7 from Summers Love: Yes, I was prepared to dislike the spray pancakes until I actually cooked some up. Not bad at all. Good gimmick, as you say.

  21. @8 from Shada: Good point about the temperature and cooking time, Shada. I think I turned the heat down on mine too, but didn’t do a side-by-side comparison with regular pancake batter.

  22. @9 from Jeff: Bwah ha hah! It was an interesting scene in airport security, alright. First the woman manning the x-ray machine got all serious and called other people over to look at the screen. They had a burly guy take me over to a separate area behind special safety glass (not just at the end of the conveyor belt). I think that guy might have had a thing for feet, though, as he seemed more interested in my fresh pedicure than my bag (“That a new toe job?”). Once he saw what was in my bag, he went and showed the woman at the x-ray machine, then came back over to me and laughingly explained to me what it had looked like on the screen.

  23. @10 from freecia: Yeah, I was wary of getting three cans at once that needed to be refrigerated and used up within six to eight weeks. What if I didn’t like it?

    I’d be wary of keeping homemade batter around in a squeeze bottle for long. One, it’s got raw eggs in it, and I’d think that once the baking powder is mixed into the wet ingredients you have a limited time to cook it before it loses its rise.

  24. @11 from Kaji: The package says one can makes 28 4-inch pancakes, but I didn’t get that many out of it. Maybe two-thirds that amount. There’s a store locator at the Batter Blaster website where you can plug in your zip code and it tells you stores near you; maybe that’ll help you find some in Minneapolis.

  25. @12 from TrekkieGrrrl: Scrapple hits the real nostalgia bone for me. I spent half of my childhood in the Philly suburbs, and have fond memories of my grandma serving scrapple with ketchup at breakfast at her house. I’m not sure I’d crave scrapple so much absent those memories, but it does make me happy as an adult when I can find it!

  26. @13 from Monica: I can definitely see scrapple as being scary if you weren’t raised with it. I’d say the taste is similar to something like British blood sausage (a la Irish breakfast). An acquired taste — just make sure to pan-fry it until it’s nice and crispy so you get a good textural contrast with the soft inside.

  27. @14 from DivaJean: Thanks for the tip on Stoltzfus scrapple. I’m still hoping for a tip on where to find it locally here in San Francisco before I order any online, though. I once found some frozen at a local Safeway, but haven’t seen it since.

  28. @15 from Rachel: I’ve never had scrapple with apple butter before; I’ll have to try it out (now to find good apple butter here!).

  29. @16 Biggie, there’s a mix available here. Whether you can find an american brand is another question (for me anyway). It’s great though, offers the basis both for desserts and savory starters.

  30. It’s great when you’re able to get somethin g that “brings back memories”

    And nothing spells “nostalgia” like food (or… certain smells.. I’m sure you know what I mean.. you can smell something.. that instantly sets you 20 (or more) years back in time…)

    I’m trying to think of a dish that’ll do that for me, but right now I’m drawing all blanks… it’s more like I remember certain scenes.. like my mom shoppin at the local fishmonger (which later closed and became a second-hand clothes store…) and the like…
    Thing is.. most of my childhood favourite food.. I make them frequently for that same reason :)

  31. Pancakes … in a can … why? I think the scrapple sounds like haslet, is it meatloafy?

    You know since beginning to read your site I am semi-converted. I don’t have a cool bento box but my lunches are sepearted and looking good and I’ve lost 4kg! Thanks for the tips!

  32. Have you ever tried making scrapple? The wikipedia entry for scrapple has a link to a recipe. Next time we have a party big enough to require a whole pig I think I’m going to try it.

  33. Spray-can batter… only in America? That is the wierdest food thing I have ever seen.

  34. I love scrapple! Well, the kind my mom makes, anyway. She uses sausage instead of, uh, miscellaneous organ meat or liver pudding. It’s really very easy to make, and you can even make it in the crockpot so you don’t have to stand there stirring and getting splashed with boiling blobs of mush!

  35. Love your blog– and love boxes with dividers for the kids– I bring um everywhere. I just added you to my blog roster.

  36. Wow, pancakes in a whipped cream bottle? It does sound insane– they’ll probably get that in Australia in about 15 years.

  37. @33 from Shelly: I never have made scrapple on my own, but who knows, I might one of these days.

  38. @37 from Florida Girl in Sydney: Ha, that’s how I felt about American pop culture when I lived in Japan. You know, read about some cultural phenomenon (TV, product, etc.) and know I probably wouldn’t see it anytime soon until I went home. There were lots of interesting Japanese things to check out, though!

  39. There’s probably not as many interesting things to check out here– except for the beautiful scenery– it’s never ending.
    Today is my one year anniversary here!– but can’t wait to move home.

  40. Biggie – scrapple was discussed earlier this year in the Home Plates section of the SJ Merc. Someone wrote in that you could find it at the Save Mart in Santa Clara. If there’s a Save Mart closer to you, you could call & see if they carry it too. Or maybe it’d be worth a trip down to the South Bay one of these days. I believe the Merc also published a recipe for Scrapple. Let me know if you can’t find it on their site, http://www.mercurynews.com

  41. you’ve got a reader here in the Philly Suburbs… we buy scrapple at the grocery store for about $2.50/lb for pre-packaged blocks. Just let me know if you want some shipped out to you on dry ice… you’ve helped inspire my new bento-passion, the least I could do is help keep your freezer full!

  42. @41 from Sun: Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!! I’ll give Save Mart a call about their scrapple availability — I’d prefer not to pay to have it shipped if I can.

  43. @42 from PsychoCelloChica: Thanks for the offer of scrapple shipping! I’ll let you know if I’m in need; I plan to check out the Save Mart tip that reader Sun wrote about above.

  44. I’m very intrigued by the Bento. I have been doing a sort of version of this on my own and I think following your guidelines will really help me with portion control as well.

  45. Un-lurking.
    Do you have Albertson’s in the Bay area? I’ve seen Scrapple in the meat case at an Albertson’s in Oceanside, CA. I’ve never tried it, but my father says its great.
    I love your ideas.

  46. Biggie, I was just watching the “Good Eats”
    episode on broccoli, and there was a screen caption that said microwaving broccoli reduces its antioxidant levels by something like 97%. Sorry if this is an unwanted tidbit that keeps popping about.

    Also, I really love looking at your lunches. I’m trying to get my boyfriend into the craze, but all he wants are sandwiches XD

  47. @46 from Noelle: An excellent tip, Noelle! We DO have Albertson’s here in the Bay Area; I’ll call around and see if they stock scrapple. If they do, that’d be my closest option. Fingers crossed!

  48. My mom made her own scrapple. She didn’t care for the hog offal in the commercially prepared kinds so she used ground pork loin, cornmeal, buckwheat flour, sage, onion, thyme, savory, salt and pepper then boiled it all in broth or stock until thick. Then she poured it in a loaf pan and cooled it until it gelled to form a loaf. She cut it into slices, floured the slices, then fried in a little butter. I think it’s pretty easy to make. At home we ate scrapple with eggs and fried apples.

    I found a recipe that’s kind of like my mom’s although it doesn’t have the seasonings and uses bulk sausage instead ground pork loin.

    Here is the link:
    http://lynnescountrykitchen.net/amish/scrapple.html

  49. @50 from Alicia: Thanks for the recipe link, Alicia! If I can’t find any locally I’ll break out the pots and a loaf pan, and try my hand at making my own.

  50. @52 from Az-Nuts: Excellent question. Do you have a favorite recipe?