Archive for July, 2008
About a month ago Apartment Therapy’s kitchen blog The Kitchn asked if they could come to my house and take pictures for a photo tour of my bento kitchen. Now, I don’t live in House Beautiful with a gorgeous remodeled kitchen, and only parts of my kitchen were organized, so this was a terrifying prospect. I finally decided to treat it as an opportunity to do a massive reorg of my kitchen, incorporating tips that I’ve seen in my Japanese freezing and housekeeping books. It took me over a week to overhaul the kitchen pantry, refrigerator, freezer, deep freezer, and downstairs pantry. It’s way too much for a single post, so join me for the first installment of my Kitchen Reorganization Series with nitty-gritty “before” and “after” photos. First stop: the spice pantry. Behold the unorganized scariness! (UPDATE: The kitchen reorganization series continues with my main pantry, refrigerator and freezer, and the remaining cabinets and garbage containers for the prep area.)
I had previously put our commonly used spices into plastic trays (bottom left) so that I could lift out similar spices and sort through them quickly (salts and peppers in one, whole spices in a second, and ground spices in a third). But noodles and furikake rice sprinkles had encroached on the spice area, and the rest of the cabinet was a jumble of assorted bottles, jars and boxes. My husband was forever asking me where things were and getting frustrated by the crowded cabinets. I had to pull out a stepladder to reach things tucked in the back on the top shelf, and trying to pull down a box of teabags was an easy way to get a shower of boxes on your head. Obviously this needed work! (Click on any photo for a larger, annotated view.)
Enter pantry baskets. The first few times I saw pantry baskets in Japanese organization books I didn’t immediately recognize their utilitarian benefit. Yes, you can put like items together, but:
- Storing things together in baskets also means that you can just pull a single basket down from a high shelf instead of pulling out a stepladder to root around.
- Because I pull out entire baskets more regularly, I’m more familiar with what’s in the pantry and will be less likely to re-buy something I already have (I do this from time to time. D’oh!). Any food inventory system should save you money in the long run — what’s yours?
Published by Biggie on July 30th, 2008 tagged equipment, organize, tips | 368 Comments »
Here we have a couple of simple lunches that skew differently depending upon the carb: mini cornbread muffins make it more American, onigiri rice balls make it more Asian. You can speed the process up by stocking your freezer with little packages of frozen rice, muffins, frozen appetizers, grilled yaki-onigiri rice balls, etc. Dipping sauces make lunch fun for kids, something the fast food industry has figured out and capitalized on (battle the Lunchables!).
Earlier in the week I made a batch of mini cornbread muffins with a quick cornbread mix from Marie Callender (reviewed earlier) and froze them to have on hand for speedy lunch prep. Because the frozen muffins were small, they went right into the box frozen and thawed before lunchtime (another version of the edible ice pack). Regular-sized frozen muffins benefit from a little extra defrosting time: either on the counter, refrigerator, microwave or toaster oven. Think about how hot the weather is and how long the lunch will be held before eating, and adjust accordingly for food safety.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Cheese cubes, mini cornbread muffins, chicken and apple sausage with ketchup for dipping, a huge strawberry, and sugar snap peas.
Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using frozen cornbread muffins. In the morning I quick-fried a cut-up sausage and filled the condiment cup.
Packing: I cut the sausage into bite-size pieces, put them in a reusable silicone baking cup to keep them from touching the strawberry, and threw in a cute food pick for little hands. Initially I grabbed one of the smaller lidded condiment cups for the ketchup, but Bug saw which one I was going to use and said it was too small for dipping. Ah, good point — I could see how a smaller container could be difficult for preschooler coordination. (Read on for further details and a more Asian variation on this lunch.)
Published by Biggie on July 28th, 2008 tagged bento, poultry | 284 Comments »
This weekend I was wracking my brain trying to come up with a way to make a write-up of the 2008 BlogHer blogging conference relevant to packed lunches, and it finally came together on the last day. After the food blogger meet-up lunch on Sunday (photos below), I went shopping with Amy of Cooking with Amy at a nearby Sur la Table, where I picked up a Cup-A-Cake cupcake holder for securely packing a single cupcake with your lunch. The Cup-a-Cake container has little plastic teeth inside to hold the cupcake stable and preserve any frosting decorations.
I recently recommended this to a mom at Bug’s preschool whose son is allergic to basically everything (eggs, wheat, soy, dairy, peanuts, etc.) as a way to send along a special treat to the kids’ parties, so they don’t feel bad about being the only one not eating birthday cake or cupcakes. I’m sure parents of food-allergic kids already know the trick of making and freezing a batch of unfrosted cupcakes to pull out one at a time for just this sort of thing, but packing a frosted cupcake so that the decorations don’t get stuck to the lid or plastic wrap is a sticky problem. I picked up the Cup-a-Cake for US$3 at Sur la Table, but have also seen them at Williams Sonoma, Amazon, and other stores in different colors. The company’s website has online sales as well as a retail store locator along the lines of my Bento Store Locator. Do you have a clever way of sending along a single cupcake? Let us know in comments! (Disclaimer: I have no commercial affiliations with Cup-A-Cake.)
Above is a photo of some whimsical Sesame Street cupcakes that were at the Sesame Street sponsor room at the conference. Impressive! I thought about taking one home for Bug, but hadn’t yet bought the Cup-A-Cake holder so I passed. (Read on for my full BlogHer conference round-up with photos.)
Published by Biggie on July 23rd, 2008 tagged Containers, SF Bay Area local, equipment, for kids | 576 Comments »
Last weekend I attended DooF-a-Palooza, a big kids’ cooking event at the Google headquarters in Mountain View put on by the organizers of DooF (food spelled backwards). DooF is an upcoming kids’ cooking show on PBS that has similarities to Spatulatta. I stopped by the Laptop Lunch booth, met president and co-founder Amy Hemmert, and picked up their very handy visual planning worksheet for lunches packed in the Laptop Lunchbox (UPDATE: download from Obentec or here). The reverse side has a list of packed lunch ideas organized by food type (fruits, vegetables, sandwich fillings, and sandwich alternatives). As the planner isn’t available on their website, the folks at Laptop Lunches sent me the PDF file and graciously agreed to let me put it up on Lunch in a Box for downloading. (UPDATE: The Laptop Lunch folks have made the worksheet available for download on their website.)
Because I’m container-agnostic and use a variety of lunch containers, I find that jotting down rough meal ideas on a magnetic whiteboard sheet on my refrigerator works well enough for me, but I definitely see the appeal of this sort of visual planner as well. If you’d like to try it out, download it, print it out, and put a copy up on your fridge to make a glanceable lunch plan that incorporates a balance of foods and dinner leftovers.
The planner is similar to Maki’s weekly bento planner on Just Bento. If you have a different type of lunch container or bento box, you could make your own version of these planners pretty easily. Do you plan out your packed lunches? What planning method works best for you? Let us know in comments! (Read on for Laptop Lunchbox photos taken at DooF-a-Palooza.)
Published by Biggie on July 21st, 2008 tagged Laptop Lunchbox, organize, tips | 423 Comments »
Polenta (boiled cornmeal) is a natural candidate for a Leftover Remake, as you can have it warm and creamy at dinner when it’s fresh out of the pot, then pan-fry the solidified leftovers for subsequent lunches. Dish up the soft polenta in bowls for dinner, and top with a flavorful braise or stew. To save the excess for pan-frying, pour the fresh polenta onto a wooden cutting board, smooth out the surface with a spatula or spoon, and let it sit for a few hours until it’s solid. Run a piece of unflavored dental floss or cooking twine under the polenta mass to free it up, and store in the refrigerator in plastic wrap for up to four days. Slice and fry in a nonstick frying pan with a little oil until it develops a crusty exterior. Use your imagination with shapes: make polenta fries, polenta croutons, polenta slices, even cut-out shapes using cookie cutters. Fun finger food for the kids!
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Homemade Tuscan-style squid and green peas in tomato sauce, fried polenta slices, and quick tomato and cucumber salad.
Morning prep time: 13 minutes, using leftover Tuscan squid and polenta. In the morning I fried the polenta slices, and cut up the cucumbers and tomatoes while warming the peas and squid in the microwave.
Ingredient: I ran across a new vegetable for me at Alemany Farmers’ Market the other week: tiny cucumbers with bumpy skin, each about two inches long. Initially I wasn’t sure what they were, but the sellers started passing out samples and encouraging us to try them. Mini cucumbers? How could I resist! The skins are hard and bumpy, and they’re filled with tiny seeds. This makes them well suited for pickling or cooking in soups or stir-fries, but they’re edible raw after a wash for food safety. (Read on for details and an additional Japanese fried chicken lunch.)