Making inside-out sushi rolls doesn’t have to be all that involved if you’ve got the basic materials and some plastic wrap on hand. Serve plain or decorated like fish to thrill your child (or your inner child), like I did with Bug’s bento lunch for Children’s Day. You can speed this up by using frozen fried shrimp and frozen rice, but a step-by-step recipe for making inside-out shrimp sushi rolls from scratch follows below. Continue reading
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There aren’t many bento cookbooks written in English, so of course I’m curious when a new one comes out. I’m a big fan of Japanese-language cookbooks for their glanceable step-by-step photos and intuitive graphic presentation of complex material. Kawaii Bento Boxes: Cute and Convenient Japanese Meals on the Go, newly published by Japan Publications Trading’s Boutique-Sha, really captures the essence of fun, kids-oriented Japanese bento cookbooks.
As I was leafing through it, though, something started to seem oddly familiar. A quick browse through my kitchen bookshelf revealed why I was experiencing deja vu: it’s a straight translation of the same publisher’s Japanese-language cookbook Ichinenju Yakudatsu Tsuen Obento: Daisukina Kondate ga Ippai: (“Children’s Bentos that are Helpful Year-round: Lots of Favorite Menus”), with identical photos, layout, and text.
Now, there are both good and bad aspects to a straight translation of a bento cookbook written for the Japanese market. It’s extremely well suited for bento enthusiasts or Japanophiles already familiar with Japanese food, but may miss the mark for others… Continue reading
Today I’ve got two lunches that represent both ends of the bento spectrum: one is fast and simple, the other is time-consuming decorative food art. My usual preference is for the fast and easy bento made through speedy prep techniques and leftovers, but once or twice a year I go the extra mile for a holiday lunch. Think of it like a birthday cake: even if you make cake regularly, you probably don’t put as much effort into decorating each unless it’s for a special occasion.
I realize that by posting one of my rare ornate lunches right after recent bento articles in the New York Times and the Globe and Mail I’m at risk of falling into a fussy stereotype. Maybe I should reread Need for Speed: A Mommy’s Lunch Manifesto? Anyway, I cut myself a break when I remember the wide variety of real-life special occasion bentos I saw at my son’s old Japanese immersion preschool and read about other parents’ lunchtime adventures on the Lunch in a Box online community forum.
I have to admit that although I get a feeling of accomplishment once I finish an elaborate creation like the one above, I do feel time pressure while I’m making it and wonder, “Why bother?” Am I a bad attitude mom? Guilty as charged! The simpler lunch below was made quickly with the leftovers from the fancier one above, and is much more my pace for an average school day.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Fried shrimp (recipe forthcoming), steamed broccoli with vinaigrette dressing, round onigiri rice balls (stuffed with Gohan Desu Yo! seaweed paste and decorated with strips of nori seaweed), wrapped triangle cheese, grapes, and kiwifruit.
Morning prep time: 15 minutes, using frozen rice and fried shrimp left over from the shrimp rolls the day before. In the morning I assembled the rice balls, nuked a couple florets of broccoli in my microwave mini steamer, and peeled/sliced the kiwifruit. (Read on for the full post. with details on the fish-shaped sushi lunch..) Continue reading
In a break from my usual “speed bento” lunches that only take about ten minutes to pack, the other week I made more of an effort for Valentine’s Day and packed a special lunch for my four-year-old son to take to preschool. You can see his whole classroom’s Valentine bentos lunches here if you’re curious. (If you’ve got any special Valentine’s lunches of your own, today Feb. 23rd is the last day for entries in this month’s Valentine bento contest with a chance at winning a bento box prize.)
It took me a while to post this as Bug & I were in a car accident last week where we were badly rear-ended, and I’ve been a little discombobulated and tied up with all the post-crash red tape. Thankfully both Bug and I were able to walk away from the wreck, but our car may be totaled (jury’s still out). If you’d like to see a photo of our smashed-up car, I posted one on the forum with some details.
Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Heart-shaped onigiri rice balls filled with Gohan Desu Yo! seasoned seaweed paste (colored with red or green hana-ebi shrimp powder, decorated with nori seaweed and mamenori soy wrappers described below), blueberries, steamed zucchini with Korean barbecue sauce, and chicken from a homemade Indian curry (lal shorve vala murgh).
Morning prep time: 30 minutes, WAY longer than my usual speed bento, but fine for a special occasion Valentine’s Day lunch. My shortcuts were leftover curry, frozen rice, and a heart-shaped molds for the rice balls. In the morning I assembled the rice balls and made the zucchini in my microwave mini steamer. (Read on for decoration and equipment notes, a review of Uncooked Roti-Chapati Indian flatbread dough from Costco, and an additional preschooler lunch…)
On my last trip to Ichiban Kan and Daiso discount stores, I picked up some cheap new silicone versions of bento accessories that actually make sense in silicone. I’ve started reaching for them recently in favor of standard paper or plastic ones as they’re reusable, flexible, dishwasher-friendly, and you can heat them up.
The first are silicone food dividers (baran) that separate different foods in a bento lunch, keeping flavors from mingling and keeping textures intact. They’re washable and reusable — I’ve had good results with putting them in a utensil basket in the dishwasher to keep them from flying around. (Time to update my bento care & maintenance post…) At US$1 for a pack of three (bears or grass versions available online), they’re still reasonable. I’ve also heard of people cutting up flexible cutting mats to use as dividers.
Up to now I’ve been using edible dividers or lightweight plastic dividers (shown at right) that are meant to be disposable, but I wash and reuse them until they’re torn, worn or lost. The drawback with these is that they don’t do as well in the dishwasher, and they’re so flimsy that they do get torn and worn. They are adorable, though, so I’ll keep them in rotation to liven things up a little. (Read on for shaped silicone food cups…)