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Posted on Feb 20, 2008 in Bento, For Kids, Gluten Free, Lactose Free, Onigiri or Sushi, Poultry, Rice, Vegetarian | 40 comments

Rice cube & mushroom bento lunch

Rice cube & mushroom bento lunch


One of our two cats has started scratching under our bed and on our door when we shut her out, so I wake up early some mornings when Squirrel decides it’s time for us to get up (grrr). I’d rather be sleeping, but figure as long as I’m awake I may as well do something a little more ambitious for Bug’s bentos than throwing something into the microwave and reheating leftovers. (On the cat front, please feel free to give me advice on how to change our cat’s behavior! I’ve tried squirting her with water and putting contact paper under the bed, so now she jumps at our hair through the headboard slats. :-( I’d love to get that extra hour of sleep in the morning again, but short of putting her in a cage I’m not sure what to do…)

Stuffed mushroom bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: “Rice cubes” with salmon-flavored furikake rice sprinkles, Moro blood orange, teriyaki chicken cubes (recipe below), Chinese egg custard tart, and roasted mushroom cap stuffed with chevre, pancetta, sauteed broccoli rabe, garlic and butter (recipe below). This is the lunch I referenced last week in the recipe for roasted mushroom caps.

Rice cuber

Morning prep time: 20 minutes, using frozen rice and a quarter of a leftover egg custard from a cheap takeout dim sum meal (from Good Luck Dim Sum in San Francisco). In the morning I popped the mushrooms in my convection toaster oven to roast while I microwaved the rice and made the onigiri rice cubes with a little rice cuber (details and how-to here; you can also use a shaped silicone ice cube tray for similar results). The chicken and mushroom filling took the remaining time — I was ambitious for this lunch as I was awake anyway. (Darn Squirrel! At least her brother Moose is chill.) (Click for cooking and packing details, plus an additional preschooler lunch.)

Cooking: Teriyaki chicken: I cut half of a chicken thigh into small cubes so that it would saute quickly in a mini frying pan with cooking spray. (Mini speed tip: Slow-cooking foods can be cut small and thin to speed cooking, which works for raw meat/fish, hard vegetables like squash, carrots, etc.) Once the chicken cubes were browned over high heat and cooked through, I added a mixture of about two teaspoons each of soy sauce and mirin and 1 teaspoon of sugar (a very basic teriyaki sauce), then let it briefly reduce to coat the chicken. I drained and cooled the chicken in a mini strainer and bowl while I worked on the mushroom filling.

Chevre mushroom caps: To fill three roasted mushroom caps, I sauteed 4 tsp cubed pancetta, 3 Tb chopped broccoli rabe leaves, and 1/2 clove minced garlic with a bit of butter in a mini frying pan, then mixed that together with about 2 Tb soft goat cheese in a small bowl with a fork. (For speed, I used pre-cubed pancetta that I picked up at Costco.) The filling went back into the mushroom caps, and I ran everything under the toaster oven broiler to brown. Cool before packing in a lunch for best food safety.

Cars bento box for childPacking: I packed the chicken and custard in disposable paper cups to keep the flavors from mingling, and used a disposable plastic food divider between the orange and the rice. (I do tend to wash and reuse the dividers, though — they hold up if you treat them gently.) The lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with both subcontainers removed to make room for the food arrangement.

Verdict: So-so. Bug ate the onigiri, half of the chicken, the egg custard and a nibble of the orange during preschool. After school he finished everything else except the mushroom filling, which he rejected. He was happy with the mushroom itself, though.

* * * * *

Fried rice bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Moro blood orange, blueberries, and kimchi fried rice with green bell peppers, cabbage, onions, green onions and egg.

Morning prep time: 4 minutes, using leftover fried rice that I packed the night before when cleaning up from dinner. In the morning I briefly microwaved the fried rice to restore the texture and take the chill off.

Packing: Nothing special this day. If they microwaved the children’s lunches at Bug’s preschool this would have been a good way to pack as the cool fruits are in a separate container from the rice. Lunch is packed in two tiers (280ml & 100ml) of a four-tier Thomas the Tank Engine nesting and stacking bento box. You can find similar compact bento box sets with all sorts of character themes, including Snoopy, Hello Kitty, Monokuro Boo (square and rectangular), and Lilo & Stitch. (affiliate links)

Verdict: Thumbs up. Bug ate all of the rice and some of the fruit. It was a little big for him according to the bento box size guidelines, though, so he ate the rest of the fruit after school as a snack.



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  1. I love those little custard tarts!
    Your bentos are always beautiful!

    Now about the cat…I find a little catnip to do the trick when they get that burst of energy that we call a “mad half hour”. I use an old single sock that is long enough to stuff catnip in the toe and tie a knot. My cats go crazy over it then are so zonked out they’re lifeless for at least an hour afterwards. Just keep it in a container or jar (airtight)till you need it. good luck!

  2. My cat used to be wide awake at 4 in the morning. First it would meow for a while. Proceedig with siting next to my pillow and using her paw to like say time to get the hell up now, I’m bored. When this failed she’d walk all over me, then crawl under the covers and bite my toes. That would guaranteed have you out of bed. I lived in a studio which was not convenient in this situation.

    The chinese custard sounds delicious. I make a similar pastry; a brioche kind dough neatly rolled out in small individual forms, filled with regular pastry custard and then a chocolate drop or two in it. Then baked in the oven until the brioche dough is done.

  3. I have a cat who has always been like this…when I was single it didn’t matter as much, but once I got married it created real problems.

    We ended up taking one of those expandable baby security gates and putting it in front of the closed bedroom door, resting against it. Then he wasn’t able to get to the door to scratch. Kind of a pain, and it felt like we were barricading ourselves in our own bedroom, but nothing else seemed to work. I’ve tried taking the gate down a couple times to see if he tries to scratch again, and he always does. So, the gate goes back up!

    Lovely bento!

  4. One of our cats demands we get up about 45 minutes before we’re ready. We find that if we play with her a lot before we go to bed she’s usually tired out enough to sleep through the night. And no matter how annoying she gets we try not to react until after the alarm goes off. She knows the alarm means it’s time for us to get up. Sometimes we feel like prisoners in our own bed, huddled together in the middle to keep her from swatting at our arms and hair from the floor.

  5. Our kitty Charles Babbage used to be a terrors all night long as well as in the morning. He seems to be growing out of it, and his sister Ada Lovelace is modeling good behavior for him, too. If she’s on the bed and sleeping, he will cuddle up with her, so we try to encourage her to sleep at the bottom of the bed. If she’s not there, he becomes “Charlie Hat” and sleeps on our heads. :(

  6. I love the pre-diced pancetta. Trader Joe’s carries it also. I’ve been incorporating it into a variety of dishes and it’s been very versatile.

  7. I had a cat who pawed at the door. To cure him of it, we put double sided sticky tape on the outside of the door, arranged so there wasn’t a good place for him to paw. Cats don’t like the feel of the stickiness on their paws (it’s also a good way to break them of jumping on counters) so they avoid the area that’s giving them that unpleasant experience.

  8. You named your cats Moose and Squirrel?

    That’s beautiful. So very, very, beautiful.

    My Poor George has the same habit, and I find rattling a magazine spooks him enough to quit it. (Saveur seems to have the best weight for this.) That said, he’s a timid soul, so it might not work for you.

  9. The rice cube lunch looks scrumptious. Now I’m hungry!

    Re the errant Squirrel, you could try putting a large sheet of foil across the open doorway at bedtime. Cats hate stepping on foil. (The first few attempts will surely wake you up, though.) If the sheet isn’t large enough, they’ll figure out that they can just jump over it.

    You could also keep a rolled-up newspaper near the bed and smack it against your hand when the Squirrel approaches. Same theory as shaking the magazine, but our cat takes the rolled-up newspaper a little more seriously.

  10. I have the same problem with Ull. He will make chirping noises until one of us looks up and then he’ll start meowing. When we want to sleep in, we usually try to ignore him. Eventually he will be quiet.

  11. I’m always so amazed at how much different things you can fit into bento! I’ll definitely try cubing chicken and saute-ing it for faster cooking.

    Oh jeez…cats are so demanding! One of our cats Zilla, likes to wake us up in the middle of the night for affection (rubbing her head against our exposed hands). We tend to ignore/gently push her towards the edge ;;^^

  12. I know this is kind of different, but I share a room with my bunny, and he’s a terror in the morning. As soon as he hears my mother wake up for work, he starts banging things around the cage and throws his bowl on the ground (from the little shelf he sits on.) I usually just get up, throw some food in his bowl, and go back to bed, but that would only work if Squirrel is only asking for food. I always make sure to only give him food at the right time, though, so he doesn’t start throwing his bowl around whenever he’s hungry.

  13. My bunny used to grind his teeth on the bars of his cage in the morning.. most aweful noise ever…

    I’m getting the shivers 10 years later thinking about it…

  14. There is a product you can buy at places like Petco, the name of which escapes me, that is intended to keep pets from scratching on surfaces. When my boyfriend and I moved in together, his cat would always scratch at the door at night. You spray this on the door every couple of days for a week or two and it smells foul to cats, so they avoid it. It wears off naturally and the cat forgets about bending you to his will in short order. Worked like a charm for us!

  15. Here is a cute, short, cartoon about your cat problem. It’s called, “Hungry Wake Up Kitty”

  16. @1 from alexsandra: Thanks, alexsandra. I’ll put the catnip sock in my new bag of tricks — I’m desperate!

  17. @2 from Jessika: Your custard brioche sounds delicious. I don’t think Squirrel is trying to wake us up per se — she does the same thing even at night or if one of us is awake downstairs and has given her food. She’s just feisty. Hmmm…

  18. @3 from Jocelyn: Well, we definitely have extra baby gates around — I may try that if all else fails.

  19. @4 from Jeanette: Thanks for delurking and the kind words, Jeanette! Squirrel still does this even when there’s food in her dish, so maybe she’s just playing.

  20. @ 24, Biggie, I’ll email you a recipe so you can have a look at it if you want. Don’t expect it this week or so though.
    A kitty pawing your face at four in the morning could have been adorable if I wouldn’t have been in grad school at the time ;).

  21. Beautiful lunch, as always - can’t tell you how many ideas I get from you! Like everyone, though, it’s the kitty problems that prompted me to write. I think all I can offer, though, is commiseration. I’d love to banish my little guy from the bedroom, but he whines and scratches incessantly if I close him out. I gave into his 4am food needs by getting an automatic feeder on a timer - best investment ever. And I find if I make time for a crazy play session before bedtime he’s more restful and contented in the morning. Now if only I could find an toy that “turns on” and makes itself interesting at 7am I may have a complete system.
    Good luck with your little guy!!

  22. @5 from Stephanie: I may put some cardboard or something between us and the headboard so Squirrel can’t hook her claws into our heads. Some mornings Bug comes in and sleeps with us, so it’s particularly bad when the cat nails his head with her claws…

  23. @6 from fossettes: Thank you for the kind comment, fossettes. Merci encore!

  24. @7 from eudyptes: Do I sense a computer programmer in your house? ;-)

  25. @8 from Miriam: I like the pre-diced pancetta as well — very convenient. My only issue is that the Costco packages are much more than I’d use in any one dish, so I need to divvy it up and freeze some.

  26. @9 from Angela James: Excellent tip on the double-sided tape! I’ll definitely try this on the bedroom door; don’t know why I didn’t remember this trick from previous cats I’ve had. (Thanks also for the link in your blog, and for not specifically tagging me — I already feel guilty for not responding to a couple of memes I’ve been tagged on.)

  27. @10 from Mer: My husband and I were thinking of names last spring, wracking our brains for good “pair” names. When my husband came up with Moose and Squirrel we couldn’t stop giggling, and that clinched it. “Where Moose and Squirrel?!” “Must STOP Moose and Squirrel!!” They’ve since grown into their names, with Moose bogarting the food and Squirrel zooming around attacking things.

  28. @13 from Jenii: Cutting things small & thin lets me include dishes I’d otherwise rule out due to time constraints. It seems obvious, but is a good trick to have up your sleeve.

  29. Hum….. acts like my cats…..

    We have the same problem but just one out of three actually wants food or someone to mix the moist food up for her. We bought one of those inexpensive single bowl timed feeders and since we have not had the cat demanding food at 5am. We just put in her favorite food in the bowl, set the timer and close the lid. She is there when it pops open with fresh food and we are sleeping.

  30. @14 from Jenna: I used to get those cardboard scratching things for my old cat when I lived in Japan. Man, did he love them!

  31. I LOVE that your cats names are Moose and Squirrel. I do hope that you go silly sometimes and call them in Russian accents. ;)

  32. @40 from Sile: But of course, DAH-link!

  33. Dear lordy, I love your site.

    I have a cat that’s got some anxiety issues, and he acts out-sometimes like your cat sounds like she does.
    Any of the “calming sprays” that are pheromone-based are likely to make your kitty more relaxed and biddable. My cat goes bonkers when catnip’s involved, but when he gets crazy at night, I spray a little into the room and let him loose. He settles down.

  34. Biggie, after opening my umpteenth bento today to find that the rice had once again gotten EVERYWHERE, I find myself asking for your advice.

    I get the idea of “gap fillers” between larger objects, but how do you get rice to stay put? Unless all your recipes use sticky rice? It looks from the picture like those rice cubes are made from standard long-grain, though.. I guess my question really boils down to this: What do you do when the dividers that keep foods separate don’t reach all the way to the lid? I have a great bento box..well, it would be great if there wasn’t a 1cm gap between the removable dividers and the lid.

    Sorry for being so longwinded..

  35. @43 from rachel- i wondered. It must be sticky rice! I can keep mine together by adding a few things to “glue” the rice together, but I make my rice very latin and “un-sticky”. I hope she let’s us in on her secret!

  36. @43 from Rachel: D’oh! Sorry that your comment got away from me there! I use short- or medium-grain white rice (usually the big bag of Calrose or Botan from Costco, nothing special). Long-grain rice doesn’t stick, and brown rice is own crumbly on its own.

    When your box’s dividers don’t reach all the way to the lid, you need to: 1) try to carry the bento flat and not tip it in transit, and 2) be careful about what foods you pack — avoid soups, stews/curries, anything too wet.

  37. @44 from Mimi: Try using short- or medium-grain white rice, not long grain. Don’t approach it like Latin rice — no added oil during the cooking. Brown rice also tends to be too crumbly for onigiri on its own.

  38. yum yum yum! i tried out this recipe, and it’s delicious! not to mention simple and fast. for my sons bento i made the teriyaki chicken cubes w/ steamed folded buns and steamed broccoli. he likes it and i love it. “Great Recipe”

  39. I don’t know if you ever got the cat thing solved, but I just thought I’d give you a reason to be thankful. At least that is all your cat is doing. One of our cats actually /pokes/ people when he wants attention. He isn’t very careful about his claws either, so you usually end up getting a nasty claw poke out of dreamland. For a little while he went through a phase where he would poke Hubby in the eye, hard, to wake him up in the morning. XD Cats!

  40. I love your bento ideas! My nephew would love that Cars bento box, too! Thanks for all of the great ideas.
    -Kevin F.