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Posted on Apr 5, 2008 in Bento, Fish or Seafood, For Kids, Lactose Free, Onigiri or Sushi, Review, Sandwich Case, Sandwich or Wrap | 23 comments

Mini onigiri & special Marmite lunches

Mini onigiri & special Marmite lunches


Mixed onigiri bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Shrimp and scallop cakes (review here), roasted asparagus (simple recipe here), blueberries, Moro blood orange, and mini onigiri rice balls made of rice mixed with salmon-flavored furikake rice seasoning and julienned thin egg sheets (usuyaki tamago, speedy microwave recipe here). Cooking notes for the mini rice balls follow.

Rolled & cut thin omelettes for freezingFreezing cooked rice in plastic wrapMorning prep time: 15 minutes, using leftover asparagus, frozen rice, frozen julienned thin egg sheets and frozen Jeremiah’s shrimp and scallop cakes from Costco. In the morning I pan-fried the seafood cakes and made the little onigiri. I got a bit distracted with the onigiri when frying, though, and the bottoms got a bit too brown (not that my three-year-old minded). Frying the shrimp & scallop cakes in more oil than I had done previously helped them develop a crust and stay together as finger food, but as you can see my attention span isn’t all that great first thing in the morning. (Read on for cooking notes, limited edition Guinness- and champagne-flavored Marmite yeast extract spreads, and an additional preschooler lunch.)

Mini onigiri rice ball moldCooking: To make the little bite-sized onigiri rice balls, I first warmed the frozen rice in the microwave, then mixed in the furikake and still-frozen julienned thin egg sheets so that they would defrost naturally in the heat of the rice. I hesitate to microwave them again unless necessary, as this risks overcooking and having them become rubbery. I threw the rice mixture into a little onigiri mold that makes five rice balls at once, and used packaged, pre-cut seasoned nori seaweed snack strips to wrap two of them. This little onigiri mould is handy for turning out multiple tiny rice balls quickly, and I like the textured plastic insides that make it easier to remove the rice balls without rice sticking to the plastic. I picked this up cheaply a long time ago either at Kamei or Ichiban Kan in San Francisco (for store information, see my San Francisco Bay Area shopping guide for bento gear).

Packing: Wrapping alternating rice balls in nori made it easier for my three-year-old to remove one onigiri at a time from the lunch. I cut the roasted asparagus into bite-size pieces (no asparagus tips, at Bug’s request), packed them in a disposable paper baking cup to keep it away from the crispy seafood cakes, and threw in a small Anpanman food pick for little hands. The whole lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with subcontainers removed to accommodate the line of onigiri.

Verdict: Pretty good over time. Bug ate the seafood cakes, onigiri and orange at preschool, and the blueberries after school as a snack. He rejected the asparagus, though, saying he didn’t like it in his bentos although it was good at dinner.

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Mixed sandwich bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch: Grapes, wrapped cheese, and little sandwiches on whole wheat bread filled with cream cheese and a little Guinness Marmite yeast extract spread, and cream cheese and sugar-free strawberry jam.

Morning prep time: 6 minutes. I made the sandwiches fresh in the morning, although Marmite sandwiches freeze fine (without the cream cheese).

Packing: I used a leaf of lettuce as an edible liner for the small Snoopy collapsible sandwich case (general intro to sandwich cases here), and avoided hard plastic food cups that wouldn’t fit in the case when collapsed.

Verdict: Big thumbs up — this was entirely demolished at preschool. I was a little surprised, because Bug had previously rejected regular Marmite. But reader docsarah kindly sent me some limited edition Marmites (Guinness and Champagne versions), and I think Bug decided to give Marmite another chance after seeing my husband and me get so excited about it.

* * * * *

Special edition Marmite lineup

Marmite is a savory vegan yeast extract spread from the U.K. that is often eaten thinly spread on buttered toast, similar to Australian Vegemite. I became a convert in the early nineties after eating it regularly at my English friend Naomi’s house for breakfast in Japan (on buttered toast, with cheddar cheese on top). Marmite does tend to be pricey in the U.S., though, with even the smallest jars going for US$7 each. On a trip to Scotland, England and Wales about three years ago, my husband and I temporarily solved this problem by stopping by a Scotland Costco for a huge catering tub of Marmite that lasted us an entire year. We’re back to local sources at this point, though! You can also find Marmite on Amazon, flavoring snacks like Twiglets or Fudges Marmite Biscuits, or cook with it as per The Marmite Cookbook.

The limited edition Guinness Marmite was made last year for St. Patrick’s Day, and the champagne version was made this year for Valentine’s Day. When reader docsarah told me about champagne Marmite in recent comments, I had my heart set on getting some for my husband for Valentine’s Day (we’re weird that way). We worked out a Marmite for bento gear swap, with Daiso goodies making their way to the U.K. in return for multiple jars of Guinness Marmite, Champagne Marmite, and regular Marmite.

Our whole family’s favorite turned out to be the Guinness Marmite, which has a complex, mellow flavor. Maki at Just Hungry has written some comprehensive taste tests about Guinness Marmite, yeast extracts, and the Champagne Marmite. I prefer the gooey Marmite to the thicker Vegemite, and Bug will only eat the mellower limited edition Marmites (go figure!). Thanks, docsarah, for making my Marmite dream possible without eBay!



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  1. These look so amazing…my preschooler would LOVE to eat something so organized and tasty.

    Wow. Just ran across your site.

    Will be back often.

  2. @1 from Robin Rivers: Welcome, Robin! Feel free to ask questions or leave comments even on old entries — I try to keep up with comments via the Recent Comments thingie to the right.

  3. Oh my gosh I LOVE twiglets! I had no idea you could find them on amazon :) That Guinness marmite sounds delish as well. I think I could actually get my hubby to try that - we both had bad experiences with Vegimite in the past (granted, I was eating a huge spoonful on a dare)but I’ve always wanted to try marmite anyway. we both LOVE guinness.

  4. Try toast with butter, marmite and banana. Yeah, I know it sounds bizarre, but as a child who grew up on vegimite toast THIS is my reason to stock marmite in the cupboard. Best way to do it is toast the bread, spread a fairly fine layer of butter on, squash on the banana and then spread marmite on top so you can still see the banana but its kinda all mixed together…

  5. @3 from Danni: I didn’t know I could get Twiglets on Amazon either until searching yesterday. I’ve gotta say I’m sorely tempted to stock up! Mmm, Twiglets…

  6. @4 from Zelda: Sounds like an odd combination, but I’ll try it for breakfast this morning. Fingers crossed!

  7. Ooh, yeah, love me some Marmite. Vegemite has a recipe section on their website.
    I personally like some fresh olive bread and Marmite…craving saltiness while pregnant I guess!
    I’ll have to look for those special edition flavours, sounds yummo.

  8. Since I’m heading back into the work force I’m so going to try the strawberry and cream cheese sandwich.

  9. Question: I know some beer ISN’T vegan, because of the filtering process…the package of Marmite only says vegetarian. Can anyone verify if the beer process that preceeds the Marmite production is vegan? Or is Marmite produced on it’s own, with a beer-like process, but the beer isn’t actually made…? (I hope that makes sense)

  10. By any chance, is Marmite gluten-free?

  11. I haven’t eaten marmite for ages: it reminds me holiday’s at my “penfriend’s house” in England. Good idea, for a change. I’ve seen some in supermarkets here. Th champagne collection is so cute.
    Biggie, I followed your idea of learning from finger food cookbook and ordered the book of martha stewarts.;; I can’t wait!!!!!
    I mistaken when saying the moghul cookbook didn’t arrive: i didn’t pay for it since they don’t sell to europe.. Never mind.

  12. I really wanna learn how to do bento. TUTORIALS PLZ! xD

  13. @7 from veganf: Mmm, olive bread and Marmite? Sounds delicious! Congratulations and good luck with the pregnancy. :-)

  14. @8 from Katie: My three-year-old actually doesn’t like peanut butter, soy butter, or any of those type spreads, so out of desperation I tried the cream cheese and strawberry preserve combo. Big hit with him!

  15. Hey Biggie! What a coincidence! Just made myself some onigiri yesterday, with some salmon inside…very excited to have some today! I’m so excited about the ichiban kan online store opening but just found out they aren’t shipping to Hawaii…yet. I hope soon! :)

  16. I always get the best ideas here, egg sheets in the onigiri, whoo hoo!

  17. @15 from jenny: Mmm, onigiri with salmon, my favorite… That’s too bad that Ichiban Kan won’t be shipping to Hawaii, but fingers crossed that that’ll be among their expanded shipping options once they get things rolling.

  18. @16 from Deanna: Thanks, Deanna! I got the idea from my Japanese-lang. cookbook all about onigiri — they show a variety of interesting mix-ins such as the egg, beans, fih, veggies, etc.

  19. hi biggie,
    I just cant say how happy i am to see ur blog.i am living in tokyo and my son’s started his preschool and will be staying till lunchtime,was so confused wat to pack for his lunch .your blog’s a messiah to me.thanks a ton…

  20. @19 from mamta: My pleasure, mamta! It must be such an adventure to have your son start preschool in Japan — good luck wading through all of the cross-cultural stuff. Off to check out your blog…

  21. Have you tried vegemite? Much nicer than marmite imho

  22. @21 from Metanoia: I started out with Vegemite in high school, thanks to a friend who was an exchange student from Australia. But I didn’t get truly hooked until trying Marmite. I’ll eat either, but I prefer Marmite because of the texture.

  23. @23 from timo: I haven’t tried Marmite and honey before — will have that for breakfast tomorrow. Thanks for the idea!