Tomorrow is the first of December! Are you ready? I guess we'd better start with the Christmas themed bentos now. Only 2 and a half weeks of school to go! Did I already mention that yesterday? Yes, we're pretty excited here. For this bento: along with some shoyu chicken, I decided to put a layer of black rice (over more chicken) in one section of the round three-section bento so that I could have a canvas to put my santa. It's a hard-boiled quail egg with a radish hat, nose and beard. I cut the beard with a standard flower cutter and used several "petals" for an extra fluffy beard. I don't have any cute Christmas mini cutters, so most of my decorations have to be hand-cut. I'm not one to spend a lot of time doing them, so you know that whatever I make has to be quick and pretty easy. In the last section I've added another cute crabapple, some grapes and a few carrots. My girl loved her crabapple so much she saved the seeds, brought them home carefully wrapped in a napkin, and told me she wants to plant them in the yard and grow an "apple bush." Well all right then! ^_^
The recent cold weather has put me in the mood for hot soups and stews. The heavy fog that we woke up to this morning stuck around all day long, which doesn't usually happen. It felt like 6pm all day. So everyone was very glad to have some hearty warming minestrone soup to take the chill off. Just as I always do, I threw in a lot of colorful vegetables to make this soup chock full of vitamins and nutrition. There's also some smoked andouille sausage in there for a little bite. TinySprite loved it so much, she asked for more again tomorrow. In her side dish I gave her the cutest little baby crabapple, steamed broccoli, carrots, grapes, a strawberry, and my first attempt at a Christmas character - Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. He's made from a shoyu-dyed hard-boiled quail egg, with nori eyes and mouth and a baby grape tomato nose. Are you in the Christmas mood yet? We've just put up our tree and are in the process of decorating it now. The kids love this part ^_^
Added to What's For Lunch.
Have you recovered from the Thanksgiving weekend of feasting? I'm having a bit of a delay in getting back to the bentomaking. But I'm enjoying the memories of the good eats we had over the past few days. Here's a little bento-break special interest food item I thought I'd share with you. I made this zucchini bread for both MisterMan's and TinySprite's class Thanksgiving Luncheon parties (minus the nuts and chocolate). I love this bread because it's very cake-like, moist and delicious -- and yet it's packed full of zucchini. Muahaha! You might sprinkle some powdered sugar over the top to make it more festive (for say, Christmas parties?), but it's really not necessary. Really. You can even ask a bunch of 8- and 4-year olds.
This was the result of my last crockpot meal: turkey chili with beans and vegetables. And this bento is MINE! I packed the two kids' lunches in their thermal jars in the morning, and didn't feel like taking the time to snap a picture. I don't know when the last time was that I made a bento for me, but I am going to start doing it more often. I used the cute panda bowl bento set, which is perfect for rice bowls. When I was a kid growing up, my favorite thing to get at Zippy's was chili rice. That's how you order it: chili rice. I loved it for a long time until someone told me you get a lot more chili if you order chili cracker instead. I can see the logic there. After all, there's only so much chili you can pour over a giant scoop of rice. So I switched to chili cracker, but I always loved chili over rice. So I made it for myself. This chili is so jam-packed with healthy stuff you practically get younger after you eat it. There's tomato, carrots, zucchini, kidney and black beans, ground turkey, onions, sweet peppers, and kale. I topped mine with grated cheddar and a sprinkling of cilantro. Really hits the spot on a brisk fall day, don't you think? And I prepared a fruit tier for myself too: fall pluots, cantaloupe balls and three raspberries. And I cleaned it all up!
Slow-Cooked Turkey Chili
1lb. ground turkey (or whatever meat you like, or you can omit this entirely)
2 cans kidney beans, black beans, white beans, or other beans of your choice
1 32-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 8-oz. can tomato sauce
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 bunch kale, chopped
2 zucchinis, chopped
1 tsp. chili powder (or 2 tsp, if you like)
Brown the meat in a skillet and drain. Add to slow cooker along with all the other ingredients. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. Garnish with cheese if desired.
Remember the slow-cooked ono pork roast from last week? This bento is an example of repurposed pork leftovers. I sliced some pork and fried it to get nice crispy edges, then packed it with tomato-onion-cilantro salsa and rolled tortillas for him to either build a taco at lunch, or eat separately as he chooses. I decorated with Okinawan sweet potato stars, and added late-season pluots, black grapes and raspberries. Yes, I know I'm using the same three-sectioned LunchBot Trio as I did for the original pork bento, but it's because this box is so ideally suited for deconstructed meals like this one. I've used it numerous times already, and it's still in great shape -- maybe a little scratched with tiny dents, but the lid still fits securely and the welded partition seams have held up without fail. Love it.
Added to What's For Lunch.
Here's another time-saving meal that I really should make more often. Who doesn't love mac and cheese? And it doesn't have to be plain and boring; you can feel free to add all kinds of interesting and fancy ingredients. It's your meal and you can make it however you want! So here's an "interesting" twist on this batch. I usually make mac and cheese on the stovetop and finish it in the oven and under the broiler (like here and here), but I just didn't have time for all that this time. After mixing the macaroni with the milky, cheesy, creamy sauce, I had an urge to make it more nutritious (surprise). I was going to throw in some steamed broccoli florets (which I sort of did, as you can see), but then I had a genius idea. What about kabocha? Since everything was already basically cooked, I steamed the kabocha separately, just enough for it to keep its shape without getting mushy. Then I diced them and gently tossed and folded them in. Since the squash is orange, it blends right in. Not that I was trying to hide it or anything. But I was so pleased with myself that I waited until the kids had finished licking their 3rd bowls before I casually mentioned that I had added "like, a half a kabocha" in there. TinySprite wasn't phased. She was the one who, when I asked whether she wanted mac and cheese, responded "Sure! I love cheese. What's mackin?" But MisterMan's head snapped right up and he said "What?!" That's right, buddy! Muahaha!! Okay, maybe their taste buds aren't all that discriminating. Or maybe there was just so much real cheddar in there that they totally missed it. But I am inordinately happy that my kabocha passed itself off as cheddar so easily. I really love this squash, if I haven't mentioned it already. ^_^
Added to Allergy-Friendly Lunchbox Love.
This year the kids seem to have a lot more after-school activities than last year, but maybe it's just the scheduling that makes it seem more hectic. Even with only one activity per kid, there are some afternoons where we seem to be rushing from one place to the next, changing uniforms in the car, and squeezing homework in between somehow. After a few very late nights, I've wised up: I dusted off the slow-cooker and plan to use it on those days when we don't get home until 6:30pm. Here's the result of the most recent slow-cooker night - My Mom's Ono Pork Roast (see my method and recipe here). The 3-pound pork shoulder should last for more than one meal, and there are lots of things you can do with the leftovers. We've shredded and fried the meat and made tacos, which are really good. To go along with the sliced pork here, I've added Okinawan sweet potato, baked sweet potato "fries", and roasted brussels sprouts. The fruit section contains a late-season plum, grapes, and raspberries. In my favorite LunchBot Trio!
It's a calzone bento, kind of, except this time I rolled up the dough with the fillings inside (salami, pepperoni, cheese, spinach), then baked and sliced into little bite-sized pieces for fun. Yeah, I'm having way too much fun with the calzone-styled foods. It's such a convenient, sandwich-y way to pack a school lunch bento, with so many filling possibilities. The rest of the bento contains roasted red kabocha, steamed Okinawan sweet potato slices, and a cup of grapes and raspberries.
I packed this bento in my adjustable 4-sectioned Assist box which I found at Ichiban Kan. This is only the second time I've used it (see my other bento here). It's a nice shape and size, and the lid fits tightly with a rubber gasket and matching strap. Not sure why I don't use it more often. In one section I packed some pseudo-mochiko chicken in a lettuce leaf. This recipe is very tasty, even if it's not exactly traditional. The veggie section contains broccoli, carrots, roasted kabocha, and steamed Okinawan sweet potato. The two fruit sections contain raspberries, grapes, and cinnamon-sprinkled honeycrisp apple chunks. It might look a little big for a third-grader, but the box is on the shallow side. Also, the separate sections ensure that the foods don't mix, so it's not necessary to pack each completely full. And, everything stays put even when it's tossed around in the lunchbag. Great, right? I think it's an ideal box for a kid or an adult.
More panda and more! I found this ultra cute panda bento bowl set recently, and yes, even though I have several panda bento boxes already, I had to get this one because it's a bowl set, which makes it perfect for things like donburi (rice bowl meals) or... sticky rice. I don't usually pack donburi because my kids aren't big rice eaters, but they do like sticky rice. Go figure. This batch (see my basic recipe and method here) contains regular white sweet rice mixed with koshihikari short grain brown rice. I added char siu, lup cheong (Chinese sausage), shiitake, baby bok choy and small chunks of kabocha. I made sure to add the choy and the kabocha at the very end of the cooking cycle; maybe 5 minutes before the end. You want the squash to be firm and not mushy. I topped this rice bowl with chopped green onions - doesn't it look nice? The top tier has a nice stylized divider, making it perfect for the berries, oranges, Okinawan sweet potato butterflies and a tiny sprig of broccoli. And look at the cute panda face on the lid! It clips securely, and even came with the little fork and spoon, which have tiny heart-shaped cutouts in the handles. Naturally I couldn't resist. ^_^
Added to Allergy Friendly Lunchbox Love.
A simple crab linguine pasta bento for my TinySprite. I tossed the noodles with spinach, roasted baby tomatoes, crabmeat, olive oil, pepper and parmesan. The top tier contains dragonfruit balls, raspberries, sliced persimmon, a bit of steamed broccoli and some Okinawan sweet potato flowers. It probably took 10 minutes to put this bento together, but it still looks bright, fresh and tasty. You don't need to spend hours making an artistic piece of edible art in order for the bento to look good. Colorful, seasonal foods will help you ensure you've packed a healthy and balanced meal that will provide nutrition for your active learner. And most importantly, my little girl gobbled it up. Yay!
Remember that interview and video shoot we did for the Cooking Channel back in the spring? Well, guess what? Our clip didn't end up on the cutting room floor after all. They ended up using it for a series of commercials that started airing a few weeks ago. If you get the Cooking Channel, you might have seen it - maybe without realizing it was us! We don't get that channel, so I had to get the DVD copy. I posted it here and on my flickr so you can see it too. After three hours of filming, bento-making, and talking, I was surprised to see a coherent 1-minute segment that made us look pretty poised and respectable. What a great editing job! I have immense respect for all the folks responsible for the work and production that goes into making an interesting and cool-looking promo. We found it amazing that it looks like a beautiful sunny day when in actuality it was around 8pm. All those hot spotlights really make a difference. I wish I had a setup that like to shoot my bentos at night and have it look like the brightest naturally sunny day ever. Also, if you have a 4-year old like mine, you know that after 3 hours of ANYthing they're usually either bouncing off the walls or having a meltdown or (yikes) both. But as you can see, my TinySprite was a perfect ANGEL. Hahahaha! (see previous comment about stellar editing job). Besides the solo 1-minute ad, there are also two other ads we're in which are comprised of two 30-second segments. Our segment is the same in both of these short versions but I've included them both so you can see the interesting other pieces (one's with a BBQ dude and the other is with a couple that runs a bowling alley restaurant). The cool thing about the Cooking Channel that makes it different from the Food Network is that it seems to focus more on the "everyday" regular person rather than celebrity chefs or reality contests. Folks like you and me. Thanks for taking a look! ^_^
Today I decided to make vegetable curry, but wanted to try a new recipe. I used Nami's Keema Curry recipe at her popular blog Just One Cookbook. If you haven't checked it out, you really should! She has a lot of great recipes here, and always includes photos and step-by-step instructions. I chose this one because it looked delicious, and it seemed quick and easy (my forte!). I was right on all counts. I omitted the ground pork and added a lot of veggies I happened to have on hand: kabocha, zucchini, potatoes, carrots and onions. I made extra for bento, and it was a good thing I did because the kids inhaled it. I made it mild and added some applesauce too, and they loved it. I packed it into a thermal bento, along with a side container of cinnamon-sprinkled apples, grapes, broccoli, Okinawan sweet potato, and a colorful quail egg Dia de los Muertos skull. Happy Wednesday friends! Shared at Allergy Friendly Lunchbox and What's For Lunch.
Wontons! That's what my kids shout when they find out I'm making them (see my recipe and method here). The excitement is just as high as with the gyoza. I love packing wontons because I don't have to bother to present them nicely. They're just wrinkly dumplings so all you have to do is squeeze them in however they fit. I think I put 10 in the bottom of this round stainless steel tiffin, along with broccoli, corn, carrot, and a little Okinawan sweet potato flower. In the top tier I arranged some grapes, strawberries, honeydew melon and dragonfruit balls. A few friendly faces make it a happy little bento. Don't you think? ^_^
Shared at What's For Lunch.
I am a former research scientist turned stay-at-home-mom of 2 who got started with bento in an effort to help my kids learn that eating healthy and nutritious foods can be fun and cute. I make a bento lunch for my 11yo (6th grader) son & my 7yo (2nd grader) daughter every school day, and post the pictures on my sherimiya ♥ flickr photostream. Here in this blog is where I describe each bento, and you'll also get a peek inside our family adventures. Thanks for taking a look, and please let me know what you think ^-^!