One week until Christmas! Here is my last Christmas themed bento for the year. It's another snowman, this time made with a nori- and carrot-decorated quail egg. A little blue hat, and there's a happy friend waiting to enjoy lunchtime with TinySprite! I used my EcoLunchbox Solo Cube with 4 silicone cups containing sliced bratwurst sausages, sauteed shredded brussels sprouts topped with parmesan and garlic powder, Greek yogurt with homemade granola and a perfectly sized satsuma mandarin. I don't normally pack yogurt without a lid, but the layer of granola (Alton Brown's recipe) helps keep it in place. I like how everything fits in here snugly, and makes a colorful, festive holiday bento. Merry Christmas, friends!
This is TinySprite's version of the comfort chicken and rice I made yesterday. I always pull her meat off the bone to save her lunchmates the sight of messy carnage. Plus, I can get more meat in the bento this way. In one section there's chicken and broccoli; in the next a little two-ball onigiri snowman with nori detail and a steamed Okinawan sweet potato hat, some carrots; and finally a baby satsuma and a few blackberries. She also has a class snack party, so I don't expect her appetite to be all that big. I can tell my little girl is growing up when I look at her big brother's bento boxes and think: it may be time for her to use this one now. Yep, he has used this worn old three-sectioned box for years. It has kept all its pieces intact, and the latches, gasket and clear lid are all in great shape. What a workhorse! Love this one.
The nights around here are getting pretty chilly -- down in the 30s -- calling for some comfort food to warm up the bones during the day. I made a big pot of Vietnamese soy chicken drumsticks (method and recipe here). Even though I grew up with shoyu chicken, and the Hawaiian version was a childhood favorite of mine, I really love the distinct taste of this version. I think it might be the fish sauce that gives it that extra flavor punch. Or maybe it's the black pepper. In any case, I'm hooked. I made this batch on the stovetop, and it doesn't take more than an hour to get nice and fall-off-the-bone tender. I packed some in the apple box atop some furikake rice and some broccoli steamed in the same pot. Chicken and rice. It's delicious hot, cold, room temperature, whatever. You know what I mean? The top layer holds a satsuma mandarin, the ever-present sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers, a smattering of blackberries, and a shoyu-dyed quail egg Rudolph. It's Christmas, after all!
Yeah, okay, maybe it's just a broccoli tree like all the other broccoli trees. But this one has a star on top! And star ornaments on the branches! Can we just call it a Christmas tree bento? I hope she'll go for it! Besides the festive "Christmas tree" there is my ever-present, favorite satsuma mandarin, a few blackberries, a lone grape tomato, and the dwindling cup of home-pickled cucumbers. I have another six pickles to go, so this exact same cup will be present in several more upcoming bento boxes. Just to warn you. There isn't anything in the thermal food jar yet, which is why I'm not showing you the interior, but I am planning to pack the kale-white bean-chicken sausage-vegetable soup that we had for dinner. It's a typical winter warming bento, which is so nice when the weather is cold, isn't it?
Only two weeks to go until Christmas, and I'm happy to present my first Christmas themed bento for the year! Heh. Oops. I should look to my past Christmas bento flickrset for inspiration, I think. Anyway, this one boasts a reindeer-shaped calzone, which became Rudolph with the addition of a red button nose pick. All I did was glue on some nori eyes (with honey) and I was done. Woo! There are a couple of pizza slices underneath Rudolph, packed in one half of my new Sistema Bakery bento box. The box says that the volume of this BPA-free divided box is 630ml, which might surprise you. The tight-fitting (leakproof) lid is domed, allowing extra space for bulky food items. Plus, it costs less than $7~ I love this box! The other side was just right to fit a little satsuma mandarin, a handful of blackberries, a grape tomato and a cup of pickled cucumbers. Toss this box into the lunchtote, and you don't need to worry about anything. TinySprite can see exactly what she has for lunch, and she made sure there wasn't anything left to bring home. ^_^
Let's hear it for breakfast for lunch! Actually, what happened is that I didn't have quite enough salmon to go around, so I decided to supplement the bento with tamagoyaki (rolled with chopped spinach and scallions) and nitrite-free gluten-free maple sausages. This sleek bento is for TinySprite, and includes the savory treats I just mentioned, plus a little grape tomato, a sectioned satsuma mandarin, a little steamed broccoli tucked into the free space, and some Okinawan sweet potato butterfly shapes. I've discovered that a very small sampling of each food item doesn't seem too overwhelming, and she's more likely to eat it all. One tier of this double stainless steel bento set serves her kindergarten appetite perfectly. She hasn't started using "real" chopsticks yet, but she's pretty close. I got this pair for her to practice, forgetting that she's a lefty and this kind of practice pair is sided! Hmm. I took it apart and put it back together in what I thought might be a backwards way, but I tried it and it didn't really work. I gave it to her anyway, and she was THRILLED. Didn't even notice that the thumb pad and finger indent were off. And get this: she actually uses it pretty well. Go figure. Haha! Whatever, right? ^_^
Have you eaten black rice? Also known as Forbidden Rice, it's received press lately for its high levels of antioxidants, on a par with blueberries. It has a nice, mild flavor, and a pleasing (to me) purplish color that is retained after cooking. I've used it to make jook before (see my method here), and this time I added sliced lup cheong (Chinese sausage), celery and broccoli stalks. You can also add chicken, mushrooms, fish, or whatever else you'd like. It's an easy meal to make: I used a ratio of 1 cup of rice to 8 cups of water (or broth). Simmer about an hour to 90 minutes, adding the rest of the ingredients for the last 30 minutes or so. I scattered chopping green onion on this serving packed in my Stanley thermal food jar, but you can also add cilantro, ginger, pepper, chili oil, even shoyu as your taste dictates. It's another kind of comfort food that's especially satisfying on these cold wintry days. I sent along a side box containing a satsuma mandarin, some grape tomatoes, and the ever-present mini-cups of home-pickled cucumbers and fermented sauerkraut. Simple and fast, yet hearty. I had some for lunch myself, too. ^_^
I felt like using the cute LunchBot Quad today because the divided sections are so handy it almost fills itself. I simply grilled some chicken, sliced into bite-size pieces, lay them in one section side by side, and sprinkled with sodium-free, MSG-free furikake. Next, I cut some garlic-roasted baby asparagus for the next section, and added a couple of grape tomatoes and a flower-shaped steamed Okinawan sweet potato. A third section got tiny silicone cups of homemade sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers (and a carrot), and in the last section I squeezed some watermelon cubes and a peeled satsuma mandarin. See what I mean? You've seen all these components in my bento before; some of them happen to be stocked regularly in my fridge for an easy go-to. TinySprite's kindergarten appetite is fairly small, so a few items of each food group will just about fill her up. The Quad is ideal for this purpose; love it!
After chili night comes... curry night! For some reason, these two seem to go together for me. I love this delicious curry; I used Just One Cookbook's recipe and method here, but added a lot more vegetables to mine, as you can see. For this batch, after browning the ground beef, I added celery, carrots, red capsicum, onion, garlic, and broccoli stalks. In the past I've used potatoes and even kabocha. You can make it as spicy as you like; the ketchup and tonkatsu sauce cuts the heat and keeps it kid-friendly. I packed the curry over rice in thermal food jars, alongside a separate container of satsuma mandarin (I LOVE these babies, have I mentioned?), tomatoes, broccoli, Okinawan sweet potato and sauerkraut. My 9-year-old gobbled up everything you see here. We've got rainstorms forecast for the next 4 days so I am starting to get more into the hearty kinds of meals these days. It's definitely fall around here now!
Added to What's For Lunch.
So the weather turns a little cool and what do I immediately think of? Chili! I winged it with this batch, not really measuring any spices but just adding and mixing until everything tasted just about right. Do you ever do that? I may have gone overboard with the chili powder and cumin, but I didn't hear any complaints. Just in case, I also sprinkled a little Maui brown sugar to tone down any excess heat. I had just enough left to pack for two bento the next day, served over white-brown-barley-quinoa rice. That was a close one. For my girl I used the Hello Kitty thermal jar. I decided to use the enameled stainless steel box I got at Daiso for the refreshing extras: delightful satsuma mandarin, cubed watermelon, carrot, pickled cucumbers, home-fermented sauerkraut, and a grape tomato. I hope this will keep the TinySprite going all day.
Too spent from the activities of the weekend to think about cooking? Sticky rice is one of those one-pot meals that can be thrown together without much planning, which is why I like it so much. See my method and recipe here. I make mine in my rice cooker, tossing the chopped lup cheong, char siu, bok choy, shiitake (and sometimes even kabocha) at the last 15 minutes or so of cooking. I leave the heat on past cook time, just to get the rice on the bottom to burn just a little bit, getting a little crunchy. So good like that. This meal is perfect for bento because it's just as delicious at room temp as it is fresh out of the rice cooker. Sometimes I pack it in a thermal jar, but it's tasty in a regular bento box, like here, too. I topped it with a heart-shaped Okinawan sweet potato, and added plum wedges, a sprig of broccoli, a sun sugar tomato (from the backyard vine -- still growing!), and a grape-grapefruit salad which I hoped would go over well. It didn't. She brought all the grapefruit home. Ah well. Can't win 'em all. ^_^
Here's another wheat-filled bento; it's almost as though we're celebrating the consumption of wheat after going wheatless for many months. Actually, I prefer burgers protein-style myself, but the kids especially like burger buns. I compromised by sending bugers in a pocket pita, which has the advantage of keeping the burger and associated fixings neatly in hand. For these burgers I used wild pink Alaskan canned salmon mixed with barley, onions, celery, some Old Bay, garlic, and pepper. I mixed until I got a consistency which would sustain a patty shape and could be flipped in the pan. I tucked a couple patties into the pita with some lettuce leaves, and sent along a container of yogurt mixed with sweet relish to go with it. The half pita fit inside my new favorite EcoLunchbox Solo Cube, and I also packed a couple of grape tomatoes and a mozzarella cheese star. The EcoDipper held a delicious satsuma mandarin (partially peeled), blackberries, and plum slices. Doesn't it look oh-so-delightful? I love this set so much! And let's hear it for satsuma season!! I think this will be the final bento for the week, since the kids have Thursday and Friday off. Have a happy Thanksgiving!
Is it just me or are these holidays coming up way too fast? I don't know where the time is going, but I can't believe it's been almost a week again between posts. I have been making bento for both kids, and I do snap a pic when I remember, but I haven't logged into the blog for a long time to post or respond to comments. Sorry! Knowing that we don't have any dietary restrictions to consider really takes a lot of pressure off, and I am very grateful for our food allergy reprieve. Since learning we don't have to keep wheat- or soy-free, I've make ma po tofu and now gyoza -- with standard wheat skins! I made a double batch as usual, so that I can snack along the way and to ensure that there will be enough for bento lunches. I used thick (medium) skins, and folded some with single pleats and some with no pleats. When I ran out of skins, I went out and bought a package of thinner skins to finish off the filling, and they worked just as well. I used the method here and packed some in my EcoLunchbox Solo Cube for TinySprite. MisterMan got a similar (heftier) bento. I added a cup of quick-pan-fried bok choy with oyster sauce and a few raw carrots. The little Dipper holds a sampling of berries as well as a couple of way-out-of-season homegrown sunsugar orange cherry tomatoes. My plants are still growing and there are still some fruit stubbornly hanging on and ripening in the cold fall weather out there. It almost tricks me into believing summer is still alive...
And it's yet another donburi-type bento in the ever-favorite panda bowl; this time ma po tofu (adapted from Lovelylanvin's fantastic recipe here). This batch contains chopped pickled mustard greens (because I love 'em), along with scallions and even some choy sum. As usual, there is no hint of chili sauce at all in the kid version, which is why it looks so drab and dull (sigh). You may (or may not) have noticed that ma po tofu had been absent from our menu of late. This is due to the fact that TinySprite had tested positive for both wheat and soy in a blood IgE test. We assumed she was allergic to these foods and I had therefore been diligently trying to remove and replace them in our family diet. Well, recently she was retested via the more accurate skin prick test and we discovered that she is not allergic to wheat or soy at all. In fact, she was negative for all the common food allergens. So here we are eating wheat and soy again! I learned a lot about soy- and gluten-free cooking and eating during those months, and when I shared what I learned on this blog [you can search "gluten free" in the search bar up top and see how much I did!], I discovered that a whole lot of you are allergy-conscious as well. I have a new respect for folks who must live with food allergies; it can be tough and frustrating. I'm not abandoning soy- and gluten-free eating -- I actually like the taste of non-wheat flours, and I still have a lot of soy-free soy sauce (yes, it does exist!). The upper tier doesn't add much in the way of color, with blackberries, black grapes, and orange-fleshed plums, but I hope the sakura-shaped carrots brightened up this ho-hum bento for my girl. ^_^
This one is another selection of little bites for TinySprite, this time in the super cool LunchBots Clicks series. This is the small set, which includes one stainless steel rectangular container with a 320ml capacity, and another one with a 480ml capacity. As you know, I am a huge fan of the other LunchBots, and I use the Uno, Duo, Trio and Quad regularly. I was very excited to see the company come out with a set like this: the same high quality sturdy stainless steel body but with a tight-sealing, gasketed lid. The lids click closed on all four sides similar to the way the Lock & Lock boxes work. The lids are made of translucent blue plastic and are completely leakproof! That's right -- your food stays in contact with stainless steel but is safely protected from spillage through tossing, dropping and inversion! I don't know about you, but this is just about as close to perfect as I can imagine. Besides this small set, there's also a medium size for adults or bigger appetites, and even a large set that would be great for picnics or roadtrips. How versatile is that? I'm very impressed. For this meal I quickly grilled some brats alongside some sweet peppers/chopped apples/celery for the bigger box and layered some sliced stone fruit, berries and edamame for the smaller box. I think the amount of food here is perfect for my kindergartner's lunch and snack, plus she can manage the click-locking lids easily by herself. Total win!
Wow, I just realized that I've taken a week-long hiatus from bento-posting. I kind of missed you all! After Halloween last Wednesday, we had the following two days off (for parent-teacher conferences), so we spent the long 4-day weekend at the coast. We stayed in Aptos, a town on Monterey Bay, and explored Pacific Grove, Santa Cruz, and most of the rest of the quaint towns in between. The kids had fun at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and we built sand sculptures on the beach and visited a real lighthouse. After we got back, what with the time change and all the election excitement, blogging fell to the wayside. But now I'm back! Today's bento is another cute one using the EcoLunchbox Solo Cube that is my current favorite box. I decided to squeeze in four silicone cups to fill with a variety of goodies. From upper left: two hard-boiled quail eggs and skewered nitrite-free salami, pickled cabbage and cucumbers, steamed corn and broccoli, and a fruit mix of cantaloupe, blackberries and raspberry. It turned out to be just enough for my kindergartner's highly unpredictable appetite.
Speaking of the awesome Ecolunchbox, I picked a winner from among the 50+ of you who commented on my giveaway post (fantastic, clever, ingenious ideas for going green, by the way~! I loved reading each and every one of them!) -- it was Michelle, who uses flannel baby wipes and cotton diapers. Wow! She has four kids so I hope her new EcoLunchbox helps make her lunchpacking easier and more fun. Let us know how it goes, Michelle! Thanks to all of you for entering and sharing your eco-ideas with the rest of us. Happy bento-making!
The cooler days call for warmer foods, so the last Halloween bento is a curry bento decorated with a carrot (freehand cut) jack-o-lantern. I used the method and recipe here. I used TinySprite's favorite panda bowl again, with the upper tier stocked with colorful corn, strawberries and grapes. I also packed a cup of house-pickled cabbage and cucumbers. I'm slowly getting my kids used to the pickled flavors we adults like so much; yay! They're even eating the sauerkraut I fermented at home in all its tangy glory. Score! I'm typing up this post while running to the door to appease the hundreds of costumed candymongers that are beseiging me. Laters!
Counting down the final hours before Halloween... so I guess I can fit in at least a couple more. This one has two black bean / black rice burger patties on lettuce (protein style) with a melted cheddar jack-o-lantern on top. I used the method I described here, based on the original garbanzo bean recipe I used here. I put some ketchup in the little green container, and added some blackberries, corn, carrots and a strawberry to round out the meal. If you haven't entered to win an EcoLunchboxes bento set here yet, you can take a look at the giveaway post here. You have until the stroke of midnight tomorrow.... oooo.... before I close the comment entries. I just read through the comments, and some of you have some clever ideas on how to reuse and recycle; I'm impressed! Enjoy your Halloween eve!
Did you watch it? Even if you weren't a San Francisco Giants fan before, it's hard not to admire these guys for the fantastic effort they made in this series, where they swept the Detroit Tigers in 4 games. It was very exciting. [They won two years ago, too, and I made a bento then too (here).] I made a little celebratory bento for TinySprite: mixed red rice sprinkled with furikake, with shoyu chicken, and a boiled egg GIANTS baseball, steamed broccoli, carrots, and a little silicone cup of blackberries. The team colors are orange and black, which is very fitting for this time of year, isnt' it? The most tedious part of this bento was the nori letters, by FAR. This is why I rarely cut nori; I have little patience for it, and the pieces (letters) all end up different sizes. But you get the picture! Yay for the home team! Packed in my super cool EcoLunchboxes Solo Cube. Do you like it? Check out my giveaway in this post here: you can enter for a chance to win an EcoLunchboxes Solo Cube (plus an ECODipper) of your very own, just by sharing your green ideas with us all. I'm loving all the awesome ways you are all making an effort to go green!
Let's keep going with the creepy skulls, shall we? This one is crafted from a hard-boiled quail egg, which is naturally skullish -- all you need to do is pinch the cheeks in a little and add some nori details. I made some turkey dog "sushi" rolls using black rice, and decorated the ends with freecut nori designs: bats and vampire faces. There are also some steamed broccoli and a little jack-o-pepper. I packed this bento for TinySprite in another stainless steel EcoLunchbox: this one is called the Solo Cube, and it's just the perfect size for my kindergartner. I packed this box along with the EcoDipper, containing some sliced peaches and berries. This size meal isn't too overwhelming for her, and she has no problem sliding off these lids. They stay on pretty well, but I secure both with elastic bands, just in case. I like the versatility that these two different shapes and sizes offer; you could fit a sandwich thin in the Cube, or some sausage skewers, some meatballs and pasta, or a chicken salad. The round Dipper is just right for a handful of nuts, trail mix, crackers, berries, or melon balls. I was so pleased with this duo that I mentioned it to the folks at EcoLunchboxes and they thought it would be a great idea to offer these two as a set to one of you, my bento-making readers! I know you'll love these as much as I do. They're well-made and look like they're built to stand up to years of daily use. If your child outgrows them, you can always use them for an afterschool or recess snack.
My kids have been taking bento to school their whole lives and I was amused recently to find my daughter bringing home disposable items (from a field trip) because she's so used to re-using.
If you're interested in trying out the EcoLunchbox Solo Cube and the EcoDipper, please leave me a comment below telling me whether you've made any efforts lately to be more "green", and include your email address so that I can contact you. I'll leave it open until midnight on Halloween night (October 31, 2012, Pacific time). U.S. only please. Thanks a lot for your interest!
Are you getting into the Halloween spirit yet? I'm starting to... slowly! I figured it's time to start getting spooky so today I made a skull onigiri to go with the vegetarian chili (chock full of zucchini, corn, tomatoes, onion, carrots, and kabocha). I lay the chili on a lettuce leaf and put the skull on top. I made it kind of chunky so that there wouldn't be too much sauce to drip all over everything. I usually pack chili in a thermal jar, but I really wanted to use this cool new stainless steel Solo Rectangle box I got from EcoLunchbox. It's on the bigger side, simple and sturdy. I used a silicone cup, and these fit perfectly. They would be ideal for separating foods you want to keep apart. Besides the chili, I put in some cucumbers, a sprig of broccoli, and a mini red pepper. I put some homemade pickled cabbage, lotus root and cucumber in the cup. The lid to this box fits snugly, though not watertight, and I added an elastic band for extra insurance. Because I wanted to keep the fruit separate in case the chili moved around, I used an EcoDipper, a round lidded stainless steel half cup size container. Again, the lid fits snugly but I wouldn't use it to pack anything watery. It's perfect for a handful of fruit, though. This combo worked out very well for MisterMan. He swung his bag around, but since the silicone cup reaches the top of the box, the pickled foods stayed segregated. Although these boxes aren't leakproof, they are easy to use and should not pose a problem for your child to open and close. Having been a longtime user of Ecolunchbox products, when the company asked me to try out these newer products I didn't hesitate. I'm happy to share my experience with you, so you can feel confident before you decide to give these items a try. I've been packing bento for both a girl and a boy for almost a decade (wow!), and I have a good idea about what works and what doesn't. I have more to share tomorrow, along with a giveaway! I hope you stop by!
Ecolunchbox provided the items I used to pack this bento today, but I received no other compensation, and the opinions I expressed are mine.
Okay, I only have about a week left for Halloween bento so I better get moving. Today I made a quick no-cook bento for MisterMan using a sandwich round pita. Have you seen these? They are pocket sandwich rounds which are perforated along their diameter so that you can tear them neatly in half to have two pita pockets. How convenient! I lined this one with lettuce and filled with a few scoops of egg salad. A slab of cheddar carved with a small paring knife into a jack-o-lantern face adds the Halloween charm. Note: if you use a slice of processed cheese, you could do the carving MUCH more easily. But we don't eat prepackaged cheese slices around here. Only the real, extra sharp deal! So he's a little messy, and cracked on the edge, but that just adds to his character. There is a cup of corn off the cob, another of homemade pickled cabbage, a sprig of steamed broccoli, a couple of strawberries (it's not strawberry season anymore, and I really need to stop buying these), and a bunch of lil' grapes.
By the way.... I have a cool surprise coming up soon, and there may be something in it for YOU! Stay tuned!
Here's a quickie, and my first Halloween bento of the year. It makes use of the very handy mini sweet pepper as a carvable cutie. I posted a tutorial here. All you need is a smallish, sharp knife and some steady hands. The rest of the bento is composed of TinySprite's favorite summer rolls (a nice finger food that requires no disposable utensils on the road) -- these contain pickled cabbage, lettuce, and boiled chicken. There're also some strawberries, carrots and broccoli, and a little recycled fruit cup container of grapes (not olives). Funnily enough, she actually brought that home because she wanted me to use it again. ^_^
Chicken and rice, chicken and rice... la la la la laaaa... Is there any more that needs to be said? Well, all right; I'll say a little more. This is the balsamic vinegar sesame recipe I got from Maki at Just Bento, except I used a shoyu substitute and kept it sweeter and less vinegary. I made it before here. It gets divided treatment in this Lunchbots Trio, in a bed of lettuce by itself, next to a cup of furikake rice, homegrown cherry sunsugar tomatoes, and steamed Okinawan sweet potatoes. Peaches and berries round out this plain jane basic lunch bento. I've resolved to start with the Halloween bento next week. For sure I'll be able to get in at least a week of spooky scary creepy bento! Or at least a few cute jack-o-lantern ones. Those are my favorite!
Last time I made bolognese (here) I showed you TinySprite's bento. This time I'll show you MisterMan's version. It's the same, except he gets regular wheat pasta; this penne is made with tomato and carrot puree so it looks orange. I lay the pasta on a bed of lettuce, then spoon the sauce over, and top with parmesan and a few steamed Okinawan sweet potato cut into star shapes. In the upper tier of this cool EcoLunchBox he gets Greek yogurt with pumpkin seeds and wheat germ, and the usual fruit and veggies to the side (carrots, broccoli, strawberries and grapes).
Our semi-weekly grilled salmon teriyaki over roasted diced garlic potatoes fits nicely in the magic round bento box ...and I can pass it along from MisterMan to TinySprite now. A single sprig of steamed broccoli, a tiny cup of corn off the cob, and a couple of carrots round out the vegetable section. Strawberries and grapes fill out the rest, and a trio of bunny-shaped Okinawan sweet potato slices adds a shot of vibrant violet. I like the deep sections of this box for my girl, because it's much easier for her to scoop out the food. Do you see the baby pumpkins? I'm trying to get into the fall mood over here, but the summery weather isn't helping. I'm feeling more in the ice cream mood lately... is it cooling down in your part of the world?
You know that tacorice is convenient for bento (donburi rice bowl-type bento), is easy to make, easy to eat, and delicious, but did you know it's also a great gluten-free tortilla-less version (in case you're concerned about that)? Yes, it's true. For this bento I put a green lettuce leaf in the bottom, followed by a scoop of rice (it happened to be black rice, but you can use white or brown rice as well), then topped with taco-seasoned ground meat of your choice, shredded cheese, chopped onion, tomatoes, and cilantro. You can also add sour cream and sliced avocado if you so desire. I love this bowl type of bento; if I were making my own bento, I'd definitely make myself this type of bento very often. The cool thing about this apple bowl is that it comes with a top tier that sits loosely over the bottom section. I arranged some grapes and plum wedges in there, and screwed the lid on. It's not a watertight box, but that's not essential for this kind of food. We're closing out the week, and I have yet to make a Halloween bento...ooops! Next week. I think. ^_^
We made portobello pizzas again (see my method here), and I've found that it's best to scrape out as much of the gills as you can, use a minimum amount of cheese (just enough to "glue" the toppings on but not enough to get all gooey), and leave the vegetables just a bit tender (not super grilled). Of course, these pizzas are best straight out of the oven, but the kids beg to take them to school. Whenever I see a round food now, I think of Anpanman. And I had just the round things to make his nose and cheeks (pepperoni minis). I used ham to make his eyes, eyebrows and mouth (and nori for his eyeballs). If I had waited and put the pepperonis on after (or cut smaller circles) they might have looked rounder. And you might have recognized him. But whatever! I rarely use this flip-top box, but it fits the food just too well today. Happy Wednesday!
Oh man, this looks like a fall / winter bento. But chili is such a great one-pot meal that I can't resist making it throughout the year. Toss in all the vegetables you can think of, simmer in a tomato-based broth with beans and sausage, and that's it. Even gets better the next day. Can't beat that! I pack thermal bento in the morning right before the kids leave for school. They should stay hot for at least 4-5 hours. I pack the fruit selection in a stainless steel box to go alongside, and I don't have to worry whether they're getting their daily servings of vegetation. Simple ^_^
How is it Monday already? I don't think I sat down at all today until just now. Too much weekend excess, I think -- how about you? Well, here's a bento to get the kids going: their favorite mochiko chicken (oven roasted version). Just stick a few piece in a bento box along with a smattering of extras, and that's pretty much a wrap. Just how I like a Monday to go! I can't believe we still had a pluot left; those Flavor Kings were my favorite summer eats this year, and man do I miss them already. We have some plums on the counter now, but they're just not the same. This box is one tier of a double stainless box set I got from Bento & Co, and it's just the right size for TinySprite. I like how the broccoli, carrots and Okinawan sweet potato squeeze in there to keep everything snugly in place. I secure the lid with an elastic felt band and she is good to go!
I heard from a nutritionist on twitter about this method of gluten-free breading -- using cooked quinoa. What? That's what I thought too. I asked her to clarify and she said to use cooked quinoa just like panko. Hmm, okay. I decided to try making a quinoa crust on salmon for a change of pace. The quinoa didn't stick on by itself (I tried) so I dipped the fish in egg first, then in the quinoa, then shallow-fried in a pan. I used lemon and garlic to flavor it. I thought it tasted all right; nothing that spectacular. Not sure I'd try it again. The rest of this simple bento contains green beans, a little tulip shaped "flower", grapes, strawberries, and among the last of the homegrown cherry tomatoes.
Today I tried something new, since my kids love taters so much: beet hash. It's just diced potatoes and onions, but with diced beets tossed into the mix. I'm telling ya; they couldn't really taste a difference. Or if they did, they didn't care too much. They obviously saw them in there, and I specifically asked MisterMan (since he doesn't care for beets) whether he knew they were beets, and he said "Of course! I know they're beets! But it's okay, I don't mind them when they're mixed in with other stuff." Score! I lay the hash on a bed of spinach and topped with a hard-boiled egg. It's kind of a breakfast-y lunch bento again, isn't it? The top tier of the tiffin holds broccoli, carrots, corn, grapes and white peach. We'll be eating this again for sure.
We just came off a long 3-day weekend due to a teachers work day, and it's a little tough to get back into bentomaking and blogging again. And did I mention the whole weekend was the most gorgeous, summery, sparkling weekend we've had all year?! That's right; we hit our year's high temperature yesterday. The bay area is notorious for cool summers and late warming, so this is pretty typical. While everyone else is planning pumpkin soups and pot roasts, we're thinking refreshing salads and ice teas. So here's today's no-cook bento: the ever-popular summer rolls in rice paper wraps, filled with lettuce, pickled carrots and cucumbers, deli nitrate-free ham and salami. Yeah, I know it sounds weird. But the kiddos cannot get enough. Plus, the rice wraps stay closed so well (compared to tortillas) that they're hard to beat mess-free fun finger foods. How can you argue with that? Two little Okinawan sweet potato lovebirds perch upon a broccoli branch above a radish heart. Awwwwww. Summery peaches and berries complete the meal. I wonder if they'll go for summer rolls all week?
During my gluten-free adventures, I've experimented with several bread recipes and settled on a quick bread that is super convenient and tastes great toasted with peanut butter and jam. I posted about it here. But recently I happened upon a recipe for a gluten-free sourdough, shared by the King Arthur Flour company. As expected, the recipe used King Arthur gluten-free flour mixes and seemed pretty complicated. But my interest was piqued. Sourdough! Without wheat! Is it really possible? Just for the record, I personally LOVE wheat bread, especially gluten-filled, fluffy, chewy sourdough. But out of solidarity for TinySprite, I thought it would be so fantastic if we could all enjoy sourdough together. Now, I've never made sourdough before. In fact, the last yeasted bread I made was many months ago, and I've always used the supermarket-type baker's yeast that comes in those little paper packets. But this recipe got me thinking about making a sourdough with a "wild" starter, that is: using only the yeast and bacteria that are naturally occuring on the flour (or in the air) already. The rationale is that this starter is less robust, requires longer fermentation and therefore results in tangy-er, more sour, more flavorful bread. I was sold on tangy-er. If that's a word.
So I tried it. And I made a gluten-free sourdough. And, I liked it! Okay, it's not the sourdough you're thinking of; after all, there's no wheat in it, remember. But the flavor is sour, and the crust is chewy, and even though the crumb is dense rather than fluffy, I'm calling it sourdough. And I want to share it with you.
I read a whole bunch of books and articles and recipes on how to make a sourdough starter. And some on making gluten-free sourdough. But there aren't too many on making a gluten-free wild sourdough, so I kind of had to make it up as I went along.
First, I used a mixture of brown rice flour, sorghum flour and millet flour. I'm guessing you could use other types too, like garbanzo, quinoa, amaranth, white rice, etc. I measured 2T of flour and added 4T of filtered water. You'll want to make sure the water you use is not chlorinated (later I used bottled water, which also works). I mixed the flour and water together in a small glass cup. Some recipes call for pineapple juice instead of water, reasoning that the added sugar should speed things up. Some others toss in cabbage leaves or grapes to kick off the yeast culture, but I wanted to be purist. I left my cup alone, swirling it every now and then, whenever I walked by it. Honestly, I think I bothered it way too much that first day.
Not surprisingly, nothing whatsoever happened the first day that I could tell. The next day, I fed it with 2T more flour and 4T more water. On the 3rd day, I noticed small bubbles.
I wasn't sure if they were "real", but I was pretty excited. Over the next few hours, the bubbles became more pronounced. I'll show you how mine progressed:
By the 5th day, I was pretty sure I had a nice yeast culture going. And it was totally "wild" -- I didn't add any baker's yeast at all. You can also tell by the smell that something good is growing. It should smell yeasty/beery, like bread dough. Mine kind of smelled vinegary and acidic.
The length of time it will take for your culture to get to this point will vary depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen, and on your particular yeast and bacteria, of course. Once the culture starts going, it should not become contaminated. You'll get to know how fast and how often it needs to be fed. After a feeding, mine would bubble up a lot, then slow down and completely go flat after about 6 hours or so.
At the 6th day, I decided to grow it up to make a batch of dough. I added:
1/4 cup of flour + an equal weight of water every 12-24 hours.
At this point, you should be measuring ingredients by weight instead of volume, because this method is much more accurate, especially for baking. By day 10, I had enough for dough. After this point, I neglected to take process pictures (actually I was half afraid it wouldn't turn out -- but mainly I was so frazzled that I didn't have the presence of mind to stop and get the camera at each step. But if you click over to the recipe site I used, you'll see she posted some process photos).
I used the recipe I found at The Art of Gluten Free Baking. Now that I'm looking at it, it might seem overwhelming, especially if you haven't baked bread before. But trust me; I think it's probably easier than sourdough made with wheat flour, which you have to work, knead, and rise several times. Gluten-free dough doesn't need that much attention. Basically what you do is add some flour to your starter, some water, salt and sugar.
Here's what she writes as her method (if you click over, she also goes into greater detail about the process): Sourdough Bread (Boule), Gluten-Free(edited 5/2/11 to correct flour cups measurement)
Special Equipment Needed
-kitchen scale (this recipe is best done by weight rather than volume–although I’ve included approximate cup measurements)
-4 qt Dutch oven w/a lid: Le Creuset, Mario Batali, Lodge, Dansk are all good brands
-a 4 qt bowl (one the same size as your Dutch oven)
-stand mixer (this will work best, but a hand mixer will do in a pinch)
-parchment paper and plastic wrap
-spray bottle with water for spraying top of the crust
-instant read thermometer is nice to double-check the interior temperature of finished bread, but you can do without it (they are cheap–get one!)
Ingredients (measurements are in weight ounces, not fluid ounces)
15 oz (about 3 C) flour (I use a combo of equal parts sorghum, brown rice, and tapioca) (100% BP)
After adding the flour, the dough became very dry and crumbly. If you have an electric mixer and a dough hook, this is a good time to bring it out. I tried mixing by hand, and I don't think I'll do that again next time. Mix, mix, mix. Make sure all the flour is completely hydrated. The consistency should be wetter than what you think bread dough should be like. More like a thick cake batter. Line a non-metal bowl with parchment, pressing the wrinkles out as much as you can so that the bread will pour in smoothly. Pour the dough into the parchment-lined bowl and let it rise for 6-8 hours. If you have a cast iron round French oven, that is ideal. I don't, so I used a Chinese clay pot. It's best if the rising bowl is the same size as the pot you plan to bake in. After the rise, lift out the risen dough by grasping the edges of the parchment paper. Be gentle. The dough should have doubled in size. Carefully place the dough into the preheated pot, cover with the lid and replace into the oven. Bake for 45 minutes covered, then remove the lid. If you have a thermometer, you can check to make sure the internal bread temperature is 200F. Take the pot out of the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing the bread. When cool enough, pull the bread out using the parchment, peel off the paper, and admire. Slice and enjoy!
Mini burgers! Or meatballs. Whichever. TinySprite asked for this shape specifically, for the second bento in a row, so I obliged. I used the dot picks for antenna, and cut a tulip shape from cucumber for the face, and decorated with nori. The bug lies on a bed of lettuce in this Lunchbot Trio. Her veggie sides: corn off the cob, carrots and Okinawan sweet potato. Fruit sides: grapes, strawberries and blueberries. All done!
Bear burger! This one has turkey and bison (combined because I wasn't sure how well the bison taste would go over), decorated with cheese and nori to make his face upon a spinach bed. There's homemade barbeque sauce in the little container, alongside carrots, strawberry and cinnamon sprinkled apple chunks. Easy peasy, and a hit with my meat-loving girl ^_^
I find that I tend to use the LunchBots Quad to try to give me some inspiration on days that find me kind of tired (or lazy). They're great for using up whatever odds and ends you happen to have lying around that don't seem to be enough for a whole lunch. Well, guess what? When you put them all in here, they somehow come together to add up to a complete and filling meal. I had a couple eggs and a sweet Italian sausage so I quickly tossed them in the frying pan to scramble up together. Topped with a few green onions, it'll make a tasty protein serving for TinySprite. The last of the roasted Brussels sprouts and a few carrots fill out the veggie section, and I squeezed a cup of cottage cheese / blueberries / pumpkin seeds alongside some baby super-ripe strawberries. The last section holds watermelon balls, because we're clinging to summer no matter what the calendar says. How about you?
I made one of my favorite one-pot meals for today: sticky rice! See my method here. Since TinySprite is allergic to soy, I omitted the lup cheong (Chinese sausage) and replaced the meat with regular ham. I've also used Canadian bacon before (in this bento) and it went over just fine. This batch got shiitake mushrooms and a new kind of green: broccoli stalks. I thought it would give a little bite to the rice. And another new kind of green as well: pickled mustard greens. I know it sounds crazy, but my kids love pickled vegetables. Even mustard greens. Weird, right? It has a very strong flavor and totally changed the way I usually think of this dish, but in a good way. They liked it! Go figure. I put my girl's portion in the LunchBot Trio alongside: fresh pear slices, blueberries, strawberries, Okinawan sweet potatoes and carrots.
We try to eat fish at least once a week, but it seems I've been slacking off here, since (scrolling down) I don't see any fish in my photostream lately. When I saw this nice mahimahi at the market I thought it would be a nice change from the usual salmon (although I love salmon). I cut the fillet into smallish pieces, then pan-fried in butter (olive oil is good too). At the end, I sprinkled some furikake on all sides. I've also made this using kewpie mayo, smearing the fish with it and then sprinkling the furikake and frying. This works, but the furikake might burn if you fry too long. For TinySprite's bento, I tossed a few pieces atop hapa rice, stuck a few carrots on the sides and topped with fish-shaped Okinawan sweet potato. A couple of fish skewers completes the theme. The top tier holds berries, radish and cucumber. Just sprite-sized. ^_^
I decided to make a vegetarian dry curry today, using a recipe that called for simply tossing chopped vegetables with olive oil, curry powder and brown sugar, then roasting the whole thing in a baking pan at 400F until tender and fragrant, about 30 minutes. I used diced eggplant, onion, red capsicum, cauliflower, potatoes and chickpeas. It's a nice mild flavor that the kids can handle, and a good way to get them to eat eggplant. I served it over some fresh spinach leaves in their bento, but it's good over hot rice as well. It's on the dry side, which makes it idea for bento, with no thick sauce to drip all over everything. This Lunchbot Quad keeps the curry separate from the rest of the food, which includes: carrots, corn, Okinawan sweet potato and broccoli; strawberries and raspberries; and pluots and blueberries. I thought this was a pretty big meal for my kindergartner, and I was pleased that she was able to finish it all. Score!
Today's chicken is a little different from the usual shoyu chicken, but the ingredients are the same. I used the recipe from the Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman, which caught my eye because the photographs that accompany the recipes are very cool. They look messy and a little sloppy, just the way most meals look in my house. Plus, she shows variations for folks (like for those who prefer less spicy, etc.) Anyway, here's Katie Workman's version:
Honey Ginger Soy Chicken Recipe (from The Mom 100 Cookbook by Katie Workman)
1 cup of honey, at room temperature 3/4 cup of low sodium soy sauce (I substituted coconut aminos and it tasted okay) 1/2 cup very finely minced or grated fresh ginger (from about one thick 4-inch piece) 1/4 cup minced garlic (8 to 12 cloves) 2 chickens, 3 to 3 1/2 lbs. each, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 8 pieces each 5 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces, from the white to about halfway up the green (optional)
Whisk everything except the chicken and scallions together, and add to chicken. Marinate a few hours or overnight. Arrange chicken in baking pan and scatter scallions on top. Bake the chicken in a covered baking pan at 350F for 30 minutes. Uncover, turn chicken, increase temp to 375F and continue to bake 30-40 minutes longer. Serve with pan sauce.
It was kind of sweet, but a nice balanced combo with the garlic, ginger and shoyu. The kiddos liked it a lot. I sent a few pieces to school with TinySprite, atop a bed of furikake rice, surrounded by corn off the cob and a broccoli tree. The upper tier of the panda donburi bowl holds peaches, strawberry, grapes, homegrown tomatoes and a steamed Okinawan sweet potato.
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 13yo (8th grader) son & my 10yo (4th 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 ^-^!