Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Tree Jook and Rudolph Bento

Christmas Tree Jook Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Since tomorrow is December first, I decided to make a first Christmas-themed bento set. I made two, in fact! MisterMan gets turkey jook, made using the Thanksgiving turkey carcass to make turkey stock. I tossed the thigh bones in as well, and at the end of the hour of simmering, the meat had all fallen off the bones and the broth was nice and flavorful. I used only half the carcass, so there's one more batch to go. I have to admit I love turkey jook -- much more so than the actual turkey it began with. Personally I like to throw in ginger, scallion and garlic chili paste to give it a tasty kick. For the kids I keep it more mild. I did sprinkle on some chopped green onion before I realized it landed in kind of a tree formation. Okay, I rearranged a little, and added a kabocha star, but I'm calling it a Christmas tree bento.
The fruit and veggie side dish is the top tier of this thermal bento. I gave him a satsuma mandarin, some pan-fried kabocha, broccoli and a grape. It's kind of a small box.

For TinySprite, I turned a char siu bao into Rudolph with carved carrot antler, grape eyes and a radish nose. She also got some pan-fried kabocha, steamed broccoli and sliced kiwi. Happy December, and welcome to the Christmas season!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chicken and Red Rice Musubi Bento

Quick standard chicken and rice bento. I made a rice mix that included red rice, brown rice and pearl barley. I formed two mini musubi and added a cherry pick for fun. There's also steamed broccoli, cucumbers, a tiny yellow pear tomato from my slowly withering tomato bush (which still has 3 more tomatoes ripening), a radish heart, purple carrot skewer, grapes and a satsuma mandarin.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Okinawan Sweet Potato Haupia Pie

We had the usual Thanksgiving fixin's this year but the one dish that excited me the most was my Okinawan Sweet Potato Haupia pie. It was the first time I'd made it, although I've eaten it before and knew I loved it. For some reason I thought it would be labor-intensive and difficult to get right. I used this recipe by Jo Anne Sugimoto and it came out just right.

For the CRUST:
3/4 c cold, unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 3/4 c flour
1 c macadamia nuts, well chopped
Mix the dry ingredients together, then add nuts and butter, cutting with a pastry cutter until crumbly, then press into pie pan. Or you can use a premade crust, which is what I did.

1/2 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 c okinawan sweet potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed (about 1 big potato)
1/2 c evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
Cream butter and sugar until smooth in medium bowl. Add eggs, then mashed potato, then the remaining ingredients. Spread into the crust but leave a half inch for the haupia on top. Bake the pie at 350F for 30 minutes (mine took 40 minutes) until the crust is golden and the potato filling is lightly browning. Let cool.

For the HAUPIA LAYER: (do not start until the potato filling is cool)
1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz.)
1/2 c water
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c cornstarch
Put the milk and water into pan. Mix sugar and cornstarch together, then add to the liquids. Turn on medium heat and stir constantly until dissoved and thickened, several minutes. Quickly pour haupia over pie evenly and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Cut and serve when cooled.

I know, it seems like a lot of work. But trust me, it's TOTALLY worth it. The light sweet potato flavor combines extremely well with the sweet coconut topping. Plus, it's so pretty!
Maybe my crust was on the small side, but I had extra leftover sweet potato filling that didn't fit in the pie shell. If you have extra crust, you could make tarts. Or you could probably bake it without crust and it would still be good. I decided to add some mochiko flour and bake a few mini cupcakes; these came out pretty good, but I didn't have the patience to bake the rest as it had become quite late. So I poured the rest into a square dish and microwaved a few minutes to make "mochi". I was happy to see that the purple color held up though all the cooking! My mochi isn't smooth because the potato I used was mashed to a sort of chunky consistency. Whipping the potatoes into a more liquid puree would probably result in smoother pie and mochi. As it was, I added more evaporated milk and mochiko until the consistency looked right (pourable), then zapped until it was done. If you make microwave mochi, you'll have to watch it carefully because it will cook rather quickly. If you have a high-wattage oven it will cook faster than a lower-wattage oven, so my cooking time will differ from yours. I will definitely make this again soon. Like -- at Christmas. How about you?
Edited to include a pic of this pie which I made for 10-31-11. These potatoes were perfectly ripe and fresh, and when I steamed them they turned a beautiful vibrant dark purple. I had to make a pie.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Turkey Bento

Turkey Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Well, Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, and I just realized I never made a single Thanksgiving bento. Hmm. I'll bet there'll be lots of turkey bentos AFTER Thanksgiving, though! So here's a "turkey" bento to celebrate the upcoming holiday and get us in the mood. Spinach ricotta ravioli decorated as turkeys with purple, yellow, pink and orange carrots. There are grapes, mandarins and watermelon radish shapes as well. The tiny yellow pear tomatoes are stragglers from my home garden. Can't believe they're still producing fruit, but I actually even have flowers still blooming on my slowly withering bush. Gobble gobble, and Happy Thanksgiving bento friends!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Octodog and Salted Salmon Onigiri Bento

I made salted salmon last weekend, and have been enjoying it in all kinds of ways. Today I made a salted salmon onigiri for my second-grader, who will like the flavor the fish imparts to the plain mixed rice. I added a couple of octodogs with sesame seed and nori facial details, and a quail egg with a molded bear face. I dipped the egg in shoyu for flavor and to add contrast. I filled in the gaps with steamed broccoli, and I also fried some partially steamed kabocha in the same octodog pan. I drizzled shoyu on the wedges at the end to give a bit of salty flavor. The plum slices are accented with watermelon radish and pink carrot flower.
I used Maki's Just Bento recipe for salted salmon. Briefly, all you do is coat a fresh piece of salmon with sea salt, wrap in paper towels and refrigerate for 24 hours to draw the liquid out. After the salting period, you can slice the filet and cook in a few different ways. I chose to pan-fry; a few minutes on each side until cooked through. It is quick and easy to do, and so versatile. I've eaten it in jook, ochazuke, onigiri, and just as is with plain hot rice. It's simply delicious. And since Maki says you can freeze the salted pieces, that's just what I've done. It'll only take a few minutes to fry some up whenever the mood strikes me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Salmon Bento and LunchBots Trio Review

Salmon Trio Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Since we have been on a kabocha kick, as well as a cooking-everything-in-the-same-manner kick, why stop now? Today I decided to grill! I had some nice pieces of fresh salmon so I used half to make shiozake (salted salmon -- more on that next time) and the other half to grill with just a bit of salt and pepper.
Today I'm introducing my new LunchBots Trio stainless steel box. It's a slightly different shape than the Uno and Duo, but like the Duo it has permanently mounted dividers attached to the box interior. [I've already reviewed the LunchBots Uno and Duo here, and if you missed it, well -- I love 'em.] This one, the Trio, is billed as a snack container, but as you can see from the photo, it seems actually bigger than the Uno and the sides are taller. You can fit quite a bit of food in here. I'm a fan of the divided box, so I knew I was going to like this one. It's not divided in half and fourths, like many other boxes. I think they are actually equal thirds. The lid fits snugly (though not leakproof), just as with the other LunchBots. For its inaugural use I lay some salmon pieces and a tiny mixed rice onigiri on a lettuce leaf in one section, and added a half radish carved into a mushroom shape. The next section had kabocha, which I briefly steamed and grilled along with the cherry tomatoes right next to the salmon. I also added a few cucumbers to fill in the gap. The last section holds sliced plum, grapes and raspberries. It's a nice arrangement style, and I give it two thumbs up!
My preschooler gets basically the same stuff. Last time I picked her up from school she hadn't finished, and the teacher said all the kids seemed distracted that day. Well, I was disappointed but we packed up her bento and when we got home she surprised me by asking to finish it before her nap. She devoured every piece of garnish and decorative lettuce as well. So when you see me line her box with lettuce, it's not just for effect! I really think she is more willing to eat (vegetables) when it's presented in her bento box. She also got a new cutlery set which helps too. Interestingly, when we go out to restaurants or eat at home on an ordinary plate, this leafy greens rule doesn't apply. Too bad!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kabocha Bento

Kabocha Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Today MisterMan has a kind of traditional Japanese food bento today. I found asparagus in the market today so I wrapped in turkey and roasted. At the same time I also roasted kabocha, Okinawan purple potato, and satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potato). I bought a regular (green skin) kabocha and cut into wedges before roasting with sea salt. It's delicious just like that. I also made a quick tamagoyaki with shredded spinach to fill in the gap. I cut the satsumaimo into sticks so they kind of look like french fries, and somehow that makes them even more desirable. I topped with some carved carrots and added Fall plum chunks in the final section for dessert. That's it! Even with cooking, this bento probably took less than 30 minutes, and most of that was waiting for the roasting to be done.
Look -- it's Kabochan! Isn't he cute? This little character reminds us not to fear the tough exterior of the sweet kabocha, since it protects the delicious sunset-hued squash within. He is the mascot of the Kabocha Lovers Club, and was illustrated by the talented Alissa Staples. I myself was hesitant to cut into my first kabocha, and asked the vendor to make the initial cut for me. Since then, I've cut numerous wedges with my sharp chef's knife with relative ease. Try the kabocha; join our club! Don't be afraid, indeed -- and you will be rewarded with the delicate flavor of Autumn!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tomato-chan Bento

Tomato-chan Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Went out for dinner today, since it was my *birthday* -- so I made a quick batch of balsamic vinegar chicken to pack into the double bentos today. They're both pretty much the same. And are you surprised to see kabocha in another form as well? Since the pan was already coated with balsamic sauce, I decided to quick steam a few Brussels sprouts and kabocha, then fry them all up in the same pan. Super easy, right? And if you have kids that might balk at plain steamed veggies or you can't spare the time to whip up a special veggie side, it's the perfect way to add flavor with minimal labor. If you look at my bento style, you'll see that I often re-use sauces for the protein as well as the veggie. In this case, the sweet balsamic gives a touch of bite to the mild kabocha and my girl almost gobbled them all up before I could save some to pack up. I quartered the Brussels sprouts to speed up the cooking. Some decorative cucumber slices serve as baran, and I included colorful carrot skewers to add focal interest. They both got cinnamon-sprinkled apple slices, and MisterMan had extra room so I added cottage cheese with raspberries, sunflower seeds and wheat germ. The cute touch in both is a tomato character, which was inspired by Tomato-chan, from a clip a twitterpal Alissa passed along. Warning: if you link, you might find the song stuck in your head awhile. It's very cute! Ton-ton-tomato chan!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mochiko Chicken and Kabocha Bento

Today's bento for MisterMan contains pseudo-mochiko chicken (oven-roasted instead of deep-fried), roasted cherry tomatoes, and broccoli and kabocha which I steamed in the rice cooker. That's right, it's kabocha yet another way. I've had my Zojirushi Induction Heating rice cooker for years now, and I never realized you could open the lid during cooking to add other food to be steamed toward the end of cooking. In fact even though someone told me it was okay, I was still afraid the thing would blow up, shut down and catch fire. I tested it a few times, opening and closing the lid, before adding the steaming rack with my broccoli, satsumaimo and kabocha. I added them the last 12 minutes of cooking and it came out pretty good. The kabocha was just perfect. My kids don't like it too mushy so I left it with a little crunch and it's so sweet you don't even need to add anything else. Look how the beautiful golden hue of this squash adds to the appeal of the bento! If you haven't tried kabocha yet, I hope you can find some to try. There are nearly countless ways to enjoy this healthy and nutritious squash. I ate some, fresh steamed, atop a bowl of the fresh-cooked rice it steamed along with; and it was a simple and delicious snack. Also in this bento: fall plum, raspberry, kiwi and carrot flowers. Everything packed up nice and snug in my LunchBots Duo, which happens to be exactly the right size for my second-grader. I love it ^_^

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Harajuku Lovers Bento

Harajuku Lovers Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
No school tomorrow, but the kids will have a snack for a roadtrip. I have a tiered tiffin that happens to be the perfect size for our favorite char siu bao, and each kid gets one tier. I made two Harajuku Girls: Music and Love. I chose those mainly because I happened to have the picks for their hair, and too bad for MisterMan but he'll be having his in the car so no one will see him. And you won't tell anyone he had to eat a girly bao, right? Haha! I cut their faces with a sharp paring knife and used the extra for their hair, then added grape eyes and pink carrot mouths. I have another tiffin that will have the fruit for them to share. I love these short weeks, don't you? If you have a day off, enjoy! If not, well -- Happy Veteran's Day anyway! ^_^

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cute Shroom and Bug Bento

Today's double bento have sausage patties, zucchini and assorted other veggies: cucumber, tomato, purple cauliflower. I also included more kabocha cooked a different way: I sliced 1-inch wedges and steamed briefly until just fork-tender, then pan-fried in the sausage drippings to get a crispy edge. You don't need to add anything else; it's totally yummy as is! They both get more sliced fall plum and a few pink apple pieces as well. MisterMan's cute touch is a mushroom made from satsumaimo and Okinawan purple potato, with nori and pink carrot details.
TinySprite's cute touch is a bug face made from satsumaimo, nori and pink carrot, and pink heart picks. Awww, so cuuuute. Haha! ^_^

Check out What's For Lunch: there are quite a few!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fried Rice and Kabocha Curry Bento

Another double bento day, and perhaps you've noticed that I've started simply making identical ones in two sizes. Well, you'd be correct. Even though my 7 year old boy is a much more adventurous eater and I can fill his bento with more interesting foods, I'll admit that often it's just easier to figure out what my 3 year old girl will accept and just go with it twice. So today I fried some leftover rice with ham and egg, and that went in one of the squares. I usually add green onion on top for color, but I forgot this time. I picked up a kabocha (Japanese squash) this weekend and decided to make curry with some of it today. Kabocha is a very versatile food and can be prepared in just about any way you can think of (baked, steamed, simmered, roasted, fried, pureed, etc.) I simply cut into cubes, microwaved a few minutes to soften, then added to a pan with a bit of ginger, garlic, 1 cup coconut milk and 1 Tbsp curry powder. Simmer until curry is desired consistency and kabocha is tender, about 15 minutes depending on how much you use. The rest of his bento contains cucumber, tomatoes, carrots, sweet Fall plum slices and a purple carrot and cauliflower skewer for contrast.
I topped TinySprite's fried rice with the always-popular quail egg Hello Kitty. If you haven't seen me make this before, it's very easy. This one is a half egg, and is decorated with nori eyes, a carrot sliver nose, radish ears, rice stick whiskers and the cutest little red bow pick. That's it! I have made so many of these I can now whip them out in a couple minutes. It's a quick and easy way to add a cute touch to an ordinary bento. I feel like I've used this phrase so often ("add a cute touch to an ordinary bento") it should be my motto. Haha! She also gets a few curry kabocha and chopped plum. Today when I picked her up from preschool her teacher said, "I noticed you gave her a big lunch today." When I asked whether she ate it all she answered "Yes, she's a very good eater!" Really? TinySprite is an *interactive* eater, and is known to spend lots of lunchtime talking, singing and gesturing. Maybe she's growing out of that phase. Or maybe she just loves her bento that much. ^_^

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Chicken Salad Bento and Pancakewich Bento

Just in case you've been wondering if I've turned into a charaben-making mom, here is one to prove to you I haven't! I like to make special event cute bento because they're fun and it's a challenge, but for everyday bentomaking I can't (don't want to) keep that up. My main purpose when I started making bento for my kids was to provide healthy and varied, nutritious meals to sustain them throughout the day. This is still the most important objective. The bento box serves as a means to quickly and visually determine whether a range of food groups, colors and textures is present. This bento, besides being non-kawaii, is also non-cook, meaning it's a double quick one. I used leftover chicken and tossed with spinach, marinated artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes and sunflower seeds. I added a few carved carrots, grapes and sliced golden plums, and that's it. If you really need to add something cute, a few panda picks will do the trick.
Since I saved so much time with that one, I could take more time for the next one. For TinySprite I had made a batch of mini whole wheat pancakes made with pumpkin puree and evaporated milk (they come out fluffy that way), and decided to make ham and cream cheese mini sandwiches with them. Cute right? I even tried to make a bear-shaped one to add a carrot face to. The rest of her bento contains the usual: broccoli, peapods, carrots, tomato, grapes and plum. And that's it for the last double bento of the week. So there; just remember -- they don't all have to be kawaii. Yippee!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

San Francisco Giants Bento

San Francisco Giants Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Today in downtown San Francisco there was a big parade in celebration of the San Francisco Giants winning the 2010 World Series. I didn't really follow the team, but it was hard not to get caught up in the excitement. And since they hadn't won the World Series in over 50 years, it was a really big deal. So here is my SF Giants commemorative bento. It contains spinach ravioli, one of which is meant to suggest a baseball glove, and is holding a spherical "baseball" made of a hand-molded quail egg and purple carrot strips. I also made a cap from a halved hen's egg and cheddar cheese, covered in nori. The rest of the bento contains steamed broccoli, purple cauliflower, carrots, tomato, grapes and sliced persimmon. The orange flag picks are a gift from a bento pal and fellow SF Giants fan. I don't know if they were meant to be Giants pennants, but they did come in handy today!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Furikake Bento

Furikake Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
It's a furikake mahimahi bento set because I was able to find fresh caught mahimahi yesterday. Yay! I'm pretty sure I've posted about this "recipe" before but if you missed it, here it is: slather your filet with kewpie mayo, sprinkle liberally with your favorite furikake (aji nori or nori komi is what we usually have), then pan fry both sides until done. I cut my filet into smaller pieces for ease of eating as well as increased surface area for coating with furikake. I actually served it with furikake rice; can you believe they didn't overdose on furikake? Both kids got basically the same bento, with steamed broccoli, carrots and "cherry" tomatoes, but he got golden plum while she got some kind of black plum. Neither is very sweet, although they were sold with Fall names. Oh well. At least we get to see something different than grapes every day.
Notice anything different about the lighting in my photos recently? I moved my picture studio to a different table which I just this weekend discovered to have nice natural Fall season light. So now the light angle is different and it feels fresh to me. I'm super excited about that. Silly, right? ^_^
This is posted at What's For Lunch -- won't you post yours too?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Portuguese Bean Soup Bento

Portuguese Bean Soup Bento, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Today's no-cook bento had Portuguese bean soup leftover from last weekend. As everyone knows, soup gets better over the next couple days as the flavors mingle and the broth thickens. So this is a win-win bento. Extra-flavorful soup that required no additional work. Yay! This soup, based on Sam Choy's recipe, contains a bunch of vegetables (tomato, carrots, cabbage, cilantro, onion, celery) along with potates, kidney beans, ham and sausage. It's a very hearty and satisfying soup. It's especially comforting on those cold Fall nights. We've been having 75 degree days, but it still looks like fall out there with the leaves flying off the trees, it feels nice and seasonal. I packed his soup in the froggie thermal container, which comes with a small upper bowl in which I placed some grapes, sliced persimmon, a few peapods, and a quail egg skull to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Okay, it's an excuse to make another quail egg skull. This time I lightly pinched in the sides closest to the tapered end to simulate the cheekbones, and it made the cranium pop out, which I think looks pretty good. You could probably do this with a hen's egg too, for larger-scale fun. Happy November, friends!


Temarizushi, originally uploaded by sherimiya ♥.
Today is Japan's National Sushi Day so to celebrate, the #twitterfoodparty decided to hold a special sushi party. There's still time to contribute if you'd like; it's only a virtual party so you can some and go as you please. I made temarizushi, which are small ball-shaped rice balls wrapped in fish or shrimp or... in my case I took a few liberties. I made one with a ham and sesame seed flower, one with carrot and radish stars and moon with furikake, one with carrot maple leaves, a black rice one with quail egg and black sesame seeds, one with purple carrots and peapod detail, and one traditional one with smoked salmon and radish and parsley. These tiny treats are perfect for parties and are dainty enough to eat neatly with your fingers, popping them into your mouth for a single tasty bite. Aren't they cute? Just right for bento too. If you'd like to join our monthly party, feel free to follow along on twitter and label your contributions with the relevant hashtag. Today? #twittersushiparty. Thanks for coming along ^_^