Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Panda-monium Ma Bo Tofu Bento

We're having a meat week, following up the sausage pasta with ma bo tofu (I adapted Lovelylanvin's recipe), complete with a pair of tofu panda friends. I adapted the traditional recipe quite a bit; in fact it may not resemble actual ma po tofu much anymore. I have to omit all the chili bean sauce because the kids won't tolerate the spice, and I always add greens. Today I chopped half a bag full of baby bok choy, several green onion stalks and cilantro and mixed them in for texture, color and nutrition. Sometimes I use pickled mustard greens as well. Also, there is less sauce in mine, to keep it more bento-friendly. If you wanted to keep the soupiness, it would be better to pack it into a thermal food jar. But for us today, this donburi bowl-type bento box works just fine! Top tier contains all fruit: strawberries, grapes, kiwi, blood orange and little mandarinquat. If you've never seen a mandarinquat before, here's a photo, beside some yuzuquats and a standard satsuma mandarin for size comparison. The hybrid quats taste like kumquats, but slightly different. I think kumquats are the tartest, but it could be just me ^_^

Monday, January 30, 2012

Daytrippers Pasta Bento

Daytrippers Pasta Bento by sherimiya ♥
Daytrippers Pasta Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Happy Monday! Are your Mondays as disorganized and chaotic as mine? No? Oh. Well, this is why you'll find many of my Monday bento are composed of food that cook easily from ingredients that are already in the pantry and refrigerator (or leftovers from weekend eats), and nearly always have no cute components whatsoever. Sometimes they are literally thrown together so quickly that there's no time (or need) to take a picture. Like today: it's a simple wagon wheel pasta bento tossed with nitrite-free chicken and roasted red pepper sausage and zucchini. Other section contains strawberries, grapes, grapefruit and tiny mandarinquat slices. Everything is packed in my Daytrippers bento box (from Paperchase), which comes with a separate section for the matching fork and spoon under the cute decorated translucent lid. TinySprite has a variable appetite, which grows when the meal includes her favorites. Like this one -- I know she loves this combo and it will disappear in no time, even without the cute parts. And that's a recipe for a successful bento ^_^

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Salmon Butteryaki Bento

Salmon Butteryaki Bento by sherimiya ♥
Salmon Butteryaki Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
I'm trying to make an effort to cook salmon (or some other fish) at least once a week. I managed to squeeze it in this week, when I saw a beautiful wild Alaskan salmon fillet at the market. I prepared a simple butteryaki salmon on the stove, and roasted some sweet potato "fries" in the oven at the same time. There's also steamed Okinawan (purple) sweet potato, steamed broccoli, grape tomatoes, a strawberry, blood oranges and a blackberry. Nothing cute about this one, but it's pleasant-looking enough, largely due to the special "magic" round bento box. I love this box because of the removable sections, and also because a round box has an aesthetically pleasing kind of symmetry about it. There's no up or down, right or left. It's just perfect. Try it -- you'll find the meal somehow manages to look beautiful all by itself.

Butteryaki Salmon

Heat 1 T oil and 1 T butter in pan.
When hot, fry salmon fillets, skin side down, until crispy, a few minutes. Flip and cook a few minutes more.
Just before removing from pan, turn off heat and drizzle 2 tsp shoyu over fish and into pan.
Shake pan to distribute.
Remove and serve!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rilakkuma and Kiiroitori Beet Burger Sandwich Bento

Recently I've discovered the joy of beets. Beets, beets, beets. The only way I've ever prepared beets before was roasted and tossed in salad. But I love the flavor and figured, why shouldn't we try to fit them into a main dish meal? Today I made beet bean rice burgers which happen to fit perfectly inside these mini whole wheat sandwich rounds. I made these sandwiches with red leaf lettuce, and melted some swiss cheese on top. I got the idea for these burgers from the plethora of online copycat recipes that tried to replicate the famous Northstar Cafe beet burgers. I've never had those Northstar Cafe veggie burgers, but the pictures and the glowing review make me want to. I really wish I had taken a photo of the burger itself so you can see how red it really looks. ETA: I took some photos; see below. It's pretty cool; you can kind of see part of it at the left side of the bun. I layered two mini burgers in this bento box, and decorated the round bread with Rilakkuma's face cut from Okinawan sweet potato. I added carrots and his pal Kiiroitori (a turmeric-dyed quail egg with nori and carrot detail). Other side has blood oranges (sadly not very vividly colored), strawberry, peapods and cherries. Here's my sort-of recipe that I borrowed from here and greatly changed, because I like the flavors of these spices together. P.S. Don't wear white while making this.

Beet, Bean and Rice Burger

1 cup cooked rice
1 large beet, grated (other recipes say to dice, but I thought grated beet would hold together better)
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 squirt Dijon mustard (or to taste)
onion powder, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix rice and beet well, until uniform color. Fork-mash the black beans, and add. Mix well. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. My mixture was pretty sticky and a bit difficult to mix, but the stickier the mix, the better it stays together as a patty.

Taste the mixture and add more spice if you need to. Use an ice cream scoop to portion out the burger mixture, and shape into a ball. Flatten with a flipper and place into a heated, oiled pan on medium high heat. Cook for 2 minutes, or until you see a crust form on the bottom. Mine kept its integrity pretty well, so it was easy to flip over. Cook the other side another 2 minutes or so. Put some grated cheese on top to melt if you like. Toast some mini buns or sandwich thins, and serve with fresh greens, onions and tomato. Delicious!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Green Drink!

Green Drink by sherimiya ♥
Green Drink, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
I've been asked about my green drinks a few times, so I decided to write a bit about them. I just started making and drinking them for about 2 weeks, as one of my new year's challenges. So far, I LOVE them.
If you're not familiar with green drinks, do a google search. You'll find tons of recipes, articles and news tidbits, with lots of celebrity chefs and TV personalities touting them. I'll admit that I first heard of them from my mom, who started drinking them because she saw it on Dr. Oz. Once it registered, I found that many of my own friends are drinking these things too. The nice thing is that you don't need a special juicer or high-powered blender to make them. I only use an ordinary old blender with 2 speeds, and it works fine on the foods I've used so far. Also, you don't have to feel limited to an actual recipe -- use whatever you like! And experiment with flavor combinations. It's a lot of fun! I have a standard true-green drink that I like to make. I happen to like the pure green color, which is why I don't add other colors to this one. I also have a favorite red drink too (I will share this one later). If you mix all kinds of fruit and vegetables, you may end up with a brown drink -- which isn't bad, but it won't have the beautiful vibrant color that you see here. This is my recipe:

Sheri's Green Drink

1C almond milk
handful of spinach (maybe 1/2C packed)
handful of dandelion greens (or any other greens that you prefer, like chard, kale, lettuce, choy)

[blend these ingredients first, to get better liquification]

1 celery stalk
1/2 cucumber, peeled
1 apple, peeled
1 small orange, peeled
1/2 lime, peeled
1/2 avocado
1 inch ginger, grated
1T wheat germ (or flaxmeal)

Blend the remaining ingredients, in batches, so your blender won't blow its motor. If you have a high-powered blender, then just throw everything in at once.
This recipe makes about 4 cups. I drink about 2 and a half cups at midday, and save the rest in the fridge to share with my kids later. It tastes.. well, green, but with a sharp, tangy, fresh bite. If you prefer it sweeter, you can add fruit. Even a couple of strawberries will sweeten it up quite a bit, but then the color will change. I really like it to stay greeeeeen. And it might be too soon to tell, but my usual winter allergies seem to be less pronounced. This drink will give you energy, fortify you for the day ahead, fill you up, and make you invincible! Okay, I made up that last part. Maybe.

Calzone Flowers Lunchbot Bento

Calzone Flowers Bento by sherimiya ♥
Calzone Flowers Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Welcome to the first day of the Lunar New Year! The kids happened to have yesterday off, so we spent the long weekend celebrating with family. And today's bento has meat! It's a meaty calzone I made with whole wheat dough, containing pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, arugula, tomatoes and mozzarella. I had to slice it so that it would fit in the bento box, and decorated with Okinawan sweet potato flowers with peapod leaves. I rounded out the meal with a giant strawberry, some sliced kiwi, grape tomatoes, grapes, carrots, and sweet yellow pepper rings. You can see that after the dragon tour de force, I am now back to my usual "plain" quickie bento arrangements, which take much less time but which can still look fresh and appetizing due to the addition of colorful, seasonal fruit and veggies. I am a big proponent of local, seasonal ingredients for bento; the fresher it is, the less preparation (and even cooking) you have to do. And who doesn't love that?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chinese New Year Dragon Bento 3

One more Chinese New Year of the Dragon bento and that's it; I promise! I made eggplant okra curry, which I think is a misnomer because there isn't any actual curry in here. Perhaps it should be eggplant okra stew. Anyway, it's completely vegetarian, which rounds out our second meat-free bento week. Wow! We haven't become vegetarians, and have no plans to completely quit meat, but I thought it would be a fun challenge to see how long our family could go without eating meat, voluntarily. Now that week #2 has come to a close, I can say that all of them took it like real troupers. No complaints from anyone. Pretty pleased about that! I even got them to all participate in my daily green drink resolution. They don't all love it equally, but they'll all drink it. Heh.
The thermal jar contains the eggplant stew, and the side box contains a selection of colorful fruit: grapes, strawberry, cara cara orange, and Okinawan sweet potato stars. I topped them off with a cheese dragon cutout, using my ultimate elaborate dragon cutter.
 I used it last year to cut a dragon from dragonfruit; you can see that one here. The dragon is playing with a red ball on a stick. I think it represents the sun. Welcome Year of the Dragon; I hope it's an auspicious one for all!

Eggplant Okra Curry Stew


2 large eggplants
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt
14 oz can chopped tomatoes (if you like it extra tomato-ey, you can add another can)
water or broth as desired
1/2 bunch kale, torn into pieces.
1/2 pound okra, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices, angled
1 Tbs chopped cilantro (or more, if you like it, like me)

Preheat oven to 400F, wrap the eggplants in foil and bake for 1 hour, until soft.
Cut each eggplant in half and scoop out the soft flesh into a bowl. Mash.
Heat 2 Tbs oil in a wok and saute the scallions and garlic for a few minutes.
Add the chili powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt and cook 3-4 minutes.
Add tomatoes and simmer 5 minutes.
Add the mashed eggplant, kale and cilantro. At this point you may need to add water or broth to make it saucier. I think I added about a 1/2 cup. If you like it soupier you can add more.
Bring to a boil and simmer until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.
Add okra, stir well to mix, reduce heat, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Remove cover, turn up the heat and cook another 5-10 minutes, until the okra is tender but not too soft.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chinese New Year Dragon Bento 2

Aaaand, it's another Chinese New Year bento! It's the Year of the Dragon - in case you forgot. Today I used my super cool slim stainless steel double box bento set (called "Zen" from Bento & Co) because I wanted to have a place for my dragon to rest until lunchtime. Each of these boxes is identical, and each has its own lid with gasket. When the two tiers are stacked and bound together with elastic, they are perfectly sealed. The left box contains salt grilled salmon with some lime wedges, roasted potatoes and kabocha strips (both sprinkled with garlic powder), and a bunch of grapes with a beautiful strawberry. The right box is layered with slices of cara cara oranges. I am super excited to see these fruit too! Now I am stocked up on blood and cara cara. They complement each other well -- the dark red blood oranges are tart and the pretty pink cara cara are sweeter. On top of those I lay my dragon made from cucumber, with quail egg and tomato eyes, tomato nostrils, and wispy green fire. I also cut some fierce fangs from the cucumber. His body is represented by the cucumber scales behind his head. Do you see him? I am trusting MisterMan with both tiers of this bento set for the first time, and I'm a little nervous! I hope he doesn't fling his bag around too much. RAWR!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hello Kitty Chinese New Year Dragon Bento

Hello Kitty Dragon Bento by sherimiya ♥
Hello Kitty Dragon Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Since this was a no-cook bento I took advantage of the extra time to use a Chinese New Year theme. Since 2012 is a Year of the Dragon, today's ravioli are shaped into this mythical creature -- or rather, Hello Kitty dressed in a dragon costume. She's wearing a spinach-ricotta ravioli mask, her face made of cheese, nori and yellow pepper. Her whiskers are ume somen. I used picks liberally to achieve my charaben objective, showing that you can use ready-made items (and a bit of imagination) to reach your desired decorative goal. This bento was for MisterMan, and I realized that it was probably more appropriate for TinySprite, but he didn't mind. The girls teased, "You're eating Hello Kitty!" The rest of the bento includes: baby tangerine, cucumbers, carrot, peapod, strawberry and blueberries. Chinese New Year falls on January 23rd this year. Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Anpanman Bean Burger Bento

Remember the vegetarian run we had last week? It's continuing today with these garbanzo bean - rice burgers I made. I've made black bean burgers before, but they tended to fall apart easily. This recipe uses rice and egg as a binder, and the mashed garbanzos seems to have a stickier consistency. They still don't have as much integrity as a regular ground meat burger, so I'd use care while eating it in a bun, but it held together well enough for our bento. I placed this patty on a layer of curried cauliflower and decorated his face with grape tomatoes, sweet potato and Okinawan sweet potato to look like Anpanman. The fruit side contains all red items: blood (Moro) oranges, grapes and strawberry. So happy with the blood oranges again this season! They're a bit tart, but a nice change from normal oranges. Aren't they beautiful?

Garbanzo Bean (Chickpea) Rice Burgers (adapted from Whole Living recipe)

2 cups cooked and drained chickpeas
1 cup cooked brown rice (I used 2 cups to make it even stickier, and mine was a mix of white, brown and and millet)
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I used cilantro because I love this herb)
Salt and pepper (I used cumin too, because I like this spice)
1 large egg, whisked
2 tablespoons olive oil

Mash chickpeas and brown rice until thick paste forms. Stir in shallot, garlic, and cilantro. Season with salt, pepper and cumin. Stir in egg. Form into four 1/2-inch-thick patties.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add patties and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Vegetarian Hominy Bean Chili Bento

Guess what? We made it through a whole meatless week! Today's vegetarian chili is the 4th meatless bento in a row, and it's a thermal one. I've never tried this recipe before, and it has a different flavor than our usual meaty chili, with a ton of vegetables and beans such as black and kidney beans, lentils, carrots, sweet pepper, onion, zucchini, kale, celery, and hominy. It calls for a lot of chili powder, but also 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate, which counters the spiciness enough that the kids could handle it. They loved it. I topped it with grated parmesan and fresh cilantro, and it was delicious. Even though it still hasn't been all that cold, it was nice to make a warm bento. It is winter, after all. The side box contains a selection of fruit: oranges, strawberry, blackberry, grapes, and a carrot. That's it for the week! We'll see if anyone asks for meat next week. ^_^

Black Bean Hominy Chili
(adapted from Pam Anderson's recipe)
1 quart good quality vegetable broth
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite-diced tomatoes
1 generous Tb. vegetable oil
1 medium-large onion, cut into medium dice
1 bell pepper, cut into medium dice
1 carrot, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 bunch kale, stem removed and leaves torn into small pieces
3 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. each ground cumin and oregano
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) drained black beans
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) drained hominy (I substituted kidney beans; you can use any beans)
1 cup lentils
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate
1/4 of chopped fresh cilantro


Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers; sauté until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin and oregano: sauté until fragrant, a minute or so. Add beans and hominy along with broth and tomatoes. Add the rest of the vegetables and lentils. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended, about 40 minutes. Stir in garlic, chocolate and cilantro; simmer a couple of minutes to blend flavors. Turn off heat and let stand a few minutes if there's time. Adjust seasonings and serve.
Added to Allergy-Friendly Lunchbox.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pretty Quinoa Salad Bento Bowls

This is the third meatless bento so far this week. Wow! I didn't plan for us to go meatless this long but decided we could try it and see how it felt. So far I haven't heard any complaints at all. Today's bento was inspired by a recipe I saw over the Christmas break which looked like bibimbap to me, or a kind of somen salad. It's actually a red quinoa salad, topped with wilted spinach, parboiled carrots, edamame, cucumber strips, wakame and fried egg. I packed along a little cup of vinaigrette dressing for them to pour over right before they eat. The top tiers contain fruit: oranges, strawberry, blackberries and cherries. I'm showing both kids' bento because they're so pretty. Fresh and colorful, almost like a warm weather cold salad. I really will start making more hearty bento meals, but the weather has been so mild and warm lately that I just haven't thought of it. They haven't even been wearing jackets when I pick them up. How's winter where you are?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Three Bunnies Meatless Calzone Bento

Using the Sistema box to house the ever-popular calzone bento today. I asked the kiddos whether they preferred pizza or calzones and they chose calzones. Go figure. While they aren't much to look at (at least mine aren't), they are pretty colorful and exciting inside. I used red pepper, eggplant, grated zucchini, grated kabocha, arugula and cheese. TinySprite watched me make them, and handled the dough a bit. Since they're kind of hard to close (what with all the fillings), I did most of the manipulation. She watched me adding the grated veggies and was fooled when I put in the grated kabocha, since it looks exactly like CHEDDAR. Hehehahaha! This is really the best box to hold a calzone, because it stays separate from the rest of the stuff and doesn't really need to be immobile. Well, except for the Okinawan sweet potato bunnies, which will likely fall off. The rest of the colorful sides include: orange wedges, cherries, strawberry, grape tomatoes, carrots and cucumbers. So fresh, it could almost be a spring bento!
Added to What's For Lunch.

Monday, January 9, 2012

First Bento of the Year!

First Bento of the Year! by sherimiya ♥
First Bento of the Year!, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Hellooooo out there! I haven't posted a bento for, um, it seems like forever. We had a school break over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and I didn't make a bento the whole time. Didn't even think about bento. I was afraid I'd forgotten how to make one again. But here I am, 3 weeks after the last one. It might look a bit messy and thrown-together, but it qualifies! I found a beautiful wild salmon filet so decided to roast it with a splash of olive oil, garlic powder and dried herb mix. And since the oven was on, of course I also threw in some halved brussels sprouts and sliced kabocha. While everything roasted away, I got the brilliant idea to try slicing the kabocha thin into chips. Could I get the kids to crave them if I called them kabocha chips? And would they get crispy? Wait til the end of the post to find out! I placed everything into some green leaf lettuce, and tucked in a red radish and some Okinawan sweet potatoes for color, and used the (included) stainless steel cup for cottage cheese with blackberries, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. There are also a few raw carrots in there. The cup comes with a tight-fitting plastic lid to ensure the contents stay put, which is very convenient. Oh, and about the chips? Although they didn't crisp up completely, I played them up, made lip-smacking yummy sounds, and sure enough they clamored for "More chips! Kabocha chips!" Success. Muahaha!