Wednesday, February 29, 2012

5-Spice Chicken Panda Bento

Today's cute panda bento box holds shredded brussels sprouts (sauteed in olive oil, mirin, then tossed in sesame oil), steamed Okinawan sweet potato "flowers", some roasted 5-spice chicken, and sweet potato "fries" tossed with parmesan. The upper tier holds a mini cutie clementine, strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. The lid didn't close down over the clementine completely, and I didn't want to peel off the star-shaped cap, so I just smushed it down and secured it with the elastic belt. No worries! It does seem like a big bento for my preschooler, but actually this box is pretty tiny. Her appetite varies a lot every day, but I'm hoping the different flavors in this one will keep her interested. She's not big on greens so the brussels might come home. I'm not too concerned about it because both kids down a green drink daily. I'm so happy they really love it, and even consider it dessert after dinner. Woo!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Butterfish Misoyaki Trio Bento

Butterfish misoyaki; woo! See the recipe and method I used here. In Hawaii you can find frozen butterfish everywhere, but here I buy it fresh. So good over hot rice. This Lunchbot Trio is perfect to keep the fish (and Okinawan sweet potato stars) separate from the roasted parmesan kabocha and pencil asparagus spears, with the final section going to the grapes, strawberry and cutie mandarin. I put the little piggie dango pick in because otherwise there's nothing very cute about this bento. But on the upside, it only took a few minutes (most of it going to the mandarin carving) to throw together. Yay!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Veggie Chili Phoenix Bento

It may look at first like just another ho-hum veggie chili bento (see the vitamin-rich and hearty recipe and method I used here), but notice the very cool avian addition to the ever-present fruit and veggie side bowl. It's a phoenix, and I cut it from swiss cheese using my brand-new intricate cutter I received from Bento & Co! You might remember the dragon cutter I used for Chinese New Year (here and here). The phoenix is similar in construction and style. It's very well-made, sturdy, and cuts cleanly. You can see the craftsmanship here. I love it! Thanks Bento & Co ^_^

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Spinach Gyoza Bento

Spinach Gyoza Bento by sherimiya ♥
Spinach Gyoza Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Gyoooooza! I found spinach wrappers in the grocery so I had to make gyoza. I think the green color is pretty cool-looking. I used ground turkey meat and added chopped scallions and choy mixed in to make the filling. This double stainless steel box set I got from Bento & Co comes in handy for this kind of bento. I placed as many gyoza as could fit into one box, atop a bed of shredded cabbage, and in the other box I packed the usual fruit (cara cara oranges, strawberry, blackberries, tomato) and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, and edamame). We have a glut of cara cara oranges around here; I can get a net bag of about 12 oranges for 99c. As a result, they make an appearance in daily bento, at breakfast, and in my midday smoothie. I love their ruby pink color, and they are sweet and juicy. Score!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dry Curry Rainbow Bento

Dry Curry Bento by sherimiya ♥
Dry Curry Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Okay, there isn't really a rainbow in here, but it's pretty cheerfully colorful! I packed MisterMan's dry curry in his metal "apple" shaped bento bowl, which I love. It's good for donburi type rice bowl meals such as this one: I put some mixed black rice (with millet and amaranth) on the bottom, and then scooped some dry curry on top. Dry curry is great for bento because there isn't a lot of soup or gravy to get soggy or leak out. And since this box isn't leakproof, it would have been a concern. I made this dry curry by browning ground meat and sauteeing a mix of diced vegetables such as carrots, bell peppers, celery, garlic and onion - I also added potatoes, zucchini and corn - then sprinkling 1-2T curry to the ingredients to release the aromatics. I added about 1/2C water and 2T tonkatsu sauce, stirred and simmered until well absorbed and "dry." If it's too strong you can add applesauce to sweeten it up, which is what I did. Or you can add ketchup. The top tier of this cute bowl contains cara cara oranges, strawberries, grapes, blackberries and blueberries. And a tomato and a couple slivers of mandarinquat. I sent this lunch to school at room temperature, but it's also a great candidate for a thermal jar, to ensure a hot curry meal on a cool winter day.
Added to What's For Lunch.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wings of Bento, and a Celebration

Wings of Bento by sherimiya ♥
Wings of Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
As I was going through my bento stash, I found this two-tier rectangular stainless steel Ecolunchbox set. It comes with a smaller, lidded box that fits into the top tier and is useful for packing things that you'd like to keep contained. The other Ecolunchbox I have (the oval one you can see here and here) also includes a separate small box, which seems to be where this company stands out. I like the quality of these boxes; the metal is sturdy and well-constructed enough to survive a typical lunchbag-swinging kid. This one, like the other one, has a tight latch, which you might need to practice with your child to make sure he can open and close it easily. Here I've packed some tebasaki (Japanese Grilled Chicken Wings with Sea Salt - method and recipe here), roasted diced taters and asparagus spears in the lower tier, and strawberries, carrots, blood oranges in the top tier, along with cottage cheese and blueberries in the little tin.

As for the kids' accomplishments last Friday, MisterMan finished first in the 3rd Grade District Spelling Bee! He beat out 27 other kids from 8 other schools to take home the medal. Interestingly, although the kids were given a list of about a thousand potential words to study, the second half of the bee drew from a secret list that the kids would only have been able to recognize from their reading. Not surprisingly, most of them were eliminated during that half; and some of those words were tough! MM never cracked under pressure, and spelled the winning word, "admirably", admirably. So proud of him! As for TinySprite, she appears to have performed well in her Kindergarten Readiness Interview, as we received her positive evaluation today. So as promised, they celebrated with their own double ice cream cones this past weekend: pistachio and chocolate chip for him, and chocolate and blueberry cheesecake for her. ^_^

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Salmon, Tots and Kale Bento

Today's bento is filled with omega-3s, antioxidants, and high-energy foods to aid the brain activity of my kiddos: broiled salmon, kale chips, roasted potato tots, carrots, and a bunch o'berries including straw-, black- and blue-. Packed in the ultra-cute froggie two-tiered bento box and my vintage Keroppi folk from the 80s. Tomorrow is a big day for both of them: TinySprite has an interview for Kindergarten Readiness, and MisterMan is participating in the district-wide Spelling Bee. We're hoping there isn't too much in the way of dexterity tests for TS, seeing as how she's currently limited to a single arm. Luckily her dominant arm and hand are unaffected, so she can still write. If you hold the paper down. As for MM, he's reviewed the word list so many times I find myself using those words in my daily speech more than usual, and each time I do ("Look how regal the dog looks when he crosses his arms like that") I hear him spelling the word in the background ("R-e-g-a-l"). We're crossing our fingers they both do well tomorrow; so early bedtimes for them tonight it is!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chubby Calzone Bento

Chubby Calzone Bento by sherimiya ♥
Chubby Calzone Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
It's calzone day today - filled with pepperoni, ham, mozzarella, and arugula - and I didn't take the time to make any particular shapes but when they came out, I thought they looked like chubby crabs. So I added a scrunched face and that's what we're calling it. Luckily MisterMan's fit inside his Sistema box perfectly. I like this box for calzones because the sections are pretty tall and can accomodate a chubby calzone very well! The other section contains cara cara oranges, blackberries, strawberries, carrots, broccoli and grapes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Wraps Friends Bento and Corndog Minimuffins

A cute little bento for TinySprite in the round enamelware bowl with transparent lid I got from Daiso. It also comes in a square shape, and as nesting sets as well. These are a nice alternative to the stainless steel side boxes I usually use, and I like the clean white effect. Here I used four colorful silicone cups to keep things separate: chicken-lettuce-cheddar wraps in whole wheat tortillas, carrots, strawberries and grapes. I also tossed a couple of corndog minimuffins in her bento bag for snacktime. I made a batch of these cuties for MisterMan to take to school for his Valentine party (I found the recipe here), but of course I had to use chicken-apple sausages instead of hot dogs. They taste pretty good, if not exactly like corndogs. Fun idea though! Hope you all had a fun and enjoyable Valentines' Day with your loved ones. XO to you!

Monday, February 13, 2012

TinySprite Snack Sandwich Bento

This was supposed to be a snack bento for TinySprite to keep her busy after school while her brother finished up his homework. It turns out she didn't have a big enough appetite after school to finish this, though. She put away the mini-wiches and the egg, but that was it. I cut a cucumber cup for blackberries, and tossed some grapes, strawberries and carrots into the mix. I also dyed a quail egg in beet juice after forming a heart shape using Anna The Red's method here. It was tricky, seeing as how quail eggs are rather smallish and kind of delicate. If you press too hard you'll crack the egg, which I kind of did as you can see. I added a nori face and some wings, which is my current favorite thing to do ever since I found these cool wing picks. I rarely make cutout sandwiches, because I'm not one to save crusts and odd pieces of bread for croutons or breadcrumbs or whatever it is you're supposed to save all those ends for, and then it's such a waste. But I wanted to use the little mini sandwich cutters that I received from a bentopal (aren't they cute?). I know other charaben makers are asked what they do with their leftover food scraps. After making these little peanut butter and jam cuties, I was suddenly approached by the resident scrap disposal, who often makes an appearance when he hears exclamations coming from the kitchen, such as "Oh no!", "Oops!", and "Crap!" (or variations thereupon). How can I refuse a face like this?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mac and Ka-broc-cheese-rizo Bento

My kids have been requesting mac and cheese, so I decided to make a giant batch to last them a couple days. They can seriously put away this stuff. As usual, I packed the portions in their thermal food jars; this one is TinySprite's Hello Kitty Thermos brand jar, which holds 10 ounces and has served us well throughout most of her preschool lunch career. I know it doesn't keep the food as hot as long as MisterMan's Stanley food jar, because I've done a nonscientific, side-by-side comparison using hot water and a thermometer. It doesn't really matter for her since she eats within 3 hours or so after I've packed it, but my bigger concern now is that she may be outgrowing this little jar. The last few times I used it, it's come home completely empty -- which is good, of course -- but it just makes me wonder if I could pack a little bit more for her whether she'd eat more.

I've used several different recipes for mac and cheese (like Pioneer Woman's version here and Bacon Mac and Cheese here). Today's mac batch contains three extra ingredients. Can you guess what they might be? Soyrizo, diced kabocha and broccoli! It's not exactly a secret; I've done it before, and anyway I told them I'd put it in, and their reactions were mixed. TS: Yayyy! MM: Did you cut the kabocha super small and mix it in really well? Mmmkay. Can you tell my boy might not appreciate the finer aspects of this wonderful squash as much as my girl? I assured him I did. The other key is to use a lot of cheese. I mean a LOT. Like a whole pound or more. They love the gooey stuff, and I don't think they even noticed that it was whole wheat elbow macaroni. So there. The other container held all fruit, since I was pretty happy with the vegetable load they got in the mac: strawberries, kiwi, cara cara oranges, blueberries, blackberries, and grapes. And, there's a heart. Because it's the month of love. ^_^

Mac and Ka-Brocco-Cheese-Rizo Method/Recipe (I know, not a great name. But can you think of something catchier?)

Cook 8oz (or more if you like) whole wheat elbow macaroni, 10-12 minutes or until just al dente. Drain.
Steam or microwave 5 slices kabocha (or more) and one head of broccoli until softened.
Chop into small dice.
Whisk: 1C milk, 2T whole wheat flour, 1tsp dry mustard, and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, 6-8 minutes.
Add the diced kabocha and broccoli.
Add a half link (or more, if you like) soyrizo. Stir it all in well.
Add: 1C (or 2C, or more) shredded cheddar, parmesan, or whatever cheese you happen to like. Stir.
Add more cheese if you like it cheesier.
Add pasta, stir to completely incorporate.

Added to Allergy-Free Lunchbox Love.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Salmon Trio Bento

Salmon Trio Bento by sherimiya ♥
Salmon Trio Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Today's Lunchbot Trio is packed with the salmon of the week, roasted in olive oil and shoyu. I also roasted some thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, after tossing with fresh-ground pepper and Parmesan. The kabocha slices were -yep!- roasted as well in the fish pan. There was just enough room in the vegetable section to slip some steamed Okinawan sweet potatoes and a grape tomato in there. The longitudinal fruit section holds cara cara orange wedges, a strawberry and some cherries. How handy is this box? This bento didn't take any time at all to pack. Of course, there aren't any cute details, but nothing that a few food picks can't fill in. Even on a busy midweek day, you can still find a few minutes to pack a cheerful lunch for yourself or your child. And to be honest, I always choose divided boxes on days like this because half the job of organizing the food is already done for me. I really recommend to have at least a couple of these boxes on hand. My other go-to is my round divided box (see it in action recently here). Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Posole Bento

Posole Bento by sherimiya ♥
Posole Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Our winter here in California has been pretty mild (or nonexistent), to say the least, but finally in the past few days we've had some cold temps and rain. It's nice to feel like having some warm soups and stews during winter, don't you think? I've always loved posole, and we have lots of Mexican restaurants around here that serve it, but only on the weekends. This past weekend I missed it again, and I was disappointed because it's the perfect weather for it! So I tried my hand at making it at home.

Posole is a chile-based Mexican soup of pork and hominy, and to make it traditionally, you use real dried chile pods to create the red chile sauce (by roasting the dried pods, soaking in boiling water, then processing it all). And it has to have the red sauce. I really want to try making the red sauce from scratch some time, but this time I took the easy way out and used canned red chile sauce. It was super potent! Too bad I had to dilute it way down for the lightweights in the family, but if it were just for the adults, I would have used it straight. Even as it was, I was a little concerned that my kids would balk at the diluted version too. I first served my daughter the ingredients with only a little soup. She tasted it, pronounced the first few spoonfuls "delicious", then stopped and said "Mom, when it goes down my throat, I feel the hot spice down here." I waited for her to refuse the rest, but she finished the bowl and requested more for her bento. Wow, I was so happy!

This bento is MisterMan's version: a thermos of posole, a container of tortillas with car shapes, and another container of cooling carrots, peapods, strawberry, blood oranges and grapes. Are my kids finally becoming heat-tolerant? *crossing fingers* ^_^

Here's the method I used:

Slow-Cooker Posole

1 pound pork, cut into cubes (I used pork shoulder)
1-10oz can red chile sauce
1-30oz can white hominy, drained
1 onion, chopped
1-7oz can diced green chiles (I had to omit! But I love these)
1 celery stalk, chopped (not traditional)
1 carrot, chopped (not traditional)
2 cloves garlic, minced (or more if you like)
1 tsp ground cumin

fresh cilantro, chopped
white onion, chopped
cabbage, thinly sliced
radishes, sliced
lime, sliced

In a skillet over medium high heat, brown the cubed pork on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to crockpot. Stir in the red sauce, hominy, onion, green chiles, celery, carrot, garlic, cumin, and enough water to cover the meat. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until meat is tender. You can customize this recipe by using more meat, more hominy, and more red sauce if you like. If it's too hot, add more water. I love the soup to be very dark red. Serve hot in bowls with cilantro, onion, cabbage, radishes and lime on the side to be added into the bowl.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Thrown-Together Bento

Thrown-Together Bento by sherimiya ♥
Thrown-Together Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
This bento is from last week: it includes oven-baked "mochiko chicken" (method and recipe here) and kabocha in one tier, and a rainbow assortment of fruit and veggies in the other tier (strawberry, blood orange, carrots, yellow pepper, blueberries in a cucumber cup, grapes, and Okinawan sweet potato. I call it thrown-together because if you look closely you'll notice that I threw the kabocha chunks in there without roasting them! I usually roast some veggies when I make the oven-roasted chicken, since the oven is already hot and all. But my mind was out-of-sorts because I had received a phone call that afternoon; the kind a parent dreads: Your daughter was playing on the play structure, and we noticed her arm is a little swollen. When I got there I saw her cradling her arm gingerly. This girl never does anything gingerly! I rushed her to the hospital and we discovered she had sustained a supracondylar fracture at her elbow joint. She had surgery that night and is now wearing a cast for the next 3-6 weeks. We were worried and nervous, but surgery went well and we are hoping for a quick and successful healing process. TinySprite handled the whole ordeal like a pro, never complaining of pain or feeling afraid of her operation. In fact, the surgeon remarked on her loquaciousness and inquisitiveness about the procedure and the equipment. Even now, 4 days later, she hasn't lost her smile or dampened her high spirits. I've really gained a new appreciation of her fortitude and strength. And don't worry - after the picture I noticed the raw kabocha and quick-microwaved and pan-fried them in butter and shoyu for MisterMan. ^_^
Added to What's For Lunch.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Nyanko Burger Kitty Bento

Today I tried another new meatless burger recipe, since the garbanzo burgers and the beet burgers went over so well. This one is a walnut rice cheeseburger with fresh lettuce and a thick slice of ripe tomato in a whole wheat sandwich thin. The cute swiss cheese kitty Nyanko Burger is sure to make this a happy meal. I added some parmesan sweet potato oven-baked "fries", a cucumber cup of blueberries, cara cara orange chunks, cherries and a strawberry heart. Since it is the month of valentines, after all. ^_^
Do you know Nyan Nyan Nyanko? It is a San-X kitty character which can imitate various food items. I saw this Nyanko bento box and I strongly wish to obtain it. Isn't it so cute?
I have to admit, when I think of walnuts, I think of muffins and sweet treats. So when I smelled the walnut rice while making this, I had mixed feelings. Is this savory? Is it a dessert? A bit unsettling. The reason that walnuts are included is because this nut is a good source of monounsaturated fats. What I've found with these meat substitute burgers is that the flavor is usually so mild that the success of the burgers often depends upon the choice of seasonings you use. If you have a favorite blend (such as garlic and cumin, which I like), then maybe you should stick with that. But that's just my opinion. What do you vegetarians think? 
For these burgers, I heavily adapted the recipe here:

Walnut Grain Burgers

2 cups cooked brown rice (I used a mixture of brown, white, millet, pearl barley, and amaranth. Very hearty and filling!)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 1/4 cups walnuts
1 egg
1 tablespoon your favorite seasoning blend (I used garlic bread seasoning)

Saute onion, carrot, and garlic in a large saucepan. Mix with rice and set aside.
Process the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade until finely ground. Add the rice mixture, egg, and seasoning. Pulse until the mixture sticks together. With wet hands, roll into balls and then flatten into patties.
Coat a nonstick griddle or large skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Cook the patties for about 3 minutes or until golden. Turn carefully and cook for about 4 minutes longer or until heated through. Melt some cheese on top if you like. Place each patty on a bun with a tomato slice and lettuce leaf, with mustard.