Thursday, March 29, 2012

Purple Bunny Bento

Purple Bunny Bento by sherimiya ♥
Purple Bunny Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
I know what you're thinking: they just had salmon this week already. But actually the bento from Monday was a late post from a few weeks ago -- so this is the first salmon of the week! I broiled this one with a cajun spice mix, and laid it upon some white/brown/quinoa/millet mixed rice in the lettuce cup. As usual, I roasted some veggies at the same time; this time some pencil asparagus which I tossed with olive oil and parmesan. There's also carrots, peapods, a section of fruit (strawberries, blueberries, grape tomatoes), and a steamed Okinawan sweet potato bunny with rice stick whiskers, because I realized at the last second that Easter is coming in a week or so, and I haven't made any Easter bento yet. Just in case the bunny doesn't cut it, there's a little fuzzy chick to get the point across. Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Veggie Barley Chili Thermal Bento

Is it just me, or does it seem like one thermal bento after another? Next up in the rotation is veggie chili. This one uses a lot of the same ingredients as my basic chili recipe here, but I made this batch in my slow-cooker and added barley and corn (and omitted the hominy and chocolate) to change it up a bit. Also, I didn't have time to watch the pot at the stove since there were three activities going on this day: Mad Science Afterschool Program, Ballet, and Kung Fu. It sure is nice on days like this to come home to dinner already-cooked and the house smelling delicious. The kids get a hot chili lunch along with some fresh fruit on the side. A welcoming bento on a cold rainy day!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Eggplant Curry Thermal Bento

I packed eggplant curry in the LunchBot thermal; a perfect warm meal for a cold rainy day. See my method and recipe here. I made it once before and the kids seemed to like it fine. Previously I'd been afraid to cook okra because I know it can get slimey but the key is to add it last and then cook it only until it becomes tender; not too long. Also, don't toss it around too much. It will hold its shape and firmness, and it adds an interesting texture to this otherwise soft curry. You may be seeing a lot of this and our other thermals for the next several weeks, at least until the weather starts warming up. Since discovering the practicality and usefulness of thermal food jars, I am hooked. Since there are so many veggies in the meal, I can pack the other dish with colorful fruit and fun Okinawan sweet potato cutouts.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Salmon and Kale Quad Bento

After more than a week off (Spring Break + a few extra days), I'm back to making bento. It was nice to have the bento break but I did miss connecting with my fellow lunchmaking mom-pals. How are you? I expect some of you also had the week off as well. We were out of town, and an empty fridge makes bentopacking a bit of a challenge. I spent the day replenishing the stock, and I hope I can get back into snappy bentomaking tomorrow. This is actually one I had made a few weeks ago during my trial test period of the LunchBot Quad I reviewed for my giveaway. I didn't post it because I wanted to use it several times before I formulated an opinion on it. If you missed it, I gave it a thumbs-up, and I think I'll be using it a lot for my preschooler. For such a practical box, it's also just so darn cute! Here I packed a piece of broiled salmon in a green lettuce leaf. I had previously been reluctant to use lettuce baran for my daughter because I noticed she wasn't as thrilled about eating it as my son is, and I don't like to waste food. But these were the very end pieces of the lettuce head, so I threw them in. Can you believe she ate them up? I think it must have been the cute box effect. She also loved the roasted potatoes and kale chips. The berry reward was a final delicious topper. This bento was a total hit, and I'm very happy about it. Yay!

Monday, March 19, 2012

LunchBots Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Kathleen Lambert, MewlKitten -- you've won! I hope you enjoy packing your new Lime Green Quad with all of your great bento snack ideas. Thanks to all the participants in my LunchBots giveaway; I had 48 entries with lots of creative and delicious-sounding bento ideas. I'd like to use some of them for my future lunches... happy bento-ing! ^_^

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

LunchBots Quad Review for TinySprite Bento

Today's bento for TinySprite was packed in the 4-sectioned stainless steel Quad bento box made by LunchBots. When I first saw this box I was so excited -- it combined my two favorite bento box elements: divided compartments and stainless steel construction. LunchBots has offered the 2-sectioned Duo and the 3-sectioned Trio previous to the Quad. I have both of those, and I know the quality and durability are excellent, but I was curious to see whether the design of the Quad is as practical as it seemed. First of all, the all-stainless steel box is as well-made as the previous versions, as far as I can tell so far, and I've used this box a handful of times already. The smaller sections make it perfect for a child with a smaller appetite, who might welcome a greater variety of food in lesser amounts, especially if they are kept separate and not touching. So here I've packed a cheesy turkey dog whole wheat rollup, cut into fourths, which fit perfectly in one section. I topped the pieces with cute picks and a few steamed Okinawan sweet potato cutouts. In another section I fit a silicone cup of yogurt topped with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and wheat germ. A few steamed broccoli florets fill out the rest of the section. A selection of fruit occupy the third part, and the last contains a homemade whole wheat blueberry muffin and some raw carrot sticks. Verdict? She loved it! I have to admit it looks pretty fun and interesting with all the different components. Keep in mind this box (like the Duo and Trio) does not keep the sections completely watertight, so I would refrain from packing saucy or drippy foods. Notice that for the yogurt I used a silicone cup, which successfully kept it contained. The lid is tight (not watertight), and will not fall off during normal usage, although you can easily slip an elastic band around it for extra safety. My preschooler can remove the lid herself without problems. In short, I love this box -- it's perfect for a child-size appetite and appeals to the younger set's natural preference for variety and separation. If you'd like a chance to win this box (or any other LunchBot of your choice), leave a comment at the giveaway post here and I'll pick a winner at random on Friday. I've been reading lots of great ideas for bento-packing there so far!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Posole II Bento in LunchBots Thermal Jar: Review and Giveaway!

NOTE: This giveaway is now CLOSED. Thank you for your interest!
Yes, a GIVEAWAY! If you can't wait, you can scroll down to the bottom. But first I want to tell you about my posole. ^_^
Remember the posole bento I made almost exactly a month ago? It was my first time making this spicy Mexican chili-based pork and hominy soup at home, although I've enjoyed it in restaurants for years. This bento marks my second attempt, this time using real homemade red chile sauce from scratch! I used New Mexico chiles, as per Homesick Texan's recipe here. It came out quite tasty! I adapted the recipe a bit.

Red Posole
1 - 29 oz. can of hominy, drained
1 pound of pork shoulder, cubed (I used pork tenderloin, but pork shoulder is better)
1 medium onion, diced
8 cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano (can substitute regular oregano)
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
9 New Mexico chiles, stems and seeds removed
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of one lime

For serving:
Shredded cabbage
One avocado sliced
One lime cut into wedges
1 cup of cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup of diced onion

In a large pot, cook the onion in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add the pork and brown on each side for a couple of minutes. Throw in the garlic and cook for one more minute.

Pour the broth into the pot and add the oregano, cumin, ground cloves and ancho-chile powder. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a low simmer.

Meanwhile, take your New Mexican chiles and cook on high in a dry cast-iron skillet until they pop, a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat, add water to the skillet and let the chiles soak until hydrated, about half an hour.

Drain the chile-soaking liquid, and place the chiles in a blender. Add one cup of water and blend on high until a smooth puree has formed. Stir the chile puree into the soup pot.

After a couple of hours, add the hominy to the pot along with the juice of one lime and the chopped cilantro. At this point, adjust your spices and add salt to the pot. Continue to cook on low for a couple more hours.

Pour into bowls and serve with shredded cabbage, diced onions, lime wedges, chopped cilantro, and avocado slices.
I didn't take any good pictures, but I did snap a few with my phone. Next time I'll take process pictures for sure. It was fun making the sauce, and easier than I expected. Next time I plan to use guajillo chile pods, the traditional chile used for Mexican sauces. I also plan to double the number of chiles for a spicier broth. Anyway, this batch was excellent. I used a different cut of pork, which turned out to be leaner than the pork shoulder I used last time. Note: pork shoulder is best. I sent this posole to school with TinySprite in my new LunchBots Thermal Food Jar, which they were gracious enough to allow me to try out and review. I was so excited, because in the cold months I use a thermal food jar several times a week. I'm always on the lookout for a better one. I sent this one along with a side box of shredded cabbage and cilantro, and some decorative carrots for her to add to the hot soup at lunchtime. There are also some blackberries and a juicy strawberry.

So what did I think of this jar? I've actually used it several times already, and you'll see those bento during the rest of the week -- so I've had some time to think about the merits and shortcomings of this jar.

- At 16 oz, it's larger than the Thermos brand Hello Kitty thermal jar and similar jars available for the kid set. This is nice because there are times when my nearly kindergarten-age girl could eat a little more than the 9 oz of the Thermos.
- Even though it's quite a bit bigger, it's not much heavier. I also have the Stanley 17 oz jar, which I use for my 3rd-grade boy, and that one would be too heavy for her to handle.
- All surfaces which come into contact with food are stainless steel, including the inside of the lid. This is a nice feature for those who are concerned with heat effects of plastic in contact with food. I have not seen this feature on any other thermal food jars.
- The wide mouth opening makes it easy for her to eat from, similar to a bowl.
- The stickers on the jar and lid make it easy to know how tight to screw on the lid so that the vacuum seal won't be too great to open it again.

- The wider screw top lid, while convenient to eat from, may be unwieldy for a smaller child with a smaller grip. My 3rd-grader could manage it with no problem but my preschooler needed help opening it. Of course, a teacher should always be nearby to help with this.
- I've found greater heat loss through this jar than from the Stanley jar, but may be similar to what I see with the Thermos brand jars. I didn't do a side-by-side comparison, but I measured the temperature of boiled water packed into the jar after several hours on the counter. After 4 hours, which is about the longest that my daughter waits before eating her lunch, the temperature was not piping hot. This is not necessarily a problem: she reported to me that the food was still warm and delicious.

In conclusion, I think this thermal jar is worth purchasing, if you are in the market for a versatile jar useful for either a child or adult. As I mentioned, it is unique in its shape and capacity, and those in themselves are good reasons to invest. It does a good job of keeping your soup or stew warm, and with no leakage through the gasket seal. Big enough for a healthy appetite but lightweight enough for a smaller child to handle, you could use this jar for kids (or adults) of any age. But even better than purchasing this jar would be winning it in a giveaway! That's right - the kind folks at LunchBots were generous enough to provide a LunchBot of your choice to one of my readers. All I'd like you to do is tell me which LunchBot you'd prefer, and what you'd pack in yours. If you haven't noticed, I own quite a few of them (Uno, Duo, Trio and now Thermal Jar), so I'd be interested in hearing your suggestions! And tune in tomorrow because I've got a review of another cool LunchBot product coming up!

To Enter the LunchBots Giveaway:
Please comment with your name and email address, telling me which LunchBot you'd choose AND what you'd pack inside.
The winner can pick any one LunchBot food container or insulated container of their choice.
US and Canada residents only, please.
Contest entries must be received before Friday March 16th, 2012, 5pm Pacific.

Oh, and if that isn't enough, use the coupon code HAPPYBENTO for 10% off and free shipping at all week! Woo!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hello Kitty Pizzawiches Bento

TinySprite gets pizza today, but in little mini sandwich form. There's grated cheddar, shredded spinach and mini pepperonis inside two toasted whole wheat sandwich thins for her, with a cheese/carrot/nori/red pepper Hello Kitty face to greet her. I squeezed in some steamed broccoli, Okinawan sweet potato, carrots, a cup of cottage cheese with blueberry topping, a big strawberry and some blackberries. Since her cast came off yesterday, we're bulking up on dairy and other calcium-rich foods to ensure maximum new bone growth. It shouldn't be hard, since she's a real cheese lover.
Next week there's an exciting surprise coming up on Happy Little Bento: it has to do with cool new bento stash, and there's even something in it for YOU too, so be sure to tune in!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wonton Friends Bento

Wonton Friends Bento by sherimiya ♥
Wonton Friends Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
As usual, soon after having gyoza we are thinking about wontons. So here is the followup wonton bento. I made a huge batch (see my recipe and method here), squeezed as many as I could fit in the EcoLunchBox along with some sliced blood oranges, strawberry, blackberries, carrots and broccoli, and I was done. Quick or what? ^_^

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spaghetti Squash Bento

Spaghetti Squash Bento by sherimiya ♥
Spaghetti Squash Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
This quickie bento is an adaptation of one of my basic pasta stand-bys: spaghetti with sauteed onion, zucchini, mushroom and nitrite-free chicken sausage. It still contains all those things but I intended to substitute the whole wheat spaghetti with spaghetti squash. I've never made this squash before; have you? All you do is bake it for awhile, then slice it open lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and then pull out the spaghetti-like strands of flesh. I was skeptical, but that's really how it turned out! I tried it out on the kids, and they seemed to like it just fine. If I had tossed it with tomato sauce or pesto, I bet they'd like it even more. I ended up not completely omitting the pasta, just so that they'd have some comfort food in there too. I filled up two sections of this bento with this one-dish meal, and saved the 3rd for cottage cheese topped with berries and carrots.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Happy Girls' Day Hinamatsuri Bento

Happy Girls' Day Bento by sherimiya ♥
Happy Girls' Day Bento, a photo by sherimiya ♥ on Flickr.
Here is my Hinamatsuri bento for my TinySprite. Girls' Day is on March 3rd so we'll show this bento today, even though I made it earlier this week when I was strapped on a no-cook bento day. Here are a couple other Girls' Day bento I've made (here and here). I used spinach-ricotta ravioli and arranged cut halves as a kimono with a sweet red pepper fan. The girl's face is a hard-boiled quail's egg decorated with nori and sriracha. She has a crown and some flower picks to make her pretty. The rest of the bento contains steamed broccoli, a clementine, strawberries and blueberries. I am using this two tiered Hello Kitty square bento box for the first time and I love it! I didn't realize one of the tiers comes with compartments, which I love, and there's a white cover for the bottom tier so that the top tier can sit upon it without smushing the food. After the two are stacked, there's a strap that clips through both boxes and doubles as a handle/carrier. Can you say a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e?? Perfect for this day's celebration, I think. Happy Girls' Day!