Sunday, October 25, 2009

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Grocery Store Bento Box

Since packing my own homemade bento boxes I've been on the "look out" for boxed lunches at various supermarkets in the local area. I'm not referring to markets in Seattle's International District or Georgetown's Maruta Shoten. It's the national chain store that I'm curious about. Will they ever start selling salmon shioyaki and rice with a juicy umeboshi in the middle?

In the very diverse Pacific Northwest, most of our local grocers have been stocking sushi packs for years, and their deli shops have always sold boxed meals to go. Those boxed meals almost always contain American fare, fried chicken or meatloaf with mashed potatoes; a tasty meal but do they count as a bento box? I am not accusing, I'm just asking. My homemade boxes don't always contain traditional Japanese foods either, so no judgment from me and I cannot shake my finger or my chopsticks at them either.

The other day, I bought a grilled tofu bento box from Whole Foods at their downtown Seattle market. It contained the tofu, container of sauce, white rice, steamed red bell peppers and I think bok choy. The other varieties (that I could see) were the same except with chicken or beef in place of the tofu.
A little off topic, but since I'm talking about it, I give you my review.

The tofu was very tasty and it had nice, decorative grill marks. I ate it plain without the accompanying sticky dark sauce (I am guessing teriyaki) that was supposed to be use as a dip.

There was a bit of the same sauce spread across the white rice too which I wish they had not. I like plain white rice. The before mentioned bell pepper and mystery green veggie were hopelessly unseasoned--maybe that's what the sauce was for? I'm not bashing this box, the tofu was excellent, the rest was not and on my next visit, I'll stick to the other yummy foods Whole Foods has to offer.
Back on topic.

Do your neighborhood grocers sell packed bento boxes or have a deli shop that sells packed ready to eat lunches? Do you consider the prepacked deli lunches, bento boxes?
Do you have an Japanese or Asian grocer in your area that does sell traditional bento boxes?
Let's discuss.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fun Halloween Boxes

Packing a holiday specific, themed bento box is a fun way to get the creative juices flowing. In recent weeks I've been on the lookout for inexpensive Halloween items to "get in the mood" and I found just the thing. These cute bat and Frankenstein snack boxes, about the size of an average apple, bought from one of the big craft stores. The perfect sidecar to accompany a lunch bento box or stand alone snack box. I'm not sure what to pack and I have a few more days to think on it. Maybe a musubi or some roll ups. Do you have any ideas? I'm open to suggestion.

Fall's Best Benefits

These 3 highly nutritious fruits, (I think squash counts as a fruit so we will go with it), are the best this season has to offer.

I recently posted a bento box featuring a simmered kabocha recipe but there are many other ways for preparation and I say, "go for it". I believe it's better than butternut squash and even if you don't pack bento boxes and think you could skip it...don't. Treat yourself and family to one of autumn's best productions. Kabocha is a highly nutritious food that tastes great. And that's hard to resist.

A fuyu persimmon can be eaten, as soon as it's ripe, just like any other fruit, "as is". Don't confuse it with the hachiya type or you will have an unpleasant taste experience if the fruit has not yet rid it's astringent properties. Hachiya persimmons aren't all bad and I personally love them dried. But for a bento box, the fuyu persimmon is a more fitting candidate. Sweet and juicy; it slices nicely and keeps well in a bento until lunch.

Pomegranates are of late, "all the buzz" in the antioxidant foods campaign and I'm all for it. That positive publicity insures plenty to choose from as fall arrives and I think I was able to to I pick a nice one from a huge display. It's as large as a softball and I look forward to preparing it. Unfortunately for Saba Man, no bentos featuring pomegranates yet because I eat them all. The bento boxes don't stand a chance but I'll keep at it.

There are a few
pomegranate recipes out there to explore. But if I can't manage to include them for a bento box, I'm not sure I could save them for a recipe. Good luck!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quick Fix Bento Box

When in doubt, I make omuraisu. Well, my version of omuraisu is a sort of "clean up" meal where I pull all the oddball items from the freezer and fridge, toss in a pan then place in a two egg omelet.

I have some cold rice that will never see the inside of an onigiri mold, check. A thumb sized piece of yellow carrot, check. half a bell pepper, check. Green onions, chunk of tofu, yesterday's "wheat meat", check, check, check. A cup of roasted kabocha? No way, that immediately goes into my mouth. Yum. The rest of the recipe is just as simple. Heat up the items with some minced garlic, sesame oil and ketchup. Yes, ketchup. I add the entire odd combo to the center of an omelet (omelette?) which has been seasoned with mirin and a touch of salt and soy sauce. Fold it over and let cool completely before placing in the box.

The other pieces of the bento box is also a hodgepodge of items: last piece of corn pudding, handful of greenbeans, the last of the strawberries and a lonely kiwi berry. I always have frozen edamame to fill in the gaps and here again, it does the job.

You don't have to wait for leftovers to make your own omuraisu, it's a delicious meal that stands on it's own with a myriad of online recipes to choose from. But if you were to whip one up now, what kind of filler ingredients do you have ready?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Autumn Leaves Bento Box

Autumn and roasting seem to go "hand in hand". Well, lately in at my house it does. It's quick, easy, healthy and warms up the kitchen all in one swoop. Especially if you mix and match the veggies. Today's featured bento contains some of the mix and match repeats from yesterday's lunch. But don't get discouraged, please read on, for at the end I'll tell you how I made the dry stir fried "wheat meat" which is included in today's vegan bento box. You just can't see it; it's hidden under all that yummy roasted asparagus and yellow carrots! Those yellow carrots are really bright yellow aren't they? Wow. The purple carrots are roasted too; the renkon (lotus roots) are not, they're simmered, but I'm adding these guys to the list of potential items for roasting next time. The orange "leaves" are sweet potatoes and before you ask... nope, they're baked...and lastly the plain tomatoes. These are perfect the way they are. If you look closely between the carrots and asparagus, you can see the sliced peppers that were fried with the "wheat meat". One of those slices is a purple pepper which lost it's color during the cooking process. Would of been cool, but oh well.

How to make the dry strir fry:

Slice and soak some "wheat meat" overnight in a marinade of your choice. I did the "teriyaki" thing with these. The "wheat meat" is store bought, but some day I will attempt making my own. If I ever do, I'll document my process here.
I thinly sliced peppers and onion, crushed a clove of garlic and a bit of fresh ginger.

Heat up a frying pan and add a touch of canola oil. When nice and hot, add the drained slices of "wheat meat" and stir to keep from sticking. Keep stirring while adding the remaining ingredients. The idea is to cook until the moisture is gone and the veggies cooked but still a little crisp. I like to start off with less moisture and add as needed until done. Starting off with too much liquid may cause vegetable sogginess which is not the desired affect.

I like to add some sesame seeds at the end for interest and a bit of flavor.

This dish is a nice break from animal protein and you may not even taste the difference. Have fun coming up with your own combinations of vegetables and seasonings.
Why dry stir fry? The best practice for a successful bento box lunch(packed to eat later) is not having a lot of moisture inside. You could say it's rule #1.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vegan Bento Box

Today's featured bento box is vegan! Not too much of a surprise for Saba Man as he is used to occasionally eating vegetarian. It's "all good" as long as his tummy is satisfied at the end of his lunch break. This box should not pose any problems with that! Roasted purple carrots and brussel sprouts, dry stir fried "wheat meat" with yellow peppers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, blood oranges and dried cranberries. I think he'll be fine.

We both are not brussel sprout eaters and I got a funny look from him when he saw my examining them in the produce department. Then he grinned when I plucked a few of them and placed them half hearted in the shopping basket. "Don't worry", I said. He shrugged, "I'm not worried...I'm surprised"

Fast forward to my kitchen and we are standing there staring at the little charred outside leaves of the sprouts. "They smell good", we both agreed. I pressed, "You taste it!" He obliged then handed me the other half. It was delicious and I was now the surprised one.

How I cooked the brussel sprouts:

Pre heat oven to 4oo degrees Fahrenheit.

Rinse and thoroughly dry the brussel sprouts. The drying part is very important. Leaving them wet causes a steaming effect which is not what you want.

Coat the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil. Just lightly coat it, no submersing of brussel sprouts in oil.

Sprinkle coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper over the oil.

Place the brussel sprouts on the pan and roll them around until they get sort of covered in the mixture.

Pop the pan with the brussel sprouts in the oven for about 12 - 15 minutes. They WILL start to get charred. That's okay, but if you start seeing a lot of smoke, then lower the heat a little bit. you want them to get really dark brown with the outside leaves crispy. When this is achieved, lower the heat to about 325-350 for another 10 minutes.

Allow them to cool to room temperature before packing in your bento box. Enjoy!

I don't have a specific resource to site,as it's a basic vegetable roasting recipe. I got the charring idea from many recipes; online and in books. It seems to work because the sprouts were not bitter.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blood Orange Bento Box

Oh my gosh! Wasn't it just yesterday that I wrote about my broken PC monitor? Well, today it's my cellphone monitor, albeit a small monitor, but a monitor just the same. Half of it is blacked out and I can't see the display when navigating through the features. I can dial out and answer, that's about it. *sigh*


Today's bento box contains similar items as yesterday, because Saba Man said it was " a yummy", okay he really doesn't talk like that, but you know what I mean. The major change are the "rice burritos" rolled with the soy paper. That was "a fail". They were were soggy and the wrappers fell apart. So the soy paper is best when served immediately which means this lunch box will contain the tried and true inarizushi instead. Salmon patties with wasabi aioli, kabocha squash, garlic roasted asparagus, tomotoes are included and the blood orange fills up the remaining box space. The blood orange looks more like a bloody orange but I assure you that it's not because I stabbed myself with a cute bento pick! It's natural creepiness suits the Halloween season perfectly without any drastic measures.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Simmered Kabocha Bento Box

A quick "sidebar" before the bento box and kabocha squash portion of this article.

We had technical difficulties late last night. While in the middle of posting the inarizushi article, the PC monitor decided it was time to quit. So long, farewell, adios, buh-bye! Of course I immediately dived under the desk to jiggle, unplug and replug every wire until I was certain that a side trip to the 'puter shop (before football) was absolutely necessary. "I have to buy a new monitor", was the conclusion after many unsuccessful attempts to "make it go". But oh,oh... who has the best deal? What brand do I want? What can I afford? I don't know, because...wait for it... without a monitor, I cannot search online! So, we got up early,"Gasp", bought the Sunday paper, and searched the ads. Haven't done that in awhile and it was slow going. Most ads didn't list their store hours, so again we went "old school", licked our finger tip, browsed the phone book, and called each store and listened to their pre-taped message. As you can see, we met with success and I managed to publish the article before the drive to the football stadium. Saba Man was dropped off, bento box safely in his backpack, and in time for the national anthem.

Ok, now the bento box part of this post. I did buy a kabocha squash for use with Maki's recipe from her Just Bento site and I am so glad I did. It tastes wonderful and of course perfect for a bento box lunch. My only regret is that I should of picked a larger one. The next kabocha I buy, will be much bigger so I can split the pieces between a couple different recipes, have some for freezing, and for snacking as I pack the lunches. I kept eating the kabocha chunks as it cooled, which really limited the selections.

The other bento box items in the photo are grilled salmon patties, roasted asparagus, soy paper wrapped "rice burritos", takuwan and grape tomatoes. The "rice burritos" are an experiment. There was left over inarizushi rice from yesterday and instead of making more sushi, I just hand rolled the soy wrappers around the rice like a tortilla. They seemed ok and looked like they'd hold up until lunch, but I'll be sure to check with Saba Man and report his feedback. If he remarks "hey,yummy kabocha, but what was the lumpy white stuff?" Then no, they didn't hold up.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Inarizushi Bento Box for the Seahawk Game

In recent posts I've remarked on the signals that the summer was gone and fall was here. The temperature drops along with leaves... and so forth. The least poetic proof of autumn's arrival is of course FOOTBALL, both the NFL and all those college conferences. And each weekend, until late in December, we are either on the Interstate 5 shuttling to and from the stadium, or glued to the television set. I must confess that I'm just the driver and do not personally attend the games. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching the game, just in the comfort of my home. The cold air and I do not get along. Saba Man is both a football and a bento fan so when his backpack contains a snack box full of his favorites, he a very happy Seahawk 12th Man!

The actual box for the game is a reused container; one of many commercial take-out boxes that I refuse to recycle just yet. Coincidental, this box did contain some sort of take-out sushi combo so I'm glad for my decision to stash it. Okay, now Saba Man is very trustworthy and has never lost or damaged an "empty", but given that a crowd of rabid Seahawk fans could care less about a kawaii bento box, let's not risk it. So we'll lighten the load and his responsibility. He can simly drop this "empty" into one of the many recycle bins that Qwest Field provides.
What's in the box?

Tamagoyaki with green onions and a sports event favorite: inarizushi!

This inarizushi is made with hapa rice (mixed brown and white rice). More on this concept later. What I found exciting about this sushi version is a recipe I found on Maki's JustBento site. I love her idea and tried improvising by mixing the hijiki salad that I bought yesterday with the rice. The flavors worked well! Best of all, it saved some time and it looks pretty. By all means, not traditional but hey, it's hapa bento.

hapa rice with hijiki anc carrots

Friday, October 16, 2009

Samosa Bento Box

Today is Diwali, the Festival of Lights and to celebrate another culture, the Halloween decor is taking a short break from the bento box lunches. However, I really don't know how to cook Indian cuisine so decided to go ahead and buy some samosas for both dinner and tomorrow's bento lunches. Samosas work pretty well for bento boxes. Deep fried to a crisp; their thicker shell retains it's crunch a bit longer in a closed box. Come to think of it, I'll have to try packing samosas in a basket type box next time and compare results.

I also browsed my favorite deli counter at PCC Market where I found some yummy hijiki salad. It's a salad that is super easy to make, the recipe is in my head, and it won't take but a few minutes to "throw together". So, off I went wandering through the store to collect all the ingredients. It wasn't until I got to carrot display that I decided I wasn't up to the task. "All that peeling and chopping." Nah, let's skip it. No regrets. Let's just go ahead and purchase the ready-made salad. So after all that, I had to chuckle to myself. Why didn't I buy it at the start, before loading up the cart. Not only did I have to maneuver through a crowded store returning everything to their proper place, but now there's a wait at the deli counter. Of course when I got to the front of the line, I asked for another sample. Just to confirm that I made the right decision.

Happy Diwali Bento Box

Today's bento box features,along with the celebratory samosa and the ready-made hijiki salad, there is renkon, kiwi berries, sweet potato and yokan stars.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Bento Box

Today's bento is packed in a cute little Wonderbread sandwich box; a gift from gamene! A perfect size for a child's lunch or a snack for Saba Man. It's shape, especially the depth is ideal for presenting a variety of food items. In this instance, two halves of a salmon patty,topped with a maple leaf cut egg, and individually wrapped in lettuce. Some corn pudding (recipe in the near future) and a tasty mix of sweet potato and goat cheese. I've been practicing using cutters with some recently purchased maple leaf, oak leaf and acorn shapes: three sizes each! However, I will not get to use the littlest maple leaf shape. It had bigger dreams of living in some trendy cupcake shop and I fear it hid away in the trash and made it's escape. Too bad, for it could of starred in this very tasty and healthy bento!

Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese

Bake 1 pound of sweet potatoes, peel and place in processor. Add about 2 ounces of goat cheese and mix thoroughly. You could leave it at that, but I add a heaping tablespoon of butter, salt and tiny bit of black pepper. Eat it cold or heated.

Salmon and Egg Lettuce Wraps

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not a Bloody Halloween Bento Box

We had torrential downpour this morning and the rest of the day remained chilly with this season's first real soaking. The Pacific Northwest easily releases summer without ever looking back. So along with the gray sky and wind, autumn brings comfort food. Too bad I didn't have time to cook any... so we are settling on pizza! A vegan pizza, as sumptuous and comforting as a vegan pizza can get. Whole wheat crust with pesto, olive, pepper, mushrooms and artichoke hearts. I can't eat enough of it and I struggle to tuck some away for tomorrow's bento snack. Corn pudding, strawberry and an "acorn" fit's in there too. Now, about the carrot pick... I actually stabbed myself in the finger with this horrible instrument of death, disguised as a cute bento pick, as I tried to poke through the last carrot. It drew blood, REAL BLOOD! Ouch. Talk about a Halloween trick! Don't worry, no trip to the ER was necessary. It will be a struggle, but I think I'll survive another day to pack more bento boxes. And before you ask... yes, I did switch out picks, because otherwise would be kind of gross, even if it is a Halloween bento box.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Egg Foo Young Bento Box and Dumb Bento Article

I'm a bit "put off" by an article/review I read today in the Seattle Weekly written by Jonathan Kauffman. Although I think it's great promoting a local eatery, especially if the shop sell bento boxes,but this author is misguided in his generic description of bentoists. I'm not sure where he get's his information as I don't know anyone who packs a bento box to " sit out on the table for a few weeks and gather dust. " What? That's really disgusting Mr. Kauffman, and if you know someone who does that, they have bigger problems then making bento boxes for imaginary kids. Despite your gross exaggeration of homemade bento boxes, I will visit this bento selling establishment as their lunches sound divine. Let's hope that portion of your review is accurate.

End of aside.

Today's featured bento box, contains more Egg Foo Young, stir fried eggplant, grilled "wheat meat" with peppers and for dessert nut bar and
strawberries. It was by special request that I did a repeat on the Egg Foo Young which I totally didn't mind, so quick and easy to make. There are many recipes online and you will find some that call for gravy,which I choose to omit from a bento box. Of course packing the gravy in a separate container would be an option. Enjoy!
Nut Bar Details

Monday, October 12, 2009

Egg Shapers for your Bento Box

Egg molds have been a trial and error thing for me and I've made many a egg salad sandwich with all the failures. After some research and experimentation, I've discovered the rules. The first is to place the egg in the mold while it's still very warm, otherwise it starts to crack. Secondly, coat the inside with a nonstick substance. I like olive oil or butter. Yes, non-stick spray works too, but I don't like the taste and the egg definitely absorbs any flavors. Finally, use a large or extra large eggs depending on the mold. Even large eggs don't fill out the ears in the bear mold and the star mold result is a flower instead. Not so bad, but still... If an extra large egg is too much for your little one, you could cut it in half, wrap the remaining half tightly for the next day or eat it yourself. (I like latter)

Try coating the inside with some flavored butter, like garlic or herbs. Leave the egg in the shaper for a day to allow for full flavor. Yum!

Today's featured bento box contains a first victory over the car mold. Also in this snack are some tomatoes, kiwi berry, sweet potatoes, kamaboko, seaweed salad and simmered mushroom and carrots.

Quick Seaweed Salad: Soak dried wakame in a mixture of dashi, water and mirin. Set aside. Mix together sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and finely chopped roasted garlic for the dressing. (all measurements are too your personal taste) Drain the wakame and toss with the dressing, add toated sesame seeds for garnish. That's it.

Have fun using your egg molds! Beep beep...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Egg Foo Young Bento Box

I broke out the wok for today's featured bento box. Egg Foo Young, Sweet Sour "Pork", and "Beef" Stir Fry. All vegetarian! Fake meat. Instead of pork or beef, I used seitan or some folks call it "wheat meat". These "stir fry" recipes are basic, tried and true, and can be interchanged with any type of protien. Really. The Egg Foo Young is veggie too, with carrots, onions, and bean sprouts. A Halloween pick holds both colors of sliced sweet potatoes. I cannot however, proclaim this a vegetarian bento as there is a small slice of chikuwa holding the carrot bouquet. It was the last piece in the fridge and Saba Man is omniverous so I gave it a home. One regret... I should of used snow peas instead of edamame for garnish, but that's all I had.

Egg Foo Young Bento Box

Too Many Bento Boxes, Not Enough Space

How Many is too Many?
I wish for a bigger kitchen,(don't we all?) Or rather, a "user friendly kitchen"... how about a "bento friendly" kitchen. Yeah, that would work. But bigger would mean more stuff and "more stuff" I already have, in the shape of bento boxes and the "pile of cute Daiso items". A serious addiction to say the least and it's not looking good in the small, outdated kitchen of my home. Please don't judge me, some of the boxes were gifts! It wouldn't be so bad if I was a tad bit more organized, but alas, immediately putting things away is not my strong suite and the ever growing collection of bento boxes are taking over. The before and after photos are of the main cupboard's bottom shelf where dinner plates used to live. I added a riser and a basket to keep it somewhat neater. You will notice I removed all the matching lunch bags. Those are now stored separately. Gosh, I don't need a bigger kitchen... I need an intervention!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

New Bento Box Filler: Kiwi Berry

I think I'm in some sort of "Bento Box Rut". Not is the sense of boredom, it's more of wanting to taste different foods. Pack different items. Variety. This cute little berry is a nice distraction. The package names it "Kiwi Berry". Really? Is there such a thing as a kiwi berry? Are they grown in New Zealand and eaten by kiwi birds? Nope, turns out they are not that exotic. New and mysterious to me I am quite surprised, after an Internet check, that these were grown just south of me in Oregon. In fact, they can be grown right here in Washington! I don't know why I've never seen them before.

The size of a medium to large olive, perfect for filling the nooks and crannies of a bento box lunch. Before I committed, I asked the guy in charge of stacking apples, "What do these taste like?" "They taste just like kiwis", he said with a smile. So I bought some and ate one in the car on the way home. Ummm...No, they don't taste like kiwis, Mr. Produce Man! They taste better than kiwi and have a flavor of their own. Sweet and juicy, with a strange little after taste, similar to the white membrane that sticks to a badly peeled orange slice. I like them, good texture, green and red color. Oh, they do look like kiwis when sliced in half. Into the bento box they go. Packed with the kiwi berries, rice, mushrooms, kouya dofu, sweet potato, pickled ginger and cucumbers.

Magic Round Bento Box Strikes Again

Friday, October 9, 2009

While I was Shopping for New Bento Boxes...

Singapore Noodles with Seafood and Veggies Salt and Pepper Tofu
Moo Shu Veggies Gyoza

I got hungry and stopped in at Fu Lin Ramen shop where I met friends for dinner.

Fu Lin is a Chinese ramen shop. What does that mean? Chinese Ramen. Wasn't ramen brought to Japan from China anyway? Not sure, and it doesn't matter to me, because I'm hapa and I eat mixed-ethnicity foods everyday. So bring on the ambiguous noodles from Japan, served in Seattle by a Chinese cook!

In case there are new readers, there is a disclaimer. I'm vegetarian and have to rely on the presentation and the tastebuds of my very omnivorous friends to support my comments.

With that said, here's what we experienced.

The gyoza— recently made fresh, came with a very simple sauce. Served piping hot and crisp. In fact, when placed on the table I didn't even recognize what it was. Was it fried fish? Nope, it's the gyoza. See the cell phoned, slightly blurry, photo for further description. (why do I keep forgetting my camera?)

Ramen was still in the works. Two of my table mates ordered large steaming bowls of miso broth and sliced fatty pork. The consumers declared it's deliciousness and I believe them. The other a noodle dish was a perfect mix of seafood, Chinese veggies and crispy Singapore noodles. It was a huge mound of food, more than we needed, and if we had known, we would of skipped it. This was a large platter of food, easily enough for 4 people. Beverages included fresh-brewed green tea and water. A lemonade was ordered but there didn't seem to be anything special about it. "Plain old lemonade." Fu Lin also offers some very yummy stir fry including ma po tofu with pork and various fried items that could be found in any typical Chinese restaurant.

Some tantalizing appetizers like salt and pepper chicken or tofu and juicy pork buns are available too. I ordered the moo shu vegetables with 4 pancakes. It satisfied my hunger without risk to my vegetarian diet.

This was the perfect spot for food to go, and I took advantage by ordering some beef chow fun (dry) for Saba Man's bento box. So to the end this long's today's featured bento.

Beef Chow Fun Bento Box

Daiso Bento Boxes

Quick post:

I popped in at the Daiso shop in the International District of downtown Seattle. Their bento box shelves were well stocked. Not like the Alderwood Daiso last month where I believe the back-to-school rush depleted their supplies. See anything you like?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Leftovers Bento Box or Nishime Part 2

I've been fiddling around with my camera since I finally read the instructions last week. my dismay it appears that the bento box pics looked a lot better before I pushed a button here, toggled to another setting there. Voila, I totally messed it up. "If it's not broken, don't fix it" never rang truer than in this situation.

Anyways... back to bento boxes. This box is filled with leftover nishime from a couple days ago. There was plenty of broth in the original batch and so I stretched out the servings by tossing in a few extra items like the pink and white kamaboko. Again, there were many leftover slices from yesterday's sammich bento so I combined. Mixing and matching. Saba Man has requested more protein in his lunches so I obliged with tamagoyaki. I think going forward, his fruit will be carried in a separate sidecar or we'll do it "old school" with a whole apple or banana tucked inside his lunch bag.
Or, I could use a larger bento box for him. Can you imagine me packing his lunch in the baseball game bento box!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kamaboko Sammich Bento Box

The pink, polka dot, basket bento box (tongue twister) is filled with a homemade sandwich...gasp...what? no banh mi? Nope, as much as we love our banh mi there are occasional opportunities to get creative and today I got my sandwich groove on. A baguette smothered with mayo, sliced green beefsteak tomato and kamaboko. Stop making faces. It's good. The kamaboko with it's soft sweetness and the crisp, yet moist, green tomato is a yummy combination. The Kewpie brand mayo alone would be heavenly in this "fresh from the bakery" baguette. You know this bread... crunchy brown on the outside and fluffy goodness inside. This is the bread that smells like you personally baked it yourself.

The bottom tier holds some fruit and a Jack O Lantern cut sweet potato. Shout out and thanks to gamene for the cute pumpkin cutter. And since it's almost Halloween, here's a cute Pekochan lollipop!

Basket bento boxes confuse me. Instinct tells me not to pack bread in the basket but somehow it turn outs okay. I should do some experiments using the basket on other items and share my findings. I'll add that task to my long "bento box to do list".

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Simmered Veggies and Chikuwa Bento Box

The chilly weather has brought on cravings for warm and comfortable home cooking. One of my most vivid kitchen memories of my mom is cooking nishime. Having the responsibility of turning the konnyaku slices into cute little twists was a thrilling sense of accomplishment for me.
There are many nishime recipes online from which you can choose. I don't have a recommendation except try to avoid using too much sugar in the broth. You can opt for a more traditonal stew using Japanese taro and gobo or go with basic root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. It's home cooking so choose your favorites. My nishime, like my mother's, is a little different each time, with various combinations of root vegetables and onions. Sometimes to my disappointment, there's a substitution by using shirataki noodles instead of twisted konnyaku slices. I believe the core of the dish is the broth. The usual dashi, soy sauce and mirin combination is fool proof for bringing out the best flavors of this dish. Again, I usually skip the sugar and rely on carrots to sweeten the dish. My favorite ingredient is the konbu, which by tradition is tied in a tight little knot before placed in the pot. Simply delicious. For a bento box lunch, I recommend packing only the solid pieces unless you use a thermos type box with leak proof seal.

The nishime in this bento box is chikuwa (broiled fish tube) stuffed with carrot, konnyaku twists, turnips, gobo (burdock), potato and mushrooms. I was out of konbu strips for knotting, so I added chopped wakame. It wasn't quite the same but still tasty.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bento Box Close Up

I'm occasionally stumped when attempting to present a pleasing bento. Color is important by far, and for me it's the fun part when designing a bento box. The anticipation after buying purple carrots keeps me motivated for sure. The "not fun part" is texture. I have made plenty of bento boxes that are boring, boring, boring and it's not for lack of color, but lack of texture. By texture I mean both visual and touch. This other "bento dimension" is challenging and it's something I'm learning with each attempt. This photo captures a recent bento box that hopefully showcases texture as well as color. Of course, bento boxes are a personal thing, to each his own, as they say and I support every one's creativity. What do you like or dislike about your bento?

Of course TASTE is a priority for me, but what's your opinion or thoughts with regards for bento design and satisfaction? Are you a super artist that easily whips out cute charaben? (I'm envious of these gifted folks) How about practical, no fuss, no muss bento boxes without the Sanrio character? Do you sketch your bento box design beforehand or are you filling each tier "on the fly"? What combinations of food items or accessories make your bento box complete? Is your major focus about health and nutrition?

This box contains Lettuce Wrapped Salmon. It's made with grilled salmon and sliced cucumbers wrapped in green leaf lettuce. The sauce is a combination of kochujang/mayo/honey/sesame. Any fish or meat can be substituted and romaine lettuce lettuce is awesome for wrapping. It's delicious and BONUS... you don't need utensils to eat it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Goodies from Seattle Deli

It was a very long day so we stopped at our fave Vietnamese take-out place to purchase fillers for tomorrow's bento boxes. Saba Man has BBQ Chicken banh mi with mango and assorted fruits packed in the now familiar pink sandwich bento box. Hehehe... it's the only basket bento box I have, he's used to the cute polka dots ,and his coworkers have stopped asking about it. So there you go. The snack box contains tofu spring roll, miso egg, takuwan, edamame and lotus root cooked with ginger.
To prepare this lotus root, simmer sliced lotus root in water,shoyu, mirin, sliced ginger until the liquid evaporates. Let cool completely then place in the bento box. Eat any pieces that don't fit.

Ballpark Bento

The gigantic picnic bento made it intact to the ballpark and lasted through the day; 9 innings and the traffic jam. We won the game, so the wait to get out of the parking lot was not as irritating. And if you are wondering if I supplemented with peanuts... nope, but I confess that I couldn't resist the famous Safeco Field garlic fries which are smoothered with garlic and herbs. Crazy delicious!

Baseball Bento Box

A bento box for the last Mariner baseball game of the season. It's huge. Plenty to share. I've never packed such a large bento box before and I got scared that I would run out of items. I kept filling and filling. There's so much in there that I'm sure it will last through the entire game and we'll munch on leftovers in the car while waiting to get out of the parking lot after the game. That's the worst part of sporting events I think, especially if we lose. Hopefully having some yummy snacks will tide us over until we can hit the freeway.
Inside this 2 tier box are salmon patties wrapped in lettuce, wasabi stuffed eggs, sauteed tofu with onions and garlic, sweet potatoes, inarizushi and edamame. I'm hoping that the edamame will keep me from buying peanuts. But I doubt it.

Here's how I made the wasabi stuffed eggs. Hard boil some eggs, cut in half, and scoop out the yolks into a separate bowl. (like deviled eggs). Mix the yolks with mayo (I like Kewpie), salt and wasabi paste. The measurements are flexible based on how many eggs are boiled and how much sting is wanted with the wasabi. After thoroughly mixing, refill the egg halves and stick them back together. It won't be exact and they will look a little lumpy, but it's okay because then they are wrapped nori. The nori part is optional but I like the way it tastes. That's it.

Here's a close up of the sweet potato slices with nori details.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Yet Another Caprese Bento Box

I know, I know, I am in deep denial that the season has changed and it's just not because it says so on the calendar. There's fog in the morning, my furnace kicked on unexpectedly and it's the last farmer's market weekend. Brrr... it's autumn, wake up and smell the pumpkin patch!

Ok... I poked around the back of my closest, slipped on last year's Uggs house slippers and preceded to pack a caprese salad bento box. Is it the last insalata caprese of the year? Maybe. But you haven't seen the the last of tomato, mozza and basil. I think there's a pizza margarita bento box somewhere in the near future.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Purple Potato Salad Bento Box

Another fun farmer's market find were these purple potatoes. They have black skin and a very deep purple flesh. How cool is that? Anyway... I am very used to preparing Okinawan Sweet Potatoes, (OSP) for bento boxes; steamed or baked then cut up into cute little shapes. These black beauties however, gave me pause. Hmmm... I could give them the same treatment right? Yes, but only by lending their valuable color to the design. No flavor. They taste like regular 'ole potatoes which I would normally embellish with the usual butter, salt or sour cream. Nope, not in the mood, so I decided to make potato salad. It should work... Right? Uh uh. The result was not visually appealing. Sure, it tastes as expected, like I'm on a picnic, but the purple bled into the mayo and created some weird, lavender colored, mystery salad.
I used it anyway, but covered it with some sliced figs. And after all that... I ended up cutting up the leftover bits into cute shapes anyway. Pass me the butter.

More Mackerel Bento Boxes

When we returned from our trip, I was in desperate need of refilling the pantry and fridge. I made it to the farmer's market and replenished as much as I could but given that the weather is now definitely in the autumn mode, there wasn't much to bring home. I miss summer already. Supporting the local resources is something I enjoy and most of my bento boxes these past months were at least 80 - 90 percent locally grown, made or caught.

This coming weekend is the last of the farmer's market in my area and I'm kinda sad. The organizers announced a couple scheduled fall gatherings and I'm excited to see what the farmers harvest in the colder weather.

Today's bento boxes contain locally grown tomatoes, basil, and potatoes. Alas, I must admit that I do purchase quite a bit of imported items from the Asian grocers as I just don't have the talent or time to prepare some of the bento box items from scratch. And in saying that...I get a little twinge of guilt when I don't shop local. Umeboshi from Japan, dried mushrooms from China, kamaboku from California. I try to be a "green" as possible and shrink my carbon footprint but darn it, I can't make my own nori sheets. Mea culpa.

Today's bento boxes are both filled with broiled mackerel (saba). Unlike other fish, I always purchase saba precooked as I don't like to cook it because of my small house and the very strong saba smell lingers on and on.

Along with the saba, the smaller snack bento box above contains roasted eggplant, brown rice, takuwan, tomatoes, broccoli, string beans and takuwan. The large bento box is holding on to the last remnants of summer with insalata caprese in one section. The other section, along with the saba is brown rice, renkon, yam, and berries.

Happy Saba Bento Box

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Photos from my Nanaimo Bar Quest

Not a "bento post" but if you are interested in viewing some snaps from my recent Nanaimo Bar Quest. You can see them here.

Back to Bento

Maple Wine Smoked Salmon Bento

Wow, it seems like forever since I packed Saba Man's bento lunch boxes. His first day back to work today so I provided lot's of healthy Omega 3. Salmon and mackerel are accompanying him to the office so if any of his co-workers are reading this; you've had fair warning. Actually, his hours are a little off of "normal" so there's usually no one there to complain about any food smells. He can he eat in solitude... it's his quiet time.

Along with fish, the bento boxes contain brown rice for extra energy. I know, I know... previous posts have said that we are cutting back on carbs; however the open bags of rice won't keep much longer and I don't want to waste. "That's my story and I'm sticking to it".

Broiled Saba Bento Box

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bento Box Shopping Shout Out! UPDATED

I've been checking out the bento box supplies in my neighborhood and noticed that the Asian markets are starting to carry more than just Lock & Lock boxes. I found this exact bento box style at H-Mart in Lynnwood, WA. They had some other cute boxes too and again, I had to control myself to not bring home any more boxes.

What kind of boxes have you discovered and where? Bento lunches are quickly catching on and if your stores are carrying bento boxes and supplies, add it on to the comments. Update: I've added this post to "Top Topics" on the left side of the page. Let's keep adding on to the comments as you encounter local bento box resources.
Teriyaki Garden Burgers

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Bento Box Contest Winner is Gamene

Congratulations Gamene, you are the winner of the 1st hapa bento contest! Thanks to everyone, all your bento entries were inspiring and I had fun leaving hints and clues here and there across the internet. I will definately hold another contest again.

Here's a link to one of the many entries that Gamene submitted.

Bento Box Contest Entries

The bento box contest is over and the entries have been collected. Again, I'm so glad that the winner is being selected randomly because there is no way I or any judge could decide the best one. They were all so wonderful and as I was reading and collecting all the emails I couldn't help but get excited for the next contest... but I digress! The winner has been selected and will be announced soon.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nanaimo Bar Quest is Over- UPDATED

First Taste
It's with great happiness and sorrow that my Nanaimo Bar quest has come to it's end. The happy part is obvious... the sorrow? That part is harder to describe. Am I sad because finding my Nanaimo Bar meant I was near the conclusion of my holiday? Maybe. Is it some sort of "post dessert disorder"? Most likely. I am proud to say that I kept to only one Nanaimo Bar but must confess that I ate some serious desserts and will post the photo evidence after announcing the bento box contest winner tomorrow. Until then, I present to you my first Nanaimo Bar.
Updated to add that this photo was accepted on Foodgawker. And Tastestopping.