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.