Sunday, September 9, 2012

Baking Fix on a Diet

Derpy Hooves would approve.

Still chipping away at the pounds. I've only lost around 4lbs officially, but my pants are already 3-4 inches loose around the waist. Also, I've been kind of bad during THAT TIME, so it's time to get back on track.

These are some Lowfat Pumpkin Spice Muffins from I followed the recipe pretty much to the T since this is my first time trying it, but I did omit the brown sugar for Splenda Brown Sugar Baking Mix. Just half the amount you would use for the recipe, and you knock off 20 calories a muffin. I also didn't spray the cup liners. It made for a stickier paper, so if you can find a good low calorie alternative, go for it and post below. 

I've been craving pumpkin since Starbucks started carrying Pumpkin Spice Lattes again. While I can ask for nonfat on the milk and knock a tall into 200 calories, I can't get them to pick calories out of their baked goods. So, did these hold up my autumnal expectations? They sure did. Applesauce and yogurt keep these moist without the grease, so I can munch on these for a paltry 140 calories. If I'm desperate for some fat, that's plenty of room for a smear of butter or a dollop of cream cheese frosting. Next time I make these, I think I'll add some walnuts and fresh, grated ginger to round out the flavors.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A 200 Calorie Bento

Turkey Sandwich and Red Pepper Broccoli

I've been pretty successfully dieting for a few weeks, now, but the pounds take forever to melt off these days. Still, I'm feeling healthier than I have in a while, and the calorie crunch has got me thinking creatively.

One of the key rules I've been observing is to munch a little throughout the day. Six mini meals supposedly kick start your metabolism and keep you losing more than three regulars. Unfortunately, it's kind of a pain to come up with something other than diet shakes and dried out, sugary snacks that fit under the bar. Finally, I had enough, but I didn't want to ruin my good streak.

Enter the 200 calorie bento.

This one's pretty simple. A turkey sandwich on 12 grain bread and Red Pepper Broccoli are the stars of this show. The 12 grain bread is definitely negotiable. A lot of multi-grain and whole wheat breads can pack in sugar to compensate for the drier texture, so read your labels carefully. This one is pretty hefty, clocking in at 120 calories on its own, but the veggies and low fat turkey meat help balance it out. I have a small smear of deli mustard and some Boston lettuce.

Red Pepper Broccoli is becoming a staple in my lunches lately. A few sprinkles of red pepper and some lemon juice while boiling add a kick to the trees without any added calories. If you want to do a speedy bento version, just fill a bowl with water, mix in 1 tsp red pepper flakes, garlic, and lemon juice with salt and pepper to taste. Cut up fresh broccoli florets and add them to the spice water. Microwave or boil for 4 minutes. After draining, shock the florets in ice water to keep that green color. Dry the veggies thoroughly before putting them in the box with the sandwich.

I'm going to try to keep these up as I go to school, so cheer me on in the comments.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bento Safe Sushi

Salmon Sushi Rolls and Kipper Nigiri

I have to start keeping track of updating this thing. Without a lot of readers, there's no incentive. :/ Still, it's a good exercise for writing and nutrition.

Sushi rolls are a guilty pleasure of mine. Even if I could never have a bite of anything else, I would still love these things. It's just tough to find sushi grade fish out here in the desert. Go figure. Worse, I couldn't pack fresh Nigiri for fear the fish would spoil. I found a great alternative in canned fish.

Although high in sodium, canned fishes like salmon and herring have loads of Omega-3 fatty acids. If you haven't heard of this miracle oil, start reading up. The fat helps cardiovascular health, inflammation, and many suspect developmental disorders and cognitive strengthening properties. (You can overdo it, though, so limit yourself to way less than 3 grams.)

Try this recipe for some at home or on the go fishy pleasure. Overall, this was a 400 calorie little box including the rest of the tin of kippers. (I like kippers, but they are VERY fishy. Be sure to pack your box with a dryer sheet in the bag so the smell doesn't bug others.)

Salmon Sushi Rolls:
-1 4-6oz canned salmon without bones or skin, drained
-2 tbs mayonnaise (with preservatives)
-1 cup sushi rice
-2 pieces nori sheets
*Optional: Cucumber strips, avocado, carrot strips, cream cheese, sesame seeds

1. Drain the salmon (or tuna) and mix in a bowl with the mayo.
2. Prepare the sushi rice. (1 cup glutinous white rice such as Calrose, 2 tbs rice vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp salt. For lower cal and sodium, don't use the sugar and salt.)
3. On a sushi mat or gallon-sized plastic storage bag, lay out the nori and press half the sushi rice in a neat square over the seaweed in an even layer.
4. Line half the filling evenly about half an inch from the border of rice. (Line other fillings, too.)
5. Roll and press the rice together as you turn the mat. This will get easier with practice; just be sure you're pressing enough to push air pockets out.
6. When the roll is tightly packed, take a very sharp kitchen knife such as a butcher or Santoku and slice the roll in half with one gentle stroke. Line the two pieces up and continue to slice in half until you have eight pieces.
7. Sprinkle the roll with sesame seeds and repeat with the next roll. Be sure to clean the knife thoroughly to avoid sticking and tearing.

A lot of sushi preparation is just practice. You will get lots of ugly rolls, and the filling may slide around or leak out. Don't worry, you'll get it in time. Even a completely torn and collapsed roll can be pressed back into shape. Just be sure you get all the water out of the can or the oil will deteriorate the rice's stickiness. For Nigiri, take two tablespoons of sushi rice and pack it into the hollow of your palm until you get a neat egg-shape. I used canned kippers and gently slid out a fillet for the tops. You can use any sort of canned fish or shell fish. I was just trying this recipe out, so no garnishes, but you could pack the rest of the box in broccoli, pickled ginger (a classic sushi side!), or any combination of low-sodium veggies. I might do a real sushi recipe at some point, so stay tuned.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy Belated Birthday, Julia Child

So, yesterday was Julia Child's 100th birthday. She was a giant of a woman in personality and talent, paving the way for French technique in a spray cheese and Spam postwar America. I personally think she saved us all from bland casseroles for the rest of our days and made foreign food appealing and easy. The above was mixed by PBS from her shows and set to autotune. Happy centennial, Julia. You are missed.
At 6'2", she had 38" counters that still fell short.

I'll be back with a Japanese breakfast after the weekend.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Been Awhile

 Chicken Kijiyaki, Tamagoyaki (not shown), Steamed Broccoli, and Rice.

Sorry for the late post, but between the Manbearpig's birthday and a generally busy summer, I've been swamped. I kept cooking, but I really don't as much as I do during school. There were a few stars. I'll post up the food porn for now and get to recipes later this week. :3 Enjoy and tell your friends the Bento Buddy is back.

Those sharp of eye may notice that the hubby's box is back in that top photo. No, it's not an old shot. We went to San Francisco as a weekend anniversary getaway. Lo and behold, a Japan Town dollar (sort of) store had the exact same box, chopsticks and all, for $5. We scooped up the box and got a few veggie cutters, sauce bottles, and a chopstick case for myself. With treats and all, we didn't spend $20. Pretty sweet deal. Best of all, he doesn't have to use mine anymore. The boxes on Amazon can still be a good deal if you don't live near a specialty store like that, though.

This is a meat pie bento I made for the hubby before we got the newbie. Flaky, butter and shortening crust and a little beef and onion filling make this seem like a fatty treat, but you really only use a couple tablespoonfuls between the pies, and fitting them in the boxes means making them small. It's a good sometimes treat for when he has to work late, and I pad the rest of the box with veggies only. Best of all, the pies keep well. Make a bunch and freeze them for a quick and easy bento on the run.

I was feeling Moroccan for a week. These are Moroccan meatballs, mini Roti, Cucumber Raiti, and Cilantro Rice. The meatballs were little more than ground beef, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, poppy seeds, and cilantro, and the cucumber salad was fat free Greek yogurt and dill. Roti are an Indian flat bread. I make these on occasion as a cheap and easy snack or to sit with a bowl of curry. It's just two parts flour to one part water, a sprinkle of salt and oil, and cook it on a dry skillet. The bread couldn't be easier, but they impress.

When Danny saw Dad's excitement over his new box, he insisted I pull out his Star Wars tin lunchbox and fill it for him one day. A peanut butter and jelly Tie Fighter, carrots, vanilla cookies, and some sliced apples were the perfect appeasement and took no effort on my part. I've learned how to carve apples in the traditional rabbit and checker styles since I took up bentos, but I made the mistake of spoiling the Manbearpig with them. Now, he insists I cut every apple the same way for him.
Here's a quick treat and a recipe: Bubble Tea. This has become extremely popular lately and can even be found around our town. Large tapioca pearls sit at the bottom of milky drinks and are slurped up with special, wide straws. I'll give two recipes for making the pearls and tea, but you can pair the bubbles with any cold drink for a fun, summer sweet.

1/2 cup large tapioca pearls (or flavored gelatin cut into small cubes)
5 bags chai or black tea
1 quart boiled water
1 tbs sugar
1 pint milk
-Prepare the tapioca as directed, drain and stir in the sugar.
-Steep tea bags in water in a bowl for 5 minutes, removing bags after.
-Add the milk to the tea and refrigerate in a serving jug until cool.
-In a glass, pour 2-4 tbs of the tapioca pearls or gelatin and fill the remainder of the glass with the milk tea. Add sugar if desired.

I love Bubble Tea, and finding these rainbow pearls on the trip was a major bonus. Even Danny enjoys the drink, but be careful to watch small children with these. I keep the sugar low in my milk tea, but many Japanese recipes call for a syrup of the stuff added to a much thicker milk concentration. The pearls create a similar consistency when you add the sugar, so I suggest adding extra at that stage. Play with it how you like.

Finally, Popovers! Okay, they're not Japanese nor particularly bento friendly. I just like them as an homage to traditional American baking and have made these to accompany a few meals lately. The ones in the corner are bleu cheese with the foreground being plain. They're light and buttery, but I'm starting to look a little like that puffed over muffin top. x.x Hope you enjoyed catching up. I'll post recipes soon enough.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


Busy week, and I think I'm catching a cold. When that happens, I like a lot of Indian curries. There's something comforting about a big bowl of stewed, spicy food on rice.

This was a Turkey Kofta Curry that I piled on jasmine rice. Koftas are meatballs of finely ground lamb, beef, or chicken. I used ground turkey and piled the meat high with poppy seeds, pureed onion, coriander, ginger, and garam masala. The sauce was a mix of nonfat, plain yogurt and tomato paste with more garam masala and topped with fresh cilantro leaves. When you have a creamy or tomato curry like this, use jasmine rice. It smells wonderful and goes with the sauce so well, I don't mind when the meatballs are gone.

The photo's kind of screwy because I barely snapped this before Bobbers and I gobbled it up.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Sad, sad news. 

Bob has lost his bento box. We think it might have been the janitorial staff at his work, but how someone could have confused his nice box with Tupperware is beyond me. The black beauty had its run, though, and lasted over a year in spite of bumps and a broken hinge. Other than that, it was very sturdy and didn't get ratty like most plastics. For now, Bobbers will be toting disposables, but we'll get him a new one soon enough.

Tomorrow's meal will be mini quiches, smoked turkey octodogs, and apple bunnies. I love eggs. They're something of a super food in my mind because they can be anything you want and give you protein for minimal calories. I know some people harp on the "cholesterol" tangent, but eggs contain a good cholesterol that actually helps clear away the plaque kind that builds up in the arteries. Besides, anything in moderation is fair enough, and these puffy, spinach-packed bites are just that. The hot dogs were a surprising treat because cooking them filled the kitchen with a pleasant smokey smell, and the turkey meat means less fuss over fats. Normally, I don't pack a box with mostly proteins, but these two were healthy enough in their small doses.

Another staple of the bento box, the apple bunnies make their appearance here. I'll have to do these as my next tutorial, but for now, shiny red apples and a fruit paring knife will easily get you started in fruit carving for the boxes. Most people will carve out the ears and dip them in ice water so they stand up, but a quick triangle cut shallowly into the skin gets you the same look with little effort. I'll even carve these out for the Manbearpig when we're at home. You can also try cutting into veggies to get finicky eaters interested in the treats. For the boxes, just a splash of lemon juice and water will keep these fresh.

Happy cooking!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Curry Noodles and a Bobbers Cocktail

It happened again. Sorry about the delay in posting. I don't know what's going on with my camera (or just the memory card), but I lost a couple of meals and the pictures are mixed up. I'll try out a different card and see if that helps. To catch up on the two that I have, one is a bento, and the other is a cocktail creation from the Hubby, Bobbers.

Curry Udon Noodles was a treat we tried when we went to San Francisco's Japanese district. I love wandering around there and finding hidden shops, so when we stumbled into one restaurant that was literally a door hidden in the corner, we were thrilled with what we found. I can't remember what it was called as the sign was in Japanese. (Still trying to learn, but unsuccessfully.) What I do remember is that we all had a wonderful meal with a very friendly staff. I had a donburi with eel (basically, a rice bowl), but Bobbers chose the special of the day: Curry Udon. As much as I loved my eel, I couldn't help but eyeball his pile of curry and noodles and vowed to try it myself someday.

It's been a couple of years, now, but Japanese curry is one of those stick-to-your-ribs meals that you just don't forget. You can make this either of two ways: store-bought roux paste or make it yourself. The first is how I grew up with the curry. I recommend Golden Curry as it comes in a variety of heats and colors and you can break up as much of the bars as you need and reserve the rest for another time. I ended up making this from scratch, but the flavors are almost identical.

Chicken Curry Udon:
1 small russet potato, sliced thin
1 carrot sliced thin
1/2 small onion chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock, plus 1/2 cup
1 chicken breast, large, chopped into 1" cubes
2-3 tbs flour
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 package udon noodles prepared as directed
green onion for garnish

1. Slice up the veggies and heat a small pot with 2 tbs olive oil.
2. Cook the chicken cubes for 5 minutes on medium high heat and remove to a bowl.
3. Add the onions and sautee for 3 minutes.
4. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for 5 more minutes before adding the chicken again.
5. Aside, mix the flour and spices in a small bowl or dish and add a little of the chicken stock very slowly, stirring until a thick past emerges with no lumps.
6. Stir the remaining stock into the veggies and chicken and add the roux in a little at a time, eying the thickness. The sauce should be runny at this stage.
7. Cover and reduce the heat to low, simmering for 15 minutes.
8. When curry reaches desired consistency, serve over the udon noodles with green onions sprinkled on top. Serves 2-4.

For experienced curry munchers, you may notice that this recipe is a little on the mild side. Japanese curry is supposed to have a smooth, creamy, and almost-gravy taste to it. You can kick up the spice a bit or mix around the ingredients; I don't even follow the recipe when I'm making it. I just smell what I like that day and adjust the flavor accordingly.

Belated St. Paddy's Day Treat Courtesy of the Bobbers:
This is a Key Lime Pie Martini that the Hubby concocted with Smirnoff Whipped Cream Vodka and Ke-Ke Beach Key Lime Liquor. He rimmed it in graham cracker crumbs and a lime, topping it with whipped cream and a cherry. I usually don't like alcoholic drinks. I taste the alcohol right away, and it's just not my thing, but this was fabulous. Every sip was a perfect balance of the flavors, and the alcohol didn't stick out at all. I liked it so much, I went back for a rare second. I'll have to get the exact measurements from him at some point, but I thought this was a cheerful alternative to the soupy, dyed green beer on St. Paddy's.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sorry I've been missing out on updates. I mostly just got busy last week, but I'm caught up and even ahead a little. Above is a Miso-Marinated Chicken with broccoli, blueberries and strawberries. This one was for last Thursday and was very tasty. I should have marinated the chicken overnight and cooked it in the morning, but otherwise, it was perfect. I've been trying to branch out into different recipes, but mostly, my range is Japanese food in these little boxes.

Remember the Onigiri (Rice Balls) I promised? Here they are:

There are hundreds of ways to make these, but the basic recipe is short grain rice pressed and molded by hand with a little sea salt brushed over your palms. This triangle shape is the most traditional, but people make them in all shapes and sizes. You can even stuff them with a variety of fillings from Umeboshi plums to dried, salted salmon. Just make sure that what you're filling them with isn't greasy or the oil will make the grains soggy and split up the Onigiri. I decided to munch on just a few of these with some soy beans (they were frozen, but by lunch time, they thaw and are perfect for snacking) and more strawberries and blueberries. I seldom put sweets in the boxes, but when I do, it's always fruit. Fruits can still be high in carbohydrates, so count them as part of the carb portion of your box, and you're safe. Preserving the cuts until meal time is really easy, too. Most people try a salt water dip, but I don't like adding too much sodium to something already sugary. I sprinkle my fruit with lemon juice, and it keeps its color and shape. If you're really worried about it, keep a small ice pack handy.

And the last two! (What an update, right?)

The top is Teriyaki Salmon with ginger-glazed carrots and Tamagoyaki. Bob loves teriyaki, so I confess that I make this one a lot. Up to once a week. It's a basic, easy meal that can be churned out in fifteen minutes if you have the rice already. Good teriyaki sauce can come in a variety of flavors at your local grocery store if you want to save even more time. Otherwise, I use a simple mixture of one clove minced garlic, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and a sprinkle of grated ginger. When the fish is done, take it out to cool and throw in the carrots in the remaining sauce with a little honey and a sprinkle more ginger.

The bottom photo is today's concoction and catches us up from my camera. Salt Salmon, Octo/Fish Dogs, and Tamagoyaki. This is a really Japanese mix. Salt Salmon is fish (skin on) that has been cured in sea salt for the last three days. The end result can be VERY strong and fishy, but it's perfect for mashing up in the rice and is a great flavor once you get in to it. You can also try it with whole mackerel and grill it for an irresistible taste. The hot dogs are cut up like an octopus and fishes. I don't know why this is a thing in Japan, but it's so cute, I'm not objecting. It might have something to do with octopus being a popular food. In either case, these were cooked up in the pan and tossed in, too.

I'll try to be more punctual in the future, but here they are. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


It's the Manbearpig!

He's seriously sweet, and one of the best feelings is watching him gobble up something healthy I made for him. After dinner tonight, he wanted some Nori (dried, seasoned seaweed) for a snack. I came back, and he was trying to make the big sheet into a mustache, so I helped him out a tad.

Nori is one of those amazing foods that takes a little getting used to. Growing up with a Japanese grandmother, I've loved the green sheets forever. Usually, I'll just have a bowl of rice and a few of these and I'm good. It has a spinach-like taste with a bit of salt and soy sauce. The texture can range from the brittle dry sheets to the rubbery fresh stuff when it's moist. Mostly, it's used almost like a seasoning. Shredded over soba noodles and in Tamagoyaki, or eaten on its own as a treat. Some people don't like seaweed, but stick with it and you'll find it's the perfect complement to everyday eggs and grains. Nori is particularly amazing when you wrap it around Onigiri, rice balls. Tomorrow's bento is going to be an assortment of rice balls, so I'll post that later. Just thought the Manbearpig was worth a giggle.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Catching Up

Sorry about not catching up in the last couple of days. Had a test in ASL, so most of the week was spent studying. It's an interesting and fun language to learn, but if you're not practicing daily, it's easy to lose track of the signs.

That said, I'm on the net book, so I can't get my photos on here. I'll try to edit those in soon. As a peace offering, here's a lovely recipe inspired by The blogger on that site inspired me to get into the mini meals, and she has a phenomenal book out. If I forget to list one of her recipes, I'll shove as many customers as I can through her door to grab a copy of The Just Bento Cookbook. It's a great inspiration. On her site, she showed a few pictures of some store bought sandwiches called Katsu Sando, and the Bobbers liked the idea, so I made my own version below.

Katsu Sando
This is a crispy, breadcrumb-coated pork cutlet in sandwich form. The usual form is called Tonkatsu and is popular in a lot of Japanese restaurants. This version is convenient. :3 I also include the popular Katsu sauce if you don't have it in the grocery store.

1 pork cutlet thinly sliced and boneless
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
2 tbs water
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs or regular
Canola oil

1. Pour the canola oil in a deep pan until the oil covers 1" of the base and heat on medium high.
2. Wrap the cutlet in plastic wrap and flatten with a rolling pin, pounding until the piece is 1/4" thick.
3. Mix the flour, salt and pepper, and paprika and dredge the cutlet in the flour.
4. Whisk the egg and water and coat the cutlet in the egg mixture.
5. Press the cutlet into the Panko crumbs until it is well coated.
6. Cook in the heated oil, flipping once, for 6 minutes.
7. Remove cutlet to paper towel-lined plate and pat dry the excess oil.

Katsu Sauce: (This is amazing with chicken nuggets, too.)
2 tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs ketchup
1/4 tsp soy sauce
dash of pepper to taste

1. Mix all the sauce ingredients together and taste.

When both the sauce and the Tonkatsu are ready, prepare your bread and some lettuce. (Traditionally, shredded cabbage is used instead of lettuce, but we've had too much of it lately.) Line the lettuce on one side of the sandwich and drizzle the Katsu sauce and a dab of mayonnaise. (In one of my rare cases, I prefer mayonnaise with the preservatives if I'm not going to have access to a fridge, or you could abstain altogether. If a recipe does call for mayo, though, make sure you can keep the dish cool or go with the preservatives. It's always better safe than sorry.) Top with the cutlet and bread, slice and serve.

I don't usually like pork at all. We'll maybe have it once or twice a year. Tonkatsu, though, wins me over because it's just such a quintessential Japanese treat. The pork is cheap, too, so I froze the rest of the cutlets to use in later Bentos. You can have this donburi-style, which means on rice with veggies, or even with mashed potatoes. The sandwich is a great midday pick-me-up, though, and it's convenient. Try this with chicken or fish sometime.

 Here's one of Bob's lunches: a chili cheese omelet. He said it was yummy, and all it took was a few leftovers in the fridge.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Bento

Valentine's Day is tomorrow in case you don't own a calendar. I tend to like this holiday as an excuse to dote on Bobbers, but on the receiving end, I'm usually oblivious to it. This year, though, Bob got me my really nice Android phone, and I haven't been able to stop playing with it. Good score.

Last year, I made him a steamed lobster tail bento. It's not something I would recommend unless you have access to a refrigerator and a microwave to keep it safe. Seafood is usually a big no-no when it comes to bentos, but there are a few safe recipes. Tomorrow's is a great example.

This year, I made a crab meat and cabbage slaw, inari zushi pockets, and a hard-boiled egg. Bob got another lobster this year...kind of. This little guy is made of roma tomatoes, red bell peppers, and mozzarella cheese. I sat him on a bed of salad and splashed some balsamic vinegar dressing over him. I recommend packaging dressings for salad separately because it can really make your lettuce soggy and unappetizing, but the lobster is the feature here, and soaking in a little dressing will make him tasty tomorrow.

The crab salad is one of those safe recipes for bentos. I used imitation crab, but you can also use canned crab. Both of these won't spoil as quickly as fresh crab meat. Just keep in mind that you might want to half the sugar if you use imitation as the meat is really sweet.

Crab and Cabbage Slaw: (makes 4 servings)

2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup shredded canned or imitation crab
2 tsp salt
2 tbs rice vinegar
1-2 tsp sugar
ground pepper and black sesame seeds to taste

1. Massage the salt into the cabbage until it wilts and pat dry with a paper towel.
2. Add the vinegar and sugar, mixing vigorously.
3. Mix in the crab meat and sprinkle with pepper.
4. Serve with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

The inari pockets you can get canned at a grocery store or Asian market. If you can't find them there, try online. They're one of the few items that you can order fairly cheap, and they last a little while. Just drain the can and blot out the pockets. I stuffed these with sushi rice (rice with a little vinegar, sugar, and salt), but you can fill them with rice and other treats like tuna, salmon, furikake, egg soboro, veggies, etc.

Happy V-Day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tapping the Pantry

Thursday's meal was a tuna, egg, and spinach soboro. Soboro is kind of like a casserole. You take some basic flavors, mince them, and serve on top of rice. It's very yummy, satisfying, and you can make it quickly with pretty much anything you have on hand.

I think I'll update every other day instead of each day. School really took its toll this week, and I'm not even into midterms and finals. The classes are fun, I just get busy quickly.

Today's topic is the pantry. We keep a lot of potential meals in there but forget about them. How often do you dread taking something new home because you're out of space? Well, something's taking up the space in there, right? Soboro is a perfect way to thin out the extra tuna, chicken or corn cans in there, and you'll end up with a tasty mix.

I had some tuna in there this week, so I pulled out the can, popped it open and threw it in the skillet. All it took was a tablespoon of soy sauce, some green onions that I keep chopped in the freezer, and a little ground ginger. The middle flavor is a single egg soboro. The recipe is almost identical to the Tamagoyaki feature but minus the vinegar and reduced to a third of the portions. Scramble the egg mixture and mince with a fork while it cooks to get the little granules you see above. The sweet egg and slightly salty fish mix wonderfully in the rice. Finally, the spinach was a bit of the frozen kind that I keep as a side. I cooked it in the microwave with two tablespoons of water and added a little dash of soy sauce and a half clove of minced garlic, spooning the rest of the soy water over the rice bed to keep it moist.

It really is that easy, and clean up was a breeze. You can exchange the tuna for canned chicken, chicken breast (as long as you mince it finely), ground beef, ground turkey, or anything really. I've seen recipes that used canned or fresh green beans, corn, and julienne carrots. Just make sure that the pieces are minced fine so you can work them through the rice and mix the flavors. Soboro can also use noodles instead of rice, if you want a change of pace and to get rid of the extra noodles.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bento Shuffle

Sorry about missing an update the other day. I tried with my Android, but because I didn't have good reception on campus, I couldn't get the photos in. Oh well.

Yesterday's was a black bean burger, mozarella cheese, onigiri, and new potato fries box. It's really simple food, but what I wanted to show was how one of these boxes fair after a day of running around before you tuck in at noon. I've been taking the bus to the campus on Tuesdays to save a little driving for the hubby, so I'll admit that I kind of slide around and abuse the boxes a little more than someone gingerly carting theirs to and fro. That's alright, though. A well-packed box will have minimal damage. I used the extra spaces in the box to fill it out with broccoli. I can't tell you how I've converted to the little trees through Bentos; they are amazingly versatile and healthy. By lunch, mine went from the above to this:

Not horrible, but it's not perfect like the first, and you can tell the potatoes went soggy. Admittedly, I made this the night before, so the fridge can take a toll on the food. You can see why picking like flavors is a must, too. Even tightly packed, you're going to have them sliding into each other, so they better taste good together. The biggest thing I should have paid attention to was this:

That's condensation on the lid. I didn't pay it much mind the night before because this was going into the fridge for the night, but if you're making your box fresh, the moisture will really sabotage your food. As an added caution, moisture allows bacteria to grow at the warm temperature of the box, so by noon, you could have something awful-looking and dangerous on your hands. Make sure to give yourself time to cool the box before you close it, and you'll get something more like the first photo. Popping the box in the freezer for a few minutes will help draw out the moisture, but don't leave it too long in there. Rice gets dry really quickly. For best results, let your box sit out on the counter for about twenty minutes while you finish your morning ritual.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Lesson One: What You Need and Rolled Omelets

 That's a box I made for my sister's birthday last year. Salt Salmon, Onigiri rice ball, inari zushi, broccoli and a grape tomato. You can't get simpler with comfort food like this.

So, the main aim of this blog is to start being consistent with making the mini-meals, but I also like to teach a little. (It's the bossy side of me.) I'll be peppering the weeks with tutorials like this one, but I'm not set on a specific day of the week for the lessons. They will just pop up when they do. That said, I'm not pretending this is the definitive guide to bentos. There are tons of sites with interesting pictures and lessons. I'm just showcasing easy methods for items that seem intimidating for a new cook or someone new to Japanese home cooking. Today's will be a feature of getting started in the kitchen and one of the bento staples: the rolled omelet.

A lot of sites are loaded with tasty items that are common Japanese fare, but living in the States in the middle of Nevada, I have a hard time finding half of the "staples." There are a lot of Asian supermarkets that offer some of the seasonings, but you have to know your way around a wok to use them right. Below is a photo of every Japanese item I can come by in a normal grocery store here.

It's not much, but as I grew comfortable with cooking, it made more sense to keep easy staples like these than extensive collections of items that I may use once or twice. I like umeboshi plums, but for someone who doesn't know where to find them, a splash of lemon juice and ginger have the exact same preservation qualities and won't break the bank. In the photo: Calrose rice, white sesame seeds, soy sauce, rice vinegar, black sesame seeds, seaweed (nori), Memmi sauce (a soup base), Inari pockets, and a packet of green tea. These days, we have online access to a lot of foods and spices, but usually, these are expensive and you have to pay shipping. I hear that there are a few decent Asian grocery stores in town, so those might be future field trips. ^.-

Cookware is sort of the same. I have a few fancy cutters, but I rarely cart them out. You can get away with nothing more than a good fruit-paring knife. Here are my tools below.

I have two boxes because I recently started going to school on campus, so the snap-on lid and carry tote were a must, but I've pointed out that tupperware makes just as attractive of a bento box. In all honesty, the most useful item that you might not find is that little plastic colander in the back (light blue). I don't know where my Obaasan (grandmother) got it, but it's excellent for cleaning the rice and veggies. You can make do with a regular colander and bowl, but I love that little thing irrationally.

So, that's pretty much all you need to have a stocked bento kitchen. Not too bad, but before you run out to buy everything, think over some key ideas: What are you making, and what do you need? Usually, it's fun to stock up on stuff, but some of my cutters and the two egg presses (they shape hard boiled eggs into a car or fish) are rarely used. They're fun sometimes things, but using them all the time would wear me down quickly.

 Today's box for Bob had to be packed in mine. He left his again.

Teriyaki salmon, Tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), sliced red bell peppers, broccoli and soy bean stir fry, and white rice.

Rolled Omelet or Tamagoyaki is a classic bento food. The egg mixture is slightly sweet and makes for a great added protein without a lot of fat. You'll be wanting to throw this into almost any box, and even alone on a bed of rice, it's a good meal.

3 eggs
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tbs soy sauce
1/2 tbs rice vinegar
*Optional Add: Green onions, diced bell peppers, Furikake, salmon flakes, shredded cabbage (Mine has green onions today)
1. Beat the ingredients together until the egg mixture is bright yellow but not bubbly.
2. Heat frying pan on medium high and lightly coat with oil, mopping up excess with a paper towel. Reserve the paper towel and oil to wipe between layers.

3. Pour 1/4 egg mixture into the pan and allow to bubble before rolling with spatula.
4. Wipe down pan with paper towel and oil, cleaning the bits.

5. Pour a thin layer of the egg mixture and wait for a thin skin to form over the top or the mixture to bubble.
6. Very carefully, roll the mass of the first layer through the new, lifting gently and allowing the layer to cook to the mass before completing the roll.

7. Repeat steps 4-6 until the egg mixture is rolled up. Remove to a plate to cool.
There you go. Tamagoyaki. Just slice it and serve. Usually, you need a rectangular pan for tamagoyaki, but you can get away with a regular pan with practice. Try it out today. :3

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Welcome to Bento Buddy!

Hi and welcome to my first bento blog.

To begin with, I'll introduce myself. I'm a college student working toward an Associate of Arts right now, but I definitely plan to extend my education into nursing and eventually into Psychology. My husband works at Costco to keep us happy, so packing his lunches are a fun way to show gratitude while I polish off the degree. Our son, Danny, is a funny little guy with a few quirks. He has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and he is an incredibly loving little guy eager to try new things.

I started making bentos as a way to cut food costs. The initial investments seem surprising, but after even just a few meals, you'll start to see the value. Most of all, I try to aim for items that are in season or available for cheap. I also make bentos on days that I'm at home because eating the smaller meal and looking forward to it cuts down the snacking. I've lost about twenty pounds since I started doing this last year, and more importantly, my food choices have shifted to healthier options. I hope to shed more this year by being more consistent. (Moving and balancing a busy school schedule sabotaged the efforts last year, but overall, I was still enjoying the shift.)

I'll be offering recipes and ideas for packing the mini meals, but remember that these can be altered to fit your dietary needs. A general rule of thumb for traditional bentos is: 1/3-1/2 carbohydrates (such as rice or other grains), 1/4 protein, and 1/4+ vegetables. Most bento boxes that you can find on are measured in mL. As long as you're packing the boxes with those specifications, you'll be taking in as many calories as mLs, so choose a box that will accommodate your diet. Some will seem small, like 550-800 mL, but the rice and veggies will be filling enough that you won't miss the extras. The key is to find foods that offer nutrients for few calories, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a tasty treat!

The three pictures above show a few examples of bento boxes. The top is a oval-shaped double tier (the second half was filled with white rice and sesame seeds). It's a nice little box that you can pick off Amazon in a variety of patterns for under $20. It's machine washable and comes with an inner lid for the smaller portion, but it's not water-tight. Most meals will be cooled and dry before you pack them as moisture can breed bacteria, so the water-tightness isn't a massive concern. This is the box I use at home for myself. It's small but very filling.

The bottom box is another two-tier. This is an example of a "men's bento" because it's unadorned with flowers or silliness and holds a lot. I got this one from Amazon (notice any patterns?) for around $25. The lid snaps on snugly and fits a pair of chopsticks under the cover, easy to wash out, and it's microwave and dishwasher safe. It can hold liquids in the top tier, but I would rather take something else for soup. It's handled a runny curry just fine, though. Bob loves this one and gets a few envious stares. The only downside is getting him to remember to take it home.

The middle should be easily recognized. You know these, right? Gladware sandwhich-size. This is one of my Budget Bento experiments, but more than once, I've filled a few for Bob when he forgot his bento box. These are great, disposable if worn out, and won't break the bank. If you want to start bentos but don't have a lot of cash to slap down on a designer box, these can look just as nice. Personally, I don't love all the plastic picks shaped like characters, frilly designs, and odd dividers that other sites enjoy. For me, it's the recipes and presentation. Good food stands alone.

So, that's a little introduction. I have some tutorials that I'll put up and more to share, so keep checking back! If you're eager to try, go ahead and get started. Fill your box and tuck veggies into the corners to keep the food from sliding around. You'll have fun with the attempt and enjoy the meal a little more. Thanks for reading!