Saturday, April 28, 2007

Only four bentos this week.

Wednesday was Administrative Assistant's Day, so the Director of HR took us out for lunch at the cutest little hidden restaurant. Oooh, we got presents and flowers too. The lilies (I think they're lilies) opened up yesterday. They were all closed like the one at the very bottom of the photo when we got them. I also got pretty pink roses, but I left those on my desk to enjoy at work.

Now, on to the matter at hand: Bento!


Top tier: (okay, I have them reversed. The top tier is the one on the bottom. Bear with me!) Onigiri (rice ball) stuffed with chicken and this organic soy ginger sauce that I got at Whole Foods, broccoli, carrot stars, and a hard-boiled egg.

Bottom tier: Frozen mango chunks (they defrost by lunchtime) in silicone baking cups and covered with some Press n' Seal to avoid drips, edamame, carrot stars, and shumai with a little red flower pick. I used it to eat the mango pieces, as they are kinda slippery to attempt it with chopsticks (ohashi!) It also adds a little contrast.


Onigiri is FANTASTIC. I made a big ol' pot of rice last sunday, and cooked up a bit of chicken. I just sliced two little bitty chicken tenderloins very thin, stir fried in the tiniest bit of oil, added maybe a tablespoon of sauce, and warmed it through. I let it cool, chopped it fine, and used it to stuff rice balls. As you're going to see, none of mine ended up ball shaped because I have all these fun rice molds now. I made so many of them, and laid them out on a sheet of waxed paper to cool. Some were filled with the chicken mixture, some were plain, and some were just rice mixed with furikake before molding. After I was done, I wrapped them all in plastic wrap and put them in freezer bags. Ta da! Lunch for two weeks!


That's a closeup of the onigiri in my husband's box. I like his face better. How sweet I am to give him the cuter one, right? ;)

Top tier: Gyoza, edamame skewers (seriously, how cute are those little knotted bamboo skewers?), carrot stars, a fishy of gyoza sauce, and a very happy hard-boiled egg.

Bottom tier: Star shaped onigiri with the chicken filling, carrot stars (or hearts, depending on the box), and lots of edamame.

Top tier: Ha ha, okay, I got carried away on this one. It's a hard-boiled egg molded into the shape of a bear's head, with green onion eyes, a heart shaped carrot nose, and nori eyebrows and smile. There are some carrot chips tucked in beside him, a silicone cupcake liner with a seasoned mixture of broccoli and carrots, furikake seasoned onigiri under that, and a few more carrot chips. The broccoli/carrot thing was something that looked interesting in the freezer section, was portioned for two, and in the end, not very good. I won't be getting it again!

Bottom tier: Fresh strawberries in a Press N' Seal hammock so they don't ooze juice onto my shumai, fresh blueberries, a sushi grass divider (cute and functional in two ways - it keeps the blueberries shumai free, and it adds contrast) shumai, and something called a Meltyblend.
Holy crap, if you EVER find these (they come in different flavors, I got cacao) buy them. You will not be sorry. They're this really fantastic chocolate, almost like a truffle, rolled in cocoa powder. Trust me, I know the difference between good chocolate and that Hershey's stuff too. The best part is that they are little cubes, maybe 1/2 inch big, so you can't really over indulge if you just tuck one or two into your lunch. These blow my usual Pocky and Chocolate marshmallows out of the water!


Top tier: Onigiri with chicken filling, edamame, broccoli, boiled shrimp.

Bottom tier: gyoza, another boiled shrimp, a hardboiled egg that I cut in half so I could fit it in the bottom tier (it's shorter), carrot chips, and broccoli.

Ooh, and you'll notice... I have a little side dish! Isn't it darling? I discovered a Japanese 99 cent store (even though nothing really was 99 cents, weird) down in Phoenix, so I dragged my husband out there after work on Thursday. They had a good section of Hello Kitty stuff, including these little side dishes that go for like $5 on ebay. There were two in a pack, but I only got one pack, as I don't see my husband toting Hello Kitty crap around. The seal is really tight, and it's great for fruit, since I don't like fruit juices mingling with my savory foods. The side dish has two strawberries, cut up, some blueberries, and the yummy Meltyblend. I may have stashed another one in my purse for emergencies...




I also got two chopstick holders and a set of Hello Kitty chopsticks. My other Sugarbunnies chopsticks fit in the cases as well. Nice. Yes, I'm a dork. They did have two different bento boxes there, but honestly, they were really ugly, so I passed.

I think that the question I am getting the most about the bento lunches is "arent they really time consuming?" Let me tell you about Miss M in the morning:

In the morning, don't look at me, don't talk to me, don't touch me, don't get in my way, and God help you if you do, or if something that you did or didn't do gets in my way! I am just NOT a morning person! I set my alarm clock for 6:10 am, but I hit snooze until it's about 6:30. I then haul my sorry butt into the shower where I try to wake up a bit for the next twenty minutes. I leave the house at 7:40 to go to work, and by that time, not only have I dressed myself and made bento lunches for myself and my husband, I've COOKED and eaten breakfast as well!

So no, they don't take a lot of time, LOL!

I make rice ahead of time, and freeze it in 3/4 cup batches. That fits the box perfectly and is a good portion (3 WW points, if you were wondering). In the morning, I toss two of the plastic wrapped bundles in the microwave for about 3 minutes, until they are hot, then dump them into the boxes. A sprinkle of fuirkake, and my lunch is half done!

Gyoza come frozen in big yellow sacks from Costco. I put a pot of water to boil before I do anything else, so while I am pulling out things it's getting ready for me. Toss the gyoza in the boiling water and set the timer for 8 minutes, and there is another big chunk of lunch!

Shrimp are another fast, easy option. I buy them raw, but deveined and partially peeled. I toss a few in a colander under running water while I am prepping other items, and they thaw in just a few minutes. I have these bamboo skewers that are about 7 inches long, so I'll peel the shrimp and thread it onto the skewers and add them to the boiling gyoza halfway through. That's how I get my shrimp so nice and straight and flat. Apparently, this is how they cook them for sushi too. You just have to give the skewer a little twist before trying to pull them off. You can also just stir fry them with a little butter and a clove of garlic that you pressed. That's really good too.

Shumai are another yummy thing from the freezer. A dab of oil in a frying pan, place them in there for a minute, add a few tablespoons of water and let them steam for another minute or two. They're that quick.

Veggies are microwaved for a minute or two before being placed in the boxes. They're frozen too, and a bag lasts quite a while. Frozen fruit is good too, because it saves you the work of having to peel and chop it. Just be sure to have some way to isolate it so it doesn't melt all over your other food.

Carrots are bought as bags of carrot chips, or slices. Sometimes I leave them that way, sometimes I bust out the cookie cutters and cut them into shapes. It depends on my mood and what I need to fit the box. They're awesome for adding contrast.

I'll hardboil enough eggs at one time to last 2-3 days, and then leave them in the fridge. I'll peel them the morning I am going to use them, the exception being eggs that are going to be molded. Then they just sit in their molds until I use them.

Tamago is made the day I use it, because old scrambled eggs are gross. That is an item that is slightly more time consuming, so I'll save it for a morning when I am NOT running late.

Most of the faces or decorative items on the eggs are nori (seaweed) cut outs. Nori is like the consistency of brittle paper, so my scrapbooking punches actually pull double duty here. Seriously, I'd love to have a stupid smiley face punch but I can't find one anywhere except ebay! Some things, like the laughing eggs, are cut freehand with a pair of scissors. The eyes are a thin strip folded in half, and the mouths are triangles that I went back and rounded the tops of.

I don't refrigerate my lunch, rather, I stick it under my desk when I get to work and eat it at room temperature. I don't pack anything that could go bad in 4 hours, or that will taste gross unheated. That doesn't mean you can't, if you want. Just make sure your box is microwave safe! I think my husband might nuke his sometimes. If you're really worried, you can refrigerate it or buy those little blue ice things to put in the bag. Just be warned: cold rice is NASTY!!!

Another thing that I've done before is made a whole bunch of mini hamburger patties and frozen them to add to lunches. Those are good, and easy to make ahead. Crab cakes are yummy. Lil' Smokies can be bought, sorted into snack baggies and frozen to reheat later for lunch. They're terribly bad for you, but really, what harm is there in one or two? I've stirfried veggies and frozen it into individual servings. I've seen people do it with spaghetti (although I'll skip that one, thanks). You can add jello, any fruit really, crackers, those little cheese wedges... it's totally up to your imagination and what you like to eat. Of course, there are ALWAYS leftovers, in a pinch!

The rule of thumb is a full box, no spaces, with good color contrast (aim for at least five), and the 4321 - four parts starch, three parts veggies/ fruit, two parts protein, and one part sweets or pickles. Guess which one I go for, ha ha! Now, if you were to go back and look at my lunches, you'd see I dont' really stick to that 100%, but there is the guideline in case you were wondering.

It really makes me excited when I get emails from people wanting to learn more because of me! I'm only too happy to share!

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