Sunday, September 30, 2007

Little Chick

Here is lunch for tomorrow, bento #15:

It is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with carrots and raisins forming a flower on top. More carrots peices, some almonds, Wheatables, white cake with blueberry topping and a boiled egg cut into the shape of a chick. The chick has a carrot beak and mustard seed eyes.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Quick Bento to take to Rehearsal

Bento # 14 was prepared in about 10 minutes. Therefore, it does not have any faces on it or special veggies punched out into cutsie shapes. However what it did have was one delicious sandwich and a few sides. Take a peek at what I brought to rehearsal. (By the way, I'm in a play with Magenta Theater right now, and if you want to come and see it, you can get ticket information here.)

The sandwich was rather an inventive one, utilizing the left-overs I had present in the fridge this morning. I started with a sourdough roll and spread hummus on it, then sliced up the last of the Shake-n-Bake chicken, and finally added a few peices of ham. The overall effect, when eaten with the cucumber slices that I had packed next to it, was very good, I thought. I filled in the gaps and rounded off the meal with cherry tomatoes, grapes, and almonds.

Smiling Bananas

Yesterday's lunch, bento #13, was put together in about 30 minutes the morning of. I was just going to throw a sandwich in a baggie or something... but I couldn't help myself. I took one of my newly frozen onigiri out and made up a bento instead.

The bananas are the main event, with big goofy grins on their faces. I got the idea from a pic I saw on Flickr. They are surrounded by almonds and grapes. Below is a flower-shaped onigiri filled with a little bit of tuna and some relish. It is topped with carrots punched into flower shapes. Cherry tomatoes and steamed broccoli finish off this simple bento.

Making Onigiri

Here are some pics of the process of making onigiri the other night:

I had purchased what I felt was a very small portion of "pearl rice" to see if it was a good kind to get for making onigiri. I figure I had about 1 1/4 cups of unprepared rice. Then I put it in my steamer, with twice as much water and turned it on for about half an hour, while I did other things.

Above is a picture of me making onigiri according to Biggie's tutorial, which suggests using regular cookie cutters and plastic wrap in the place of an onigiri mold. I put some tuna and relish in the center.

Later, I decided I wanted to make some in the more basic shape - a triangle formed by hand. So I got out a teacup and used the method described on Just Hungry. These I filled with tuna and some spicy seasoning.

I am very pleased to learn that I like the taste of these onigiri, since I still have about six of them in the freezer - in various shapes. And tonight when we were at the grocery store we picked up some nori, so now I can make cute little faces with more flexibility than I had when using black olives.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Little Onigiri Man

Bento #12 features my first attempt at making onigiri (basically, a Japanese rice ball). I made this man using Saran Wrap and a cookie cutter, as described in Biggie's tutorial. I used a bit of cut up (left-over) Shake & Bake chicken for the filling, and used olive peices for the face (as I have yet to purchase any nori).

Though the onigiri was the main accomplishment, let me describe the rest of the meal:

Beside my little man are green apple slices, and gap fillers include cashews, an almond, grapes and dried appricot. In the smaller container below are little wraps made of tosted torilla spread with hummus, mujaddara, and carrot (for color). I stuffed them in there a little too tightly, though, I think, because you can't really tell where one leaves off and the other ones begin. I tried to fix this by putting a bit of parsley in the gaps (such as they were) with limited success.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bird in Nest Bento

For Bento #11, I boiled my first egg (except for Easter, and maybe that one time I made potato salad) and fashioned it into a little chicken. This is easier said than done, I found. To look where I got this crazy idea, check out Christina's blog and the how to garnish website she has linked to.

Here is my bento:

The "bird" is a hard boiled egg (with the yolk removed, because I don't much like the texture). The eyes are tiny bits of olive, and the rest is carrot. The "nest" is made of whole wheat spaghetti noodles, cucumber slivers, and parsley. On the right is more cucumber and carrot in the shape of a little sideways flower, two cherry tomatoes, some Wheatables crackers, a plumb, grapes, and the gaps are filled with salted almonds.

My co-workers have taken to asking me how long these lunches are taking me to create. So I looked at the clock today, and have to own spending 50 minutes in creating this lunch. I can only get faster at this, right??

Monday, September 24, 2007

Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Bento #10 is my first reheatable bento. Mashed potatoes, topped with shake and bake chicken pieces, steamed broccoli, tomatoes and corn.

Put together mostly during commercial breaks. :0)


Tonight's dinner was inspired by the lunch served in the cafeteria today: pizza. I went back to the site where I got my pizza recipe, pulled out a crust I had made from scratch earlier and frozen, and got cooking.

Things didn't go quite as planned when I got halfway through sauteing the onion and garlic to make the sauce and realized I didn't have any tomato paste on hand. Oops! Not to be deterred at this stage in the game, I grabbed a can of tomato sauce and proceeded to apply it liberally throughout the kitchen. (Well, that part was on accident... but after I got that wiped up and cooked off the extra liquid in the skillet...)

I preheated my oven to 450 degrees with my baking stone in there, and slid the now-finished pizza on top of it. You will notice from the picture below that only half of the pizza has cheese on it. Alas, I cannot do cheese due to my food alergies.

That is why I am so pleased to have fresh tomatoes to slice on top. Yum!

Now I need to go see how much of the kitchen I can get cleaned up before it is time to watch the season premier of Heroes with Bryan.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chicken Wrap & Fruit Skewers

Bento #9 is brought to you by "Le Crimson Fowl" (aka: Red Robin):

My left over chicken wrap is topped with carrot bits shaped like teddy bears, and surrounded by cherry tomatoes and steamed broccoli.

In the smaller container are three fruit skewers consisting of grapes and cantaloupe.

More Bento Toys

My dad gave me a five dollar bill today to have some bento fun with, so it was back to the Dollar Tree for me. I ended up getting a set of eight cookie cutters, and three nori punches:

I can't wait to try them out! Thanks, Dad.

Food that Grows

This morning when I went outside to water my garden, I decided to take a picture of my very first bell pepper.

When the broccoli I'd planted began to produce a while back, I missed it and let it flower because I was waiting for it to get as big as in the supermarket. While I know that a pepper is already a fruit, and in no danger of flowering - I wanted to ask if anyone knows how big I should let it grow. And how to tell if it is ripe or not.

Help, anyone?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mujaddara Recipe

I have gotten a few requests for my Mujaddara recipe. So this goes out to Jen, Kate, Grandma, and anyone else who is curious.

Bulgur wheat and lentils are the basis of this simple recipe. I buy mine in the bulk food section at Winco.

Caramelize these in 1 Tablespoon olive oil:

  • 1 small onion
  • garlic to taste ( I use 3 big cloves - but I really like garlic)

  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you'd rather, or water if you're out)
  • 1/2 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1/2 cup lentils

Bring it to a boil, then lower heat and cook for 30 minutes.

That's it! When you are done you will have a rice-like dish that can be eaten as a side, or the main course, if you like. Tastes good hot or cold. Makes an excellent substitute for rice in bento boxes.

Thanks to Sue for sharing this recipe with me!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Basic Hummus Recipe

My basic hummus recipe is so simple, it occupies a Post-it Note in my spice cupboard, rather than a page in my recipe book. I took some to work in my bentos, and my co-workers were so impressed, they wanted the recipe. So here it is:

  • 2 cloves garlic - roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 14 oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup of Tahini
  • 1 tsp sea salt (or table salt, if you've run out like I have)
Put it all in the food processor, and blend it until smooth.

Serve with home grown sprouts for a delicious, healthy snack! Pita pockets, carrot sticks and tortillas browned in a skillet are all great ways to get the hummus from the plate to your mouth.

Thanks to where I originally found this recipe.

Heart Sandwiches and Banana Sushi

Here are two pictures of the lunch I took to work today. Peanut butter and jelly heart sandwiches lay on top of some peanuts. Next to them is a flower made of dried apricots, almond slices, and a grape. Next comes left over apple pastry. Yum!

In the container below I did my take on banana "sushi." The banana slices each have peanut butter and a raisin in the center. They are hemmed in by grapes.

Monday through Friday Steel Cut Oats

Most days for breakfast I have steel cut oatmeal. It is delicious and nutritious. But it takes a long time to cook! Do I get up at the break of day each morning and babysit a pot on the stove? I don't think so! Here are some simple instructions for making plain Jane steel cut oatmeal.

First, assemble a few ingredients. To prepare them the way I do, you'll need a crockpot, water, vanilla extract, and the oats themselves (which can be bought in bulk very inexpensively at Winco).

For each cup of oats you are cooking, you will need four cups of water. Some people make it with milk and butter - but I just skip it because I have a milk alergy. And why add the calories, right? If I feel like adding a bit of margarine on a specific day, fine - but I don't feel like the fat needs to be there already.

I LOVE vanilla! So I just pour a bit in to give it some flavor. The exact amount doesn't really matter. If you were making two cups worth of raw oats up - I might try two teaspoons and adjust from there.

Set the crockpot on high. You are going to let it cook for about three hours, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed. So set a timer, or glance at your watch. If you have a fancy slow cooker that turns off after a pre-determined time -- great! (And I'm jealous.)

Unlike most slow cooker recipes, I find that it is best to stir this one a couple times. Use a spatula and scrape down the sides so they don't burn. (I experimented, by the way, to see if it was the lack of fat that was causing it to stick. Didn't seem to make a difference one way or the other.)

At the end of three hours, stir in any excess water and dish yourself up a bowl. Top with your favorite topping (ah...brown sugar) and dig in.

"But, wait! What do I do with the rest?" you ask. Put it in a large Tupperware container and store it in the fridge. The next day, when you see that it has congealed - don't hate me. Scoop out what you want, add a bit of water (or go crazy and put some creamer in there - whatever suits you) and reheat it in the microwave. You will have to stir it back up to get it the right consistency, but once you do, I promise you it is almost as tasty as it was originally (and tons better than instant oatmeal ever could be).

Edited on 2-17-08 to add:

Want to spice up your steel cut oats? Check out Oatmeal: It's What's for Breakfast at FatFree Vegan Kitchen for great variations.

Or are you looking for other great ways to get more oatmeal in your diet? Check out Beyond Cereal: Are You Eating Enough Oatmeal? where Kalyn Denny has compiled a great list of oatmeal recipes.

Or if all this health-talk has you craving something sweet, why not try the delicious Chewy Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies?

What a dish!

This is what happens when I forget to run the dishwasher and run out of everyday dishes. I present to you, Top Ramen (in our house affectionately called "8 Cent Soup") on my fine china!

The worst part is, with the fancy lip on this bowl, you can't drink the broth without pouring it all over the place. While I considered drinking it as if I was bobbing for apples, I eventually gave up and poured it over Dioji's kibble. He loves his chicken broth!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Today's Lunch

My lunch for today is very similar to yesterday's (because not only was it super delicious, but I had the ingredients all made up and could put it together quickly).

On the left is mujaddara topped with an olive and carrot and tomato slices. On the right are some cracker pretending to be Saltines, my attempt at carrot butterflies, lots of sprouts, some hummus, grapes and tiny cookies.

I am amazed how filling these lunches are, even though they are packed into such a small space. I almost couldn't finish mine today, and I'm a pretty big eater.

Note to self, the sprouts work fine as a divider for the hummus, but don't stop moisture from getting through like the foil did. Result? Soggy crackers. :P

Greek Cuisine

For these bentos, I really went overboard cooking three items from scratch for it. But it was all in the name of the theme: Greek Cuisine!

In the larger container I placed homemade hummus, home-grown sprouts, browned tortilla strips, tomatoes, grapes, and itsy bitsy Nestle chocolate chip cookies baked from scratch. (Okay, I know that these cookies aren't Greek, but I can't exactly eat baklava as it has butter in it, right?)

The smaller of the two containers I put homemade mujaddara, decorated with tomato slices and steamed broccoli.

I also packed up a box for my co-workers who have been drooling over my new and improved (tasty!) lunches. It contains the same ingredients, with the addition of an olive.

Pasta Salad

Bento #4 took shape a little differently with two tiers to work with. On the bottom tier are egg noodles with extra virgin olive oil drizzled on them, seasoned with garlic salt, Italian seasoning blend, and minced onion. Mixxed in are tomatoes slices, olives, and steamed broccoli.

On the top tier I have ham rolls with Dijon mustard inside, cherry tomatoes, a baked potato (1st potato that I grew myself!), grapes, cashew pieces, a dried apricot, and some chocolate cake crumbles in foil (which were fairly reminiscent of a Hostess Ding Dong - though sadly lacking in filling).

Well hello, Kitty

At this point I decided to get serious and try and find some actual bento boxes. I went to the local asian market, and, come to find out, they're not Japanese, and therefore do not sell bento boxes. Oops! I bought a sushi mat for later use and thanked them for their time. Next stop, Dollar Tree. Online rumor had it they were selling bento boxes for a dollar each, and my local store did not disappoint.

Here are the boxes I came home with:

I spent a long time, first with a nail file and next with nailpolish remover trying to rid the boxes of the kitty. But it was a ton of work, for limited success. I may try again later, but mostly I assume I'll get used to her, swallow my pride and bring a cutsie-poo lunch. If my sandwiches are going to have smile faces on them anyway...

Here's a pic of the first lid I tried to remove the decal off of:

Bummer, huh?

Bento for Two

This humble attempt represents my third try at bento. Except that I did not have as much time as I wanted to make it, as it was made the morning of, rather than the night before. That being said, here is the pic:

There are two PB&J sandwiches stacked on top of one another. The one underneath is "stamped" with a small heart cookie cutter. (You'll just have to trust me on that.) The design on top of made of cheese. Surrounding the sandwiches are tomatoes, Triscuits and cheese slices. The bread, unfortunately, had been frozen and was thawed that morning. The moisture got to the crackers and they were completely soggy by the time we went to eat them a few hours later. Blech!

Twinkle Twinkle

This is my second attempt at bento, created on September 13th:

These cheerful stars were cut out of two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a large cookie cutter. Then I used a toothpick and some honey to "tattoo" on the smiling faces. I made small holes for the eyes and filled them with a chocolate sprinkle each for pupils.

Cherry tomatoes from my garden and green apple slices fill in the gaps. Small heart shaped PB&J cutouts topped with honey and red sprinkles serve as dessert.

My 1st Bento

"Hey, my sandwich is making a face at me!" I teased in the cafeteria. It went over pretty big with my students.

This is a close-up of my first bento ever, made on September the 12th (for anyone who is keeping track of such things.)

I had looked at bento galleries online that left me asking the question, "Even if I DID manage to boil an egg and shape it into a tugboat and dye it red... would I want to eat it??" Then I finally I hit upon a simpler design that I could sink my teeth into. A sandwich with a face on it.

It is a ham sandwich, with Miracle Whip teeth, and a ham tongue. Cherry tomatoes from my garden form its hair and one stem makes a "bow." The green leaves surrounding are the tops of the celery (sticks of which are on the right of the sandwich) that was also grown in my Square Foot Garden. The baby carrot, ditto on the origin. I did NOT grow the Triscuits which are on the left, or the olives and pickle used to make the face. Sorry.

Dessert consists of a piece of chocolate cake with green apple slices as bookends. The design in the middle is fashioned out of sliced almonds, and adhered with peanut butter.

It was all very tasty! (Except the celery from the main meal. It was too "flavorful" for my taste. Celery shouldn't taste like much, in my mind.)

The Past at a Glance

When I got married a little over two years ago I had a very short list of foods I had any confidence in preparing. I laughed with the ladies in my Bible-study that I was still trying to master Rice-a-Roni... and it was true! ("Saute the vermicelli"? It's not working with all that water in there!)

Between my milk allergy and my husband's "discerning tastes" I had a limited amount of ingredients to work with. But no matter. I forged ahead and began to bake and cook things that I never thought I would. Breads came first. I figured if I could bake bread, then Rice-a-Roni should be a snap, right?

Check out Basic Bread by S. John Ross to make loaves of your own like this:

The Internet was my oyster, and recipes were its pearl. I bookmarked pages with easy, step-by-step instuctions. If they made it sound fool-proof, I was in. The best part was, whatever I made, it was the best I'd ever done. Soon I was growing my own sprouts and baking pizzas and bagels from scratch. (And of course, baking goodies for my husband, Bryan.)

Next I decided to try Square Foot Gardening and grow my own food. Bryan constructed containers and Dad financed the fancy soil mix. (Our golden retriever, Dioji, oversaw the operation.)

I was ecstatic as the first leaves poked through! And I learned valuable lessons, such as: you aren't supposed to let broccoli flower.

But despite my ignorance the harvest has been great! Potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, parsley, zucchini, peas, greenbeans, and Bryan's favorite: strawberries.

Most recently, with "back to school" upon me, I've turned my attention to healthy packed lunches for myself. The last two years I have brought mostly soup. First canned, and then homemade. But by the end of last year I was getting pretty tired of soup.

Enter: bento! An article in last week's Food Day caught my eye -- about the artistic packed lunches made by some Japanese women for their children and husbands.

After browsing numerous online bento galleries and blogs, I decided to creat a food blog of my own. This blog will contain pictures, comments, links and recipes. I'll start with my present bento craze -- and venture off into other food related topics as the whim strikes me.

Thanks for reading!