Friday, August 28, 2009
Weekly Bento Round-Up #1
Hi, and welcome to a new weekly feature here at Beach City Cooking: the weekly Bento round-up. Bento boxes have long been a staple of Japanese lunches and dinners, and sites like Lunch in a Box and Adventures in Bentomaking have helped to popularize this movement of Bento-style eating in the US. There are a ton of Bento blogs out there now, such as The Feisty Foodie's great Feisty Bento Blog. So while Beach City Cooking isn't a Bento blog, I do love the idea of making delicious lunches in the Bento mold for Jen to take to work every day, so this weekly update will provide a look at those very meals.
Jen started work last week, and at that point, we had not yet purchased a Bento box, so I was using some Gladware containers, which resulted in varying degrees of success, and a lot of difficulty stacking items. These aren't exactly pretty, but I do want to share a few of them regardless.
Okay, so this one is just to show you how much difficulty I was having with the Gladware containers. Each lunch was two Gladware containers like this, plus some fruit or bagged snacks. So, for this container, I did a row of petite toasts with a little cream cheese and fresh strawberries. Then, when it came time to do a second row on top of the first one, I realized I was totally screwed--how was I going to lay a single petite toast on top of a single, curved strawberry slice? Surely only a master of physics was going to be able to pull this off. So, I put on my thinking cap (which needed a good rinse), and I improvised. I took a flour tortilla, cut out two rectangular shapes the size of the inside of the Gladware container, spread peanut butter on one and Orange Blossom Honey from the Energy Bee Farm on the other, and put them together to make a little sandwich that, when wrapped in plastic wrap, would double as a border between the two rows of petite toasts, allowing me to stack the top row on a flat surface.
A good Bento box staple are short-grain rice onigiri, or rice balls. These were heart-shaped and topped with pre-cut animal-shaped nori. Well, Pokémon-shaped, if you must know. Jen was really impressed with these, but the only trick is a heart-shaped sandwich maker or cookie cutter. You can apply that idea to any sandwich or onigiri for a more visually appealing lunch. That's not to say that I'm going to be making any attempt to join the ranks of the esteemed Bento artists, but regardless, I do like the food I make to at least be aesthetically pleasing.
Here's the last of the Gladware pictures, hopefully ever. This is the first of two sushi rolls I put in this container, the other being a far less visually pleasing veggie roll with avocado, cucumber, and carrot. This roll is a variation on the peanut and avocado Buddha Roll I discussed in my Sushi Attempts post. I was all out of roasted, salted peanuts, so I shelled some pistachios and used those instead. I was going to call it the Dalai Lama Roll, but Jen named it the Green Lantern Roll instead, which I like even better.
Last Sunday, we finally got a real Bento box. Sure, "finally" is a little strong, but after working with the bizarrely-shaped Gladware for a week, it felt like a long time coming. This Bento box was very cheap, and it comes with chopsticks, an ice pack, and a zippered case. It feels very high-quality, too. We got it at Marukai Market in Gardena. So, as you can see, it comes with one main item container, and two side containers. This hasn't been quite enough food for Jen, though, since she gets a morning break and an afternoon break in addition to her lunch hour, so I've been packing her additional fruit and bagged snacks.
Okay, so this was the very first lunch I made for Jen in this lunch box. Clockwise from bottom-left, we have: these all-natural grilled cheese puffs we got at Sprouts Farmers Market--I can't remember the name, but the bag was really adamant about how good they are for you; homemade tamago, which is a Japanese rolled egg omelet; a single chopped Gala apple; some trail mix.
The tamago was pretty complicated to make since it was my first time ever making it--it turned out okay, but not great. I tossed the apple with a little lemon juice to keep it from oxidizing. The little container of honey on the side was for Jen to dip the apple pieces into. The trail mix is Sprouts' peanut butter & chocolate trail mix, which served as the dessert part of the lunch.
This past Tuesday's lunch was far more successful. Clockwise from top-left we have inari stuffed with short-grain seasoned sushi rice; alfalfa sprouts for a nice veggie treat; a single wedge of Laughing Cow Swiss cheese; much-improved tamago. Once I tried making the tamago a couple more times--and once I started using the correct ingredients--it got a lot better. I wouldn't say it's restaurant-quality tamago yet, but it's pretty close at this point, which is a lot more than I can say for my first attempt at making it. Also, if you look at the previous lunch and then at this one, you can see something pretty cool. There's actually a removable divider included with the lunch box, so when I was separating tamago and apple the previous day, I used it in the larger container, but when it came to keeping the alfalfa sprouts and Swiss cheese wedge separate, I used it in the smaller container. It just slides perfectly into any of the three containers, and is very useful in helping me to design these lunches. Oh, and this time I did the tamago nigiri-style, on small beds of sushi rice, held together by a thin strip of nori. I'll have a whole tamago-making post up soon.
I'm posting this picture just so you can see the exterior of the bag the Bento box came with. There's a little tag on it with a note that reads: "Peace and calm days. Compassion for others." I think that's a pretty nice note for them to have put on their label. This bag is really right up Jen's alley, and she was psyched that we got it. The water bottle, which we got at Big Lots, seems to match it perfectly, and keeps drinks nice and cold.
Finally, we have Wednesday and Thursday's lunch. Jen works something called a 9-80 schedule at her new job, which means she works 8-6 Mondays-Thursdays, 8-5 every other Friday, and she gets every other Friday off. She really liked what I made her for Wednesday, so I just made it again on Thursday. I got the idea for this DIY sandwich from DorothySH of the Mr. Bento Flickr Pool, who frequently packs sandwiches into her Bento lunches with this method. I suspect it's for the same reason Biggie, the author of the above-mentioned Lunch in a Box, packs meticulously-crafted sandwiches where the moist ingredients don't touch the bread, so the bread doesn't become soggy. Biggie has a knack for that, but I find DorothySH's method easier: just pack the components of the lunch separately.
So clockwise from bottom-left, we have alfalfa sprouts; a sliced croissant cut into thirds so it would fit in the lunchbox; a couple slices of Sprouts' deli-sliced turkey; one Swiss cheese wedge. I also included a little knife for spreading the cheese on the croissant. Everything in these boxes went into the sandwich, which according to Jen, was easy to assemble. I also included some bagged snacks and fruit, including sliced apple (tossed with lemon juice) and peanut butter for dipping the apple into. I think she had that during her mid-morning break.
Thanks for stopping by Beach City Cooking, and I'll see you all in a couple days for the next edition of Smoothie Sunday! Have a great night, and stay cool!