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Bentos (2009-)


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#31 Fat Guy

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Posted 31 August 2009 - 08:24 PM

So, no great work of art or architecture, but I'm getting in the spirit:

Posted Image

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#32 helenjp

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Posted 31 August 2009 - 11:09 PM

I must admit, I prefer the type of container that has small drop-in plastic containers that function as dividers. That way, you can zap cooked items to reheat when you put the bento together.

What makes bento so stunning is the link with formal food for special entertainment, served on trays. The standard farm fare was always rice balls and pickles, but the rules of formal eating dictate a variety of textures and colors for the modern bento. Fruit is by far the most popular sweet treat in a bento.

I really will try to revive my poor camera and take a photo of some of my favorite bento boxes. The kindy ones have been repurposed and now hold small electronic parts, sewing kit for quick repairs, etc!

#33 v. gautam

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Posted 01 September 2009 - 03:18 PM

In Chinatown, there are several purveyors of vegetarian foods that are very good cold. One large firm is :

May Wah Healthy Vegetarian Food

213 Hester Street, New York, NY 10013
Tel: 212.334.4428 | Fax: 212.334.4423

Their "tuna" is supposed to be good. Many of these products are vegan as well. Huge selection, including curry etc.

There is another place whose product we get here in Ithaca, and I shall try and get the name if you are interested. They make an excellent "mock duck." It tastes nothing like duck, but is delicious cold in its own right. Layers of beans sheet enclosing shredded bamboo shoot, shiitake, maybe wheat gluten: all braised in a sweet, rich sauce. it comes in an 8oz foil meat-loaf or pound cake style container, about $3-4, and is good for many rolls below.

It is so rich that it could [should actually] become the filling in a kimbap or sushi, cut with vinegared rice, a stick of crunchy cucumber, slivers of avocado, maybe a ginger slice [if the kid is not too young] a tiny bit of the daikon/carrot relish or even some sweet-sour bread & butter pickles. Experiment & see what you think.

Suzie's Seitan, made in Ithaca, is distributed to NYC, by a firm named Regional Access, Trumansburg, NY. Absolutely great stuff, sold in thin cooked slices, with many flavors, including shiitake.

MorningStar Farms has some great vegetarian meat strips that can be made into various stir-fries and fajita-like things that taste good even cold; they soak up flavor.

Phillips (?), a fresh mushroom company [producer, wholesaler], used to have a portobello burger [bellaburger?] that was excellent. Being a foodwriter, you would have sources able to trace what became of it. If you do, please do let me know.

There is a green Korean shredded seaweed item that is offered as banchan. I do not know how to make this but it should be a healthy food to include. Hijiki (stewed) can be introduced in gradual steps.

The Korean deli style of green spinach so common in the late 70s, early 80s [remember Paik's on 71st & Colombus?] that stands being eaten cold so well.

Another way with collard greens I was shown that looks very unappealing but tastes delicious: saute some chopped onion & garlic in a very tiny bit of olive oil, add water, bring to boil, add chopped collards, & stems separately. Salt lightly Cook until soft to your taste. Season water with a bit of brown sugar & vinegar to flavor the greens. Try this!

The Japanese sesame dressing with a hint of ginger served in Japanese-American restaurants, to be eaten with cucumber sticks [kirby], carrot sticks, and ohitashi form of rolled spinach [better: swiss chard, not astringent]. Make tiny cylinders of chard to go with the cukes, and practice eating as a family all the things you will add to the bento, so there will be no surprises.

#34 MomOfLittleFoodies

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Posted 07 September 2009 - 10:28 PM

Another thing that may differ from standard procedure in Asia is storage. At my son's school, and I'm led to believe this is not unusual here, the lunch bags are taken from the kids in the morning and put in a refrigerator, then brought out at lunchtime. So frozen items may not defrost as well as in an unrefrigerated situation. This may require some different calculations when it comes to using frozen items. It also means anything in the lunch has to be palatable at near-refrigerator temperature.


It depends on the schools... at most public schools here in CA, the only refrigeration a lunch from home sees is if there's an ice pack included in someone's lunch bag/box. At the specific elementary school my middle kids attend, their lunch boxes/bags are kept in the classroom, either in their backpack or a cabinet. My middle school aged child totes his lunch around in his backpack all day.
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#35 Fat Guy

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Posted 07 September 2009 - 10:32 PM

The egg and rice molds have arrived.

molds.jpg

I used the egg molds successfully today, the big surprise being that they require smaller eggs than I'm accustomed to using. The eggs labeled "large" in American supermarkets are the ones that fit right.

I could use some instruction on the rice molds, though.

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#36 nakji

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Posted 08 September 2009 - 05:44 AM

I could use some instruction on the rice molds, though.


I can't see how big the rice molds are, but they should work fairly well just by packing them with warm short-grain rice. If you want, you can mix a little furikake in, or even some black sesame seeds for a visual contrast. If you're using freshly cooked rice in the morning, just pack it in - if you're using left-over rice from dinner, make sure you've heated it through in the microwave, pack it in the mold, then knock it into the bento, using a silicone divider if PJ likes his rice separate from other bits. The rice shouldn't stick too much to the mold.

#37 Fat Guy

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Posted 08 September 2009 - 05:47 AM

Okay I'm going to experiment with that soon.

School starts next Wednesday, but there's an "adjustment period" where the days are shorter. So he doesn't actually start bringing lunch for another couple of weeks.

One of the things I'm planning to do is make doubles of everything so I can taste his lunch at lunchtime. This will give me a better idea of how well the various items hold up when stored/refrigerated.

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#38 Katie Meadow

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Posted 09 September 2009 - 11:04 AM

Okay I'm going to experiment with that soon.

School starts next Wednesday, but there's an "adjustment period" where the days are shorter. So he doesn't actually start bringing lunch for another couple of weeks.

One of the things I'm planning to do is make doubles of everything so I can taste his lunch at lunchtime. This will give me a better idea of how well the various items hold up when stored/refrigerated.


Steven, I assume you plan to give your son a camera so he can take snaps of everyone else's lunch. Otherwise you may have to just GO there for lunch yourself. After seeing this morning's dining section of the NYT I am so impressed--you are so totally in the swim. When my kid was packing lunches (K through high school, actually) I don't remember any creative parents. One of my daughter's schoolmates in elementary school had a mother who was a complete scatterbrain and had to get up really early to get to her own teaching job. Every once in a while my friend Sarah or I would get a frantic call from this woman at 6:30am saying that she was out of bread, and could we please make Zoe a sandwich?

And Mom of Little Foodies, I so remember the days of those blue ice packs in the lunch bag. And how many of them started to leak after a few months...yes, lunches for public and private schools here just get toted around in the backpack with everything else all day.

#39 Fat Guy

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Posted 09 September 2009 - 11:07 AM

Yes, for those who didn't catch it, big article on bentos in today's New York Times dining section:

http://www.nytimes.c...html?ref=dining

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#40 Hiroyuki

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Posted 10 September 2009 - 04:01 PM

Sandwiches - even without meat and fish, there are a lot of sandwich options; sunflower-seed butter is a good substitute for peanut butter, and there are a lot of sandwiches that can be built around cheese -- also as you can see from some posts on this topic, the art of cutting and decorating sandwiches is a whole area unto itself
Rice - I'm going to have to learn to make rice balls and other sushi-like things; I'm looking forward to that

Consider using kinako (roasted soybean powder) instead of peanut butter, as I suggested here.
I AM looking forward to seeing how you will make your rice balls!

#41 melonpan

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Posted 11 September 2009 - 07:34 PM

One of the things I'm planning to do is make doubles of everything so I can taste his lunch at lunchtime. This will give me a better idea of how well the various items hold up when stored/refrigerated.


this is something i highly recommend to all first time parents. and to people new to bagging it.

i cant tell you how many soggy sandwiches i endured in middle and grade school. it wasnt really my moms fault of course. she didnt know anything about western sandwiches of course. and no one where i grew up ate from bentos or doshirak.

eating the same thing that you pack for others can be a wonderful learning experience.

definitely the way to go if youre new to this.

Edited by melonpan, 11 September 2009 - 07:36 PM.

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#42 nakji

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Posted 11 September 2009 - 07:53 PM

How do you find the pasta tossed with pesto? I always want to like it, but I just never enjoy cold pasta. Also - if you're going to make rice balls, don't forget to cool the rice down a tiny bit, put some water and a little salt on your hands - the water will keep the rice from sticking and help you mold it, and the salt will make the rice taste better.

#43 Chris Amirault

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 05:53 AM

Back in August, after we realized my wife would be commuting Mon-Th to grad school, we grabbed a cheap bento box for $25 at a store in Chicago's Chinatown. Less than two weeks of train and MBTA bustle, the thing broke. In three places.

As a result, I haven't started posting here about our bento experience, but that will change shortly. We just ponied up the cash for a Zojirushi Classic bento box. We've absolutely loved our Zojirushi fuzzy logic rice cooker, which is probably the best kitchen appliance I own, and given the cash we're saving on meals, we'll have it paid off by Thanksgiving.

More soon.
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#44 andiesenji

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Posted 22 September 2009 - 09:20 AM

I love the Zo bento boxes too. I have the Mr. Bento that I use when traveling - for hot foods, since I have a fridge in my van.

I did post something here on Sept. 9, about my daughter's blog that is specifically about bento box lunches but it was shifted to another topic (Favorite Food Blogs) for no good reason, as far as I am concerned. I complained about it but never got a response so there it stays.

She has to prepare meals for two high school teens and for herself (a high school teacher) and owns just about every kind of bento box on the market.

Both she and I have gathered a lot of information from various web sites, including this one: http://lunchinabox.net/

She is fortunate in that her kids have very sophisticated tastes and are willing to try almost anything, however she does have to deal with some food allergies but is usually able to do a work-around and she tries to stick to organic foods, whenever possible.

The Mr. Bento will keep food hot (at a safe temp) for at least 5 hours as I have personally done it. Not leaving anything to chance, I tested it with a Thermapen, just to be on the safe side. Specifically, I prepared soft-boiled eggs and they kept perfectly, although the yolks did get just a bit more firm than I like, they were acceptable and I mixed them with hot noodles and spinach.
I left the soup I had prepared in the container, immediately resealing it, and 2 1/2 hours later it was still hot.

I am a diabetic and it is important to have controlled meals at regular intervals, even when traveling.
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#45 torakris

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Posted 02 October 2009 - 04:02 PM

This year's sports day bento.
DSCF1890.jpg

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#46 Anna N

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Posted 02 October 2009 - 04:54 PM

This year's sports day bento.
DSCF1890.jpg

Kristin, Can you tell us a little about the contents, please.
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#47 OnigiriFB

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Posted 02 October 2009 - 06:36 PM

Yes please! Is that salmon mixed with the rice and what's the square item? Eggs? Look very yummy!

#48 torakris

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 03:36 PM

Top left
grilled salmon onigiri
roasted sweet potato fries sprinkled with chili powder
homemade chorizo sausage
zucchini frittata

Top right
more sausage, onigiri and frittata
steamed broccoli with lemon
grilled chicken (marinated with grated onion, saffron, paprika, garlic and lemon
blueberries

bottom
more of the same :biggrin:

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#49 Anna N

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Posted 03 October 2009 - 06:45 PM

Top left
grilled salmon onigiri
roasted sweet potato fries sprinkled with chili powder
homemade chorizo sausage
zucchini frittata

Top right
more sausage, onigiri and frittata
steamed broccoli with lemon
grilled chicken (marinated with grated onion, saffron, paprika, garlic and lemon
blueberries

bottom
more of the same :biggrin:


Thank you so much. It all looks very appetizing.
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#50 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 05:58 AM

Today is the first official day of school lunch. The first couple of weeks of school, the adjustment schedule was such that the kids went home before lunchtime. Today they bring lunch.

There has been some correspondence from the school about lunches that has caused me to modify the plan in minor ways. First, they discourage providing too many choices. So my fantasies of packing 10 different things have gone out the window. Second, they ask for a brown paper bag (for space efficiency in the refrigerator). I've gone with a red vinyl bag. We'll see if that's accepted or if I get in trouble. Third, the school provides water. So I didn't pack a drink. Also, we're still on the adjustment schedule -- school still ends earlier than it ultimately will -- so I didn't really pack a dessert item. And, as a reminder, lunches need to be kosher, dairy (no meat) and nut-free.

So, for the first attempt, I made the pasta salad with pesto that I experimented with before. Basil is the one plant we have growing out back behind our apartment. I used toasted pumpkin seeds instead of pine nuts. Also, a hard-boiled egg in a bunny mold. And assorted crisps and such (pretzels, crackers, raising and dried cranberries):

bento3.jpg

Here's a close-up of the bunny egg:

bento4.jpg

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#51 nakji

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 06:12 AM

Very cute! How was it received by PJ? I like the peas, corn, and tomatoes on the pasta - they add some colour. How does PJ generally feel about raw or crisp vegetables? Lightly steamed broccoli florets or carrot sticks with a squeezy of ranch dressing are great ways to add colour and fill any empty spaces in the box.

#52 Shelby

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 08:01 AM

I always follow this thread because I love love love everyone's creative and yummy bentos. OMG how cute is that egg, FG?!!

#53 Fat Guy

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Posted 05 October 2009 - 09:17 AM

How was it received by PJ?

He's still in school at the moment (it's only a little after noon here) so no feedback yet. But I'll report in later if information becomes available.

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#54 helenjp

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 08:23 AM

I meant to say...keep the amount small for the first week! Even dedicated trenchermen seem to find the first week of kindergarten distracting.

Kris, did you grow that zucchini...or did you pay *actual cash* for it? I'm very impressed with the chorizo, by the way.

#55 torakris

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 04:28 PM

Kris, did you grow that zucchini...or did you pay *actual cash* for it? I'm very impressed with the chorizo, by the way.


I have tried to grow zucchini a couple times and have never had luck, it tends to rot before it can be eaten.
These were from Costco, I can usually get them there at about 600 yen for 6 to 7 good sized ones.

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#56 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 04:33 PM

Day 1 lunch was well received, and the quantity was almost on target. He didn't finish the pasta salad but finished everything else. He claims he liked the pasta salad but ate all the other stuff first and was no longer hungry.

For Day 2 lunch I sent him with an avocado maki that I got the night before at a local cheap sushi place, plus some apple slices and halved strawberries. He ate everything except the skins of the apples.

bentos5.jpg

Not quite sure yet what I'll do for Day 3 lunch. I guess I should figure that out. The grocery-shopping logistics have turned out to be more complex than I thought.

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#57 nakji

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 07:39 PM

The grocery-shopping logistics have turned out to be more complex than I thought.


When you start making bentos, it can seem daunting to keep coming up with fresh ideas to fill the bento. Helen has a great list of pointers here, which I must quote for you here, they were so useful for me:

The Top Ten Bitter Fruits of Bento Experience!
1. Plan what you will make if you forget to cook the rice one day. (Freeze sandwiches, keep one pack of retort rice for emergencies, etc. etc.)
2. Yesterday's dinner is today's bento, never doubt that for a second. Familiarize yourself with 3 bento-oriented recipes for every common foodstuff, e.g. EGG = pajeon, atsuyaki, soboro) and despair will never have you in its clutches!
3) Buy a book on okazu (side dishes) for the microwave and force yourself to use it. Buy some tiny silicon or paper molds - atsuyaki can be microwaved or toasted using the timer just as well as when you stand over it in a pan. Well actually, it's not the same, but it will do.
4) Fried things from the night before (or in winter, even freshly made) can get hard and unappetizing in cold, dry weather. Bring ketchup, sauce, and a little water/sake - or soy, mirin/sugar, vinegar, ginger and a very little cornstarch - to the boil and quickly toss the fried objects round in it before draining.
5) Boil salted salmon instead of grilling it...don't overboil it, and add a little sake to the water, but it's fast, and it's less greasy to eat. Lots of things are perfectly tasty boiled in boring old water. Allowing carrots or sweet potatoes to cool in the cooking water just a little prevents the surface from drying out too much when drained.
6) Asazuke and momizuke (make in morning) for no-cook vegetables.
7) Frozen dishes get boring and are often left forgotten in the freezer, but frozen scallions (or even better, wakegi) chopped and frozen, or dried shiitake soaked, squeezed and frozen sliced or whole, frozen sliced aburage etc are versatile and can be tossed into dishes without thawing first.
8) Instead of either panfrying or deepfrying everything, grill and drop into a marinade (yaki-zuke). Soy sauce and vinegar is the basic start, but you can make it spicy or herby or sweet, whatever you like.
9) "Well begun is half done!" When you buy fish or meat for bento, cut it up and stick it in small ziploc bags with a littlesalt or soy, sake and your choice of ginger/curry powder/yuzu-kosho/mustard/negi/shichimi etc. Pat dry and fry or grill, or make a nimono.
10) Use containers you like. I like bento boxes with separate lidded containers or drop-in boxes. I buy two or more the same, so I can sometimes have a ready-made item in its container in the fridge or freezer, ready to add to the bento box. Lidded containers mean that you can send fruit or desserts that you don't want to get mixed up with savory food, or sloppy dishes that would normally make the rice soggy, or leak.


Especially useful is thinking about how you can re-purpose dinner for the next day's lunch. Fried rice with a bit of egg, chopped carrot, and frozen peas, packed with a spoon for easy eating, is a great way to reuse rice and bits of vegetables. I used to keep a small freezer container full of vegetable ends for just this purpose.

Egg dishes like tamago-yaki seem appropriate as well. You can vary them by adding things like chopped mushrooms, leeks, sundried tomatoes...whatever PJ likes.

Would korroke suit the school's dietary needs? Little fried cakes of potato mixed with curry, or bean would be great to make up in a big batch, and leave in the freezer, to help you round out the lunches. I've also use bean dip made with cannelini beans simmered in tomatoes and olive oil to stuff pita for quick vegetarian sandwiches.

#58 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 07:44 PM

Those things all work in terms of the rules, however I'm concerned about how they'll hold up when served refrigerator-temperature. Even the avocado maki was a stretch. I only had the nerve to do it because I know there's a lot of fast-food-type sushi sold refrigerated in Japan.

One thing I've been doing is making myself a micro version of PJ's lunch each day and leaving it in the refrigerator, then tasting it midday to see how it works.

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#59 nakji

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 07:53 PM

Your case does differ from standard bento, then, in that it gets refrigerated and served cold. I'm not a big fan of cold rice, but sushi rice does seem to hold up better. It's the nori that becomes quite unpleasant after prolonged exposure to rice. In Japan and Korea, onigiri are often sold in cunningly-designed wrappers that keep the nori off the rice until you pull a tab to unwrap it after purchase.

How about things that are traditionally bit more risky in a traditional bento - like potato salad or coleslaw? Vietnamese "summer rolls"? (is that what you call them? The ones that aren't fried) Heavily seasoned vegetables, like ones sauteed in sesame oil, soy and mirin taste nice at room temperature or cold.

#60 Fat Guy

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Posted 06 October 2009 - 07:57 PM

Yes, I think there are a lot of depths to mine in the picnic-salads category: potato salad (which has several potential variants), pasta salads, cabbage salads, bean salads. The only logistical problem I've encountered there is that it's hard to make those things in small batches, and it's not like if I make a big batch I can give him the same thing for lunch every day.

Vegetables do seem to hold up well cold. Grilled vegetables too. Not that I have a grill or a kid who will eat a pile of grilled vegetables.

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