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Peter the eater

Bentos (2009-)

288 posts in this topic

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.

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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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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.

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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.


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

Manager, Membership

<a class="bbc_email" href="mailto:kwagner@egstaff.org" title="E-mail Link">kwagner@egstaff.org</a></p>

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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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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.

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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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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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.

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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.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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it's not like if I make a big batch I can give him the same thing for lunch every day.

Is it possible to work those kinds of dishes into your evening menus, so that you can set aside a small portion to go into lunch the next day? It doesn't have to be the mainstay of the bento, but it can help you round out the empty space. When I moved to Japan, virtually all of my bentos were constructed around leftovers, to help save money. Granted, my husband was better at sucking up the odd crappy lunch more than a pre-schooler would be, no matter what I said to him at the time.

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Yes I need to get into the spirit of the whole premeditated leftovers thing. Although for tomorrow I have a sinking feeling I'll be making him a cheese sandwich.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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

I'm a lunchroom/playground monitor at our local elementary school, it generally takes the youngest kids about a month to get used to the routine of eating lunch at school, including figuring out how to balance socializing with friends and still eating your lunch.


Cheryl

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I just bought a book that might help you! It's an English translation of a Japanese bento book for kids, called "Kawaii Bento Boxes". ISBN 978-4-88996-260-4. I bought it at Kinokuniya and was really happy to find it. There are lots of ideas for tiny side dishes, and even groupings by colour etc. I noticed that many recipes are microwave friendly too, and they even have a little time stamp to tell you how long it takes to make a bento (e.g. 15 min/20 min). Of course, it does assume that you have access to Japanese ingredients, but I don't think that would be too difficult for you. If you have a Kinokuniya near you I'm sure you can find it, or you can order it on the internet. I must admit I've had a lot of fun reading this book over the last two days!

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Started using the Zojirushi Classic bento box this week. Mornings are our most harried time, so I haven't gotten any good snaps, but tonight I'll try to get some pix up. The bento box itself has been a revelation: well made, tightly sealing lids, retains cold/heat. Andrea reports that it's a bit big to be carrying on the train, subway, around campus, and so on, but that's a minor quibble.

I've been working the appropriate dinner prep and leftover planning for a few weeks now, and I've had to adjust some of the basics of my leftover thinking. For example, I often toss small portions of a given item thinking that we won't serve it on the table at a four-person dinner. Of course, those small portions are perfect for the bento. In addition, I usually have little sauces, toppings, and accompaniments that linger for a while in the fridge and then get used in bulk. Now, that chili sauce, onion confit, beet pickle, and so on are nice little surprises.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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On Sunday night I made four hard-cooked eggs, using our four different Japanese egg molds. On Monday I packed one for PJ's lunch and on Tuesday he had one for breakfast. But by last night a remarkable thing had happened: the eggs mostly unmolded themselves. It was still possible to see some of the outline of a car and a fish, but as decorative objects these eggs left much to be desired.

bentos6.jpg

So this morning I decided to make them into egg salad. Another thing I was thinking about was what foods benefit from extra refrigeration. Borrowing a presentation tactic from my mother, who used to make sandwiches like these as hors d'oeuvres, I stacked three slices of bread and made mini sandwiches with striped patterns. I didn't do such a great job with the knife, or with evenness of spreading, but they look cool enough to entertain a kid.

bentos7.jpg

Also some grapes and strawberries, cut in half.

bentos8.jpg


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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This week is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which in part is observed by eating meals in temporary hut-like structures (such a structure is called a sukkah) outdoors. So, this being a school in a synagogue, today after school was a pizza party in the sukkah. As a result we were instructed to pack a lunch that would be an appetizer. ("When packing food, think of the in-room eating as their "appetizer" course and their pizza in the sukkah as their main course.")

So lunch today was some hummus, cheese, crackers and fruit. PTA-provided pizza in the sukkah followed.

bentos9.jpg

No lunch on Friday on account of noon dismissal for the Sabbath.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steven: Stupid question. Do you have more than one bento box? Can you run them through the dishwasher? If Young Master Peter doesn't eat all of his lunch/snack, I assume that what he didn't eat comes home (from reports at the top of the page). Do you prep the night before or the morning of?

And, does anyone have any idea for a bento box for an almost 14-year old Older Master Peter? The one that Chris referenced is too big. It can't look dorky.


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Do any of these look more acceptable? I'm going to be putting in an order shortly, so I could easily tack on another item to my order.

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My grandson (age 16) carries one like this http://www.amazon.com/Vivo-Square-Bento-Black-Brown/dp/B001CSPU0Y/ref=sr_1_21?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1255089196&sr=1-21

None of the other kids bother him about it but he is 6'4" and 200+ lbs. :laugh:


"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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Yesterday was Columbus Day so no school and no lunch. Today is another short day where he'll have a partial meal soon after pickup. So, I packed mozzarella-and-tomato salad. When I arranged the bottom layer, it consisted of nice cubes of mozzarella and cherry-tomato halves in a very nice pattern. Then when I did the top layer the ratios were off, many of the pieces were deformed, etc. -- so it looks bad. Also some pita chips, and some grapes and apple slices.

bentos10.jpg

Tomorrow we begin the full school day, so my intent is to pack lunches with more structure. We'll see if I muster up the energy, though.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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On Sunday night I made four hard-cooked eggs, using our four different Japanese egg molds. On Monday I packed one for PJ's lunch and on Tuesday he had one for breakfast. But by last night a remarkable thing had happened: the eggs mostly unmolded themselves. It was still possible to see some of the outline of a car and a fish, but as decorative objects these eggs left much to be desired.

bentos6.jpg

That is really strange. Is this typical? Have others noticed their eggs losing their shape?

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Egg molds - I used a small egg, molded it while hot, and left it overnight in the refrigerator...no difficulties with shape retention.

Bento boxes - we have one of those classic Zojurushi bento pails, Chris, and it is a bit heavy. I have used it mostly to leave a complete dinner on the table when one kid needs to come home, eat, and go out again in a hurry while I'm out! Son1 occasionally took it when he didn't have much else to carry, or far to walk.

Our standard winter bento is like #4 or #8 in Prasantrin's link...an insulated container for rice, with two separate containers for side dishes. There are many variations of this type - they are lighter than the pail type, and the hot rice makes more of a difference than whether or not the side dishes are hot or cold. In fact, it is more useful to be able to pack fruit etc. when you DON'T want it kept hot!

During warmer weather, we use #22 in Prasantrin's link...some reviewers complain that the side-containers are too small in relation to the rice container, but I often layer the rice with something like egg soboro, salted salmon roe, or Okinawan andansu miso-pork. That container has an aluminum rice container (cools faster than plastic in summer, when rice spoils easily), with two separate lidded plastic containers.

One good thing about this type of bento box is that the containers tend to be a little deeper than the old-style bento boxes - making them more versatile. A shallower top layer (like those below) is a little harder to pack large items in, though it makes it easy to arrange bento foods attractively and helps to KEEP THEM FROM MOVING ROUND.

This Shokado-style bento is also a family favorite...we use an older model, but it's much the same: plastic deep bottom layer has a removable divider, allowing you to pack less rice if you prefer. A press-down mold (wet first) allows you to mark bite-sized divisions in the rice, not only pretty, but easier to eat during short lunch breaks. The top layer in our model at least is sometimes a bit shallow, but the removable H-shaped divider is very handy - you can have 4 divisions much the same, or none, or slide it along so that you have one large, 2 medium, and 1 small division. If you scroll down the link page, you can see another variation with an avocado-green lid. These two are a bit smaller, better for women or "normal" adults...the one with the black lid (swirly design on top) is the one we have, and it's just a bit bigger. Too big for my husband, fine for teenage boys.

Some of my son's friends like this type of donburi bento - rice with topping, for the kid in a hurry - just open wide and inhale! Those with particularly large appetites for for a Tupperware lidded salad bowl...

Flat bento with insert containers this type of box is out of fashion, but is what my husband takes each day. He likes the fact that the rice container isn't too big in proportion to the side dish containers, and the two containers keep items in place and separated...no sneaky movement of sloppy ketchup from the meat to the omelet! Snag - all these bentos with clip-on lids will eventually need to have the silicon rubber packing replaced - we keep a small supply (in the appropriate size) of

Slim bentoboxes are popular with women - too narrow for sandwiches, but the smaller ones are enough for a woman, and narrow enough to fit into a big purse easily. I had a particularly skinny one that I found very easy to pack (just line different items up in a row!) and easy to eat from.

Round bento boxes with a soup bowl for a lid are also especially popular with women. You can't carry soup in them, but they are handy if you like to make instant soup at your workplace.

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Our standard winter bento is like #4 or #8 in Prasantrin's link...an insulated container for rice, with two separate containers for side dishes. There are many variations of this type - they are lighter than the pail type, and the hot rice makes more of a difference than whether or not the side dishes are hot or cold. In fact, it is more useful to be able to pack fruit etc. when you DON'T want it kept hot!

/quote]

I have that type, too. I don't use it much because it doesn't suit the way I eat. I bought it in part because I thought I could use the rice container for soup, but you definitely can't. I learned that the hard way.

Some of my son's friends like this type of donburi bento - rice with topping, for the kid in a hurry - just open wide and inhale! Those with particularly large appetites for for a Tupperware lidded salad bowl...

This is my next purchase. Most of the time I prepare donburi-style lunches, so it just suits me better.

And I'm planning to get this one because you can definitely carry soup in it.

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Some of my son's friends like this type of donburi bento - rice with topping, for the kid in a hurry - just open wide and inhale!

I have this exact model and can vouch for its usefulness. I have also used it for soba in summer - the strainer insert ensures no sogginess.

On a completely non-practical note, this is my latest bento purchase :laugh:

4003479749_710d185dcc.jpg

Wooden and handmade, I love it, but it is really not great for just throwing into a bag. I had to be *very* careful getting it to work the other day. All my other bento boxes have good seals, so I have to force myself to be careful for the sake of aesthetics :rolleyes:

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