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Peter the eater

Bentos (2009-)

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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.

How does the strainer part work? Would it carry soup without any spillage?

I wonder if I'd be able to use it for something like pho. . .

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Prasantrin, I forgot to make that exact point... I really don't understand why they didn't make a better seal on the insulated container. It's just fine for carrying rice, but it would so be very handy for wetter dishes plus sides.

Beautiful but impractical bento - I have a lovely theater-going lacquer set...you can imagine how much use that DOESN'T ge, but they are beautiful to hold as well as to behold.

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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)

This is the kind we are using for my son's preschool lunches. Ours has a more domed lid, so there is some problem with food migrating, but today I tried putting a layer of plastic wrap between the food and the lid, so we'll see how that works. I like it, because I can put little sticky notes on top to tell the teachers which sections to warm up in the microwave, and which should stay cold.

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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.

How does the strainer part work? Would it carry soup without any spillage?

I wonder if I'd be able to use it for something like pho. . .

As Helen said, the seal probably isn't good enough for soup. I just use a regular thermos on soup days. The strainer is a little legged disc that sits about 1cm above the bottom of the bowl, so that when you put noodles in, they don't sit in the inevitable pool of water that appears. It's a little hard to describe, I'll take a photo when I get home from work.

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Do you have more than one bento box?

I'm not 100% clear on the definition of bento box. I may have none. What I do have are about a half dozen small containers, a couple of which have dividers. I don't have any multi-compartment bento boxes like I've seen at Japanese stores (everything I have so far is from H-Mart, a Korean chain).

Can you run them through the dishwasher?

Yes but I usually don't. The timing is such that if I want to have the containers available early every morning I'm better off hand washing during the week. Also I'm led to believe the containers, especially the gaskets, last longer if you hand wash. Not that I care -- I doubt these things will stay in use long enough to wear out.

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).

Yes. The school's practice is pack-it-in/pack-it-out. The lunch bag and all its contents come home just as they went in.

Do you prep the night before or the morning of?

I prefer to prep the morning of. I generally wake up before he does, in which case I can pack the lunch then -- it's really only a <10-minute process if you have all your ducks in a row. We also allow plenty of time in the morning for him to sit and have breakfast, and if I don't wake up early enough to pack his lunch before he wakes up I can pack it while he's eating breakfast. Having only one child is also helpful in this regard -- having three would surely affect all these logistics. One morning -- this morning -- I packed lunch the night before on account of unique circumstances. But I think the food is more appetizing when packed the morning of, so I prefer to do it in the morning.


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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Photo time!

So, it comes in two great colours:

P1010768.JPG

Complete with reflections of my kitchen cabinets! I bought both colours because you just don't know how each colour will compliment your bento :rolleyes: In all seriousness, I bought two so there would be one for my husband as well, but he finds the portions too small, so be warned. I'm not sure of the capacity but I find it perfect for my needs.

Here is it in all its pieces.

P1010769.JPG

The little black bowl sits inside the red one, which is the seal for the large outer bowl. You can put your toppings in this bowl, which also fits a small sealed container and a little sauce bottle. The outer bowl and this smaller inner bowl are both microwave safe.

And here it is partially assembled:

P1010772.JPG

Hopefully you can see here how the strainer insert keeps the contents off the bottom of the bowl to prevent sogginess. I've only ever used this bit with noodles, I can't see how it would have much effect with rice.

Hope that informs your purchasing decision :)

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Yesterday's lunch included avocado maki, pasta with pesto, and fruit.

It seems that Wednesday is becoming sushi day. Because PJ spends Tuesday afternoons at my mother's apartment, and because there's a pretty-good cheap-sushi place across from my mother's apartment, and because it's hard to prepare dinner on days when he has to be picked up across town just before dinnertime, I'm getting into the habit of picking up takeout food for Tuesday dinner and getting an extra roll for Wednesday's lunch. If this pattern holds, Wednesday will be sushi day. The restaurant is a Chinese restaurant which, as is common these days in the US, has a sushi bar and offers a lot of non-Chinese Asian hot menu items (Japanese, Thai, etc.). The restaurant's name, which has evolved over the past couple of decades, is currently Empire Szechuan Kyoto Sushi. Not the world's best sushi, but entirely adequate.

With an order over US$10 or $20 (I can't remember which) at Empire you get one extra item included at no additional charge. I usually get the cold sesame noodles and ask to have them packed with the sauce on the side. Yesterday morning I briefly considered saucing and including some leftover cold sesame noodles with PJ's lunch, but then I remembered the nut-free policy and, because the sesame sauce probably includes peanuts, quickly ruled that out. But I still had some of my nut-free (made with toasted pumpkin seeds) pesto left, so I mixed leftover undressed cold noodles with the pumpkin-seed pesto, then cut up the noodles for easier eating.

bentos11.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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In the Jewish mourning tradition, after the funeral the family of the deceased "sits shiva." This is a process where a lot of meaningful reflection occurs, people visit the home of the deceased's family and an incredible quantity of food is consumed. Our friend recently lost her mother. Yesterday, we paid a shiva call to her home in New Jersey and the spread of food was extreme even by Jewish-American shiva standards. It was as though a delicatessen had staged a grand opening in their home. As we are inner-circle friends, we stayed until almost everyone else was gone. At that point we were implored to take food home. Had we taken enough food home to feed 25 people, we wouldn't have made a dent.

I immediately thought about school-lunch opportunities for PJ. Unfortunately, because of the no-meat rule, deli food is not the best marriage for PJ's school. There were also some nut issues and other concerns. However, I did manage to pull together a lunch. And, because we had proceeded directly from school to the shiva call, I had all of PJ's lunch containers in tow. It was possible to clean them out and pack the next day's lunch in one seamless process. (We also took home a ton of deli meat in zipper bags.)

Here are the non-meat items I was able to pull together for today's lunch:

bentos12.jpg

That's a crustless double-decker egg-salad sandwich; a tray containing pickles (pickled cucumbers), olives and tomatoes; pasta salad with peas; and dessert of honeydew melon, pineapple and rugelach (a cookie-like pastry that I hope doesn't contain any nuts -- I ate about ten of them to make sure and I think these ones are nut-free).


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 ate about ten of them to make sure and I think these ones are nut-free).

That's an excellent excuse. If PJ likes olives, they make excellent fillers to plug up any gaps in the lunch box.

Empire Szechuan Kyoto Sushi

This? made me laugh out loud. Nevertheless, having systems like this are key bento strategy. But doesn't the maki get rubbery overnight?

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The nori seems to get rubbery within a few minutes of making maki. It doesn't seem to get a whole lot worse overnight -- no worse than the nori on sushi sold out of refrigerator cases even, I am told, in Japan. It's not my preference but it's probably better than nothing.


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 winter bento - it is a challenge. For a start, Japanese winter bentos have been revolutionized by the office microwave and the thermos bento sets aimed at schoolkids. My husband's boss decided they didn't need a microwave, so he has a cold lunchbox even in winter (refuses to lug a heavy thermos lunchbox around). But then, he grew up in Hokkaido, and apart from keeping their lunches by the classroom stove, he doesn't remember being bothered by their naturally "refrigerated" lunches.

It might be worth checking out Korean lunch foods, because they meet most of the following criteria...although your kid's classmates might want to keep their distance after lunch!

* season food that will be served cold more highly, and add a little sugar (helps retain moisture and keep food softer).

* Stay away from fried food - oil/fatin panfried food will congeal, and deepfried food will get hard and dry (if you must deepfry food, roll it in a sauce of ketchup/worcestershire, lemon or ginger plus a little chicken flavoring etc, sweet & sour sauce, etc. The moisture will improve the texture when it's cold).

* winter is sauce and dressing season - a little dab of mayonnaise or of any kind of sauce will provide flavor and texture to help that dried out, flavorless, rock-like winter bento syndrome. Japanese sesame-dressing, miso dressings, Korean namul (toned down to kindy palate!) all help keep food moist and tasty.

* tofu is an ideal winter bento good, and turnip/carrot are good too... they can be cooked ahead, they absorb flavor easily without needing fat, and they are juicy to bite into. If you want to make simmered dishes, add a tiny portion of cellophane noodles to help absorb any stray juices without making the dish too dry.

* beans in Japan are often simmered in a savory broth, then finished "glace" style. However you serve them, simmered beans are a good winter bento food.

* mashed potato or potato salad, sweet potato, pumpkin, beans, (and even omelet) can be seasoned and mixed with snippets of ham, whole corn, peas etc, and spooned into a square of wrap. Twist the top of the wrap to create a swirly peak, unwrap and pop in into the bento (ideally in a paper or foil case). A sprinkle or dab of something on top is pretty.

* eggs and eggy foods - especially the Japanese savory omelet or the Korean jeons and related dishes - these really come into their own in winter. Boiled carrot in a bento vs. boiled carrot strips bound with just a little egg or egg/flour batter plus onion/seasonings - no contest!

* Steamed dishes (even microwave steamed)...a steamed mini-cupcake dessert is a good winter treat, and you can make similar things in tiny containers with either "almost sweet" flavors and a few raisins or a square of soft cheese or cubes of cooked sweet potato, or you can go downright savory.

* Mini-gratins...you can have these in the freezer and run them through the toaster or microwave in the morning...a veg or two, and a dab of white sauce, surface clutter to taste, and you're done. Japanese books often top with cheese, but I think that's a mistake in winter...crumb topping would be better.

I must admit, it's easier to make an entire meal's worth of bento food for three big boys and men than it was to make tiny portions of kindergarten bento food all those years ago.

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As ever, Helen, amazing bento tips. I like to use Bulldog sauce to toss my fried items in - it's cheap and easy, as it doesn't mess up another mixing bowl in the morning. I can't believe I forgot pajeon! You can make a bunch up, freeze, and microwave them off as needed, with a little squirt bottle of soy/vinegar mix to brighten them up at lunch.

The nori seems to get rubbery within a few minutes of making maki. It doesn't seem to get a whole lot worse overnight -- no worse than the nori on sushi sold out of refrigerator cases even, I am told, in Japan. It's not my preference but it's probably better than nothing.

Does PJ like inarizushi? They seem to suit the school's requirements, and they stay pretty delicious as the mirin and soy keeps things tender. Also, they pack up pretty neatly in a box, and can be eaten with fingers. If you want to make them yourself, you can freeze them. And you can tailor the rice stuffing to include vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, etc. to make them more interesting.

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The nori seems to get rubbery within a few minutes of making maki. It doesn't seem to get a whole lot worse overnight -- no worse than the nori on sushi sold out of refrigerator cases even, I am told, in Japan. It's not my preference but it's probably better than nothing.

You could use individual packets of strip nori that can be wrapped around the rice just before eating. You'd have to change the shape of the makizushi to match the shape of the strip (you wouldn't have to, but it's nicer when it fits). That might be too much work for a little one, though.

You could also do filled onigiri rather than makizushi and use the individual strips of nori. A lot of my students' mothers make their onigiri that way. At stores in Japan, onigiri come in special packages that separate the nori from the rice and when you unwrap it, you just pull off the packaging from each side, and the nori wraps itself around the rice. I like that best, because the nori never gets soggy, so if I have to buy sushi-like things from the store, I stick with those. You can buy the plastic wrappers for homemade onigiri, too. amazon.jp

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On Sunday I was at the supermarket where I do the big weekly shopping (Fairway, in New York City) and I saw a couple of things I figured I'd try out for school lunches.

First, they had some surprisingly appetizing sushi made with brown rice. As I've found that brown rice, in other contexts, holds up under refrigeration better than white, I thought maybe this property would extend to maki. I bought a roll for PJ and a roll for me. When I tried my roll after a night in the fridge, I thought it was pretty good. Also, because of the size of the roll and the thinness of the cut, the rubberiness of the nori was less of an issue than with normally proportioned maki.

I also saw some nice little mozzarella balls that I thought would be great with cherry tomatoes on account of their near-identical size. So I got a small container of mozzarella balls, only to get home to find that Ellen and PJ had just eaten all the cherry tomatoes as a snack. So I just packed the mozzarella balls without tomatoes this time around.

Our friend Shaun, who's an amazing baker, made us an apple crisp the other day. I've been snacking on it direct from the refrigerator, so it occurred to me that I could pack a little bit for PJ in his lunch.

Also some grapes and some rice crackers.

bentos14.jpg

In the post-lunch inspection, only a few grapes and a couple of mozzarella balls were left over. I ate them in Central Park on our walk home.

This week there may only be two lunch opportunities, because we have admissions stuff (for the schools we're looking at for kindergarten next year) on Wednesday and Thursday that will likely require missing lunch, and there's no lunch at school on Fridays on account of the early dismissal. So I just have to make today's lunch, which will be a light one because this is the day he goes to grandma's house after school and he's typically well-fed there.

The light week in terms of preparation duties will give me time to consider a new issue: I think I may have successfully negotiated a way around the refrigeration policy. In a conversation with PJ's teacher, I learned that we might be able to get away with not submitting the entire lunch for refrigeration, and instead storing some components of the lunch (like an insulated container for a warm item) in the bottom of PJ's classroom locker. If this plan works and doesn't bring down the wrath of the authorities, it will require that I rethink the whole lunch strategy for the year.

To answer a few queries from above: At the moment, what you see in today's photo represents the universe of lunch containers in our possession. They're all from H-Mart, a Korean supermarket/superstore, in New Jersey. I've been meaning for weeks to make a run to Mitsuwa, the Japanese equivalent of H-Mart, also in New Jersey, but the opportunity has not arisen. Mitsuwa, as I understand it, has a broad selection of Bento-type stuff. With respect to the various methods of preserving the nori in a non-rubbery state, I'm thinking about options. The most commonly utilized option, at least here in the USA, by the way, is to make the maki inside-out (uramaki). This makes the texture of the nori a lot less relevant. In terms of the inarizushi question/suggestion, that sounds like a great idea and I need to look into it.

By the way what is the actual definition of "bento"?


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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By the way what is the actual definition of "bento"?

Good question! The word bento comes from the Chinese word bento (便當), which means convenience. Bento is defined as a meal made so that it is portable. (Let me add that as a native Japanese, I tend to say o-bento, which sounds more polite than bento.)

It is said that the reason why bento, or portable meals, have developed in Japan much more than in other countries is that Japonica rice tastes good even when it has turned cool, unlike Indica rice. As you may know, a "shio musubi" (rice ball with some salt on the outside) with some slices of pickle such as takuan can be a very satisfying meal.

I'm old-fashioned, and I tend to think of bento as room-temperature cold rice plus two or three side dishes, but with the advent of conbini (convenience store) bento and other commercially available bento, a bento can now be any meal packed in a way it is portable. A "Curry bento", for example, was unthinkable when I was small.

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It is said that the reason why bento, or portable meals, have developed in Japan much more than in other countries is that Japonica rice tastes good even when it has turned cool, unlike Indica rice. As you may know, a "shio musubi" (rice ball with some salt on the outside) with some slices of pickle such as takuan can be a very satisfying meal.

Question about the Japonica rice. I had been contemplating making sticky rice balls to be eaten with curries, since they can be eaten at room temperature, but basically had given up on the idea of using any other kind of rice in the bento unless it was going to be microwaved. Does Japonica retain its texture and flavor when cold, as in refrigerator-cold?

This morning's bento box: stir-fried greens with chicken fat and garlic, small container of homemade chili oil, roasted nam yu peanuts, cucumber, and a slice of chicken pot pie. (The crust has home-rendered lard in it, so no leaving that out.)

Oh, and a kaffir lime leaf cut into a little heart. No rice or egg molds so I gotta do DYI cute. :wink:


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Does Japonica retain its texture and flavor when cold, as in refrigerator-cold?

If it's been refrigerated, it does get hard. I think Helen has mentioned somewhere in this topic that cutting the Japonica rice with a little mochi rice helps keep the rice flexible and moist in colder temperatures, like in the case of winter bentos.

Oh, and a kaffir lime leaf cut into a little heart.

You can do that with bell peppers, too.

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Does Japonica retain its texture and flavor when cold, as in refrigerator-cold?

Like nakji said, it doesn't. Putting cooked rice in the fridge greatly affects the flavor and texture of the rice because it turns part of the alpha starch in the cooked rice back into beta starch.

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Today I realized my earlier aspiration to make a tomato-and-mozzarella salad with mozzarella balls and cherry tomatoes. I also had an avocado in the refrigerator that was nearing its useful life, so I spontaneously made mini hummus-and-avocado sandwiches. A little cantaloupe and two kinds of rice crackers and we were all set.

bentos13.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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Tomorrow PJ has a visit to a prospective ongoing school for next year, so he'll be missing school in the morning. It's not clear when that session will end. Chances are he won't be going to school tomorrow. If he does, he probably won't get there by lunchtime. But if for some reason he gets to school in time for lunch I need to have something ready. Taking nakji's suggestion I added a couple of pieces of inarizushi to the traditional Wednesday avocado maki. I'll bring that along and maybe a couple of other things so there's a light lunch available in a pinch.

bentos15.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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Mozzarella balls and mini tomatoes was a favorite of my son2 as well. (As his appetite increased, they disappeared off the budget list though!).

Do you have any trouble with the avocado discoloring by lunchtime?

Rice...one thing you can enjoy in cooler weather that is too risky in hot weather is a layered bento...the extra moisture helps keep the rice soft, and they are easier to eat for small appetites too. For example...rice then something strong such as preserved kelp or sesame seeds etc then rice then egg granules (soboro) then rice then colorful vegetables or other topping.

Tofu for lunches...I find the old frozen tofu useful here...very versatile:

* freeze, thaw, press to just over 1/3 of original weight, cut in strips or cubes for kebabs or simmered/fried dishes.

Cut very thin and deep fry (no coating) for crunchy, lacy snacks (or crumble as topping), or dip in black sesame seeds and cornflour, and deepfry for a nice cracker-like protein-rich snack (my kids love this last one).

* freeze, thaw, press as above, crumble and season, bind with egg or katakuriko (or cornstarch etc.), form into patties or balls (hide a little cube of cheese inside if you want), pan-fry or deep-fry, roll in sauce.

* freeze, thaw, don't press but cut into cubes and drain...use in simmered or stir-fried dishes - absorbs flavor better than fresh tofu; softer than koya-dofu (dried tofu).

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Steven, when you put apple slices into the bento, how do you keep them from turning brown?


Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

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Steven, when you put apple slices into the bento, how do you keep them from turning brown?

Oh, oh! /hand up/ I know this one!

Dip the apples in a some water with a touch of lemon juice or, in a pinch, vinegar. They keep fairly well like that - I once had some slices stay white for two days after a bath.

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Steven, when you put apple slices into the bento, how do you keep them from turning brown?

Oh, oh! /hand up/ I know this one!

Dip the apples in a some water with a touch of lemon juice or, in a pinch, vinegar. They keep fairly well like that - I once had some slices stay white for two days after a bath.

Better yet, pineapple juice. It gives a nice flavor to the apples and is more kid friendly.

E

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Steven, when you put apple slices into the bento, how do you keep them from turning brown?

I don't really do much. I've found that if you put the apple slices in a small, airtight container and keep it under refrigeration there isn't much browning. Using some kind of acid is more effective but I don't bother. Some types of apples seem to brown more than others but I haven't made a careful study of it.


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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