Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kuri Curry LunchBots Thermal Bento

With the weather cooling down a bit, I'm thinking more about thermal bento these days. And when I saw the cutest kuri squash at the market, I had to make curry. I wish I took a picture of the squash before I cut it. If you haven't seen one, it's a small roundish squash with a tough outer skin in a brilliant red color. The flesh is orange like pumpkin and it's great in curry because of the autumny color! My curry is packed with all kinds of veggies (and ground turkey) like broccoli, celery, onion, carrots, and sometimes mushrooms and potatoes. You can pack it over rice or just straight, like I did here, in the LunchBots Thermal Food Container. I packed a side box with beautiful cara cara oranges (also called red navel in my market) and watermelon balls. I also packed this cute Light My Fire combo spoon fork because it's MisterMan's favorite. It even has a serrated edge for cutting. How cute! Happy Start of Fall!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pork Chop Strips Bento

For this simple lunch I made pan-fried Vietnamese style thin pork chops, which I sliced into strips for the kids' bento. I marinated the meat in a mixture of fish sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, shallots, and cracked black pepper before cooking them in a cast iron pan. Added the sliced peppers too, and reduced the sauce. You can serve them in a lettuce wrap with pickled veggies, or over shredded lettuce, or with baby sweet peppers like I did here. A half peach and some chopped Asian pear round out the bento for MisterMan. They both love this meat, and it's a great way to get them to eat lettuce too :)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Cold Penne Pasta Salad

Looks like we're on a cold noodle salad roll over here. I really don't know why it didn't occur to me to make pasta salads ALL SUMMER long, but the idea is now in my head. This one doesn't have a sauce, but gets all its flavor from the diced garlicky chicken sausage, roasted red peppers, and pickled onions. I parboiled broccoli that I had chopped finely and tossed that in too, because you know me, I gotta have some green in there. I loosely used a Serious Eats recipe for Spanish Pasta Salad but adapted some ingredients because it was more convenient. It still tastes good!

Spanish Pasta Salad With Chorizo, Piquillo Peppers, and Pickled Onion

  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 pound small pasta, such as macaroni (I used penne because I like the color of this carrot version)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 6 ounces Spanish chorizo (about 2 sausages), diced (I used chicken garlic sausage)
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
  • 1/4 cup chopped roasted or grilled piquillo peppers from 1 (12-ounce) brine- or oil-packed jar (I used roasted red peppers)
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley leaves and tender stems (about 1/2 bunch)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons zest from 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper

    1. In a small mixing bowl, cover onion with sherry vinegar and let stand until lightly pickled, at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
    2. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until very tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes longer than al dente stage according to package. Drain in a colander, then chill under cold running water. Let drain well, then drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss to coat. Set aside.
    3. In a small skillet, cook chorizo over medium-high heat until fat has rendered and chorizo is crisp, about 8 minutes; during last 1 minute of cooking, stir in garlic.
    4. In a large serving bowl, toss pasta with chorizo, garlic, and its rendered fat, along with olive oil, piquillo peppers, parsley, scallions, and lemon zest. Drain onions and toss into salad. Season with salt and pepper. Serve right away at room temperature or make up to 1 day in advance, refrigerate, and return to room temperature before serving. 

    The rest of the bento contains sliced plums and white nectarines, as well as a grape tomato. I hope TinySprite enjoys her Paperchase lunch box bento!

    Wednesday, September 23, 2015

    Soba Salad Round Bento

    Cold soba salad is typically a warm weather food, and I know it's late September - the first day of Fall, in fact - but it still feels like summer around here. And I just realized I forgot to make soba salad at all this past summer -- so here it is! I used cha soba (it looks pale green and has a faint tea flavor), and topped with chopped romaine (my favorite salad green these days), julienned carrots and cucumbers, sliced grape tomatoes, and char siu. Sprinkled with sesame seeds and packed with a little soy-ginger dressing in the little yellow container this bento is ready to eat. I actually put the dressing container in the main part on top of the soba -- the top tier presses down on it just enough to keep it from moving around and spilled open. And if it does spill, it will spill on the salad. Top tier holds sliced plum and a few strawberries. All very refreshing on a warm summery day.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2015

    Ham and Cheese Pinwheels Bento

    Sometimes you need a no-cook bento idea because you didn't cook anything for dinner and there weren't any leftovers anyway. That's when I make sandwiches. If you've looked at my blog for awhile you'll know I don't make sandwiches often. Unless I have unusual or fun bread, I think they're a tad boring. But it's easy to make them fun by rolling pinwheels! I flattened the bread with a rolling pin, cut off the crusts and tossed them to the dog (but you can also save them for other purposes like in soup or for croutons!), then layered cheddar, spinach, and nitrite-free ham. Roll up and secure with long picks. Done! The other half of the split Sistema container holds pairs of plums, grapes, tomatoes, and carrots. Aww, I hope TinySprite will love it!

    Thursday, September 17, 2015

    Salmon Salad LunchBots Bento

    I made salted salmon (shiozake) to serve over baby lettuce greens in a simple salad for my kids' bento today. Since we still have fresh corn, I added fresh cooked corn off the cob as well. The salmon has flavor enough to make this small portion quite tasty. And since she loves them, I also pan fried some potato wedges and sprinkled with furikake in the next section. In the last section of our well-used LunchBots Trio I placed sliced elephant heart pluots (I think this may be our last batch of the season. So sad! I love these sweet dark red fruit very much) and carrots to round out the bento. The lid stays on well enough to keep everything separate for them come lunchtime. Perfect!

    Wednesday, September 16, 2015

    Autumn Chili Thermal Bento

    It is starting to cool down over here in Northern California just a little, which means it's time to start packing thermal bento again. I have several types of thermal containers and this one is still just right for TinySprite. It holds 10 ounces and has a cute Hello Kitty decoration on it. I have a bigger one that I use for MisterMan, and you'll see that one in an upcoming post I'm sure. I made turkey bean chili with various vegetables (this time tomatoes, corn, celery, onion, and broccoli) added. To accompany it, I packed a small round tight-sealing container with sliced plums, carrots, and grapes.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2015

    Sticky Rice Froggy Bento

    When afterschool activities run from 4:00 until 5:30 or 6:00, I'm thinking of dinner making itself. Sticky rice is a great self-cooking meal. Just toss everything into the rice cooker, press the button and go! If you have a fancy Zojirushi, you can even set the timer. Today I made a half brown half white batch with shiitake, lup cheong, baby bok choy, and char siu. In the past I've also added chopped kabocha and roast duck. You can use whatever you like, and pack it into the lower part of the cutest Kotobuki Froggy Two-Tier Bento ever. In the top tier, toss in some elephant heart pluots, grapes, and carrots. So easy; my favorite kind of dinner-to-bento meal. Done!

    Monday, September 14, 2015

    Shoyu Chicken ECOlunchbox Bento

    One of the standards that makes a frequent appearance on this blog: shoyu chicken with broccoli and potatoes. I used the very sturdy and substantial ECOlunchboxes Three-in-One set, which gives me two tiers to pack a lot of food for my 7th grader. Besides the lower tier that I just mentioned, he gets a container of yogurt with wheat germ and blueberries, plus some plum, donut peach, and grapes. This whole set latches together on two sides very securely and has never come apart in our experience. Hope your week is getting off to a great start!

    Thursday, September 10, 2015

    Shrimp and Pasta Magic Round Bento

    I think I've been using this box for at least 5 years now; it used to be MisterMan's box, and now TinySprite's appetite is big enough to pass it on to her on occasion. A couple things make it a standout box for me: it's round, which is a pleasing shape. It's divided into three wedge-shaped sections, and these sections are removable so we can use any or all as we choose. The box is pretty deep, so the amount of food I can pack is substantial. And it comes with a snap-locking clear plastic lid, so we can see the beautiful lunch waiting for us! Finally, it somehow seems that everything looks good in this kind of round box, naturally. It's, well, magic. Hence the Magic Round Bento (MRB) nomenclature. Try it yourself and see!

    Today I sent TinySprite to school with buttery shrimp and pasta and one of our current summer favorite salads: chopped romaine with halved cherry tomatoes and cracked pepper. This time I tossed with fresh corn off the cob. I'll sprinkle with whatever cheese I have on hand: feta, parmesan, even grated cheddar or jack. And since we're still in the stone fruit portion of summer, we're getting our fill of plums while we can. There are a couple berries in there to fill space as well. We're well into our 3rd week of school but it still feels like summer out here in California. How's your school year going so far?

    Wednesday, September 9, 2015

    Breakfast For Lunch PlanetBox Bento

    Working the PlanetBox Rover again, we played out one of our favorite themes: breakfast for lunch. Today's included pan-fried sausage and hard-boiled eggs. I guess the plain tart yogurt with fresh fruit topping (and pumpkin seeds) falls into the same category too. A side salad of chopped romaine, cherry tomatoes, parmesan and fresh ground pepper pulls the whole thing into a more lunch-y type mode. I'd say. The yogurt is completely sealed inside the big dipper once the box is latched, so there'll be no leakage. I omitted dressing on the salad, because that won't stay in the section. If you so desire, you could send dressing along in the little dipper, which would sit in the section where the egg is (and there is definitely enough room to double up the eggs and squeeze it in. Quick and easy! I'm really liking this box already.

    Tuesday, September 8, 2015

    Pizza in the PlanetBox Bento

    Like I mentioned in the last post, we've started the new school year with a brand new bento box system: The PlanetBox Rover. I was very excited to test it out! So far we've used it only a couple times, but I can't wait to show and tell you about it already. Our first packed PlanetBox is shown here:

    We packed homemade pepperoni/spinach/onion/red pepper pizza in the largest, square section. I separated the two pieces with wax paper. Since the lid is convex, you can pack more than you think, a feature I love! In another section I packed a cabbage/carrot/daikon slaw and grape tomatoes, a selection of strawberries and super-red elephant heart plums (my current season favorite), cinnamon cottage cheese in the little dipper, corn sheets, and some sunflower seeds in the tiniest center compartment. That little space is supposed to be reserved for a small indulgent treat, like maybe a piece of candy or something. 

    I'm not sure how much each section holds, but the website says this entire box has a capacity of 4.5 cups -- I'm assuming that means packed to the gills up to the top of the recessed lids. The box itself is not leakproof, so they don't recommend liquids like gravies or sauces, but the lidded containers (I've only shown the small one) are reported to be leakproof.

    My experience with the PlanetBox Rover?

    The little round dipper was indeed leakproof, and my son said everything stayed inside its separate section without problem. He had no problem opening and closing the box, and he ate everything we packed. As a bonus, his fork fit into the long section after he was finished, so as to keep the inside of the carrying case clean. I did see some liquid spilled into the case, however, but I think it was the pickling liquid from the slaw. If I were to pack slaw again, I would make sure to drain it first, or else pack it in one of the dippers. Otherwise, it is a great option for bento packing, and I recommend it. Cleanup is easy; I washed everything in soapy water (they are also dishwasher safe) and towel-dried. The only reservation I have is the somewhat higher than average retail price of $49.95 for this box set; there is a smaller one that sells for less (Shuttle, $34.95) and a larger one that sells for more (Launch, $55.95), but I expect this box to last for many uses, making it a quality long-term (hopefully lifetime) investment. We're looking forward to using this box much more throughout the school year!

    Thursday, September 3, 2015

    New Bento Box: PlanetBox Rover

    Hello Bento Friends!

    If you've been following along with our bento adventures for any amount of time, you know that we have a lot of bento boxes. I mean almost 4 cabinet shelves' worth. That means we've developed an idea for what kind of boxes work best for which foods and which kids. Recently, I've been asked to test and review the PlanetBox Rover. This box is made of high quality stainless steel, with 5 separate compartments and a hinged lid that locks closed with a simple latch. The Rover comes with two round containers that fit inside the box, both with silicone gaskets that seal closed when the box is locked. The insulated carrying case has an inner pocket to add an ice pack to keep everything cool. The bag is not included. The Rover + two dipping containers retails for $49.95, and it looks beautiful, as you can see.

    The attached lid complements the box compartments, with convex sections to allow for the packing of extra food. The website claims the box holds 4.5 cups of food, which I assume takes into account the extra lid space. They offer a smaller (3 cups) as well as a larger (6.5 cups) box.

    I like that the lid will never be lost, since it doesn't come apart. All the inner corners are rounded and smooth.

    The smaller little dipper has a lid with an integrated silicone inner seal.

    The larger big dipper has a removable silicone ring. Be careful not to let the ring fall out while you're putting the lid on.

    The two round containers are designed to fit inside two of the compartments; there are 4 dimples to hold each in place, but you can easily choose not to use them and there's no loss of space.

    When the system is latched, everything is sealed tightly.

    I like the way it looks, and everything feels sturdy and strong. Stay tuned while we put the whole system to the test and send it to school with my little monkeys!

    Wednesday, September 2, 2015

    Welcome Back To School, v. Fall 2015!

    Hi Bento Friends!
    If your kids haven't gone back to school yet, they probably will in the next couple weeks. Like me, you might be starting to think about packing lunches again. I didn't pack lunches all summer because MisterMan was taking over the lunchpacking duties when they were required, and other times their camp activity center provided meals. So I am wayyyy out of practice! 

    I decided to start easy by packing a kid favorite. This one is for TinySprite, who is now starting 3rd grade. I made her tiny tuna melts using Mini Sandwich Thins. I love these (smaller than the regular size Sandwich Thins) because you have the option of packing more, with different fillings if you like. Plus they fit in the bento box much more easily. And they're so cute! In this standard size bento box, I filled the rest of the space in with silicone cups of fresh organic plum, strawberries, grapes, blackberries and blueberries, and fancy cut carrot sticks. I totally forgot about any kawaii details, but the Chococat box should make up for it this time.

    Hope you are all gearing up to get excited for a new school year!