Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Xmas Tree Onigiri

I just got A-chan sat down at the table with a holiday craft to do so that I can have a moment on the computer. Whew :D She is coloring cloth napkins with fabric markers, making more of the napkins like the one above that she takes to school with her bentos everyday. The ones she is working on now are holiday themed napkins. (That should help me figure out what the pictures are, sometimes it's really hard to tell!)

Today's bento was all about the new Wilton's holiday themed cutters that I found at Target yesterday while I was shopping for gloves. (Yes, I know - gloves are not often found in the holiday baking section...but...I had to look!) I picked the easiest one to start with - the xmas tree!

In the bento: Triangle onigiri with sesame seeds around the edges, cucumber xmas tree with apple, cheese and carrot decorations, black beans on star picks, homemade veggie gyoza tucked way in the back, sauteed tofu cubes, carrot star, pear slices, half of a baby tomato and some steamed broccoli.

My little circle cutter didn't work on the apple peel so I ended up cutting the apple circles with scissors. The center of the large star worked perfectly as the star on the xmas tree, yay!

It was a quick and easy bento. The onigiri was frozen and I just had to microwave it for one minute. The gyoza was also frozen. I browned the bottom of the gyoza in sesame oil and then steamed it and the broccoli together. Once they were done I removed them from the pan and sauteed the tofu in it.

This one did have a bento 'oops' - A-chan reported that the xmas tree stuck to the inside of the lid. She didn't seem to mind so I guess it was okay.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The End of Fall

The end of fall is nigh, winter's arrival has been announced. Frigid temperatures have arrived and our driveway is lost beneath a carpet of brown leaves. Today we say goodbye to autumn, to winter we wave hello. When we were leaving for school this morning it was 38 degrees, a huge change from the weekend where we had 70 degree daytimes. I own at least 10 pairs of gloves and couldn't find any of them this morning. We both looked and looked and found none! So as soon as I dropped A-chan off at her class I ran to buy two new pairs. And I also bought a special box to store them in that is right beside the front door. I'm hoping that will make us a lot less late to school in the future!

Today's bento is the last fall bento of the year. It was fraught with indecision! I knew that I was going to put meatballs (well, fake meatballs) in her bento this morning but wasn't sure what I wanted them to be. I turned them into a cute caterpillar at the last minute. A-chan didn't think that the caterpillar looked like a caterpillar, but she did say it was cute. Oh well, I tried :) I had already started cooking the corn on the cob when I remembered that her mouth had gotten injured (a tickling incident turned bad) over the weekend so I decided to cut the corn off the cob instead. The apple bunny originally started out as another maple leaf but I just couldn't get it to fit correctly so I did a presto-chango.

In the bento: Mashed potatoes with carrot maple leaves on top, meatless meatballs (frozen ones from Trader Joe's), steamed broccoli, corn off the cob, a star pick with green peas and one tiny apple bunny.

The caterpillar face was done with two picks for antennae, one green pea cut in half for the eyes, a cheddar cheese smile and sesame seed details for the eyes. The bow is from carrot and apple peel.

The only thing we had leftover from Thanksgiving was the mashed potatoes. Here is a pic of the feast we did. There were still dishes of food that hadn't made it onto the table when I snagged a second to take a picture. A-chan was on guard duty, making sure none of the cats jumped into the food. Poor girl, she had a hard time with that job! She and I made hand turkeys earlier in the day and taped them onto chopsticks which we then stuck into our table bouquet. I loved how they looked!!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Rock Lee Bento

A new bento video, yay!! I say new only in the sense that the video was put up on Youtube today, technically the bento itself was from August of last year. I originally made the video in September of last year. However the files got corrupted on my computer and I lost the video. Finally succeeded in recreating the video. Then I was about to post it when my laptop died and I lost it again. So...this is the third time it's been created, lol. Yes, I am a slow worker :)

It's finally done and uploaded successfully! I am so going to celebrate now!

Anyway...it's Rock Lee from Naruto as an onigiri. Even after a year I still think it's really cute.
In the bento: Onigiri with nori and mozzarella detail, veggie burger, steamed squash, steamed broccoli, cherry tomato, baby corn, carrot coin, yakisoba noodles with black sesame seeds and edamame.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Clementine of Cuteness

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!! Are you all ready for the holiday? We're slowly getting there. The house is finally all clean (well, most of it anyway- not the bedroom where I stuffed everything from the rest of the house). I've been to the grocery store 3 times so far this week but I still need to go back for more food! Wild turkeys have been hiding out in our backyard all day. They are very funny to watch, especially when they come across one of our outdoor cats. The cats are scared to death of the huge birds and the turkeys seem to realize this and strut around the yard.

Being vegetarian can bring a lot of difficulty over the Thanksgiving holiday. Most of my family doesn't understand that we don't eat meat and the T-day becomes a confrontational event that I just avoid by staying home. This year my mom is going to come have Thanksgiving with us, though! I'm so excited that I'm cooking enough for an army or two and have been going crazy with the cleaning. I've been asked probably 20 times this week if we're doing a Tofurky. Nope! I did try one a few years ago but didn't find it very satisfying. My menu calls for Soy sausage rolls as the main course. Not only are they yummy by themselves but they are great with gravy on top. And if there are any leftover they can be frozen to use in bentos.

A-chan has been busy all afternoon making decorations and taping them up in various locations around the house.

I don't have another T-day themed bento ready but here is the cutest clementine ever :) A-chan has recently discovered Clementines and the fact that she can peel them herself. We are both delighted by this discovery and enjoying their yummy orange goodness just about every day right now.

In the bento: A container of black beans, clementine with nori, black sesame seeds and mozzarella face details, halved baby tomato, steamed broccoli and baby corn. The other side is full of Japanese curry with a jasmine rice frame on top, baby corn and carrot flowers at the four corners.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Koala Luv and the Kabocha Adventure

A-chan has no school this entire week. So I'm going to be posting older bentos that I have in my backlog, yay!! It was very disappointing not to do a bento this morning, especially since I spent the morning mopping instead. I might have to manufacture an excuse to do a bento later in the week :)

In the bento: Pink rice, soy bologna koala face with mozzarella cheese and black olive details, steamed broccoli, cauliflower and baby corn, some veggie hot dogs cut interestingly, a piece of frozen peach and a strawberry. Not pictured are a piggy soy sauce bottle and a small container of ketchup. (I always forget to leave space for those in the bento!)

The koala face was very simple to make. I drew the outline on a piece of white paper and cut it out, then placed the paper on top of the soy bologna and cut out along the edge. It was kind of slow going because I wanted to get the ears perfect. Once it was all cut out I put it on top of the rice. I used a flower petal cutter to make the mozzarella ear fluff shapes and then cut off the insides with a large circle cutter. An oval shaped cutter was used for the whites of the eyes. Halves of black olives went on for the eyes, another halved olive was cut longwise for the nose. It went together very quickly!

The Kabocha Adventure
This weekend we managed to slide into SuperH just before it closed and score a kabocha for me to try. A-chan also insisted on running all the way to the other end of the store to grab some mochi, but we were there for the kabocha! I'd been wanting to try one for a while after seeing it in so many other people's bentos, but I was intimidated. Sherimiya of Happy Little Bento gave me courage (thankyou, Sheri!!!!) and I was determined to try it sooner rather than later.

Last night was our kabocha adventure night! It was great - a little difficult to cut but easy to cook and it was very yummy. A-chan didn't like it as much as I did. She thinks it requires a lake full of soy sauce to dip in. I enjoyed listening to Kodo while I chopped the kabocha, it had been a long time since I'd heard them. The drum beats helped the chopping - so much more fun to time the cuts to the drum beats!

I didn't think to take any pictures, though. Oh well. I'll get more next week!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Gyoza by hand

I know that a lot of people have the gyoza utensil and may not want to make any by hand. I don't have one though I always start wishing for one about halfway through :) Pleating the gyoza by hand is lots of fun and I enjoy it but after 20 or so gyoza it starts to become tedious. If I could do the first half by hand and then use a gyoza utensil for the last half that would be perfect!

Since I don't have anyone else here that can take pictures while I'm actually doing the pleating I've done my best with the instructions but they might still be a bit ambiguous. I will try to get an actual video of the pleating around x-mas. It gets easier with practice!

  • Let cool and prepare a gyoza making station with a 2 plates, 2 bowls and a napkin. 1 plate is for the gyoza wrappers, 1 plate is for the finished gyoza, 1 bowl needs to be half full of cold water and the other bowl is for the veggie mix.
  • I use chopsticks to place a small amount of veggie mix in the center of a gyoza wrapper and spread it out to the sides.
  • Dip a finger in the water and run it along one half of the gyoza circle, then repeat for the other half.
  • Fold the gyoza in half like a taco, allowing the edges of the circle to seal together. Start pleating the gyoza from the left side and continue to the right. I like to make 5 pleats. That makes it easier because I know the middle pleat should be at the center of the taco.
  1. To make my pleats I take the gyoza wrapper that is closest to me (the front) in the forefinger and thumb of my left hand. ( You only pleat the front, the back should remain straightened) The gyoza rests against the fingers of my right hand with the right thumb in front. I place my right thumb on the front of the gyoza wrapper just where I want the pleat to be and then fold a small amount of gyoza wrapper over my thumbnail with the left hand. I then remove the right thumb and press down to make the pleat stick. And then repeat the same process until you have 5 pleats.
I also decided to make a couple of egg rolls while I was working :) The next step is cooking.

To cook my gyoza I like to brown the bottoms in either olive oil or sesame oil and then steam the rest with water or vegetable stock. (I prefer vegetable stock but I don't always have any ready) Place a small amount of oil in a pan, when heated place the gyoza in the oil with the bottom down.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Gobble gobble?

This was A-chan's bento for the Thanksgiving feast at school today. When we discussed possible themes for the bento she passed up a tipi and wanted a turkey. I'm not sure that she actually understands the connection between T-day feast and the turkey honestly. In any case this cute guy was a big hit! Since she was supposed to join in the potluck feast with the rest of her class I made a smaller bento than normal. It was nice to be able to use this box since it normally gets deemed as too small for lunches and relegated to a snack container.

In the bento: Onigiri turkey made from fried rice, carrots and snow peas with cheddar and nori eyes. Soy turkey rolled up into a corner, raspberries, carrot flower, black olives, steamed broccoli and a pick with chickpeas and green peas.

The second thing that A-chan said after seeing the turkey this morning: "Uh oh, he's going to get smooshed." And she was right. My artistic fervor went out of bounds with this one and there was no way I was going to be able to put the lid on without squishing Mr. turkey. I rearranged the tail feathers and the beak, moved the head a little lower down and after all those adjustments managed to get the lid closed with no damage, yay!

Here is a picture of her before going off to school this morning. I can't believe I remembered to stop and take a picture of her with a bento for once!
This turkey bento is truly the epitome of why I started making bentos in the first place. The whole idea was to have A-chan be able to take something to an event where either the vegetarianism or her food allergies would prevent her from being able to eat what was being served. But she wouldn't feel depressed or left out because she had some of her own favorite foods in a beautiful presentation. I feel fulfilled :D

Basic Gyoza Recipe

Yay! I finally had time to make the gyoza. This post is for gnoegnoe :D It is my basic gyoza recipe. I love to eat gyoza with sauces and to make sure that the flavors won't conflict I keep the gyoza fairly bland. I make lots of others with different ingredients and spicing. One of my husband's all time fav gyoza recipes is for the Thai potato gyoza that I make. I'll get around to putting up that one someday...

And after I made the gyoza I decided that I had to make a bento to enjoy some of them right away!

In the bento:

Left -3 home made gyoza seperated by orange slices, raspberries, snap peas, a container of blueberry cheese, black olives on a pick.

Back - Thai sweet potato soup with cucumber slices and baby tomato slices.

Right - Basil pearl couscous with carrot and purple potato flowers.

I mistakenly thought that very thin cucumber slices would float on top of the very thick soup. I was wrong! But I was determined, lol, and just kept piling them on until there were enough cucumber slices that the top ones didn't sink. It made for a very yummy cucumber center to the soup.

The purple potato is my newest obsession totally inspired by Hapa Bento who uses them to make the most elegant decorative touches. I've been seeing them in her bentos for a while and being morose because nobody sold them here. But low and behold I found them in the grocery store! A whole bag of them! Woot! Now I get to use my favorite color in my bentos, finally!!! I seriously can't tell you how excited I was when I found them. I am such a bento geek :)

Basic Gyoza Recipe (this is a half recipe and makes about 40 gyoza)

  • 1/3 head Napa cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 2 carrots, julienned
  • ½ onion, minced
  • 2 baby bella mushrooms, minced
  • ¼ pkg extra firm tofu, smooshed by hand
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 TB soy sauce
  • 3 tsp mirin
  • ¼ tsp dried cilantro
  • 1/8 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder
  • ½ tsp ginger powder

  1. Heat 2 TB sesame oil in a sautee pan. When the oil is hot add the minced garlic and fry for 1 minute. Add the ginger and stir for another few seconds.
  2. Put all veggies into pan together.
    Stir well and let sit for a few minutes.
  3. Add the spices, soy sauce and mirin. Stir well and again let sit for a few minutes.
  4. Keep stirring occasionally as you wait for the mixture to reduce. All the moisture needs to cook out of it.

  5. I generally freeze the gyoza right after I make them and then I can pull them straight out of the freezer to cook when I am making a bento. My favorite way of cooking them is to brown the bottoms in a little bit of sesame oil and then pan steam with a little bit of vegetable broth.

    I am planning on putting up more pics and instructions for pleating gyoza by hand tomorrow! (The pics are already taken I just don't have time to go into that today...)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dancing robot

Ack! It's a robot invasion! Wait...it has no feet. Hard to invade without feet. Oh look, it's dancing. How can it dance without feet? Robot magic.

The only thing A-chan asked for in her bento this morning was couscous so I had freedom to create! I only realized that the robot had no feet when she brought it up. Bah. Originally I was going to have him standing in the lettuce and the lettuce would have hidden the fact that he had no feet. But he wouldn't fit that way and I had to switch him round a bit :) It never occurred to me that he needed feet!

In the bento: Garlic and basil couscous, soy ham robot, raspberries, a container of black beans with carrot stars, cucumber slices, carrot ribbons, sauteed tofu and a lemon wedge.

I cut the robot body out of a slice of soy ham with scissors. The face is made from mozzarella and carrots. The buttons and knobs are mozzarella, cucumber peel, carrot and vegetarian pepperoni. A-chan said that he was too cute and she might not want to eat him.

The most surprising part of the bento to me is the container of black beans. We were in the grocery store and I was just joking when I asked if A-chan wanted me to buy some black beans to put in her bento. She said yes! And she has been eating them, way cool!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rainy Day

It's only Tuesday and already it's been one of those weeks. Other than a tiny peek of the sun this afternoon it's been raining for two and a half days straight now. Ugh. I am really grateful for my A-chan who has been making things so much easier and helping me out while the rain is being a big pain. Today's bento was to try and cheer us both up and make us stop grumbling. Who can be grumpy with cute and happy raindrops?

In the bento: Jasmine rice packed nice and tight, mozzarella and soy turkey cloud and raindrops with nori faces, steamed broccoli, baby tomato umbrella, frozen peaches and blueberries, fried tofu bites and a Hello Kitty filled with Yamasa soy sauce.

I cut the cloud and raindrops out of cheese using shaped cutters and then cut the soy turkey just a little larger around with scissors. A-chan didn't think the tomato looked much like an umbrella, but it was what I had so I used it :)

The cuteness did cheer me up a little - enough to take a picture today. I didn't even take a picture of yesterday's bento. This week is the first time that I've ever been unhappy making bentos. Usually I enjoy every second of it but this weekend a friend of mine said some things about bentos and my blog that have me depressed. His comments really hurt my feelings. If it had been someone that I didn't know I would be less affected. In fact, I would view it like a challenge and go, "Ha! I'll show you how awesome bentos are, bub!" But I guess since it was from someone important to me it's hit me very hard. Even worse - I was asking for help but got ridicule and derision instead. I am not sure how to deal with it and it's put a very large dark cloud over my morning bentoing. Have any of you met with this sort of reaction to your bento making?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Needs Pocky

For some reason this bento really says that it needs Pocky. Not just any pocky, but men's pocky. Maybe it's the stripes. Maybe it's all the black which just shouts manliness? I don't know. But I was actually craving pocky the whole time I made it. Did you know that yesterday was Pocky day? That's according to Glico. At some point this weekend I need to make up for my complete and utter lack of pocky yesterday. Pocky would have been the perfect for the long late night drive from Georgia to Atlanta.

I love the way the stripes are reflected onto the sides of the bento, I just love the way it looks! There was no design in my head when I started making this one so it turned out a lot less cute and a little more adult. A-chan had requested scrambled tofu onigiri and the sweet potato bun. Once I packed those things into the bento there wasn't much room left! You can't see the yellow of the scrambled tofu in the picture, but in real life it's a bright yellow.

I don't usually have anybaby carrots around, they haven't been on my bento pantry list. My family bought them for A-chan's birthday party and gave me the rest of the huge bag and I didn't want them to go to waste! Sherimiya always does neat and really pretty things with baby carrots. Looking at all of her awesome bentos inspired me to try out some new things with baby carrots too!

In the bento: Three scrambled tofu onigiri with nori cats on top, two baby carrots, a heart pick with chickpeas, steamed broccoli, apple bunny, sweet potato bun.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Old school turtle

This bento is a tribute to the very first bento that I made a long, long time ago. It was November of 2006 and A-chan had just turned two. I just felt like going back to that early exploration of bento. It was so much fun and exciting to get my first bento box and decide what to put in it. We were going on a day trip to Atlanta to visit friends of ours and their twin baby girls. I was so worried about imposing on them and I didn't want to make them do a special lunch for the vegetarians, plus it was the perfect excuse to try a bento. Ha, ha. I know now that it wouldn't have been an imposition and I actually have a freezer shelf reserved for vegetarian food in their house these days. So when I go to visit them I already have food stocked up! A-chan and I are going to visit them tonight and stay for several days and this bento made me feel all nostalgic.

When I was pregnant I was panicking because I had no experience with babies whatsoever. I'd never changed a diaper or held a baby or anything! Our friends taught us so much about parenting both before A-chan was born and all through the years. They are wonderful people, fantastic parents and I am so grateful to be their friend. I can't wait to visit them - I don't know who is more excited, me or A-chan :)

In the bento: two black olives, cheese sandwich with cheese and soy turkey turtle, a container of chickpeas, a pickle, a clementine and a cherry tomato halved.

I used three different sizes of round cutters to get the shapes for the turtle but tore the soy turkey with my fingers so that it came out rough and in interesting shapes. For the eyes I used black sesame seeds. The sesame seeds were the only part of the bento that didn't get eaten.

The angular nature of the house container makes it very difficult for me to use in bentos. For some reason I just can't get it to fit in well. This bento is an exception because of the straight line of the sandwich to nestle the container up against. But I find myself never using it because it's just awkward.

Here is the picture of the original bento. I'm not sure which turtle is cuter, but I love them both :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Snails are cute!

Snails are really cute! And I love the way this one turned out :) A-chan liked him too and ate him all up. This is another older bento but I wanted to post it today in honor of my rescue of a snail earlier in the week from where he was lodged in our cats' food bowl. An indoor bowl which resides in my laundry room. I have no clue how a snail got there to begin with. But the poor thing is now outdoors in the jungle of our yard.

This bento includes a lot of items from what I like to call my bento "stockpile". These are items that I almost always have on hand for use in bentos. The items in this bento are: green peas, carrots, baby corn, baby tomatoes, frozen blueberries, miniature frozen pancakes and morningstar farms sausage links. The only item that is not always on hand is the tofu heart. The swirl on the snail shell pancake was done with strawberry frosting and more of the frosting was in the monkey face container to spread on the other three pancakes.

A little bit of the frosting goes a long way. A-chan gets something that she considers a rare treat and I'm happy because she isn't eating a whole lot of sugar. It also keeps forever! And the pancake bentos are so easy and quick to make, I just love keeping the ingredients on hand for whenever I need a no-fail bento. They are especially wonderful for those days when I wake up late or don't have a good plan in mind already!

In the bento: A pick of green peas, a container of frozen blueberries, heart shaped tofu cooked in soy sauce, carrot heart, babycorn spears, a baby tomato, julienned carrots, miniature pancakes, morningstar farms soy sausage link with cute nori face and a carrot antenna.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tiny Face Onigiri

This is the last candy corn onigiri of the season. I love how the face turned out, it's sooo cute! I finally found a teeny tiny hole punch at Hobby Lobby that was just what I wanted. Last year A-chan and I argued vehemently over who got the last one, but this year I magnanimously allowed her to have it. We'll be eating the last of the actual candy corn soon, only half a bag is left. As the last few pieces disappear we will slip into winter mode.

I've realized recently that a lot of my sentiment regarding the change of seasons is marked by food. This applies not only to purchased foods like candy corn but also the recipes that I pull out tend to change with the seasons. I'm sure that most people do the same but it only came to my attention in the last few weeks.

Falls sees the disappearance of sandwiches, except in A-chan's school bentos. Apples and cheeses become prolific in my fall menus. Winter brings casseroles and stews and heavy pastas. I seem to use more wine in my cooking during winter as well, while I use almost none in the summer.

Our bentos don't seem to reflect these tendencies though. Almost as if they are a menu apart and my brain classifies them as something different and in their own category - thus free from the seasons. They have contradicted some of my long held seasonal food rules, actually. Scottish flat pie used to be totally reserved for fall, but now shows up year round because it works so well in bentos. I would like to explore more of the Japanese idea of seasonal foods, particularly as it pertains to bentos. Do their bentos follow the seasonal pattern?

In the bento: Candy corn onigiri with a tiny face of nori, two raspberries, steamed broccoli, baby corn, fried tofu bites, carrot acorns and a wedge of lemon. A soy sauce bottle takes up extra space in the back.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Masked Onigiri

Let's see...this bento was from last week? Or maybe the week before that. I can't remember now. It's never too late for Halloween bento posts, right? I need a button that pauses time for a while so that I can catch up with everything that I need to do! Anyway, a little bit late - two candy corn onigiri dressed up for Trick or Treating. There are also some carrot squiggles, cherry tomato quarters, a festive piece of pear and fried tofu bites.

The cute little pumpkin is made from wool. My husband needle felted a trio of them as Halloween decorations. They are so sweet!

This was also the morning of the Parent's Breakfast at a-chan's school. For our contribution to the pot luck breakfast we brought grapes and a ton of apple bunnies. It took about 30 minutes to cut all the bunnies. A-chan put them in their "bath" of lemon juice and water. We used 10 apples, I think. I lost count about 3/4 of the way through :D