Monday, January 31, 2011

Japanese Curry Recipe

The way that I cook Japanese curry is rather basic. It involves Curry mixes which make it very easy! There are lots of different brands. Golden Curry is the most pervasive where I live, I can find it in our regular grocery stores like Kroger and Publix. My personal favorite is Vermont Curry. Who can resist apple and honey?? I generally purchase one pack of med. hot and one pack of hot. I mix them together so that it allows for the spice tolerance of the whole family. When I'm just making some for me I only use the hot :D

Since this is a dish that I make once a week, I like to play around with the basic recipe and add things to it. Some of these additives are liked by A-chan and some are not so I make a large batch by the basic recipe and then separate it to put the extra ingredients in. Sultanas and honey are the combination that she likes the best. Coffee and coconut milk are the ones I end up choosing the most often. For this batch I added chunks of apple and crushed pecans. (She was okay with the apple but loathes pecans.)

Basic recipe


4 blocks of Curry mix (I use 2 hot and 2 med. hot)

1 onion

3 large carrots

3 Idaho potatoes, peeled or unpeeled

½ block of extra firm tofu

1 TB Sesame oil

1 TB Olive oil

1 TB butter

1. Squeeze liquid out of tofu. Cut into cubes.

2. Heat sesame oil in large sauté pan and cook tofu until golden brown.

3. Meanwhile chop the onion in large pieces and set aside.

4. When the tofu is done remove it from the pan and replace with the onion.

5. Chop the carrots and the potatoes.

6. Remove the onion from the pan.

7. Heat the olive oil and butter in the same pan. Add carrots and potatoes. Cook several minutes, stirring occasionally

8. Pour in enough water to cover the vegetables and simmer on med. Heat until the potatoes are fork tender. There should be a good amount of water left.

9. Add 2 blocks of curry mix to the veggies and water and stir rapidly until they dissolve, then add 2 more. Sometimes it is necessary to add more water to make enough curry sauce.

10. Once the curry blocks are dissolved, add in the tofu and onion. Stir and cook for a few more minutes. Serve.

I added the apple pieces about halfway through the carrot/potato simmer. The pecan pieces were added with the tofu and onions at the end so that they would still be a little crunchy.

I also add sriracha sauce on the top of my curry, yum!!

Monkey girl

This week I have a theme for bentos! We went to the zoo on Saturday. It was a perfect day for a trip to the zoo - mid 60s, beautiful sunshine and a tiny little breeze. The day was just wonderful and it has inspired me to try for a week's worth of zoo themed bentos. I'm starting with the monkey because that was A-chan's favorite. She is also fond of telling me that she was born in the year of the monkey! I was excited about the Bongos. They have never been out when we've been there before. They are lovely deer/antelope type animals that look as though they were taken straight out of Star Wars. Even though everyone else in the entire metro Atlanta area had the same idea and were at the zoo with us, we didn't feel caught up in a crush of people. The day was leisurely and we took so much time just being at peace and enjoying everything that we missed out on the petting zoo. A-chan was disappointed but I was rather relieved. It's hard to keep the goats from nibbling on my hair!

I'm also excited about this bento because there are two new food items in it, can you believe it?! Two! The first is the container of Veggie Stix in the background. One of her friends went to the zoo with us and had these as a snack. Now A-chan likes them. (A case where peer pressure is a good thing?) And second are the blood orange wedges. A-chan saw me looking at Happy Little Bento and asked for some of those 'neat looking oranges' in her bento. Too cool, thank you Sheri!!

In the bento: Under the monkey girl is a layer of rice with a layer of Japanese curry on top. In the other compartment are some blood orange slices, steamed broccoli, grape halves, black olives and corn on picks and one solitary raspberry.

The Monkey is made from a layer of provolone cheese as a base, then a layer of soy turkey for the body and head and another layer of provolone for the face. The shapes were all drawn on white paper and cut out with scissors. The paper cut outs were then used as a template on the cheese and soy turkey, which I cut out using my 'food only' scissors. The facial features are nori, black sesame seeds and pickled ginger for the cheeks. She has a raspberry and corn flower over one ear and carrot flowers around her with cucumber leaves that you can't really see in the picture, but I promise they are there!

Later this afternoon I intend to post my curry recipe since a couple of people asked for it a while back :D

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sumo Boy

One of A-chan's favorite books is 'Sumo Boy' written by Hirotaka Nakagawa. It's continually been one of her favorites for well over a year now. At one point she had expressed the wish that she could someday grow up to be a Sumo wrestler. I believe that she has since changed her mind, but she is still fascinated with all things sumo. In honor of Sumo Boy I have turned what might have been a boring sweet potato bun into a glorious Sumo hero! My sumo boy doesn't look anything like the one in the book, however.

In the bento: A sweet potato bun surrounded by a layer of rice covered with green peas, sesame carrots and baby corn. On top of the veggies are provolone letters.

I am not sure if the word 'sugoi' has anything to do with Sumo or not, as far as I'm aware it's the equivalent of 'cool' or 'awesome'. I couldn't fit 'Dosukoi' in the space I had, though!

Sumo Boy's mawashi is made from strips of nori, as are his facial features. The nori is secured with my new incredible nori-glue, otherwise known as strawberry jam. (While cleaning sticky jam off 6 year old fingers I had a revelation, lol ) His cheeks are also strawberry jam, dipped from the jar with a toothpick. The jam seems to work just as well as mayo but is a lot less troublesome than the honey I sometimes use. It is nice to have an alternative to mayo when securing decorations to sweet foods!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Box Appetit Review

One of the bento items that I received for Christmas was this curious version of a bento box. It was entitled "Box Appetit". It is quite different from any other bento box that I own and I was very excited about trying it out for the first time. But I felt that I needed to make a special lunch for this unique box and spent some time thinking and planning.

It seemed to me that the box called out for noodles. It had to be a recipe that I'd never made before. And because I rarely get a chance to make food that is as spicy hot as I like it, it's hard for me to settle on one thing because I end up wanting to make everything! Finally, I decided and made a special trip to Earthfare to acquire the ingredients that I needed.

In the bento: The main part of the bento was filled with Spicy curry noodles which had yellow and red peppers, onion, carrots and baby bok choy and had a scattering of peanuts on top. On the left side were three slices of coconut curry tempeh and three fried slices of purple potato. The other side had quick cucumber pickles. In the triangular compartment were two hot pepper and jap chae dumplings, some Z crackers - cumin and cayenne flavored, a halved cherry tomato and a wedge of lemon.

This is a huge box. It actually reminds me more of styrofoam take-away boxes than of bento boxes. In fact, the resemblance is quite striking, right down to the sloping sides! It was easy to fill, but it took a lot of food.

Pros - I enjoyed using the sauce dish that is built into the lid. It was perfect for dipping my dumplings into soy sauce. The triangular containers are neat and fun to use! The lids seemed secure enough that I might try some soup or saucy curry in the large one sometime. The small triangular container is meant for sauces which is really awesome if you're a hot sauce loving person like me :D

Cons - It's huge. And because of the size and the shape I couldn't find a good way to carry it. None of my bags would fit it and none of my furoshiki were large enough to wrap it. So I ended up having to cart it by hand. This wasn't a big deal but it was a bit inconvenient. The special fork holder on the outside of the lid seems like a good idea but actually gave me the heebie jeebies since I didn't have a bag or wrap for it to go into. I could just imagine the fork picking up germs from random things that could possibly touch it while I was on the go.

All in all I think that I will prefer to keep this as a fun dish for eating in at home, but not for using to make bentos. I will also be taking it along whenever we eat out and I know that I'll be bringing home leftovers. Filling it up at the restaurant will save the environment and also make it easy for me to just pull out and dig in the next day!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Love letters

It may be a little early to jump into making Valentine's Day bentos, but I figured this was subtle enough to slide in under the radar. I started my planning for Valentine's this morning, after a weekend of being shocked that it was not as far in the future as I'd thought. I have to buy stuff to make Valentine's chocolates! I have to figure out what to do for A-chan's school! I have to keep it from sneaking up on me and walloping me in the head with the suddenness that it has done so often in the past.

In the bento: Two cheese sandwiches in the shape of envelopes, a heart shaped container of black eyed peas, a halved cherry tomato, 3 spears of baby corn, 3 black olives and a carrot flower on a pick.

To make the envelope I cut the crusts off of the bread slices then smooshed it flat with a rolling pin. The flap of the envelope is just another flat piece of bread put on top of the sandwich. The heart 'sticker' was cut from soy ham. The stamp background is provolone cheese with a tiny nori heart on top.

I'm really loving the tiny heart punch. I didn't think that I would get so much use out of it, but it's showing up all over the place, lol! Also pictured is a package of Genji pie that we splurged on at Super H Mart yesterday. (It's basically a heart shaped butter pastry with sugar on top, very light and crispy and yum!)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sunny Day Bento

It's been a while since I've done a 'sun and flowers' bento. Today is the perfect day for one! The sun is bright and beautifully shining and you can just feel Spring right around the corner. In keeping with this week's (inadvertent) theme, today's bento was another simple one with minimal time and decoration.

In the bento: Garlic and basil couscous, cherry tomato, carrot slivers (see, I told you they would show up again!), baby corn spears, steamed broccoli, and a tulip-shaped container of black eyed peas.

The decorations: A carrot slice makes up the sun and I used slivered carrots for the rays. For the flowers I used a flower cutter on provolone and put sugar stars on top. Cucumber peel was used for the stems and leaves. The eyes of the tomato girl were cut from provolone and then I used a nori punch for the rest. A bow-shaped pick was inserted at a cute angle, but I'm not sure that I like it now.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Crazy Quick Bento

Today's bento was made in 10 minutes. It had to be crazy quick because we had to rush out of the house to pick up my car from the repair shop and return the rental car, all in time to get A-chan to school. That meant lots of rushing!! These are the mornings for which I have the freezer stash. The bento wasn't very cute, but she didn't seem to mind.

In the bento: a huge onigiri, some slivered carrots, two black olives on a pokemon pick, steamed broccoli, 2 Morningstar Farms chik nuggets, a little slice of lemon, a cherry tomato and some grapes.

The onigiri was frozen and just took 1 minute to heat up in the microwave. The nuggets took the longest, but since there was no cheese in this bento I plopped them in straight from the oven instead of letting them cool off first. The broccoli was actually done in the Ohitashi style - dropped in boiling water for 3 minutes and then removed and dunked in cold water for a second before going into the bento. The carrot slivers I had purchased for salads for my lunches this week, but they've been great for A-chan's bentos too! They fit practically anywhere and she loves them. They will probably be showing up a lot in the future.

The tiny heart on the rice ball was punched out of nori. (I had to have a little bit of cuteness, even in my busy, busy morning!)

Not pictured were the soy sauce bottle and the ketchup container which were just put into the bento bag since the box was already full.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cute Hairstyles Bento

It has been forever since I made a bento. 11 days to be exact. I was expecting it to be difficult and painful to get up early this morning after the long enforced week at home with snow and ice keeping us trapped. It pleasantly surprised me to be awake early and feeling excited rather than dreading the return to our regular schedule. I had an idea for today's bento and I couldn't wait to try it out. The idea was inspired by the Cute Food For Kids blog and the incredibly cute Babybel hairstyles that I saw there recently. What I really wanted to try was making hair out of pancakes!

Using my "food only" scissors I cut the mini pancakes to resemble the Babybel styles. It worked pretty well! Underneath the hair are circles of provolone and under those are more mini pancakes. The faces are nori and the cheeks are tiny dots of sriracha. For the cheeks I dipped a toothpick in the sauce and then lightly tapped it to the cheese.

In the bento: Mini pancakes faces with carrot and soy ham hair ornaments, cherry tomato, carrot slivers, veggie sausage links, babybel cheese, carrot stars and a small bunch of grapes.

We enjoyed the snow and all the craziness that ensued because of it, but I have to say that I am soooo entirely delighted to be back to bentoing!!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Panda in Snow

This morning was a tough one, again. A-chan woke up grumpy and sleepy and out of sorts and downright irritable. But once I finally got her to drag to the table for breakfast, it all got better. I showed her today's bento and a transformation occurred. She smiled. Not just a plain old smile, but a megajigawatt smile and all was right with the world. That is why I make cute bentos, because it makes her smile. (And incidentally because they are fun to make, lol) Ahhh, I love that moment!

Today's bento was another quick and simple one. But the panda is just sooooo cute!! I'm tempted to make me one too :D

In the bento: Jasmine rice with nori panda face, sauteed tofu cubes, sesame carrots, a huge piece of steamed broccoli and several purple grapes. A flowery baran separates the carrots and tofu so that the flavors don't mix, and there is an orange heart pick to eat the tofu with.

I cooked the tofu and carrots in the same pan so the cleaning up was quick as well :) And the panda face was made with another of the nori punches that Santa gave me. I've managed to use all 3 of them this week, heeya!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I surrender!

A cute little snowman putting his arms up to surrender after a wild and dangerous snowball fight with his buddies. Watch out, though - he still has 3 snowballs in his arsenal...

In the bento: The top tier has a huge elephant container of ketchup, veggie hotdogs, steamed broccoli, a container of peaches and blueberries, plus three picks with pickle slices on them.

The bottom tier has a layer of rice completely hidden underneath the Japanese curry, and a very sneaky provolone snowman.

The snowman's arms were cut from baby spinach leaves using my kitchen scissors. His scarf is a bit of apple peel. The face and buttons are nori while the hat was cut from the end of a veggie hotdog and has a tiny bit of apple peel flourish.

I absolutely am loving the way that the hotdogs turned out. In my eternal search for a way to make veggie dogs look lovely in a bento, this is a definite win! Nothing special here, though - just a diagonal slice through the middle of a dog and then small v-cuts on the centerlines in both directions.

I'm trying a few different things in the curry now and again. This time I added sultanas and honey. It's pretty sweet, almost too sweet for my taste (I'm a hot and spicy loving girl) but A-chan is head over heels for it!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rocket Star Bento

I couldn't think of a name for this bento so I asked A-chan to name it for me. Another really quick bento this morning. We've been experiencing a problem where A-chan's bentos are getting knocked off the shelf at school. The lunch boxes are on a shelf directly underneath the coat rack and when the kids go to get their coats for playtime the lunch boxes all get knocked around. So far the boxes aren't harmed but the food takes a tumble and ends up all scattered in the box. I'm hoping that we can find a solution since she gets really disappointed when it happens. Anybody have any suggestions that we can try?

In the bento: 2 Morningstar farms chik nuggets, red grapes, green peas on picks, little candies, garlic and basil couscous with space decorations of soy ham, provolone, nori and carrots.

In the background is the beautiful Saturn cloth napkin that A-chan colored for herself with fabric markers.

I'm designating this bento as an honorary 'Get Better Soon' bento for OhayoBento! The space cutter set was from her store, without which I would definitely have been much unhappier this morning.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Koala pancake!

Looky, looky!! Santa put new nori punches from Jlist in my stocking!! I've been itching to use them. The first one out of the package was the koala. That's it in the background. Isn't it shiny?? Squeeeee!!!

When I picked A-chan up from school today I asked her if she liked her bento. She replied, "Yes, I ate the cute koala all up! And I know how hard you worked on it, mommy, so I ate as much as I possibly could."

In the bento: Half of a clementine, red grapes, mini tater tots, mini pancakes, steamed broccoli, veggie sausage links and several carrot hearts with nori hearts on top.

There are a couple more pancakes underneath the koala. I cut the ears out of more pancakes and then cut the inner ear fur out of provolone cheese. The face is all nori glued on with a tiny bit of honey. (I was surprised that the tiny eyebrow bits punched out just fine!)

If you want to see the nori punch set, go here. They are so cute and I love them!!! Thank you, Santa!!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tiptoeing into the New Year

What a tired morning for the first bento of the New Year! I think I did an okay job making a bento in 10 minutes flat after only 3 hours of sleep and a 5 am drive to take my husband to meet the airport shuttle. It's extremely simple and the only thing that got cooked was the broccoli, but I still think it's pretty :) I had envisioned making a beautiful, perfect bento for the first bento of the year. The scramble to get my husband all packed and to his plane on time made me throw that plan out the window, however. Oh well :D So instead of starting the year out with a running leap, it's more of a quiet tiptoe.

In the bento: Two circle sandwiches of peanut butter and strawberry jelly (very, very little jelly!), a piece of steamed broccoli, one baby tomato, small carrot sticks and a huge bunch of grapes.

The flowers are provolone cheese with candy stars in the center. The large flowers are held onto the sandwiches with honey as a glue and then the stars are also held on with honey. The flowers were cut out with my new daisy fondant cutters that were on sale at Hobby Lobby last week! (The largest one is pictured beside the box.)

Our holidays were extremely chaotic this year. It was the first time in 128 years that our area got snow on Christmas! Not only snow but a good deal of snow - around 6 inches which is almost unheard of here. The snow was so beautiful. Until we got out and played in it, that is! We enjoyed being able to track the forest animals in the snow - rabbits, deer and wild turkeys. A-chan built a snowdog with her daddy and a snowboy with me.

On Christmas eve our well died (impeccable timing, lol) and we were without water for 5 days. Cooking and cleaning with bottled water was just like being back in India and was more of an adventure than anything. Until the last day when we ran out of clean socks. Having my husband home to help out with the disaster was very nice! The poor guy had to leave again this morning and lost his wallet during his trip back to California.

Here are some pictures of the holiday treats that I made this year. They are in Pancha Ganapati color order: Yellow, blue, red, green , orange. A-chan sorted M&Ms to color-coordinate for each day.
Yellow day - Coconut Butter mochi and the ingredients for apple pulao.
Blue day - Divinity and a smattering of pecans and a bowl of blueberries with coconut topping.
Red day - Chocolate dipped coconut macaroons, bing cherries and some chocolate dipped cherries.
Green day - Badam burfi (a type of Indian almond fudge) and green apples for apple strudel.
Orange day - Broken biscuit cake, lots of nuts and clementines which were later chocolate dipped!