Tuesday, December 23, 2008

#3 More Salad

Bottom Tier: Red cabbage and yellow carrot salad with ginger dressing
Top Tier: Soysage, cheddar cheese cubes, green tea daifuku, blackberries

Today I put the dressing in the bottom of the bowl under the salad, because it was a little messy yesterday. Also, the soysage I use is Primm Springs brand, which I believe you can only buy in stores in middle Tennessee. I did however find their website, where you can buy some, get some recipes, and also watch a pretty funny Food Network spot with the Deen brothers. In any case, I highly recommend this soysage; its the only brand that I like better than meat sausage.

Monday, December 22, 2008

#2- Asian-style Salad Bento

Top Tier: Carrots, cheddar cheese cubes, red bean daifuku , and chocolate Pocky hiding underneath.
Bottom Tier: Red cabbage and carrot salad with ginger dressing.

Bento #1!

Bottom Tier: Herbs and cheese mashed potatoes
Top Tier: Yellow carrot, black beans, strawberries, raspberries, chocolate-covered raspberry sticks.

Recipe for potatoes *this recipe allows for all kinds of variability:)
3 large (or 5 small) potatoes (I prefer Yukon Golds, but you can use whatever kind you like best)
2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
2 Tbsp. milk (I use 2%)
1 heaping Tbsp. sour cream or plain yogurt
as much cheese as you'd like
salt and other spices to taste (this batch had black pepper, dill weed, *garlic powder, and Italian herbs)

Boil the potatoes until fork tender (depends on the size--anywhere from 20 to 45-ish minutes). Remove them from the pot, put them in a large bowl, and mash with whatever mashing device you want. Add the butter, and stir until melted. Add the milk, sour cream, and spices, and mix. Add the cheese last, because once it starts getting all gooey, it'll be hard to incorporate anything else in there. This will make enough for your dinner, and then for lunch the next day, and then some (depending on how hungry you are, and who you share it with).

*If I make this recipe on the weekends, I will make roasted garlic for the potatoes instead of using the powder. It really makes a world of difference to the taste:
Cut a head of garlic horizontally across the middle. Place both halves open-face up on some foil (heavy-duty, or a double layer of regular). Sprinkle some extra virgin olive oil on the garlic, and use another piece of foil to cover it. I like to make a little boat out of the bottom sheet so that the oil won't leak out the sides. Then roast at 375 degrees for about 1-1.5 hours (I usually use the toaster oven), until the garlic is golden brown and really soft. Let the garlic cool, and then remove it from the shell with the end of a butter knife.
This is probably my favorite garlic flavor (although I love them all!), but you can also quick-toast your garlic for this recipe by sauteing the whole cloves on medium heat in some olive oil. This is definitely quicker, but it will give you a slightly different, more nutty taste, and you have to be super careful not to burn it, or it will get bitter and gross.

Bento Boxes!

As far as I have seen, there are basically 3 common materials used for bento boxes: aluminum, plastic, and glass. My bento boxes are lacquered plastic, mostly because I wanted to be able to microwave my lunches, and they're much cheaper and more durable than glass. If you end up buying yourself some boxes, make absolutely sure that they have a "microwave OK" sticker on them (this will be a picture of a microwave with a large "OK!" next to it in English) if you plan on heating them, or even if you're just going to be putting hot foods in them. Many plastics will break down at higher temperatures, and I've even heard of paint peeling off boxes while they were being washed in hot water. Another option, if you don't care about having pretty boxes, are Lock & Lock containers, which are microwavable, seal well, and are cheap. However, I personally find that having pretty boxes encourages me to make bento lunches.

I'm actually also currently in the market for a metal thermos bento container, because its getting chilly out, and I'd like to be able to bring hot soups, tea, chili, etc. for lunch.

I currently have 3 2-tier bento boxes, along with 2 carrying bags, and 2 sets of chopsticks, which I rarely use unless I'm eating at home. They hold between 500 and 650 mL each, which is an important number to know, because, when properly balanced and filled to the brim, a 500 mL bento box will equal approximately 500 calories, etc. There are many different sizes for many different appetites, but I have found that this size satisfies me just enough that I will be hungry for dinner about 6 hours later, which is generally a good way to go.

This round bunny box holds about 550 mL, with the smaller, divided tier nesting inside the larger bowl portion. This box is really fun to use, but the round shape makes filling it to the brim pretty hard.

The butterfly box holds the largest volume of about 650 mL. Each tier has a lid, which means that they stack on each other instead of nesting. This makes for 2 identically sized tiers, which sometimes makes portioning difficult. Fortunately, there is a removable divider to help with that problem.

This large bunny box appears to be the largest, but actually holds the smallest volume of 500 mL, because the top tier nests so far in the bottom. This is the most difficult of my boxes to pack, because there are no dividers. As you can see, the top tier has a pretty safe locking lid, so I use this box mostly for slightly leaky foods that would make a mess in my other 2 boxes.

I bought all 3 of these boxes for between $15-$30 each from this E-Bay store. They have a pretty good selection which changes fairly often, and a section of Microwave OK boxes. Also, for being in Japan, their shipping costs and times are pretty reasonable.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Welcome to Bento4Lunch!


I've recently become interested in the Japanese art of bento, and have decided to start a blog about my experience with it. In short, bento is about creating attractive meals in small portions, but with a lot of variety. Unlike may bento-ers, I don't focus specifically on Japanese cuisine in my bento lunches, because, well... I'm not Japanese. I also don't focus on making cute shapes and cutouts with my food; this is bento strictly for adults (but not, like, in a dirty way). I use recipes that I'm already familiar with, and try to emphasize freshness, simplicity, and healthfulness.

I try to make my lunches conform to 2 bento rules: first, I try to have at least 5 colors in my bento every day. This ensures that I have a good balance of foods. Second and less strictly observed, is the 3:1:2 rule, wherein there are 3 parts veggies/fruits to 1 part carbs to 2 parts proteins (by volume).

Coming up in the next post: photos and descriptions of my bento boxes!