Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cookie Cutter Charaben

I've been thinking about the incredibly cute little egg molds that turn boiled eggs into Hello Kitty or a volkswagen. I don't really need to have cute eggs in my bento boxes, but I'd sort of like to anyway.   Some of these cute decorations are in the form of well known cartoon characters, so they're called Chara(cter)ben(to), or charaben, and that's become a general name for cute bento.  I decided to experiment with cookie cutters and boiled eggs, since lots of cookie cutters have interior design lines that will make an impression on eggs, which are pretty malleable.  This is a teddy bear egg, made with a cookie cutter pressed onto the egg for a minute or two..

The pink arc is apple jelly made from empire apples, which have a really red skin.  Apple jelly is incredibly easy to make and doesn't require any specialized equipment.  Directions on my other blog, here.  Also have a few pomegranate seeds. Both give a little sweetness to the fried rice, instead of using duck sauce.  There's also cottage cheese to go with the grapefruit.

This bento:  rice with vegetable broth, 1/2 boiled egg, apple jelly, pomegranate seeds, onions, mushrooms, red bell pepper, grapefruit, cottage cheese.  soy sauce.

Local foods:  Apple jelly from local apples, cottage cheese.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Brand New Bento Box

Christmas present!  I love my new bento box.  Just the right size, about 2 1/2 cups.  There's a tray for stuff like rice (or crackers, or couscous, etc), which holds a cup, and that tray sits on the bottom container which holds fruit, veggies, anything else to go with the rice.  A cover and an elastic strap hold it all together.

I was also given a beautiful set of chopsticks to go with my bento box, and that's certainly going to help me eat more slowly for the time being.  Not one of my notable manual skills. 

Of course I needed to make rice for my first bento in a "real" bento box.  I cooked veggies (mushrooms, onions, broccoli) and love this combination with curry and sour cream, so I added some curry powder to some sour cream and put it in a silicone mini-muffin cup.  Added beet petals. I also like cashews with my curry so they're in the box too.  A clementine adds a nice sweet and acid contrast.

This bento:  rice in vegetable broth, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, cashews, clementine, grapes, beet, curried sour cream.

Local foods:  Sour cream (that's pretty lame)

Monday, December 21, 2009


I often make pizza from a flour tortilla.  A great vehicle for toppings without a lot of crust, and the crust gets nice and crisp.  For my pizza bento I cut circles from a tortilla with a 2 inch biscuit cutter - practically no waste.  It's really important not to put too much sauce on them.   Topped with Newman's marinara, green pepper, onion, pepperoni and bacon from Dakin Farms, Cabot monterey jack and sharp cheddar cheeses.  Baked at 405 for 10 minutes, so it's also a very fast pizza, great for preparing a bento box in the morning.

I made popcorn and gave it a pizza flavor with butter, black pepper, Cabot dry cheese powder, oregano, and a little bit of garlic powder.  Black pepper and the cheese powder are my standard popcorn topping, so this was just a little punched up.  The pea salad is thawed petite peas with the leftover onion and green pepper from the pizzas, a little red bell pepper and celery, and a garlic dill herb mix.  Ranch dressing would have been good too, but not necessary.  The grapefruit should be a nice foil to the cheese.

This bento:  Tortilla pizza with Newman's marinara, onion, green pepper, pepperoni, bacon, monterey jack and cheddar; flavored popcorn, pea salad, grapefruit sections.

Local foods: pepperoni and bacon from Dakin Farms, Cabot monterey jack, cheddar, and dry cheddar cheeses, Haliday's garlic dill herb mix, onion from my garden.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Yes, the turkey is a Thanksgiving leftover.  The dressing is newly made- Pepperidge Farm blue bag, celery, onion and fresh sage from the garden, a little Bell's seasoning, chicken stock, black pepper.  Butter dotted on top.  The slice has been sauted in butter.  But the turkey was frozen in turkey broth, which has now made the most wonderful gravy.  The turkey white meat was somewhat stringy after thawing, but not dry because it was submerged in broth.

The whole cranberry sauce was made this morning, and this little dish of it is topped with the pink foam skimmings.  I like the skimmings best from any jam or jelly.  Whole cranberry sauce could not be easier - just the bag of cranberries picked over so the really mushy ones and the stems are removed - add a cup of water and a cup of sugar (like it tells you to on the bag), let it boil for a few minutes until the cranberries pop, and you're done.  How hard is that?    I love the sweet and tart with meat of any kind.

This bento:  Dressing,turkey and gravy, whole cranberry sauce, applesauce, red bell pepper, broccoli, lindt Christmas truffle

Local foods: Applesauce,butter, onion, sage

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Oh dear.  Two months since my last bento. No excuses.  I'm back in the saddle and ready to step up to the plate (how would you do that).  Growing up we often had breakfast food for supper, especially Sunday night.  Cold cereal, occasionally raised (yeast) waffles which sometimes had cooked strips of bacon laid on the waffle iron before the batter was poured.  I really like breakfast food but don't like to eat much of a breakfast, so a brunch bento is just the ticket.

My new bento box is hard plastic from Good Grips, 900ml (3plus cups) so I don't want to fill it full.  It's a number five and marked no BPA, but I'll still avoid heating anything in it beyond warm.  This article from the NY Times talks about which plastics are currently regarded as safe (1,2,4,5) but that's just for now.  It seems prudent to avoid plastic as much as possible.

The small white container has half peanut butter (Hannaford's natural creamy) and half maple cream (the front shiny half the flash caught), which is just maple heated and then cooled and beaten like fudge -  from my friend Deb Davis in Underhill.  Peanut butter and maple have a great affinity for each other, and peanut butter spread on french toast and then drizzled with maple syrup has always been a favorite.

The bread is raisin bread with a hint of cinnamon, from La Panciata in Northfield, available at most local groceries - Hannaford, Price Chopper, and Mac's.  (I discovered this bread makes incredible toasted cheese sandwiches, too).  The bacon is Dakin Farms ends and pieces. I rubbed the cut banana with one of the open sides of a grapefruit section.  Recognize the little green spoon?  It used to come with French's mustard. antique!

What makes a product local?  I don't know where the pigs came from, and the wheat from the bread almost certainly wasn't grown in Vermont, although there are now about 15 Vermont wheat growers, and you can get local organic ale made from local wheat - Wolaver's

This bento:   scrambled eggs with bacon, cinnamon raisin toast with peanut butter and maple syrup, grapefruit sections, banana and grapes.

Local foods:  bacon, bread, maple syrup

Friday, October 2, 2009


Lots of different textures, and repeating ingredients in different forms.

The main dish (all compartments are equal) is Hillshire Farms turkey keilbasa, with sauted potato slices, onions, cortland apples,  finished with sauerkraut and Cabot Monterey Jack.  As with bento 3 there are both blueberries and concord grapes - they look very much alike except for size.

There are fresh cucumbers and pickled cucumbers (Alton Brown's kinda sorta sours recipe), cooked onions and pickled onions, cooked apples and a fresh apple, melted monty jack and a star of monterey jack in the fresh apple, cut with a linzer cookie insert.
The fresh apple is honeycrisp, which is quite possibly the best apple in the world, despite my fondness for the apples of my youth.  It's a great apple to carry already cut because it doesn't brown. The honeycrisp and cortlands are both from Hacketts' Orchard in South Hero, one of the islands in Lake Champlain connected to the rest of the state by a causeway.

The bento box is a tin that held L.L Bean milk chocolate coated blueberries.  The plastic insert probably won't last for very many bentos, and I'll have to remove the keilbasa mix if I want to heat it, but it was just what I needed for this morning.

This bento: keilbasa melt, broccoli, blueberries, concord grapes, cucumbers, homemade pickles, honeycrisp apple, monterey jack star.

Local foods: onions and pickles from my garden. cucumber from Sam Mazza's, apples from Hacketts, Cabot cheese.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I'm pretty happy with this bento box. Better balance in the composition, good variety of foods. I'm getting the hang of this, but they need to take less time, that's for sure. Because of my work hours this is a dinner bento, so it has more food than yesterday's.

My standard simple fried rice starts with making a thin one egg omelet to cut into strips. Then in the same (now empty) pan saute a minced onion with finely minced garlic. Grate some ginger onto the onion and add either red pepper flakes or minced hot pepper. Add some previously cooked rice (I try to have some in the fridge all the time), a little sesame oil and soy sauce, black pepper. Add the strips of cooked egg and at the last minute some frozen petite peas, which only need to thaw. Scallions as well if you have them, which I didn't this time - except for the little scallion leaves for the flower stems. Try to do this in a fairly hot pan for the best flavor.

My duck sauce on the side is Bonne Maman's apricot preserves and cider vinegar to taste for tartness. I thinned it with a little pineapple juice, but that's optional.

This bento: fried rice, broccoli, pineapple, cucumber sticks, mushrooms, concord grapes, 3 blueberries, sun gold tomatoes. with duck sauce and soy sauce.

Local foods: onion, tomatoes, and lettuce,scallion leaves and red pepper from my garden. cucumber.


It's quite clear to me that I'm not going to manage a daily bento box until I build up a stash of foods ready to tuck into corners and add variety. So I'm looking to things I can make and freeze - even leftover entrees frozen in muffin tins - and gathering a list of stuff I have on hand that fit the bill that I can prepare ahead, or that need minimal preparation in the morning when I'm making my bento box.

Besides condiments I have homemade pickles - a few fermented dills, and Alton Brown's "kinda sorta sours" and bread and butter pickles (both incredibly crisp refrigerator pickles), as well as purchased pickled beets.

For fresh raw veggies I routinely have celery and carrots on hand, still have peppers from my garden for another week or two, and cukes purchased mostly for pickling but available for cucumber sticks and salads too. I have two small zucchini that are the very last from the garden and maybe a cherry tomato. I've got my eye out for cheaper cauliflower than I can get now.

For cooked vegggies I've blanched a head of broccoli and cubes of rutabaga (oh underappreciated vegetable how I love you), and sauted mushrooms to golden brown delicious. I've got an acorn squash and a volunteer winter squash of some sort from the garden ready to bake. May roast a pan of onions and peppers ready to eat as sweet caramelized treats and to go in other things too, and will add the one tiny fairy tale eggplant I found on a forlorn plant last week. Have potatoes for salad and to saute.

For fresh fruits I have apples, blueberries, and concord grapes. I've baked some apples and made a crisp topping separately so I can package it to stay crisp. Later in the season I hope I get around to drying apples. Also have canned pineapple in the cupboard. Walnuts.

The bacon ends I bought from Dakin Farms will last me for weeks. As is usual there are some chunks of solid smoked meat that I'll make something from, and may freeze a few pieces of bacon. Bought some ground turkey and eggroll wrappers to make potstickers. They're exactly the sort of bite-sized goodie I want in my bento box. Have a Hillshire Farms turkey kielbasa to cook with apples, onions, potatoes, sauerkraut and cheese. That will be supper, but I'll have left-overs. Then there are cheeses to cube as well. So I guess I ought to be set.

Monday, September 28, 2009


BLT for lunch! But since it's in a bento box it's only a half sandwich, and I've cut the toast and bacon in pieces. To keep the toast and bacon from getting soggy I've put the tomatoes and mayo in silicone mini-muffin cups, and separated the toast from the cukes with parchment paper.

The bacon is cob smoked from Dakin Farms, my favorite bacon. I bought ends and pieces at the store, and as you can see some of it is nearly solid meat. There is also a maple crunch chocolate from Green Mountain chocolates. Cooked cortland apples. The little green mustard spoon is ancient; I think French's mustard used to come with these, but at any rate they've been in the silverware drawer for decades

This morning's bento is in a smaller box (739ml vs 925ml). Maki at Justbento.com says that a full bento box has about the number of calories as it has ml (a cup is about 240ml). (That would be true with something like rice or pasta, certainly true with meats and cheese, but then veggies and fruits would be much less.) I will seldom fill my bento box to the gills, at least until/unless I get a real bento box, which usually is shallower than these ziploc containers. This box still has more than enough space for what I want for lunch, and the good thing about that is that it will encourage me to fill it up with veggies.

This bento: BLT with toast, bacon, tomato and mayo. cucumber sticks, broccoli, rutabaga, apples, and a maple crunch chocolate.

local foods: tomato from my garden. cucmber, apples, bacon, bread, chocolate

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


First light is what astronomers call the inaugural observation by a new telescope, and this is first bento - my inaugural lunch box after the manner of the little Japanese lunch boxes filled with lots of colorful bite-sized goodies, called bento boxes.

I decided to pay homage to beloved Totoro in my first bento (sorry Totoro, you deserved better, and I forgot your whiskers!). Many bento boxes are called "cute bento," because of the cute little characters, or shaped fruits, vegetables, eggs and rice balls that grace some lucky person's bento box.

I'm not likely to make a lot of cute bentos, and I don't even have a "real" bento box yet, but I like the idea of having a little of this and that. Sort of a New England pot luck lunch. I'll do something local in every box - either something from my garden or something from the great bounty of Vermont foods.

This bento: Rice with terriyaki vegetables. Cherry tomatoes, melon, kiwi, grapes.

Local foods: Onions, sweet red peppers, corn, sweet basil, and the last of the sun gold tomatoes, from my garden.