Picnic bento and sushi sandwiches

Picnic bento and sushi sandwich

In contrast with last weeks “relatively quick bento”, this bento took me a very long time, I think 2 or 3 hours…can’t remember as I made this bento for a picnic some time ago to share with friends.  I wasn’t quite sure what food I was going to bring to the picnic, except that it was going to be rice based, and that it couldn’t contain any raw ingredients.

So I cooked some rice and divided it into 2 portions. One portion I mixed with sushi vinegar to make sushi sandwiches. I had recently seen a tutorial on Masa’s cooking blog (you can find it here),and thought it was a fun idea to try out.

The sandwiches are filled with egg, cucumber and I used tinned salmon (instead of crab and prawns as in the recipe). They were easy to make, but tricky to slice, and I think they need great care whilst eating because they fall apart very easily. Maybe I should have added some mayo as per the recipe, which acts a bit as a glue I suppose, but I’ve never been a big fan of mayo in sushi… To help with eating, I added some extra divider sheets..

There was some left over sushi rice, so I also made a quick vegetable maki roll, and decoration in the form of vegetable food picks to fill the top container. I also added some hard boiled eggs which had been molded into a car and a fish.

sushi sandwich

The left over rice I used to shape spicy salmon onigiri. Some were shaped into bunnies :-) and others decorated with nori faces. The spicy salmon filling is very simple, I use it quite often, just a mixture of tinned salmon with wasabi and a splash of soy sauce. I find that the easiest way to shape onigiri is to have a bowl with salted water ready and by wearing thin plastic gloves. I dip my gloved hands into the salty water, scoop up a small handful of still hot rice, form a small patty in the palm of my hand, add the filling, and fold over the rice until the filling is all enclosed. I then shape the rice into the desired form. (The salt helps to preserve the onigiri, plastic gloves protect my hands against the heat and it’s also H&S and so).

Onigiri bunnies and faces

This bento is not very balanced in ingredients, there is way too much rice in it and not enough veggies. But it doesn’t matter that much because this is a bento to share with others.

It was also a great opportunity to use my lovely Bento & Co bento box, which has been sitting on my shelf for some time now. When I saw this box on their website I just knew I had to have it, because it’s so pretty. It has all these cute little containers in the bottom layer, I only used them for the round onigiri as they were just a little too small for my bunny ones (or my bunnies were too large…). The top compartment is divided in 3 parts, plus the insert lid (not shown) has room for chopsticks.

Because it is so large, it’s not very practical to use for a work lunch. For sharing it’s great though! :-P

Please note that I have not been paid or asked to review this Bento box, the above is my own opinion. 

Bear DosirakBento!

Bear bento with egg sheet and bibimbap minced beefAnd this is the result of yesterday’s planning: a Bear DosirakBento!

I have received some recent comments/questions about how much time it takes to pack my lunch. In this case it took me 25 minutes, and the only reason why it took longer than normal (my aim is 20 min on an office day) is because when it was finished, it looked a little dull. So I spent 5 more minutes quickly slicing up some carrot, steaming in the micro and cutting out little flowers…I also remembered to take a photo during the process…

My routine for this one (but applies for most of my packed lunches):

Evening before (5-10  minutes)

  • Think about what kind of lunch I want to pack for the next day.
  • (Mentally) check what’s in the freezer/fridge.
  • If a “creative” bento, make a quick sketch to help remember.
  • Set out any tools if needed or take food out of freezer if needed.

Morning:

  • 5 min: Defrost & reheat rice in micro. At same time defrost & reheat bibimbap minced beef in micro. Cut some broccoli florets, steam/cook in micro together with come mini corn;
  • 3 min: take egg sheet (I actually had one which I made on Wednesday and kept it in the fridge) and use bento box to cut out a square. (check that it fits). Cut out the bear with the cookie cutter;
  • 2 min: Arrange rice in bento container, add egg sheet on top;
  • 2 min: Use cookie cutter to arrange the bibimbap minced beef within the egg sheet;
  • 5 min: Cut out ear, eyes and face details from remaining egg sheet & arrange. Cool down before adding nori face details;
  • 3 min: Fill other bento container with cooked veggies, radishes and tomato. The brown thing is a coffee & walnut cupcake which I had baked (for the office) this week;
  • 5 min: Check how it looks…hmm nice but bit dull, so cut up some carrot in thin slices, quickly steam/cook in micro for 30 sec, cut out little flowers and arrange on egg sheet;
  • Take photo and ready!

Lunch time:

  • When I unpacked my dosirakbento, the face details had moved around a bit, but surprisingly the bibimbap minced beef was still in an bear shape. I packed my Totoro chopstick set as it comes with a spoon, and it’s easier to use a spoon with this lunch;
  • Upload photo, write draft blog post;
  • After lunch, depending on how busy it is in the office, read draft blog post again and finalise. Hit the publish button. (Although sometimes I schedule them for another date, for example when I don’t have time to finalise my draft text)
bear bento in progress

Bear Bento in progress

 

And my sketch of last night

planning how to make a bear bento

 

 

P.s. I ate the egg sheet cut offs as my breakfast :-P

 

Girl gathering eggs Bento

Russian inspired bento box girl gathering quail eggsThis bento is called “Girl gathering eggs” because the lunch and box combination reminded me about a (farmers) girl gathering eggs in her basket….(ok, maybe it’s a bit far-fetched, but I couldn’t come up with another title for this blog post…)

I know that I’m not supposed to buy new bento boxes as I already have so many…but when I saw this Matryoshka doll bento box I just couldn’t resist. This bento box is inspired by traditional Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls. As most Japanese bento boxes, it’s quite small (there are two containers and each holds 270 ml) so I need to pack it quite tightly (I am greedy and do prefer larger lunch boxes).

One container has some onigiri (filled with salmon), broccoli and carrot flowers. The other has Kongjabang, cucumber, a few quail eggs and more broccoli/carrot.

The box (you can buy it here at Japan Centre) comes with inner lids, a gel pack (not shown), chopsticks in a matching case and a bento belt.

The good thing is that this bento set fits into  one of my Lock & Lock bento bags, so I can pack some extra food with it.  And purely by coincidence the colour and the dot pattern on the bento bag match with the pattern on the Matyoshka dress  :-)

wpid-20140910_071346.jpg

Please note that I have not been paid or asked to review this bento box, the above is my personal opinion

Are you a rice snob?

rice-varieties-stash

L to R: Akitakomachi (CAL), Uonuma Koshihikari (JP), Yumenishiki (EUR) and Koshihikari (CAL)

My friends might tell you that I’m a chocolate snob. I don’t think I am, because although my preferred choice of chocolate has a minimum of 64% cacao and no Cadbury will ever pass my lips, I am also quite happy munching a bag of M&M’s, a Mars bar or a box of After Eights :-)

I am however seriously in danger of becoming a rice snob….

About a year ago I invested in a proper rice cooker, and with proper I mean one of those (imported from Japan) neurologic fuzzy wuzzy technology self thinking cookers which incidentally plays “twinkle twinkle little star” when the rice is ready. The price of this rice cooking wonder was a bit of deep breath, and consequently I still only dare to cook rice in it, but I have to admit, it’s the best kitchen investment ever as it turns out perfectly cooked rice, every single time. Can you be in love with an inanimate object? Because if you can, I’m in love with my rice cooker (^x^). 

I also always wash my rice at least 3 times (in a special rice washer bowl) and cook it using filtered water.

But even with this super duper rice machine, if your rice is bad, your meal will taste bad as well, or at least not as good as it could if you would use a superior rice variety.

Now, I don’t know that much about rice. But I do know that I never want to eat brown rice again! Growing up, we only ate this very healthy brown rice, the one which was not only not hulled, it seemed it also wasn’t de-stoned as occasionally we would find all kind of odd bits and pieces in it. It was the super healthy, home knitted socks in sandals variety, so when I left home, I vowed never to eat brown rice again.

Instead I started to eat Basmati, Jasmine and even Arborio (when making risotto). But most of my Asian dishes would still be accompanied by a non sticky rice variety until I ventured into sushi making some years ago and discovered Japonica rice. (If you want to read more about rice varieties: Just Hungry has a great post about different types of rice here).

Nowadays, I mainly eat Japonica rice and am currently trying out different varieties and qualities. A brand that you often see here in the UK is Nishiki, which is a medium grain Japonica-type rice grown in California and is often sold as “sushi” rice.  I have tried it but am not a big fan of it as I find it a bit bland. Although you might think that rice needs to be “bland” enough to match your other ingredients, I feel that rice needs to have enough unique taste of itself to be eaten on it’s own, with maybe just a pickle, nori strips or some sesame seeds.

My regular rice of choice is currently a Koshihikari, which is a quite popular Japonica short grain rice, with a slightly sweet taste. The brand I buy is actually grown in California and quite cheap, about £3 per kilo (the brand is called Seoul trading sunshine/moonlight). I buy it in 10 lbs (4.5 kg) bags at the Korean supermarket and store it in an airtight container. But on my last shopping trip they were out of 10lbs bags, they only had the small bags or the huge bags (40 lbs!) so I thought it was time to try out some other brands.

I have now in my cupboard, ready to try out:

  • Akitakomachi, which is apparently similar to Koshihikari but less sticky. The brand I have is also Californian grown, the same as my regular Koshihikari, but this is new crop, which is allegedly better. (£4.99 for 2 kg)
  • JFC Yumenishiki, European grown Japonica rice as recommended by Just Hungry in this post, and which is a Koshihikari-type rice. It’s slightly more expensive £3.95 per kilo.
  • Lastly, I bought some Shinmei Akafuji Koshikari Uonuma, which is grown in Uonuma, an area of Niigata prefecture (Japan) famous for producing high quality koshihikari rice (apparently all due to the pure water). It is also the most expensive, I bought a 2 kilo bag for £14.99, ie 1 kg costs £7.50.

So, over the next months (even though I eat rice almost daily, this stash will last me some time), I am going to try out these rice varieties, eating it plain on its own, as well as in my lunchbox and for dinner. I will update about any shocking (or maybe non shocking) experiences :-)

Meanwhile, are you a rice snob? Do you use a rice cooker or not? Do you have a preferred rice and why?

rice and rice cooker

Rice stash and (my beloved) rice cooker

 

 

 

 

 

Avocado cheese sandwich (to be)

Avocado cheese sandwich to be

You might wonder, where is the sandwich?

Well, the title says to be…the bread is still missing, but this box contains all other the ingredients to make avocado sandwiches.

Apparently avocado on toast is very “trendy” right now, think they call it AVO toast or something like that. It made me smile when I read this as I have been eating avocado on bread/toast for years…Anyway, it gave me the idea for this lunch box.

It contains an avocado, sprinkled with some lemon juice to keep it from discouloring, babybel cheese (admittedly not the best cheese in the world – ha, understatement of the year – but practical for packing in a lunch), cress and some tomatoes on the side. The little containers (which I rediscovered when making photo’s of my bento accessories) contain (salted) butter and mustard.

I will buy some fresh sourdough bread on my way to work. There is an artisan bakery on my route, and I always have to resist being lured into the shop by it’s delicious fresh bread smells (plus by their extremely decadent chocolate fudge cake, but at least I can’t smell that when walking by).

I love bread, I’ve been known to eat a whole loaf of freshly baked bread (topped with salted butter) in one go. Unfortunately, bread doesn’t really love me…get all bloated and stuff…so I try to eat it no more than once a week.

I wrote the draft of this post in the morning just after packing my lunchbox but now I can include a photo of the result: tadaa….

Avo sandwich

Tea egg attempt and Lock & Lock Bento Set

tea egg bentoI always love reading about other people’s bento / lunch and often get inspiration from the photo’s posted. So when Feral Orchid’s Bento included some tea eggs, something that I have eaten but not made before, I asked her for her recipe which she kindly posted (and which you can read in the comments of this post).

EatMuchlove  also posted a recipe in a recent post but as I had seen Feral Orchid’s Bento recipe first, I used hers, plus it also seemed to be a bit easier :-).

This was another lunch box ingredient that I prepared last weekend and this was actually my lunch for Monday.

I liked making the tea eggs, but I think I was a bit too forceful with the “shell cracking bit” as one side of my egg had a rather large dark spot (I hid that side towards the bottom). It also didn’t really taste a lot of tea, but maybe I put too much five-spice powder in it. I will definitely make it again, because it looks so pretty and is more tasty than a plain boiled egg.

My dosirakbento had the tea egg, some salted salmon, cucumber, broccoli, carrot, salad leaves , Kongjaban (sweet & salty soybeans) and of course rice. The little green dot is some wasabi which I love to eat with salmon.

It was packed in two containers of my Lock & Lock Bento set. I love this set, it comes with 3 leak-, micro-, freezer- and dishwasher proof containers, a collapsible chopstick set and a lunch bag. I often freeze rice in one of the containers and depending on the ingredients I pack 2 or 3 containers for lunch.

This lunch had only 2 containers, so there was enough room in the bag for a packet of Korean seaweed snacks, some plums and a packet of the newly bought rice crackers. The “lid” holds the chopsticks and napkin, and it all zips up nicely :-)

 

Please note that I have not been paid or asked to write about this bento set, the above is my own opinion. But in case you’re interested in this set, you can buy it on Amazon, just look for Lock & Lock bento set. There are different sizes & colours, prizes around £16 – £23

 

Lunchbox preparation, building up a freezer stash

As most of my readers will know, I pack my lunch in the morning before going to work. I don’t want to spend more than 20 minutes on a “standard” lunch, so this means that I have to be quite organised in the morning.

To be so, I rely a lot on my freezer stash of food. One drawer in our freezer is dedicated to lunch, and holds lunch ingredients such as leftovers from dinner, cooked rice, tamago, salted salmon and various portions of (marinated) meat.

But of course that freezer doesn’t fill itself, so quite often I prepare lunch ingredients during the weekend, especially after a visit to the Korean supermarket.

Pork Bulgogi

I don’t make my own marinade but buy the beef bulgogi marinade, and I always use this for both beef and pork. Beef bulgogi marinade is quite sweet and pork bulgogi marinade is spicier but I find that the beef one works quite well with pork (but not the other way around), plus it saves me having to buy two different bottles :-)

The pork belly is already sliced in strips, about 4mm thick, and I cut these into 1 inch pieces. The pork is marinated for about 30 minutes before dividing it into lunch portions, about 5 pieces per portion. Label it and ready for the freezer!

I am a big fan of the lock & lock divider boxes, they are great for freezing, micro and dishwasher safe, leak proof and come in all kind of sizes. These little boxes have 2 inserts, so the evening before I will just take out one portion and defrost that overnight in the fridge. In the morning I only need to quickly pan-fry the pork (I use a non stick pan, no oil needed) for about 3-5 minutes.

Beef mince

The other “dish” I made was beef mince, which has been marinated in the same way as the beef for my gimbap, it’s a lovely marinade and very easy to prepare. For about a pound of minced beef, I used 3 tbls soy sauce, 2 tbl sesame oil, 1 tbl spoon of sugar, 2 minced garlic gloves and some pepper.

Because I want to use the marinade/meat juices to help flavour the rice in my lunch box, I cook the mince before freezing.I heat up another table spoon of sesame oil in a non stick pan, add the meat and stir until brown. I also add another tablespoon of soy sauce to make sure that it won’t get too dry. After it has all cooked through and cooled down a bit, I pack up again in portions, cool down and label ready for freezer.

It’s not necessary to defrost this overnight, I reheat from frozen in the morning* before packing it into my lunchbox.

So, 2 very easy meat dishes to prepare in advance for lunch. It only takes about 30 minutes in the weekend, and saves lots of time in the morning!

Plus of course the other benefit of going to the Korean supermarket is that I can buy some ready made food from the deli-counter like Japchae! :-P

(yes, that is bell pepper in the Japchae, and no, I didn’t eat that as I still don’t like it, but the rest was yummie)

japchae

*It is worth mentioning that I always reheat food prior to packing, and let it cool down before putting the lid on, unless it are raw ingredients such as tomatoes, fruit, pickles etc. Just Bento has written a very informative post about bento & food safety, you can find it here.

Asian fruit jelly? Does anyone know?

fruit jelly.jpg

Lychee & mango fruit jelly?

Went to H-mart today, which is one of the Korean supermarkets nearby. Because it’s Chuseok (Korean harvest festival/Korean Thanksgiving Day), they were handing out Songpyeon to taste, which are traditional rice cakes. I am not a big fan of them, though they do look pretty.

Luckily they were also handing out rice crackers to taste and as it was just before lunch time, I greedily tucked in :-P and bought some packs. I don’t think the rice crackers have anything to do with Chuseok (they are not even Korean, at least not the pack that we bought! Want Want: Product of Taiwan!), but they are quite nice and they come in small packs so ideal for a lunch snack.

rice crackers

Anyway, the girl behind the tasting counter was quite happy that we bought several packs and she gave us some fruit jelly snacks as a gift. Her English wasn’t great, so I’m actually not sure at all what she gave us except that it’s lychee and mango (I think) and it feels like a jelly consistence.

Lychee & Mango fruit jelly?

Lychee & Mango fruit jelly?

So, I’m posting up this picture in the hope that one of my readers can enlighten me :-).

Anyone?

Lucky in cards or in love?

cards and dice bento

Do you know the saying “lucky in cards = unlucky in love”, meaning you can’t have it all?

Well, my cards don’t look that good, so I guess I’m lucky in love :-)

And although my cards might be a bit low,  my square egg cube shaper makes excellent egg dice!

Not sure how practical it would be to play with them >.<… I think there would be a fair risk of bouncing and splatting instead of rolling…  Hmm, I suppose you could “load” the dice by placing the highest number of dots opposite the heaviest (where the yolk is) side of the egg cube, but then….you might get lucky in cards but unlucky in love!

The playing cards are made with rice and nori details for the 4 of spades and tomato details for the 3 of diamonds. The dice are made from egg and nori and my bento is completed with the usual vegetables.