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March 16th, 2009

06:23 pm - Home-made Tsukemono project, Lunch with leftovers and home-made chinese pork, and Umeboshi Adventure

Well, this lunch was made just after my squid sakura tree bento, using a couple of leftovers.

The Bottom Tier contains leftover blue rice (food dye), and sakura flowers cut from pink-dyed eggs, with black sesame seed centers. Wasabi furikake in the mini shaker, and a bunny bottle of soy sauce, because I couldn't decide what to eat the rice with.
The Top Tier contains a green-dyed fishy egg (I later realized it was greener on the other side [ha ha!], and would have looked a little better the other way around), broccoli, some home-made chinese pork, and some home-made tsukemono carrots!

Which brings me to the rest of today's post. I bought this tsukemono (Japanese pickle) press on ebay after reading a bit about tsukemono. I was very interested to try making real Japanese pickles at home. >^_^<

I could not read the suggested recipes in the little booklet at all, but after searching online for tsukemono, I found that the most basic recipes are simply vegetables and salt (salt preservation being part of much of Japanese food tradition), and although carrots are often recommended to be pressed with cabbage, I did carrots by themselves to try it out. I placed 3 large carrots, shredded, in with 3 teaspoons of salt, well mixed. The salts brings the liquid out of the carrots right away. The idea is that the carrots will pickle in their own liquid, which is made by being drawn out by the salt as well as by the pressure.

As you can see, it does not look like much in the container, but just these three carrots have lasted me quite a while!

After the 12 hours these carrots needed to sit in the press, I was ready to pack some in a lunch. I tried some, and was actually surprised to find that they tasted like salt. Yep, just salt. Go figure, right?

I felt kind of silly having expected them to have some sort of flavor of their own. I mean, gee, a vegetable pressed in salt now tastes like pure salt- big surprise, right? Ha ha. (I suppose that's why tsukemono is a rice topping. These salt pickles really do make a good topping for plain rice.)

It reminded me of when I had purchased a package of umeboshi from the natural foods store. I keep seeing people use umeboshi in their lunches, and I had really wanted to try some. Oddly enough, although I had read that umeboshi was made by pickling the ume fruit in barrels of salt, I really expected them to have some sort of fruity flavor of their own. When I tried one, it was like pure salt! Go figure again, huh? The umeboshi came covered in shiso leaves (beefsteak plant) (more salt!). I have included some pictures of the umeboshi package and umeboshi under a cut for those interested. >^_^<
Pictures of the umeboshi are included under this cut!!Collapse )
I'm hoping I can learn to use these in a way that I'll like soon.

Rice Vinegar modified Tsukemono
So, although the salt pickle carrots were pretty good on rice, I was looking for something more like a familiar pickle, sort of. So I placed the remaining carrots in a small Lock & Lock box, and topped it off with rice vinegar. I added a couple spoonfuls of sugar as well, mixed a bit and let them sit. They came out pretty well, they still have a sharp rice vinegar flavor, but I like that just fine. I now eat some of these once in a while on rice or just alongside the lunch. >^_^<

I'm looking forward to picking up one of the tsukemono books I've seen online, and finding more and other types of pickle recipes to try.

Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished


February 27th, 2009

08:56 am - Contest Bento Fail- Cherry Blossom theme: Fried Squid & egg Sakura Tree

Today's post is a bento from a while back. I made this lunch to enter a contest with, and it's my most decorated bento ever (and the only one I've made a picture in). As of now, it has failed two contests. Hm, I guess I'd better give up on it.

Bottom tier contains a rice sky colored with blue food dye, egg yolk sun, tree branches made from fried squid tentacles, cherry blossoms and windblown petals made from egg whites colored shades of pink with food dye, cherry blossom centers of black sesame seeds, and a little nori cat to enjoy the scenery. (A rabbit would have made more sense, but I didn't have a rabbit punch.)
Top tier contains sweet and sour fried squid rings and tentacles cooked with onions, carrots, bean sprouts, and green peppers, and a fruit salad with blueberries and cherry blossoms made from bananas and apples. A pink rabbit pick hiding in the fruit and a pink rabbit bottle of soy sauce continue the rabbit theme of the bento box as well as the pink of the cherry blossoms.

I really liked the idea of using fried squid to make a cherry blossom covered tree. It didn't come out nearly as elegant and beautiful as I hoped it could though. I guess the squid doesn't lend itself perfectly to form.

Zeus called it a "Cthulu tree". Darn it.

Current Mood: creativecreative


February 25th, 2009

08:58 am - Orange Chicken & Chinese Rice leftovers bento --- Don't microwave raw carrot

Today's post is a pretty simple lunch.
Top tier contains orange chicken from leftover Chinese takeout with carrot hearts I added, and some broccoli from the orange chicken with some extra broccoli and carrot hearts I added.
Bottom tier contains the leftover Chinese rice with added carrot bits and hearts, and a cup of blueberries.

This is where I learned Do Not Microwave Raw Carrot Slices.

Since I had the leftover food I wanted to add carrots to, I cut out my hearts, put them on a paper plate, and microwaved them to cook them fast so they could be added in. Within a few seconds there was a firey flash from the microwave. I stopped it immediately and puzzled over the scorch marks on the paper plate and a few carrot edges.

Unsure of what had happened, I moved the slices away from the scorch marks, and tried again while watching. Sure enough, the carrots were somehow causing little bursts of fire. So, I then removed it, put all the slices in a bowl of water, and microwaved that. Much better. >^_^< .

Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful


February 21st, 2009

07:31 pm - Panheer Makhani, Spaghetti, & Make-A-Wrap -- Plus new Freshness Keepers boxes

Today's post is getting a few of the tupperware bento lunches out of the way that I made in my transition back into bento-making for work, as well as introducing some nifty new boxes I found for extra cheap, for those of us who do enjoy the Lock & Lock style boxes for rushed meals or when simple, microwavable containers are needed.

Visiting the Ocean State Job Lot in town, I found these nifty Lock & Lock lookalikes for extra cheap. They are called Freshness Keepers. I got a 250ml round for $1.00, a 400ml rectangular for $1.25, and a 600ml round for $1.50. They are microwave safe, freezer safe, dishwasher safe, and labeled with a temperature range of -20 to 120 degrees C. The Lock & Lock similar hinges and seals are great, and I like the additional shapes they give me for a wider range of packing options when I need to grab and go.

My first meal here has Panheer Makhani from a ready-to-serve pouch package I got at Ocean State Job Lot for $2.00. I used the 250ml round to pack half the package (The serving size was 1/3, but I found 1/2 to be good for a meal- it didn't look like much, but it was very filling. The chewy cheese chunks were the oddest thing about it, but it was very good.)
I used the 600ml round to pack a couple of hamburger buns that I toasted so I could warm them in the microwave at work (no toaster oven there), and a Hello Kitty cup of butter.

Next to it is a Cinderella spoon I got a the Dollar Tree with a matching fork because I liked the pink and the green on the handles, and my toothbrush-holder-turned-flatware-case. You may notice through the case that the spoon fits without any extra space beyond the handle- I'll be posting later about how I cut out about an inch or so of the plastic and glued it back together to make a perfectly sized case.

Here I have packed leftover pasta with homemade sauce, topped with Parmesan cheese where I attempted a silly kitty face drawn in with a toothpick. >^_^< I used my 870ml Lock & Lock box without its 4 inner dividers- I have used a Sure Fresh 3.85oz mini container to pack blueberries so I could put a lid on them (no more blueberry juice on my other food!), and a heart cup of broccoli and carrot hearts.

Here I packed myself a make-a-wrap lunch because I needed to go fast. I have ham, mustard in the little cup, an inside container with peppers and tomatoes, and a baggie with the tomato basil wrap and some cheese slices.

I have since started stickering my cheap little containers for some better bento cuteness. More to come on that. >^_^< .

Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful


February 14th, 2009

11:25 pm - Quick Product Review: $8 Microwave Rice Cooker / Pasta Cooker

Filling in for today is a quick review of this Microwave Rice & Pasta Set I got at a Walmart last year for about $8.00. The set was labeled "MiracleWare", and labeled with Walmart's name brand "Mainstays".

The exact same set was also available at Target under a different name for about $9.00. It can also be found here at Amazon.com as the "Progressive International Microwaveable Rice/Pasta Cooker Set", although at a higher price.

I love this thing. It's great for me! I haven't tried to use it for pasta yet, I don't have much trouble leaving that on the stove, but I love this for rice. Our microwave is a bit high-powered, so I turn the power level down to 70% as recommended, and I get great rice every time. I have experienced the overflow problem that larger batches can have, but it's never very much, and when the microwave plate is clean anyway, a quick rinse-off is a breeze.

I have used regular long-grain rice and found that if I take the time to wash the rice as I do with sushi rice, the cooker will turn it out with a fantastic level of stickiness. I can stick even the long grain rice together into shapes no problem! If I'm feeling lazier, I can skip the washing and get good old regular, fluffy, tasty rice.

So, all around, a great rice cooker to have around- cheap, good performance, easy to use, easy to clean, easy to store- I'd recommend it to anyone. >^_^<

And that concludes today's Quick Product Review. >^_^<

Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful


February 12th, 2009

01:15 pm - Back Again: Pork Fried Rice ([American] Chinese Restaurant Style)

Greetings! This is a re-post of my recipe for Chinese Restaurant Pork Fried Rice, originally posted at http://cgpbento.livejournal.com/6165.html, and also featured on my profile page. Recently I was making a couple batches, and on the second I measured everything I put in as I went, so this recipe is no longer base estimation, and in theory could be followed by anyone to achieve the same great results! I figured I'd go ahead and put it up again since it was updated, but without tags- no one needs to find it twice later. >^_^< Enjoy!

I made "Chinese restaurant style" pork fried rice! I had to mostly make up the recipe myself, since I couldn't find anything anywhere that mentioned what I wanted to do. I incorporated some of the vegetable ingredients and mixing ideas from a couple other recipes, but I'm really happy that I got pretty much the exact results I wanted with my own idea and attempt. (I couldn't find anything that said how to do the pork like I wanted to.) Yay!

Chinese Pork
Step 1: Chinese pork

- pork, cut into small cubes
- a jar of Ah-So sauce

Put the pork in a baking pan. Pour in enough Ah-So sauce to cover pork, stir. Put in a 350 - 400 degree oven [depending on how well your oven works] for about an hour. (May take longer, even up to 2 hours, depending on the batch- mainly going for thoroughly cooked pork with a dark sauce color.) Check and stir periodically, about every 10 - 15 minutes or so.

Ah-So sauce is interesting stuff. It's bright red, somewhat sweet, very salty, and very sticky. It tends to stick to the cooked pork thickly, making it not really resemble [American] Chinese restaurant pork at all. It's still tasty though. Of course, after I had added it to the fried rice, the way the excess sauce rubbed off while stirring apparently left the pork resembling the Chinese restaurant pork perfectly.

And if MSG is a concern for you, then no problem, because there is no MSG in the Ah-So Sauce. I have never seen more than one brand of Ah-So Sauce in this area, but a quick check of the ingredients label will let you know if your Ah-So Sauce is also MSG Free.

Pork Fried Rice

Step 2: Pork Fried Rice

- 6 tbsp cooking oil
- 6 cups cooked rice
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (LaChoy brand or similar taste for best results)
- 1 cup chopped carrot bits
- 1 cup chopped green onions (scallions), or regular onion
- 1/2 a 12-16oz package of bean sprouts
- cooking spray (or more oil)
- 2 large eggs (3 if small)
- 1 cup Chinese pork, as prepared above

Add 6 tbsp cooking oil to a wok or wok-like pan at med-high heat. Put in 6 cups of cooked rice. Fresh, moist rice is best to work with, so either use freshly finished rice or microwave your leftover rice- covered- to re-heat and restore moisture. (If your rice has become very dry, drip some water over it and then cover and microwave to restore moisture).

Cover rice with 1/4 cup soy sauce (LaChoy brand soy sauce gave the best results). Stir until evenly coated. Press the rice flat into the pan and let it sit. Go ahead and press it down as far up against the sides of the pan as it will go, to get it all as flat as possible. About every 2 or 3 minutes, "flip" the rice- pretty much, just stir it around and then flatten it again. Cook until starting to look fried.

Turn down the heat to 1 setting under medium. Add 1 cup of chopped up carrot bits and stir. Add 1 cup of chopped green onions (or regular onion) and stir. Add two big handfuls of fresh bean sprouts (about half of a 12-16oz package), stir. Cover with a lid and let sit for 5 minutes, stirring once at the halfway point.

Now the veggies are starting to look cooked, while the beansprouts are still looking somewhat fresh (don't worry, they'll be done by the time you're finished). Push everything to one side of the pan to leave yourself some open space. Add a small amount of cooking oil or some cooking spray. Put in the 2 eggs (3 if small) and scramble them up, breaking them apart into small bits. Try pressing the tip of the spatula into them and moving it back and forth as you go. (Don't worry if some of the rice or veggies fall into them.) Then stir the egg bits into the rice and veggies.

Now you can turn off the heat, you're almost done.

Add about 1 cup of Chinese pork (as prepared above) into the rice, and stir thoroughly (excess Ah-So sauce will rub off on the rice while stirring). Then let sit for a short while to cool down a bit.
You have tasty Chinese pork fried rice! >^_^<

Try it out, tweak your ingredient amounts as needed, and you should be able to get perfect Chinese restaurant pork fried rice from this. >^_^< .

Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

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February 6th, 2009

03:52 pm - Sandwich wrap, carrots, granola.. Bento restarting in 4, 3, 2...

Hello everyone, welcome back? As I have become active again in the LJ bento communities, I have noticed a few people add me to their friends list (ZOMG, readerz!!!). I had always hoped that this blog would provide some sort of resource for people, if only ideas on cheap gear finds (apparently those entries are dominating my post count..). I've been meaning to get back to this blog for a while now.

The tags I've set up are a good way to find what you're looking for. At some point, I'll try to make a better directory of them to post on my profile page, since LJ's tags links seem oddly difficult to notice from any main pages. I don't know if I'll ever be able to integrate a nifty design like the bento blogs that have their own sites, like Biggie's Lunch In A Box or Pikko's Adventures in Bentomaking, but I'll do what I can. >^_^<

I have, since last summer, become settled in a new state, and a new job. The new job started me a while back getting back into bento lunches, and so now I will begin again in bento blogging. >^_^< All along the way I've been collecting new gear, always intent on re-starting bento when I would need it again. I'm always on the lookout for bento gear at stores, so I've collected a lot to share by now. I have so many photos of gear and lunches backlogged now that I hardly knew where to start.

But I have to start somewhere, and I suppose the photo supply will keep me going for quite a while. >^_^< To start us off, this is a lunch I made before I had the new job, when I had to go out to the University labs for a day very early, and would need good food to keep me going at lunch time. >^_^<

Here I have used two of the green Snap & Seal boxes from Jo-Ann Fabrics (443ml each) to make my lunch. It was a little big for me. I have a sandwich wrap made with a tomato basil wrap, romaine lettuce, mustard, ham, cheese, tomato, green pepper, and pickles. The other one has baby carrots, ranch dressing in the Hello Kitty cup, and a crumbled oats & honey granola bar in the heart cup.

Current Mood: contentcontent

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June 13th, 2008

06:44 pm - Bento Gear Catch-Up, Part 2

Here's some more nifty stuff I picked up for bento-making, fairly recently even. >^_^<

What's up with the bath scrubbies on the top of this picture? Well no, they're not for bento, but I wanted to better show what I had found at the Dollar Tree in the quest for bento gear. >^_^<
I got these nifty sauce containers to use by checking the bathroom isle for these Toiletry Kits.

At the Dollar Tree I picked up both a pink and a white toiletry kit, each of which came with two little containers perfect for sauces, and three bottles. The containers hold 30 ml, the same amount as my Hello Kitty cups, but they're 2.5 cm high and 4.5 cm wide, so they're as short as the "disposable" sauce containers I'd been using when I wanted to put sauce in the shorter tiers of my bento boxes but the Hello Kitty cups were too tall. They're wider than the Hello Kitty cups, but they should work nicely. The bottles hold 81 ml (2.7 oz), and are 10 cm tall and 3.75 cm wide. I'm not really sure what to do with the bottles. Side bottles of salad dressings, maybe, although 30 ml is usually plenty of dressing for a bento-sized salad. Maybe I could use them for travel bottles of furikake.

One of the best things about these containers is the fact that they're all plastic- there are no waxed cardboard cap inserts like I've seen on other sets, so I don't need to worry about how to keep those clean and food safe. On the subject of food safe, I'm not entirely sure about these containers, since they're not intended for food and do not bear any food-safe symbols on them, however, I'm not too concerned about it for myself, as far as these little things go.

Also in the picture are the colorful cupcake picks I found at the A.C. Moore craft store for $1.99. I also got these with a half-off coupon, since I buy almost everything there with those. >^_^< I realized from looking at the package that these are meant as clips to hold up little cards, but I think they're cute just to use on their own. These are from a while back, as you may have seen in several of my posted bento meals. >^_^<

And last, a couple more paper/nori punches I picked up at the Dollar Tree, since I found a couple more shapes I liked. >^_^< Yay cute punches for a reasonable price! >^_^<

The other bento supply I've picked up recently is this organizer from JoAnn Fabrics full of little screw-top jars, which I plan to use for storing pre-punched nori cut outs. >^_^< I've been looking for a source of tiny containers to keep pre-punched nori in to keep decorative bentos fast, and the small nori shapes easy to access. I saw this one, and determined that it was the most fitting one I've seen, since it has 30 jars to use for different shapes, and each one has a screw-on lid, which should keep the nori fresh in the containers (i.e., crisp and dry, and not old/soft, I hope). >^_^<

This organizer box is 13.5 cm x 16.25 cm x 3.5 cm, and each jar inside is about 3 cm high and 2.5 cm wide. The little jars hold about 8ml each, which sounds like a lot less that it appears to actually be- they may even be great little containers for furikake, or mustard or something, in a bento if needed in a pinch.

They may even be a little on the big side for storing nori punches, but I think they should work pretty well, and it's definitely the best set I've seen. Not sure about the plastic being "food safe", but I don't think it'll hurt anything. Yay for finding some screw-on cap organizers for potential freshness. >^_^<

Current Mood: okayokay

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June 12th, 2008

08:36 pm - Bento Gear Catch-Up, Part 1

So, here I have a backlog of bento gear photos I never got around to posting about..

Many months ago I was on the lookout for potential bento gear all the time. I ended up finding a lot of nifty stuff at dollar stores, both at the chain Dollar Tree and at the little dollar store in the mall called Wow, Only $1.00. Although the mall dollar store is the sort that charges more for some items.. But they did have a lot of great kitchen items on their wall for $1.00 each. >^_^<

At the Wow, Only $1.00, I found this plastic "Pot Sticker" press, which is for making dumplings that are called gyoza in Japanese. I've also seen someone on a bento community use one to press some small peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for cuteness, so I figured there were a few things that could be done with this. >^_^<

I also got a little collection of tart molds/pans there. I got a 4-pack each of these three types of little tart molds/pans. I'm not sure what to do with the bigger ones, maybe use them for some little cheesecakes, or something otherwise slice-able. I figured I might try something like that with them sometime. The others could make nifty little quiches and stuff perfect for bento boxes. >^_^< These were all $1.00 per 4-pack, so much better than the ones that were $1.00 per each pan at the A.C. Moore craft store.

The red heart picks pictured here are from the Valentine's Day stuff that was on clearance sale at the Jo-Ann Fabrics craft store. Just had to grab some. >^_^<

At the Wow, Only $1.00, I also found this cute little ice cube tray. >^_^< I can't think of much to do with it for bento, other than making small candies perhaps, but it was too cute not to get. >^_^<

Also, I have more mini cookie cutters, and I finally got my full sized heart-shaped silicone baking cups! Yay! >^_^< Pictured under the full sized heart baking cups are two of the mini heart baking cups and one of the regular sized silicone baking cups I already had, for size comparison. The heart baking cups are oddly larger than the regular ones.

I got all these at the A.C. Moore craft store. I picked up most things one at a time with half-off coupons, over a period of several weeks. I got sets of the heart shaped and flower shaped Wilton fondant cutters to add to the rest of my collection. >^_^< These sets were $2.99 each. Too bad they didn't have them at the Marden's when I got the star, leaf, and 5-petal flower shaped sets there for $0.59 a set. -- As usual, the quality of shape of the smallest cutters is not fantastic, but was easy to modify into great shape with a small pair of flat jewelry pliers. >^_^<
(Any needle nose pliers with a decent tip would probably work fine!)

I also grabbed butterfly and bunny shaped cookie cutters from the spring selection of cutters at the A.C. Moore. Yay! I think they'll make some nifty mini-sandwiches and stuff that will [just barely] fit in the bento boxes.. >^_^<

And finally, the cutest little paper/nori punch I've seen at the Dollar Tree yet! I love this adorable little crab! >^_^<

Current Mood: okayokay

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June 9th, 2008

04:16 pm - Dollar Tree's "Cooking Concepts" paper baking cups (125 pack) = Bad Idea

I have found out that I can no longer use the 125-pack of Cooking Concepts paper baking cups I found at the Dollar Tree for bento arrangement.

Cooking Concepts 125-pack paper baking cups = Bad Idea

So far, I had only bought the gold kind- they came in red, blue, gold, and tan. I found out that they look much better when separated from the pack- less intense color- and seem waxy and good for wet-ish foods, like eggs and apples slices. They also have wider than average bottoms, even though they read "standard size" on the package, which worked very nicely for this sort of bento. However, Zeus informed me that they had been leaking dye on all his food!

So, these paper cups dyed all his eggs yellow, and got yellow dye all over his apples. He said he kept forgetting to tell me (he did eat his lunches anyway). So, no more of those. Bummer. They would have lasted quite a while nicely. They made a great, cheap way to keep these bentos going smoothly. Too bad about the dye leak-age. Bleh.

Current Mood: apatheticaww...

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