Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Holiday Dinner Chinese style

Happy Holidays! We're going a bit off topic, well mainly because I have no bentos to post for the moment. I figured at least I can do a Christmas post and let you see how our family does a holiday dinner. During the winter it's very traditional (at least from the part of China my father originated from) to have a hotpot dinner. It's a very communal event and unusual to most outsiders. Basically dinner consists of a lot of raw ingredients surrounding a large "hotpot" of broth. (as pictured above) The electric hotpot (a modern convenience) is favored above the traditional coal fired hotpot but works just as well. Once the pot gets boiling everyone has a personal strainer they put ingredients and then put the whole thing in the boiling broth to cook. Other items that can tolerate long periods in the broth are put in to help the flavor initial, this includes fried tofu, fish cakes, and various meatballs.

Part of the presentation for the dinner is arranging all the sliced meats, seafood and vegetables. As you can see here my father made a nice "meat flower" (ok it's better tasting than the label). Meats are sliced very very thin in order to shorten the amount of time necessary to cook in the hotpot.

Here you see a shrimp plate. When cooking, you try to put together items with similar cooking times, for instance with the shrimp you might cook the squid because both require very little time.

It's not an entirely carnivorous affair. Various plates bowls of spinach, chinese cabbage, and tofu are put into the mix. Once we're finished with dinner we have a wonderful soup broth that can be used later or for another meal to be slurped by itself, or as a base to a very flavorful soup.

I hope everyone had a happy holiday weekend. Have a Happy New year, may you be happy, health and prosperous in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Food for the masses

Ok I exagerate it's a good few people. Sorry for the sparce postings, my work is killing me and life's been a bit hectic.

One of the things I'm learning to deal with is figuring out how to put together all these lunches so that I'm not working all night getting it all ready. It really requires a bit of forethought and factory like mentality. Above you'll see a shipped box. Everything is wrapped nicely compartmentalized so that no sauces spill. I don't always use every compartment. On the weeks that I don't I get to pre-plate for the next day saving me a smidgen of work. In the end, for feeding five people it's not all bad, my initial endevour was to cook only for my new wife. That idea presented it's own challenges towards menu planning, it's hard to buy for a portion of one. How do you re-use your ingredients? Course there are lots of bento blogs that serve as a good resource for that problem. So going down the path to actually cook for more saves me a lot of waste and allows me to have more varied menus. The only hurdle on this "flip side" is still portioning, how do you make sure the recipes would accommodate five portions? If the recipe doesn't how do you scale it? I guess that's why I have my blog to try and put those experiences on e-paper.

Keeping track of the color schemes so everyone gets the right box is probably is a minor pain too :) I keep a map on the table. What I choose in my menus is actually influenced by how I can use the box space and what containers I can retain so I can pre-plate for day 2.

It managed to work itself somehow week after week and we end up with our final product boxed and shipped. I do miss doing my bentos at the same time, it's good to take a break and restart the planning for the next year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

w00t! new hostname finally installed

I got off my lazy bum and finally installed the URL I had originally purchased for this site. From this day forth you will be redirected to (still powered by blogger of course). Anyhow, that's it for now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tools of the Trade pt 3: Tools of preservation

As promised, I'm keeping up with the blog with tools and things I've learned. In this section I'll talk a little about preservation, specifically freezing. Many times, my recipes will yield more than required to build all of my bentos (sometimes intentionally). If I don't intend on eating the food myself immediately or it's a component that I'll re-use at a later date, I'll save and freeze the food. The tricky part about freezing is determining what will defrost well later, but in almost every case, if you don't protect the food those pesky ice crystals will form and cause the dreaded Freezer burn.

So what's the best way to protect your food? Well freezer burn results when ice crystals form from the meat or vegetables when exposed to air. The best way to stop this is storing your food in air tight packaging. I use to use a food saver it's a great tool and I still use it for some of my more "heavy duty" storage. My issue around the foodsaver is that the bags aren't resealable, or if you intend on resealing you have to make a really big bag and cut your way down every time you open the bag. Also, it is a heavy duty machine, it takes up lots of counter space and is very loud.

Never fear, there's an alternative solution that's a actually very cheap. The guys from Reynolds have recently released a more portable solution. They have a resealable bag (quart and gallon sizes) that has a small sealing "port", you can see it in the picture it's the blue dot with a clear center. You basically seal the food in, and place the vacuum pump over the dot and push the button. Assuming you properly sealed the bag, it sucks out all the air. It's a perfect solution, if you want to take some of the "stuff" out simply open up the top take some out, re-seal and vacuum the air back out. It's less loud than the food saver and easily stored. As to what I store, I'll save that for another post, but to tide you over I ran across this handy post on freezing that should be pretty good stuff to know.

As always thanks for coming by. I'm still brainstorming menus for the new year, it's coming up fast so more food posts soon!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Final Box of the year

With the holiday season upon us, my wife prevailed upon me to take a break and take sometime off bentoing to actually enjoy the holidays. So this is my final box for the year. We've got a italian inspired lunch today. I tried to stay with a lighter theme the only hearty fare today is the stew. I had a pretty big hole since I decided to move the stew into an outside container. Fortuneatly the big plump strawberries were ready to take the spot.

We start with a nice italian lamb stew, I didn't use the crockpot this time, I was actually afraid to make the meat too soft. Lots of great hearty ingredients to keep my eaters warm (it's getting cold down here). Carrots, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers potatoes, and of course lamb put that together with a hearty blend of herbs and you get some pretty tasty stuff.

This side was a bit of a struggle for me. There were plenty of sides, but part of my new mandate was that the menu had to be doable very quickly. All the other sides I originally had in mind required a great deal more effort. Fortunately my foodie magazines were able to dig me out of my predicament. I found a recipe for a great minute risotto, it looked promising with nice flavor, the reheat will melt the Parmesan and make it creamy.

I saw this awesome stand of basil sprigs that had the largest leaves I've seen in some time. Naturally had to find an application for them. Underneath that behemoth basil leaf is a standard caprese salad, which is nothing more than fresh mozzerella and tomato slices sprinkled with fresh chopped basil, dusted with a bit of kosher salt, and finished off with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Last but not least is the desert. I had some limoncello (italian lemon liqeur) and thought it would make a wonderful glaze "dressing" for the wonderful giant perfect strawberrries I had. For those that have never had limoncello, it's sweet and lemony without being sour. I think this is partly due to the process of making limoncello is using lemon rind rather than whole lemon. Anyway I digress I lobbed in the last of the blueberries from the day before and voila we finish my last bento.

I've really enjoyed making my bentos for my wife and coworkers this year. I plan on continuing next year when we start up again and recover from the holiday season. I've also had a fun time with the photography and blogging (a first for me). Fear not I'll continue posting, but this is the last "food" post until the new year. The coming posts will be some more on the tools I use in the kitchen and probably more "yammering" and reflection on how to improve my delivery process. Thanks everyone for coming and reading, I'm so excited with my ramp up of traffic. I hope you all have enjoyed reading as I have putting it all together. Cheers!

Box contents:
  • Italian Lamb stew
  • Minute Tomato Risotto
  • Caprese Salad
  • Berries with a Limoncello glaze

Monday, December 3, 2007

Preparation is king

Ok I'm sandbagging. I know there's one last bento post for the year. Aesthetically I think it is one of my better composed ones, but you'll have to wait for my grand finale. In the mean time, more insight into the pre-work I must do for the bentos. For each bento I prepare a menu list, recipe list and finally the "note from mom" that I detailed in the earlier post. From concept to execution, a bento from me requires quite a bit of thought. Most bento blogs help with creating meals from what's in the fridge, in my case, I have to carefully plan out a meal within budget and still execute in the space of one evening. Were I to rummage through the fridge I couldn't come up with anything I could stretch for so many people. My hope of course is my freezer with it's left over buliding blocks will help me out on costs (pesto, tomato sauce, chicken stock). In the meantime as you can see I have a small binder I've been adding to. Each bento is carefully considered with the food costs in mind, but i've collected all my recipes (and my modifications) . I try to cut corners where possible so I can afford to splurge in other bentos, but rest assured my eaters get their value. I've been encouraged to publish my bento collection. I'm still on the fence, but maybe one day, I mean I have the photos, so it's not a far cry to go to lulu or prescribe to the google ads, but this is still a hobby for me so no commercialization yet.

Welcome again to the laptop lunch folks, wow, so many hits over a couple of days. I hope you come back and see me, I love an audience. In the mean time, eat, drink and be happy!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Going out with a bang!

Wow, a little publicity and I triple my visits in 15 hours. Welcome all you laptop lunch newsletter readers! Again, a unsolicited plug, I *love* my lunch boxes, they are so versatile and have made it easier for me to pack these lunches for my wife and her coworkers. Back to the business at hand I've decided to go out with a bang on my last couple of bentos. The idea behind this bento was really the dessert, I had to build the entrees and the sides to make the desert fit.

Since I started the concept with desert let's start by posting about it. I was kicking around the idea of making a creme brulee for my eaters. Two obstacles around that idea . First, glycemicly or health friendly? I don't think so. Two is the logistics of packing. I'd have to pack in six ramekins, not a big deal I suppose, but I need to keep transport easy for my wife. So I settled on another idea: Banana Brulee, I just broke out the torch and got to work. Instead of ice cream, I went with vanilla yogurt as a topping. It all sounded good in theory, but in practice it turns out the yogurt softened the sugar. Everyone still loved it, but I think next time pack the yogurt in a little cup or something.

For the sides, I wanted to make this a really color ful box, so I went with this great corn and black bean salad. Mixed in a bit of vinegar and some spices and this was a light and tasty side. I loved the texture and flavors so much, I made extra so I could keep some for myself.

Keeping with the light and colorful, I put together a quick mixed green salad with pear and ginger vinaigrette. Nothing remarkable to say about this one. I had some spare pear and ginger vinegar so I figured I could lighten up the pantry a bit.

I really needed to cut down my bento creation times as much as possible, hence the easy menu items. Well, this pork tenderloin with mango mojo is no different. Picked up a marinated pork tenderloin and whizzed together a mango mojo. Packing wise, at the last second I found that the mojo leaked and would ruin desert, and the yogurt had the potential to wreak the pork. So I had to make make shift divider as my fake grass wasn't cutting it. Anyhow, this dish was a major hit with my eaters.

Although it looked like I broke my $6 per box limit, I surprisingly didn't. Staying in budget is important to me, as creating so many lunches it gets pretty costly if I oven run the food costs. As to presentation, I really enjoyed making this box, I loved the color it provided and I hope it gave you some pleasant visuals.

Welcome again to my new visitors, I hope you return soon. Bookmark, tell your friends! I promise to keep posting! I have one more box to post, but the new year comes soon and with it more boxes. In the meantime I have some tools and more 'yammering' that I can post. Stay tuned!

Contents of box
  • Pork tenderloin with mango mojo
  • Mixed green salad with Pear Ginger vinaigrette
  • Corn and black bean salad
  • Banana brulee with yogurt and blueberries

Thursday, November 29, 2007

March comes early

Yeah, I could have saved this bento for March and St. Paddies day, but corned beef is good any day of the year. I've been on a kick to try to make it easier in the kitchen to churn out 10 meals in a night. Whereas preparation is definitely key and important, I'll say that the crockpot is the hardware lynch pin in making that happen. Anyhow, It's getting cold and I needed some hearty food to warm up my eaters. I'll confess the menu this time was a bit difficult to come up with. Irish food tends to be on the starchy side so trying to stay with the low glycemic was difficult, but I think I found some good alternatives to being somewhat low carb and glycemic index friendly.

First up, we have the corned beef, this is one of those no brainer dishes. I love cooking up a corned beef brisket in the cooker it gives me something to munch on through the week so it was an easy choice to deliver as bento. I usually punch it up a bit by stewing it beer, but I didn't know how that would go with the sauerkraut being cooked with it, so I settled with beef broth.

To give me the nice 2 for 1 cooking I put in some sauerkraut with the corned beef. I was a bit hesitant but to my surprise, by cooking the sauerkraut with the corned beef, it cut the sourness of the kraut and infused the beef with a bit of tang I don't normally get.

This is where it got hard, I had to find something to pair with the corned beef. Quick searches for irish / corned beef menus turned up a lot of roasted veggies, really hearty potato stews or other potato sides. I branched out a bit and did a search for stews that I could use. I ended up with this great red bean and barley stew. It was a nice blend of texture and taste that was reminiscent of a typical red beans and rice. You got that heartiness without the fat and wasted carbs you normally would get.

I get a lot of inspiration from the web. One of the food blogs I frequent had a feature on Cauliflower Cream. Yes, I know it looks like mashed potatoes, and it can fool lots of people. This particular side turned out to be the big hit of the box. I ended up taking this to a family potluck with the wife, it was initially met with some skepticism but ended up being cleaned out after folks tasted it. It's a perfect alternative to the starch laden mashed potato and visually looked the part to fit in my Corned beef bento.

Anyhow, great easy to make bento this time, I need to repeat this if I'm to continue in the new year. I know many bento blogs are about how to quickly manufacture lunch that's tasty and good looking. I guess my own adventures have branched out more towards food experiments and testing my photography skills, I need to take more notes from my fellow bloggers to make my life more sane. Ok that's it for now, thanks for tuning in.

Box Contents
  • Corned Beef brisket
  • Red Bean and barley stew
  • Sauerkraut
  • Cauliflower Cream

Monday, November 26, 2007

Brunch anyone?

Sorry for the sparce post folks, the holiday season's been hard on me, and I'm trying to space myself out for the holiday as I already committed to take it easy and resume bentos after the new year. Fear not this doesn't mean I'm not posting! Without further delay here we have the Fritta Bento! The idea of cooking up a brunch had been nagging at me some time. It wasn't until I found a blog entry somewhere on pumpkin blintzes that I had to jump on it.

We start with a simple frittata. Unfortunately it deflated on me as I packed it. Some things are just meant to be served fresh I suppose. Or the great chefs just have better technique. Very simple dish, I just put in some left over veggies that I had from another dish to whip this together.

I made a gazpacho for a side "soup" , I think I made it a bit too strong on the onion side. I meant for it to be more light and refreshing since I have been sending out some heavy bentos lately. Anyhow, definite graded a B on this one. I need to work on some taste technique and some better judgment when I read a recipe.

Again sticking with the them of light, I put together some sauteed green beans, a easy and healthy side dish that brought some nice color to my bento "composition" if you will. I'm finding it more and more important to be "concise" with my bentos meaning the easier I can make a dish the better on me as it saves me time. This fit the mold perfectly, a quick blanch, and a quick saute and we have a dish.

Last but not least the inspiration for the bento. Honestly I'm not a desert fiend, but I find myself composing menus based off desert. Although, a bit labor intensive, I think in the end worth it. Crepes I've done, but putting together a blintz especially as a side desert turns out to be pretty labor intensive. Reports from the field say it was very yummy. I think the "slight" sweetness of pumpkin really dropped the sugar and fat content of a normal blintz and was a wonderful change for a seasonal dish. I think in the great arsenal of bentos recipes this has to be a special occasion recipe. I can't pre-prep, I can't freeze it for re-use and it's labor intensive.

Anyhow, I hope anyone that is actually watching enjoys the post. I promise more posts later.

Box contents:
  • Garden Fritatta
  • Gazpacho
  • Green bean sauted with lemon butter
  • Pumpkin Blintz

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy T-Day!

Happy Thanksgiving! It's turkey day I hope all of you are having as great a dinner as I am having. I diverted my bentoing into working on a family thanksgiving potluck. I re-used some bento recipes actually, I served the quinoa and the cauliflower cream. Big hits both, the surprise hit was the cauliflower I expected a flat result, but everyone loved it. I'm glad to help expand some culinary horizons. Anyhow, promise I will post a bento here in the next two days, I've held out on your guys so it's time to put up some goodies.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tools of the Trade pt 2: The "Box" in eatinginabox

As promised, I'm doing an entry on the hardware that goes into the bento production. When we first began, I decided I wanted folks to be on a standard box that I could punch out bentos factory style. I stumbled upon this wonderful company that produced the perfect solution. You can find them here (no I don't work for them but they do deserve a plug). They have various color schemes (you're looking at primary color scheme above).

It all starts with the outer box. Simple but effective, the lid snaps into a slot at the front. The only complaint I have is that over time the lid warps a little and that is likely from the dishwasher (too many boxes to try to do them by hand). It's a real smart design, pre-grooved sections inside allow for the inner boxes to be nestled securely, and there's even a place for the fork and spoon.

Here we have the innards of the box (there's more than this) they have various sized boxes some with lids that you can apply towards various food items, soups, sauces, entrees, sides. It's perfect in that it allows you to put together lots of different foods without them "polluting" one another by having sauces mix. They're nice and sturdy and microwaveable, a big plus. This feature allows you to have a lunch that has both hot and cold items since components can be reheated without reheating the whole lunch box.

So the cool thing about boxes that are removable is when you make use of space *because* you don't have a box. You'll see lots of my blog entries where I've left out boxes in order to make room for larger items. You can get creative on how to separate things, like using japanese fake grass or the silicone muffin tin (shown in the picture). Once, I left out the utensils and put some asparagus in the utensil slot.

Last but not least we have the utensils, pretty basic stuff fork and spoon. On my trip to Taiwan, I bought my bento eaters a set of collapsible chopsticks as a souvenir, so on the days they feel like being in the Asian theme they can bust out the chopsticks.

Anyhow, hope you enjoyed this entry on the hardware side of things. I'll be spacing out the last of my bento entries for the year so there will be more of those. Just not quite as frequent.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

artistic renderings of lunch

I'm trying to do more posts on the background on all the things that have to happen in order for me to plan and push out a final bento box. Besides, I'm hitting the holiday season and the bentos will be going into sabbatical until the new year. (only two more left to make) So expect more yammering posts and more tools posts.

For each bento I carefully try to think about the composition of color, shape and size so I can get it to look good for their photo debut and be appetizing to my eaters. I'm not a fancy artist so it looks like a 4 year old drew it but it's useful to draw a rough sketch on how I'll plate the bentos and see which can be done early, which need to be wrapped. I usually label colors on each food so I can re-compose the dishes if I have too many similar colors together. Call it a bit OCD, but I'm a planner I can't help it. :)

The above are the frittata bento, and the irish bento that I have yet to post. Come back and see how sketch gets translated into real life.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Welcome Obentec folks

The folks over at laptoplunches are the fine sellers of the "lunch boxes" that I've been using. They've had a call for photos and I sent them a link to the blog, hopefully they'll use one of my bentos. Welcome to the folks that visit from there, we love your product! I'm actually going to post a detail "tools of the trade" entry specifically on the box sometime soon.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Quinoa what? New food experiment!

Sorry a dull looking lunch, I promise it was remarked as tasty. I was going for a higher healthy factor this time. My friend explaining the health benefits of Quinoa, I of course had to go and do some research on this grain and promptly incorporate it into a bento. I ran out of room on this box I took over the utensils slot and put in the asparagus. Now that I'm looking at it composition wise I think There's a little too much brown and orange.

Tried to save some time and effort with this box. I bought a pre-roasted chicken from the store and defrosted some pesto from a previous box and put together some fresh mozzarella and tomato into a sandwich, the bread is a low cal low carb bread. Note to self to make 5 sandwiches you don't need a whole chicken. Half a chicken would do fine.

Next came the Quinoa, I pulled a recipe for a shitake quinoa pilaf. I had some fears on using such an unknown ingredient but the recipe turned out quite nicely, I had to increase the liquid it called for by quite a bit, and I used Chicken stock that I had sitting in the freezer to amp up the flavors. This turned out to be a big hit with the crowd. I decided I need to start using my bento tools, so I cut some of the carrots for garnish.

Had to have some green in the box so I pulled in some Proscuitto and wrapped up some Asparagus dusted it off with some lemon zest and lemon juice. Finishing the sides I put in some crackers just as a space filler since the asparagus wouldn't fit in the space.

For desert I wanted something sweet but healthy. Fruit of course is a good filler for such things I decided to add a kick to make it less plain and topped it with a ginger honey sauce with orange and lemon zest.

box contents
  • Roasted Chicken Mozzarella sandwich with pesto
  • Shitake Quinoa pilaf
  • Proscuitto wrapped asparagus
  • Crackers
  • Cantaloupe with ginger honey sauce

Monday, November 5, 2007

Omega3 goodness

Some of the more recent bento savings have allowed me to splurge a bit and go for a menu that's a little nicer. So today I present a Miso Glazed Salmon Bento, I also splashed in some sides and dessert that are on the lighter healthier side of things.
We start with the Miso Glazed Salmon a yummy, a healthy 6 oz portion. It's actually quite an easy dish to produce, it took longer to put the glaze together than to actually broil the fish. I decided to garnish with the hearts of the Baby bok choi I used for the sides.

For the "main" side, I put together a nice soba noodle salad. It's chock full of fresh veggies (carrots, bell pepper and broccoli). The flavor should have developed quite nicely over night as the vegetables pickup the flavor of the dressing.

I put together some extra shitakes from one of the dishes tomorrow and sauteed up some baby bok choi. I had intended to top it with a touch of soy paste for some sweetness but had just plain forgotten because of the hustle bustle of putting lunches together. I just quickly improvised this side so I had nothing written to remind me.

As usual I cheated a bit on desert. I bought some prepackaged japanese cakes stuffed with red bean paste. I like these options for dessert as they tend to save me some time, one of my chief obstacles in creating these bentos is that I'm pretty wiped out by the end of the evening.

Box contents:
  • Miso Glazed Salmon
  • Cold Soba salad
  • Sauteed Baby Bok Choi with Shitake mushrooms
  • Japanese cakes stuffed with red bean paste

Friday, November 2, 2007

DIY falafel kit

Went with another create your own sandwich box. I got the idea from another blog in my many research travels for this one way long ago when I first kicked the idea of building bentos for folks (Sorry, whoever it was I'd love to give you credit.) Very basic box where all of the compoents could really be used in the two pita shells I provided.

Start with the Pita shells and toss in a bit of the hummus maybe even a few carrot sticks. Use the Tzaziki later to drizzel on top.

Then put in the lettuce and falafel paddies. I used the Rice molds from my japanese box to mold the paddies (hard to see in the picture) I had stars, hearts and a teddy bear face. It came out ok, I think the star was most recognizable the paddies tended to lose their shape in the frying process.

Lastly we have a buttery herb couscous, I suppose the adventurous could even add that.

Box Contents
  • Falafel with lettuce
  • Buttery Herb Couscous
  • Tzaziki
  • Hummus with carrot sticks