my unexpected hiatus!

Regular readers might be wondering why I haven’t posted recently.  My laptop has been acting up for a while, then suddenly it went into a coma.  It’s in for a hard drive replacement at the moment, leaving me unable to access my photos, notes, recipes, etc., and limited access to the net.  And when I get it back, apparently I will have to add my files in a laborious piecemeal process.  So unfortunately I won’t be posting for a few days or so.  But I hope to see you soon!

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what we did in the holidays and a new bento box

We just finished our Term Three holidays, so this week we are back at (home)education again.  I made a post about our holidays earlier but didn’t get a chance to finish it, so here it is…

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On the first week of spring school holidays the Perth Royal Show is on, and most of Perth seems to turn up for it each year.  Every thing from french bulldog breed showing to miniature ponies displays to sheep dog trials.  Counted-cross stitch and roller coasters presided over by dentally-challenged carnies…you get the idea.  A lot of places have a county fair or something of the like; it’s daggy as all get out, but that’s part of its charm.  This year I took some time to browse the winning entries in the jams, jellies and preserves.  Frenchies on show was a must, as was the display of a Border Collie doing its best to not get trampled by some recalcitrant sheep.  I even had the opportunity to get an elderly gentleman to send a morse code message to my younger son, telling him, from me, to get a hair cut.  All up, a fun morning.  And after all that excitement IMGP7352I was inspired to go home and break out the old jam kettle, and turn out a dozen jars of strawberry jam.  Yes, the holidays were quite busy!  I even made cinnamon buns one Sunday.  Mmmm!  I should make these more…!

IMGP7367I tried to have a good break these holidays, but it didn’t totally work out… life (and lunch) goes on.  I took advantage of my freer schedule to make two batches of rolls and two batches of muffins for the freezer, for husbands lunches. One day I dug out a nice deep Tupperware container I haven’t used for a long time; it turned out to be a nice shape to hold a roll, a muffin and some grapes.  I was so pleased with myself!  And then my husband told me he had a laptop and other gear to take to work that day, his backpack was too full.  So it all had to be bagged up and tucked into gaps here and there.  So you see my cleverness went to waste!

IMGP7479Also on the holidays, I trialled a new bento box I got on my trip to Singapore.  I found this UGM box at Takashimaya (Casabento department!)  I really like the design; the lid is rather tall, so it works well if you’re making something you don’t want to squash down, like hand rolls.  And it has a pair of chopsticks that fit inside the inner lid.  Very handy.

IMGP7379In this bento, avocado sushi, honey soy barbecued chicken wings, cucumbers with umeboshi, and a saute of carrot, onion, tofu and nori.  I just had a sudden craving for the carrot, onion and tofu dish, it’s an old macrobiotic recipe I remembered with simple clean flavours.  I haven’t made it for years.  So anyway, after all that excitement, now I need another holiday.  Oh well, only about seven and a half weeks until the summer holidays!

I haven’t forgotten about the giveaway I mentioned before.  I have the goodies, I just need to sort out how to run the giveaway and then it will be on!  Promise!

 


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100 posts bento!

Well, I finally made it!  This is my 100th post, and to mark the occasion I decided to try making a special Rilakkuma celebration bento.  IMGP7452Earlier in the week I was so busy I didn’t get a chance to prepare for it, so I ended up putting it off until today.  And, finally, here it is!
Rilakkuma and Kiiroitori are shown celebrating…with a 100 posts “cake” and popping the cork on a bottle of champagne :).  This bento was made with soy sauce rice, egg coloured with turmeric for Kiiroitori, the cake was a shichimi pork patty with cheese, ham, egg white sheet, nori and zucchini details.  The champagne bottle is zucchini, and the cork is pork patty.  The side dishes are potato salad and steamed prawns…you can’t see the prawns because I had to bury them underneath to fit them in!

Wow, I made it to 100 posts!  When I started this blog it was an experiment…I had no idea how it would lead to such happy inspiration, and connection to others who also love the art, craft and culinary wizardry of bento.  It’s my pleasure to share my photos and ideas, and participate in the bento scene.  I’m learning so much about bento, thanks to so many people who share their ideas.  I love to do the same.  So, to show my appreciation to the many readers and bentoists who visit, I will be launching a giveaway next week!  So do come back for a visit…and I hope you will enter the competition to win some bento gear!  Enjoy your weekend! :)

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‘simply onigiri’ book review

On my recent trip I visited Kinokuniya, a bookstore that put stars in my eyes.  I don’t know about your town, but in my town bookstores have been disappearing, and the ones that are still surviving are small and poorly stocked.  Imagine my enthusiasm as I took in this massive store, big enough to get lost in (and yes, I did…!)  The food and drink section alone dwarfed my local bookstore.  While wandering around, lost and hungry, I found a wonderful little book, ‘Simply Onigiri’ by Sanae Inada.  A cookbook just about onigiri, the adorable and ubiquitous Japanese comfort food….?  Believe me, it is as wonderful as it sounds!

IMGP7392After a brief introduction about onigiri, Inada gives clear and detailed instructions on how to prepare and cook rice, and how to make a basic rice ball.   Subsequent sections are for plain, mixed rice, filled and grilled onigiri, and even for different types of rice (eg brown).  Most recipes feature a different shape or method for the onigiri.  Nearly all recipes contained ingredients that I would be able to find in my town (even though Perth is not well-supplied with Japanese ingredients.)  The few exotic exceptions were so appealing, for example, myoga (ginger bud) and cucumber mixed onigiri – which I would love to try some day, if only I could get my hands on some myoga!

The section on how to decorate onigiri has some fun ideas, though there are only a few examples of “cute” onigiri, (ie, looking like animals, etc).  But of course that subject is covered widely elsewhere.  The book has a pleasant minimalist look and easy on the eyes soft focus photographs.  The methods are explained simply, and well-illustrated.  There are a lot of tips included with the recipes to make bundling up a batch of onigiri easier.

What I liked most about the book is that it opened my mind to different ways I could make onigiri with ingredients I’m already using.  The rice balls in the bento above are mixed rice bibimbap onigiri, made with finely shredded leftover bulgogi beef, spinach namul, and corn.   It’s an inspiration to see page after page of variety, and has made me even more enthused to include onigiri in bentos.

For some more examples of other onigiri shapes and flavours, here are a few I featured in other posts:

edamame onigiri and furikake onigiri
toasted onigiri
chicken and black mushroom onigiri

Besides the bibimbap onigiri the bento above contains kimchi, asparagus, and sweet soy and black sesame chicken.  The chicken recipe is just a simple one inspired by some rice crackers I had years ago, wish I could still find them!

Sweet Soy and Black Sesame Chicken
300g chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
sweet soy sauce
mirin
black sesame seeds

Saute the chicken on medium low heat  until cooked through.  Drizzle on sweet dark soy sauce (I use a sticky Indonesian one) and a good splash of mirin.  Toss and turn the chicken, boiling down the liquid until it’s syrupy.  Be careful not to burn it!  Taste for seasoning, you may need to add salt if your soy sauce is not very salty.  When the liquid is nearly all gone and the chicken is shiny and coated, sprinkle on black sesame seeds and stir them through.  This recipe makes enough for several bentos, or a meal for two or three.

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honour roll, part one

Rolls and sandwiches sometimes seem like the dull cousins of Japanese-style bentos.  Of course, in the West they are the most usual packed lunch.  Here a lot of people avoid bringing cooked food to work because 1. they don’t like to eat it cold, 2. if they heat the food in the microwave it “stinks up the office.”  3. it can leak and make a mess.  My husband is one of these people.  Since he rides a bike with all his gear in a back pack, for him rolls or sandwiches are just more convenient.  So, I was wondering, is it possible to make bread for lunch more interesting?  Read on for a gallery of some recent attempts.

IMGP7339This year I started making most of our bread: sourdough and yeasted breads, sweetbreads, flatbreads and rolls.  Bread was such a staple in my family growing up in Newfoundland, and usually homemade.  I think it has ruined me for store-bought sliced bread and rolls, I just can’t get into it!  It’s amazing how even a humble egg salad tastes much better on homemade bread.  So these days it’s homemade, and also, I’m trying out different types of dough, in a variety of shapes, and with more interesting fillings.  And in future posts I’ll share some tips for making bread more easily, and   how to shape rolls in different ways.

IMGP7256I usually make sourdough for sliced bread, but for lunch rolls I always use  traditional yeast dough.  It makes softer, lighter bread, which my family likes best.  It doesn’t take as long as you’d think to knock out one or two batches of rolls in the week and freeze them, so they are fresh each morning.  When I do two batches it’s usually one batch of white rolls, and one of some wholegrain combination.  The one above is half white spelt, half whole spelt, with Coronation Chicken Salad.  (Read down for the filling recipe!)

IMGP7319It’s fun to dress up the rolls with different toppings (and hey, if it’s fun for the cook that’s a good thing!), plus they look nice and have a bit of texture.  Poppy seeds are fairly standard, they’re good for colour contrast, but pumpkin, sunflower, nigella, or sesame seeds, or a combination, are great for variety.  They are also tasty mixed into the dough.  My personal favourites are rolls dusted with flour, alone or combined with seeds.  It also gives the rolls a soft crust, with a just a touch of crackle.  This roll to the right has a really tasty classico salami, thinly sliced.  It’s a dry salami, softly leathery like prosciutto and with a ping of spice, I think fennel.  To me this salami is so tasty it needs very little added to it.

IMGP7077This roll has a mild Milano salami, and Jarlsberg cheese.  As you can see, I don’t put a big variety of salad ingredients on rolls, usually just lettuce.  It often makes the bread go soggy by lunch time.  If you like extras, a little separate container or plastic bag of salad can be a handy way of keeping bread dry, especially if there are sliced tomatoes.  Rolls or sandwiches can be great with little or no salad too, it shows off the clean flavour of a good salami, or even a slice of cheese on its own.  Quality of ingredients make or break a sandwich in any case.

IMGP7328Lunch containers come in so many shapes and sizes, there’s really no need to wrap in plastic.  A little baking paper nest can help a roll fit just right so it doesn’t joggle around in transit.   I love this plain white Sistema container.   This last type of roll is my favourite of the moment, a braided one.  I’ll show how to make it next week.

Coronation Chicken Salad (my way)
1 cooked chicken breast
Dressing:
1 TBSP mango chutney
1 tsp curry powder
generous squeeze of lemon or lime juice
1 finely chopped spring onion
2 TBSP mayonnaise, or to taste
salt and pepper

Combine dressing ingredients and taste for seasoning. Shred the chicken and mix together well.  Makes enough for two or three rolls, or maybe more, depending on size of roll and how much you like to pile up your fillings!

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i love cookpad bento

Have you discovered Cookpad yet?  It’s a huge Japanese recipe site, and a great source for hugely varied homestyle Japanese food.  Part of its charm is that the recipes are added by ordinary people, sharing their experiments or family favourites, and the translation attempts to capture the colloquial fun tone of the originals.  There are sections for specific types of recipes, including bento side dishes – yay!  I visit all the time, because more recipes are being translated/added all the time.  You can find the English version here.  Thank you to Maki from Just Bento for promoting it in this article!  And big thanks also to Maki and  the others who do the translating, making this wonderful resource available to us non-Japanese speakers.

sesame pork patty bentoThis week I thought I’d try posting a gallery of my favourite bentos of the previous week.  A couple of them feature a new recipe I tried from Cookpad, sesame shichimi pork patties.  They were easy to make and full of flavour.  I made some for the kids without the shichimi pepper, but it wasn’t necessary as they’re not too spicy.  I made them again with beef, also great, as would be with chicken mince I think.  The onigiri are studded with edamame.

furikake onigiri bentoI had some patties leftover, so it was easy to make a quick lunch the next day.  These patties are great with some gochujang or chilli sauce on the side.  Here I had them with some furikake onigiri, a side of potato salad, and broccoli, with carrot cut-outs.  I’m on an onigiri kick at the moment…I picked up a great book about onigiri in Singapore.  I will be reviewing it next week, so stay tuned!

One more bento, this time with hoisin pork and rice. So you see I don’t just put leftovers in my lunch! :) hoisin pork bento Also in there, scrambled egg with carrot, corn and peas, and a few leaves from the garden (spinach and red mizuna).  The red mizuna looks almost black, so I think I will claim this bento fulfills the rule of thumb of traditional bentos, “red, yellow, green, black and white for a balanced bento.”  I think that saying is apt, bentos with a good colour range look nice and bright.  It’s hard to get yellow into bento though, without eggs!  I wonder if that’s why so many Japanese bentos have tamagoyaki?  I don’t like to eat eggs that often, so for future reference it might be helpful to make a list of yellow foods; pumpkin (orange, but I think it counts!), yellow peppers, mini patty pan squash, cheese, yellow kiwi, banana, wax beans (they don’t turn up often!) hmmm…if you think of any others, let me know!

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i like trains bento

For lunch today I’m using some of the bento goodies I got in Singapore.  While there I stopped into Takashimaya Department Store and met up with Aaron, the representative from Casa Bento.  He showed me their fabulous selection of gear…a really nice range of bento boxes, bags, accessories, and preparation tools.  I came away with several things to try out…and display on bento wa.  One of my faves was a little set to make “bullet train sushi.”  It’s basically a little train shape mould, and some cutters to make nori details.

I like the idea of a bullet train rushing through the countryside, it reminds me of the Studio Ghibli movie, Only Yesterday, which, coincidentally, I watched only yesterday.

bullet train sushi bentoThe sushi is a simple cucumber one (I was told I should have made it avocado by my son…!)  The “fields” are honey soy chicken wings with some deco picks, there was also peas and corn and broccoli “lemon trees” in there.  And a little rice mixed with soy to make the ground, with nori train tracks.  I think a lot of kawaii lunches are quite girly, so it was fun making something boyish.  This lunch is packed in the Lego lunchbox we picked up at Legoland Malaysia on our trip.

The train press was easy to use, and it was simple to just poke a piece of cucumber in before filling it all the way.  A little tab at the top pops the rice out after.  I was skeptical about the cutters at first, but they did a great job of cutting on the mat provided.  For the train carriage I made a second engine, and cut the end off with a sharp knife.  I would say it’s a helpful little tool, especially for someone who wants to make boy bentos.  I checked the Casa Bento website, and didn’t see it on there, so maybe it’s not in stock for online purchase right now? But was available in Singapore at Takashimaya.

That wasn’t the only bento I did today…I asparagus hand rolls bentoalso made lunch for myself, keeping it simple and using my favourite box of the moment.  I don’t know why I love it so much, maybe it’s the warm look of the wood.  It seems homey and charming at the same time.   Did you notice the chopsticks?  They’re from Takashimaya as well.  The dishes were the same chicken wings, asparagus and umeboshi paste hand rolls, and a mixed vegetable and mayonnaise salad.

Thank you to Aaron at Casa Bento for the new bento gear.  I  have a few more things to try out, so I’m looking forward to new bento adventures in the weeks ahead.

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