Tuesday, February 21

Beginner Bentos


A day ago, I posted a blog about Bento Boxes and answered a few questions concerning them. Turns out this is a very popular subject, in fact if a recipe was included in the post it would have already taken over the number one spot on the most popular list. So I decided to give a few simple ideas and how to(s) for your bento.

COLORING YOUR STARCH

Colored rice(or pasta) is a mainstay of bento boxes. Serving as your grain and usually takes up on layer or compartment of the box. This allows you to create a base canvas or just spruce up a layer which would normally appear solid white. To do this you want to add 4-5 drops of food coloring for every 3 cups of water. Put coloring in at very beginning of process and allow the water to boil already colored. It will soak into the pasta and rice more evenly if done this way. Just a side note if your using a brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or a starch that has a slight color before cooking, remember to add extra coloring and think about what color you select. Brown rice should never be died blue or green, it looks very unappetizing. Also, run warn water over rice or pasta after cooking, since excess water will drain off while it sits, you don't want a pool of colored water forming in your box.
PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD

Nothing says bento like having a little fun with your food. The easiest trick out there is using a cookie cutter to get a little creative. Using American cheese and turkey pepperoni slices is one of my favorite garnishes. Just one slice of cheese and a half dozen pepperoni slices will go along way. Use these little cut outs to top sandwich wraps, salads, vegetable slices, or even a plain stack of crackers. Just a quick little punch turn basic foods into a great little expression of love. I really like using the heart and star cookie cutters, it is my way of including a silent little message into the meal. Little bits of love for the starts of my life.
This will also work with slices of left over turkey, ham, chicken. Just use larger cookie cutters to create a unexpected image when the box is open. In fact anything can be cut into a cute and artistic shape if it has a few simple properties. It needs to be firm, dense, or a heavy solidified texture which will stay in shape once cut. Look for foods which are normally served sliced, it's a great place to start.
FUN WITH FRUIT

Fruit slices, garnishes, and wedges are very common in most bento boxes. There really isn't anything to fancy required to using fruit. Sometimes it can be as simple as using small blueberries or grapes to make smiling faces. I like topping pudding, yogurt, or cottage cheese with these faces. Of course there are a ton of other fruits out there which are just as much fun to play with. Melon ball-ers create nice little drops of taste and texture. Try using a ball-er on pears, melons, kiwi, or water heavy fruits. Just keep in mind some fruits do slowly brown when exposed to air, combat this by soaking fruit for 30 secs to a minute in an ice cold water bath with lemon juice. The lemon flavor won't really soak in but the acid will stop the browning process.

Fancier fruit garnishes a lot of fun if you want to include a whole piece of fruit. My favorite is an apple tree (photo on left). To create an apple tree start by coring an apple and then cut it in half. One half will serve as the bottom of tree, move this into your water/lemon bath. The other half will need to be cut in half again, so you will be working with one quarter of the apple. Carefully follow the angle of the apple and cut a slight wedge of the apple out. Now repeat this cutting method with the wedge you just cut out. Soak wedges in water/lemon bath. Replace the cut pieces back into each other slightly off center to create a evergreen tree shape (see photo on right). This works great with larger more oval shaped apples such as Red Delicious or Ruby Reds. Small apple trees can be created by just using the wedges.

Strawberries are another perfect fruit for bento boxes. They easily dice, slice, cube, and bring a great red color to the box. Try topping puddings, cakes, or cereal with a classic strawberry fan. Fanning a strawberry is extremely simple. Start with a firm, ripe strawberry, one that is not too round. Carefully smooth back leaves, but leave attached. Gently run a small knife into strawberry making slices 1/4" thick, but only cut 3/4 of the way down. Now twist slices apart to gently fan open.



DID YOU SAY CUCUMBER UNSUSHI?

Vegetables are by far the best thing to play with when making a bento box. They almost never brown, hold shape extremely well, come in tons of colors, and bonus gets vegetables into the diet. My favorite is the cucumber unsushi roll. It has this great sushi appearance but isn't one bit sushi, hence the name unsushi. This takes about a minute to create and looks great in a box or on a plate. Start with a baby carrot, your going to want a wide or thicker one. Now place it next to a cucumber and cut off a piece of cucumber the same length as the carrot. Grab a small core remover and push it into the cucumber. Slide the carrot into the hole in the cucumber. Now just slice into pieces roughly 1/4" thick. This will work with other vegetable combinations if desired.

EGG-CITING ENDINGS

If you follow my blog on a regular basis, then you know my love of eggs. What you may not know is I developed that love while in China and Hong Kong. Eggs are a huge staple of noodle bowls, main corses, and Asian recipes. They are a very substainable protein source, rather inexpensive, and can be cooked in a varity of methods. Most bento box will include eggs that have been hard boiled. They are pushed into egg molds when still warm and take on fun shapes. These are then tucked into the boxes. I have even seen the eyes colored.
If you want to invest in some molds I say go for it, I have a few but you don't really need them to have a great bento box egg experiance. You can easily just cut them in half and sprinkle over real bacon bits, cheese, or seasoning. Eggs are great when packing bento boxes which will be eaten earlier in the day. I work most days from 6am to 2 pm, so my lunches are packed for both breakfast and a small lunch. Having a bento box allows for the perfect portion for both! Try my early risers bento (see below) for a great classic combination of flavors. 

HERE IS A LITTLE INSPIRATION

Just a few bento ideas that can be made quickly, easily, and from similar ingredeints. It is always great to think ahead a few days and try to get things you can mix and match.Remember bento boxes don't have to be traditional, they can easily be modified to fit your families and your tastes.

Spinach Salad For Bento:

1 1/2 oz baby spinach leaves on the bottom of box
1 cherry tomato, quartered
1 cucumber slice, quartered
1 slice American cheese, heart cookie cutter
6 slices turkey pepperoni, star cookie cutter


Tomato Basil Salad For Bento:

2 large basil leaves on the bottom of box
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 kalamata olives slices
salt and pepper

Garden Salad For Bento:

2 oz baby spinach or lettuce, on bottom of box
1 cherry tomato, cut in half
5 slices cucumber unsushi (see directions above)
1/2 pepper, heart cookie cutter


Cucumber Unsushi For Bento:
2 baby spinach leaves on bottom of box, optional
5 slices cumber unsushi (see directions above)
1 slice American cheese, heart cookie cutter
6 slices turkey pepperoni, star cookie cutter


Garden Sampler For Bento:

1 oz baby spinach on bottom of box, optional
1 small apple tree (see directions above)
5 slices cucumber unsushi (see directions above)


Traditional Breakfast For Bento:

1/2 cup cooked colored rice
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
1 tbsp real bacon bits

Modern Breakfast Bento:

section 1: 1 hard boiled egg, cut in half
1 tbsp real bacon bits

section 2: 1/2 cup dry cereal

section 3: 1 apple tree (see directions above)
1 small container with lid milk



Pasta Flower For Bento:

1/2 cup cooked pasta mixed with 1/2 tbsp butter
1/4 pepper, wedged
6 turkey pepperoni slices, wedged



Great Day Bento:

section 1: Tomato Basil Salad bento

section 2: Coconut pudding with blueberries

section 3: sandwich wrap
1 slice American cheese, heart cookie cutter
4 slices turkey pepperoni, star cookie cutter

Early Risers Bento:

Layer 1: traditional breakfast bento

Layer 2: garden salad bento

Antipasti For Bento:

Shredded spinach on bottom of box. 2 small slices cheddar cheese, quartered. 2 Kalamata olives, half tomato, molded egg cut in half, 3 thin slices cucumber. Lunch meat roll up






Peace, Love, and Happiness Bento:

Section 1: butterscotch pudding, chocolate chips

Section 2: pasta salad. 1 slice cheddar cheese, heart cutter

Section 3: spinach leaves on bottom, optional. Molded egg. Sandwich wrap, 1 slice lunch meat cut in half and wrapped over. Cucumber round, cut in half for smiles. Small pieces of cheese for eyes

Salad and Sandwich Combo Bentos

The wrap combo Bento
Section 1: butterscotch pudding with strawberry fan

Section 2: garden salad

Section 3: spinach leaves, on bottom of box, optional. Sandwich wrap with toothpicks covered in olives, 6 small crackers. 1 slice cheese, flower cutter. 6 slices pepperoni, flower cutter



Large salad small sandwich combo Bento

Section 1: grapes

Section 2: pound cake, butterfly cutter. 2 diced strawberries, 1 strawberry fan

Section 3: spinach salad, on bottom of box. Turkey sandwich, sandwich cutter (butterfly) placed on top, half tomato garnish
Leftovers For Bento
Arrange last nights meal in a cute little package, add some fresh basil garnish and your all set to go.






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