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January 2008

Bento: week 3 Posted 2008.01.28 18:32 PST

Week 3 would have been fairly uneventful, but I experimented with some new easy-addins from a Japanese grocery.


What can be better than starting off the week with a bento that doesn't take any work? I had leftover fried rice, which I reheated on the stove and put in the bento. The remaining vegetables and fruit were similarly easy to collect and took no extra preparation.


Tuesday was time for some new tastes. When I visited a Japanese market Monday night to pick up some more Mirin, I also picked up a small package of umeboshi and a small tray of "fish cake (kakiage tempura)." I have memories of being in Japan years ago, eating an onigiri, and wondering what was burning my mouth so badly. It wasn't wasabi—I would have recognized that. Later I decided it was an umeboshi. Ever since then I've been curious and now I finally tried ume again. They're really strong, but decidedly sour instead of hot. Maybe I'll never know what was in that onigiri after all. The fish cakes are just simple and good; the flavor reminds me of something my grandmother would make for us, but I can't put my finger on what.


Tempted by the Sweet pepper and onion confit from Makiko Itoh's Just Bento, I made my own quick slapdash version Wednesday morning. Actually I sliced up the vegetables the night before and threw them in the fridge. It made the cooking a little faster in the morning, but not enough to brag about. It might be worth fully making ahead of time, but that seems like so much effort.


I finally used up the chickpeas I'd opened the other week. They were still fine. Some mushrooms, onions, and oregano joined the party making for a flavorful interlude. Throwing in my recent standard ume and fish cakes, I was set for Thursday. I think perhaps I used a little too much oregano in the chickpeas, but it wasn't a bad combination.


Friday we had decided to go out for lunch at work, so I just made some soup. Given how much I like miso soup, why do I make it so rarely? I tried taking it to work in a thermos I had gotten for free on some coffee deal. Now I know why it was free. I ate the soup fairly early and it had already lost a lot of the heat. The day was cold too, but I don't count that as an excuse.

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Bento: Week 2 Posted 2008.01.21 20:37 PST

Maybe week-by-week is the way to do this. It seems to better match when I have the energy to write it up, at least. My second week of bentos was primarily more of the same from the first week, but with a new partner: Yvo's Kickin' Chicken, which I made with an approximate 2/3 recipe of RecipeGal's BBQ Sauce.

All in all I didn't learn as much this week. I did learn that turmeric needs to be cooked into the rice if you're going to bother, and that Kickin' Chicken deserves the reverence Yvo continually pays it. And that sesame seeds are still fun, even if they make the pictures larger.


Monday I kept some simple favorites, and tried out the Kickin' Chicken I'd prepared Sunday night. It was yummy, and the plain rice was the perfect foil for the strong BBQ taste.


Speedbump #1: We used up all the grape tomatoes, which I love so much, Monday night and hadn't replaced them yet.

Tuesday I had gotten it in my head the night before to try some vaguely Indian spices, so I added ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric to already cooked brown rice. In retrospect at least the turmeric should have been added before cooking the rice. And perhaps I should have used some ground ginger as well. The Kickin' Chicken rescued it.


Speedbump #2: Wednesday we were still out of grape tomatoes. I'd used up my seaweed salad on Tuesday (yay, no more missing toothpicks!), only to find we'd also eaten all our baby carrots. I was way too tired to chop up real carrots, though, so I found a substitute. At least I'd thawed some more fruit.

Note to self: I still need to use up the chickpeas I opened for this bento.


What can I say? Thursday's bento is a clear combination of several of my favorites. I've loved fried rice for years, and Kickin' Chicken was my new love. No complaints, other than I really should chop up some onion for my fried rice—it's so flat without it.


I took a vacation Friday, and didn't make a bento. Instead I fought with my laptop, installing a memory upgrade only to find that a Windows Update (or other as yet unconfirmed alignment of heavenly bodies) had deleted the system file psapi.dll, preventing my laptop from successfully booting. Thanks to help from friends at work, I was able to track this down instead of needing to do a full repair. It's good to have developer friends who know how to think Windows...

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Bento: first week's lessons Posted 2008.01.15 19:26 PST

Since I started making and taking bento to work a week ago, I feel the need to play some catch up. I'd gotten enticed by Yvo's fine work, and had read up further on lunch in a box's tips including how to make tamago-yaki, and fallen across Just Bento as well. There was too much advice to take in all at once. So I bought an 800ml bento, some silicone muffin cups, and I dove in.

(Note: if you're interested in the recipes for anything, take a look at the first bento it appears in, and there should be a comment with directions. Just ask if you need more!)


Monday I made way too much rice—probably at least two cups combined rice and veggies. I didn't rescue myself from the situation by saving some of it for the next day; I just shoved it all in my bento. And perhaps most importantly I didn't season it enough - it's just rice, ginger, carrot, and celery thrown in a rice cooker.

However I did several things right: I had chilled edamame ready to act as filler. I had some mixed fruit from freezer bags pre-thawed in the fridge. I had grape tomatoes on hand to fill gaps. I made a successful dashimaki-tamago. So even though this probably took me half an hour prep time in the morning, I was happy.


Tuesday I scaled back on the rice, saving that which was too much, and covered it with something with a lot of flavor. The miso-mirin-broth-vinegar combo is a good one and I'll have to try that again sometime. The carrot filler was fine, but not very satisfying. But nothing is wrong with a partial cop-out. I cut my prep time down, too.


I started Wednesday's bento the night before, in bed, thinking about what I wanted as I fell asleep. I ended up with a quick kidney bean, mustard, and chicken mix which despite being too strong when I packed it in the bento, was about right when I ate it. Maybe the sesame seeds saved it. Furikake on rice is definitely a good standby to have. I purposely made extra rice for use later.

I also used the movable separator that came with the bento box for the first time. I'm not quite sure why I skipped using it before, other than it didn't seem to be necessary, but I've used it since.


Thursday I used my saved rice to make a quick fried rice...and learned that you need to flavor it more strongly than usual if you still want it to be yummy later. Ah well. It wasn't awful, just a little bland. I made some more tamago-yaki, and had some seaweed salad Tamara had recommended.

It got stuck in my teeth.


My bento for Friday was my favorite bento of the week. I felt good and nutritious pairing the kidney beans with brown rice, and the soy-mirin-lemon tofu was easy to cook and marvelous even after cooling. The chili-garlic paste is what saved it, though; without that there would not have been enough flavor for the rice.

Pickles! Despite Tamara's assurances, they're not quite identical to the ones the restaurant served, but maybe that's from coming in a small plastic bag instead of who knows what the restaurant gets. They're still yummy.


The two most important lessons from this week were to season the food strongly, and not to overdo the rice. The supporting themes were having enough interesting ready-made side dishes on hand (in this case the thawed fruit, seaweed salad, edamame, and grape tomatoes) to avoid having to prepare time-intensive main or more than one additional side-dish (such as the dashimaki-tamago, or the kidney-mustard-chicken). Coming in a close third is the need to take multiple pictures, as one always comes out fuzzy, way off center, or is otherwise unusable.

Oh, and seaweed salad gets stuck in your teeth.

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Bento: my new hobby Posted 2008.01.14 22:23 PST

Apparently I got tired about ranting about software licenses and features I can't get into major free software projects because while I've got draft articles for both, they've sat untouched for a woefully long time. I've been working for four years now, doing C++ and related programming for most of it. While it hasn't killed my interest in side programming, it certainly has started to diminish the time I spend doing it. Of course, the bigger limiting factors are my recently expanded addictions: cooking, cooking, and more cooking.

Last Thanksgiving we went out for Thai instead of our traditional family gathering. But two days before that my dad's cousin and her husband were in town; I had nothing better to do, and offered to cook dinner for them. My mom was working late, so we scheduled a late dinner. I started working around 14h. It was a blast. I made watermelon-cranberry sorbet, apricot muffins, rosemary bread, Tuscan bean soup, whole wheat pasta, and a tomato pasta sauce (cursing content, but I love his style). The next day I made watermelon sorbet, and Friday I followed up with a pair of deep dish pizzas. What a great week!

Then I decided to write a cookbook. To do this I felt the need to write my own PDF layout engine (more on that some other time) so at least there's some python left in my life. It's a personal cookbook, so I'll try to post most of it up here.

Winter break I went on a bit of a dessert spree for a small party I hosted. I made a vanilla berry pie on an oatmeal crust, fruit tartlets, and hot chili bean dip for chips. About the same time I started drooling over feistyfoodie's bentos. I read a few other bento blogs, and finally shopped at our local Mitsuwa for a bento box. The supplemental muffin cups I got from Bed Bath and Beyond are perfect for the bento job.

Now six lunches in I'm hooked on bento.

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