Friday, May 23, 2008

Lasso a Bento: This Week's Bento Round-Up

It's been an exciting week of bento-making. Not only have I managed to make a bento for every lunch this week, but I've also explored new tastes and even created several new recipes! The experimentation with new foods, techniques, and flavors is a blast, and one of my favorite aspects of using a bento box.

A quick word on future bento reports here on Muffin Love -- I've decided to post with a bento round-up toward the end of each week showcasing any and all bento meals from that time period. This is because I'm a little lazy and don't always feel like (or, more legitimately, have time for) posting daily on the state of the bento. Also, as much as I adore bento, this is not a bento-only blog (yet, anyway). I don't want it to become to bento heavy, but rather remain a little more well-rounded. With that settled, on to this week's round-up!

I continue to improve in packing more filling bento lunches that won't leave me feeling hungry. I still am leery of packing too many "heavier" items, though, like beans and non-fat-free carbohydrates, or a hard boiled egg with a bean spread. I need to get past this stigma, both to increase my own healthiness as well as the effectiveness of each bento. However, this week's array did see a marked improvement in space use and neatness. I began using waxed paper to keep messier items a little more contained. It's not a mess-proofing addition, but it does help quite a bit. Also. these bentos were all very satisfying in terms of taste, with one exception (see Thursday's box for some sadly soggy crackers).

Let me know your thoughts on these bento lunches! Try out my brand-new recipes and let me know how you enjoy them, as well as how you tweak the recipes to make them your own. I appreciate your feedback, lovely reader, as well as any suggestions from veteran bento-makers.

Sunday, Bento #8: Curried Hummus and Cukes

Bottom tier (top): 1 package wheat Melba Toast (5 crackers), 1 piece dried ginger, carrots, dried papaya.
Top tier (bottom): Curried hummus (hidden beneath the carrots) and cucumber and tomato salad with dried mint and fat-free quark.

Monday, Bento #9: Out-of-This-World Bento

Lid (top): 2 dried apricots
Top tier (middle): Tomatoes, fat-free cottage cheese with dried cranberries for the alien's eyes and mouth, carrots, the last of the curried hummus, and dried cranberries tucked around the cups.
Bottom tier (bottom): Fat-free cream cheese (in the little popsicle container), 1 slice of dried ginger, 1 package of wheat Melba Toast (5 crackers), and fresh French beans.

Tuesday, Bento #10: Asian Tuna Bento

Lid (top): 1 peppermint.
Bottom tier (middle): Fat-free cream cheese (in the popsicle container), French beans, and tomatoes (hidden beneath the beans).
Top tier (bottom): Asian Tuna Salad (see below for the recipe!), fat-free cottage cheese, tamari sesame brown rice crackers, and dried tropical fruit mix.

Asian Tuna Salad

Fish is a staple of authentic Japanese bento boxes. I wanted to try to incorporate more "real" bento foods into my lunch as well as increase my healthy proteins and fats. Since I have a number of cans of light tuna lurking in the darkest and most out-of-reach corners of my kitchen cupboards, I decided that a nice tuna salad would be a perfect way to accomplish this while making use of the aging (but completely viable) tuna. This simple recipe is perfect for a hot day (which Tuesday was!).

1 can tuna
1/4 tsp ginger powder
1 T fat-free quark (or plain yogurt)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp curry
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 T soy sauce, plus more to taste
1 T rice vinegar
diced cucumber and broccoli

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl, stirring until thoroughly mixed. (Regarding the vegetables -- use as much as you like. I used one small 6 inch cucumber, and a couple of small florets of broccoli.) Refrigerate for at least one hour, then serve.

Wednesday, Bento #11: Asian Tuna Redux

Lid (not pictured): 1 peppermint.
Top tier (left): Applesauce, fat-free cottage cheese, and the rest of the Asian Tuna Salad.
Bottom tier (right): Tamari sesame brown rice crackers, raisins, and French beans.

Thursday, Bento #12: Almost Nostalgic Bento

Lid (not pictured): 1 peppermint.
Bottom tier (top): Tropical fruit mix, 3 Ryvita crackers (2 dark rye, 1 fruit flavored), with the two rye crackers spread with fat-free cream cheese and locally made huckleberry jam.
Top tier (bottom): 1 hard boiled egg (sliced in half and sprinkled along the cut with salt and pepper), dried cranberries and raisins, applesauce with cinnamon and raisins, and French beans and red bell peppers sauteed with balsamic vinegar, garlic, and basil (based off this recipe).

This is my sad, failed bento -- but at least it was not a completely lost cause! I enjoyed the top tier of the box immensely, although in the future I will add more balsamic and basil to the veggies. The crackers, however, were not so pleasing. One of my favorite lunches that I would make as a child were cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. Having inherited a jar of locally made (and incredibly delicious) huckleberry jam from somewhere (my parents? my in-laws? I can't remember), I decided to make my trusty sandwich of old, except using fat-free cream cheese and crackers. I've had cream cheese on these crackers before, and it has never failed me -- until now. In the past, I always ate the crackers straight away. With this bento, however, the crackers sat covered with cream cheese and jam for a few hours before I ate them. The result here was two soggy crackers covered with dessicated cream cheese and lumpy jam. In other words, not the nostalgic lunch I had hoped for. The idea is just fine; next time I will simply pack the spreads on the side.

Friday, Bento #13: Lentil-licious Bento

Top tier (top): Spicy lentil dip (based on this recipe), Saucy Veggie Sautee (see below for the recipe), and applesauce with a happy face of raisins (the face is meant to represent a girl as my submission for this week's Zodiac challenge for Bento Challenge -- my astrological sign is Virgo).
Bottom tier (bottom): Carrots, cucumbers, 1 package of wheat Melba Toast (5 crackers), and a lone tomato.

Saucy Veggie Sautee

Inspired by the sauteed beans and peppers of Thursday's bento lunch, I was sure that I could come up with a better recipe. Wanting more of a bite than what the balsamic lent the vegetables, I opted for a more Asian-tasting mixture of sauces. My initial taste test indicates a thumbs up for this recipe, but I'll hold reservation until after I eat the contents of this bento. This recipe is of the splash-and-dash, meaning that I didn't measure ingredients but added a little of everything until it tasted good. I approximated the amount of each ingredient that I used, but don't worry too much about the actual amounts as the ratios are more important. I'd love to hear if you add anything else to this recipe, and how it turns out! Use your best judgment, trust your taste buds, and have fun with this one.

Fresh French beans, trimmed and chopped (1 cup)
Sliced fresh carrots (1/4 cup)
Low sodium soy sauce (2 T)
Rice vinegar (1 T)
Ginger (the spice, but use what you have on hand) (1/4 tsp)

Sautee the vegetables over medium to high heat in a pan or skillet greased with oil or cooking spray. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender but still retain their color.
Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and ginger. Stir and cook for another minute, then remove. Serve or store as needed. Makes 1 small serving.

Whew! That was quite the round-up! With about two weeks' worth of bento creation under my belt, I'm still having fun, and my head is bursting with ideas and new recipe possibilities. Who knows what exciting inventions will pop up in next week's bento round-up!

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