Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Adventure Continues: Bento #2 Asian Salad Tribute

Bento #2 Asian Salad Tribute.

Today I made a bento with all Asian Salad Tribute (based on bento no. 28 from Just Bento).  It is a cold bento, and needs to be refrigerated since it does have eggs and mayo in it. 

Let's start with the bottom of the bento.
This is my tossed Asian salad.  It is made of a pre packaged Dole salad mix, Asian Island Crunch Kit, and boosted with little things to boost color and flavor, I also increased the bulk of the salad with out adding much fat or carbs by adding some left over spring roll veggies.  I added to the mix (which is a variety of lettuces, red and green cabbage, shredded carrot, pea pods, and dried pineapple) shredded Napa cabbage, Julianne cucumber, Julianne carrots, and green onion.  It was a great way to deal with leftovers that may have otherwise not been used.  I also added 6 grape tomatoes for color. The dressing is a sesame ginger dressing, some from the salad mix, and some pre made Kraft dressing to fill it out.

I also added a small container of crunchy things I did not want to get soggy by adding it to the salad before eating.

This container has the salad proteins and carbs.  I like a little bit of nuts on my salad.  this is a mix of slivered almonds and crisp chow mein noodles.  About an ounce of both.

On to the top of the bento. 
The main part of the top compartment is a Japanese potato salad.  Japanese potato salad is commonly eaten on a sandwich from what I have read.  I put a leaf of Boston lettuce if Lara wanted to make a sandwich (as I did with my lunch).  Japanese potato salad is a mayonnaise based salad and is not tart and vinegary from mustard.  I added a splash of unseasoned rice vinegar and a little lemon juice to suit my palate.  This can also easily be made vegan if you omit the egg and use a vegan mayo.  I based my version on the Just Hungry web site's (a fantastic website for info and recipes for Japanese food and home cooking) Japanese Potato Salad and made some adjustments to make it my own.  I added 1 hard boiled egg for added protein.  There are a few tricks to make a perfect hard egg that is not over done, so the yolk is a beautiful golden color and super moist - not runny and creamy.  Far from dry, hard, and green.  For pointers on how to make a hard boiled egg, I went to Simple Recipes website and followed their tips on the How to Make Perfect Hard Boiled Eggs I get perfect eggs every time!  I also make sure I use old eggs (about 5 days old), they peel better.  I also peel them under cold running water (I have a garbage disposal, If you don't make sure the drain cover is catching your shells.  Bad for your plumbing).  Lastly, I put a cup of huge, super sweet red seedless grapes in.  Make sure you always was your produce.  I worked in the grocery store industry for about 15 years, and believe me, if you have seen some of the things I have, you would never put unwashed produce in your mouth EVER again.  It is only as clean as all of the strangers that touched it.
Here is how the finished bento looked before I added the bread package and closed the lid.

Not too bad. 
Since I used red potatoes I wanted a little extra carb.
On top of all of it I wrapped 1 slice pumpernickel bread cut in half for a potato salad sandwich wrapped in wax paper so it will not get soggy from the potato salad. 
Here is how I wrapped it .

#1 cut the bread in half.  Then tear off 2 pieces of wax paper large enough to triple over the bread. I put them at a opposing angles. 
#2 Then I fold the first layer, I fold the bottom flap up, then each side after right then left, then finally the top flap gets folded down. Then I flip it over so you have a little package with one layer and the bread easy to see through the paper.

#3 Then I fold the bottom in the same way. Then I tape the package closed with tape, all though a cute sticker, note of encouragement/love would be awesome here for a child's lunch.

I included in this picture the products I used. Then you should have a little package of double wrapped bread. Safe from the Curse of Soggy Bread.

I put the little wrapped bread package on top, and closed the lid.
Voila!  Lunch for less than 600 calories!  Using a pre made salad and left overs cut down on prep time and clean up time.  Really, the only time consuming part was waiting until the potatoes and carrots cooked, and waiting for the onions and cucumbers lost some of their liquid (Important step if your salad is made ahead of time.  Otherwise, they will loose their water in your creamy salad, making it and everything else watery).  Also, the potato salad recipe made 4 portions.  Make sure you only use 1/4 of what you make. If you don't, portion control is lost and making a healthy lunch has gone out the window.

It is about here that I would like to state my policy on posting any recipes.  Whenever possible I will give you the link to the original recipe.  I plan to start posting how I altered the recipes to make them my own on the weekends when I may not be making a daily bento.  Comparing mine to the original is highly recommended.  I really want to give credit where credit is due, so my policy on recipes is to always site the original for use (you really should read them anyway for little tips and tricks learned by making the original) and not to repost their hard work here, confusing it as something I created.  If I can not post a link, I will try my hardest to find the original or site the book and/or person I learned it from.
 I find that I agree with the ethics of Makiko Itoh of Just Hungry and Just Bento.

"I didn’t copy down the original recipe there, since it’s my policy never to do that with someone else’s recipe that’s online (or indeed offline)." 

With that said, PLEASE, take the time to look at Just Bento and  Just Hungry.  They are both AMAZING sites packed with all kinds of info and tips!  I have learned TONS from them.
So bento #2 is done! And it looks like Lara is just as excited about her lunch as I was to make it!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The First Bento Box Adventure - Bento #1 Egg Salad

So, today I started my adventure into bento box lunches. There are a couple reasons why I wanted to try it. I am a semi-vegetarian, meaning I follow a vegetarian diet as strictly as I can, however, 2 meals a week I eat meat. I usually try to stick to game animals my father has hunted (venison and duck) or free range raised (chicken or pork) to keep my digestive enzymes that I would otherwise loose, I stay away from beef for many reasons, mostly because it does not agree with my body. Also, I eat fish. It is not that I do not consider fish and seafood creatures animals, I do... but I want the fatty acids it will give me since using a flax additive is medically out of the question for me. I also am not strict when on vacation... not only do I not want to push my diet onto others, it keeps my choice to be a semi-veggie question free so I do not need to delve into all of my health issues as well as my religious and ethical motives. Other reasons for adventuring into bento land are the following:

#1 I am over weight. I am using the bento as a dietary aid. it will exercise portion control so I do not end up over eating when I do not feel full right away. I have gastroparesis and can not always tell when I am full, and if something is really good, I tend to have too much. It will also regulate calories. Being able to pack a less than 500 calorie bento will give me tons of options, and be a well balanced meal to boot.

#2 I am pre diabetic. Keeping my calories down is important, but watching my sugar and carbohydrate count is just as important. Bento boxes a lot you 1/4 of your over all meal a carbohydrate space, thus keeping it down because I am one of those people that loves pasta and bread. It also gives me a little wiggle room to add a small "goodie" as a filler... basically keeping my desert a space filler more than an entire portion. Also, giving me all kinds of ideas for healthier "goodie" options, meaning I am not having an over proportioned bowl of ice cream, I am having an ounce of toasted almonds with an ounce of semi sweet chocolate chips which is I don't know how many more times healthier.

#3 Being semi-veggie, it hopefully will keep me honest. If I pack my lunch the day before, I am less likely to want to make the decision to take the easy way out of lunch, and stop at some fast food place for a burger or a chicken patty.

#4 I am not the only one in my household with these problems. I live with one of my best friends and she has a few dietary medical needs as well. Packing two bento boxes should be just as easy as packing one. This way we are both healthier, happier, and can spend years that we might not otherwise have with each other if we do nothing with our diet as well.

#5 I have quite a few friends that follow a vegetarian lifestyle, and they make all kinds of yummy food. Why not try and fit those yummy things into every day? Why would I waste such valuable resources to better not only myself, but my friends as well?

When listing the reasons, it seems like a really good idea. Why not start? Why not give it a try? If you view all new things as a learning experience, a way to better yourself, and have a new little adventure... the choice seems to make itself.

Now I must admit, since today was my very first exposure to making a bento, I did have some preconceived ideas, and worries. (Yup another numbered list... get used to it. I am a chronic list maker).

#1 The prep time for two bentos would be ridiculous. With all those adorable little foods, cutting up the veggies would take forever.

#2 The meals would be too small, and I would abandon making bentos because they were not filling or satisfying.

#3 While controlling portion size and calorie count I would sacrifice flavor.

#4 Clean up would take forever.

Man, a good woman knows to admit she is wrong... not only was I wrong, I was ridiculously wrong.

For my first bento box I chose one that could be kept cold, was not super messy needing tons of little containers, and was well balanced. 1/2 veggie/fruit, 1/4 protein, 1/4 carb - the perfect bento.

I made my "bento #1" - egg salad with boston lettuce, pumpernickel bread, veggie side, fruit and yogurt finish, as a filler I bumped up my proteins instead of carbs by making a little container of candied cinnamon almonds with semi sweet chocolate chips (I was worried about sweet cravings later in the day). Here is how it looked in the tin (sorry the pictures are a bit on the blurry side).

Bottom of the bento: Broccoli with grape and pear tomatoes, and blueberries and banana with vanilla yogurt and toasted almond garnish.

Top of the bento: Egg salad on bed of boston lettuce, 2 slices of pumpernickel cut in half for 2 mini sandwiches, and candied nuts and chocolate chips.

So (and the reason why I listed my preconceived ideas) here is how wrong I was.

#1 The prep time for two bentos would be ridiculous.  With all those adorable little foods, cutting up the veggies would take forever. Wrong.  The prep took in all less than 15 minutes, and that was with making the hard boiled eggs.  Prep was less than half of what I do for a normal dinner.

#2 The meals would be too small, and I would abandon making bentos because they were not filling or satisfying.  I suffer from gastroparesis.  A normal stomach digests a full meal in 2 hours, in 2 hours I have digested less than 10%.  Also, a person that has gastroparesis, usually can not feel how full they are, or how hungry they are... they either do not eat enough, or eat too much.  I usually fall into the latter category.  By the time I can feel what is in my stomach, be it too empty or too full, it is painful.  Period.  If you over eat, not only is it excruciatingly painful, I 99% of the time will end up unwillingly emptying my stomach and all its goodies into the toilet.  I do not enjoy vomiting every time I eat.  This was perfect.  I did not feel hungry an hour later and end up putting more in my stomach, thus vomit.  I did not have too much in there, thus a bonus again, no vomiting.  I can not tell you how deliriously happy it makes me to eat a meal and not get sick.  In fact I ate lunch at about noon, an I think a light dinner is all I am needing to be satisfied. It is now almost 5 pm... and no vomiting or feeling like I need to vomit.  If I could do this everyday what a wonderful world it would be.  I guess what I am trying to say is it is not too small and it will satisfy, or even make you silly with how much you have to eat without over eating.

#3 While controlling portion size and calorie count I would sacrifice flavor. Wrong again.  It was NOM!  I added a splash of white wine vinegar in the egg salad so no additional salt was needed.  Since I used more mustard than mayo, and the mayo was light I had flavor and less calories.  The sandwiches had more than enough goo, and not too much.  If the eggs are hard boiled the way I do it... you always have a super orangey golden soft yolk (not runny, soft and moist) and not dry at all.  the celery and green onion gave it a nice crunch. I even added a few of the extra greens from the green onion for garnish, no extra calories!  Adding the vanilla yogurt to the blueberries and bandanna... was delightful and almost like a desert.  One ounce of candied cinnamon almonds from the farmers market with an ounce of semi sweet chocolate chips made me feel as if I had desert.  No sweet cravings later even, not even after dinner.

#4 Clean up would take forever. 5 minutes, literally.  I had allotted myself a half hour for clean up, because I thought with all the cute little cut up veggies, prep would dirty a lot of stuff.  Since there was hardly any prep, there was hardly any clean up.  Most of the clean up I did while I was prepping and only a couple things to rinse and put in the dish washer. 

So, I was wrong, and on every count.  I think the bento and I might have quite a thing going.  It could become serious.  Healthier, cheaper meals that are homemade, and mildly artistic and fun to create... I can not say that about any lunch I have ever made, EVER!  I found myself considering separation and barrier materials, garnishes as well as where I needed more color to make it visually pleasing.  As an artist, I never thought of my food as a creative release or an artistic medium.  Granted I did not get fancy or super cute with my first box, but I thought of oh so many things I could try!

My point being, I thought of all these issues I might have had so I would not feel bad for abandoning bentos.  Now that I proved myself wrong, there is really no reason NOT to make bentos for lunch for both me, and my gal pal, Lara.  And there is really no reason, for you people out there that are adventurous and wish to change little things in your life to live healthier and happier, not to incorporate bento into you life as well.  If you are just starting and learning, so am I!  Let us learn together!

Hope you all stay tuned for my future bento adventures!  Cheers!