Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Policies On My Product Reviews

I have decided to incorporate product reviews as part of my monthly blogging schedule. I also decided I would state my intent on why I do the reviews I do, and all the policies I tend to follow in regards to reviewing a product.

I review one product a month

Most product reviews do a testing of only two weeks. For me that is not long enough. Can you really get the measure of a products performance in 14 days? Most things I purchase for my home, I want to use more than just 14 days. I personally feel that a 30 day trial is much more comprehensive test of any product I would want to spend my money on. Granted you may not use a singular pair of chops sticks every day of your life, but if you did wouldn't you want someone to let you in on how they would hold up to such use? You may not want the same bento box day after day, but if you are a full time student that may be your only option. Wouldn't you want a durable and affordable box that can stand up to the rigors of college life and not spend money on replacing broken and worn out boxes, when you could be spending your money on food and school supplies? A full month gives me time to fully find out everything I adore about a product, as everything I hate. I extra time to find out if all the bells and whistles are useful in the long run or just thrown in for marketing to drive up the price of a product and is something you really need not invest in.

Full Disclosure On The Origin Of The Product

Sometimes when I read reviews of product, I find it suspect when it was sent to someone for free. Yes, I understand how important it is for companies to find people to customer run their product. It is vital. However, when it is not disclosed before I waste my time reading it, honestly I feel a wee bit manipulated. I will fully disclose how I came about the product in the first sentence. That way you can choose to read it or not at the beginning, instead of feeling like you read a 5 minute commercial. If it is a product I purchased for review, I will explain where I bought it, how much it was, and why I purchased it. If I receive a product free of cost, I will disclose the company of manufacturing and locations to purchase the product without getting paid for your purchase should you take my recommendation and buy it. I take notes (and photos# from the moment I open the package, until the end of the trial period. This way I never miss anything, good or bad in a review. Hopefully giving you better information in which to decide on purchasing the product or not. If you wish for me to review your product, have a product you want reviewed or have questions, please see the bottom of this post for information on how to contact me.

What Happens To The Things I Review?

If I do receive free product to review, not only will the company of the product's customer service office get the review via email of the review, regardless of how good or bad it is , but if my family can not use the product - or if I feel it can be better used, I will donate it to a local public school in my area.

If I receive something my family will use and love, I will purchase the exact same product and donate that as well, keeping the one I have tested and donating the brand new one.

If it is an item I have purchased, I probably did so for a reason. If it is not something I think my family will use, and it is not too abused, I will donate it as well.

I feel like a lot of children in large cities do not get healthy well balanced meals. I am in love with the work that Jamie Oliver is doing to bring healthy food into school lunches for children and in getting all families to eat home made healthy meals with his Food Revolution! For me, it started with watching Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food on TED Talks (The TED Prize is designed to leverage the TED Community's exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $100,000 and, much more important, the granting of "One Wish to Change the World." After several months of preparation, the wish is unveiled at an award ceremony held during the TED Conference. Over the life of the prize, wishes have led to collaborative initiatives with far-reaching impact). I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend you watch it at one point or another.
To further aid this cause, I think donating bento boxes and accessories that I get for no cost, be better used for a better reason than filling my cupboards and rarely getting used, the health of our children, in all of our cities and communities.

If you find the products I have reviewed helpful and you end up purchasing an item I have reviewed and LOVED it, I ask you donate a new one into your community as well. I ask companies to please think of donating to this cause as well, especially bento boxes. They are a fun way of teaching children how to eat healthier #not to mention adults as well), and get them involved in better food choices and help them learn proper portion control. Besides it is fast, healthy, and fun!

Notice Of Next Product Up For Review

The last paragraph of every review will be dedicated to the next product I am going to review. The name, company, place of purchase or place of origin, specs (dimensions, weight and whatnot) price, and country of origin will be listed (if all are available) Also the use of the product, like container, or steamer, or decorative divider. I will not be giving a link to the product until after the review is complete. If a product does not meet criteria, a link will still be given to a place where you can purchase it. Just because it did not meet my standards, does not mean it will not work perfectly well for someone else that does not need it to meet all that I expect.

I Will Also Review Accessories And Gadgets For Making Bentos

Things such as picks, cutters, silicon cups, dividers, chopsticks, and really the list for this could go on forever. Basically mostly things that are useful in a bento box or make it cute, pretty, or more appetizing.

I Will Also Review Appliances

Things such as steamers, tofu presses, pots and pans, sushi presses... really anything that helps me make components for a bento (and hopefully free up some time and effort).

Review Criteria

These are the areas I will be looking at in a review.

1. Durability (does it stand up to a month of every weekday and occasional weekend use without compromising the integrity of the food or degradation of the products effectiveness and structural integrity)

2. Does the product do what it says it should do. If it says it is microwave safe, is it? Is the packaging accurate or misleading in any way?

3. ease of use (mostly for appliances)

4. aesthetics (mostly for decorative accessories)

5. Useful nature (does this product benefit my bento needs in making something easier or quicker? Does this add something to a bento that now I can not live without?

So basically there is a 0 to 5 rating, 0 being horrible why does this exist?!, and 5 being I now have a more complete life because of this product, what did I ever do before it came into my life.

Of course, pros and cons will be listed. Also there will be bonus points given for things not advertised or reported that a product has regardless of it's fabulously. For instance, if something turns out to be microwave and dish washer friendly, but it was not stated or advertised as so and it comes as a pleasant surprise... I may give it a bonus. If it says it has separate compartments, and it turns out the compartments are removable and water proof, also a bonus. Or if something has a silly feature that I think is ridiculous, let's pretend oh... say polka dots, for freshness. And the polka dots end up to be some kind of crazy freshness port that actually works and makes me wish everything had it, bonus point.

I will also add age appropriateness if applicable.


WOOF! That was more involved than I thought it would be starting out. However if everything is laid out so a bad review can not be blamed on bad policy or undisclosed criteria.

I have a small hand crafted business of my own (not bento related), so I would love to review hand made bento related stuff! It may also help a small business advertise simply by mailing me their work to test out, I try to keep my blog out on all the social media sites and try to mail out the reviews to companies with similar product, and from experience, good word of mouth is THE BEST advertisement you can possibly get (beware, I tell it like it is... it is usually the opposite for a bad review).

Big companies, nothing can be more valuable than a blogger targeting those customers that you can not reach that are looking for reviews to purchase an item just like yours... but make your product well, and you just increased your sales to people that will tell other people just how great your stuff is, and all without hiring new employees.

All I get out of it, is peace of mind knowing I helped someone else use their time, energy, and money better than they may have had they not read my review. To me this is important, good advice is more valuable to me than an excellent advertising scheme. People happy and healthy without having to trudge through bad products is something I find emotionally satisfying, and dare I say proud.
How To Contact Me

If you have a product you would like me to review (say you found it in a store and want to know if it is worth your time and money) please email me.

If you are a company, or small business that would like me to review your product, email me at the same address and contact and shipping info will be available via email response. Again here is the email link.

Review To Be Posted December 9th

With all of that being said, on with the first product review. It will be posted December 9th. The product I am reviewing is L.O.T.G. Lunch set with removable ice pack made by Medport, LLC. It is a plastic lunch set of 3 containers (1 large and 2 small) all with their own lids and a single rigid plastic ice pack. Sizes for containers are as follows: Large 2.75 cups/ 660ml/ 22oz. Small 1.5 cups/ 300 ml/ 10 oz. Dimensions (approximately to an 1/8 inch): Large 5 1/2 inch wide X 8 inches long X 5 1/2 inches deep. The ice pack fits inside on a shelf about 1/2 way down. It is 1/2 inch thick.

I picked mine up at Wal-Mart for under $10. I believe they also go by the name Fit & fresh.  I purchased this product as my first personal bento box that I want to use every day.  So, it is a product I personally bought.

I am excited to share with everyone how this product holds up to my crash test!  Check back December 9th for the results!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bento #3: Inarizushi, konnyaku with garlic, and steamed veggies

Bento #3: Inarizushi with brown and wild rice with dashi soaked carrot and hijiku filling, Konnyaku with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers, cherry and pear tomatoes, and steamed vegetables (broccoli, napa cabbage, and carrot - fridge clean out vegetables or vegetables that needed to be used or thrown out).

I had no idea what inarizushi was, so I did some digging.

"Inarizushi (稲荷寿司) is a pouch of fried tofu typically filled with sushi rice alone. It is named after the Shinto god Inari, who is believed to have a fondness for fried tofu. The pouch is normally fashioned as deep-fried tofu (油揚げ, abura age). Regional variations include pouches made of a thin omelette (帛紗寿司, fukusa-zushi, or 茶巾寿司, chakin-zushi). It should not be confused with inari maki, which is a roll filled with flavored fried tofu.
A version of inarizushi that includes green beans, carrots, and gobo along with rice, wrapped in a triangular aburage (fried tofu) piece, is a Hawaiian specialty, where it is called cone sushi and is often sold in okazu-ya (Japanese delis) and as a component of bento boxes." (via Wikipedia)
As a sushi lover, I had to try making it!

I love sushi, but I am not a fan of boring white rice. No amount of sugar and vinegar to make it into sushi white rice is going to change that for me. Yes it is fine if it is a layer on my sushi roll, but the entire filling? That did not excite me (when I make sushi at home, I always make my sushi rice out of short grain brown rice). So I thought I might play around with the rice filling to make it more robust. I made some short grain brown rice, it is more nutritious than white (has a somewhat nutty taste), and it is not bleached. I added a bit of cooked wild rice. I live in Minnesota and have access to tons of it at a reasonable price compared to other regions of the US. Then I added about 1/4 cup of a sushi rice filler I found online to cut down on calories, and it is delicious to boot. It consists of carrot, hijiki (a seaweed) and shitake and oyster mushrooms. It is based off a recipe I found on Just Bento, however I used dried and reconstituted shitake and oyster mushrooms that I reconstituted in the dashi broth. I used a regular dashi broth, not the vegetarian dashi. If you do not know what dashi is, it is a big part of making a lot of Japanese foods.

"The most common form of dashi is a simple broth or fish stock made by heating water containing kombu (edible kelp) and kezurikatsuo (shavings of katsuobushi - preserved, fermented bonito) to near-boiling, then straining the resultant liquid. The element of umami, considered one of the five basic tastes in Japan, is introduced into dashi from the use of katsuobushi. Katsuobushi is especially high in sodium inosinate, which is identified as one source of umami." (via Wikipedia)

Smells like the yummy smoked fish I grew up with. I shredded one carrot and sautéed it in sesame oil. Then I added about a handful and a half of the hijiki to the pan and poured the dashi over it until it was covered with about 1.5 inches of broth after it reconstituted the hijiki. I diced up the reconstituted mushrooms, threw those in the skillet and cooked uncovered until there was hardly any broth left (it took quite some time, about 45 min, but trust me it was worth it!).  I then added the soy sauce and mirin. I used sugar in the raw, it is less processed and quite frankly, bleached and over processed foods now give me the willies since I did some research after watching Hungry for a Change (which I highly recommend watching).I added 1/4 cup of it to my 3 cups of brown sushi and wild rice. It looked like this after mixing in the packet of "seasoning" that came in my package of inari-age. It made more than enough, actually made enough for two packages of inari age.

And here is the inari age I used.  I picked mine up at United Noodles in Minneapolis Minnesota.
Here is the back of the package for nutritional info.
They looked like this after filling the tofu skins.
Soon I shall look into making my own inari age to cut down on ingredients that I do not know, and ingredients I can not pronounce. I like to know what I am putting in my mouth. It is just a quirk I have.

I also had to make konnyaku after reading about it. It was so mysterious!

"In Japanese cuisine, konjac (konnyaku) appears in dishes such as oden. It is typically mottled grey and firmer in consistency than most gelatins. It has very little taste; the common variety tastes vaguely like salt. It is valued more for its texture than flavor." (via Wikipedia)

For more on this substance please read this article on the Just Hungry website.

I made the recipe I found on Just Hungry for Konnyaku with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers.

I used Southwestern Chipotle Mrs Dash instead of the peppers, and added a few cherry and pear tomatoes on the side.
To be honest, the texture was a little off putting to me, kind of like super extra firm tofu jello, and it really did not have much of its own taste. I think I was expecting something like octopus, and it wasn't. Next time I use it (I have a package of the white konnyaku) I want to make it with some ginger green beans, so it is not the main focus. I am not saying I did not like it, it grew on me, it just may not be every ones cup of tea. Here is the package of white konnyaku #the picture above was the grey variety made by the same company).
I would use it again, just not quite so much.

Lastly since it was Sunday, I did a fridge clean out of vegetables that will go bad if not used. I had some broccoli that was turning yellow, and some napa cabbage that would be tossed out in the next 3 days if not used now. I added some grated carrot and steamed the lot. I tossed it with a bit of parmesan before eating. That made the bottom of my bento. I make vegetables my main source of intake because it does not contain tons of carbs like rice that is traditionally used for a bento. More diabetic and diet friendly that way. I have lost 10 pounds in the past 2 months of only changing my lunches to a vegetable based bento. I call that a win!

So the bottom was the steamed vegetables and parmesan (not in picture).
Top layer was the konnyaku and tomatoes container, and 3 inarizushi with the mixed grain filling.
And that is it! Delicious!

If you would like to know what I used for the box, I used Medport's L.O.T.G. (also called Fit & Fresh) lunch set with removable ice pack.
(the quarter is for a size reference)
I will be reviewing this product for my first product review, due to be posted on December 9, 2012. Next Sunday (November 11,2012) I will be posting my product review policies (if my editor, the distinguished B, my main squeeze and scource of all things spelling and grammer related, finishes checking it for me).