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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Food Pantry Fare

Technically I didn't pick up any canned goods when I left from volunteering yesterday because we have plenty right now. I just don't feel right taking more even though I am assured that they have plenty. Still, there were leftovers that needed to get used up, so I took some home. I should have taken a picture of it before I gussied it up. There was some meatloaf and some macaroni salad. The meatloaf was a little dry, so I added some BBQ sauce that I picked up last week on sale for a dollar. Then I chopped up a bunch of vegetables and added that plus some vinegar (to break up the mayo a bit) to the macaroni salad. A nice, mostly free meal.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Too hot to cook, but did anyway

It is over 100 degrees if you take in the dew point factor. Still, the family needed to eat, so I set to work in front of the stove. We don't have air conditioning on because of the cost.

First I made a chicken teriyaki with chicken thighs that were on sale for .99 cents a pound. Not a great sale, but that was the best they had besides the very yummy steaks for 4.99 a pound, but I resisted. I cook the thighs skin side down with a weight on it to really get a nice brown and to really get rid of most of the fat from the skin. I could just skin them, but the skin adds to the flavor and they brown nicer. Then they simmered in a homemade teriyaki sauce.

I also made collard greens. They were sliced up and simply boiled for twenty minutes then tossed with a bit of butter (also on sale). The collards were from my produce box. With the collards were boiled fingerling potatoes, also from the produce box and also tossed with a bit of butter.

The pictures still suck, but you get the idea. I didn't use anything from a food bank for dinner, but we did for breakfast and lunch. We volunteer tomorrow, but will not take any canned goods because we have plenty of food right now.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Freezer Goodness

I still had three tilapia "steaks" in the freezer from a while ago, so those got thawed, coated in crumbs and cooked up. Even Pippy at it, and other than tuna and imitation crab meat she doesn't go for the seafood. I also used two cans of sweet potatoes from the food bank with a little brown sugar and butter on top and microwaved for about 10 minutes. The rice is the last pilaf box I had from well over six months ago that I got on a good sale.
Tonight I think I may make a BBQ pizza. I am not sure yet.

I am sorry that my pictures aren't the greatest. The lighting in my kitchen is not conducive to good pictures and my plates, well when I got them I didn't have any intention of taking pictures of them. Still, a nice hearty meal. For the fish, I flavored the flour with salt, pepper and lemon rind, then dipped in egg then the last of my panko crumbs. The pilaf was a box mix and the sweet potatoes were really easy to throw together. I should have made a salad with it, but it was just so hot.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pantry Dinner

Most of the items in this dinner were created with things that I  have left in the pantry and freezer. The meatballs were for school bentos, but they weren't going to taste good in a couple of months, so I used them for dinner. All of the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce were regular pantry items plus pineapple from the food bank. We always have rice because we buy a big bag when my loan comes in or if we get some money in, so that was taken care of. The green beans and the garlic were from our vegetable box and the butter we have from the freezer as I buy in bulk when we have some money to do so. All in all it was a nice dinner, Paige ate two servings and even ate all of her green beans. It was a little stove top intensive for the heat, but you go with what you have.

Sweet and Sour meatballs on sticky rice with garlic butter green beans. I probably should have put a marichino cherry in there to brighten it up a bit. It looks a little bland on that white plate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dinner for the Tired

I knew that volunteering would be work, but wow. I am sore in muscles I didn't even know I had. There was a lot of lugging and carrying and chopping and stirring. We fed ninety families that are being put up in motels in the area while they wait for housing. My girls worked very hard and did a great job. It is nice to give something back since they help us too.

Tonight's dinner was meant to be easy and cool to make. Again we used a mix of food bank, vegetable box and staples that we have in the house. It was a pasta chicken salad. I had to make a dressing because we didn't have anything in the house that would work. It was a simple vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar, some mustard, salt and pepper and olive oil. There were grape tomatoes, broccoli and red onion from our vegetable box and carrots, pasta, and canned chicken from the food bank. The dressing was made with staples I had in the house. Things are going to get rough as I run out of staples. We will deal with that when it happens, for now, yummy salad!

Volunteer Day

I know that it is bad that I haven't volunteered in many years, but I am, along with my children, going to start today. Officially we did this last Tuesday, but that was the food bank. Our assignment is actually in the kitchen of the First Baptist Church (I hope lightening doesn't strike me down!) making dinners for families in hotels.  Having been homeless before I know how hard it is to cook anything, which makes food banks fairly useless. I can only imagine being homeless with kids. I am not sure who puts them up in hotels, it may be a government agency, but I am pretty sure that they are waiting for government assisted housing. No matter how long it takes to get on that housing list, they only get a certain amount of time in a motel waiting. After that they are on their own and hopefully have a phone and address so they can be reached when they get housing.
The last time I volunteered was when Pippy was in kindergarten. I was a classroom helper one day a week and an assistant to the librarian a day or two more. Not much I know, but given my conditions at the time, it was pretty good. I really loved the kindergarten though, but I don't think that I could have handled it full time like the teacher did. She had a lot of undiagnosed kids in her room. I don't throw medical labels on anyone easily, but there were at least four in her room that were extremely distractible, much more so than the average five year old. I also shadowed a child who may have had autism. They were all super sweet though, and I loved helping to guide them in activities and reading aloud to them. They were very well behaved for me, which gave me some confidence. Great kids.
Now, for last nights dinner. I used things from both the vegetable box and from the food bank. The eggs, powdered milk, cheese and fresh artichokes all came from the food bank. The chopped broccoli and onions were from the food box. I go back and forth about the food box. One one hand we really can't afford to be eating organic, local vegetables. On the other hand, I don't want my kids to eat things with pesticides and my beliefs dictate that we try to eat local to save on green house gases. So, we will be getting it for as long as we can manage. It does help us to eat far more vegetables, which is really good.

This would have looked nicer had I taken the picture while it was still in the cast iron pan, but I forgot to do it. This is a frittata, or as the Spanish would call it, la tortilla de espanol. It is six scrambled eggs beaten with the powdered milk and cheese poured over cooked artichoke hearts (may I say that was bothersome and I got poked a few times, all in good fun!), onions and chopped broccoli. Once I poured the egg mix in and it started to set up I sprinkled some quartered grape tomatoes on the top (also from our food box) and set it under the broiler to finish cooking. Paige ate it all and asked for seconds, which we didn't have but still, yay! I mean who would have thought my picky eater would even take a bite of such a thing, never mind want more.

A word about my cast iron pans. I am very attached to them. They were handed down through the generations and even though they had to be stripped a couple times due to misuse, there are now a slick surfaces on which even eggs hardly stick too. Fat still needs to be used for both keeping things from sticking and to keep the pan seasoned though. I know for a fact that my grandmother had these pans and it is possible that my great grandmother also used them. I have a set of the smallish skillet, a chicken fryer with a lid and a very small one that I love using for cornbread. I thought for ages that I couldn't cook red sauce for pasta, come to find out, tomatoes don't love cast iron. Live and learn.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Friday Night Dinner

We didn't want to heat the house up last night and it was just the three of us, Pete, Paige and me, so we went with a tuna salad. Everything in it was either obtained at the food pantry or was languishing in our cupboards from sales or old dishes long gone by.

In the center is drained and crumbled tuna in oil that I bought a while back at 10 for 10 dollars. It is white albacore in oil, because that tastes better than water in my opinion, not as fishy. I probably have five cans of the stuff in my cabinet right now from separate sales. For dinner I used two cans. On the left are cut up cornichon pickles that I bought a couple years ago for Paige's bento because they were so small. On the right side of the bowl is a pile of finely chopped red onion that we got in our produce box. Boy were they strong! I had to rinse my eyes a lot in order to see properly. There is a box of sprouts there, but they came in last weeks box, I usually grow them myself. They didn't make it into the salad, but were available to use outside of the salad filling. There is also a pile of finely shredded carrot that we got from the food bank. There is one large there. The mayonnaise has been in the house for a long time now since we don't really use a lot of it around here. Everything was mixed together and served on wheat bread that we got on sale a month or so ago and had in the freezer.  It is hard to figure out the cost because of the onions and mayonnaise (how much is mayo right now?), but it was extremely filling.

When I was volunteering there they offered us a few bags of food, which I had trouble getting because we did have some food in the house and my purpose for going was to give back, you know? Still, everything but the mayo, onions and pickles could have been picked up in the food bank and many households have mayonnaise and pickles in their refrigerators. As we start going through the last of our stores dinner prep is going to be a little harder.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer Postings

School bento season is now officially over, so I won't have new bento pictures to put up until the end of August. What will I write about in the mean time? I think that I will write about how to eat frugally, especially using food pantry items that I get from Bread of Life when I volunteer or after a month from my last pick up. It is hard to write about needing assistance, but I am sure that there are others out there who are equally having troubles and maybe are ashamed to talk about it.
What I will try to do is occasionally write about my grocery budget and making decent meals with that supplemented with food pantry items. Sometimes I have great ideas, then other times not so great. The point will be to share ideas about eating frugally.

The other day we had chicken BBQ sandwiches made from a big can of chicken from the food pantry, BBQ sauce that I bought on sale a few weeks ago for Paige's bentos and homemade rolls made with flour, yeast and salt that I had on hand plus eggs and powdered milk from the food pantry. The food pantry also gave us a lot of yellow squash, so I caramelized some onions from my vegetable box and sauteed the sliced squash for a side dish. It was a hit, and my girls who do not like summer squashes ate it up.

Next time I have a meal to write about I will try to take a picture for the blog.

Last School Bento For the Year

Today was a little bittersweet. I wanted to make a super cute bento, but my sleepiness and lack of creativity thwarted my best laid plans. It is still a nice looking lunch. Monday is actually the last day of school, but they get out early so there are no lunches.

I also am going to think about some backgrounds for future bentos. I have been taking the pictures directly on my light colored counter with lighting from over head. I can't seem to turn off the flash either, so that doesn't help.
I made three cylindrical onigiri. I was going to put red bean paste in them, but Paige doesn't really like that. I think that it is the texture that bothers her because otherwise it is yummy. I filled it in with grape tomatoes which also act as a nice accent color. In the bottom is a pile of flower shaped raw carrot and then a two egg tamagoyaki seasoned with a touch of soy. Next to that is baran and some sliced peach.  She didn't end up taking the yogurt because it wouldn't fit in her bento bag and she didn't want to bring her backpack just for a yogurt.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

End of the School Year Slump

I am getting sick of getting up at 5:30-6:00 to make bento. Don't get me wrong, making them isn't the trouble, just the waking up part. I got to sleep in until 6:30 today though because this bento was a "what can I scrounge up" sort of lunch. We had some leftovers, so I decided to work with that. We also have a ton of Japanese foods that I wanted to try on Paige. One of those things was cucumber pickles which are not like American pickles as they are very salty and I think meant to eat with the bland rice. She didn't like them the first time she tried them, but I am giving it another try because the first time she ate them without the rice. We also have mango pickles that I have yet to try. Catherine didn't like them very much, but again, this was without rice. I also have sweet bean paste that Catherine likes but Paige doesn't care for, though I may make a little something for her lunch box tomorrow with it.

Mr. Man was sweet enough to make me rice, but I told him not to and now I have four servings of rice for two more school days. Maybe Paige will eat it up, even though she didn't go for it this morning as she often does with leftover rice.

The typical rice is on top with an Umeboshi that I tried to make look like a heart. On the bottom is left over tofu stir fry made with tofu, asparagus and the last of the baby corn. Don't laugh, she ate the asparagus at dinner. Then I sliced up some cucumber and laid that in with a bottle of the teriyaki sauce in a heart shaped bottle. In the blue cup are the pickled cucumbers that I am hoping she will try again and then the rest is filled in with my abundance of blueberries.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Yum, French Toast

My kids love my french toast. It may have something to do with only using homemade egg or challah breads or the nutmeg I grind fresh into it, but whatever the reason they really like it. I was making Paige's for her lunch and as soon as I got home Catherine woke up and said "do I smell french toast?". Since she has been sleeping much later until today I took that as a compliment. She decided to make some herself, but I offered to do it for her and, unusual for her, she took me up on it. I say it is the love that makes it yummy.

I can't believe that I only have three more school bentos to make. I wish I had the money for a family sized one, it would be great for a picnic with the family as we take advantage of all the free festivals and stuff that happens in Boston all summer. I am also eyeing a couple of specialty pans and some uber cute mini muffin tins. It is my online window shopping.

I think that my next foray into packing these lunches is going to be how to pack them tightly. I am aware that some bentos have many more items in them and are practically on top of one another. The only ones I see like that (other than a couple) have all their food poking up over the top which would never do for putting the lids on.

I put in a couple of fully cooked sausage patties in there, but it is unlikely she will eat it. You never know though, she changes like the winds. Then there are french toast sticks with a dusting of powered sugar on top. Below we have the old standbys this week because it is a shame to waste food. However, I did cut the watermelon into some nicely sized star shapes adn filled out the rest with blueberries and a small container of sauce.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

School Trip-No Bento

The children at my daughter's school are all walking to the cinema today to see the Karate Kid movie. After they will be treated to a slice of pizza and a drink. Suffice it to say I will have a hungry kid coming home today. I would have packed a snack bento, but they don't want the kids bringing anything today.

Last night I made a nice stir fry using tofu that was getting close to its use by date, asparagus from our vegetable box, the last of the baby corn which had seen better days and the dregs of a bottle of teriyaki sauce. I don't know why I bought it since making it is pretty easy. Paige ate the asparagus! Every bit of it.. two helpings even. I swear I could put sauce on a monkey turd and she would eat it. No matter, she ate a green vegetable without any grumbling and for that I am quite thankful.

There is a trick to using asparagus. Actually a couple of tricks. One is to not do that snap thing to remove the "woody" ends. You waste a lot of vegetable that way. What you need to do is cut off a small bit of the ends with a knife then peel the thicker bits to reveal the tender white insides. Then you cook the ends first and just before they are done, put in the flower ends. No more over cooked tips!

The tofu was really simple and the family likes is a lot. First you squeeze moisture out of extra firm tofu. Do NOT use silken or it simply won't work. Now, I have heard that you should freeze it first, or set it on an inverted plate with wads of paper towels on top and some sort of weight. I don't do any of these things any more. I find that pressing it for a little bit with paper towels works just fine. Then I cut it into little cubes and stir fry them in some oil until they are crispy all around. This is what makes my family like it, the crispness.

Now, to figure out what is for dinner...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bento Tools #1

I plan on writing about bento tools now and again so this is the first one. I don't know how many there will be yet, as I am just starting, but here it goes anyway.

Today I tried again to use the crab hot dog shaper for my daughter's bento. I have tried using it with tofu dogs, kosher dogs and this time regular hot dogs. It doesn't work as you will see in the picture. The impression isn't deep enough to be noticed and quite a bit of the hot dog gets stuck in the mold. I have attempted to grease it and used Pam liberally. None of these things work. Because of this I will not be buying the tulip one either. I would suggest that you skip over this accessory if  you are just starting out, as it will probably not end well. Out that one goes!

There are a couple of hot dog "sculptures" that you can do to make a bento a little more interesting. In today's bento I made an octopus. Just cut the hot dog in half width wise and slice the bottom 2/3rds or so into four sections. Then slice each section in half, there is your eight tentacled octopus. Because my hot dog today was prefry, I just heated it up a little to make the legs spread out easily. You can also boil it. Since mine had char marks from frying I didn't bother with a face, but if you choose to make one either with black sesame seeds or bits of nori, you may want to stick them on with a dab of honey using a toothpick.

The other hot dog shape you can make are flowers. Just snip about an inch down, four sections, just like the octopus but shallower. Boil it for a bit and it will open up. Then you can put something in the center and there you have a flower. There are many ways to dress it up, just use your imagination or take a look on the internet.

If I decide to post more complicated things I will attempt to have one of the kids tape it so you can see how it works. I am NOT a master with this sort of thing. I can chop stuff up until the cows come home, but I haven't yet honed my decorative knife skills yet.

Today I used some rice that I had frozen in portion sized blocks wrapped in plastic wrap. I don't recommend doing it that way. The rice microwaved up really dry. From now on I am sticking to plastic containers. One rule is to always pack it hot to keep the moisture in so it will still be sticky when reheated for the bento. A good use for dry rice is a stir-fry, which is why that is often prominent in my bentos. So, on the left is the badly frozen and reheated rice with the "crab" hot dog. See what I mean about it not really working? On the right is an octopus hot dog on top of alfalfa and radish sprouts. The other cup is silicon and washable and filled with thin slices of English cucumber with the rest filled out with blueberries (three for one at my grocery!) and grape tomatoes. She probably won't eat the tomatoes, but they are pretty and there is always a chance that she will eat it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Crab Cake Redux

As per usual, I ask Paige what she would like in her bento for today. To my incredishock (yes, I just made that up) she said "crab cakes". You only ate a little of one at dinner and they weren't my best culinary experiment ever, so this was a surprise to me.
I had imitation crab meat sticks from an old shopping trip that I got on a great sale. I mixed it with beaten eggs, panko bread crumbs, sauteed onion and some butter. I tried to use a recipe, but I didn't have most of the things needed in them, so I tried to make my own. Now, they all didn't fall apart and make a crab cake scramble, but they didn't hold together great either. I chalked it up as an edible, but not repeatable experiment. Now she wants to eat it? Not one to argue about these things anymore, I reheated some in a pan and that is part of what is in her bento today.
Paige also likes coleslaw. She hates cabbage, but likes coleslaw made with cabbage. So, I found a really old head of cabbage hiding in the back of the refrigerator, peeled off the ooky leaves and found a perfect, if small head of green cabbage. Satisfied, I took to shredding a little and then some carrots with my special shredder peeler, which is an excellent utensil, some dill weed and mayonnaise. I haven't tried the dill before because I never have it on hand usually, but back when we had a little money I picked some up at Penzey's back the Spring before this one. Still sealed it was in fine condition for sprinkling in coleslaw.

This is not the most colorful bento ever, but there are some vegetables in there. On the top in the cupcake cup is the coleslaw, after that is some cut up crab cakes that I reheated before putting them in to insure maximum crunchiness. After that is a rolled omelet that is called tamagoyaki, except that I didn't add anything to it. It is really simple though and is perfect for bento. Of course there is rice, though I intend on using some buckwheat noodles next week. The heart in the center was cut from our beets from last night. Despite how sweet they are, Paige says that they taste like dirt, so I don't harbor any delusions that she might actually eat it, but it does look pretty and breaks up the color monotony.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BBQ Meatballs

Paige loves barbecue almost as much as she likes rice. Put the together and she is in heaven. This was her request for yesterday, but I forgot. Much of this box could be found in the freezer from my stash, which made things very easy this morning.

As an aside, I made crab cakes for dinner yesterday with some imitation crab I got as the grocery on sale. It does have a little bit of a fishy flavor and I had to completely wing it on the mix because all the recipes I found included ingredients that I didn't have on hand. They ended up pretty crumbly, but Paige actually like them. Go figure. So, crumbly crab cakes should make an appearance in her bento tomorrow.

On the left top there is cut up watermelon, can't let that go to waste, along with some blueberries (both were on sale). Then there are some sugar snap peas from a couple of weeks ago that were stringed and of course washed. In the cup are the turkey meatballs smothered in the dregs of the BBQ sauce I had left in the refrigerator. Then of course there is the rice. She always asks for more BBQ sauce, but I didn't want to waste space with a little cup, so I just poured some on top of the rice. I don't really decorate well, but there are two "gem" picks in there for eating or just looking at. They look much pretty in person.

Baking Frenzy

Well, maybe this doesn't qualify for a frenzy, but I did do some baking yesterday. Nothing special, just some bread and cookies, both of which my youngest likes a lot. I did not make them bento sized, but Paige did get a cookie in with her lunch today, wrapped separately of course.
Bread baking evokes such good feelings. There is the smell of the yeast, the molding it with your hands, the smoothness of the dough before you put it to rise and of course the aroma of baking bread to wake up those taste buds. I have been baking for many years, though not so much for a while now. I don't know why I stopped.
This isn't for bento, but it is for a picky child, so I thought I would do a little blog with some pictures. I will be posting another entry just for her bento today.

The top is Egg Bread, both a loaf for toasting and French toast and some clover rolls for om nomming. The lower picture are snickerdoodles, half of which are already gone. I packed one with Paige's bento today.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yum, Bread Baking!

Is there anything like the smell of bread baking? I don't think so, and today is a perfect day for making bread. It is warm enough to get a good rise and cool enough to have the oven on for an hour. Today I am making an egg bread, one loaf and four cloverleaf rolls.
I used to bake all the time before Paige. She is my youngest and was a very demanding baby and child, so I never had my arms empty long enough to bake much. I have a pretty good repertoire which includes: English muffins, pretzels and bagels in the yeast department. It is so much fun, and if we have cool enough days this summer I will be teaching both my girls the fundamentals of yeast baking. So much of it is by feel that they really need hands on training in order to do well in it.
Tonight I am making crab cakes made with some imitation crab meat sticks that I bought on sale a couple weeks ago with a coupon. They were a very good deal, and hey, it is fish! I will pair this with some oven fries made with russets that need to get used up and the asparagus still in my refrigerator. There is no more lemon, but I do have dried lemon rind that maybe I could put in the water with the asparagus instead of steaming to give them a little lemon flavor.
If I get a chance I will post a picture of the bread and dinner along with my made up recipe for crab cakes if they come out decent.

Granola and Rice

Because bentos tend to have very small portions of several different things it is likely that there will be leftovers. Today that meant using the last of the meat, refrigerated rice and watermelon. Refrigerated rice is perfect for a fried rice dish and should be used over freshly cooked rice.

Speaking of rice, we started washing it because all the websites say to wash it thoroughly. Paige is not impressed and prefers her rice to be almost pasty, so that experiment is over now. The rice we use is supposedly pre washed, but it still has a lot of starch on it. If you like your rice to be somewhat separate either use a long grain rice or really rinse your short grain Asian type rice. Paige likes it sticky because it is easier to eat with chopsticks. We use Kokuho Rose rice, which is a short grain rice that can also be used for sushi. It being a shorter grain it has more starch that creates a sticky rice, and though Paige may argue, even rinsed it is still a bit sticky, but more separate than if you don't rinse it.

I also made some basic granola for the family. It is very easy to make and tastes delicious in yogurt or even by itself. This is so easy I am not going to put the recipe on a second page.

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup white sesame seeds
1/3 cup of canola oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup (the real kind)
Pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit or 163 Celsius (I used a converter, so I hope that it is right)

Warm the oil, honey and syrup in a small pan. Mix together all the dry ingredient and include some of your own, like unsweetened coconut, slivered almonds or sunflower seeds etc. Spread out on baking sheet.
Put in heated oven and stir every five minutes for 15 minutes or until lightly brown. Let cool and store in an airtight container when cooled. If desired add dried fruit once it comes out of the oven.

Today's bento has granola wrapped in some plastic. There have been complaints of crispy things getting soft because of moisture transference. There is also a lot of watermelon with cute little animal picks in them. On the right is the fried rice with no egg but leftover beef and rice from yesterday, with sugar snap peas and mini carrots from a shopping trip a couple of weeks ago. The rice is decorated with uncooked carrot hearts. On the side is a Dora the Explorer yogurt that I got not only on sale but with a good coupon.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Food Round Up

Last night I made some plain sauteed chicken, but served it with some old cauliflower I found in the fridge (that stuff lasts forever!) which was first steamed then tossed in a pan sauce made from pineapple juice, butter and curry. After that I added some pineapple. I had everything in the house but the pineapple. What is good is that I used the leftover pineapple in today's bento and the dinner was eaten up, no waste! I love it when there is no waste involved.

In this bento I have quickly sauteed a small thin steak that I got pretty cheap a long time ago and it needed to be used. I added Bulldog sauce to it because that is the best way to get her to eat protein. Next to that is the leftover pineapple, blueberries and watermelon, all on sale, and since these are mostly for the bento I could buy just a small amount. Under the fruit are the peeled stems of the asparagus that the tops of are decorating the rice. Of course there is a bottle of soy for the rice. Maybe she will try raw asparagus?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Giving Some Thought

I am realizing that my bento days are numbered for this school year (I have about 80 pictures on my Facebook). This is all well and good, but maybe I should expand this blog a little to make up for the lack of bento lunches that will be made. Sure, there maybe one or two here and there when she goes out of what have you, but for the most part the summer won't include them.

So, seeing as I am on a strict budget this summer, I thought that I may share some of my meal ideas with everyone, just to take up some space and keep people from seeing my last bento over and over all summer long.

The other night I went to a food bank. I am not proud of this, but I am grateful that such things existed. I had some frozen meat and a few vegetables, but hardly enough for dinner's for the week never mind breakfasts and lunches. So, on Friday I used some stew beef that I got on sale about a year ago, the tomato paste and potatoes from our bags and some carrots and onions I had on hand as well as some broth I stocked up on. The result was pretty good, though next time I would use less tomato paste. Half a small can would have been fine, but I didn't want to waste anything. With that I made biscuits with my flour, almost the last of my baking powder and soda and my vegetable shortening and the powdered milk from the bag.

I was pleased with the results and the next day the leftovers were gobbled up for lunches, so I would say that it was a success.

On Saturday I used a can of the chicken from the bag, on of the few apples I have left, more of those prolific onions and mayo on top of a salad made with odd bits of vegetables. There was just enough for supper, so no leftovers, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

Sunday we just picked on ramen and such as no one really wanted to think about cooking. Today I am trying to come up with something before the crunch time comes and I totally go blank.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Under Pressure

It seems that I work well under pressure. We are at the end of the week and because of budget issues can't do much shopping, which means I have to work with a very limited stock. Fortunately I found some stuff in the freezer that needs to be dealt with and I still have some vegetables to use, not to mention the load of rice we still have. Today's bento is bits of this and that, which I suppose is technically how it should be done anyway.

To the left is a quick stir fry of snowpeas and mini corn with Hoisin sauce. Behind the green baran there are three pork and vegetable dumplings and a bottle of soy. The rice is decorated with pickled ginger to give it a little lift visually. She usually picks off most of it, though it tastes excellent with the rice. She ate the bento leftovers for breakfast.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Onigiri are usually very easy to make, and you can stuff them with a little leftover meat or vegetable too. Pickled plums are often used and because of their high salt content are considered a good preservative for the rice. This time the onigiri wasn't as easy because I rinsed the rice. Normally I don't because the rice we get is pre-rinsed, but most of the how to information includes always rinsing it until the water runs clear. Since it washes away all the starch, the rice isn't as sticky. Usually our rice is very gelatinous, so I thought that this would help, but it just made the rice not stick very well. Lesson learned. I may do a quick rinse, but no more rinsing until the water is clear.

I tried the zoom today, I guess the picture is okay though I should try some nice backgrounds. The top of the container holds two onigiri (shaped and sometimes stuffed rice). On one I covered with sesame seeds and the other was supposed to be fried, but it fell apart in the pan. On the bottom are baby corn cut in half, a few baby carrots for a little color, two slices of roasted turkey slices and sugar snap peas. This isn't as colorful as I would have liked. Also, one of the peas looks like there is mold or something on it, but that is just the picture, I was very careful to wash and check the vegetables before putting them in the box.

Growing Sprouts

There are many types of seeds that you can use for sprouts, you may want to do a search for the best. I used alfalfa sprouts in my last bento and they are quite easy to grow. My house has no sunlight to speak of and that is perfect for them.

You need a large size canning jar, like the Ball ones or something with a screw on cap. I actually got the kit, but my mother used to grow them so I know how to do it without the perforated top.

Then you need seeds. There are different kinds that you can use, I used alfalfa in this one. You also need some cheese cloth and an elastic.

First you soak your seeds for an hour or so. Put the cheese cloth over the opening and secure with the elastic. For the alfalfa sprouts I used 2 Tablespoons. Strain through the cheese cloth.
Now, all you really have to do is rinse and wait. Rinse them thoroughly 3 times a day until they start to sprout, then just twice a day. Within 3 to 5 days for most sprouts you should have a healthy forest.

Keep them in a dark place, I covered mine with a towel, that is warm.
If you want them green, set them on a sunny sill for a few hours.
Now, dump them in a bowl and cover with cold water. The sprouts should float and the seeds that didn't sprout should sink. Skim the sprouts off, put in a container (covered) in the refrigerator. I don't know how long they last technically, but mine have been in the refrigerator for several days and they are fine.
I know that it seems a little involved, but really these are very easy to grow and so much fresher than the ones you buy. I got my seeds at a now closed health food store, but you can also buy them online (and probably cheaper for more).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Vegetable Medley

There is no meat in this dish. Paige generally does not like meat unless it is served up in a sauce she likes. No big deal right? Well sure if she would eat beans of some sort. She does like fried tofu, but it isn't healthy to eat a lot of non-fermented soy products.
Today I mixed up some frozen corn and peas and warmed them in the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off, then packed in a cut green patterned, oblong holder. In the middle there is a heart shaped oatmeal cookie. I tried to write "I luv u" on it with food markers, but the surface was too rough.  We still had half a mango to use up, so it was cut up and put in a cupcake liner. I put the animal pick in there to liven it up a bit. The bottom looks pretty bland, but under those vegetable potstickers is a nicely browned bottom and the section is lined with sprouts that I grew myself in the kitchen. There is also a container of dumpling sauce in there. I wish I had something to make the dumplings look pretty. Something red would be nice, except she really only likes strawberries that are red and I had paying for their tastelessness and expense. Sometimes I will pick them up, but not regularly. That wouldn't go with the dumplings anyway.
So, that is today's bento. Not bad considering I was expecting to have rice this morning but my husband forgot to put it on for me and there wouldn't be time for it too cool. I forgot to do it yesterday, so I had no room to talk.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Something A Little Different

Normally I abhor deli meats because unless you buy the expensive stuff (and even then sometimes) you are getting a lot of salt and nitrates that are not good for a body. Still we got a very small quantity this week because roast turkey and American cheese was on sale. Despite that, the lunch is otherwise very healthy and if she eats it all she will have gotten a good meal to keep her going at school. I am trying to come up with another idea for the turkey. Even though we only got 2 dollars worth, there is still a good sized meal left.

I had a couple of tortillas left from a taco night a while ago and they were still good, so I use that with some roast turkey, white American and lettuce leaves to make these roll ups. In each of them is a gem toothpick (reusable) to make it look a little special and of course to hold the rolls together. The green kiwi container holds yellow mustard for dipping. On the bottom in the cupcake cup (waste product though, there are reusable ones on my wish list at Jbox) In there are some cucumbers, one is cut like a star and scatter over it are teeny star carrots. She hates cooked carrots, so raw it is. Then there is some fresh Mango. Even though I got them at Stop and Shop they are extremely yummy. They were on a great sale, and if I knew what else to do with them I would have got more than two.

I am also eyeballing a mini cupcake pan that is also a mold with nice designs at which are also going to have to wait, as we have far more important stuff to spend our money on. Our cupboards are pretty bare, so either this week will have cool imaginative stuff or be boring. Not sure yet.