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New beginnings, a new day, it’s Groundhog Day?

3 Feb

It’s been quite a while, dear reader, and my life was quickly overrun with various changes. Our beloved dog passed away, and I started a new job involving a longer commute, and different hours.

Of course, my blog suffered dearly, as I was unable to juggle everything as gracefully as I hoped.

Needless to say… A small triumph, despite the blizzard that whipped past the region last week, dumping 2 feet of snow, or the snow-sleet-freezing rain-snow fiesta that blanketed the area again…. I managed to pack my own bento today, inspired by a mouthwatering piece from Serious Eats I’ve salivated over the past few month.

I followed the basic steps – layering cooked udon noodles (I started with kanmen or dried noodles) and added blanched snow peas, carrots, scallions, a generous bit of roast chicken from Makinajian Poultry Farm – their herb roasted chicken has the most deliciously aromatic skin and juicy meat – and a teaspoon of Better than Bouillon, mushroom into my trusty Nissan Thermos.

Lunchtime came, and I filled the thermos with hot water, resealed the goodness for four (long) minutes, and voila!!

The photos truly are snapshots of the moment – however, they don’t capture my anxious moments before opening up the container revealing my long, anticipated udon lunch!!

I’ve had a few unsuccessful batches, where I sadly ate my mistakes – underseasoned soup, poorly drained noodles resulting in a gelatinous mess at the bottom, raw vegetables that didn’t seem to warm up despite the amount of time I kept the lid on…..

However this time, dear reader, it was a success!!

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Let there be noodles!

17 Jan

The girls’ school offers a hot lunch sponsored by a student’s family, once a week. The little one joined her sister this fall at the school, and I realized there was a hot lunch slot available around the time of their birthdays.

I mulled and pondered… What did I need to do? What am I expected to do?

One day, my older daughter turned to me and said, “Mama, it’s not fair. You NEVER come read a book on my birthday at school, and you NEVER do hot lunch.”

That statement sealed the deal for me.
I signed up on the hot lunch volunteer list, and started brainstorming.

“What do you want for lunch?” I asked her.

Men men! (noodles)!” They both piped up.

I asked the school what I needed to do to prepare the lunch. They gave me ideas… “We usually cook 12 pounds of pasta… Probably about 100 students will participate…”

I started panicking. What could I possibly make for a hundred kids?!

Udon or soba noodles in soup would be a challenge, since the noodles are not tasty if over cooked, and the soup may be the X-factor. I could almost see myself doling out a tub of soup, while trying to catch slippery noodles out of a pot to try to portion out… A hundred times.

I then thought about rice bowls… I could steam a hundred servings of rice. I then make various toppings that each student could customize their rice bowl with… Seasoned turkey soboro, egg, peas, vegetables… I then realized I only can possibly make eleven servings of rice in the rice cooker(s) I would have access to. I even asked the local Japanese restaurant to provide me a quote for the steamed rice… But the thought of making all the toppings was dizzying.

I then realized, yakisoba would probably be the best option. I could make it with ground turkey, vegetables, and make my own yakisoba sauce to ensure I kept control over the ingredients.

I went on a shopping binge at the local Japanese food stores, snapping up bags of the fresh yakisoba noodle packs – each one containing three servings. Thirty three packages of noodles later, (some were on sale too!) I purchased seven pounds of cabbage, ten pounds of carrots, six pounds of onions, eight pounds of ground turkey, a bottle of ketchup, two bottles of Bulldog brand Worcestshire sauce and a pilfered bottle of my husband’s HP sauce, we were ready.

The night before the lunch, I peeled the carrots, and hand-sliced them into 1/4 inch matchsticks (yes, each and every one…) until 3 am. The onions and cabbage were also sliced, thinly, about 1/4 inch thick.

The next day, my car perfumed with the strong smell of onions, I took my goodies to the school. A concerned friend, worried for my sanity!, helped me for an hour, and produced a food processor to cut up four pounds or celery.

Once set up in the school’s commercial kitchen, I started browning the turkey, seasoning with salt, white pepper and soy sauce. In a separate pan, I sautéed the onions slices, and added the carrots, the cabbage, and then the celery, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Once the turkey was done, I set it aside, and continued cooking the vegetables. When the onions were softened, and the cabbage edges were starting to become translucent, I set them aside.

A added ketchup, HP sauce and Worcestshire sauce in a 2:2:1 ratio, mixing everything together with a whisk. Some soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil were also added, just to add depth. These were about 1/2 cup each, but again this was for 100 kids!!

Into another pan, I lightly oiled, and added the noodles. The pan was large enough to fit three squares of the fresh noodles, so I started cooking them, following the instruction on the packets. I added a bit of water to soften.

Midway, the school staff reassured me, due to some student absences, we could probably make less than the original hundred count so we ended up cooking only twenty packets, or sixty servings.

I somehow managed to get most of the lunch ready, and squeezed into the classroom (for both!) to read “Guess How Much I love You” to each respective class.

Lunch was successful. I received many kind compliments, and the best part was that every bite was either eaten, or taken home!

Here are some pictures of that day.

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Fall bentos, school year 2013!

16 Oct

I do not know where the last few months have gone. Between the dizzying daily routine of work, followed by the relentless wheel of routines, I found myself shocked to be mired in the middle of October.

I have been packing bentos for both girls these days – with little time for decompressing or downtime. A few evening were spent on the laptop at the kitchen table, battling the desperate attempts of my cat Spencer, to settle down in my lap as I feverishly tapped away at keyboards and calculators.

This year, both girls are at the same school, and often have an opportunity to eat together.

The little one loves onigiri, while the older one prefers raw vegetable slices and sticks.

Edamame is a definite hit with the older one – the empty pods in a neat pile, while the little one sends her beans intact.

Quinoa has joined the repertoire – I gently wash, and simmer the grains in a stock – vegetable, chicken, dashi, or in some cases, roasted red pepper and tomato soup!

Raw cauliflower and turnip slices, pickled in soy sauce, rice vinegar and ginger are often requested.

A dear friend’s husband caught porgy – and I found creative ways to cook the delicious fish – grilled, baked, porgy fish cakes, porgy omelette, porgy chowder… The porgy fish cakes do make appearances in the girls’ bento.

Grilled chicken wingettes and drumettes are always a hit, as well as turkey meatballies – the poultry always sourced from our beloved Makinajian Farms. I have packed them simply seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice, while other times, with a sweet-savory ketchup/HP sauce/Worcestershire sauce glaze with the meatballs, or a teriyaki glaze for the wingettes.

Below are just a few samplings of recent bentos… And more to come!

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(porgy fish cakes!) … and I technical glitch where I can’t seem to figure out how to rotate this photo!!

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A new week starts!

21 Sep

The little one started school on Monday, and happily marched into her classroom with her blue backpack. A side note for the backpack – it hung on the back of her door this last year as inspiration for her to potty train… And it worked!

The new preschoolers were given a modified school period from 9:00 – 11:00 the first week – so unfortunately for her, there was no bento box to be unpacked at school. When A found out about this, she was disappointed, but I made sure to have a smaller bento for her to eat in my car en route to daycare in the afternoon – I had modified my work hours for this first week.

This week’s bento pictures are those of H’s – next week, the little one will also have a bento as well!

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Monday included:
Boiled egg in heart shape
Bunashimeji, Edamame, carrots and kohlrabi simmered in dashi
Roasted beet hearts
Onigiri with okaka filling
Grape (more of a space saver)

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Tuesday included:
Grilled chicken drumette and wingette
Agekama cut into a cat shape
Onigiri with grilled, flaked, salmon
Edamame in the pods – I don’t know if you are aware of the difficulty of finding domestically grown, organic edamame? Fortunately, Makinajian Farm has been selling baskets of these healthy treats, and I’ve been buying them by the pound, blanching and squirreling them away in the freezer, as well as serving them as a healthy snack for the family. Must try to capture a bit of this goodness to enjoy as long as possible!

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Wednesday included:
Boiled egg in star shape – I included a small packet of kosher salt, folded in an aluminum foil envelope for H to sprinkle over her egg.
Celery sticks
Rice noodles, tossed with a ground turkey soboro sauce. The turkey soboro was made by sauteeing a pound of turkey with a little canola oil until crumbly, and then I add a cup of dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin, a clove of minced garlic, and grated ginger – a peeled, fresh, ginger piece about the size of a dime. I cook this mixture over low heat, and after the liquid boils away, I remove from heat. I reconstitute Thai rice noodles (a half package of noodles from the Thai Kitchen packet – about 4 ozs, dry) in hot water until tender. In a separate pot, I heat a teaspoon of sesame oil, add two heaping tablespoons of the ground turkey mixture, and toss the noodles with the mixture until the noodles are well coated. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and toss well with the noodles.
Grilled salmon fillet

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Grilled turkey drumette and wingette – soy sauce, pepper and rice vinegar seasoning

Whole wheat pasta, tossed with left over olive tapenade, marinara sauce with a dash of cracked fresh black pepper

Sliced green pepper slices from the garden – they somehow survived my negligence this summer…

Black seedless grapes

Bunch of Matt’s wild cherry tomatoes that regenerated on their own in the garden…

Next week will be the little one’s debut for bentos!

Back into the swing of things!

8 Sep

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Second day of school rolled around, and H provided me with a wish list of bento items.

By request, Thursday’s lunch included:

Roasted beets in star shapes

Soba salad, tossed with a sesame/soy sauce/rice vinegar dressing, topped with blanched and shelled edamame

Marinated cauliflower – I cut up a raw cauliflower into manageable florettes, and tossed with a soy sauce/lemon juice and minced ginger marinade. The raw cauliflower retains its crunch, while absorbing the marinade – a hit at our house

Grilled chicken wingette and drumette – of course from our favorite poultry farm

A side of black seedless grapes

The soba salad was a hit, and I got a thumbs-up.

Pizza lunch on Friday!

First Day, back to school!

5 Sep

The summer came, and left. Fortunate or unfortunate… Work kept me incredibly busy, not a moment to relax and to enjoy the warm sun…

Today was H’s first day of Kindergarten. I included her favorites for her back to school lunch:

Sautéed, scored, mini dogs
Edamame, blanched
Roasted beets in heart shapes
Savory tamagoyaki with shirasu center
Whole wheat spirals with a turkey-tomato-olive tapenade sauce
Black seedless grapes

H enjoyed this summer, attending summer camp – her school rents the campus during the non- summer months. She slipped right onto the bus, and came home, excitedly telling me about her new pencil case.

Can’t believe how quickly time flies….!

The little one starts pre-K at the same campus next Monday. It will be double time for mama, come the 10th!

I hope to gradually catch up with my summer entries… Although one look at my wild, weedful vegetable garden makes me think otherwise…

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Last Japanese bento for May

5 Jun

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Today’s lunch for Japanese school included my daughter’s favorites.

Grilled chicken wing and drumette
Carrot sticks and red pepper slices
Blueberries
Whole wheat pasta spirals tossed in marinara sauce with sliced grilled sausage and sautéed onion slices.

I broke away from my usual onigiri routine – I confess – I was exhausted, and hadn’t gotten my wits together to make rice after our strawberry picking trip.