Tag Archives: Tofu

December 2011 bentos ~ first week through the 8th

3 Jan

My daughter’s new favorite are blackberries.  She enjoys them immensely – so I try to include them whenever I can pick them up.

Boiled egg, pressed into teddy bear

Baked chicken leg with salt, pepper, thyme, oregano and soy sauce, de-boned

Carrot sticks

Steamed multi-grain rice, with black sesame seeds


Baked turkey meatballs with ground turkey, grated ginger, minced onions, minced carrots, black sesame seeds, mixed well by hand, and baked at 325 degrees until browned and done throughout.   The meatballs accompanied by beet greens, sautéed with a little olive oil, and dressed with a drop of soy sauce and lemon juice.

Steamed multi-grain rice, with black sesame seeds sprinkled on top

Carrot sticks


Ground turkey mabo-dofu this version including chopped watercress, served over multi-grain rice

Roasted beets in heart shapes


Carrot sticks

Baked turkey meatballs

Cucumber slices and carrot sticks

Blanched broccoli

Roasted beets in heart shapes

Multi-grain onigiri with yukari seasoning, wrapped in nori

Baked turkey meatballs

Left over vegetable lo mein – I cheated today….


Blanched broccoli

Turkey tacos – Bearitos taco shell

Trader Joe’s salsa (well draine) and grated four cheese

Chopped romaine lettuce

Ground turkey, with seasoning – I used Simply Organic Southwest Taco packet, which my kids and husband enjoy.

Friday continues to be, pizza day!


November Bento whirlwind!

30 Dec

Seems as though time simply disappeared after my return from Iceland.   Between my work, as well as the holidays that, AGAIN, stomped in from  Thanksgiving and beyond, I’ve been trying to maintain my sanity.

November whirled by, bringing in multiple birthdays, a wedding anniversary, amidst a typhoon of events.  November also brought the passing of my beloved grandfather in Japan, which effectively terminated any remaining spark of holiday spirit which had been desperately clinging onto me.

My parents, always considerate, thoughtful and most Japanese – told me of my grandfather’s passing a few days afterwards in the hopes the news didn’t affect my family’s celebration of birthdays, anniversaries and Thanksgiving which happened to fall within a clustered week. 

I was devastated, but had somehow known within my heart, he had passed on my birthday.  Just a flitting pain that didn’t get confirmed until I picked up on a suspicion I honed in on, based on my parents’ communications.  My normally technologically connected parents were unavailable on skype or phone, and the emails coming back seemed reserved and almost forced.

I mourn my grandfather’s passing, deeply, as I now have officially not attended any of my grandparents’ wakes or funerals, due to timing, finances or logistics.  Yet, I am thankful he decided to depart on my own birthday, so I know he departed on a day that is near and dear to me. 

Memories of my grandfather, who lived in central Japan in Gifu-City, Gifu, most famous for their cormorant fishing and their garment industry in the early half of the 20th century, revolve around food.  The tofu vendor, blowing his distinct horn, pulling up in front of my grandparent’s house, carrying soft and freshly made tofu cubes to be scooped out by the vendor into a plastic bowl hastily grabbed by my grandmother, as she rushed out to stop him in front of our house.  The slightly charred, sweetfish or ayu that the cormorants capture on the Nagara River, grilled, and eaten from head to fin – my grandfather holding up the fish with chopsticks, and showing me how he ate every bit.  The morning routine he would have – he always had a fresh batch of steamed rice, freshly made, that he would transfer into a rice warmer.  He would have a pot of miso soup on the stove – he liked to use aka or red miso, into which he would toss in tofu (he would literally grab a cube of fresh tofu, and crush it with his hands instead of carefully cubing into smaller pieces), or eggplant slices (raw, instead of those that were first sautéed in sesame oil per my mom’s version) and hand me the shichimi or seven spice pepper and tell me to put as much as I wanted in my soup, and to hurry up, and eat.  He would tell me to pour the miso soup on my rice if I wanted to create “Shii Shii gohan” – I have no idea of where the name came from – perhaps some onomatopoeiac origin of sorts of the sound of someone slurping the soupy rice?  I recall my grandfather laughing, and with a wink, tell me not to tell my father I was being fed neko manma, or literally, “cat food.”  I believe there’s a historical element as to when pet cats (and dogs) were simply fed leftovers over rice. 

I digress.

Bento in November is summarized by gallery – I just happened to discover this function!

I had a couple of interesting bentos – some included leftover youngchow fried rice, which included peas, bacon, egg and onion, and not heavily seasoned with soy sauce.  Baked chicken wings also made an appearance, as well as chicken drumsticks.  My daughter insists her favorite are chicken drumettes and wings, so I do keep this on the menu quite often.  Beets remain on her favorite bento items as well, so I had roasted regular magenta beets, as well as chioggia beets, and cut the slices out in various shapes ranging from star, hearts, and penguins.  Broccoli, cauliflower and carrots remain favorites – I find them a colorful and healthy addition to  her boxes.  I also slip in grape tomatoes for color – she sometimes is not too crazy about them, but I feel they add a nutritious color-punch to her bento… One elaborate morning, I managed to cut her nori into patterns over her steamed multi-grain rice.  I painstakingly layered them, and she told me her teacher was quite impressed at lunch time!

Fridays I continue to allow pizza day – which also gives me an occasional break. 

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I offered to pack her schoolmate’s lunch box, after finding out her father had been hospitalized.  I simply wanted to help her mother, who I know had been going through a challenging time.  I packed in both girls’ lunch boxes, boiled egg in a star shape, roasted beet stars, carrot sticks, baked chicken drumsticks and wing with a soy-sauce/lemon seasoning, carrot sticks, and multi-grain onigiri wrapped in nori.  My daughter beamed that day, and said she was so happy to have the same lunch as her friend, S__.  I was simply happy I was able to help S___’s mother – and was thankful both girls enjoyed their bentos.

Day 2 of the new 2011 school year

8 Sep

My daughter had a wonderful day yesterday, and she told me she enjoyed her bento.  “Mama, I liked my bento very much.  Can you make another one for tomorrow?” she asked.  The little one piped up, “A__ too, me too, bento!”  Sometimes I pack a small bento for my little one on the weekends to snack on while I am at Japanese school with my older daughter, and she happily points to it and says, “Mine!  My bento!”

Today, I packed the following items:

Grilled chicken drumstick – pre-seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Blanched broccoli, with some katsuobushi and a few drops of soy sauce for flavor

Boiled quail eggs (conventional)

Roasted Chioggi beets in plane shapes

Onigiri with steamed multi-grain (white, brown, millet, quinoa, wheat berries and barley) with toasted white sesame seeds and a little salt mixed in before I formed the onigiri.  Center is okaka (katsuobushi seasoned with soy sauce).  I’ll have to find a different filling for next week.

Two slices cucumber

Small snack container with cherries for dessert

My daughter asked for udon noodles (thick, white, wheat noodles) in soup for lunch.  I still haven’t figured out the most efficient way to transport these without having a complex assembling process at lunch… The issue being that the noodles will absorb all the soup if they are left in a container for too long.

Over the weekend, I had made udon noodles in a shiitake mushroom stock garnished with blanched watercress, carrots, napa cabbage, poached egg and an informal tablespoon of mabo-dofu (this version had sautéed ground turkey, bunashimeji mushrooms, tofu, minced garlic, minced ginger, chopped scallions, simmered in stock and seasoned with miso) left over from an earlier dinner.  I topped it off with chopped scallions from the garden.

Dear reader, any good ideas to transport this?

Tofu, soba, shiso, with a Lenzu-mame closer

22 Aug

Some days I’m completely uninspired to cook at home.  I scurry through the house around dinner time, assembling healthy, but quick meals for the girls.  Summer-time dinners are easy and fun, and often do not require much preparation.

With the garden producing green beans, long beans and shiso in abundance, I am able to offer lightning fast meals.

In the past week, the girls had a variety of classic summer Japanese dishes such as:

Zarusoba, or chilled, drained, soba noodles, served with a dipping dashi based sauce, topped with chopped scallions, julienned shiso and grated ginger.

Hiyayakko, or chilled and drained medium-firm tofu cubes, served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, garnished with chopped scallions, thinly sliced shiso, grated ginger, katsuobushi and sesame seeds

Blanched okra, cut into 1/4 inch slices, with ponzu sauce

Blanched string beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi

Tamago dofu, or literally “egg tofu” – conventional, and store-bought – but one of my all-time favorites as a child.  It’s essentially, savory egg custard, served cold, with a dashi “soup”

Fresh tomatoes with a bit of salt (or none)

Yet, after a few continuous days of light, summer eating, I started craving a hearty, belly-warming soup.

Lentil soup fit the bill.

Into a large pot, I brought 6 cups of water, and 2 cups of chicken stock to boil. 

Into the pot (in order) went the following:

2 cups dry lentils – picked over, rinsed, and drained

2 onions, quartered, and cut into bite sized pieces

3 medium potatoes, peeled, rinsed, and cut into bite-sized pieces

3 carrots, peeled, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tbs of powdered shiitake

Two large handfuls of string beans – these are from the garden, so I’m not sure how much they weigh.  I cleaned them, and cut them into inch-long pieces, de-stringing some of the larger beans.  I have a mixture of home-grown long-beans and regular string beans in this soup.

I simmered this over medium heat until the lentils plumped up, and became tender (about 30 – 40 minutes).  I seasoned with a little sea salt, pepper, as well as a tablespoon of soy sauce.  Sometimes I season with a drizzle of olive oil and salt, or even, a good amount of sriracha sauce. 


I often serve poached eggs with whole wheat toast for the girls’ breakfast, and the girls love their “dip-dip” eggs.  For this week, I served the poached egg over the lentil soup, and allowed them to sprinkle just a little sea-salt (on their own) over the egg.  They then carefully broke open the yolks, and mixed it into their soup, and enjoyed their “dip-dip” egg soup.

“Jiji, Baba, we had LENZU-MAME (lens-shaped, Japanese name for lentils) soup today!”  they announced on skype. 

“Mame-mame!” the little one happily added.



Spring time is here – Tuesday lunch

3 May

I was happy to see Makinajian Farm was starting to have their own home-grown produce for sale.  I like supporting them, and knowing I am buying directly from the very person who grows and picks the vegetables.

This week, they had asparagus in bunches.  I debated – fat or thin?  I decided to go with the pencil-thin ones which I blanch quickly in salted water, and nibble on.

Today’s lunch was:

Turkey mabo-dofu over steamed multi-grain rice

Blanched sugar snap peas and asparagus (fresh from the farm!)

Boiled quail eggs (conventional) – I purchase these, fresh, at the Japanese store – but I often find that I’ve cracked some by mistake.  The packages are in little plastic cartons that are not as sturdy as those for chicken eggs.  In order to prevent my clumsiness from crushing these little treasures, I carry them separately from all the other groceries, and they ride home in the passenger seat of my car, solo.  When I pick up girls, the older daughter carefully holds the corners of the container – I explained, “Mama sometimes is too clumsy and cracks them by mistake.”

Roasted beets in cat shapes

Hopefully another home run lunch!

May already, Monday lunch

3 May

My mother-in-law had a secondary Easter dinner event at her house Sunday afternoon, and all the little cousins were able to get together for some family time.  Out of concern for the newest family member’s health, I had declined to participate in a get together last week out of fear I might still be a little under the weather, and didn’t want to risk getting my 3 week-old nephew sick.

The girls enjoyed gathering Easter Eggs, as well as some baked ham, mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables.  I tucked into a gorgeous salad my mother-in-law always has for me when I come over – and wondered aloud where my weekend ran off to.

I came home, and promptly commenced the weekend routine of cooking for the week – roasted beets, roasted chicken drumsticks, turkey meatballs, mabo dofu, and a lentil soup (after commandeering the ham bone from my mother-in-law’s house).

The following went into this week’s version of mabo-dofu:

1/2 pound ground turkey

1/2 onion, grated (or put into food processor)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 inch piece ginger, finely minced

4 scallions, chopped into 1/8 inch pieces

1 tbs canola oil

1 1/2 tbs miso paste

2 cups water, chicken stock or vegetable broth

1 tbs shiitake powder

1 packet bunashimeji (mushrooms)

1 package Medium Firm House Organic Tofu, cubed

I heated the canola oil in my cast iron skillet over medium heat, and added the minced garlic, ginger and grated onion.  I stirred everything well as it sautéed to make sure nothing burned.

Once the garlic/ginger/onion was fragrant, I added the ground turkey, and continued to saute the mixture, breaking up the turkey.

I then added the shiitake powder to the turkey mixture, folding everything together in the pan.

When all was mixed well, I added the liquid – I used chicken stock today – and allowed it to come to a boil.

I reduced the heat to a bare simmer, and added the miso paste, taking care to dissolve it into the turkey mixture. 

Once everything heated through, I added the tofu, cut into 1/4 inch cubes, and carefully folded everything together, taking care not to mash the tofu pieces.  I also added the bunashimeji mushrooms, which I had cut off the very bottoms and pulled them apart.

I let everything slowly simmer (careful not to boil) for 30 minutes, folding everything together occasionally, and added the scallions before turning the heat off.

I added a quick drizzle of sesame oil for fragrance and depth.  For my own portion, I add toubanjan paste (spicy miso paste) or sriracha sauce to spice it up.

For Monday lunch, I included:

Turkey mabo-dofu over steamed multi-grain rice

Blanched sugar snap peas

Roasted beets in heart shapes


As I picked up my girls from daycare, my older one looked at me and said, “Mama, I ran out of time and couldn’t eat any of my bento.”  I looked at her, and said sadly, “I guess you’ll have to have your bento for dinner then.” “OK mama, I will,” she responded.

Once we got home, she grabbed her lunchbox, and brought it to me.  “Mama, you need to open it for me so I can finish it,” she asked.  I opened her bento box, and it was completely finished – as my daughter beamed, “Mama, I finished ALLLL my bento – surprise!!”

“ALLLLL bento!” the little one piped up right after her. 

I hugged both girls, tightly.

On September 11, 2001, our lives were irreversibly changed by the horrific events that unfolded.  I vividly remember I was on my way to a client meeting in Westchester County, NY, and I heard the breaking news alert on the radio.  When I heard “A small plane has crashed into the north tower,” I frantically dialed my dear friend and colleague, Wayne Russo’s extension.  I got an “all circuits busy” message.  I then tried to call my good friend Andrea who worked at Aon Corporation in the second tower.  I couldn’t get through to her, live, and I kept getting her voicemail.  I was later relieved to know, a policeman had chased her away from the towers, and she managed to walk home to Brooklyn.

I lost 295 colleagues that day, and several more acquaintances.  I lost two dear friends, Eric Evans and Wayne Russo who I think of,  and mourn daily.

Late Sunday night, May 1, 2011, my husband received a voicemail from his brother.  I had heard my cellphone go off, but I was in my bedroom getting ready for bed, and wasn’t able to pick it up in time.  I then saw a text from my brother.  My husband went into the living room, and I heard him call out, “Did you hear about this?”

I turned the news on, and next thing we hear, the mastermind of that horrific day, was finally removed from existence.

A flood of emotions – relief for my friends and their families – but also grief, as I revisited those heartbreaking days after September 11, as my dear girlfriend looked for her beloved Eric – as Wayne’s family tried to make sense of his and others’ senseless deaths – it ALL came back in waves.

Sunday helped end a chapter in the continuing saga that commenced on September 11, 2001.  I know we are all here, for a reason – and that we carry on with a sense of duty and of honor – and to live our lives fully and meaningfully, respecting the memories of those who have gone before us.

Just a few thoughts as I think of those lives so callously and heartlessly extinguished by the deranged, inhumane, and meaningless actions of a few.

Semper Unitas.

A cheery Thursday bento on a snowy Spring morning

24 Mar

I managed to get home from my meetings in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  The Belt Parkway traffic was bearable – or I probably resigned myself I had no other choice.  At least it looks as though the D.O.T. is expanding the parkway – albeit, at the expense of the emergency lanes.  At least I wasn’t in labor, like my hospital roommate was, as we recounted our respective babies’ deliveries.

Being in labor on the Belt Parkway in rush hour traffic, with no access to the emergency lane still gives me severe sympathy pains, even just imagining her anxiety, stress, and pain…

I digress.

I awoke to everything blanketed in a fluffy coat of white.  Fortunately, I saw blacktop on the driveway – but the cars wore fuzzy snow jackets.  I brushed the snow off very quickly, warmed up the cars for a bit, and put down salt on the walkway.  I then slipped back inside for the morning routine, including packing my daughter’s bento.

Thursday’s lunch included:

Steamed multi-grain topped with mabo tofu.  Today’s mabo dofu included many vegetables.  I browned ground turkey, into which I added: finely pureed onion (food processor), 4 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 inch piece of ginger, bunch finely chopped beet greens (about 1 cup) and 4 cups vegetable broth.  I allowed everything to simmer (on medium low heat) for 30 minutes, constantly stirring until the onions “melted” into a sauce.  I then added 4 chopped scallions and stirred together.  I added a package of firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, and mixed, gently, into the sauce.  Salt, white pepper and soy sauce seasoned this mixture, and I drizzled a tsp of sesame oil on the top.  Normally, I add miso as a kakushi aji (literally “hidden” taste) or an extra flavor dimension – but I’ve actually run out of miso, so I had to improvise.  A small bit of tobanjan to season, and to add color.  I tend to improvise based on what I have in the fridge, so the recipes vary from time to time depending on the ingredients – this version will vary from earlier versions!

Roasted beets cut into hearts and penguin shapes

Blanched broccoli and sugar snap peas

Sliced yellow pepper slices