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Posted on Oct 21, 2007 | 20 comments

Salmon cake lunches & mini mandoline

Salmon cake lunches & mini mandoline

Bento lunches are the perfect small stage for miniature foods: baby vegetables, mini burgers, cocktail sandwiches, mini frittatas, tiny shepherd’s pies, you name it. Not only are they cute, kids love them and can be tempted to try new things they might not otherwise find interesting. My son ‘Bug’ and I made speedy cornbread mini muffins with an instant mix from Costco (Marie Callender’s brand) that I tried for the first time — just add water and bake for 10 minutes. Granted, the muffins weren’t the same quality as savory Southern-style cornbread we usually make with stone-ground cornmeal and a cast iron skillet for dinners, but overall I found the quality quite acceptable for a super-instant product (very slightly sweet, but not overwhelmingly so). This now puts freshly baked cornbread in my reach in the mornings when I’m packing lunch — a good product for when my new toaster oven arrives! I made a batch of 15 little muffins and froze the remainder for future lunches.

Salmon cake lunch for preschooler v1

Contents of preschooler lunch: Pan-fried salmon cake, cornbread mini muffins, super-fast cucumber and cream cheese salad (recipe with tutorial here), grape tomatoes, mango and raspberries. Instead of making my usual slow-cooked salmon, I diced a side of salmon and made it into salmon cakes using a recipe (for paid CI subscribers) from Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe cookbook.

Salmon cake bento lunch for preschooler v2

Morning prep time: 7 minutes, using leftover salmon cakes and cornbread muffins.

Packing: I cut a single salmon cake into quarters and stacked them two high so Bug could eat them easily with his fingers. The speedy cucumber and cream cheese salad went into a reusable plastic food cup shaped like a dog’s head, and was covered with a “surprise animal cap” to keep it from spilling out during transport. Grape tomatoes act as a gap filler to stabilize the lunch and keep the plastic food cup from sliding around during transport. Fruit went into a reusable silicone baking cup to keep the moist mango away from the dry cornbread muffins. I’m liking the regular round silicone baking cups for their ability to squish into different shapes to match the available space (and be reused, of course). A disposable plastic food divider (“baran”) from Daiso separates the salmon cakes from the corn muffins; it’s disposable but I tend to wash and reuse them (yes, I’m cheap). Lunch packed in a 360ml Disney Cars-themed bento box with both sub-containers removed.

Verdict: Mixed. Bug ate everything except the cucumber salad and mangoes at preschool. The mango was a little stringier than the champagne mangoes I usually buy, and something about the texture didn’t work for Bug. He inhaled the salmon cakes and mini muffins, though, and requested them again for the next day’s lunch (which I won’t show, too repetitive).

Mini mandoline

Gear: I found this funny little Korean mini mandoline slicer and grater at Kamei in San Francisco for about US$2, and used it to slice cucumber for the cucumber salad shown above. Folded, it’s the size of the palm of my hand, and it looks like it’s meant to be used for beauty: to slice cucumbers to put on your eyelids. So funny, I couldn’t resist, even though I’ve already got a larger slicing multi-tool that does the same thing.

Salmon cake bento lunch
Contents of my lunch: Salmon cakes with lime chipotle cream sauce for dipping (recipe here), mini cornbread muffins, broccoli and sweet potatoes in mirin/soy simmering sauce, raspberries and mango.

Morning prep time: 4 minutes, using leftover salmon cakes, cornbread muffins, broccoli and sweet potatoes. I filled the sauce container when cleaning up from dinner a couple nights prior, so in the morning all I had to do was cut the mango and pack up the leftovers.

Packing: I left out half of a salmon cake to make room for the little Clickety Click sauce container. Packed in two 350ml tiers of a Lock & Lock lunch set with built-in dividers that kept the sauce on the vegetables totally away from the muffins and fruit.

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  1. The salmon cakes look delicious! Also I think that the reusable silicone baking cups are a great idea for packing fruit. Whenever I prepare bento-lunches I wrap too many things in cling-film which is a bit of a waste. Will try to get some of those :)

  2. Which kind of toaster oven did you decide on?
    I’m still trying to decide whether to replace my dying microwave with a new microwave or a toaster oven (due to space confinements both are not a real option, my kitchen is average but due to the foodie aspect I need the counter tops for, well, cooking and preparing things).

  3. Can you tell us about the little divider that has the cute animals and the word “happy” on it? Where do you get it and is it paper or something else?

  4. I just wanted to tell you that I love your blog. It has inspired me to start bento-ing. I just ordered my first bento box and I’m looking forward to making cute meals for myself and my boyfriend. You put so much care into your blog and I love all your cross-referencing. Thanks for providing me with hours of entertainment and useful information!

  5. Mmm the salmon cakes look divine! The cucumber and cream cheese salad looks good too, except I usually have to wait 6 or 7 hours to each my lunch and I’m sure that’s not safe for that kind of food. Inspiring bentos, as always!

  6. @1 from Yakumo: There are cases where cling film (plastic wrap) is convenient even in a bento lunch, but the silicone baking cups are pretty versatile at containing food (that, and “jello shot” type cups with lids). Plus you can feel all kinds of green for not throwing away wrapping! ;-)

  7. @5 from Julia: Thank you so much, Julia! I appreciate it the kind words — the cross referencing does take time (allows me to write in shorthand, but it’s still time-consuming).

  8. @6 from Victoria: Ooh yes, 6-7 hours without some really good ice packs and an insulated lunch bag would definitely rule out the cream cheese and cucumber salad!!! Something similar without the dairy might work, though (using ingredients with naturally antibacterial properties).

  9. @2 from Jessica: I decided on the Krups convection toaster oven in my Amazon store, but in white (not black). It took me a while to decide to bite the bullet on the higher price tag (gulp), but I feel good about the decision after my research. (I’ll need to put away my toaster to accommodate the toaster oven due to counter space demands.) Hasn’t come yet, but soon. When we lived in Japan, the last apartment we were in had a built-in convection oven that was also a microwave!!! When I worked at a consumer electronics company in Japan, I saw info on microwave ovens that also had toaster oven-type capabilities (incl. convection) — I wonder if the big Japanese brands export those tricked-out models…

  10. I made my own reusable version of Baran by cutting up a thin plastic tablemat which I bought in a sale. They fit DS lunchbox exactly, and were a lot cheaper than buying off e bay. For anybody in the UK, LIDL had some silicon muffin cases on sale for £2.99 for 6.

  11. @11 from Sarah: Making your own reusable baran (food dividers) from plastic tablemats is a brilliant idea!!! Thanks for sharing, I appreciate it.

  12. I love your bolg! I found it on Yahoo and decided to check it out as my kindergarten aged son is already complaining that he gets nothing but sandwiches in his lunch! I ordered a snoopy bento for him on e-bay but got to wondering how you can be sure that the bento is lead free? With all of the recalls on plastic toys lately you can’t be too careful.

  13. @13 from Kristie: The absolute best way would be to buy one of those surface lead test kits from your local hardware store and just test the box once it arrives. The only thing to be aware of with many of those kits is that they detect the presence of ANY lead at all, not just dangerous levels.

  14. Loved the mini-muffins!!

    I just got from eBay my new bento equipment, and i LOVE IT! I also got Wilton silicone cups (also from eBay) on a cute heart shape in red and pink, they are great to keep the fruit moist away from the rest of the dishes.
    And the little mandoline is so cute and also practical! Minimum space, I wish I could find something similar here, but I will take note in case I can find a similar one in my next trip to Japan.

    I have one question, Biggie: when you mention that you use mirin/soy sauce for the steamed veggies, is it a vinagrette you prepare or you just dip them in the sauce? I curious

  15. I wanna eat this lunch box!!!

  16. @15 from Elena: The mirin/soy sauce that I used for the steamed veggies was a simmer sauce that I used for sweet potatoes — equal parts. I tossed them in the sauce to flavor, then drained and packed in the lunch. Hope this helps!

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  18. @20 from San Freund: I’m sorry, I don’t participate in link exchanges per se.

  19. Hi Biggie!! I found your blog a couple of weeks ago and I’m hooked. I really enjoy reading through the archives.
    I must THANK YOU for introducing me to Ichiban’s online store. Until recently ebay was my only and very expensive source for bento boxes. I’m just curious about one thing. Silly question but how do you put the lids on the boxes with the taller foods,the “surprise caps”, cute picks, etc? I have a few two tier boxes (330 ml & 250 ml). I literally have to smash my food down to get the lid on. Then I have to quickly bind the two tiers together with the elastic band and pray nothing falls out. haha! I don’t usually over pack either. What’s your secret? I’d love to be able to use more bento accessories.

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