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Posted on Nov 28, 2007 | 17 comments

Frozen mini pancake lunches

Frozen mini pancake lunches

One of my speed bento tips has been to make a little extra when you’re cooking another meal, and set it aside for lunches. Planned leftovers can be divided into individual portions and frozen, or just stashed in the refrigerator for quick use. So when I had time over the Thanksgiving holiday to make buttermilk pancakes, I made mini pancakes with the excess batter at the same time and froze them for a quick lunch option. My son was excited to get pancakes for lunch as a treat, and it was a fast and easy option for me: win, win.

Over the holiday, I made the iconic Thanksgiving dish of green bean casserole from scratch with this Alton Brown recipe, using fresh mushrooms and green beans, but minus the canned soup. When I first saw this on AB’s Good Eats TV show, I thought it was way too much effort for a single dish on a day when the cook would presumably be working on other dishes. Then I realized that it would be an ideal candidate to bring along to a potluck Thanksgiving, what we did this year. Everything turned out beautifully except for the onions, which other readers on the Food Network site had problems with as well. Either turn the heat down and watch them like a hawk, or buy a can of fried onions (you can also find these sold at Thai markets in addition to the mainstream Durkee’s at chain supermarkets). Overall, I’d say it was worth the effort; I especially liked the large slices of fresh mushroom and crisp green beans throughout.

Mini pancake lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler lunch: Buttermilk pancakes and maple syrup, deconstructed green bean casserole (mushrooms in the food cup, green beans on the side), scrambled egg ball with peas, and pomegranate seeds. I shaped the egg purses with plastic wrap, as in the how-to here. Using frozen mini pancakes was a variation on this lunch.

Morning prep time: 12 minutes, using frozen pancakes, leftover green bean casserole, and a sauce container pre-filled with syrup. The night before, I put a little stack of two frozen pancakes into the refrigerator to defrost naturally. This worked passably well, but on seeing that there was more room in the box in the morning, I microwaved an additional frozen pancake. The microwaved pancake came out softer than the naturally defrosted pancake, and is how I’ll reheat them going forward.

Packing: For some reason, my son doesn’t like green beans when they have sauce on them, so I simply picked them out of the casserole, rinsed them off, and dried them well before packing them alongside. Bug ate them with his fingers. I packed the mushrooms in a reusable plastic food cup that I thought was shaped like a cow, but my son pointed out that it also looked like a car when you looked at it ‘upside down’. It was like looking at a trompe d’oeuil drawing of a vase, and suddenly seeing it morph into two faces, depending upon how you look at it. Packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with one sub-divider removed.

Verdict: Good over time. Surprisingly, when I picked Bug up from preschool he had only eaten one pancake and all of the mushrooms, leaving everything else. In the car afterwards, though, he happily ate everything except the green peas and the pomegranate. When pressed, Bug said he ran out of time, but I’m thinking the pancakes and egg might have been frustrating for him to eat on his own as I hadn’t cut them up into bite-sized pieces. (Click to read the full entry with pancake freezing directions, adult bento, and review of a “Pon de Lion” box from Mister Donut…)

Freezing homemade pancakes

Freezing: To freeze the pancakes, thoroughly cool, then wrap individual servings in plastic wrap (I made stacks of two). Place the wrapped pancakes in a freezer bag or plastic freezer container, and freeze. If using a freezer bag, use a straw to suck the excess air out of the bag before sealing to reduce the chance of freezer burn. Eat within a month for best quality, although technically they can be kept indefinitely if stored below 0 degrees C (not F). My Shufu no Tomo book on freezing says that allowing frozen pancakes to thaw naturally causes them to lose fluffiness and collapse, so to unwrap the frozen pancake, rewrap in aluminum foil, and reheat in a toaster oven or oven. My pancakes didn’t collapse when I let them defrost in the refrigerator, but I preferred the light, fluffy texture when I microwaved them briefly on medium heat. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

* * * * *

Mini pancake lunchContents of my lunch: Pancakes with orange cranberry sauce, olives, green bean casserole, pickled herring and pomegranate arils. I really enjoyed the pancakes with cranberry sauce, it was reminiscent of Swedish pancakes with ligonberries…

Pon de Lion bento box from Mister Donut

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using all leftovers.

Packing: The cranberries went into a lidded disposable condiment cup, the kind that I used for jello cups. The green bean casserole went into a short, large silicone baking cup with fluted edges that I picked up from Daiso (2 for US$1.50). Packed in the 465ml two-tier Pon de Lion box from Mister Donut described below.

Pon de Lion bento box from Mister Donut

Container: My friend Mami gave me a limited edition bento box from the doughnut chain Mister Donut, given to customers in Japan accumulating enough points on cards given with a purchase from March to May 2007. The “Pon de Lion” character is a play on the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and one of the chain’s new products, a filled donut that looks like the outside ring of the lion’s head. The box itself is 465ml total, with a 190ml top tier and a 265ml bottom tier. The upper tier has a flat, tight-sealing white lid, and the top tier can be turned over when empty and nested into the bottom tier, reducing the size of the empty container you carry home. The outer lid isn’t latched and the bottom tier lid is essentially the bottom of the top tier itself, so best to be sure that foods packed inside aren’t wet. The box is all held together with the yellow elastic bento band, and sits inside a non-insulated matching cloth bag. It’s a little on the small side for my lunches, but Bug is quite taken with it (good when I pack bulky foods or when he gets a little older).

FURTHER READING:

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  1. miss maggie–that was exactly my bento yesterday, but i segregate the cheese from the salami with one triscuit broken in half.

    biggie–make sure you try alton brown’s buttermilk pancake recipe. I make up six batches of dry mix at once and keep them in the frig. Fast on a weekend morning and the best pancakes ever.

  2. Wow! You can freeze and store pancakes! Now I won’t have to eat pancakes for a week when I want one in my lunches XD

    These are fantastic tips. Do you know of a book like you mention re freezing that is in the English language? You should write translations of them if there isn’t Biggie!

  3. I remember Pon de Lion back when I was in Japan! I forget what they were giving away then, though… (maybe a handbag?) I always felt bad getting donuts, though, so I didn’t get enough points for it. :D I love Mr. Donut…

    Also, great-looking lunches as usual. I’m sure they were amazing. The pancakes didn’t get soggy?

  4. another adorable lunch!! is that food cup (the one with the mushrooms) shaped like a cow head, or am I just delirious? :0)

  5. @1 from miss_maggie: Ooh, good question! I didn’t experience much of an issue with the pickled herring flavor transferring to the other dishes, but there are a few reasons for that. 1) I used paper towels to thoroughly dry the herring before packing, 2) I put everything in the herring layer in its own separate food cup (silicone or paper), and 3) the lunch only sat packed for a couple of hours, not very long. Had any of these elements been different I could see there definitely being a taste problem! But I do love my pickled herring… :-) The safest way would have been to use another lidded disposable condiment cup for the herring, but the good-sized ones I have are too tall for the smaller layer.

  6. @2 from aurelia: I remember that AB show with the pancake mix! I should definitely make a batch of that up (I’ve got buttermilk powder in the house). For these pancakes, though, I had actual buttermilk around that I wanted to use up (I seem to be the only buttermilk drinker in the family). So it was pancakes and waffles for us, a bit of a treat.

  7. @4 from kopiikat: You know, I never got enough Mister Donut points to get anything either. I came close the one time my grandmother came to visit me in Tokyo. As background, she’s one of these adorable, kind ladies who brings out the best in people — people in shops fell over themselves trying to give her little gifts!!! Anyway, I took her to see the Akihabara electronics district one day, and we took a break at the Mister Donut on the main strip. She asked me what the little point cards were that we were given, so I explained it to her, and showed her what they were giving away that month. She got excited and asked me how many points we had (we were way short). Then the darndest thing happened — everyone at the tables around us in Mister Donut walked over and gave my grandma their point cards!!! We were still one point short, but I was amazed at the generosity of the people (it’s a common effect of my Grandma Ruth).

  8. @4 from kopiikat: I forgot to answer your question about the pancakes getting soggy! Because I wasn’t with Bug when he ate, I can’t answer for him definitively, but I think they should have been fine as I dried the green beans and scrambled egg ball with paper towels before packing his bento. There was no leakage in the box when I picked him up. Mine were fine as there was a lid on the cranberry container and I dried the olives.

  9. @11 from VeggieGirl: When I bought this set of food cups, I thought it was shaped like a cow too, but Bug pointed out that it also looked like a car when you looked at it ‘upside down’. It was like looking at a trompe d’oeuil drawing of a vase, and suddenly seeing it morph into two faces, depending upon how you look at it.

  10. Biggie–the ab pancake recipe is made with real buttermilk–it doesn’t turn out as well with the saco powdered buttermilk.

    Also, I pay no attention whatsoever to the expiration date on buttermilk. I’ve never had it go bad, but it does separate if it has been sitting around for a few weeks. Just shake it a bit before you open the carton again.

    I’ve used buttermilk that was six weeks past expiration date with no ill effects.

    I use it for pancakes, cornbread, muffins, quickbread, yeastbread and cake and it adds a nice kick to potato soups.

  11. @12 from aurelia: Hmm, my biggest bottleneck on making from-scratch pancakes is not having fresh buttermilk in the house, so… I’ll still try AB’s recipe, but not a huge batch at first. I’m currently using the Cook’s Illustrated recipe which has you melt butter, and separate egg white/yolk and whip the whites. Takes a little effort, but it’s yummy and light.

    Good tip on the amazing staying power of buttermilk. I haven’t had buttermilk go bad on me before, but that’s because I drink it straight if I don’t bake with it.

  12. Pancakes!!! Why didn’t I think of this. Add one more to our list of options!

  13. @14 from East Bay Susan: Glad to help!

  14. I love making pancake sandwiches for lunch. Two similarly sized pancakes (very hard sometimes!) a think layer of nutella on both and a little raspberry jam in the middle! I’m in heaven! They are especially good for me when I have to leave REALLY early for work and need a little breakfast snack mid-morning.

  15. Just an FYI on the onion front (if you don’t like the Durkee onions): I noticed this year that Trader Joe’s were selling pre-made fried onions around the holidays, and they were quite thin, crispy, and yummy! That might work out for the green bean casserole in the future. =)

  16. @16 from Micki: Ooh, pancake sandwiches sound ideal — great finger food with a twist! Thanks for the cool comment.

  17. @17 from Samantha: Great tip on the Trader Joe’s fried onions — I’m really not up for making these by hand again if I’m going to be making dishes in addition to the green bean casserole.

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