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Posted on Jul 8, 2008 | 20 comments

Curried mushroom and skate wing lunches

Curried mushroom and skate wing lunches

I usually wind up packing my son’s lunch in the morning, but if I really had my act together I’d pack more lunches the night before when we’re cleaning up from dinner. Leftovers feature prominently in our lunches anyway, so evening packing would just be getting a leg up on the next day. But what I CAN manage is partial packing: where I throw one or two elements into a box for the next day, then finish up the rest in the morning.

Some foods do better without an overnight stay in the refrigerator, though. The texture of rice particularly suffers in the refrigerator, and needs reheating before packing to make it soft and warm again. If you have a cool rice cooker with a timer, though, you can set it to have freshly cooked rice ready in the morning.

Chicken & curried mushroom bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch & snack: Roast chicken drumstick, baby carrots, cherry, kiwifruit, blueberries, and mild curried mushrooms (khombi tarkari).

Cooking: For dinner this weekend I tried out a mushroom recipe from Moghul Microwave, Julie Sahni’s cookbook of convenient Indian food. I didn’t need to tone down the spiciness for my three-year-old as I used a mild Madras curry powder for flavor. It didn’t thicken sufficiently with the amount of cornstarch called for, though, so I wound up doubling that. I don’t think I actually saved much time by making this in the microwave oven as opposed to the stovetop, but it was a warm afternoon when I was cooking and it was nice not to heat up the kitchen in the summer.

Decorative aluminum foilMorning prep time: 6 minutes, using leftover rotisserie chicken and curried mushrooms. The night before, I put the drumstick in the box when cleaning up from dinner. In the morning I peeled and cut the kiwi, and plated the mushrooms. To speed up my morning even more I could have assembled the entire lunch the night before and kept it in the fridge overnight — no rice to get hard and unappetizing in the cold. The kiwi is a little nicer when sliced fresh, though. (Read on for packing details and a Singaporean skate wing lunch.)

Packing: As my son is a bit of a neatnik, I made a clean handle on the drumstick using decorative Ciao-brand aluminum foil from Daiso (introduced in my earlier post on drumstick handles). A bento basic is to drain foods of excess moisture for best packed lunch food safety, so I spooned the mushrooms and onions into a mini strainer and bowl before packing them in a plastic souffle cup. I like the lidded condiment cups for homemade jello jigglers and moist foods that might otherwise jump around in the box during transit. Although they’re meant to be disposable, there’s no reason not to wash and reuse them (hey, I do!). But if your child accidentally tosses them at school, no problem — they’re cheap and widely available at restaurant supply stores like Smart & Final or on Amazon.

Reusable plastic food cupsReusable ice blanket for packed lunchesThe fruit went into a reusable hard plastic food cup from Daiso, and the lunch is packed in a 360ml Disney Cars bento box with both subcontainers removed to fit the long drumstick. I threw the lunch, an oshibori damp hand towel, a utensil set, and a drink into a Shinkansen-themed insulated lunch bag along with a few little ice packs cut from a flexible ice blanket to keep things cool until lunchtime.

Verdict: Thumbs up from Bug on his first day back at preschool after a two-week summer hiatus. He ate it all at preschool, no leftovers. A 360ml box is still okay for my preschooler’s appetite at the moment (see the bento box size guidelines), but I do wonder how long it’ll be before I need to bump up the size of his lunches a bit. I guess I’ll wait and see if he starts complaining of hunger; for now I know he’s happy to be able to finish all of his lunch.

* * * * *

Belacan skate wing bento lunch for preschooler

Contents of preschooler bento lunch & snack: Grilled skate wing with chili sambal sauce (recipe from Lily’s Wai Sek Hong blog), sauteed pea shoots with garlic and Thai oyster sauce, plum tomatoes, rice, shrimp-flavored furikake rice sprinkles, and cherries. I’ve been searching for ways of preparing stingray since making it last year; I finally came close to my memory of eating it in Singapore at the Airport Hawker Center in the 1990’s! I cut the amount of chilies for Bug’s palate, and substituted parchment paper fastened with regular office staples for the banana leaf wrapper — it really hit the spot. The secret ingredient in the sambal is definitely the strong-smelling belachan dried shrimp paste (a.k.a. belacan or blachan). It gives the sauce an earthy nuance like nothing else I’ve run across.

Furikake dispenser

Storage tip: Double-, triple-, even quadruple-wrap your block of belachan securely in layers of plastic or glass unless you want your entire pantry to smell like funky shrimp paste! Like they say about durian, it tastes like heaven, smells like hell.

Morning prep time: 5 minutes, using all leftovers. I packed the two small containers the night before when cleaning up from dinner. So in the morning I just warmed the rice in the microwave and filled the little spice dispenser with furikake rice sprinkles.

Packing: The stingray went into a reusable silicone baking cup with most of the sambal scraped off, and the furikake went into cheap little spice shakers from Daiso. The little shakers are also good for things like grated cheese, chili pepper, and other spices, but there’s no need to actually spend money on these if you have a spare mini spice bottle (the squat ones from McCormick are a great size). Dress it up with stickers or markers if you like and you’re set!

I used a 560ml thermal bento set from Ichiban Kan to keep the rice warm and the side dishes cool. I slipped a couple of tiny ice packs cut from a flexible ice blanket into the insulated bag, and asked Bug to hold off on the cherries until after he’d eaten everything else. Initially I’d wanted to keep the cherries in my own bag to keep as an after-school snack for Bug, but he asked to have everything together in the same bag.

Insulated bento setVerdict: A bit too large for Bug; he left some of the rice but ate the rest of the lunch at preschool. He saved the cherries for the playground — hooray!

FURTHER READING:

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  1. Yay to him saving the cherries for the playground :D That looks so delicious! Funny, for the furikake that has dried shrimp or salmon in it, I like to mix it first and eat it much later so the dried items will soften up a bit. I didn’t like the salmon being crunchy… but that’s me. I like it when the rice balls are crispy, though!

  2. Those mushrooms look soooo good!

  3. Or if you don’t have a cool ricecooker with a timer you can buy a timer for the socket and plug your ricecooker into that. I use those all the time with my ricecooker and with my crockpot (and with my nightlight, but yeah).

  4. I love reading your posts even though I don’t have a pre-schooler – lol. However, the last 2 days I have packed hubby’s lunch in a bento style using the plain snap and stack lunch container :) ( http://www.organize.com/lunchbox.html?Prod_ID=lunchbox&qid= only $2.99)
    I pack the night before as I’m not up when he leaves for work now that I work from home. I packed salad in the non-divided level with ham and turkey in the oval aluminum food cups from ichbankan.com and slices of red and green pepper above and below a mini tupperware container of dressing :) then in the divided level I packed doritos on one side and on the other side two boiled eggs – one shaped like a star and the other shaped as a fish (today was the car as he does consulting to car dealerships – lol) and blueberries – each in an aluminum food cup. He seems pleased that I have packed his lunch for him as he had been packing it himself since he stopped making the tom yum soup bowls at the office :) He said they have been just the right size – yay! Today’s was similar only baby carrots instead of blueberries (his preference) and imitation crab instead of ham and turkey and I added grated mozzarella cheese… Oh and used skittles to fill in between the food cups- hehe :) Hope you don’t mind my long comment but I had fun making them and finding out about the comments on the shaped eggs – hehe :) Now I just need to keep an eye out for a Men’s Bento Box I think he’d use!

    Nicole – we use a timer for our coffee pot – it’s an office type (flavia) that otherwise would heat all night… Great idea to use it for the rice maker (as long as you’re using one that turns on with the plug in :) )

  5. Oh, I wanted to add that I used an egg slicer to slice the boiled egg even though they were shaped and just left them like they were whole for him to separate and add to his salad :)

  6. @1 from Yvo: My regular shrimp and salmon furikake are like that too, but the Anpanman furikake I filled from here is somehow more “melt-on-your tongue” with fewer crunchy bits. Gee, almost like they know the preschooler set wants to sprinkle furikake right on their rice and dig in! :-)

  7. @2 from LinLin: They were good, but I can’t help thinking that something was missing. Next time I’ll experiment some more and tweak it, but I wanted to give it a regular run-through according to the microwave recipe once.

  8. @3 from nicole: What an ingenious idea! I’ve got one of those power socket timers for the lights, but hadn’t thought of using it to jury-rig a rice cooker timer. Brilliant; thanks for the tip.

  9. @4 from Tammy: Welcome to the bento fold, Tammy! So glad to hear that you’re enjoying yourself and that your husband likes his lunches. :-)

  10. I have really been getting into more bentos as of late. Right now, about 2-3 lunches each week for hubby are “bento”. I have decided to go with the lock and lock stuff. Mianly because one veyr late night I was watching HSN and they had a HUGE lock an dlock promo which I had to get, so now I have a TON of lock and lock stuff. It’s been fun putting htings in all the little containers and then putting them in hubby’s lunch box…now if he would only take a picture when he is at work. He tells me he opens all the little containers and arranges them on his desk…and of course all the men come by and drool and all the women come by with expressions of “My, your lucky to have a wife who doesn’t do anything”…humph, if only they knew! I’ve been working on it this summer and sometimes dinner is a test run of things for bento, or I’ll fix something for lunch and leave it on the table to see how it fares…thus far, I’m really good now with rice balls and cakes and I’ve gotten into the hotdog faze…I’ve done so many hotdog things that my 18mth old won’t eat them anymore..no matter how cute it is! My next project is eggs.

    Thanks so much and keep it up!

  11. looks sooo yummy!

    do you have any subsitution for mayo? I eat alot of canned tuna. And now that I have MBC(marching band camp; yay for eight hours at school for two weeks in the hot heat!) I pack a lunch, and would love to bring a tuna sandwich. But I get to afraid that the mayo might spoil in my bento or in my bag. I’ve tried ice packs to keep things cool, but with it being outside, they melt pretty quickly.

    Thanks.

    p.s.
    I tried curry over the weekend and loved it!

  12. If I had a boxed lunch like that I would never spend another dime at the cafe. I am eager to give these recipes a go and my husband is thrilled at the idea of not having to eat another ham sandwich.
    Cheers.

  13. Your mention of Daiso reminded me that I was going to tell you about my (re)visit to The Japan Centre here in London last week… I was there before the full container of bento stuff arrived from Japan last time, but to be honest, there wasn’t that much more there this time. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve got a great fresh and shelf-stable food section, lots of dishes, a rack of beauty items and homewares, but only a small table of bento stuff. A decent selection of boxes (though nowhere near the variety on their site or at, say, Jlist/JBox), but hardly any bento accessories beyond the little cupcake wrapper things. No fish soy sauce bottles, even, though I did get a cute little pair of mayo cubes with tiny trowels (I couldn’t resist the kawaii characters painted on).

    My feelings are that it’s a great shop for food, but you’re probably better off doing your bento shopping on their site instead (which seems to stock way more than in store).

  14. @10 from Kim: Wow, you’ve made so many hot dog things your child won’t eat them anymore?! I wonder how many that took?!?! I love the Lock & Lock boxes — they’re cheap, durable, pretty widely available and have fantastically watertight lids. Not cutesy, which makes them a good fit for a lot of men.

    Let the looks roll off your back — do what you enjoy and don’t let other people’s judgments get you down. :-)

  15. @11 from Virginia Michelle: Try reducing the mayo way down and adding other flavorful condiments like balsamic vinegar, interesting mustards, etc. instead. You might want to re-examine what kind of insulated lunchbox you’re bringing if it’s going to be sitting in the direct sunlight until you eat, though. A serious ice cooler and thicker ice packs might be in order if you want to bring more perishable food.

  16. @12 from growitgreen: Don’t be limited by recipes on the site — feel free to pack the foods you love and eat regularly, just applying the packing tips to ensure a delicious lunch that’ll survive transport. Welcome!

  17. @13 from melissa: This is excellent feedback on Japan Centre, melissa — thank you! This would also be excellent info for you to add to the Japan Centre entry on the Bento Store Locator if you have a chance as people do look at that before they go shopping for bento gear near them: http://lunchinabox.net/bento-store-locator/

  18. Perhaps you already have this recipe but I stumbled across it after reading about your skate wing experience…I wonder if this sauce is similar to what you are describing:
    http://www.dvo.com/recipe_pages/grilln/Nonya_Sweet-And-Sour_Sauce.html

    It certainly sounds very yummy and I would love to try skate wing. Thanks for such a lovely blog…I look forward to my morning breaks and checking in to see what new things I will learn from you and what yummy lunch Bug gets

  19. @3 from Nicole- Woah, that’s an awesome idea. How much do those power socket timers cost? Do you just buy them at an electronics store? Either way, I’m going to have to get one.

  20. Virginia – Try lemon juice, with or without a little olive oil, in your tuna. My dad taught me to grate onions instead of chopping them – it makes almost a juice, which you can mix in as well and is not nearly as onion-y. I love my chicken salad made with grated onion, lemon juice and olive oil, and I’m sure it would be great on tuna too.

    Tuna is also good with mustard (dijon or regular) or with salad dressing (I like Italian).