Monday, August 20, 2012


Time for the next incarnation! We have been doing gluten-free for quite a while. That's what got us into bento in the first place. It's a fun way to make a lunch so beautiful that you won't feel like anything is missing, because everything is perfect.

Lately, we have been reading more about the dangers of high-glycemic foods, and have decided to greatly reduce our intake of sugars and grains. Both my husband and I have more clarity, and we have both lost a bit of weight. Recently I wanted to make bentos for a few people I was picking up from the airport. They had been traveling for more than 15 hours and needed some real food. I wanted it to be low-carb, easily digestible, and highly nutritious, yet look and taste like something "normal" for the one traveler who pretty much eats a Standard American Diet. Here is what I came up with:
Asian Cauliflower Fried "Rice," Chicken with Soy Sauce and Apple Molasses, Steamed Zucchini;
Dove chocolates and a tangerine.

The dish that ties it all together is the Cauliflower Fried Rice, adapted from Sarah Fragoso's Everyday Paleo. Nom Nom Paleo has a yummy version here. Every one of the travelers asked me, "Wow! What is this grain?" and were all surprised to find that it was not a grain at all. (The raw corn I added for color is indeed a grain, but it's minimal.) Basically, you grate or food-process cauliflower until it is as small as rice (or in this case, quinoa), then eat it raw or briefly cooked, with or without other seasonings. One medium cauliflower, grated into rice, makes enough for six people, so the choice to buy organic is more economical. Another vegetable that stands in well for grain is grated parsnip, raw or steamed, and, of course, baked spaghetti squash. You're not just eliminating grains, you are actually eating more wonderful vegetables.

When I first went gluten-free, I began making tabouli with quinoa instead of bulghur wheat. If you wanted to lower the carb count, you could do as many raw-food chefs do and substitute grated cauliflower to make a completely raw, low-carb, gluten-free dish that is very tasty. You can also reduce the carb load and increase the nutrition of mashed potatoes by mashing in part (or all) of steamed cauliflower. By taking advantage of Cauliflower's bland, adaptable nature, you can create bentos that are Paleo-friendly and totally yummy!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What's for Breakfast?

I am not a breakfast person. There, I said it. I have no interest in eating breakfast, nor in making it for others, at least not on a daily basis. My ideal breakfast is hot tea. My family, however,  has other thoughts on the matter. This isn't strictly speaking a bento-type post, but in the bigger picture, it is. Because despite our best efforts, sometimes we have to make lunch AND breakfast in the morning, and sometimes the people we love don't want cold cereal.

How pleased I was, then, when I learned about making oatmeal in the slow cooker. Yes, I can start it at night when food still seems interesting and appealing. Plug it in before bed, and in the morning there is hot oatmeal all cooked, and I only have to think about assembling lunches. How delightful! Steel-cut oats hold up the best, or you can cook other grains instead like grits or polenta or cream of rice.

You can add the raisins and sweeteners and milk and such the night before, but of course, me being the contrary breakfast type, I prefer mine later in the morning with salt and olive oil. Or maybe cheese, like grits? To each his own. So we cook it with just a bit of butter and salt, then everyone adorns their own in the morning.

If you have a programmable rice cooker, that is even better: Since it can be set to cook a shorter time, you use less power and you can cook more fragile grains, such as regular rolled oats. Just set it up before bed, then eat it up in the morning. Yum!

This post begs the question, why don't you let just everyone make their own breakfast? If there's one thing I like less than making breakfast, it is banging around in the morning with three other people in the kitchen. There, I said that, too. This has been very therapeutic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nice Fat Bean Sprouts!

Last year I acquired 25 pounds of organic mung beans. (My husband would ask, "Is that a statement of fact, or a cry for help?") My idea was to sprout them. However, it turns out that when you do it at home using the usual methods, they come out very shrimpy. The "tail" is barely longer than the bean. They're okay, but not the crispy, juicy sprouts I envisioned. A little internet research revealed that mung beans sprout best in dark conditions, under pressure. It took very little effort to construct a mung-bean sprouter from common household items. Please enjoy!

First, find an empty yogurt container and a rigid plastic lid that will fit all the way inside; the lid you see in the second photo came off a Really Raw Honey jar. Make sure your container is opaque, not clear. Now all you need is a way to poke drainage holes in the bottom of the yogurt container. I used a metal skewer heated over a flame, thus the rectangular holes. Do poke from the inside to the outside so that any protruding edges will be on the outside. That will improve drainage.

Soak a couple tablespoons of mung beans overnight. Put them into the container, put the rigid lid directly on top of them, and put a quart jar of water on top of that. The jar of water provides weight. Set the sprouter on a saucer or something to collect water that drains through. There, you're done!

Day 3--See how they're all nicely packed together?

Rinse the sprouts every day. I keep mine next to the sink so I remember to do it. Rinse with care so you don't break up the mass of beans. (On about day 5, you can start soaking more beans for your next batch.) Rinse your saucer too every day so nothing can grow in the water that will collect.

Day 7: Be careful not to start with too many beans, otherwise it will be hard to balance the jar of water on top!
Look at those nice, fat juicy sprouts! When they start to leaf out, knock the mass of beans into a bowl to rinse them. Some roots will have grown through the drainage holes, so you might have to wiggle the beans out. I just bang the sprouter upside down in the bowl and most of the sprouts fall out. As you rinse, many of the green hulls will float to the top and can be removed. And here is the finished product:

Rinsed and ready to eat! Just as big and tasty as the store bought ones, and you did it yourself!
Now scrub your sprouter to remove the roots that are blocking the holes, and you are ready to start again. Have fun!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Nothing is more fun to make than theme lunchboxes. Many of them are questionable in terms of wholesome ingredients, but if you look around on the Internet, you'll find many that are both nutritious and fun.

Here is what my kids requested: Deviled egg "eyeballs," roasted cauliflower "brains," and an onigiri jack-o-lantern. For the eggs, smooth the yolk with a wet finger, then add a slice of pimento olive for the pupil and a few threads of saffron for veins. (Saffron and eggs taste wonderful together, btw!) Usually I pack two egg halves in each lunch, but three eyes seemed more appropriate for Halloween, don't you agree? The onigiri is a ball of brown rice patted with grated carrot, with cut-up nori for the face. The kids like more nori, so I sent more in a side container.There was room left in the box, so a few chunks of hakurei turnip tightened everything up nice and snug.

Mom, make it stop staring at me! Deviled eggs, onigiri, turnips, roasted cauliflower.
The kids also helped me make marshmallow slugs, adapted from Martha Stewart's marshmallow peeps tutorial. (Once you get to the site, hover your mouse over the "ingredients and equipment" tab to find the recipe.) Marshmallows turn out to be one of those things that are surprisingly easy to make, yet people think you must be a genius. This recipe is notable because it uses no corn syrup, if your kids don't tolerate it. We use organic evaporated cane juice. You can also make marshmallows with agave or honey, if you prefer.

Sluggy goodness!

La Segunda tinted the sugar herself to just the perfect shade of chartreuse, and we used an old ZipLock bag with a corner cut off to pipe the slugs. Martha gets kudos for those bunnies and chicks--slugs are WAY easier to pipe! Work fast, before the marshmallow sets up. Once you have piped them all and sprinkled them with sugar, lightly drag a bamboo skewer along the head to pull up blobs for the slug horns. Let them sit for about half an hour to firm up, keeping a constant vigil to discourage ducks, chickens and other slug-eating predators, then store in an airtight container.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Carrot Cups

Making a lunchbox beautiful is satisfying, and it's particularly satisfying when form and function meet. Such is the case with puzzle apples that are cut to hold peanut butter (that will be for a future post), and these carrot cups. They are really a flower-shaped garnish--each piece looks like a little flower, but you can also bunch several together to make a larger flower. Because they are cup shaped, they make fantastic scoops for hummus or other dips. You can find tutorials for these on YouTube, but here is a quick how-to:

Start with straight, fairly thick carrots and a small, sturdy, sharp knife. Cut three slices off the bottom so the carrot comes to a triangular point. Then begin making cuts above the first cuts and in the same plane. This is how you form the petals. Make sure to angle the knife toward the center of the carrot so all three slices will meet in the middle; follow the cuts you made to shape the point and you'll be fine.

These photos are all taken with one hand, leaving the other hand to balance knife and carrot. Keep both hands on your project while you cut! Safety first!

Notice that the knife is held parallel to the first cut and angled toward the center of the carrot. Do not allow this cut to go down to the bottom of the petal or your flower will fall apart.

Once you have cut in, rotate the point of the knife so that the blade is cutting parallel to the edge of the flower. You are trying to make the same three cuts as before to create a point inside the carrot. If properly done, the flower will come off very easily and the petals will be intact.

Since you can't slice to the bottom of the petal in the first cut, rotate the knife blade to cut down into the point.

Here is the flower falling off the carrot. See the new point? Keep making these cuts up the carrot. One carrot is enough for several flowers.

Here is the finished lunch box. Wasn't that fun? Expect to mess up a lot before you get the hang of it. There are so many variables, such as what knife you are using and how thick/hard/straight your carrot is. I began by practicing whenever I was making vegetable soup, and all the ruined ones went into the pot. After a while, you will be able to make them fairly quickly, and your kids will love them!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kale Taboulli

My friend Katherine was telling me yesterday that kale is a complete food, and if you could eat enough of it to satisfy your caloric needs, you would never need to eat anything else. I believe it. Kale is low in calories, strongly anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, has a decent protein profile, and it's packed with chlorophyll. Once you start eating kale, you crave it. As for quinoa, it is sometimes called a super grain, although it is not in the grass family and so is not a grain at all. But it is definitely a super food. Combining quinoa and raw kale into one salad, dressed with olive oil and lemon, creates a nutritional powerhouse, and it's so yummy I could eat it for lunch every day. In terms of bento, kale tabouli holds up much longer than parsley tabouli--you could easily make enough for three or four days.

Traditional tabouli is a labor intensive dish, but not this one. The great thing about substituting kale for parsley is that, while parsley does not chop well in the Cuisinart, kale stands up very well and even improves, becoming dark green and tender. You can make a big bowl of it in no time. Both have the same dark green flavor--you will be surprised that you can hardly tell the difference. Usually I chop the mint leaves in with the kale. Chop the green onions by hand so they stay clean and fluffy; they can get slimy in the food processor.

Lots of dark green kale chopped in the food processor; can of delicious Greek olive oil looms in the background.

Once you have the greens chopped--the bowl above took about 5 minutes--you add in the minced green onions, cooked quinoa and dressing, and that's it. For a real treat, include chopped tomatoes and cucumber. I read yesterday that you can freeze kale without blanching it. Really? I'm going to try freezing kale later and see how it holds up. Here is the finished salad:

Gee, a lot of the salad seems to have disappeared. Hmmmm.......
Kale Tabouli

1 big bunch of kale
1 bunch green onions (in winter use a minced white or yellow onion)
1 handful mint leaves (in winter use the contents of a mint tea bag)
1 cup dry quinoa cooked in 2 cups salted water
1 or 2 lemons, juiced
olive oil
salt to taste
1 tomato and 1 cucumber, optional

First, put the quinoa on to cook in salted water. While it's cooking, get out the food processor. Strip the kale leaves from the stalks, tear them into pieces and stuff them into the processor bowl, adding some of the mint leaves to each batch. You can pack in quite a bit. Put the lid on, being careful not to trap any leaves, and pulse it until the kale is chopped and moving freely. Process until the kale is finely chopped.

Chop the green onion by hand; use the green tops and all. (When I was a kid, we used the green and tossed the white. When I grew up, I was amazed that many people use the white part and throw away the greens!) Also dice the tomato and cucumber, if using.

When the quinoa is cooked, remove it from the heat and fluff it up to speed cooling. Once it is cooled, mix it into the salad. Dress with olive oil, lemon and salt: First, drizzle on olive oil a little at a time, tossing as you go. Stop when each leaf is lightly coated with oil. Next, add lemon juice a little at a time, tossing as you go, until it is a sour as you like. Then add salt the same way. Done!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How To Pack an Apple

For some reason, my kids prefer to have apples cut up. If it's cut up, they'll eat it; if it's whole, it comes home uneaten and travel weary. It makes sense, though: Kids enjoy being able to share slices with their friends. One fun way to pack an apple is the stripey way. It is simple to do and has a big visual impact--plus, you get to eat two different kinds of apples! For two people, use one red and one green or yellow apple. Here I have used a Fuji and a local Yellow Delicious. Cut them into eighths and put them in a bowl of cold water to retard browning. (Some people add salt or lemon juice, but I don't.)

Begin with a pair of one color, in this case green. Set them in so the top slice is against the edge of the box. Now add a pair of the next color, and continue alternating as far as your container goes. (These are two of the small containers that come in the Fit & Fresh system.) When your box is full, add one more slice to the top row. In this demonstration, there are three slices on the bottom row and four slices on the top. That will leave two extra slices for the cook! I love when it works out like that ; )