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Not dead

…just taking 14 credits over the summer including anatomy and physiology. It’s a bit much but updates will arrive at some point.

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Freezing rice

I have said on numerous occasions that the single greatest thing I have learned since embarking on my bento journey is that you can freeze rice. Growing up in a Japanese-American family we either made rice fresh or microwaved leftover rice.  That might make sense for a family of four but for two working adults it is a pain. Enter the Just Bento Cookbook and the dawning realization that it is okay to freeze rice if you do it the right way. Even better, by freezing it in unit dose format you can exercise portion control and always have a convenient amount of rice to work with. For myself and my fiance we have discovered that 1/2 cup is the perfect single serving size. If you love rice as much as I do, this will seem small but it should encourage you to fill your bento with other things besides rice.

The Right Way:

Pre-game:

a. Grab your Saran Wrap brand plastic wrap. Throw it away. No seriously, throw it away right now.  To steal and alter an analogy from Neal Stephenson: You do not use Saran Wrap because it is a superior product, you use Saran Wrap because their marketing has convinced you that it needs to be part of your life.

b. Drive down to Costco or Smart and Final and buy yourself a giant roll of stretch-tite plastic wrap. It will come in a giant roll and you will likely use it for years. If you have never used proper food preparation plastic wrap than you are in for a bit of a shock. Real plastic wrap is extremely thin and sticks to itself well. It should look roughly like this:

Doing the rice right:

1. Make some rice. I use a rice cooker, apparently you can make it in a pot but I have my doubts. My theory is that Asians invented rice cookers around the time they discovered fire.

2. Grab a 1/2 cup measuring cup and start scooping out moderately packed cups of rice. You want to do this as soon as the rice cooked so you can capture as much moisture as possible.

3. Place each scoop in its own square of plastic wrap. I suggest doing this one at a time for consistency.

4. Start rolling the rice into a roughly 1 inch cylinder. Do not try and compress it too much or you will end up with a single giant piece of rice.

5. Once you have a nice cylinder shape, flip in the sides and roll up the excess like a humus wrap. Repeat on your remaining rice. I find that when I cook up 2 cups of rice I end up with about 5X 1/2 cup servings.  So when I cook for two I cook up 4 cups of rice on Sunday so there is enough rice for the whole week.

6. Throw them in your fridge as soon as you are done. Reheating them easy. Nuke the rice for about 1 minute, give it a quick massage to break up any chunks and then nuke it for another minutes. Mind the hot steam and enjoy!

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Last post I talked about how having a good bento stash is instrumental in making sure you actually make bento on a regular basis. To highlight what I talked about I decided to just show you how to slap together a delicious and healthy bento meal. Total cooking time, plus the time it took to setup my camera and pose the food: <30 minutes.

These are all the raw ingredients I used.
Clockwise from top: Hon-dashi, Asian pesto, frozen home-salted salmon, frozen edamame.

The hon-dashi is to flavor the water for the frozen edamame. The Asian pesto is to flavor the edamame and the salted salmon is the protein in this meal.

How I turned it into food:

1. The frozen edamame went into a post of boiling water. The hon-dashi quickly followed it and after a quick swirl, I let it boil on medium for five minutes.

2. Meanwhile, the salted salmon went into frying pan which I warmed up on medium-high. When salmon started smoking I doused it in a couple tablespoons of white wine (sake would have worked too) and covered it tightly. Five minutes later is was done.

3. The edamame got done first so I pulled it off the heat, drained it with a spoon and then combined it with the Asian pesto in a small bowl (on reflection it would have been better if I just mixed it in the pot). By the time I plated it the salmon was ready and slipped that on top.

4. Took pictures and then immediately consumed everything.

If I was making this for lunch I would have nuked some frozen rice and stuffed everything in a tupperware/bento box. If I wanted to get extra fancy I would have used some silicon cupcake liners to keep everything separated.

So there you go. Much like any kind of cooking; if you take the time to prep when you have the time, you can throw a meal together in minutes rather than hours.

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If you are new to bento you can not go wrong by taking a look at JustBento’s “Maki’s Top 10 Beno Rules.” If you follow even half of them, you will be well on your way to bento making bliss. To me the most helpful tip is #8.

From personal experience and from hours cruising /r/JapaneseFood I have noticed that the main thing that seems to keep people from cooking regularly is the time constraint. Cooking without preparation takes time that most of us do not have. The key then, is to figure out how to pre-stage as many of your ingredients as possible. This collection of read-to-go ingredients is called johbisai and is the cornerstone to a stress free cooking experience. Maki Itoh has a great discussion about what should be in your stash. It is worth mentioning that she is absolutely right that you should not run out tonight and buy a thousand new ingredients. I found it is helpful to only buy what I am going to use for the week. If you vary your bento menu from week to week you will eventually fill out your complete stash.

If you take one thing away from this blog post, take this: Stock up on frozen vegetables, particularly edamame. The hardest part about making healthy bento is figuring out how to get two servings of vegetable in each meal. If you have a broad assortment of vegetables and a few simple preparations, your eating experience will vastly improve.

The following picture should look familiar but it is still a good one:

Left to right:

Wakame (dried seaweed): I use it primarily for making miso soup bombs  but it comes up in a number of other recipes as well. It keeps forever so it is a great pantry stocker.

White and red miso paste: I am not sure what I did before I had these. Miso keeps extremely well in the fridge and it vastly improves a huge array of foods. Having some boring vegetables? Mix them with miso paste. Having a bowl of generic ramen? Mix the paste into the broth. Want a quick soup? Check out the miso soup bomb recipe linked above.

Hon-dashi (instant soup base): This goes hand in hand with miso paste. You can make miso soup with them or you can just add them to some chicken stock for an upgraded bowl of instant ramen noodles. Another great thing to do with it is boil some frozen vegetables in water with 1-2 tablespoons of hon-dashi. It will give the vegetables a much deeper taste than if you had merely salted them.

A couple more ideas, left to right:

Nuts: Having a stash of various kinds of nuts is a great way to add a snack to a bento. I like pistachios but really anything will work.

Chazuke: These little satchels of rice flavoring come in a variety of flavors. My favorite is ume-boshi because it has a refreshing blend of sour and salty. You pour these over rice and then pour hot tea or water over until you have a quick rice soup.

Small seaweed strips: These are not big enough to use to make sushi but they are the perfect size for making onigiri (rice balls) or for just snacking on.

Hope this helps! Get out there and make some bento!

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Watch this space

Witty food blog posts soon, hilarity to follow.

Watch! A man almost burn down his apartment while experimenting with deep frying!

Come See! A poor college student throw himself at making delicious daily lunches for two!

Rejoice! At the knowledge that you can learn from his mistakes!

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