Spring Flower Onigiri Bento

FINALLY! Spring-like weather! It’s been in the high 50’s to low 60’s so the flower and trees are FINALLY starting to bloom! The daffodils usually show their faces at the end of March, but we had some hard frosts and cool weather lasting into mid April, so everything is late. (What global warming? LOL.) Today I got off work a little early and I have these cute new rice molds, so I knew that a bento was in order!

My new rice molds, featuring traditional Japanese themes (pine bough, fan, and sakura):

So for today’s bento, I have an onigiri flower growing in a garden of salad. (Onigiri is stuffed with tuna mixed with soy sauce and sesame oil). I also have yummy blueberries, cheese stars, an egg bunny, and a few Japanese sweets. A perfect light lunch for a spring day!

What’s your favorite onigiri filling?

Orangey Beef Stir Fry Bento + New Blog!

Hello all! Long time no bento! I’ve been off the scene for a bit…an ever changing work schedule + winter blahs are not so great for creativity. Luckily, winter is receding. As one of my favorite bands, The Weakerthans, says in their song Elegy for Elsabet, “Winter dies the same way every spring.” And it’s true. The birds are singing, the trees are budding, and it’s raining cats and dogs right now. :p (BTW you should totally check out The Weakerthans if you are into indie rock at all. “Left and Leaving” is a terrific album.)

Anyway, I did manage to pull a bento together today. An orangy beef stir fry brimming with red peppers, broccoli, and onions is the star. I’ve also included teddy bear onigiri, shrimp gyoza, strawberries, baby carrots, a babybel cheese, and a Japanese milk sweet. The strawberries were really tart; they aren’t in season right now. (NOTHING is in season in my area right now!) The gyoza I bought from the sushi counter at my local grocery store. They are very good!

I also have new chopsticks! Bright green with maiko. I’ll have to get a better picture. They’re a gift from a friend. 🙂

Anyway, I have started a new blog, Kyoto Redbird. This blog focuses on culture, beauty, art, kimono, and how they all manage to tie together. I’m using it as a place to explore my own body likes and dislikes, my adventures in dressing an atypical body type, and how the Japanese aesthetic (less is more) makes me feel better about myself. Please check it out and feel free to comment! I’m hoping to get a lot of dialogue on this blog. 🙂

Chicken Fried Rice recipe

Oh, bento blog, I have neglected you. I am sad to say that I have been too busy being sad about winter and worrying about the holidays. Lunch has been either grilled cheese or quick leftovers reheated in the microwave. Being up at 5 am is rough on a gal, and so she may not feel like putting energy into a pretty lunch when she gets home in the afternoon!

And cooking. Don’t get me started! Busy, overlapping schedules have reduced dinner to the simplest of simple. (Even tuna helper on some nights. Yikes!) But tonight I whipped together a meal that may finally be bento worthy:

Chicken fried rice.

If you’re like me, chicken fried rice is a Chinese takeout staple. Yet I have never been able to make a homemade fried rice that even begins to compare to restaurant quality. Until today. Ad so, dear readers, I give you my own chicken fried rice recipe!

1 pound chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 tablespoon each soy sauce, sherry (or sake), and cornstarch
1 small onion, julienned
1 pouch cole-slaw mix (cabbage and carrots)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 cups cooked rice (I used short grain, but you can use whatever you have on hand.)
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
Cooking oil

Marinate the chicken pieces in the 1 tablespoon soy sauce, sherry, and cornstarch for at least 10 minutes. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a heavy skillet or wok. When oil is hot, add the chicken and its marinade and cook until chicken is cooked through and golden. Remove from pan and set aside. Add more oil to the pan if needed and add the onions and garlic. When onions start to turn soft, pour in the cole slaw mix. Once the cabbage starts to soften and wilt, push it to the sides of the pan in order to create a “nest” around the center. Pour in the eggs and scramble. When the egg is set, return the chicken along with the rice, butter, and soy sauce. Heat through and serve.


Kimono, my other love!

Bento isn’t my only Japanese-related hobby. Besides reading up on geisha whenever I get the chance, I am also very interested in Japanese kimono! There is a wonderful kimono vendor in my area who I have become very good friends with; Kerry of Ohio Kimono! You can see her website here:


I have become something of an “unoffical” model for Kerry’s kimono business and I love having the opportunity to wear gorgeous pieces! Here are some promotion shots that I have taken with her:

Haori (kimono jackets)

This red haori I actually own:

Here are some full kimono shots. The only set that I own is the black, gray and pink yukata set.

I wish to own this AMAZING red and green set:

And a lovely pink and gold set that is drool-worthy!

I really wish it was practical for me to wear kimono more often, because I certainly would. I find the artistry and overall quality of the Japanese kimono to be much more interesting than western style clothing. In addition, the kimono is very flattering for me because I am a petite flower!

What are your hobbies beside bento? Are you interested in kimono?

Salmon Pocket Pie Bento

What better way to spend a rainy fall day than with some delicious homemade fall food? Being from Michigan, I am well aware that the pasty, or pocket pie, is a statewide staple. While normal pasties are filled with beef, potato, and onion, I opted for one filled with salmon, rice, parsley, and green onion. (Idea courtesy of Alton Brown, Food Network Guru and my nerd hero.) They are light, flaky, and flavorful. I had made them for dinner last night and I used a leftover for today’s bento.

Since it’s cold and rainy out today and I wanted a comforting meal after a long morning at work, (this is a stay-at-home bento)I didn’t want to eat it cold. But i knew that microwaving it would cause the puff pastry to lose some of its flakiness. So I preheated the oven to 235 and baked it for about 12 minutes. Worked like a charm! The pastry stayed flaky but the inside got nice and warm.

Als o in this bento: some pretty plum slices, sesame dressed spinach, provolone and mortadella (Italian bologna) flowers for decoration, and some crunchy oat clusters for a sweet little dessert. A nice variety or flavors and textures here, I think!

What’s one of your favorite fall comfort foods?

Product Review: Annie Chun’s Miso Udon Bowl

Lunch for me usually means leftovers from last night’s dinner or a bento. But I have another lunch-time weakness (besides McDonalds, lol): store-bought Asian noodle bowls.

While I’ve never cared for Italian-style pasta dishes, I have always loved Asian noodles.  When I was in high school, going out to lunch with friends meant chicken lo-mein at the local on-the-cheap Chinese restaurant. And while I often cook Asian noodle dishes at home, I work morning shifts so when I come home hungry, there’s no time or desire to cook! Store-bought Asian noodle bowls make for a quick and convenient lunch. I decided it would be good to review the ones I try!

Today’s bowl is a Miso Udon noodle bowl by Annie Chun brand.

Basic description:
Includes noodles, miso soup base, and vegetable packet. Takes about two minutes to make in the microwave. Price: About $3.50 USD

The noodles are pretty much perfect as far as udon goes. White, thick, and slightly chewy, these noodles taste very fresh and authentic. The miso soup base is also tasty. It’s a combination of white and red miso pastes and is pleasantly salty and savory. Don’t use as much water as the package directs because it waters it down too much. It’s surprisingly low in sodium and fat. It is also a very quick and convenient meal, plus the bowl is biodegradable!

I don’t like the vegetables that come with this soup. When you pull them out of the package, they look like a questionable light green brick. It dissolves into the real vegetables that you see in the picture. (reminds me a bit of the dino-egg oatmeal from my childhood where the sugar eggs would dissolve into candy dinosaurs.) The vegetables, which in this include scallions and spinach, taste almost like plastic. They look good once cooked, but the taste falls flat. I will use fresh veggies next time.

The other bad thing is the price. $3.50 is a lot for a little soup bowl, and for that price, you could easily go to McDonald’s and buy a double cheeseburger, a small fry, and a medium drink. (I would dare say that the soup bowl is the healthier alternative!) Annie Chun’s brand has other products that are a bit cheaper; their miso-udon bowl is one of their more expensive. But I guess you get what you pay for. The soup is healthier than other ready-made-lunch options and tastes a lot better.

I give it four out of five stars.

Greek Eats Bento

I follow the blogs and flickr feeds of several bento enthusiasts. All of them have their own style: vegan, Japanese, American-style, children’s bentos, etc. Yet one thing I don’t see too much of is “international bento” (Though fellow bento enthusiast BentoBird has made some tasty looking Indian bentos!) This is something I’d think I’d like to explore more of: fitting international flavors into the Japanese tradition of bento.

I love ethnic cooking. Rarely do I make all-American fare (that’s my husband’s job! LOL.) I like American food, but it’s somewhat boring to make. I happen to prefer the challenge and fun of making ethnic foods, so we end up eating a lot of Asian, Mexican, and Italian style foods. Another favorite of mine is Greek food. However, I don’t make it often because it’s almost always time consuming and I usually end up dirtying every appliance in my kitchen! However, the craving surfaces often enough, and since the best Greek restaurants are found over an hour away in Detroit (and you have to suffer through Detroit traffic to get to them), I have no choice but to prepare Greek eats at home.

A favorite? Dolmathes, a traditional meal of grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb, rice, onion, and fresh herbs. You have to be committed to make these things! I invest quite a bit of time into them. Why? Because grape leaves come pickled and packed tightly into rolls. They are very fragile so unrolling them, stuffing them, and rolling them back up requires a patient and delicate hand. Then they take at least an hour to cook. So they are not necessarily a go-to bento item! But it’s time I found my own unique bento style, and I thought a Greek bento would be the perfect way to stand out.

This bento featured Dolmathes with lemon-egg sauce, rice (seasoned with parsley,mint, lemon zest, salt and pepper), plum slices, and humus with carrot sticks and pita chips for dipping.

Tonkastu Bento

Hello, readers! It’s been awhile. I’m ashamed to say that I havent been bento-ing lately. My mind was very pre-occupied with other things, but now that school is over, I have a little more time to focus on fun. Today’s bento is made with last night’s tonkatsu (homemade, even the sauce!) over rice, peanut butter and jelly bites, sesame carrots, and plum slices. Not too cutsie but still delish!

This picture was taken right before eating. otherwise, I would have put the sauce on the side. For the tonkatsu sauce, I actually took a few different recipes and made up my own. Here it is:

Katy Crayon’s Tonkatsu Sauce

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup Worchestershire sauce
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
a splash of sherry (my secret ingredient!)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. This sauce will refrigerate and reheat well!

Hopefully more bento to come in the future I apologize for the long hiatus.

Chinese Lemon Chicken bento and Yakisoba

Sorry for the lack of updates! Things have been busy lately and unfortunately I just brown-bagged it last week. Things have been different this week and I was able to finally make another bento! This week’s offering is a Chinese-style lemon chicken over rice, snow peas and pecans sauteed in olive oil, apple bites, and cheese cubes. Very simple stuff.

I’m also working on a new project: for my creativity class, I have to come up with an invention, product, or idea that will help people. I’ve decided that since I love food and I love Japan, I would put together an educational “scrapbook” that features Japanese street food recipes. Andrew Zimmern, the Travel Channel food personality, says that the best way to get to know a culture is through the food they eat! I agree. And since people always seem to confuse China and Japan or they think of Japan simply as the home of anime and geesha-girls, I’ve decided to inform people a bit about Japan’s unique culture through the food that they eat.

So tonight I made yakisoba.

Here are the instructions:

3/4 pound chicken (or shrimp, or pork)
1 small onion, sliced
3 cups cole slaw mix
1/3 cup yakisoba sauce, plus an additional 1 tablespoon (also called Bulldog Sauce)
1 package chuka soba/chow-mein stir fry noodles (I use Wel-Pac brand)
1 tablespoon mirin
Cooking oil
Shredded nori, optional

Cook the noodles according to package directions. In the meantime, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place in a bowl and combine with the mirin and 1 tablespoon yakisoba sauce for 10 minutes. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet and start cooking the chicken and its marinade. When mostly done, add the sliced onion and stir-fry until soft. Add the cole slaw mix and cook until the cabbage is tender. Toss in the cooked noodles and the sauce. Combine well and garnish with nori.

Vegetarian? Instead of using meat, substitute 2 cups of frozen stir-fry veggies (broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, and snow peas.) I was actually going to use bean sprouts in this recipe, but they went bad before I could use them! Note to self: bean sprouts have a very short shelf life!

I’ve made yakisoba before. But I’ve never had much luck with Japanese-style noodles. I think I always over cook them and they become a sticky nightmare. These chuka-soba noodles were perfect. They didn’t cook too fast nor did they become glue once I added them to the wok. As for yakisoba sauce, I bought this Otafuku brand:

It was expensive; nearly $5 for the bottle. But it was really good and the yakisoba tasted like it was from the restaurant. I also think that this yakisoba would be perfect for bento. The sauce is thick enough that I don’t think the meal would become soggy.

Bento Staples

When you pack bento lunches, you will probably find that you have go-to items that you can use if you have extra space or you’re in a pinch. Everyone’s bento “go-to”s might be different, but I have put together a list of mine. If you are interested in starting to pack bento for yourself, you might want to consider keeping some of these things on hand. I’ll also include estimated prices.

(Apologies for a fuzzy picture. That’s bad lighting + bad camera + not enough coffee.)

* Medium or short grain rice (I use Nishiki brand fancy rice) about $3.75 for a 2 lb bag
      – Rice is almost always the main ingredient in my bento. It’s versatile, filling, and very yummy. I recommend using shorter grain rice because they are stickier, therefore they pack better. Long grain rice may work if you’re just filling up the box, but if you’re making rice balls or sushi, you will definitely want to spring for sushi rice. Some brands will be more expensive than others, but I like Nishiki. It’s also available in brown rice if you’re a health nut.

* Pouch tuna or salmon (Starkist or Bumblebee brands) about $1.99 for a 6 oz pouch
       – I like to use salmon or tuna out of a pouch because it just tastes better than out of a can. It is more fresh, requires little draining, and tastes less fishy. However, there are downsides. It costs more than canned fish and it won’t keep quite as long. But I just prefer the quality. Always use fish packed in water, not oil. Pouched fish is great to have on hand because it can easily be made into croquettes, salad, or a filling for onigiri.

* Mini Babybel cheeses, $3.99 for a pack of six
      – I love Babybels. Not only are they a perfect bento portion, they come individually wrapped in wax so they are  well protected in even messier bento. Not to mention that they’re tasty. I like to cut shapes out of the wax for a cute bento touch. Don’t wanna spend that much on cheese? Buy a block of your favorite kind and cut it into you favorite shapes.

* Dark sesame oil (I use Dynasty brand) $4.99 for a 5 oz bottle
       – Bad news: this stuff, at least in my area, is darn expensive. Good news: a little goes a long way so it’ll last you awhile. Sesame oil is one of my favorite seasonings for both meats and vegetables. Don’t know what kind of veggie you want in your bento? Cut some carrots into match sticks and saute them in a little sesame oil, then sprinkle with sesame seeds and a pinch of sugar. Viola! But remember, a little goes a long, long way. This stuff can easily overpower other flavors, so don’t be too generous with it.

* Soy sauce (I use Kikkoman brand) $2.99 for a 10 oz bottle
      – This one needs little explanation. If you’re not big on Kikkoman, there are usually a jillion other brands available. Go for the really authentic stuff if you can. Soy sauce is great for marinading, cooking, and dipping.

* Eggs, usually between $1 and $1.50 for a dozen; check your grocer’s prices
      – Eggs are another bento item I like. They can be scrambled, hard-boiled, made into mini-quiche, or made into flat or rolled omelets. For bento, I would try using smaller eggs, if you can find them. Many bento sources recommend quail eggs, but I am unable to find them in my area. Medium-size eggs should be available at your local supermarket.

* Produce
      – Now this is one of those things that doesn’t keep very long. However, there are some fruits and veggies out here that are cheap, healthy, and will stay good for a while if stored properly. I find that baby carrots and apples will both keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Canned varieties of fruits and veggies are always available; canned pineapple is a favorite of mine. Also try frozen stir-fry mixes or frozen fruit. They are usually just as nutritious and fresh.

Hope this list helps if you are interested in starting bento. If you already pack bento lunches, what are some of your go-to items?

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