Bento Mojo


It’s been a long day and I remembered late this evening that I have a 7:00 am meeting tomorrow morning at a restaurant that appears to only serve eggs for breakfast. UGH! What to do?

Well, scrounge around the kitchen and throw together a breakfast survival bento to take with me in the morning.

Now usually, my bentos always include fresh fruit like strawberries, blueberries, nectarines and mangoes but tonight, I have no fresh fruit stash. So this quickie bento is full of truly survival food: bagels, peanut butter-stuffed dates and a homemade blend of Tofutti® cream cheese and maple syrup. Protein and sweets to wake me up once I get there in the morning. I’m really hoping the restaurant will at least have a bowl of fruit even though they didn’t list any on the menu.

This is my favorite bento box. It consists of two layers and is a Chinese lacquer design with a cool toy top motif on the cover:

Bottom tier contains:

  • 1 raisin bagel sliced into rounds
  • 2 mini-cups of Tofutti® cream cheese flavored with maple syrup

Top tier contains:

  • 12 peanut butter stuffed dates, enough to share with my breakfast co-horts if I’m not too crabby

To give you a better idea of what a bento should look like, take a look of these other bentos I’ve put together when I had better stash:

Bento Tips

If you want to create easy bentos, I suggest the following:

  1. Keep leftovers in small containers to easily add to bentos when needed.
  2. Keep a variety of edibles that are easy to toss in as fillers. Things like grapes, strawberries, nuts, cherry tomatoes, broccoli work really well to fit into empty holes and keep the main goodies from shifting during travel.
  3. Determine whether your bento will be hot, cold or room temp and don’t mix.
  4. I find that cold and room temp bentos are easiest because you can make them the night before. Hot bentos require more effort and you have to keep them warm until lunchtime. Cold bentos can go in the fridge at work and you won’t get food poisoning.
  5. If you want to include something that’s very liquidy, like soup, put it in a sub-container with a sealing lid inside your bento so it doesn’t get all over everything else. Tiny Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers come in handy as do the cheapo containers from the dollar store.
  6. Breakfast bentos can be a little more work if you really like fresh chopped fruit, which I do. Don’t chop your fruit the night before, it’ll get more mushy the longer it sits. I prep all fruit right before I leave in the morning.
  7. Don’t pack food that is best served piping hot because it will get lukewarm by lunch time. For instance, tater tots. They get icky by lunchtime and nuking them makes them stick together and not be so crispy.
  8. If you insist upon creating hot bentos, pick a container that can be nuked in the microwave without releasing plastic ickiness. Most bentos will say on the underside if they’re microwavable. If they don’t say, assume they’re not. You can ruin a good bento in the nukebox or start a fire. Oh, and remember, just because the container may be microwavable doesn’t mean the lid is. Lids are usually made from more flexible plastics so it’s best to remove them before nuking.
  9. If packing a sandwich, pack the bread separately from the fixings so it doesn’t get soggy until you’re ready to put it together and eat. Bread slices in a plastic baggie or in their own compartment will be safe from sogginess.

Gratuitous Cat Photo

And here’s a picture I call Catmandooo the Nooch. DH with Olive sleeping on his lap and his shirt covered with nooch from his popcorn. Good night all!

For those who think I’ve already gone too far with”this vegan thing”, HA, I’m now trying to go raw vegan! Yep, and it’s opened up a whole new world of vegan recipes and ingredients I never knew existed. The coolest thing I’ve found so far is a recipe for fermented cashew cheese and I must say, I’m totally addicted to it. This stuff is amazing!

I’m calling it Odiferous Cheese rather than stinky cheese because odiferous just doesn’t get enough use anymore. Odiferous cashew cheese starts with a plain fermented nut cheese and then you add whatever you want to it: herbs, spices, garlic, finely chopped veggies like onions, lemon zest, peppers or whatever you want. I made a 3-cup batch of the cheese and then took each cup and made 3 different blends using:

  • dill, garlic, grated lemon zest, lemon juice
  • chopped spring onion, garlic, walnuts
  • garlic, kalamata olives, spring onion

I started with the suggested recipe and then just went hog wild. I have great difficulty following directions without experimenting along the way. I think that comes from my grandma who use to just throw things together all the time. She and I once got into an argument about how much a stick of butter measured out to be but that’s another story altogether.

A note about cheese texture and smell: This cheese resembles those rolls of goat cheese in texture, soft, moist, almost crumbly. It’s not at all a firm slicing cheese, this is spreadable and has a nice stinky aroma but still subtle. Not like a strong blue. This would be perfect for making a vegan version of those cheeseballs my mom used to make at Christmas.

Here’s a photo of the onion/garlic/walnut cheese.

walnut-garlic-onion-cheese

And here’s a photo of the lemon/dill/garlic cheese:

dill-garlic-lemon-cheese

Sorry, the kalamata cheese mysteriously disappeared before I could get a shot.

Now since I didn’t create the recipe for the fermented cheese itself, I’ll have to refer you to Carmella of The Sunny Raw Kitchen blog, she has all the fancy instructions. The hardest part about this is making like a Zen master and waiting out the fermentation time (14-20 hours depending on what your hubby has the thermostat set to) but trust me, it’s TOTALLY worth it. DH sets our thermostat down to 64 while we’re at work so I did the fermenting on the weekend when I could keep it at 70 and even then, I placed it near a space heater set on low. My goal was to get it to look just like the instructional photos on Carmella’s blog and make it stinky enough to smell. Oh, one more note, Carmella wraps the cheese in cheesecloth during the fermentation time and I didn’t have any so I used a flour sack towel and it worked out just fine. Just make sure you use something lint-free.

Carmella also has her own herb and spice blends for using with the cheese. And she has two blog entries about it:

Notes about ingredient substitutions: I didn’t want to spend 40 bucks on probiotics for the starter so I took Carmella’s advice and used miso instead. I also didn’t want to make my own rejuvelac so I bought some at a health food store. Although it seems easy enough to make, I just wasn’t that inspired. And one more thing, make sure you start with RAW cashews, not roasted ones.

Now, when on a raw vegan diet, you may ask, ‘what do you use for crackers?’ Well, I went looking for firm veggies that would last in my bento lunch box without getting soggy by lunchtime and came back with zucchini rounds. Yep, I just peeled a zucc and sliced it into thin yet sturdy rounds. It was perfect!

Here’s a photo of my lunch box with the zucc rounds and 2 different chunks of the cheese in the upper right corner: one dill/lemon and the other garlic/kalamata.

rawbento_1

Total contents of the bento:

  • dill/lemon Odiferous Cheese
  • garlic/kalamata/onion Odiferous Cheese
  • long chunk of zucchini sliced into rounds (that big green thing in the photo)
  • raw corn cut directly from the cob (hiding under the truffle)
  • romaine, carrot, pepper, apple and quinoa salad with my other new concoction: Sweet Pistachio Salad Dressing
  • 1 raw cocoa truffle (recipe to come)

My DH tells me that all the garlic in the odiferous cheese made me stink for 4 days. He calls me a garlic “carrier”. Pores, hair, etc. It takes a while to completely run its course. So I can only eat garlic when I don’t have any client meetings for at least 4 days. And since I’ve got a meeting Tuesday, I’m off garlic starting this weekend. In the meantime, that cheese is just sitting in the fridge, calling to me. If only I hadn’t used garlic in them.

Now I’m really wanting to try to figure out a way to make an odiferous BLUE nut cheese. With the marbling effect and everything. Wouldn’t THAT be something?! I’ve got some ideas, perhaps I’ll try out this week.

This is sooo yummy. Excellent comfort food and you could easily substitute white rice for the black that I’ve used here. Just to clarify, I did not use the black wild rice that’s long and skinny. I picked up a bag labeled Korean Black Rice at my local Japanese grocery. It’s a short grain, very sticky and somewhat purple when cooked.

Yeah, it looks like refried black beans in the photos but you’ll notice if you make it, it has a really nice subtly sweet syrup.

blackricepudding

This recipe makes plenty of pudding for leftovers. I packed most of it in tiny containers for bento lunches and am freezing some. Don’t forget to garnish with chopped pistachios.

blackricepudding-lunchables

Yummy Black Rice Pudding

  • 3 c. cooked black Korean rice
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 can 14 ounces coconut milk
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. cardamom
  • 1 star anise, whole
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 c. white raisins
  • chopped pistachios for garnish
  1. Simmer coconut milk with sugar and spices until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add rice and raisins.
  3. Simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered, until reduced to thicker consistency.
  4. Remove whole star anise and serve sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

Makes 4 nice sized portions.

It would also be good garnished with freshly grated coconut.

Ok, this is a quickie, no garnishes and poor photography. Would really benefit from a spring onion or chive garnish on the dip itself. Made the black bean dip really fast this morning.

lunch-120508

Contents:

  • Black bean dip, recipe below
  • Green beans
  • Mushrooms stuffed with bean dip
  • Dippers are red pepper and kohlrabi slices

Black Bean Dip

I didn’t measure unfortunately because I was in a hurry. I just kept adding spices until it was yummy. Here’s approximately what I did:

  • 1 large can of black beans
  • 2 glops of minced garlic from a jar
  • about a T. powdered onion
  • about 1 t. ground fennel
  • about 1 t. cumin
  • dribbles of jalapeno hot sauce until it was spicy enough
  • no more than 1 t. liquid smoke
  • salt

All that in a food processor and process while chopping veggie scoopers. Taste and adjust salt, hot sauce and liquid smoke. Go easy on the liquid smoke, it can get too smoky tasting.

If you garnish yours, it will look nicer than mine. Maybe take time to top with shredded Teese® Cheddar or Nacho Cheese. I didn’t have time to do that this morning but will next time. You can get Teese® cheeses in Chicago at the Green Grocer.

If you’re looking for a carrot slaw that also packs protein, here you go:

Carrot Slaw No. 2

  • 2 c. shredded carrots
  • 1 c. drained chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans)
  • 1/4 c. vegan mayo
  • 1 t. celery seeds
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: 1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar will add more spunk, if you like spunk
  1. Toss everything together in a large bowl and let sit in the fridge an hour or more to mingle.
  2. Really, that’s it, just one step.

Great with chopped green spring onion as a garnish.

Makes great filler for bento lunch boxes so long as you put it in its own compartment because the juices tend to gather. Meaning, wrap your dessert separately or you’ll be sooooorry.

I bet you never thought you’d see those three words together! Let me say up front that this is not home made but I think you’ll be happy with the easy and quick concept. This would be a great last-minute appetizer for a dinner where you aim to impress and happen to have some previously made onigiri sitting in the fridge.

But first, a little background on how I came up with this idea.

I was making a huge, DEEP pot of quinoa tonight for lunches this week (using Not-Chick’n Bouillon Cubes instead of plain water and a wee dribble of peanut oil). The pot I was using was very deep and not very wide so the quinoa on the bottom was much more moist than that which was towards the top of the batch. So much so that I wondered, could I use it instead of rice to make onigiri? Was it that moist and would it stick together?

Well, the answers were yes and mostly. Yes, it was moist enough to use in my onigiri mold and it stuck together well enough for something that wasn’t going to travel far (i.e., take a ride on the bento express).

I’ve got several in the freezer right now to see if freezing helps them stick together. I’ll post an update later.

So, to create this appetizer, you’ll need leftover quinoa onigiri. As much as you want to make into onigiri shapes. The easiest thing to do is make a huge batch of quinoa for dinners and lunches and use some of it for onigiri. Make it in advance and store it in the fridge until you need it.

Then, I totally cheated and used store-bought mango chutney and garnished with spring onion. Very easy and quick. I whipped up four of these in just a few minutes. I think you could likely top this with any number of green garnishes and voila! Instant appetizer!

Here’s the run down for 4 appetizers:

  • 4 previously made and refrigerated quinoa onigiri (wrap individually in plastic wrap to keep shapes snug until needed)
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) of mango chutney per serving (I used Native Forest® Mango Passion Chutney made by Edward and Sons, this stuff is neato skeeto)
  • 4 spring onion garnishes, chopped, shredded or however you want

This recipe is all about plating and garnishes. Plate one onigiri per plate, top each with 2 tablespoons of the mango chutney and garnish creatively. The spring onion really sets off the mango chutney but you could probably try fresh cilantro leaves or sprigs of chives for a different approach.

You could also use regular rice onigiri but I’d make sure it was plain, unseasoned. Some folks like to season their onigiri sushi style even though that’s not really traditional. I don’t think the sushi rice seasoning would go well with the mango chutney but test first if you’re curious.

If you’re looking for more info on onigiri, there’s a great FAQ and tutorial at Just Bento.

And if you’re serving this for a Halloween dinner, just call it Bloody Bed of Maggots!

DH and I went to the dollar store yesterday in an attempt to scoop up cheap Halloween goodies but alas! Very few Halloween themed candies were vegan. All the gummy brains, worms, eyeballs and other gross body parts had gelatin. All the chocolate was milk chocolate. And they threw whey into everything else for good measure.

But I did score some non-candy goodies, some of which will help me make my own.

Wait, let’s back up. To get the following goodies, you need to find the nearest Dollar Tree store. That’s the store with the mostest. And everything really is a buck. (Deal’s also has an ok selection of Halloween goodies but not everything is truly a buck.)

Ok, here’s what I got in my treat bag:

  1. 1 silicon pumpkin ice cube tray, already tried it with chocolates and works fine for a buck
  2. 1 set of scary cookie cutters: witch’s hat, ghost, skull, 2 pumpkins and a bat
  3. lots of stickers to put all over DH’s bento lunches this month
  4. cool bottle stickers that label contents as Ye Olde Spider Venom and such
  5. Sour Dudes straws that appear to be the only gummy-like candy without gelatin
  6. Monstaz Pops, sugar suckers shaped like bloodshot eyeballs and skulls

I think as far as vegan Halloween candy goes, I’ll have to make my own. Here are my VeganMoFo Halloween plans:

  • cocoa sugar cookies in the shape of bats, coffins and tombstones
  • blood-filled cupcakes
  • marshmallow ghosts
  • green ectoplasm
  • creepy cockroaches

If I can figure out how to pull these off, I’ll post photos and the recipes.

But for now, tomorrow’s vegan bento lunches will be decorated for Halloween, and I’ll post photos. Maybe I’ll simmer some bloody entrails for DH’s lunch too! You can’t celebrate Halloween too early!

Now, I gotta go dig out my skull mug from the cupboard…

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