Birthday Bento


Okay, the last bento post for a while… I promise.

This is the bento box I ordered from Japan as a birthday gift for my wife. Since I do the cooking for the family I suppose this is as much a gift for me as for her, but they say you should always give something you wish to receive (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

Before getting into the contents, I should write a bit about the box itself. I first came across it a month ago while surfing for information on bentos and just fell in love with it. Unlike the classic multi-tiered bento boxes with their loose fitting lids, this one is actually made for carting a lunch to work. It’s a two tiered unit with a sliding inner tray on the top tier. The top tier also comes with a snug fitting clear clear plastic lid (not shown) to keep moist dishes from drying out. The finishing touch is an elasticized band to keep the unit together when carrying. The graphic lettering on the box says “nokorimono desuga” or “I’m afraid it’s just leftovers”–gotta love Japanese humour.

First impressions… It’s a very sexy lunch box. The two tiers, sliding section and snap lid are very functional. The only downside is that it’s not dishwasher or microwave safe. The box can be purchased from Bento&Co in Japan and currently retails for $19.56 CDN or $19.50 US.


On to the ingredients. Fitting with the lettering on the box it contains mostly leftovers with a few extra ingredients for it’s inaugural flight.

Birthday Bento

  • Cal-rose extra fancy short grain rice
  • Fried tofu and prawn in sauce
  • Edamame, boiled and salted
  • 1/2 Campari tomato
  • Tomagoyaki rolls (sweetened egg sushi)
  • Tamari and sushiza in little fish bottles

In addition to the box contents I added two clementines, an apple and a small container of yogurt. As far as bento lunches go this one is a little over the top, but it needed to be in order to accent the birthday theme of the meal. I made the tomagoyaki the night before, while the tofu and prawns are really leftovers.

Itadakimasu! (Bon appetit!)



Edamame Bento


More bento fun.

Again a quick lunch for the kids, this time featuring boiled and salted edamame as the main dish. Rice drizzled with a little teriyaki sauce (for moisture) then topped with furikake fills the role of starch for the meal, while octodogs provide a little extra needed protien. The small clementine and grape tomatoes add colour and a serving of fruit/vegetables. Yogurt, a small granola bar (for an after-school snack) and an apple round out the lunch.

The octodogs are probably the closest I get to a kawaii (cute) bento. I’ll post separately how to make these fun extras for a kid’s lunch in the near future.


Every Day Japanese – Miso Pork

imageWeekday meals are a time to apply the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid). Today’s post is a Japanese inspired KISS menu. The only time consuming element of the meal is the miso pork, which really needs from four to twenty-four hours to marinate. Not being sufficiently prepared I cut it down to two hours, but it really needed a bit more. That said, it was still a nice flavourful dish and suited the simple theme of the meal.

Weekday Japanese Menu:

  • Extra Fancy Short Grain Rice (Cal-Rose)
  • Miso Marinated Pork
  • Stir-fried Broccoli
  • Sliced and Skinned Manila Mangoes
  • Milk for the kids, Red wine for the adults

The miso pork recipe I used was taken from the Just Bento blog and is available here: (butaniku no misozuke). I increase the sugar content a little and add mirin and sambal oelek to jazz it up a bit. One thing I’ve found with this recipe is to make sure the pork is pounded nice and thin and to get it out of the pan the moment it’s cooked. Leftovers are great in Bentos the next day, so always make a little extra.


Bento Equipment and Tips

Bento tray liners

I’m not usually one to cross post other blog articles, but this one is definitely worth it for the newbie Bento maker. It contains a bunch of elements that I was going to cover in future, but why recreate the wheel?

Cooking Cute: Bento Equipment

Worth checking out!


Dashi – Everyday Japanese


Dashi is the basis for so many Japanese dishes that it’s a must know for anyone aspiring to capture an authentic taste. In it’s basic form, it’s a stock that marries two key elements: Konbu (dried kelp) and Katsuobushi (shaved bonito). However, it can be modified to yield a more complex base for cooking depending on substitutions or additions–including a koni (crab) or vegetarian option. It serves as a base for most miso soup and a wide variety of sauces. My basic Dashi (the one given below) involves the addition of dried anchovies, but the addition of brined crab pieces seriously elevates the stock and if available is what I use in dishes such as Shabu Shabu (Japanese Fondue).

Anchovie Dashi

  • 4 to 6 c Cold water
  • 1 to 2 square inches of dried konbu sheet per cup of water
  • 2 to 3 Dried “dashi anchovies” per cup of water
  • A handful of katsuobushi flakes (shaved bonito), more or less to taste

Add the cold water to a non reactive pot and add the konbu.
Place pot over a medium high element and slowly bring to a simmer.
Remove the kelp from the water before boiling and add the Anchovies and Katsuobushi.
**Do not boil the Konbu–it will make the resulting stock bitter**
Cook on a low boil for a few minutes.
Remove from heat and strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a heat proof bowl.
Let cool or use while hot
Keep the remaining dashi in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a up to a week.

Notes: This recipe is what the Japanese call ichi dashi or first dashi. If you come across a recipe calling for ni dashi simply repeat the above process using new water and the removed/strained ingredients from the first batch. Ni dashi is used in some dishes where a lighter flavour is required. Depending on the strength of the ichi dashi, I will sometimes make a ni dashi as the basis for the traditional miso soup, but for the most part I rarely take this step.

As you can see from the above the ingredient list, this is very much a “make it to taste” recipe. Drop the anchovies if you’re going for a lighter less fishy version; add more katsuobushi if you want a heavier smoked flavour; wipe the konbu with a damp paper towel to remove the crusted salt if you want a less salty version; add the above mentioned brined crab (only a small piece is required) to turn it into something extravagant… It really is a very flexible base and easily adapted to your needs. Always make a little more than required–it is called for in so many Japanese dishes and can even find it’s way into some Western recipes.

…Or you could just skip all the above and buy the little msg laden packets from the Japanese or Korean grocer. Your choice.


Gluten Free Furikake

Furikake isn’t well known in North American, but in Japan it’s found in many kitchens. It’s a salty-sweet dry flake condiment sprinkled on top of rice to add a little kick at any mealtime. In our house it’s added to more than just rice and is used for everything from topping noodle dishes to flavouring bread mixtures for frying. It comes in a variety of flavours including salmon, egg and kimchi, but the most common and versatile flavour is the basic katsuobushi (shaved bonito) version.

It’s pricey stuff on this side of the Pacific and for a gluten free household not very practical (it contains wheat based soya sauce in almost all commercial preparations)–so I’ve come up with the following homemade GF version. It’s a little time consuming to make only because of preparing the tamari infused sesame seeds:

Kastuobushi GF Furikake*

  • 3 Tbs Finely chopped dried nori (approx. 1/16th” x 3/16th” pieces)
  • 3 Tbs Tamari infused sesame seeds (see below)
  • 1/2 to 1 Tbs White sugar (to taste)
  • 5-6 Large 3 finger pinches of katsuobushi rubbed to a coarse powder
  • Salt to taste (mostly to balance the sweetness)

Combine by hand and transfer to a sealed jar.

Tamari Infused Sesame Seeds

  • 4 Tbs Hulled sesame seeds
  • Tamari to moisten

Combine the two ingredients and let sit for a few minutes.
Take a baking sheet and line with foil.
Lightly oil the foil with cooking spray.
Spread seed mixture over the oiled foil.
Place in an unheated oven and bring to 170F.
Turn oven off and let the seeds dry for about 20 minutes.
Lift and break up the now sticky seeds from the foil using a plastic spatula.
Return to the oven and repeat the process.
Let the seeds cool and then separate the now dried seeds with your fingers.
Yield’s about 3-4 Tbs of seeds (some will always remain stuck to the foil).


*While this recipe/menu is listed as GF please note that it assumes all ingredients are certified GF.

Weekday Japanese

Most weekday evenings usually find the various family members shooting off in different directions for sports, clubs and courses. However, when the stars align and everyone happens to be free for the dinner hour, I like to put in a little more effort. This time it was a Japanese themed meal.

Japanese Weekday Menu:

  1. Deep Fried GF Panko Prawns*
  2. Simmered Vegetables
  3. Wakame Salad
  4. Cal-Rose extra fancy white rice
  5. Cut strawberries
  6. Milk for the kids and Malbec for the adults

The prawns turned out well but are still a work in progress. I’ll write more about this in a separate post and do a proper recipe once I’ve worked out all the bugs. I drizzled them with tonkatsu sauce prior to serving. The Wakame salad is a shredded seaweed dressed with sesame oil, sesame seed and sugar available at the local Korean market. It’s also sold in Japanese markets and even Costco locally. I can’t get the correct seaweed base, so I don’t try and make it myself. The rice is white extra-fancy grade short grain rice commonly used in making sushi. It’s commonly called “California Rose” in North America, but not always identified as such on the packaging. Total prep and cooking time: about 60-90 minutes.

Simmered Vegetables

  • 1 tsp Light cooking oil (Canola)
  • 1 thinly sliced small red bell pepper
  • 4 Thinly sliced mushrooms stem on
  • 8 Green beans cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces on the bias
  • 1/2 inch cube of ginger deeply scored
  • Seven Spice powder
  • 2 Tbs Dashi Stock
  • 1 Tbs Sake
  • 1 Tbs GF Tamari*
  • 1 Tbs White Sugar

Prepare Vegetables and Dashi stock.
Mix last 4 ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat cooking oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium element.
Add peppers and beans to pan and stir-fry until partially softened.
Add mushrooms and ginger and stir-fry for a minute or two.
Cover the pan and cook until the mushrooms begin to sweat.
Shake the pan occasionally to prevent over browning.
Remove the cover and add the sauce.
Continue stir-frying until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add Seven spice powder to taste (a pinch or two is enough).
Serve on a decorative dish, warm or at room temperature.

Notes: An easy dish that takes approximately 10 minutes to prepare, assuming you use instant dashi or have it prepared in advance. Adapted from Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji.


*While this recipe/menu is listed as GF please note that it assumes all ingredients are certified GF.