Friday, July 18, 2014

Bento Tutorial - How to Make Pretty Carrot Flowers



 YUM.  I made the Best Salad the other day - and yes, those capital letters are on purpose, because this salad was that good!

  I haven't given it a good name yet, but for now it will be called "Chicken and Herbed Goat Cheese Salad with Green Apples, Pecans, and Carrots". That name is too long, I know. I'm thinking about just naming it "YUM". I'll work on the name and post the recipe in a future blog post.

  The main reason this salad is here today, is to show off those lovely purple carrot flowers. And I'm going to show you how easy it is to make them!

 But first of all, don't you love those purple carrots? I was so excited to find them at Trader Joe's, that I almost did a little dance right there in the store! They are called Organic Carrots of Many Colors, and they are only $1.99 a bag!


 They come in yellow, white, and orange, but the most beautiful carrots are the purple ones - deep purple color on the outside, with a bright yellow center!

  Here is a picture tutorial so you can see how easy it is to make them ( below the picture I will add a few important tips) :


1. Use a steel cutter, not a plastic one, for raw carrots. Click on the picture below to see where to buy the one I used in the photos:





2. Press down hard for a clean cut. Use your palm - if this hurts your hand you can place a small plate over the cutter and press down on that.

3. Push it out, with a chopstick, swizzle stick, or narrow handle of another kitchen utensil.

4. take a moment to admire your work :)

5. Put a small dab of honey in the center of the carrot so the seeds will stick. These are black sesame seeds, which I found at an asian market. Regular sesame seeds also look pretty in the center of flowers, so don't feel like you have to run all over town just to get some.

6. Dip a toothpick in just a little bit of water to pick up the sesame seeds with ease. The water tension will make the seed cling to the toothpick just long enough to transfer it to the carrot flower. Make sure your work surface is totally dry to make this process easy-peasy!

7. Touch it lightly to the honey coated surface until it sticks. This might take a little practice, but once you get just the right touch it's like riding a bike - you'll be super fast at this in no time!

8. Dip the toothpick in water for each seed. Just do it. It really is quicker this way.

9. Isn't it pretty? It reminds me of a purple pansy! Just a couple of these added to a lunch is all you need to elevate an okay lunch to the level of a Work of Art  :)


  And by the way, here is how you make the sugar snap pea leaves ( basically just cut the pea pod on the diagonal) :


    To make saving this easier, I'll give you a pinterest-worthy image below so you can save this idea and use it later when you're looking for ways to perk up a lunch. While you're there, you might want to take a look at my Pinterest board, Lovely Lunches. I have everything from fun ideas for kids lunches to beautiful bento works of art.



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

10 Good Reasons Why You Should Use Cloth Napkins


  So, why should you use cloth napkins? Is it that big of a deal anyway? Well, I have gathered together 10 good reasons why it might be of value to you, along with a little help from my lunch packing friends:

1. It's fun for kids to have their own cloth napkins. You know how fun it is to pick out a new lunch box and backpack when shopping for school? Yeah, cloth napkins can be like that too. And you can get a lot more styles and colors for very little money. Even grown ups appreciate a great lunch - including a nice cloth napkin :)

2. napkins can fill in gaps in lunch boxes. When you take the time to pack a bento lunch, you want it to still be in one piece by lunch time. Napkins can help keep things from shifting around if you have a kid who likes to swing their lunch box as they walk.  Cristi, from BentOnBetterLunches, describes this very nicely in this post, My Bento Packing Secret!

3. Choosing a cloth napkin to go with a holiday, birthday, or whatever your child's current interest is another way to show your kids that you love them and  are thinking about them when they're away from home. Kendra, from Biting the Hand that Feeds You, shows how she used a cupcake ring as a napkin ring in this adorable Easter themed lunch: Simple Easter Lunch!

4. When you eat away from home, you don't always have control of how clean the table or other surface is when you sit down to have your lunch. Spread out your cloth napkin and use it as a mini table cloth, so at least you have a small clean surface if you need to set down your fork or your apple between bites.



5. Cloth napkins are so soft! They just feel better, sturdier, more homey. Who wants a flimsy paper napkin with its papery lint? So cold and unfriendly! If you're packing a homemade lunch anyway, you should top it off with a soft cloth napkin. As you wipe your mouth with it, you might smell a little of that fabric softener you use, and it will remind you of home... and then you can use it to wipe that small tear that may escape from the corner of your eye, if you really love your home that much :)

6. They can be tossed in the wash with other loads, so you don't have the added burden of wondering when you'll have time to wash them all. They are small, so even a dozen napkins can fit in with any regular load of clothes or towels. * Kendra, from Biting the Hand that Feeds you, keeps a bag in her kitchen to toss the used napkins in - then empties the bag in the washing machine. No sweat!

7. Paper can't hold up to most spills like cloth can. Once my husband, son, and I were riding in the car. I had packed us all bento lunches, which included small containers of ranch dressing. My son's exploded when he tried to open it, and it ran all over his hands and arm ( you can read about that here). I tossed him one of my cloth bento bags and he cleaned it up quickly, and nothing spilled on the car. Okay, I know that was a bento bag, but a cloth napkin would work just as well!

8. It doesn't cost much to buy cloth napkins to match whatever your child is into at the moment. It can be a big commitment to buy a lunch box or back pack with a specific theme, though. How can you be sure your child won't get tired of it halfway through school? It may help the back to school shopping negotiations if you agree to buy some special themed cloth napkins for lunches, and in return your child can tolerate a plain colored lunch box ( which can last more than one year and save you money in the long run!)

9. It saves money. Did you know that the average person uses 2400 – 3,000 paper towels at work every year? You could buy a set of cloth napkins from my Etsy shop for $11.25. Using those at lunch time will cut down on the money wasted on paper towels, and they'll last for possibly hundreds of uses - as opposed to those one-use paper towels.

10. It's so much better for the environment. According to Going Green Today, 42% of all global wood harvested is destined to become paper. And did you ever consider that the typical takeout lunch consists of 1/3 paper, 1/3 plastic, and 1/3 food?  It just makes more sense to pack lunches in lunch boxes and use cloth napkins! Erin, of Feeling a Little Lunchy, describes how she has replaced paper with cloth in this post: feeling a little earthy

  Now that you have some good food for thought, if you are starting to think some cute little lunch-sized napkins might be just the thing you want to buy... I can help you out! I now sell cloth napkins in my Etsy shop, and you can find them here: Beneficial Bento 


Monday, June 23, 2014

Everyday Bento Book Review


   Let me tell you about one of my favorite new bento books, Everyday Bento by Wendy Thorpe Copely.

  Wendy, who's the owner/writer of the blog Wendelonia, has written a pretty comprehensive book that is perfect for people who are new to the idea of bento, and want to make their lunches using more "american" ingredients.

  Event though I'm not new to bento, I found many ideas and tips in this book that I wanted to incorporate in my lunches right away. Actually, that's the real beauty of this book- it's filled with practical, easy ideas that immediately make you think " I could do that!"

  Two of my favorite sections in Everyday Bento  are two simple lists: "Bento Box idea List" and "Bento Foods by Color". I turn to those lists frequently when the lunches I'm packing just need a little something but I just can't put my finger on it. Looking at those lists help me put together just what I need, and quickly too!

  Here is a lunch I made, inspired by Everyday Bento.  It was for my son, who still appreciates legos... especially if they're made of food!



  This lunch was made with Glutino gluten free crackers, ham, sugar snap peas, and cheese in the top tier of our Goodbyn Bynto box.

  I decided to add a little message on the top cheese slice  by using this fun tool:




  In the middle tier of the box, there's cucumbers, dip ( in the blue lego container) and edible legos made from carrots and more cheese.

  Anyone can make food into legos using the instructions in Everyday Bento, a knife, and a straw. It was easy, and everyone who saw it loved it!

  The bottom tier of this bento box is filled with grapes and strawberries to round out this simple, fun lunch.

  What is that cute little cloth napkin that is to the right of the bento box, you ask? Well, you can find those right here in my Etsy shop: Beneficial Bento  :)

 Here are more of the things used in this lunch, and where to buy them:



   
  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

C-3PO Star Wars Bento - May the 4th Be With You!


  Happy Star Wars Day everyone! Today is one of my favorite days to make a bento - I love a good excuse to make a Star Wars lunch :)  And so do all my bento-packing friends - that's right, we're having another blog hop! After you finish reading my post, then you have the chance to click on the link to my friend's blog, and on and on until you have seen all of our Star Wars lunches!

  This is the third year I have been a part of the Star Wars blog hop. The first year I made Admiral Ackbar out of refried beans and spanish rice:

Star Wars Bento - It's A Trap!

And last year I made Chewbacca out of kalua pork:

Star Wars Bento - May the 4th Be With You

  This year's lunch features a turkey sandwich with 3 different cheeses on wheat bread, topped with C-3PO made from cheese and nori ... you might call it my "3 Cheese - P O" ( har har har )

 Anyway, on the side there are some carrots and cucumber topped with a storm trooper helmet made from a boiled egg, with nori for the black details.

  Up in the corner there are some mixed berries with a frozen yogurt R2D2 - I used this mold to make it: (click on the picture to learn more)



 Also in the picture is one of my Star Wars cloth napkins, which I will soon have available in my Etsy shop.

  Now, why not hop on over to see what Anna from Becoming a Bentoholic has made, by clicking the link below:

 http://www.becomingabentoholic.com/2014/05/star-wars-day.htm

Or clicking on our blog hop button:


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mandarin Chicken Salad Bento with Butterflies


   I had some carrots and a big daikon radish, so I decided to make a mandarin chicken salad bento. The butterflies were made from sliced daikon - I just used a mini butterfly cutter, and the daikon slices had such a pretty design in the center that they seemed perfect for butterflies :)


  The salad also contains lettuce, broccoli slaw, chicken, cucumbers, mandarin orange slices, sliced almonds, and dressing.

   My recipe for the sesame dressing can be found here: Sesame Ginger Salad Dressing.

  Another dressing that goes well with mandarin chicken salad is this one: Apple Cider Dressing.

 Do you see that cute matching bento bag that my lunch is sitting on? It is for sale in my Etsy shop, and I only have one more left! The fabric is just perfect for bento bags - there's even some tiny bento boxes right on the fabric:


   I love packing my lunch in one of these bento bags when I have to eat away from home. They can lay flat to act as a placemat, and you can wipe your hands with it like a big cloth  napkin, turn it inside out, and take it home to wash it. Whether you've packed a big lunch or a small one, you can roll down the bag top to fit whatever's inside, like this:



Here are some things I used to make this lunch ( click on the pictures to learn more):




And here's my Etsy shop: Beneficial Bento

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Weekly Food Prep for Bento Lunches and Make-Ahead Dinners


   A lot of people ask me about my weekly food prep and salad bar. Those 2 pages are some of my most viewed places on my blog!

   I like to do my food prepping on Mondays whenever possible ( but I'm pretty flexible when necessary), so yesterday I did food prep for lunches and dinners for the coming week. I decided to do a little show and tell so you can see what I've made, and how I plan to use it.

  I usually cook proteins first, since they usually take the longest. This week I made grilled chicken breasts, taco meat ( made from ground beef), and boiled eggs.


  I cut the chicken into strips and portioned them out into sandwich bags. I have a small spare refrigerator in the garage, and that's where I stash most of my food that I've prepped for the family for the week. This will be used for mandarin chicken salads this week. And for snacks - everyone in our family likes to snack on chicken!


  For the beef, I cooked it and drained off the extra fat. I also rinse it in a colander to remove even more fat. I returned it to the pan and added taco seasoning and water and simmer until done. Then I portioned this out into individual servings, just like with the chicken. This will be used for tacos and taco salads this week.



  While the meats were cooking, I made some instant brown rice. I already had some quinoa that I  cooked a few days ago, so I'm using both of these for grains for the week. These will go in stir frys, and a casserole later in the week. Some of the quinoa I put in the freezer just to make sure it doesn't go bad before I turn it into dinner, since I'll be making that at the end of the week.

  I got a great deal on melons at the store this week, so I cut them all up and stored them in containers for everyone to have with their lunches and snacks. My very favorite containers to keep portion sizes under control are made by Fit & Fresh: Fit & Fresh Kids' Smart Portion 2 Cup Chilled Container, Assorted Colors 




  I often try out a new recipe if I have time during my weekly food prep sessions, and this week's try-out was a huge success! These are chocolate cookies made with avocado, and they are FANTASTIC! 

  Here's the link to this amazing recipe: Healthy Avocado Cookies, and here's how mine looked:


  I also made my usual big salad bowl and salad bar, several homemade dressings, and cut up some carrots, celery, daikon radish, broccoli, and cauliflower for snacks. But I forgot to take pictures :)

 I made less food this week than I usually do, partly because I already had food in the freezer that I'll be using up this week, and partly because I have so much good food left over from Easter dinner. But here's a final picture taken right before I packed this stuff away in the fridge and freezer in my garage:


  And here's what I packed for my husband to eat - it only took about 5 minutes to make lunch for him and me because I already had so much food pre-prepared:


  And here's mine, minus the chicken:


  We had black bean and edamame salad, with raw veggies and chocolate avocado cookies. It was SO good!

* I added this to What's for Lunch Wednesday. Go see what other bento bloggers made for lunch today!


 Here are some things I used to make these lunches, and for my food prep ( click on the picture to learn more):

Monday, March 10, 2014

New Insulated Bento Bags for Sale in my Etsy Shop!


 I've been cooking up some new lunch gear designs for my Etsy shop! I have 4 new lined and insulated bento bags that I designed to accommodate a taller bento box or a thermos. I needed something that I could keep taller containers standing upright, but I didn't want there to be too much extra room for things to shift and slide around.


 I also wanted a bag that was insulated so it could keep my food either warm or cool, so I lined them with Insul-Brite.



  And I needed it to be easy to just toss in the wash, so the seams are all finished and reinforced.


As an added bonus, I discovered that with this design I have enough fabric left over to make a front pocket with a reversible cloth napkin :)


  I'm really pleased with my new bento bags! They are easy to tuck into a big purse or a backpack, and I find that it's really nice to have a cloth napkin handy. In fact, I have been enjoying using cloth napkins SO much, I've been thinking of selling them individually in my shop... (I'll keep you posted on that idea)

  If you are interested you can find these bags, along with other fun stuff, right here in my Etsy shop:

Beneficial Bento

 Today's lunch is chicken and mushroom meatballs (recipe found here), along with rice and a cute snail made of cheese, carrot, nori, and lettuce. On the side are some assorted fruits, veggies, and a laughing cow cheese.




Have a wonderful day  :)

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