Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I'm not sure if anyone has caught on just yet, but one item is painfully absent from every bento I've posted on this site: Gluten Free Bread.  For the past year, I have tried to learn to love it to zero success.  Every brand I have tried is mealy, dense and either tasteless or disgusting.  I am also concerned with the lengths some companies go to bring their product to market including the chemicals and packaging used in the process.  And above all that, bread is at minimum $6 a loaf! Totally not worth it in my book.

Enter Van's Totally Natural Frozen Waffles which are currently on sale for $2 at Whole Foods and you can print a $1 off coupon if you join their E-Club.  The waffles are fluffier than their Eggo counterparts and their ingredient list is one to be proud of.  They are hands down my favorite bread substitute.  The sweetness is very faint, almost like that of honey wheat bread and one waffle is 115 calories.  So for today's lunch I have:

  • A Waffle-Wich filled with cranberry walnut tuna salad (I went very very light on the dressing to keep the waffle from going soggy.)
  • An unfried green tomato - Two slices of green tomato topped with parmesan and mozzarella cheese toasted in the toaster oven until the cheese is melted.  I topped these with a nori furikake for a punch.
  • Plain Greek Yogurt
  • Strawberries and Blackberries
This meal is a little light on the vegetables, however I had a green power smoothie for breakfast containing more vegetable servings in one glass than most Americans eat in a day.  I've resigned to the fact that life is about balance, but not every meal must be balanced.

Do you have any tricks for bulking up your vegetable intake at lunch?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

River Bento

I spent Sunday on the Comal River which is one of Texas's worst kept secrets.  It is a natural waterway perfect for tubing, especially with its 80 degree water!  However, this year's new laws prohibit disposable containers which requires more planning than our usual spontaneous trips.  Pre bento this would be a challenge, this morning, however was a breeze.  For lunch I have broccoli with egg foo young sauce (in the red container), apples and kiwi, my attempt to recreate Whole Foods Black Bean Quinoa Salad (not quite there, but I will post the recipe when I perfect it) and poached salmon topped with black and white sesame seeds.

The Lunchbot trio survived quite well in our quickly packed ice chest...the container let very little water in from the surrounding ice slurry.  My container was the talk of the picnic, I wish I had a stash to sell that afternoon because I could have cleaned house!

So no Monday bento for me - enjoy your memorial day and hug a vet everyone!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fridays are for Leftovers

Fridays are sweet....Fridays before a holiday weekend are EXTREMELY sweet.  After last night's dinner I went ahead and packed lunch in my all stainless steel Lunchbot.  I have leftover saffron rice, smoked chicken, green beans (from my freezer) and mixed berries.

I like the all stainless steel look and feel of this box, but I miss the dividers in the uno like my quad and trio have.  I do my grocery shopping on the weekends, so I have to stretch to pack a unique Friday lunch. Do you scrounge around for your Friday bentos?  Has anyone tried more liquidy substances in their lunchbot?  I'm equally scared and curious as to he results.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lunchbots Trio and a Low Carb Bento

I have to say, Lunchbots were an investment, but they are already worth their weight in gold!  Mornings are now a breeze and I can pack almost without thinking.  The smoked chicken is a repeat from yesterday (Spoiler: it will be in my lunch tomorrow as well!).  I have noticed how much more energy I have from 3-5pm when my lunch is higher protein and fewer carbohydrates.  So for today I have purple cauliflower and the most adorable baby broccoli and apple and Fredricksburg Peach chunks.  I added a sauce container, however I don't remember what is in it - the vegetables didn't need it!

Fredericksburg peaches signal the beginning of summer here in the hill country - it is the one item I will buy on the side of the road.  The box I bought was chock full of tiny little gems that just beg to be put in ice cream. (By the way, does anyone have tips on packing ice cream?)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Lunchbots Have Arrived

I was absolutely giddy to see an Amazon package on my doorstep when I returned home yesterday evening.  I finally have appropriately sized lunch containers! 

In today's quad I have apple chunks, smoked chicken, pepperjack and cheddar quesadillas on corn tortillas and dry coleslaw with the dressing in the container.

After years of soggy coleslaw leftovers (which always end up in the trash), I have learned to toss this side dish in very small batches.  This recipe was purple cabbage, napa cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, onion and julienne green beans.  As a bonus, this veggie mix is perfect for an on the fly stir fry!  Quality produce is one item I always splurge on and I refuse to throw any in the trash if I can help it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Catch Up Bentos!

Out of town work commitments have left me basically bentoless for the past week.  However, before I left, I packed two bentos with the last bit of my leftovers.  It was an excellent decision (if I do say so myself ;), the first two days of my trip included excellent lunches - the remainder relied heavily on Kind Bars and fruit cups.

So I intended to make them both ice chest friendly just in case....however I had leftover chicken salad that would otherwise spoil.  This was my first day's lunch to be safe with the mayonaise: Chicken salad (walnuts, celery, green onion, curry powder, mayonaise), Sushi rice shaped in my onigiri mold, fruit kabobs, ham kabobs and steamed broccoli dressed with egg foo young sauce.

The next lunch had two built in ice packs with the spaghetti cupcakes and I have to say, it traveled pretty well.  Along with the two muffins, I have green beans, a yellow nectarine, grapes, cheese hearts and extra marinara sauce in the container.

Yes, I admit these look a bit thrown together - because they were!  But, for the first time, I returned home for a business trip with zero spoiled items in my fridge.  That's a win!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Egg Foo Young Muffins

Egg Foo Young is a quick dinner disguised as a full on production...and it is my favorite way to use up extra bits of veggies in the fridge.  Because my recipe is more of a method than an exact science, I always end up with extra egg mixture.  Last night I had an extraordinary amount of mix...and instead of making extra omelets, I whipped up some Egg Foo Young Muffins (recipe below.)  To round our my bento I have apple slices, sweet potato stars, grapes, homemade quick almond butter, egg foo young sauce in the screw top container and cinnamon-stevia blend in the orange container.
The almond butter is just a handful of raw almonds soaked for an hour in filtered water that I pulsed in a mini food processor until smooth (or relatively smooth.)  It is a bit messy, but ounce for ounce it is 1/10 of the price of commercial almond butter.

Egg Foo Young

2 cups Assorted Veggies, roughly chopped
1 bunch Scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup Shredded/Cubed Protein (pork, chicken, shrimp, cubed tofu or whatever you have), pre-cooked
1/4 of a Medium Yellow Onion
1 inch piece of Ginger
2 cloves Garlic
2 whole Eggs
6 Egg Whites
Peanut Oil for cooking
1/4 cup + 2 tsp Gluten Free Low Sodium Tamari
1 cup Unsalted Chicken Stock
1 tbsp Cornstarch
2 tsp Sugar

In a large bowl, mix veggies, scallions and shredded protein. 
In a separate bowl, grate onion, ginger and garlic on the fine side of a box grater. Whisk in eggs and 2 tsp tamari.  Combine vegetable and egg mixtures and toss to coat.
Brush a large skillet with peanut oil and heat on medium high heat.  Using a 1/4 cup measure, cook egg mixture like a pancake 2-3 at a time.  Brown on both sides and transfer to a cookie sheet once cooked.
Mix cornstarch with a little of the Chicken Stock to create a slurry.  In a medium sauce pan over medium heat combine remaining tamari, chicken stock, slurry mixture and sugar.  Whisk until thickened to desired consistency (to coat the back of a spoon is ideal.) Turn the heat down to the lowest setting while cooking the egg pancakes.
This is a base sauce that you can transform many ways when the heat is turned down.  Add two pressed pods of garlic, a few slices of peeled ginger, crushed red pepper or some slices of jalapeno.  I freeze the remaining, completely cooled sauce in a silicone ice cube tray to spice up steamed veggies.

Egg Foo Young Muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Pour mixture into a muffin tin lined with paper muffin cups or coated with cooking spray.  Bake for 20 minutes or until set.


  • I cook with low sodium and unsalted broths, stocks and sauces whenever possible to control the amount of salt in the final dish. 
  • Tamari is an aged soy sauce that I can now find at my regular grocery story.  If you cannot find Gluten Free Tamari, you can substitute for an equal amount of soy sauce.  It will taste great but will not have the extra element of Tamari. (Think substituting red wine vinegar for balsamic.)
  • Very, very rarely do I add white sugar to a dish, however, even though this is such a small amount, the sauce does not taste the same without it.  I have attempted to sub in brown sugar, turbinado sugar and stevia to less than pleasant results.
  • Green Peas are the standard veggie of choice in this dish and will float to the top of the muffin.  Here I used one cup shelled green peas and one cup of a mix of bean sprouts, carrots, mushrooms and green beans.  Some fresh cabbage would also be a great addition.
  • Adjust your eggs accordingly, the ones I used last night were jumbos so 2 whole, 6 whites were enough.  I cook with eggs at a 3:1 ratio of whites to whole eggs which I find is the point immediately before I can taste a difference.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Starry Night

As I make one trip to the grocery store a week, Friday's meals are either leftovers or freezer finds.  To make today's lunch I had plenty to work with: the last bit of rice (packed flat to fill the extra space), purple cabbage coleslaw (Cabbage, celery, orange bell pepper and green onion dressed with honey mustard dressing - this was better than it was last night!), half a cucumber for cucumber stars, cubed pork tenderloin and some frozen fruit.  Add some black sesame seeds and flower picks and voila - a starry night lunch!

Two weeks into bento-ing and I have learned a lot:
  • More is not more when it comes to dishes - I should try to focus on 1 vegetable, fruit and starch and 1-2 protein items.  
  • Dedicating 5 minutes each morning to packing my lunch saves me at least $30 a week!  The above box cost at the most $1.50 - and I'll admit, some of the dishes may have gone in the garbage.  I was spending anywhere from $7-9 a day for a quick, semi healthy lunch.
  • Variety is key, but overloading at the grocery store is not necessary - again more is not more!
  • The square boxes from my tupperware collection were fine in a pinch, but they were incredibly hard to pack....more proper boxes are on their way!
And as a little happy Friday moment, can anyone spot my helper?  Annabelle is excellent at supervising, but I did not realize she was sneaking into the photo ;)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Deconstructed Fried Rice

Some mornings I have all the time in the world...this was not one of those mornings.  My favorite meals at restaurants are deconstructed versions of classic dishes.  I love creating the perfect bite and I can often sub out or eliminate any gluten element.  So for today, I created a deconstructed fried rice which came together very quickly.

From left to right I have leftover white rice and green peas, edamame, diced grilled chicken, a tasty but nowhere near authentic tamagoyaki, apple slices and a gluten free sweet and sour sauce in the container.  I was able to eat lunch in the office this afternoon so I removed the apples and sauce container and microwaved the fried rice ingredients.  (I was not very confident on the sauce container and did not want to risk making a mess in the office microwave.)  Once mixed up, everything was delicious - exactly how I like it, veggies, egg and protein with a little rice.  I only wish I had the forethought to pack green onions and carrots to round out the dish.

This rubbermaid premiere 3 cup container travels very well, however the silicone lid makes it difficult to pack.  I cannot wait for my lunchbots set to come in the mail.  I have caught the bento bug and it is a blast!


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"UnLeftover" Pizza Bento

When you're gluten free you can't have pizza....and you definitely cannot have cold, leftover pizza for lunch!

Wait, what?  That's a rule I cannot accept!  I absolutely love pizza in all forms - even during my six months as a vegan cheese-less pizza was a staple.  There is one takeout restaurant in Austin with great gluten free pizza, but it requires 24 hour notice.  So for spur of the moment lunch ideas, I keep gluten free cornmeal English muffins in my freezer.

For today's "unleftover" pizza, let an English muffin thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  Toast one half with a tablespoon leftover marinara sauce, two pieces Canadian bacon - shredded, and two tablespoons shredded mozzarella* cheese.  Toast until the cheese is melted and cool completely before packing in your box to prevent condensation and spoilage.

To complete my lunch, I have celery sticks, a butter leaf lettuce and orange bell pepper salad, ranch dressing in the sauce container, grapes and cottage cheese with black sesame seeds.

*Note: Commercially shredded cheese are often packed in cornstarch to prevent clumping, however some brands used a gluten based anti-clumping agent.  I shred cheese from a block - it is cheaper and the block cheese will last longer - but if you are using a pre-shredded bag, read the label.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pinwheel Bento

For the past year, I've been in search of the perfect Gluten Free Tortilla for wraps.  Simple corn tortillas are great for the purpose they serve, however, once refrigerated, every one I've tried has crumbled into cornmeal.  The wraps I used today are a blend of corn, rice and buckwheat and while they hold their shape, they are almost completely flavorless.  I may try my own recipe this week and if they are decent, I'll post my results.

But, I'm not going to lett a flavorless tortilla ruin Pinwheel Day.  Pinwheels are the perfect lunch food: when stored correctly, they are clean bites of deliciousness and always a conversation starter.  I split a wrap in two for today's lunch:

  • The Turkey pins are Boar's Head Mesquite Smoked Turkey (Not an endorsement, however I have had issues with other brands of deli meat.) and 1 tbsp sour cream mixed 1 tbsp fresh salsa.  Spread the salsa mixture evenly from edge to edge of the wrap and place the turkey in the first third of the wrap.  Roll tightly and wrap in plastic wrap.  Freeze for 10 minutes and slice.
  • On the other half I have natural crunchy peanut butter and Simply Fruit* Black Cherry preserves which unraveled a bit in transit...but it was equally delicious.
I rounded out my meal with green beans, edamame, apple and orange slices and a hard boiled egg.   The sauce container holds a bit of honey mustard dressing which I forgot to use.  This was the perfect pre-spin lunch that ended up being just lunch (the rain delayed my ride to this evening.)  Happy Pinwheel Day everyone!

*Note: Beware of any preserve that indicates "with fiber" as the additional added fiber may be sourced from a product containing gluten.  I stick with products that I can pronounce each ingredient, if I can't, it is not worth the trouble.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Salad Wrap Bento

So I think I may have a handle on this whole bento thing and I packed this box with bulky vegetables so as to not make the same mistake as last week.

Today I have a grilled chicken salad wrap kit: butter leaf lettuce, purple cabbage, teriyaki glazed grilled chicken (please excuse my knife skills...I didn't realize it was that bad until I looked at this photo), gluten free soy sauce and a peanut sauce in the green container (recipe below.)  I also have apple and orange slices, colby jack cutouts and what looks like a tiny bit of rice - it is actually a loosely packed half cup - the box is eerily deceiving!

Peanut Sauce:
2 TBSP Natural Peanut butter
2 TBSP Coconut Milk (I used Silk Pure Coconut Original)
1 TBSP Bragg's Liquid Aminos
Juice of two lime wedges
1 Clove of garlic, pressed
A dash of rice wine vinegar
Fresh Cracked pepper

Wisk all ingredients together until smooth (I used the small container of my Ninja food processor) Add Coconut Milk or Water to reach your desired consistency. Garnish with fresh cracked pepper or kick up the heat with a little Sriracha.

Friday, May 4, 2012

TGIF: Italian Themed Bento

What's the worst thing about Gluten Free Pasta?
The gummy leftovers.

I'm resigned to the fact that pasta will never taste the same without gluten, but as an Italian I'm not ready to give up my leftover pasta lunches.

Enter What's For Lunch at Our House's Spaghetti Cupcakes!  I was super excited to test this out with a few modifications:
  • I made my own turkey meatballs and intentionally made a few small enough to fit in cupcake tins
  • Worried that the pasta would overcook after boiling and baking, I cooked half of a package of Quinoa Pasta according to the package directions but draining and rinsing the pasta three minutes short of the time required.
  • To up the protein and make sure the corn-quinoa mixture stayed together, I used two whole eggs plus four additional egg whites.
And the verdict?  They were DELICIOUS!  As you can tell from the photo, they did not stay together as well as the original, however for a minute I thought I was eating real spaghetti.  Expect to see more of these in rotation!

To complete my box, I have steamed green beans, baby carrots, sliced string cheese, a few walnuts and - surprise surprise - the last of the strawberries.  Here's to the weekend and hopefully more creativity next week,

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Not All 3 Cup Containers are Created Equal

In this 3.1 cup Sterilite Snap Lid container was entirely too tall - I ordinarily use it for hardboiled egg storage.  However, I worked with what I had on hand (and added more containers to my shopping list).  Today I packed onigiri with seaweed furikaki and pickled ginger, carrots brushed with teriyaki sauce, diced chicken, strawberries (one more serving left in the frige - after that I may turn into a strawberry!) and gluten free soy sauce all resting on a bed of baby spinach (which is hidden in this super tall container.)

Perfect amount of food, but my creativity needs a bit of a boost - I was incredibly bored with this lunch.  The chicken was leftover from dinner and I decided to experiment with freezing portions of leftovers for my lunch.  I diced the chicken and froze it in a silicone baking cup inside of a freezer bag.  I put a portion in the freezer the night before and it was defrosted by lunchtime.  (And as a bonus - it worked as an instant icepack!)

I can't wait until my All Things for Sale order comes in so I can spice things up a bit!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Spiced up Leftover Bento

Today's bento bears a vague resemblance of last night's dinner but I almost fooled myself.  Packed in this 3 cup Rubbermaid Lock-it are:

  • Kicked up Cornbread Muffins - Green Chili Cornbread (recipe to follow) poured over leftover sautéed onions and grilled chicken.  Top with shredded cheese (I used Monterrey Jack and Cheddar) and baked to set
  • Lazy Tuna Salad - Drained tuna mixed with gluten free thai peanut dressing and topped with a few diagonal stripes of Sriracha.
  • A quick early morning stir fry of leftover steamed veggies - broccoli, red peppers, onions and snap peas - dressed with my go-to stir fry sauce (soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, rice wine vinegar, grated fresh ginger and a little sugar) and topped with a few sliced almonds.
  • Sliced strawberries and a few cherry tomatoes completed the box.
Even though this box is labeled as a cup larger than yesterday, it was the perfect amount of food (the tunafish was my mid afternoon snack.)  I see purchasing more of these boxes in my future - aside from a crumpled foil muffin liner, this box traveled extremely well.  I especially love that I can purchase lock-its at my local grocery store.

And So It Begins: Bento #1

Today I packed rice onigiri with sesame furikake, "ugly carrots" (carrots brushed with balsamic vinegar), cherry tomatoes, sesame green beans, shelled green peas, sliced string cheese, lunchmeat rolls, strawberries and gluten free soy sauce in the fish.

For my first bento, I was surprised at how well everything travelled (this photo was taken after my generic snap box spent the day in my purse.)  However, my eyes were much bigger than my stomach - even in a bento box labeled 2.1 cups this was entirely too much food.

I made the onigiri last night with leftover sushi rice, but I'm afraid they are too thick.  Not only was this too much rice, but they were beyond bite-sized.  Tomorrow I plan on trying a locking sterilite container and packing a less busy box.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Rules for Bentos

I began this bento journey as a cure for the common lunch.  Living with a Gluten allergy is rough, especially in a job that requires quick lunches and unexpected travel.  After a year of processed foods (gluten free but tasteless) and grilled chicken salads, I decided to branch out into the world of bentos.  To conform to my lifestyle, my boxes have to follow a certain set of rules which I hope you'll hold me to:

Rule #1 - 3 Parts Vegetable, 2 Parts Protein, 2 Parts Carbohydrate, 1 Part Fruit

This is a departure from the typical 3:2:1 Carb, Veggie, Protein formula typically found in traditional Japanese bentos and I impose this rule mainly to ensure I consume enough vegetables to counteract the temptations that lurk around my office.  I feel much better digestive wise when my meals are half fruits and veggies.  BUT, I don't intend on weighing or even accurately measuring my portions to ensure the proper balance....I'm just going to play this by ear.

Rule #2 - All Items Must be Edible by Chopsticks or the Utensils Contained Within the Box

I am constantly on the go - 75% of the time I am eating lunch in the car or on a park bench outside of my next destination.  I always carry a pair of bamboo chopsticks in my purse and cannot say the same for a fork and spoon.  I have found (often through desperation) that I enjoy my food more if I eat each bite purposefully rather than in a mad dash with a fork or spoon.  

Rule #3 - 75% Whole, Unprocessed Foods

Story of my life.  Processed foods often contain hidden gluten and can completely wreck my evenings.  The processed foods within my lunch are kept to a minimum by necessity and I take this as a challenge, not a punishment.  Certain items are unavoidable (GF Soy Sauce, Ketchup, Tofu and very seldomly - Pop Chips.)  Looking over my grocery bills from the past year, minimizing processed foods has cut my food costs by 20%....and if I did not splurge in the produce department, it might be close to 40%.

Rule #4 - Special Equipment Kept to a Minimum

Bento shopping can add up quickly.  I splurged during my first trip to the local Japanese market and bought a real bento box, some onigiri molds and those cute little containers that hold liquidy sauces.  However, anyone can bento with the equipment already found in your kitchen.  This is the roughest rule for me to follow because it is all so adorable (and I may or may not have a few more items on order....)

Rule #5 - Time is of the Essence 

I am not a morning person so every bento here will require 5 minutes or fewer in the morning.

Rule #6 - Nothing Goes to Waste

You will notice that I repeat ingredients frequently throughout the week...and this is intentional.  If I find the most amazing strawberries at the farmer's market, you will see them in every box that week...and perhaps a few frozen ones the next week.