Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part 4:The Power Of the Bento Stash

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Welcome to Part 4 (which is actually the 5th lesson) of Bento 101! If you have been following along on schedule, by now you should have packed a bento and brought it along to work or school. How was the experience for you? Was it too much work or doable? Did you run into any problems during transit (such as your box leaking) or during lunch (such as your co-workers trying to steal your lunch or making comments)? Above all, is it something you see yourself doing regularly? If the answer to the last question is yes, then you’re well on your way to becoming a bento convert.

The theme of this lesson is about something that will enhance your bentos in many ways…

The importance of having a stash

A bento or meal stash (or johbisai/jobisai in Japanese) is a collection of premade foods that are stashed away in your freezer, pantry and refrigerator. Having a bento stash is the best way to make packing a bento easier and faster, and to make your bentos more varied. And it’s your ultimate backup for when you’re too busy or tired to cook.

I’m often asked how I manage to pack a bento in 5-10 minutes. Are those estimates unreasonable? I don’t think so. It’s not like I’m a super-fast cook or anything like that - it’s just a matter of being prepared.

Let’s look at some of my 5-10 minute-assembly bentos to see how it’s done with help of the Stash.

This is a fairly standard bento with rice and mini chicken burgers. If I assembled everything from scratch, it would easily take me 30, 40 minutes or more.

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Instead, I assembled it in less than 10 minutes. The main protein component is mini chicken burgers, which I had made in some quantity. We had some of the chicken burgers (formed into a bigger size than for bentos) for dinner one night, then I’d stored the rest, formed into mini-burgers, in the freezer. I defrosted them as described in the recipe in a frying pan and added a simple glaze with ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. The other made-ahead component is what I call cooked to death peppers. This keeps for a few days in the refrigerator, so I just make a batch (especially when peppers are on sale) and store them in an airtight container. Even the rice is premade and frozen in portions, although I did jazz it up a bit and make it into carrot rice in the microwave. The greenery came from my container herb garden.

Speaking of the chicken burgers though, I actually made two recipes at once and stashed some of both. The other bento that I made from that ground chicken batch was this:

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This bento is even simpler than the previous one. Basically I used the dumplings from my freezer stash, cooked green beans from the night before, and more rice from the freezer stash, this time decorated with a bit of furikake (rice sprinkles).

Speaking of furikake: if you like rice-based bentos, furikake is a great staple to have around. You can buy furikake at any Japanese grocery store, or make your own - I have a lot of recipes for homemade furikake on the site. (I’ve included a moister kind of ‘thing to sprinkle on rice’ that’s usually called soboro in that category too, since you can use them in similar ways.)

An example of a very easy bento made with pre-made and stashed furikake is this one, from the Guy Does Bento series:

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We make salted salmon and salmon furikake at least once a week. Once the salted salmon is done we store it in the freezer, but the furikake lasts for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator if well covered, and we usually manage to use it all up in that time. So this bento is just a matter of mixing up the sushi rice, cutting up some vegetables and piling on the furikake.

The Power Of The Stash does not just apply to Japanese style bentos of course.

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This bento features two very ‘stashable’ items: chili and muffins. Muffins are my other favorite thing to stash, besides furikake: if you make them in the mini-size, you can just grab them out of the freezer and they’ll be defrosted and edible by lunchtime - or, you can warm them up a bit if you have access to a microwave. I have several packable muffin recipes, even a low carb, gluten-free one; most are savory or go well with savory foods, although my sweet (but not too sweet) Earl Grey Tea muffins may be the most popular.

I have a ton of recipes on this site for ‘stashable’ food, especially in the johbisai category for you to try. Besides that though, think of the foods you like (referring back to the first assignment) that can be kept for some time.

The three ways of building up a stash

  1. Cook a bit more when you’re cooking anyway. This is just an extension of setting aside some of what you cook for dinner. Whenever you’re cooking something, just make a bit more of it, and store the ‘leftovers’. Muffins are a great example: just bake a double batch, have batch one within a couple of days or so and freeze the rest. This is the least additional-work, almost painless way to build up a stash.
  2. Make some things in batches during the weekend or when you have a block of free time. If you like to get a lot of things done around the house on the weekend, you may consider setting aside some time to stash-building. for example, Gomashio (sesame salt) is really useful to have on hand for all kinds of foods - but it takes a bit of time to make, so you might want to make it on the weekend rather than on a busy weekday. This does require some extra effort, but I think you’ll find it well worth your time.
  3. Be on the lookout for stashable foods at the store. When you shop at the supermarket with an eye towards building up your stash, all kinds of possibilities will open up to you. I’ve listed some of my favorite storebought stash items here, but I’m sure you can think of your own. This part can actually be fun!

Your assignment this week

This is Assignment no. 5.

  • Cook or buy at least one item that can be ‘stashed’ in the freezer for future bentos.
  • Cook or buy at least one item that can be ‘stashed’ in the refrigerator for at least a week, for future bentos.
  • Cook or buy at least one item that can be ‘stashed’ in a kitchen cabinet/pantry (i.e. at room temperature) for future bentos.

You can go with all-cooked, all-storebought items or a mix.

To give you an example of an all-cooked set of stash items: black bean mini-burgers (freezer), miso marinated eggs (refrigerator), spicy curry peanut furikake (pantry).

An example of a storebought set of stash items: frozen veggie burgers like Boca burgers (freezer), Mini Babybel chees (fridge), almonds (pantry).

If you’re sharing your lessons, please report back in the comments or on Facebook with your stash items!

(A note for people who wil be participating in the Japanese Cooking 101 course on JustHungry: there will be a one week overlap, but the this one is your last formal assignment for Bento 101. Ther last lesson will be a summary and wrapup, so no worries about too much homework. ^_^)

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

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Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

Oh boy. I am all about the stash when it comes to my bentos!
I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe's, and they have a great selection of frozen goodies perfect for a jobisai.
My favorite items to have on hand are:
Freezer Items
Pork and veggie gyoza
Chicken shumai
Japanese fried rice (with hijiki and edamame - so yummy)
Veggie masala burgers
Mini turkey meatballs
Stuffed mushroom caps
Fridge Items
Kimchi
Pickles
Hummus
Laughing cow cheese
Mini Brie or goat cheese medallions
Carrot and celery sticks
Romaine lettuce
Pantry Items
Shelf stable tofu
Chips and crackers
Fruit leather

If you aren't lucky enough to have a trader Joe's nearby, my suggestion would be to not overlook the frozen appetizer section of your grocery store! Mini 2-bite items are so perfect for bento ^_^

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

Maki, a dumb quesiton about bento stashes... do you typically heat the frozen ingredients in the morning and then eat your bento at room temperature or do you reheat when you're ready to eat?

I only ask because I usually have a decent stash of ingredients/premade lunch components in the freezer and typically reheat them in a microwave at the office. I'm trying to do more bento-style lunches, but i don't want to cheat and call my lunch a bento if it's not really a bento.

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

It really depends, and re-heating your food in the microwave at lunchtime doesn't make your bento invalid or anything at all. Whatever works for you is fine. People who don't have access to a microwave may want to make sure that their bento is totally defrosted in the morning, or leave some small bits still frozen (which then act sort of like mini-ice packs). There's no right or wrong way in this case.

When we do a long car trip for example, we often pack a couple of bentos. I may make one round of bentos that are ready to eat in a few hours or whenever we get hungry first, and also have some frozen onigiri or something to eat later - which are packed frozen, and defrost on the road.

So, to repeat - it all depends. Do what works for you ^_^

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

freezer; made mini meatballs and froze portions for future bento.

fridge; bought some mini cheeses, pickled onions, carrots and hummus.

cupboard; made a dried fruit mix of cherries, black and green grapes and blueberries, should keep for a few weeks in the cupboard, if it lasts that long...

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

I've just recently started making bento (sort of) since lurking on this site for a while. I've no clue about japanese cooking, so it's a mixture of the english/french food I've been brought up on. Very salad based with the odd thing my french relatives would roll their eyes at (plastic cheese!).

Here are a few of my favourite stash items:

Fridge:
Mixed salad leaves. Those pre-washed bags are quick but expensive. Luckily I grow a lot of my own, which I wash all in one go and refrigerate upon picking, so it's quick to dish up and very cheap for 3/4 of the year.
Cold leftover meats from the day before, chicken, beef, tuna steak.
Boiled eggs
Cold boiled potatoes (with skin on) from the day before.
Various raw salad veggies such as peppers, carrots, swede (rutabaga), cucumber that just need cutting up.
Babybel cheese
Ham
Yoghurt
Quiche if I've made some at the weekend, I'll make a few mini quiches for the week.

Freezer:
Cooked prawns
Veggie steam packs that you pop in the microwave for 2 minutes to cook and eat hot
Melon balls

Cupboard:
Satsumas
Bananas
Cheeries
Grapes
Tinned fruit is a favourite for me as long as it is in juice, not syrup
Almonds
Tinned sardines or tuna
Weetabix (I like them dry, I'm just weird like that)
Bread
Crackerbread

I keep a jar of homemade vinaigrette in my desk drawer at work.

Re: Bento 101 part 4

I realized I already had my stash. ^_^ Just had to get some pictures. http://instagr.am/p/WhHMfNqHJP/

Re: Bento 101 part 4

Ooo, I'm jealous of your pickled onions! Maybe that will be my next pickling project ...

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

I've actually been working through a bunch of my stash recently, but I have (till recently) had mini meatballs, corn, edamame, and salmon cakes in my freezer. We've got a Japanese market dow the street from us, and my husband picked up some furikake the other day, so I've got that now too, and some little frozen premade veggie cups just for bentos. I love that idea and think I might just make some of my own- It'd be super easy to take a muffin cup and blanch a little extra broccoli (or whatever)for freezing!

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

Freezer: edamame & peas (from the store), shiozake (when I can make it ... salmon is expensive!), frozen shrimp. I'd like to get better at making freezable proteins but I'm still trying to figure out when I have time to cook at all! O_o

Fridge: eggs (some hard-boiled, some raw for tamagoyaki), raw-eatable veggies (like carrots & cucumbers), and a tub of umeboshi. And I have a big bowl of the All-Season-Shredded-Vegetable-Pickle-Salad right now, which I just love -- so much flavor for so few calories ^_^

Pantry: almonds, dried apricots, canned beans, furikake, various sauces oils vinegars etc., pasta sauce in jars, canned tuna. And my rice of course, tho it does take a while to cook!

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

Yay! great answers ^_^

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

I use lots of dinner leftovers for the next day's bento.
Here's a list of what I try to have in my stash, though it doesn't mean I have everything at any given moment...

Freezer stash:

*Falafel patties (I try to sprout the hummus first, I add cumin and spices, and fry it flattened, so it's more packing-friendly) They are great with rice!
*Bite-sized pieces of: black bean brownies, white bean mock cheesecake (sweet protein!), cake leftovers
*Buns, pita, steamed buns, vegetable bread

Refrigerator:

*Cheese
*Pickles
*Coleslaw
*Salad dressing
*Sour cream

Pantry:

*Nuts, almonds, peanuts
*Dries fruit
*Olives

Favorite fruit and vegetables: Cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, apples, oranges (I usually slice them into circles, it's very pretty), grapes, kiwi

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

I've spent the last couple weeks pickling different things for my stash. I've also frozen up some food items for it.

things I've pickled:
radishes
bell peppers (red and green)
ginger
eggplant

things I've frozen:
precooked pork cutlets
rice

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

I have individual freezer packs of edamame, homemade frozen baked beans, veggie burgers, frozen vegetables, and shelf stable rice & quinoa

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

I don't have much freezer space, but have still managed to fit in a small stash:
Mini falafel patties (pre-cooked)
Vegetarian sausages (pre-cut & cooked)
Vegetable gyoza (my favourite!)
Edamame
Ravioli/Tortellini (I usually cook them in the morning then toss them in pesto)

I also have a few favourite fruits to use when I'm in a hurry:
Mandarin segments
Kiwifruit cut into 1/4s or 1/8ths
Grapes
Cherry tomatoes or regular tomatoes cut into wedges

It's surprising sometimes how quickly you can throw a bento together and still have people comment on how good it looks!

Re: Bento 101 (Getting into the Bento Making Habit) Part ...

I've really gotten into the habit of making a little extra food at dinner time, and freezing it for a later bento! That's the easiest thing to do and it saves so much time in the morning. Last night I made fake-chicken marsala and it was so yummy I brought the leftovers for lunch today! :]

Here is what I currently have in my stash!

**Freezer:
Veggie Nuggets
Edamame Nuggets
Peas
Broccoli
Mini Fake-Chicken Sliders
Homemade mini pancakes
Homemade mini vegetable pot pies (with tofu!)
Edamame (shelled and not shelled)
Raviolis
Veggie Dogs

**Fridge:
Cheeses
Oranges
Apples
Grapes
Avocados
Carrots
Baby Spinach
Greek Yogurt
Mushrooms
Eggs (hard-boiled and raw)

**Pantry:
Toasted Almonds
Honey-Wheat Pretzels
Wheat Thins
Raisins
Tortillas (for pinwheels, wraps, and all sorts of fun, quick stuff!)
Bagels

I have a lot of that stuff in my fridge at all times, the only things that really change are the fake-meat staples. :P

I find that I have a hard time getting enough carbs into my bentos! I know that sounds crazy, especially since I swear that's like the majority of what I eat when I don't pack bentos! I haven't been able to freeze rice properly yet, but do you guys have any other suggestions on how to incorporate healthy carbs?

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