This is a series of posts featuring bentos made by my spouse, aka The Guy. The Guy is not Japanese, didn't grow up with bentos (but loves the ones I make for him) and is somewhat tentative in the kitchen when he gets out of his comfort zone. See how he gets along in the world of bentos.
It’s been quite a long time since I last posted a complete bento…but if you’ve read my previous posts, you know that I have a good excuse ^_^;. Well, I am not feeling too chipper, and on top of that I don’t have a real kitchen. STILL. Those two situations combined have made me very reluctant to attempt any kind of cooking. My appetite is not too good either to be honest.
While I’ve been sidelined as the main cook in the house, The Guy (aka…the spouse, who occasionally posts around here as Guruman) has been taking care of the food supply chain, manfully. Now, The Guy is not exactly a born cook. He never really learned how to cook when he was growing up. (He was a precious and coddled only son of a couple who had him fairly late in life, in Switzerland, a nation where women only got the right to vote in 1971. Of course they’ve made great strides in women’s suffrage since. But I digress.) He does love to eat though, and did pick up some recipes after he left graduate school and struck out on his own. He has a repertoire of about 5 or 6 dishes, which he makes very well - and often. But normally, he’s in charge of doing the dishes - a critical job in any kitchen workflow.
Attempting new stuff is a bit of an issue though. Being an engineer, he can follow recipes, though the process is very laborious. He has to read and re-read a recipe several times, as if they were machine operating instructions or something, before he’s comfortable enough to try it. Despite that, he has bravely decided to take on the challenge of making bentos for us for lunch at least once or twice a week. We’re sliding back into the sandwiches-or-fast-food rut during my time on the kitchen disabled list, and that’s not good for either of is.
So, here is The Guy’s very first attempt at a bento made all by himself. The components of the bento was suggested by me.
For his first bento, I figured that a really no-fuss approach was best. So we went for the bed-of-rice-with-stuff-on-it style, which is really the easiest to prepare and pack. Only 3 elements are in this bento (plus a decorative lemon slice), but it’s still fairly well balanced I think. The taste? Not bad, not bad at all.
His was packed in his favorite plain black bento box, while mine was in a white box. Despite my lack of appetite, I gobbled up the whole thing.
So, the contents:
The Guy only had two small pieces of salmon to work with, but he now sees that salmon furikake can be made in quantity, and he vows to do that and stick the excess in the freezer.
A very promising start I believe. It did take him a rather long time (due to the engineer-tendencies thing) but he seemed happy with the results, and I was too.
I am hoping that he will feel encouraged enough to continue. Homemade bentos are so much better in all ways that takeout or fast food. Stay tuned!
For his second bento (which actually appeared twice), The Guy tackled a bento based on an Okinawan speciality, taco rice.
Taco rice is basically an Okinawan/Japanese take on that Tex-Mex classic, tacos with spicy ground meat. There’s quite a strong American influence in Okinawa, due to the existence of a huge (and rather controversial) U.S. military base there, plus the fact that the United States occupied the Okinawan islands from after WWII until 1972. Instead of the corn tortillas or chips used in American taco-type dishes (including taco salad), taco rice uses rice as the base.
Anyway, for this bento, The Guy had no trouble making the taco meat base part, which is a staple around our house . As mentioned, he made enough for at least 2 rounds of bentos. He did decide to mix it up by using a packaged spiced couscous mix* instead of rice. The rest was fairly easy: shredded lettuce and cheese, cubed tomato, plus a bit of fruit in the form of grapes. The results were really tasty, though we both agreed that plain couscous would have been just as good since the meat mix was a bit on the too-spicy side.
Here it is packaged in two stainless steel bento boxes . I was amazed at how neatly he arranged everything, including the grapes. Check out the sliced yellow-pepper garnish. The Guy definitely has talent! (For those of you who have the Just Bento Cookbook, I used the larger sized bento box for the ‘soboro bento’ in there.)
Here’s the version I had, which is packed in the multi-compartment box described a few days ago . (The grapes were in a side container, which didn’t make it in the photos.)
Here’s how I ate the bento. I took out the divided-compartment part which had the sides…
Then dumped the sides into the main container and mixed everything up. Very good indeed. If you like it heated up, do so before adding the lettuc and tomato.
At this rate, The Guy may just take over all bento duties, even when I’m at full strength. We’ll see. ^_^
[* The spiced couscous mix he used is made by Tipiak, and is available in any French supermarket…French people love couscous. As I wrote, plain couscous will work just as well. Quinoa would work too, or even rice!]
For this bento, The Guy used two of his favorite foods, the mushroom rice and the chicken nuggets. (I myself am particuarly fond of those nuggets, hot or cold. They are great with pasta or mashed potatoes as well as with rice.) He was a bit stumped as to what vegetables to use, but we had a few green beans left and we always seem to have some bell peppers lying around, so he made a kinpira with the peppers (the recipe is in the Just Bento Cookbook , or you can work off of the recipes here for other kinpiras ). He did a fancy ‘French-cut’ on the beans and blanched them.
It did take him a bit of time to make this bento, but he chalks this up to inexperience and lack of planning plus ‘having to look up the recipes’. Also, he says that the rice should definitely be made in advance (the night before, or frozen and just defrosted). It’s kind of gratifying to hear, because he’s getting all the things I’ve been preaching over the years on this site - without having read it much! ^_^
Here’s the two bentos together (mine is the white box). He thought that the mushroom rice looked too beige, so added some chopped up shiso leaf as garnish. The flavors of shiso and mushroom together were interesting!
Here’s a closeup of the non-rice parts. Very colorfully arranged, don’t you think?
Incidentally, some of you asked for The Guy’s take on this bento-making experience. He’s not the blogging type but he does have a Twitter account, and he gave me permission to post it here so you can ask him directly - @pdfguru  (that’s what he does, by the way - PDF-guruing. And his real name is Max, not The Guy. ^_^;)
This is the first bento that The Guy made entirely by himself, with no input from me. He made just the one bento instead of the two he usually makes, because there was only one tonkatsu left over from the night before. (I had something else for lunch.) For these reasons packed the bento with things that he loves, that I don’t necessarily like!
First up, the tonkatsu. In case you don’t know, tonkatsu is a breaded and deep fried pork cutlet or filet (an old recipe for it here , though I’m working on a more detailed version). I must admit that while I do like tonkatsu, The Guy likes it a lot more than I do. I can’t really stand to have it for dinner and then lunch the next day - a bit too much breaded fried goodness for me - so having just the one piece held over for his bento (on purpose of course) worked out great.
One of the conumdrums that arises when packing deep fried and breaded or battered food into a bento is, how to deal with the fact that the breading or coating gets a bit limp and no-crispy? One approach is to just embrace that limpness and coat it with a sauce. That’s what the guy has done here - he’s coated the piece on both sides with “Bulldog” tonkatsu sauce (you can use brown steak sauce), which melds with the breading to achieve an interesting texture and flavor.
The other thing he packed which I’m a bit unsure of is pickled round peppers stuffed with a mixture of goat cheese and a little mayonnaise.
The peppers come in a jar, and are hot and sour. The Guy loves them. The filling is just mashed fresh (not aged) goat cheese with a bit of mayo to loosen it up. You could use cream cheese for a milder flavor.
Rounding out the bento is some of the leftover shredded cabbage from our tonkatsu dinner, which The Guy stir fried a bit with salt and pepper, and some mâche (lamb’s lettuce, corn salad) for greenery and garnish.
The bento box he used is one that makes an appearance here frequently - a plain white one from Muji  (Mujirushi Ryohin). I’m not sure they carry the same model anymore, but Muji always has a couple of bento boxes for sale; a plain single-tier, like this one, and a plain double-tier. Both are simple and functional like most Muji products.
So there you have it - rather filling bento with pretty strong flavors. What do you think?
At this point The Guy is pretty much on his own with his bento making, and he’s branching out in ways that I would have not imagined. I’ve said this before on these pages, but sometimes I think that I’m a bit too stuck in my Japanese ways when it comes to bento composition, so it’s always fascinating to see what people like Mr. Guy who don’t have all that cultural baggage come up with bento-wise.
He does still peruse the pages of this site for inspiration, and that’s how he came up with this very substantial bento. It consists of three elements: meatloaf, sauteed haricots verts or green beans, and mashed potato dumplings with vegetables.
The meatloaf was a ‘mini’ meatloaf that The Guy made a couple of days before, alongside a regular sized one he made for dinner. Here’s a recipe for bento-sized meatloaves  - although the ones The Guy madea here are about twice as big as the ones I make usually. You could just cut up a regular sized meatloaf to fit of course. He sliced the meatloaf and then cooked the slices briefly in a mixture of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup. The mashed potato dumplings were inspired by the ones in one of the entries for the big Bento&co bento contest  a while back. The Guy jazzed up his mashed potatoes by adding cooked frozen peas and beans, chopped up red pepper, and crème fraîche instead of milk and butter. (His reasoning for the crème fraîche is that it stands up better than butter at room temperature. Note that crème fraîche is commonly available here in France, but if it’s hard to get a hold of where you are, try sour cream instead.)
The green beans were blanched for a couple of minutes in boiling water, then sauteed in olive oil.
This is the variation he packed for me. It was a very substantial bento, so hefty in fact that I couldn’t finish it all in one go! I ate the rest for an offbeat breakfast the next day, and it was still very good, even after a night in the fridge. The Guy did finish his, and was very satisfied indeed. I would note that while this bento was great at room temperature, it would be even better if you can warm it up in the microwave.
So, if you know someone who doubts that a bento 1. has to be rice based, or 2. can’t be filling enough, try packing one like this for them!
Yes, The Guy Does Bento is back doing bento! This one is based on the hearty meatball and vegetable soup  that I posted yesterday . The soup is a meal unto itself really, but it’s been made even more filling and substantial in this set that uses a thermal bento set .
Here’s the whole thing: the soup, about half a cup of rice (got to watch those carbs/calories!) with a little gomashio (sesame salt)  sprinkled on top, and sauteed broccoli made from leftover steamed broccoli. I don’t have a recipe for the broccoli but it’s dead easy: just precooked broccoli (you could also use frozen broccoli) sauteed in a little olive oil with chopped garlic and a sprinkle of dried red chili peppers.
As you can see, the soup is actually in two containers. The reason for this is that a standard Japanese thermal bento set usually comes with a small container for soup, plus a larger one for rice, both of which can be kept warm. (The largest container is for rice since originally, these thermal bento sets were intended for use by people with hearty appetites who wanted to eat a lot of rice!) Both have tight fitting lids, but the soup one is really leakproof, so we put more liquid in that one, and the solid parts in the rice container. The hot liquid can be poured over the solid parts, or they can be enjoyed as two courses.
Here is the thermal bento set that was used. As you can see it has two thermal containers (for the rice and soup) plus 3 non-thermal side containers. Just 2 of the 3 side containers were used here, but you could put some fruit or something in that, or another vegetable dish perhaps. (The empty container was packed in too just to keep the filled containers from shifting in transit.)
There is a detailed description of this particular bento set in my overview of thermal bento sets and lunch jars ; it’s the second one described. (J-List has 1 in stock , and similar ones are available in many designs; see Bento&co  or J-List  for example.) A standard Mr. Bento  will work too.
Up until now The Guy bentos haven’t put much thought into calorie totals! But now that The Guy is watching his waistline with an eagle eye, I’ll put in an approximate calorie count for reference. (It’s a bit harder to be precise with The Guy bentos, since I don’t pack them myself of course.) This bento is around 600 calories: 350 for the soup (there’s 5 meatballs in there), 100 for the broccoli (a bit generous on the oil), plus 150 for 3/4 cup of cooked rice. Not bad for a very filling lunch. You could shave off more calories by having plain steamed broccoli and still be very satisfied.
Both the soup and broccoli are planned leftovers from dinner the night before. Making planned leftovers (that just means making a bit extra) saves so much time.
For this bento, the total prep time in the morning is about 10 minutes: to heat up the soup and the thermal container, defrost some rice and pack it, plus sauté the broccoli. The Guy did cheat a bit on the broccoli and use a chopped-garlic-in-oil mix we have in the fridge. He used two burners, the microwave for heating up the pre-frozen leftover rice , plus an electric kettle, one of our essential bento making supplies .
The Guy Does Bento is back! This is one he made just for himself on a day I was feeling too sick  to eat much of anything. Now that I am slowly getting my appetite back, just looking at it makes my mouth water.
The bento features two of our favorite bento items: Chicken Karaage  (leftovers - he made them himself the night before) and 1-egg tamagoyaki . The tamagoyaki here turned out a bit on the brown side, but The Guy says it was still very good. He’s filled out the rest of the bento with boiled broccoli and plain rice. He put a a bit of peeled broccoli stalk on top of the rice to add color. Notice he put in only one section’s worth of rice, packed in a bit loosely, to compensate a bit for the fried chicken. Overall this bento is probably around 700 calories, even though he did smoosh in as many pieces of chicken as he could. (There’s a couple of pieces tucked under the tamagoyaki too!)
Here’s a dramatic closeup.
The box used is the LunchBots Quad . The Guy likes bento boxes with compartments, like this one and the Idea box  (the latter one may be his favorite of them all) because it helps him to organize the food without thinking about it too much.
Tip: To keep chicken karaage as crispy as possible in a bento box, make sure it, and any other food packed in the box, has cooled down completely before you close the lid. The rice in particular needs to be completely cooled, to room temperature or less, otherwise the condensation from it will make your chicken a bit soggy. It will still taste good though! That’s the beauty of karaage over other deep fried chicken methods.