Monday, January 24, 2011

Recipe: Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

Recipe: Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

This recipe sounds like a mouthful: Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad but it's really simple and easy to make.

-Chicken fillet (1 slab of about 150grams)
-Mushrooms (about 200grams)
-Penne Pasta (about 2 handfuls)
-Red capsicium pepper
-Pesto sauce
-Cooking oil

How to:
Boil some water in a saucepan. Pour some cooking oil into the boiling water (this will prevent the pasta from sticking onto each other later on). Put in the penne pasta and let it cook.
In the meantime, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Clean and slice the chicken fillet. Leave aside.
Remove dirt from mushrooms with a damp paper towel and sliced the mushroom.
Dice the red peppers into small 1cm cubes.

Heat a teaspoon of cooking oil into a frying pan. Once the oil is hot enough, add in the chicken slices. Stir-fry quickly till chicken is pink and almost cooked. Add in the mushroom and red pepper. Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, turn off the heat and let it cool.

Once the pasta is cooked, remove from heat and run it under cold water from the tap. This will stop the cooking process, making the pasta a little more al dente (chewy, bouncy, less soggy). Remove pasta from cold water and place it in a mixing bowl. Add in all the ingredients from the frying pan and stir in some pesto sauce. Keep tasting and adding the pesto sauce until you are satisfied with the taste. Sprinkly some salt and pepper for that extra ooomph.

Bento Idea: Musical Babybel

It had been a whole week of craziness of hiding in our cave for both Mr Bear and me. We were down with a bad bout of flu and had been hibernating the whole time. Now we are both feeling better and since stuffs had been left un-done for the whole week, it DOES really feel as though I have a lot to do/catch up on...

I don't know if its a world-wide thing or not, but I do notice a lot of my friends being sick as well last week. Its strange because all these friends come from different parts of the world ( Europe, United States, Asia,  Australia etc) and thus they probably didn't get it directly from each other. More like a coincidence I think.

Let's begin with something easy.

Bento idea: Musical babybel
- mini babybel
- nori for the musical notes
- green grapes
- Leftover chicken pesto pasta salad (click here for recipe)

How I did the mini babybel:
First, unwrapped the red cellophane wrapper from the mini babybel. Using a round bottlecap, I make a slight impression on the red wax. This serves as a rough guide for the circle. You can also trace out the circle with a sharp toothpick. Next I cut out the wax, leaving a circle of cheese exposed. If you see this picture carefully, you would have seen that I left the little paper strip intact. All mini babybels have this paper strip to make removing the red wax easier. I left it on, so that its easier for me to remove the rest of the red wax just before I eat it. If you like, you can always cut it through and remove the paper strip completely.

PS: Rio, this post is dedicated for you. Thanks for popping by my blog! :D

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bento Idea: Mini babybel belles!

Yesterday there was a sale on mini babybel cheese in one of the neighbourhood supermarkets. I thought that they make a great addition to my bento food stash, since they are:
-small (thus high in "cute factor")
-keep well
-individually packed (means I can portion it to exactly what I need = less food wastage)

I think I came across this sometime back from a taiwanese bento mom Tiffany Yang's blog and thought its pretty cute, so I improvise it a little to make it truly my own. At this point, there's no instructions for this on her site, so I reckon I'll just share with you my methods:

Basically I unwrapped the mini babybel and started cutting the shapes I want with a tiny sharp knife. If you are not comfortable with cutting out the shapes with the knife straightaway, you can lightly sketch the design you want with a sharp toothpick before you really start cutting. This way, its less likely for a mistake to be made.

From the discarded red portions, I carved a little shallow "u" shape to form the mouths. Using a toothpick, I place them at a desired position. *if your bento is intended for small children, use maraschino cherries or surimi stick skins instead of discarded wax!*

Next I used a food writer to dot on the eyes. Not exactly the best option I found out, because they tend to smudge. If black sesame seed is available to you, use them!!! Just 1 tiny black sesame seed for each eye. They work far better than the food writer because they give a "cleaner" look and those ever so cute tear-drop shaped eyes. Else a tiny tiny little round piece of nori will do fine as well. If you happen to have a musical note nori puncher on hand, use them!!! you can simply cut off the round part of the musical note and use them as eyes!

Other ingredients for this bento are:
- mash potato (decorated with leaf picks)(click here for mash potato recipe )
- green grapes (lying right under the mini baby bel belles)
- cut banana (instructions on how to cut them decoratively can be found here.)

In case you know someone who is crazy about mini babybel, you might want to check this out this out. Its fast and convenient and you won't have to rush out to the supermarket and then go to the post office to send it out, just to realise to that the postage for cheeses is already way more expensive than the cheese itself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to cut bananas to fit bento boxes

Different bento boxes have different height and sizes. Here's how I cut bananas to fit the height of my bento box. (You can also use the same method with a raw cucumber to give the bento box a nice green colour)

Step 1: Insert 2 long toothpicks/ satay sticks into the centre of the banana. The toothpicks serve as guides on where to cut later on. With practice, you can omit this step.

Step 2: Cut gently along the blue line till you feel that the knife blade has touched the toothpicks, right at the halfway point of the banana. Take care not to cut yourself.

Step 3: Flip the banana horizontally across (like the way you would flip a page from a book) and repeat the process.

Step 4: Hold the banana upright and you will see the following picture. Make the vertical cut right through the banana. Be very careful not to cut your fingers.

Step 5: Pull the banana apart and cut them according to the desired height. TADAAAAH!!!!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Bento for myself


I woke up a little later today and couldn't rush out a pretty bento for Mr Bear this morning. There was still quite a number of tofu skins in the opened inari package and I had to rush to the library to study for the coming exams. 
I quickly cooked some rice in the rice cooker and let it do what it's supposed to do. In the meantime, I started chopping up a carrot into little thin 5 cm (2 inch) strips. Next. I heat a little cooking oil in the pan and threw in the carrot strips, letting the natural sugars in the carrot caramalize a little in the pan. I add some soya sauce for taste and add in a little more brown sugar just so to give it an even more caramel-y taste. If you happen to have some white sesame seeds in the kitchen, you can sprinkle some on top of the carrot too. It gives the carrot some extra "umphh!". I realised I didn't have any sesame seeds so I just went without them. So I set some aside the carrot to cool one of my trusty green sillicon molds and started munching on the rest as breakfast.

A few minutes later, the rice is cooked. I spread it out in a big flat container, fanning the rice so that it will cool down faster. Next I mixed about 2 teaspoon of rice vinegar and sugar together and sprinkle it all over the rice, mixing it and fanning it all at the same time. Adding this "rice vinegar + sugar" solution will give the rice a nice shine and add some flavour to the rice as well.
I mold the rice with my hands into little round balls (about 3-4cm in diameter) and stuff the rice balls into the tofu skin (inari). Since everything is still a little warm, I decided that I should get dressed to go out in the meantime.

By the time I was done, the foods are cooled enough to be placed into the bento boxes. So I did that, and realised that I forgot to add a piece of fruit. I grabbed a banana and tried to stuff it in. Alas, it didn't fit at all and I had to improvise: I ate half of the banana there and then and stuff the rest into the box. haha!

As for the eyes and mouth, there are made from nori strips that I had cut last night, with a pair of scissors. In fact I had a whole bunch of simple basic shapes that I like to always keep aside. My favourite is long nori strips thats cut about 1mm wide. When I need them, I'll just cut them into suitable lengths for slitty, winky eyes, chicken feet, chicken footprints, or even hair.

- rice
- tofu skin ( inari )
- nori
- carrot
- banana

Bento Accessories - Nori Punchers

Nori Punchers

Hehe, once again, these are some goodies I grabbed from Daiso last summer.

I used these as nori punchers (seaweed punchers) for my bentos sometimes. Tried all of them and they worked pretty well, as long as I don't stuff like a whole stack of seaweed in them. But then again, because of the way they are designed, I doubt anybody can stuff like 20 pieces of seaweed at the same time anyway. LOL!

In fact, of all these 3 nori punchers you see here, only 1 of them is labeled as a nori-punchers. The other 2 are actually craft punchers, the type that's typically used for scrapbooking and they work just as well as the real nori puncher.

Usually I punch the nori pieces one at a time, sometimes I make 2-cm folds on the nori and punch like 2 layers of nori together. (Even though it says on the packaging that I can do like 3-4 layers at the same time.)

So.......... which one is the real mccoy? Scroll down for answer :D

Just like scissors, they will turn a little blunt after cutting thick layers or thick papers, that's why I would suggest not to stuff too much nori at one time. Also, I would suggest not to use these punchers as paper punchers AND nori punchers at the same time, because it seems a little unhygienic to me and also they probably won't cut nori just as cleanly/sharply after cutting paper.

(haha, this is again from the scissors theory, that's why I have 2 pairs of scissors - one labeled "Paper", one labeled "Fabric", bet my ex-teacher from my fashion design education must be real glad that after so many years I still remembered what she said. ahhaahaha!)

To clean: simply give a good shake for the little bits of nori to drop out. Gently wipe the surfaces and avoid touching the metal areas.

Answer: The green one with the ship

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Ugly Bento

Since I had made that ugly bento, something random cropped up into my mind. Do photos of ugly bentos ever get published by bentoists? Or do they just get discarded or saved somewhere in the computer, never to be seen and never to be mentioned to anyone else?

What happens to unsuccessful bento attempts? Do bentoists turn into monsters and eat them all up before the recipents even have a chance to take a glimpse at the ugly bento? Ha, I would.

Bento Cat's rules for dealing with ugly bentos:
#1 still take a picture of it.
#2 store the picture somewhere safe in your computer
#3 quickly grab another bento box and start doing a brand new one if your bento recipent is expecting a bento today.
#4 pretend nothing happened.

#5 when nobody's looking, quickly gobble up the ugly bento to save yourself the embarrassment. hahahha!

and if embarrassment is not an issue with you and you still would like to share pictures of your ugly bento, check this out:

 Flickr Group - The Ugly bento


Bento: 2011 First Bento - meat balls and potatoes

This is the first bento I made for this new year of 201. Ironically the ingredients are all made from leftovers from the potato and carrot stew Mr Bear and I had last night, or should I say "last year". hahaha!

Not that proud of it, cos it looked a little strange. But who cares, I made it for myself, since I couldn't wake up in time thanks to the iphone glitch on 20101 New Year's day. Here's something to pat myself on my back though, it was done in a record time of 10 minutes. Hahahahaha, fastest bento I have ever assembled so far. (and also one of most embarrassingly ugly ones ^..^! )

Rocket Leaves
Meat Balls
Full-cream yoghurt
nori strips (cut out with a pair of scissors - free hand)

The blue stuff you see on the yogurt is candied sugar (basically sugar laced with food colours, stumbled upon it in a bakery supply store)

Gonna practice more on speed and aesthetics!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bento Accessories - Stainless Steel Cutter review - Bear and Rabbit

This pair of stainless steel cookie/vegetable cutter is one of my most flexible (as in 1 product, multiple uses) bento accessories so far. They looked like the average cookie cutter except that it comes with this little matching extra part that allows you push the cookie dough out while maintaining an even surface in the rabbit/bear face.

It can also be used as a fruit/vegetable cutter, for slices of carrots, cucumbers, melons etc. It is also possible to make sandwiches and then cut shapes out of them using this cutters.

I have also used them to shape rice as well. Perhaps one of the intended use for this IS for rice I supposed? because I really find the extra matching part to be extremely useful for pressing the rice into the mold and then pushing out the rice onto the lunchbox or plate.

I have also fried and egg with it. First I wipe some cooking oil onto the mold. Next I heated some oil in the pan. Put the stainless steel molds into the pan. and I cracked an egg INTO the mold. I waited a little till the egg seems sort of solid and remove the molds.

Cute factor: 7/10
Ease of cleaning: 7/10 Take care not to cut yourself when trying to clean this. Edges can be pretty sharp.
Wastage: Depends on what you use it for.
Multi-purpose: 10/10

Bento Accessories - Hello Kitty Sandwich Cutter review

This is a sandwich maker mold I bought from one of the Hello Kitty licensing stores in Dubai last year. I was pretty surprised to even see it in a store! Heh, shortly after coming back to Amsterdam, I tried it out.

Below are the instructions found within the packaging.
Pretty straight forward, I thought, so I just ran to the nearest Albert Heijn (*thats one of the largest Dutch supermarket chains) and grab some square bread to test it out.

Unfortunately, my end result was nowhere as good as the ones on the packaging! It was pretty disastrous. I made them in the morning, and by the afternoon, the edges of Hello Kitty's face was all dry, jagged and loose. Nothing like it wassupposed to be "sealed" at all!

Later on, I tried it again, with the same type of plain square-type sandwich breads. The only difference is:
I sprinkled some water on the bread to make it a little damp and put it in the microwave to warm it up a little, just before I put it into the mold in step 1.

and it worked!

So in short, whether this mold works or not, depends on the white bread you are using. To test it out, take a piece of the bread and fold it in half. Pinch it real hard with your thumb and index finger. If it makes a good finger impression on the bread and it hardly looks like its going to spring open, I guess its pretty suitable.

If it springs open like a mousetrap, the bread is probably too dry, just sprinkle some water and nuke it a little before proceeding to Step 1 :)

All in all, I still have not regretting buying this mold. The sandwich, being sealed, prevents nasty accidents like having the top slice of bread sliding off, jams leaking all over and all that.

Cute factor: 8/10
Ease of cleaning: 9/10
Wastage: about 15% ( this means that after making the sealed sandwich, there's about 15% of the bread remaining, like the brown hard skin, surrounding areas being cut off, etc)

End result of the hello kitty sandwich measures about 11.5cm x 9cm, so you might want to make sure that you don't try squeezing it into one of those bento boxes thats too skinny.

About Bento Cat

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Amsterdam, Netherlands
I'm Shanna and I enjoy bento making a lot. I'm also a wife, daughter,sister,a full-time student, previous fashion and product designer, nerd and super foodie all rolled into one. With Adventures of Bento Cat, I hope to document the daily happenings of my life through Bentos filled with Tender Loving Care and more! I can be contacted at
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