Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All Things For Sale Giveaway - punches and cutters oh my....

All Things For Sale is giving away a sweet set of nori and cheese/ham cutters!  Just head over there and follow the link to Facebook to like them and enter.  They have giveaways pretty often so liking them could pay off! ;-)

Here's a mom lunch to tide you over until the Monstro lunch onslaught hits....

I used bread dough, cheeseball and Christmas ham to make a bit of a calzone.  Santa left me some very awesome bento supplies that HAPPEN to be from from All Things For Sale so I used one of the punches to put that cute face on my pie.  Then I have spring mix salad, grape tomatoes and a little dish of sweet-n-spicy squash puree topped with dried cranberries.  I'm not sure why blogger is turning pictures again... hopefully they'll have that worked out soon!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Tomorrow is Monstro's birthday!  He's turning 7 and we're rocking his birthday Mythbusters style!  I've been busy with birthday prep but there are plenty of lunches coming up this week that I've saved up from last week.  We're on Winter Break so bento will be few and far between but I'll make sure he gets some lunch lovin!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fourth of July in December

Since it's been so cold and dreary I decided that Monstro needed a little beach action in his lunch.  We accidentally spent too much time snuggling so it turned out more Jersey Shore than Miami Beach.  One thing I was really excited about was the chance to use my little fishie embossing stamp.

On the top tier we have mushroom hummus, stelline pasta and apple bunnies.  Aren't the ears of the far left guy fantastically curly?  I love him!  For the bottom I created a little ocean/beach scene.  There's brown rice and a strip of nori.  The nori has seahorses cut out of it and the little fish embossed across the open areas.  I made a "Mutant Squid-Dog" in the microwave and let it rise from the murky depths.  On the little island of rice on the far right is a happy little bunny just waiting to be devoured by the evil squid-dog.

Another thing that was fun about this box (even though it's a bit sloppy) was making the hotdog rabbit.  I've seen the punches online but I loved figuring out how to do all of the punches with just a knife!  If you'd like to see how I do them, I've got sketches that are pretty easy to follow.  Just drop a comment and I'll post them.

DIY bento critters

As I mentioned before, I LOVE the look of little hotdog animals in a bento.  It's a fast, easy way to add some major cute to a lunch.  I do give myself the rule that, generally, if I'm going to include a hotdog, I have to make up the (nutritional) difference with lots of other healthy things - like extra veggies and fruit. 

I also mentioned that you can buy cutters to make a myriad of hot dog animals if you don't want to break out the knife in the morning.  Pretty much every bento supply site has cutters.  I do own some cutters but I had a really hard time with them.  Most of the cutting edges had little burrs of plastic that mangled the hotdog.  Some also have especially tiny cut areas that break off when you remove the cutter.  I'm pretty sure you can avoid both of those problems by using Japanese or Chinese sausages instead of a hotdog but hotdogs are so much easier to find that I figured I'd learn how to cut my own lunch buddies.

So, here's a little guide to cutting various hotdogimals.  If you've never tried this before, make sure you're cutting uncooked hotdogs.  Once they're cut it's best to drop them in a small pot of boiling water or microwave them in a large dish with lots of water for about 2.5 minutes.  You can cook them other ways but boiling gives you the best finished product. You can use veggie or turkey hotdogs as well but I have to warn you that the results aren't nearly as good.  The veggie dogs don't curl as well and both are a little pale looking after they're cooked.

Here are my sketches for a few of my favorite animals.  I think the trickiest is the bunny because you need to slice all the way through the center of the "ears" but all of the other cuts should be shallow.  The arms are a little deeper and at an angle so that, once it's cooked, he has visible arms.  The arms work the same on the penguin but they go all the way to the bottom of the hotdog.

For the fish tail, octopus tentacles and crab claws you'll cut all the way through so they can fan out when cooked.  All the other cuts are fairly shallow.  I use a paring knife or a filet knife, depending on what I grab out of the drawer that day.  Either works fine.

Another cool thing is that the cat, jellyfish and penguin can all be cut from 1 hotdog.  Just cut it into 3rds and go from there.  You can also use the center for a crab or if you turn it on it's end and trim the top into a cone you can make a Humboldt Squid!  To make whiskers on the cat and tentacles on the jelly just break up a strand or 2 of spaghetti and push it into the hotdog.  It'll stay in place during cooking and the part inside will finish cooking from the moisture in the hotdog while it waits to be eaten.

The cat and jelly will take a little longer to cook than the others due to the spaghetti.  None of them really take longer than 5 minutes.

I based the faces on the cutters you buy.  Obviously, you can give any faces you want to your menagerie.  I often do x's for eyes on everything because Monstro thinks it's funny but if you don't like the look of cartoon-dead animals in your lunches then experiment with other looks.  You could also leave the faces uncarved and punch out (or hand-cut) nori, cheese, meat or carrot eyes and mouths.

If you have any questions or extra tips feel free to drop a comment.  And I'd LOVE to see your creations!  Upload them to the PepperMilk Facebook page so we can all check them out!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Mommy n Monstro Bento

Time is not my friend some mornings.  I thought I'd get a jump on packing lunches by prepping all my veggies at night so I could just throw together my kimchee fried rice in the morning.  Nope.  I ended up being 25min late for work -eek!  On the up side the rice was delicious and perfect for a cold day! :D

I cooked brown rice the day before and mixed it with some salt and thin carrots in a lock-n-lock while the rice was still hot.  In my head I think that helped steam the carrots a little before I tossed them into the fry.  I cut the hard outsides off the broccoli stalks then planked it and cut squares.  I stored the broccoli and the tomato quarters (I used up the sad, wilty ones) in a jar until morning.  I got my pan SMOKING hot and spooned in about a teaspoon of oil.  Then I tossed in the broccoli for a few seconds then topped it with the rice.  I like a good crust on my rice so I let it sit for a few minutes between stir.  I pushed all the rice to the side and dropped in the tomatoes so they could get seared and sweet.  I kept mixing it all together and added a bit of salt, pepper and about 1/2c chopped kimchee.  I probably could've cut out 6-10min if I had used the wok instead of a dutch oven but who doesn't want some extra time off work, yeah?

Monstro's lunch (on the top) has kimchee fried rice, a few cubes of k-rab, pomegranate seeds and a butterfly sugar cookie that he made (and was very proud of!).  Mine has a larger portion of kimchee rice, k-rab cubes and lots of pomegranate seeds.

The rice was full of veggies so I didn't feel too bad about not giving a 2nd source of veg.   Unfortunately he "didn't have time" to eat anything but the cookie.  Hmmm...imagine that! ;-)

Thursday, December 8, 2011


When I was packing today's lunch I didn't intend for it to look so.... well, creepy!  Once I took the picture I thought that the jewel picks really looked like shining rat eyes on that white pointy sandwich face.  Monstro didn't say anything so I guess he didn't notice.

See, isn't it very rodent-like?  After the lentils I guess I felt like I could slack a little.  Plus, the dinner leftovers ended up as a midnight snack - woops!  

This lunch is whole-grain white with spicy brown mustard and olive loaf (quartered and layered on top of each other), red pepper strips to the left of the fish, broccoli to the right of the fish and roasted butternut with cinnamon in the fish.  The top tier is 1/2 of an orange-chocolate chip cookie, a tiny fork for the squash and a little cup of fuyu persimmon slices.

Monstro has gotten into the habit lately of tossing his lunch around like a hot potato.  I warned him that he'd get persimmon juice on his cookie and he got awfully excited at the prospect.  Then, after dinner, he asked for cookie and persimmon for dessert.  He was going to layer them together to eat them.  I guess persimmon juice makes a nice dip for cookies....

An Apple with a Smart Hat

As I said before, I'm trying to get a few more cute elements into lunches.  This time around it was a food pick extravaganza!  I'm particularly pleased with the apple hat.  I've also gotten out of the habit of sending vegetarian meals more often than not.  So when I found this lentil rice cooker recipe I knew we'd have a tasty vegan dish!

Cooking lentils in the rice cooker was a stroke of genius!  I used this recipe as a base but diva'd it up a little bit.  I added red pepper flakes, ground cumin, a bay leaf and an additional 3/4c of water.  It took probably 10 minutes for the garlic to lose that really raw smell instead of the 3 it says on the site.  Once everything was in the pot I just let it go.  My house smelled garlic-y all night.  I woke up about 4 hours into cooking and all of the water was cooked out.  I stirred in an extra 1/4c of water and let it go for another 2 or 3 hours and then when I woke up that time, I turned the warmer function off so they wouldn't burn.  I think they would've been fine if I had slept through the night with them on "keep warm" so if you decide to make them this way don't worry too much about tending to them repeatedly.  In the morning I sprinkled a little salt on top and wanted to snarf them all down before I could get any into Monstro's lunch!  They were the 2nd best lentils I've ever had!  I served them as-is but they would make a really great lentil salad mixed with a light mustard vin and some veggies.

The top tier has the lentils, a carrot "fence" and some broccoli.  On the bottom we have apple bunnies - 1 with a jaunty chapeau, sliced fuyu persimmon, more apple slices and mashed roasted butternut with cinnamon.  I pulled out a few different animals for picks, plus the hat.  I didn't get the very top tier in the photo but it had a small spoon and 1/2 of an orange-chocolate chip cookie.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


What can I say?  The kid LOVES his sushi!  And even more than regular sushi, he LOOOOVES "katsushi"!  My husband makes the best torikatsu you can find in this town.  And it's still good left over.  I think Monstro just loves saying "katsushi" but he devours his lunches when he has it so I'm happy with that!  I think this is the 2nd katsushi lunch in as many weeks.  At least it's not bologna eh?

Rolling sushi is one of my favorite things to do.  It's very zen-like for me.  For my (now long ago) 30th birthday party I made about a dozen rolls and it was so much fun.  My friend came over and sat in the kitchen with me and we just talked while I stacked, smeared, rolled and sliced.

The katsushi rolls start with seasoned rice.  I like to go 1:1ish on the sugar to rice vinegar with a little pinch of salt.  I'll use whatever rice I have in the house - even long grain white.  I try to slice the torikatsu long ways so it's not as easy to drop out of the roll.  A layer of carrot ribbons, some chicken, okonomiyaki sauce (or Country Bob's if we haven't been to the Asian market), more carrot to protect the rice and a quick roll is all I do.  For myself, I like to add a line of Kewpie mayo but Monstro doesn't like it.  If I have cucumber, avocado or green onion those make their way into our maki as well.

Anyway, on to the lunch...

He's got about a roll and half of katsushi, a little fishie filled with mashed roasted butternut squash and cinnamon and some strips of red pepper on the top tier.

It makes me really happy that he asks for things like roasted squash for his school lunches!  It does a Mama proud.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Double lunchin...

We ended the week with 2 really easy and really yummy lunches.  We've been having trouble getting Monstro to eat the hummus he always asks for in his lunch.  I was able to find some mushroom hummus on sale and figured we'd give it a try.  It came home but then he told me that he doesn't like it as dip, he only wants to eat it with a spoon.  Ummm, okay?!?!  So, once I gave him a spoon it disappeared in a flash!  The other lunch wasn't even the tiniest struggle to get him to eat.  In fact he ate 1 full sized one and a half for dinner the night before!  Whoa!

I had to stop myself from making this spooky and Halloween-y!  I'm sure they'll still show up because we all (but especially Monstro) LOVE Halloween!  But, since it had recently snowed I decided to go with the snow men.  He's got some corn tortilla chips on the top tier.  The bottom is orange wedges, 1/2 of the cutest tiny pear, some red pepper slices and a cup of mushroom hummus.  The hummus is Tribe brand and it is pretty darn tasty!  There are little bits of mushroom and garlic snugged in the center and you get little chewy bites... yum!  I broke down and used paper cups for the fruit too.  They matched the picks and I've had them for years so I figure I should use them!

For Friday Monstro and I both had grilled burritos.  I used a giant tortilla and filled it with lime-brown rice, black and pinto beans, habanero cheese, sour cream and avocado slices.  I put a smidge of butter on the outside and grilled it in a skillet.  He ate 1/2 the night before (after eating a rather large full sized one and some salad!) so this one got wrapped in foil and then tossed from the fridge to the toaster oven in the morning to warm it up.  Once it cooled back down I added in grape tomatoes, the other 1/2 of that adorable pear, red pepper and some orange wedges.  I had to teach him how to eat the orange wedges.  Isn't it strange to think of the things we just "instinctively"  know how to do but kids have to learn?!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Speedy the Bronto

Sandwich cutters are a rushed-morning must-have for us!  Regular sandwiches don't fit into most bento boxes very well and they're just not as appealing as shapes!  We were still a say away from a grocery trip and we "accidentally" slept in so this was fast and easy!

The dino sammie is whole-grain white bread with Northwest Triple Berry preserves.  We're loving this new line of Smucker's Orchards' Finest.  We've also had the Michigan Tart Cherry and the Pacific Mountain Strawberry and they're all fantastic.  They have minimal ingredients and I was able to buy each jar for only $1 when they first launched the product!  Monstro loves jelly sandwiches (I'll be honest, so do I.) so I was happy to find reasonably priced jelly/jam/preserves that wasn't filled with junk.  We prefer the local Dillman Farm jellies (FROG is my fave) but they're not always in the budget.  Anyway, back to lunch!

Alongside his jelly Bronto we have carrot "fingernails," pickled beets, and a fish-shaped boiled egg with the yolk removed.  I put the fish inside a silicone fish cup that our friend Kelly brought us back from her vacation. The top tier had some pomegranate seeds and a little fork for the beets.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving ...giving....giving...giving...

We're only a little 3 family at our house but every Thanksgiving I cook like I'm with my extended family (2 siblings, 5 aunts/uncles and uncountable cousins).  It really is a genetic trait.  My family sees food as love so the more the better, right?!

Needless to say, that 14# turkey has given us leftovers for ages.  I haven't been to the grocery because I know that having non-leftovers in the house will tempt us into letting those delicious treats rot away into moldy messes.  When I asked Monstro what he wanted for his first lunch back from Thanksgiving break he said "Sushi!"  HAHAHA of course!  I was surprised when he came up with the Thanksgiving Sushi combo...turkey, carrot and cranberries!   What a smart kid! 

Before I get into the lunch details I'll apologize for the poor quality picture.  We're still having some technical difficulties so I have to use my phone to take pictures. 

I made seasoned rice and let it cool while I toasted the nori and cut up the carrots.  For sushi I just use the ribbons made by my veggie peeler.  I layered on the rice, carrots in a little platform to protect from the cranberry juices, and hunks of white meat turkey.  Then I smushed some cranberries (from stove-top cranberry sauce) and added them on top.  I rolled the whole deal and he loved it!  I made a second type without the cranberries but with Okonomiyaki sauce.  I usually eat the butts as a "test" (*wink*) and they were really good!

I also gave him some peas with salt n pepper and some walnuts from the freezer.  He ate everything but 1 sushibutt because the nori was too chewy on that piece.  I was very happy because leading up to Thanksgiving break he hadn't been eating very well.  I should've known sushi was the answer!

Friday, October 28, 2011


The last few weeks have been really stressful and I think it shows the most in our mornings.  Out-of-state meetings, multi-day out-of-town funerals, crazy work schedules and extra homework on top of dark skies until 8am have made things feel even more nuts than usual.  I still try to be creative with the lunches because it's a nice chance to show Monstro that I care even when things are unpleasant.

Initially this lunch was going to be a jack-o-lantern sandwich much like Sherimiya's but I got distracted by some pumpkin spice cream cheese at the store.  YUM!  To adapt, I made a sandwich on baguette (Monstro's favorite bread.  I think he just likes saying the name) with the cream cheese, mini chocolate chips, raisins and super thin apple slices.  He loved it!  He wanted another one for snack, for dinner and for breakfast the next day!  I gave the sandwich a little cat face using string cheese whiskers, red grape mouth and apple eyes and nose.  On the side he had some grapes and the side car had the rest of the string cheese and some tomato wedges from Gramma's garden.

Since the next lunch was pretty boring I'll just post it here.  Monstro wanted left over chili so that part was easy.  He also wanted ANOTHER one of those sandwiches (what have I done?!).  I gave him a nice full thermos of hot chili and wrapped it in a piece of Insul-Brite to help keep it warm.  Then I gave him his precious sandwich and a side of cocoa roasted almonds.  Apples, raisins, "pumpkin concentrate" and the tomato in chili counts as a real meal right?!
I have a feeling we'll be seeing these sandwiches until the cream cheese runs out.  And, if you've never tried the cocoa roast almonds you should!  They're a healthier form of crack!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Attack of the Mummy

I saw a really cute mummy pizza over at Happy Little Bento and wanted to pack one for Monstro.  I LOVE the way it turned out and he was really happy to find pizza in his lunch!

I used english muffins, sauce that I had frozen previously, green pepper from Gramma's garden and string cheese.  I lightly toasted the muffins then gave them a little coat of sauce.  I peeled the string cheese and broke it into the lengths I needed to fit the muffin (smaller ends got eaten or used to "wrap" the top of the head) and gave him green pepper eyeballs.  After arranging the strips of cheese I put them back in the toaster oven until the cheese started to brown and look all old n dirty (yumm, old dirty cheese lunch!).  He hasn't been eating much so I gave him just a bit of carrots and green pepper strips on the side.

I generally like to use the same types of foods in my own lunch that I do in his.  It makes it easier to plan and cuts down on time in the morning.  So, I have string cheese pizza too but without the mummy faces.  I used leftover bits of carrot and green pepper to top my salad and made a divider out of the foil I baked the pizzas on to help keep the salad and pizza separate.  I took a Honeycrisp apple too for a little snack.

  I've got psuedo-plans for a full body zombie bento but haven't worked out the details.  Hopefully it's as awesome in the box as it is in my mind!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gah! Put that chainsaw down!!!

When I saw the severed finger lunch on Adventures In Bentomaking I knew I'd need to make those fingers soon.  I feel like this is a pretty easy way to "up the ante" on Halloween lunches.  And, for a hot dog it was pretty darn yummy!

This is the Monstro version of the work/road-trip meals I posted on Facebook Wednesday.  He's got "yakisoba" made from wheat spaghetti, broccoli and shredded carrot coated in Mark Bittman's sauce recipe.  I added quite a bit of sriracha instead of the Tabasco he calls for because we like it spicy.  I topped it with "zombie spines" (that's what we call green onions) and 2 severed fingers.  The fingers didn't turn out quite as well as I had hoped- I cut too deep in the knuckles and since I don't have a tear-drop cutter my nails are little boxy.  But, they looked pretty good, I think, and the teriyaki-esque sauce they're cooked in adds a lot of flavor.  I didn't feel like they really needed to simmer for 20 minutes either.  Mine took on a good color and were flavorful after only 12-15min.  I also gave a sidecar of fruit cocktail with a little pear jack-o-lantern on top.  I guess the noodles were the talk of the lunch table and he was really excited about the spiciness!

Pikko (from AiBento) let me know that you can make up a large batch of fingers and just keep them refrigerated in the cooking liquid for later.  I can confirm it as well because that's exactly what I did.  This meal also keeps really well as a whole.  I packed my 3 trip boxes just after this one at around 8:30am and put them in the fridge until it was time to leave at 2:45.  We didn't even open them up to eat until around 6pm and they were still delicious!

I think I might have to make some toes next!  Maybe with pepper skin on the toenails for a nice pedi!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Zombies ate my lunch...

I've been wanting to ramp up the Halloween-ness of Monstro's lunches for the last week or so.  They were starting to get a lil boring so I decided to break out the felafel from the freezer and use them as a base for something a little more fun. 
Like this guy:
Isn't he just the cutest thing?!  Like I said, he's a frozen felafel patty that I re-heated from my stash.  There are 2 more stacked under him too.  I used red bell pepper for the brains and the dripping blood.  The eyeballs and teeth are white cheddar cheese held on with mayo.  The pupils and mouth are nori held on with sriracha.  His hair sprout is a piece of green onion slit thinly and soaked in ice water to curl the ends then tucked into a small cut in the top of the patty.  I wish the detail had turned out better in the picture because the brain is really cool looking!  It was textured almost like the stiff side of velcro and was flecked green and red.  Rad!

For the rest of his lunch he has what we've decided are carrot fingernails, yellow peppers and a side car of fruit cocktail with some extra fresh pear tossed in.  Apparently the cheese was terribly offensive to him (even though he LOVES this cheese) and he refused to eat anything that it had touched.  :-(

Since Monstro was on Fall Break this week and we'll be out of town for a funeral, tomorrow's post will be the last until Tuesday.  Have a great weekend enjoying tasty, fun food!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pizza AND Cookie?!

Oh Monstro is a lucky kid today! 
Last week he asked for us to pick up a pizza cookbook at the library for him.  The Dad found one and Monstro promised he'd make us pizza.  We ended up with "french bread" pizzas (it was really a giant Italian loaf) and they were delicious!  We used sauce I put up in the freezer, shredded cheese, a sprinkling of oregano and some pineapple bits.  Since the Dad doesn't like tomato we put some tiny orange tomatoes on our half.  We had quite a bit of pizza left so into the lunch it went!

He's got 2 squares of pizza, with some avocado strips tucked in at the bottom, a spider filled with yellow pepper hearts and carrot flowers plus a red pepper ring on top.  I tightened the gaps with broccoli and gave him a no-bake cookie for a special treat.  I was hoping he'd eat it last but I was clearly mistaken...  Everything was gone except the broccoli so *surprise* cookies trump broccoli!
I'm trying to convince the Dad to "guest post" while I'm gone this week.  I've got a meeting in Chicago and he'll be on lunch duty!  I can't wait to see what he comes up with! 

What are your suggestions for Dad-packed lunches?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Multi-tasking with a uni-tasker

I'm firmly with Alton Brown in the anti-uni-tasker camp.  Okay, that's not really true - I'm easily seduced by kitchen gadgets.  But I try!!  I try to avoid buying things that only perform 1 function.  Back in the days of Ichiban's online store I got a cute little gyoza crimper.  I used it once for gyoza and it's been in a drawer ever since.  I found out I prefer actually folding the gyoza instead of just making it look like I folded it!

Then I saw someone with "faux-za".  I was meandering through flickr for inspiration and saw sandwiches sealed with a gyoza crimper.  Such simple genius!

For Monstro's Friday lunch I wanted something a little cuter than what lunches have been for a bit.  I made smiling dumpling sammies!  They're just turkey inside a piece of bread smashed with the crimper.  Then I used a punch to make the faces from nori and stuck them on with tiny dabs of honey.  I cut some carrot bears and layered them over 1/2 of a lemon cucumber from our garden (probably the last with the chill that's been coming on) and snugged everything up with broccoli and yellow and red peppers.  He was being extra cute in the morning so I gave him a little treat too.  We have small cups of coconut and peach gel from Saraga (my favorite Asian market here).  You just peel off the lid and squeeze it into your mouth so they're really good for lunch desserts.

This box is a find I am really happy with.  They had them at Marsh during Back To School a few years ago for $1.50/ea.  It has a clear lid with a smiley face that clicks on with the latches.  "Clicky lid" boxes are my fave!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Make-ahead bento

I had to be at work SUPER early Thursday morning.  Well, early for me.  I imagine it's a pretty normal work time for most people but that's the blessing/curse of working retail!  Since I didn't want to give up even one minute of possible sleep in the morning I made our lunches the night before. 

Mine was full of delicious left overs and some fresh produce.  Monstro's relied on some stashed items and yummy fresh veggies.

I found some really cool bell peppers at the farmers market Wednesday morning.  They hadn't fully turned red yet but were well on the way so they had all sorts of red, green and purple striations.  AWESOME!  That's one of my favorite parts of bento - having a way to really showcase the beautiful NATURAL colors of food.

Monstro's pre-packed lunch has spider lasagna that I made and froze a while ago.  He's topped with a little mushroom and held in place by broccoli.  There are slices of yellow peppers along the bottom and the fun striped peppers laid out over some more broccoli.  On the side he's got a pumpkin pie ghost - also put up a while ago. 

I was worried that this would be too small for him but he said it was plenty.  He also made sure to let me know that the left over broccoli was only left because one of his classmates touched it.  Silly kids.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Monstro LOOOOVES spicy food.  It always makes me chuckle because it shocks so many people.  Once at the grocery he asked for a sample of jalapeno popper and the woman was like "Oh, you wouldn't like that, it's spicy!"  Of course he threw it back and wanted more!

So today's lunch has a few nice n spicy bits.  His bat shaped quesadillas are stuffed with pickled jalapeno (2 of them!!), colby cheese and shredded chicken.  Then he has some apple bunnies, grapes, cucumbers and pickled beets.  The pickled beets have a mysterious, tiny purple pepper we picked up at the farmers market.  Then there's homemade chocolate pudding on the side.  I don't know which he loves more - spicy or chocolatey!

I had the same quesadilla for breakfast and it was so good!  I'm pretty sure that we gave Monstro fire-breathing DNA!  We're both big fans of all things hot and I'm glad we can share with the little one!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kiddo made

This morning Monstro made his own lunch.  Well, part of it anyway.  He made his own sandwich and I packed up the rest.  I let him make his own sandwich for the first time a few months ago and you would've thought it was the raddest thing ever!  He wanted to eat sandwiches for every meal.  He insisted on making sandwiches for me and dad.  I think he even claimed to be "the world's best sandwich maker" and started calling his creations "famous."  I guess when you're 6 everything is cooler!

So, in the Hello Kitty sandwich bag he has a whole wheat, turkey and colby sandwich.  On the left he has pickled beets and wavy-cut cucumber.  The tiny box has homemade chocolate pudding with homemade whipped cream.  The bottom box has raisins, spicy pumpkin seeds and a couple of sweet chili Quakes.

My lunch is packed in my trusty LunchBots Eco.  Again, I was surprised how well things stayed separated.  I'm getting to be more and more of a fan of this box the more I use it. 

I've got a whole wheat, turkey, colby and cucumber sandwich plus cucumber (left from making Monstro's lunch), pickled beets and some left over asparagus.  I stuck a few "spooky" picks in to help keep the bread from sliding into my cucumbers and getting all wet.

The beets... even if you think you don't like beets (I did) you should try this recipe!  It's AMAZING!  I mean, it's Martha Stewart so how can you go wrong?  Plus, it's fast and delicious.  Monstro asks for them if I go too long between batches and he even wanted them as part of his birthday party buffet 2yrs ago.  And it's really fun to see what sorts of patterns have grown inside the beets when you slice them.  Buy the beets with the greens attached.  They taste like what you probably want spinach to taste like even though it never does!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I just wanted to say that I totally realize that several pictures are posted "sideways."  I've tried fixing them and contacted blogger for a solution but so far no luck.  So, for now, I'm really sorry but I guess we'll all have to read like we haven't had our v-8 or something!

Fleshless Friday?!?

We don't always hit up the "Meatless Monday" but we try to eat vegetarian meals a few times a week.  On Friday Monstro and I had vegan lunches!

At the Asian market I picked up a rather large tub of yellow curry paste.  It's amazing!  It's pretty darn spicy but it's also massively flavorful!  I've used it more than a dozen times and have 1/2 of the container left - not bad for $5.

This batch had red potatoes, carrots, mushrooms and chickpeas.  I wanted to add some sliced broccoli stems but was afraid it would make the whole dish taste like broccoli.  Have you tried something similar?  How'd you like it?

Monstro has the curry over brown basmati rice.  In the other container there are 2 scoops of butternut squash with cinnamon and a spider cup of grapes topped with 2 tiny yellow pear tomatoes from our "garden."

For myself we have more rice and curry in my LunchBots Eco and on the side I have a scoop of butternut squash with cinnamon, grapes and 2 apple slices.  I felt like the curry looked a little too "bleh" so I topped it with a few red pepper slices and some green onions.  Surprisingly, even with the liquid-y curry the box didn't leak.  I was pretty careful with it but I've had it leak in the past so I was VERY happy that I didn't have to clean curry sauce out of my lunch bag!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Using a stash

When you read other bento sites, especially ones where speed is a priority, there is much talk of building a "stash" of bento foods (in Japanese it's called "johbisai").  I love the idea but I'm not so good with the planning... I tend to be a little fickle.  This year I've been much better about putting away some items to use for later.  I have a few bags of mini felafel patties, some tiny store-bought egg tarts,  home-made red sauce, zucchini bread, whole wheat bread, tiny lasagnas and now some adorable pies made from fresh pumpkins!  I don't think my freezer has ever been so full!

I also like the more short-term stashes.  AKA leftovers!  Wednesday I roasted butternut and it's hanging out in the fridge just waiting to be scooped into a lunch.  Tonight I made a double batch of veggie curry so we could have it for lunch tomorrow too.

Today is a stash lunch.  I brought a little zucchini lasagna out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight.  In the morning I warmed it in the toaster oven with a little dollop of extra sauce on top to help keep it from drying out too much.  I threw some of that squash in the toaster oven at the same time to bake in the cinnamon flavor since I already had the oven going.  While the spiders were warming I carved a creepy ghosty face from a yellow pepper so I could top the lasagna with a splash of color (it was a nice lid too so that nothing got sauced on accident!).  Add in some sliced cucumber, broccoli and grapes on picks for a nice rounded lunch.   I let Monstro have a small piece of fresh pumpkin pie too.  He LOVES pumpkin pie!!

 I initially tried to pack this in the LunchBots Eco but it's just too big.  I couldn't find enough smaller items to hold the cups in place.

To make the tiny lasagna I used frozen cubes of red sauce (heated in the microwave), slices of zucchini browned in a skillet, no boil noodles and a little shredded cheese.  I just broke the noodles small enough to fit in the spiders and layered everything like normal.  Then I baked them in the toaster oven before relegating them to the freezer for a couple of weeks.  They weren't part of a bigger meal though.  I put them together one afternoon when I pried myself away from Facebook and now here they are! :D

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank you super sale!

I ran to the grocery on my way home from work last night and they had red, yellow and orange bell peppers on sale for $1/ea!  Colored peppers are one of my favorite additions to a bento because they're tasty, non-juicy and you can do so many things with them!  The problem is that they're usually out of my budget.  I bought several and have already used most of them.  I'm probably the only person in the world who gets that excited about produce!

Wednesday is a late school day for Monstro.  For some reason school starts an hour later so I had time to roast the butternut squash we picked at Hilltop during our big harvesting adventure.  Monstro will eat any kind of roasted squash as long as it has cinnamon sprinkled on top!

We've got a piece of sauteed pollack on top of leftover spicy raisin couscous.  The spider is stuffed with roasted butternut and cinnamon.  I tucked a mushroom (puffshroom or doomshroom as he likes to call them) and broccoli all around to help hold things in place and then cut stars from fall-color pepper cheeks to arrange on top.  He's been begging for lunch desserts for the last few weeks so I added 3 Junior Mints in the top tier.

Tomorrow will finally be the spider cups used for "stash" items - lasagna!


I've been talking about it all over Facebook - PepperMilk is going to be part of a local bento workshop/presentation with The Green Nursery.  I'm super excited for the opportunity and want to make it as valuable for everyone as possible!  So... when you read this please take a moment to comment on this post or over on Facebook and let me know what things you would want to know about bento!  Even if you're not coming to the workshop I'd still love your feedback.  I can answer any questions here AND if it's covered in the presentation you know it'll show up here too!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

2 Quick Cuties and a High-Speed Bento

I was really lucky this week and didn't have to work until the afternoon on most days.  I love it when that happens because I don't have to plan my lunches quite so well ahead of time and can just let it happen in the morning.  But, on Friday my morning meeting went later than I thought and I had to rush to prepare my own meal before heading off to work.  Luckily, I had plenty of things ready from Monstro's lunch so it was fast to put together.  But first, the cute stuff!

Thursday's lunch was small but it was an all-request lunch.  Monstro was VERY particular about the mushroom that went into his lunch and spent quite a bit of time searching through the bin at the grocery to find the perfect one!  He's got a little coffin sandwich made of ginger-carrot zucchini bread with white corn tortilla "RIP" on top and peanut butter inside.  The letters are stuck on with the tiniest bit of peanut butter.  I was really surprised at how well the bread held up in the freezer.  It's been in there for almost 2 weeks and it was still delicious!  He's got a spider filled with roasted sweet corn, that oh-so-special mushroom, carrots, broccoli and red pepper strips (left over after the piranha lunch).  This was really fast to put together and the longest thing was cutting the zucchini bread into the coffin shape.  The "Happy Halloween" pick is from a Target cupcake set last year and the box is a pirate sandwich box from the Dollar Bin at Target.

Friday's lunch was also really fast.  That's the good thing about fish for bento.  You can cook a small filet of fish in about 5min and have it in the box ready to go!  The coucous is also great because it cooks fast, is versatile and you can keep a big batch on hand to add to lunches all week long.  In the top tier Monstro had cajun catfish with white corn tortilla "BOO", spicy whole-wheat couscous with raisins (veggie chicken broth, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, pepper and cumin), a little broccoli tree and 1/2 lemon cucumber from our garden.  The bottom tier has broccoli to hold in the spiders in place.  One spider has about 1/4 of a tomato from Hilltop and the other is roasted sweet corn.  We LOVE roasted corn and it's a good pre-prepped staple for bento.  I usually roast 3-4 ears in the husks and then once they're cool I put them in the fridge sealed a ziplock.  (I'm not sure why this photo is sideways.  I've uploaded it 3 times - guess you'll have to tip your monitor!)

Finally, a not-too-pretty but fast and yummy lunch for myself.  This was after my late-running meeting.  I filled the bottom 3/4 of my LunchBots Eco with spicy couscous then topped it with a really simply seasoned pollack filet (salt, pepper and ground ginger).  On the side, I added a piece of broccoli and red pepper strips that hadn't fit into Monstro's box earlier, the other half of his lemon cucumber, 1/4 of the tomato I had cut for him and a prune plum I found hanging out by the microwave.  Everything was already in the box waiting when the fish came out of the pan.  I popped it onto the couscous to help absorb any juices (and steam) and I was on my way!

Enjoy your weekend!  I can't wait for Monday so I can use our new froggie bento box!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mmmmmm.... toes.....

I have a small collection of Halloween lunches now and a couple of sweet "use it up" lunches for Mom too!

This first one is a bit of a stretch to get to the Halloween theme.  It also is a good example of bad planning!  I wanted to give Monstro sushi but the extra veggies I had available were wet, sloppy ones.  So instead of being able to use 1 nice, full box I had to use 2.

The top tier is a sushi snake.  It's what we've decided is "Katsushi."  I used a leftover piece of torikatsu, mixed white sushi rice and brown long grain rice (seasoned with sugar and rice vinegar of course), some carrot strips and Okonomi sauce.  I always eat the ragged ends (we call them butts) and this was so good!  I put in a spider cupcake cup to help take up space and tucked in a skull skewer of star shaped green peppers from Hilltop.  Then on the bottom, I made an eyeball out of silicone cupcake cups with pineapple bits inside.  Then the spider was filled with tomato wedges from Hilltop.  Yeah, we've STILL got veggies from our trip 10 days ago!!

For my lunch I used the other 1/2 of the tomato wedges and a lone pepper star as a garnish for my cajun pasta with seitan.  We had it for dinner Friday night when a veggie friend stopped by and have been eating off of the MASSIVE left overs since then.  I used the seitan recipe linked above but subbed in cajun seasonings and didn't sauce it in the oven.  When it was baked I cut it into small cubes and used it in the pasta recipe just like chicken!  It was REALLY good! :D  The picture doesn't look like much but I was a happy, happy girl eating that!  I also took the rest of the carrot that I shaved some pieces off of for the sushi.  It went in a baggie because I didn't want it to get sauce-y!  This meal (and the next) show something I LOVE about the Lunchbots Eco.  It is really easy to just dump things in it, throw on a cute accent and go.  And it's big enough that I don't need to pack several things to get through the day.

I was really excited conceptualizing this next lunch.  Then I ran into some stumbling blocks.
My vibrantly (but naturally) colored pasta faded badly while cooking and the colors that did stay were covered by the sauce (handily frozen in icecube form a week or so ago!).  I realized all of my Halloween cutters were WAY too big for the pepperoni slices I wanted to put on top of the pasta.  So, I had the in-house artist cut out some ghosts with scissors, carved that red pepper cheek to look like a jack-o-lantern and used some other veggies to give the lunch some brighter color!  We've got broccoli tucked around the edges to hold things in place, wedges of a lemon cucumber we grew in our yard, some carrots and a 1/2 prune plum with craisin eye.  I threw some mixed beans in with the pasta too for a little extra oomph since it was a Gym day too.

I got to use up the "scraps" from Monstro's lunch to make my own.  We had grilled chicken salads the night before and there was a small piece of chicken, some goat cheese and some greens left.  I chopped up the chicken and greens.  I shredded the rest of the carrot that wasn't sliced into Monstro's box.  I cubed the other 1/2 of the lemon cucumber and some tomato left from the day before.  I sliced up some radishes that have been languishing in the crisper since the bento class -  there are only so many mice and mushrooms I can carve!  It all got tossed into the box with a little bear full of salad dressing, some craisins and the other 1/2 of the prune plum from the lil one's lunch.  I did take the time to make some cajun skillet croutons.  We have 3/4 loaf of sourdough rye cocktail bread laying around.  So I cubed a few slices, dusted them with cajun spice and toasted them in a bit of olive oil and butter.

And finally.... those tasty toes!  Monstro loves having this doll foot in his lunch.  When I saw that Pepperidge Farms now makes Goldfish shaped bread I was beyond excited!  I thought it was the cutest thing ever but the kiddo wasn't so impressed.  And for $4 it wasn't worth it if he wasn't going to freak out over it.  But, I was still inspired to make a piranha sandwich.  So here it is!  I used red pepper for the evil fish eye and bloody teeth chewing on the foot.  The sandwich was cut with kitchen scissors and is filled with hummus, pepperoni and pepperjack cheese.  I did have to cut off a small bit of toothpick and use it to keep the teeth in place.  Monstro was warned before I packed it up so that he wouldn't eat the wood!  I tucked raw broccoli around it.  The smaller box has tomato bits with a .... wait for it... tooth-pick and hummus with carrot fingernails - both in spider cups.  There are more carrots, red pepper strips and some sauteed yam slices tucked around the spiders.

Monday, September 26, 2011

All Things For Sale Affiliate

Peppermilk is now an All Things For Sale affiliate!  Wooohooo! 

The only problem is that I can't get the code to work here on blogger.  Sooooo.... until I get this all figured out, if you've got a hankering for some new bento boxes or amazingly cute picks just hit the link in this big mess of code! ;-)
<iframe width="200" height="497" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" framespacing="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" border="0" hspace="0" vspace="0" src="http://www.allthingsforsale.com/banner.php?id=peppermilkbento&num=48&type=1"></iframe>

Hopefully I'll have it worked out by Tuesday night!  Just in time for a new round of Halloween lunches!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

All Things For Sale Giveaway!!

My new favorite online store for affordable bento supplies, All Things For Sale, is hosting a Halloween giveaway!  (RIP Ichiban!)

You can enter on the site and on Facebook.  And to make it even more super cool... if one of your Facebook friends wins through your shared link then you win too!! 

Here's the prize.  I have to say that I've been eying those cutters AND I think that box looks like Sabbath from Emily The Strange!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Double Halloween Bento

I feel like today is a bento fail day :-(  I wasn't particularly inspired, had some malfunctions and the lack of light in my kitchen made for some pretty sad pictures.  *sigh*  Oh well, it was still a Halloween extravaganza!

Monstro asked for chili again so we've got a repeat - chili and spider cornbread.  I took a sock from the dollar bin at Target and cut the foot off to make the thermos Halloween-y.  Other than being able to see through it up close I think it works pretty well!  I tried to carve an orange Jack O Lantern but when I was scooping out the orange pulp I scraped right through the skin!  Wooops!  So I made him a cyclops but I think it's pretty obvious he was an accident - wahwah.  I gave him the rest of the green pepper left over from yesterday and some carrots.

Then I made my own lunch.  It's a turkey sandwich with sliced tomato and a TON of spring salad mix!  I took a piece of turkey (leftovers from the "Cool Lunch") and cut out a spooky cat.  But that pinky color looks kinda.... well, gross.  At least it tasted good!  I also had a plum prune, a spider filled with carrots and a skull n crossbones cupcake pick of pepperjack cheese cubes.  It was all tucked into my Lunchbots Eco.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who loves Halloween? We do! We do!

Even though I didn't have to work until the afternoon I was super excited to get started on this lunch the night before.  Monstro asked for a "Cool Lunch" (aka Lunchables) and I told him that I'd make him a Mommy Love Cool Lunch.  So he picked out the crackers (reduced fat Wheat Thins?!?!  Weird!), cookies, meat and cheese.  He even got to be a smarty-pants and prove to me that some Lunchables do indeed come with Oreos.  Then I let him pick out what shape the meat and cheese would be cut.  He chose the question marks which made it a little challenging to fit the Halloween theme in there!  But!  I did it!

  A creepy Horned Owl hoots on top of his pile of beans (black and pinto mixed).  I just free-handed the shape with a knife and added cheese wings and a nori face.  The tomato looked like a tiny fall gourd so I put that in and after I took the picture I remembered that we have scarlet runner beans that are a very Halloween-y shade of purple so I added those in too.  I stamped the "WHO" out of cheese and added it to a section of green pepper from our trip to Hilltop Gardens.  The little monkey is filled with pineapple.  His crackers and his Oreo (in a Trick-or-Treat cupcake cup of course!) are in the top mesh part of a sandwich box.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Devil's in the details

We've got another Halloween lunch today.  I can't decide if I like the challenge of making Halloween lunches from now until November or if I need to dial it back to just a few and then the whole week of Halloween.  Hmmm... I guess we'll see how inspired I can stay! :D

For today's lunch Monstro had leftover chicken strips from Pioneer Woman.  We LOVE these chicken strips and I take some liberties with the recipe.  I always add more spices and hot sauce than called for!  I always try to make extras and freeze them uncooked to pull out and use later.  For this lunch I just sat 2 cooked strips aside and put them in the toaster oven to crisp them up in the morning.  I put them in special "oil absorbing" cupcake cups to keep them crispy and topped them with skull n crossbones punched from nori.

The onigiri is mixed brown and white sushi rice plus a heaping mound of tobiko for color.  While the rice was warm I mixed sushi seasoning and the tobiko then spooned it into plastic wrap.  If you keep twisting the wrap it makes a nice little circle.  I made 3 balls and 2 small cubes then I froze them.  In the morning I microwaved it straight from the freezer for 30 seconds then 20 seconds to warm/moisten it up.  I just used kitchen scissors to cut the nori face.

The bottom tier is carrots, frozen wild blueberries with a prune plum eye and mixed beans with a crossbones pick.  I had to cut the bottom of the pick off for it to fit - a sad fate for most cupcake picks in our bento!

I'm trolling Flickr for Halloween inspirations - if you see anything awesome let me know!! :D

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Halloween already?!?

Yep, at our house it's Halloween time as soon as Target starts packing up the Back To School section.  That's when Monstro starts asking every day when they'll have "pushy guys" - those horrible, noisy, electronic Halloween decorations.  It becomes his personal Holy Grail to find the newest, coolest (aka loudest) pushy guys each year.  He collects plastic skulls and hanging bats.  We usually have his Halloween costume planned by the second week of September.  It's kind of awesome really :D

So, since he's ready, I'm ready.  Halloween theme bentos commence today!  It's a very simple lunch and not very pretty.  But it will be yummy and filling and that little spider is too cute!  Monstro wanted chili for dinner last night so when I made the cornbread I made 2 spider muffins so he could have them in his lunch to kick off the Halloween lunch bonanza. 

Today he has left over chili and a spider corn muffin with black beans.  I was pretty excited when it came out of the oven and the beans had settled into wonky little eyes!

I think I'm going to make a thermos sleeve so I can change the look of the thermos for different lunches.  "Spring Flowers Hello Kitty" just doesn't feel right with the spider! ;-)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yay for free veggies!!

Saturday morning Monstro and I went to Hilltop Gardens to harvest his garden plot from summer camp.  When we got there we were told we could take whatever we wanted so we went bananas!  Of course, lots of the goodies ended up in lunches for Monday and more will show up through the week!

For Monday morning I have to be at work when Monstro is just getting up for school.  So both my and his lunches are ready to go tonight to save time in the morning.  I don't do this often because I like to be able to change my mind about what goes in depending on how we're feeling in the morning.  But, tonight it just had to be done!

We both have mostly the same things - good for saving time and my brain power!  It didn't save enough brain power because I forgot to add his scarlet runner beans.  Oops!

Here's what we'll be eating Monday afternoon:

From our Hilltop adventure we have pattypan squash (in that amazing gratin on the left of each lunch), cucumbers, red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and that awesome rainbow bell pepper!

Here's a link to the pattypan gratin that we've both got!  I used just mozzarella and a local Parmesan - no cheddar.

Friday, September 16, 2011


I've been encouraged to blog about Bento and share our lunches.  I resisted for a while because there are dozens upon dozens of Bento blogs out there who do things, I feel, much better than I do.

My philosophy on Bento is pretty simple:  if it looks good, they'll eat it!

I don't think anyone needs to spend an hour making lunches for children or themselves (although I do love to look at the ones who do!) but I think that giving just a little extra attention to detail makes everyone feel special and loved. 

I love making Bento as a way to be creative and to show my son how much I care.  Not just in the addition of heart shaped cucumbers or sandwiches with smiles but in the balance of nutritious foods and naturally vivid colors used.  I also feel like it's a good unspoken lesson being "green" when we're not using things that get thrown away each meal.