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.