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!