Think Pink!

It’s October, which means it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That doesn’t just mean raising money for breast cancer – that also means learning about it and spreading the word to others. But fundraising is also a pretty important part. For two weeks we’ll be pink at Distracted Gourmet – but then we’re turning all spooky for Halloween near the end.

Think Pink cupcakes

One good way you can help Breast Cancer Awareness Month reach even more people is to ram it down their throats. Literally! The slogan for this campaign is Think Pink, and if there’s one thing that goes nicely with baked goods, it’s pink.

Hey cupcake!: Think Pink cupcakes

Take some pink cupcakes into work and share them with your colleagues. If you want to raise money, why not charge a small amount for each cake and give it directly to charity?

White cupcakes: Think Pink

These are love buns, which are made with a recipe by Nigella Lawson, originally intended to celebrate Valentine’s Day. But I think you can make them to celebrate your boobs. Or, if you don’t have any boobs, celebrate someone else’s!

These cupcakes are a basic white cake mix with a meringue-type topping that is kind of marshmallowy. Very unusual! I coloured the topping with Wilton’s pink colouring gel, so as not to lose the thick consistency.

Lonesome cupcake: Think Pink

I bought my pink sugary sprinkles and pastel pink and blue cupcake cases from Asda – so cheap compared to some of the prices I’ve seen. The cupcake flag is from Momiji.

If you want to join in Breast Cancer Awareness Month and turn your blog pink for October, go to Pink For October for information and resources. There’s also information on there for turning your Twitter background pink, as well as a Facebook group, and a place to register your site. You can also turn your Flickr pictures into Breast Cancer Awareness posters at Bighugelabs, where you can also find more resources for your blog, including ribbon logos.

For baking-related Breast Cancer Awareness stuff, you can visit The Cakes, Cookies & Crafts Shop (UK) and find Awareness Ribbon cookie cutters, cake cases, oven gloves and more.

Bento cups

Bento cups are one of those cute bento accessories that I have a lot of but never seem to use up. Maybe because I just love buying them so much…

Assorted dividers

As you can see, bento cups come in loads of different shapes and sizes. Sadly, all those cute patterns you see inside get hidden once you pack your bento box, so, although it’s hard, try not to select your cups on the basis of the bottom! Much better is to look at the top centimetre of the edge, as this is usually all you’ll see of your bento.

Oval dividers

When it comes to types of bento cups, there are five main kinds. There’s your standard paper bento cup which has a wax/plastic lining to stop food leaking. You need to throw these away after you’ve used them though, which is a shame. There’s your silicone bento cup which is actually heat proof and reuseable, which are massive bonuses – however, the drawback is that they don’t have patterns on them and are always solid colours. They will bend to the shape you want them to – within reason – so they’re very handy for slotting into your bento. There’s hard, rigid plastic cups which usually come in a particular shape, like a tulip flower or an elephant head or something like that. They can be difficult to fit, and there’s the same drawback with silicone cups of not having patterns on them. Unlike silicone, they’re not heat proof, but you can reuse them. There’s also foil bento cups, which you can use to heat food in. They’re disposable and I’ve found also pretty flimsy. To be honest, I’d always rather go for a silicone cup than a foil bento cup, because they’re sturdier and reusable. Then there’s your makeshift bento cups – the type you might fall back on if you can’t get hold of any bento supplies. Cupcake and muffin cases make good substitutes, and you can get some really cute ones. However, unlike bento cups, if they’re going to have any kind of coating to prevent leaks, it’ll be on the outside of the cup, instead of the inside as with real bento cups. You should save cupcake and muffin cases for food which isn’t soggy at all.

 My creation

Here you can see some bento cups in action. The left hand side shows two rigid bento cups being put to good use on some soggy side dishes. Silicone would also do great here, but you can have mishaps with it sometimes as it’s so pliable. On the top right hand side, you can see a corner-shaped bento cup. See what I mean about the top edge? If you can, before you start packing, try to pick bento cups that match your bento box – whether it’s a complimentary colour or a contrasting one. It’ll definitely make a difference to the finished bento. On the bottom right, you can see a silicone cup which has been used to cook an omelette-type mix of eggs and veggies. Very handy things, silicone cups!

Green bean, sweet potato and soy and balsamic vinegar chicken bento

I love the penguin pick in this bento. I bought it from J-List in a pack of sea-creature food picks, but I think the penguin is my favourite.

Inside this bento is a mixture of different recipes I was trying out for the first time. I think the sweet potato was a recipe from Wagamama, and included a honey and lime juice dressing. I’m not big on sweet potato, to be honest, and this one didn’t really sway me to the cause. This bento picture was actually taken over two years ago, and as you can see, I’d still not really perfected the art of packing onigiri… Ah well.

The orange bento box is from Daiso, and even though it’s one of the cheapest ones around, it’s still my favourite because it’s such a nifty oval shape. The front tier contains soy-balsamic chicken and spicy green beans, both adapted from Harumi’s Japanese Cooking – both of her English cookery books are great, although I prefer the second one!

Green bean, sweet potato and balsamic chicken bento

Spicy green beans


INGREDIENTS

  • 150g green beans
  • 75g minced pork
  • 1 tbsp garlic oil (or use olive oil and some garlic puree)
  • Pinch dried chilli powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar

METHOD

  • If making for the bento, trim your green beans (or French, or fine…whatever you call them!) into halves or even thirds, so they can be picked up easily by chopsticks.
  • Boil for about four minutes, then drain and refresh quickly in very cold water. This is to retain their colour. Drain again, and shake off excess water.
  • Heat the garlic oil in the pan and add the pork, stirring to break up. Now add the chilli pepper and stir well to coat, then add the soy sauce and sugar.
  • Mix well, ensuring the sugar has dissolved, and then serve the beans with the mince on top.

Note

You can increase or decrease the chilli powder according to your tastes, just ensure it’s all mixed in well or someone will be getting a surprise in their bento box…

Soy and balsamic vinegar chicken

INGREDIENTS

  • Six chicken thighs
  • 4 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp oil

METHOD

  • Mix the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and sugar in a pan, then simmer. Allow to cook for several minutes, reducing the sauce until it’s thick and glossy.
  • Now wash and dry your chicken thighs, and place them in a hot pan with the oil, and allow to brown on one side. Turn them over and pour over the sauce, then cover and cook for five minutes, taking care not to let the sauce burn over too high a heat.
  • Remove the chicken and test it’s cooked by slicing a piece in half. Return to the heat if it needs longer.
  • For a bento, allow to cool before slicing and dressing with some extra sauce.

Note

You will need about one or two chicken thighs, depending on size, per person for a bento lunch.

These recipes originally appeared in 501 Bento Box Lunches, published by Graffito Books.

Gyoza and hot soy sauce cucumber bento

I love making Japanese pickles – unlike western pickles, these aren’t preserved vegetables, but are soaked in a preservative liquid for a couple of hours, or overnight. This recipe produces a spicy delicious pickle that goes really well with rice and gyozas.

Gyozas and cucumber

Recipe for hot soy sauce cucumber

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cucumber
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp mirin
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp English mustard

METHOD

  • Halve the cucumber and scoop out the seeds. Cut the cucumber into half moon chunks, salt and leave to stand for 20 minutes in a covered bowl.
  • Take a plastic bag and add the remaining ingredients, mixing well so that the mustard is dissolved. Add the cucumber and mix well, then refrigerate until needed – leaving for at least 10 minutes. Drain well before adding to a bento – best used the same day or the day after.

This recipe originally appeared in 501 Bento Box Lunches, published by Graffito Books.

Product Placement: Onigiri Sponge!

I know a lot of bento makers buy their bento stuff from J-List – and a lot of us also run affiliate programs with the company, whereby if you click on a link from our sites and purchase items, we can gain store credit or cash in return. I’ve also set up an affiliate program here just like at Bento Business – if you want to support the site, you can do so right along at the same time as feeding your bento obsession by clicking here. (You can also reach the site without taking part in the affiliate program by clicking here.) Whilst browsing today, I came across this super cool kinda-bento related item I just had to share, because it’s so damn cute!

This, my friends, is an onigiri kitchen sponge! Let’s pretend it’s totally practical and wouldn’t be at all weird and creepy when you actually start using it and its face gets all dirty and brown… Sometimes, the truth just hurts too much.

J-List claims you can use this for bathtime fun as well… Okay, it’s cute, but I don’t know how much fun can really be had with a novelty sponge (or am I missing something?) You can also get a banana version… Has anyone got one of these things? They’re fricken awesome!

Thus ends the word from our sponsors… normal service will now resume!

Inari Sushi bento

This pretty little bento is one of my favourites – it’s elegant and healthy… completely unlike me! Inside is sesame vinegar aubergine and spicy soy sauce cucumber, as well as soy sauce and balsamic vinegar chicken.

Inari sushi bento

Recipe for inari sushi


INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups hot, cooked Japanese rice
  • 3 tbsp liquid sushi seasoning
  • 1 tbsp black sesame seeds
  • 6 inari skins

METHOD

  • Pour the sushi seasoning over the rice, then turn and fan until cooled and no longer steaming. Leave to get completely cold before stirring in your black sesame seeds.
  • Open your packet of inari skins, and slit open along the longer side, carefully pulling the edges apart to make a pocket. Fill with the rice and place in the bento rice side up.

Notes

You might want to trim the inari skins down so that they fit in your bento, as some can be taller than your bento is deep. Generally, cutting them in half will make them the right size. Or, you can simply lay a full size piece on its side.

This recipe originally appeared in 501 Bento Box Lunches, published by Graffito Books.

Nikujaga bento

Nikujaga is Japanese comfort food – the sort of thing cooked by mothers for their children in winter. It’s not usually served in bentos, but you can always reheat it the next day for lunch – or eat it cold! It has a sweet, salty taste which is absolutely delicious.

Nikujaga bento

To make this bento, you need carrots, tomatoes, soy sauce eggs, edamame beans, a piece of rolled omelette, cooked Japanese rice, furikake and nikujaga, made with the recipe below. You also need an onigiri shaper, a vegetable cutter, two bento cups and a two-tier bento. About an hour before you make the bento, prepare the quail eggs by hard boiling, peeling and soaking them in some soy sauce.

Place a small amount of drained nikujaga in a bento dish on the bottom layer of your bento box, and fill the remaining space with an onigiri rolled in furikake. On the top layer, place your rolled omelette in a small bento cup, and place pieces of carrot along the side which have been cut into little shapes with your cutter. Then, alternate the soy sauce eggs with tomatoes, and fill the remaining space with boiled edamame beans, sprinkled with a little salt.

Recipe for nikujaga

INGREDIENTS

  • 250g thinly sliced beef brisket, cut into small pieces
  • 700g potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
  • 2 small white onions, peeled and cut into small wedges
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 600ml dashi
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 1 tbsp sake
  • Chives
  • Seven-spice

METHOD

  • Heat the oil and cook the potatoes for two minutes. Add the meat and onions, stir well and cook for another two minutes.
  • Add the dashi, sugar, soy sauce, mirin and sake and simmer the mixture with a drop-lid on top until the potatoes are cooked though – this should take about 15 minutes.
  • For a bento, allow to cool before straining off most of the liquid and placing in your bento. Cooling the mixture in the liquid allows the flavours to deepen. When eating, you can have it cold or reheat it. Nikujaga is far from traditional bento food, but you just might find you like it cold the next day!

Note

If you don’t have a drop lid, you can make one by using a lid which is slightly smaller than the inside of your saucepan. Or, use a piece of greaseproof paper with a small hole cut in the middle for a vent.

Fruit, rice and nikujaga bento

This recipe originally appeared in 501 Bento Box Lunches, published by Graffito Books.