Frozen bento fillers

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I take my lunch to work and most days I take a large salad. I love salad. My son, on the other hand, is two and is not a bit fan of raw vegetables. Lunch making takes a bit longer since I have to cater to his twoness. When I moved a few weeks ago, I picked up some frozen veggie side dishes to use for the first couple of days. They came frozen in individual muffin cups, perfect for his bento box. I thought it was a great idea decided to give it a try.

In the picture is leftovers from a quick side dish I made with spinach, tomato and canned tuna. I decided to freeze leftovers instead of making a whole batch of something to freeze. Who wants to have the same side dish for three weeks? I picked up some reusable muffin cups at the local supermarket and have been using those. I’ll soon have quite the collection going. The best part is that since it is summer, I don’t even need to thaw them before I put them in his lunch. It’s over thirty degrees everyday, they’ll be thawed before he gets to school…

Do you freeze small quantities of food for lunches? Please leave a comment below with what you freeze. I’d love to see all of your ideas.

Freezer bento fillers

bento freezer ideas

The last three months have been full of making lunches. I’ve had to up my game as the kiddo probably wouldn’t appreciate eating the previous night’s dinner for lunch every day. Or meal salads every day… I have a tiny freezer but I’ve been keeping as many bento fillers in there as possible. Because there are those days when all of the energy you have is to move things from the freezer to the bento box. Or those days when you want eight different things in your lunch. I am usually fine with two. Here are some things that work well from freezer to bento box. If you have access to a microwave where you are going to be eating the bento, you don’t even have to defrost. In summer you probably don’t have to defrost anything. If you don’t have microwave access at lunch, defrost your fillers when you are making your lunch.

Mini burger patties – they can be veggie, bean, beef, chicken, pork or any mixture you want but they are versatile

  • top with salsa and cheese
  • top with gravy
  • top with bbq sauce and canned pineapple
  • top with ponzu and grated daikon
  • cut up over a salad
  • add to a lettuce wrap

Daikon steaks – easy to make and they get soft after freezing (something I consider a good thing)

  • eat as is
  • mix in with simmered veggies (nimono)
  • dice and mix with canned tuna and mizuna – no dressing needed

Steamed broccoli – or any veggie that freezes well

  • eat as is or topped with dressing
  • top with cheese
  • cut up and mix in pasta

Grilled sausage – grill cocktail sausages and then freeze

  • eat as is
  • slice and serve over a salad
  • top with bbq sauce, “sauce”, mustard or ketchup
  • top with cheese
  • roll in lettuce

Shumai/gyoza (dumplings) – just freeze leftovers anytime you have them

 

Sauces – have a little bit of leftover sauce from dinner? Freeze it in an ice-cube tray for quick bento toppings

 

Cheese – grated or cubed

  • eat as is
  • sprinkle over salad
  • sprinkle over pasta
  • sprinkle over Japanese curry
green-pepper-maki

Green Pepper Maki

green-pepper-maki

I love veggies wrapped in meat. My favorite is asparagus wrapped in pork but an honorable mention must go to eringi wrapped in beef. I tried something new the other day. I had some fast fry pork chops and some green peppers in the house so I search on Cookpad.com with those two ingredients and found a few pictures of sliced green pepper wrapped in pork. I was sold. I didn’t actually look at the recipes but I knew what I wanted  then and there.

Green pepper maki

4 shabushabu cut pork slices (thin fast fry pork chops) or the equivalent of shaved pork
2 green peppers (Japanese sized)
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon cooking sake
salt to taste

At least thirty minutes before you want to start cooking, mix the cooking sake and miso together and spread over both sides of the pork. Let sit until you are ready to cook. Cut the green peppers lengthwise into thin strips. Roll half of a green pepper’s worth of strips in each piece of pork. Cook in your fish grill for 7-10 minutes, or fry on medium, until the meat is brown and crispy. The green peppers will be cooked but still crispy. Sprinkle a bit of salt (keeping in mind miso is about 30% salt) and serve.

fried rice balls yakionigiri

Freezing Yakionigiri

fried rice balls yakionigiri

I think one of the first frozen foods I had in Japan was frozen onigiri. The hubby bought them one evening and I was skeptical. I don’t really like frozen food and these seemed to simple to be good. I loved them. Haven’t bought them since but they did inspire me to explore the world of yakionigiri. There have been terrible results in the past but now all is good. I haven’t perfected them but they are pretty good. I usually use the frying pan but I tried them in the riceball plates of my waffle iron and was pleased. It’s so easy. Since I need to have some food prepped in the freezer for work day breakfasts, lunches and dinners, freezing riceballs seemed to be perfect. You can just reheat with miso soup for a quick meal. They are best heated in a toaster oven so they don’t get too soggy. I use the grill setting in my microwave but keep the pan on a lower level than when actually grilling.

Basically, lightly salt the rice and make riceballs. If you need a tutorial, check out this one on Just Hungry. In a small bowl mix a bit of soy sauce and grated ginger. Lightly oil a frying pan and heat up the pan on medium. When the frying pan has heated up, place the rice balls and fry until they are just starting to turn golden. Turn over and either brush or sprinkle with a spoon the ginger soy sauce mixture on the cooked side. Just a little at a time so the riceball doesn’t fall apart. When the other side has started to change color turn over again and repeat with the sauce. Now you can fry them until they turn a deeper color. If you are freezing them, cool them completely before putting them in the freezer. Either thaw at room temperature or microwave for about 30 seconds and then put them in the toaster oven until they look nice and toasty.

stuffed-red-peppers

Baked Stuffed Red Peppers

I have been working on the rice cooker cookbook nonstop for the last little while and have scarcely had time to cook non-rice cooker meals. This may be the first time I have used my oven in about a month. I baked these in the pre-lunch heat since it really doesn’t make a difference when your living room is already 30 degrees to begin with.

Up until a few years ago, I wouldn’t cook or eat stuffed peppers. For some reason I used to strongly dislike the taste of cooked green peppers and that kept me from exploring all kinds of peppers. I now quite like cooked green peppers and enjoy them in a variety of dishes. I decided to go with texmex seasoning and red peppers today as it is hot, hot, hot.

stuffed-red-peppers

Stuffed Red Peppers

2 red bell peppers
150 grams ground chicken
1/2 cup spinach ribbons
1/3 cup panko (aka bread crumbs)
1 1/2 teaspoons taco spice
1 sleeve tomato paste (1 tablespoon)
1 egg
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and take out the seeds while leaving the shape intact. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the remaining ingredients  with your hands until fully combined. Divide the mixture into four balls and stuff each pepper half with a ball. I like to press the meat into the corners of the pepper but you can leave the mixture in ball form and set it in the pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the meat browns on top. Serve when cooled to a suitable temperature.

This would taste great topped with cheese and salsa. 

Tomato paste in Japan
Tomato paste isn’t that hard to find in Japan. Look for トマトペースト (tomato peesuto) near the canned tomatoes. You can find it in small cans and in one tablespoon sleeves which I prefer. I love the sleeves because I usually only need a tablespoon at a time. The box of six sleeves is under 200 yen (at the time of writing this post).

tomato-paste-in-japan