Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

Snack Mix ideas and Two days worth of lunches

Since today was a short day, I only needed a snack-lunch, so I packed some snack mix and a small sandwich made with a sliced Hawaiian roll with some ham and cheese. It’s deconstructed to it would fit in the sandwich box.

I love this set, I found it in a craft store. I purchased the parts separately, hence the monkey bag instead of the matching kitty. It was a bit TOO pink even for me.

I thought the monkey was just aDORKable!

And you see, it all fits!

Hello, um… kitty!

Tomorrow’s lunch is leftover from today’s dinner, stir-fry veggies and meatballs. I don’t like to sauce my food until I eat it, so I packed some soy sauce for when I do.

I love using onigiri boxes for other uses!

The rice is nifty, I mixed in just a little Emperor’s or Forbidden black/purple rice, dried mushrooms and a sprinkle of wakame/umeboshi topping before cooking. I love using just a little of the purple rice for a color punch.

I won’t have time to eat breakfast in the morning, so I’ll pack a yogurt as well. I guess it’s time to break in my new plasticware set! I also bring homemade iced tea to drink.

My snack mix is easy to make. I found Goldfish brand snack cookies on sale, but you can use Teddy Grahams, animal cookies, or whatever you like, even cereals.

This particular mix is:

1 part cookies (chocolate chip and cookies & cream)

1 part pretzels

1 part mixed nuts (any kind, or just peanuts)

1 part dried cranberries

You can also use chocolate chips, mini M&M’s, any kind of dried fruit. I like one part each of the different flavors for good mixing.

This mix is nice and filling, not to mention something that I can munch on all day.


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Shpadoinkle! Weekly: Plastic Portable Cutlery

For this week’s Shpadoinkle, I was planning on talking about buying textbooks online. However, a shopping trip sidetracked that plan.

While browsing the kitchen section of Bed Bath and Beyond, I found a couple of interesting things.

First of all, I found a sauce bottle. It’s an ugly little thing, but it holds 2 ounces and is squeezable. Because the bottle is make from silicone, it can fit into tight spaces, as long as the lid fits. I passed up on this because I have enough bottles and containers for sauce. That, and I’m trying to cut back on my container purchases.

With and without the easily removable label.

Second was a plastic version of my utensil set. The set was on sale, so I couldn’t help but pick it up. As you can see, the whole set is larger. The utensils are full size as well. The spoon and fork are of a decent size to actually be able to feed a hungry adult. While the chopsticks have a nice chunkiness to them, small hands may have trouble using them. However, the plastic is a bit flimsy, so the fork and knife might not be the best tools, even though the flexibility may help keep them from breaking.

Composite of all the different utensils assembled

Due to the small clip mechanism that holds the handles to the working ends, I’m sure this set may wear down quickly. As long as it works,  I think I’ll be satisfied with the $3 that was spent on it.

In my opinion, if there’s a BB&B near you, you should stop by and see if these are on sale (for less than they’re supposed to sell for) in your store.

I rate this a little bit higher than the metal set at 3.5 baked potatoes due to the functionality of the utensils. Shpadoinkle!


Following the Giveaway Frenzy

Okay, I was never going to do stuff like this originally, but I LOVE free stuff!

What can I say?

Scrumptious Bento is giving away a lovely bento box from Lock & Lock.

Check it out!

Leave a comment »

Eating My Mistakes: Volcano Buns

Sorry if today’s post is short… My last year of University starts next week, plus our House Guest is still visiting. Lots to do, plenty of distractions!

Yesterday, I found some fresh herbed pizza dough on sale. Seizing the opportunity (and the dough), I came home to make lovely filled buns. (tomato sauce and cheese, ham and cheese.)

Filling Explosion!

Unfortunately, the buns didn’t come out quite so lovely.

Mistake 1: Not properly letting the dough rest before making buns. Any yeasty dough needs time to rest before it’s used. The package said wait 30 minutes after removing from the fridge before handling. I got impatient and waited 15.

Mistake 2: Pulling the dough too thin in the middle. I’ve made plenty of stuffed buns before, but apparently this dough didn’t have the consistency I’m used to, hence the explosion.

I think the herbs affected the elasticity of the dough as well as the fact it was on sale and perhaps had not aged well in the store cooler. I’ve used plain dough from the same source when it was on sale, so maybe it was just me.

Anyway, in spite of their loss of fillings, the buns still came out nice and yummy, so this time, eating my mistake wasn’t a punishment.


Shpadoinkle! Weekly: Reusable Containers

Okay, this is less a review and more of a commentary piece. But I LOVE reusable containers.

Drink bottles, snack cups, microwavable food storage, Hubby complains about the cupboard being full of the stuff in all shapes and sizes.

There’s more where these came from!

Bottles: Now, I know some of you might think it’s unsafe due to leaching of chemicals from the plastic into your drink or consumable. But, PET bottles are fairly safe as long as they’re not heated. Plus, of course, you need to keep them clean, because bacteria can do damage faster than a little leached chemical can.

BPA has been banned almost everywhere, so unless it’s an old container, hard plastic bottles are fairly safe.

According to earth911.com:

Safe food storage plastics: #1, #2, #4, #5.

Possible toxin leachers: #3, #6, #7. (Don’t (re)use these!)

I like these!

I know that for a while in countries such as Germany & Japan they were trying a bottle reusing program but Google is practically useless so I can’t find any information on if they’re still doing it. I’ll update if I can find some good links. But anyway, they were taking containers like this and popping off the seal rings, washing and refilling. Personally, I love these square, fairly rigid bottles.

Of course, I don’t keep them forever, once they start to get a bit tattered, worn or funky, they go into the recycling bin. I’ve also run across tons of different ideas for reusing plastic bottles once they’ve outlived their usefulness as such. Coin purses, pencil holders, water sprinklers, flower pots, even building materials. I got a little lost  for about an hour just looking at what people have done with their bottles.

Food Containers: Anyone who has read my American Bento posts knows how I love a good container. Something I want to share is a recent acquisition from Wal-Mart:

Quite a few come in a package

They also come in 3 sizes.

They’re pretty flimsy, so probably won’t be very reusable if used in the microwave. But for craft supplies and dry foods like cereal, crackers and nuts? This package was worth the less than 3 dollar price tag.

And now for my bit of Japanophilia: Mottainai (もったいない). This is a Japanese concept of regret over wastefulness. Simply translated, it could come across as ” what a waste!” In my 3rd American Bento post, the Furoshiki revival I mentioned is tied to this concept: Instead of using a plastic bag, use a reusable bag or cloth to carry your purchases. Applicable to just about anything, such as food or materials, this concept has caught on globally in an attempt to be less wasteful.

Here are some ideas for alternate uses of plastic bottles. I casn’t credit the pictures because they’ve been reposted so many times it’s hard to find the sources!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

No review, so no score given, but Shpadoinkle all the same!


Things to do with a large batch of kanten/agar: Mandarin and Ginger Gel

I wasn’t sure what to call what I made. It’s not gelatin, and “jelly” brings up a mental image of grape toast spread. Anyone have an idea?

I also will be calling it the Japanese name “Kanten” for the remainder of this post. I’m a Biology major so the word Agar reminds me of petri dishes. (*>_< )

Kanten is great stuff. It’s made from seaweed, so it’s vegetarian. It’s easy to digest and technically has no sugar except for what is added. While a carbohydrate, apparently the agarose isn’t easily digestible. It melts at a high temperature, making it great for molding and it’s stable at room temperature. Think about that when you’re pondering a dessert for your lunch box! Considering it it also very filling, it can be used as a diet food.

Our House Guest has not yet acclimated to our climate and hasn’t been feeling well. A request for ginger tea and refusal to eat anything solid made me think of how Jell-O can be good for sick people.  Also, ginger is great for queasiness. Not having any gelatin, I remembered buying a box of presweetened kanten that I had intended to play with. I take my opportunities where I find them. I had not remembered that this box required 6 cups of water. That’s a LOT of dessert!

This is the brand I used to make the gel for this post.

After preparing the contents as per the instructions, I had several small bowls lined with canned mandarin slices. After filling those, the rest, about 3.5 cups, went in a large, square tupperware dish. To this I added about a third of a teaspoon of grated ginger and a squirt of store-brand Mango Mandarin “water enhancer” (Think MiO). After an overnight stint in the fridge, our guest tasted the ginger kanten and was able to eat a small bowlful. I had a bowl of the mandarin slice variety. The ginger helped our guest’s stomach settle quite a bit.

There’s plenty more where this came from!
The awesome color for the ginger cubes came from the “water enhancer”.
I just love my “orange”!

Overall, the flavor was very mild. Balancing the flavor of the ginger was tricky as I didn’t want it to be overpowering. The makers of Golden Coins must expect people to use sweetened flavors, hence the light sweetness. Normally I use the plain varieties of kanten (like Telephone brand) and sweeten to taste. One of these days I’ll need to play with the large bars/chunks, they’re supposed to provide a clearer product. My experiment was a success and we’ve all had several bowlfuls. I love serving it sliced into little squares, the apparently traditional way of serving kanten, unless you’re making awesomely cute desserts like this!

Aren’t these adorable? I’ve included the link to the flickr account so you can see more awesome wagashi!

These awesome treats are from the Food Librarian, link included.

Oh, the “orange” in my picture? that was a gift from the family I stayed with during my visit to Japan a few years ago. I figured it was perfect for mandarin slices in kanten! Something similar was originally served in it, but it had pieces of fresh orange.

A previous experiment with kanten involved coffee and matcha. That was also very delicious, especially mixed together.

This was my coffee and matcha kanten experiment, served in milk.

I think the next time cold/flu season rolls around, I’ll keep a container of ginger gel on hand!


Shpadoinkle! Weekly: Hamburger Bento Box

Welcome to Shpadoinkle Weekly, where I share some nifty stuff that might make you say “Shpadoinkle!”

I know, I already have enough bento boxes.

These are my actual, authentic bento boxes, all 5 sets. Umm… can you tell I like blue?

But when I saw this one, I knew it was an opportunity to add a nice, large round one to my collection!

I thought it was cool I found a Japanese ad for the box!

These can be found on eBay or Amazon fairly cheaply, depending on the supplier and shipping charges. I found mine for about $5 at Amazon. Try different searches like “burger, hamburger, bento box, lunch box,” etc. Be careful! Check shipping rates! Also, I’ve seen this thing go for as much as $25 depending on the source.

For a little more, you can find the rectangular version as well.

More like the traditional bento shape.

Now, for my review. When I ordered it, I knew it would be Chinese-made plastic. What I received was actually larger than what I anticipated, even though I knew what the dimensions were ahead of time. And yes, I got lazy and used lots of stock photos. They’re better than mine.

It locks with little hinges on the sides. It opens easily, but closing can be tricky. there is a notch in the “lettuce” for the latch, so you have to make sure it’s lined up just right for it to latch properly. The “burger” is a bit pale for realistic meat, but really, that’s being nit-picky. Opening it up reveals its secrets that aren’t as evident in the pictures.

Take note of the close up and the shape of the lettuce there.

The spoon and fork are TINY! Even smaller than last week’s Shpadoinkle fork and spoon, although this spoon looks more useful. I tried, and they fit in last week’s container.

The bottom section is fairly large, just enough room for a nice sized lunch of rice and curry. Yes, the next time I make curry rice I’ll use this box! It will hold approx 400 ml.

The “burger” section has a lip that settles down around the bottom, helping avoid leakage. This section is fairly shallow, it would be great for sliced cheeses, meats, fruits, veggies,  packets of condiments, utensils or an oshibori.  It holds about 150 ml.

The final “lettuce” layer, with the top “bun”, settles down very slightly into the “burger” and has more room due to the open space in the raised “bun” section. This could be used for fruit cups, salads, larger veggies, condiment containers, bread, etc. It holds about 200 ml, not including the cover.

All snapped together, it’s pretty sturdy, the latches don’t come undone easily and the layers don’t shift. However, this container is NOT Leak Proof! There are no seals on the plastic, so take care when transporting very wet foods. I need to see if a layer of plastic wrap will help seal the layers. Don’t forget about the trick with the “lettuce” section when locking the container.

I would not recommend using this container in the microwave. At least, don’t nuke anything but the bottom section, and only heat that as briefly as possible. The two layers of my Hello Kitty box don’t fit together anymore due to the lower lid shrinking a bit from heating. I would hate for the latches on this to not close due to warping. You probably want to wash this by hand as well.

Just some more images of the “burger” container

Overall, this is a cute and useful lunch box. It would be nice if I didn’t need to use all the layers, but that’s what you get with a themed container. Hey, manufacturers! Why no cheese? Us fat Americans would like cheese on that! Just replace the lettuce. Microwavability would add to the usefulness of this container, but for $5, I might risk a bit of melting! (or maybe not…) At this price, I’m not even that concerned about leaking.

I give the Hamburger Bento Box:

4 out of 5 Baked Potatoes. Shpadoinkle!



Comfort Food: Ham, Cheese and Potato Bake

Sometimes, when it’s cold out side, when the world’s got you down, or it’s just that time of the month, we crave our “comfort foods”. Depending on who you are, where you’re from and how you were raised, comfort food can mean something different to each of us.

Hubby and I are from the South, so that usually means something with plenty of salt and cheese. Speaking of the South, I love how Paula Deen says “Ham” (Ha-yum). It has “yum” in it already!

Anyway, we were craving a taste of the South, so stopped by our supermarket for some supplies and came back with the makings for my ham cheese and potato bake. It’s super easy, all you need is a large casserole dish such as the 3 quart, 9×13 inch  pan shown here. You can separate it into 2 separate, smaller dishes if need be, I’ve done that too.

All the fixin’s for our dish, plus the dish. The Mexican cheese blend is what we use for just about everything. It’s kind of awesome.

To make it as you see here, you’ll need:

2lb bag of frozen Southern style hash browns, or the equivalent of 2 pounds cubed potatoes. We’ve tried using shredded, but the texture is different so we prefer the cubed.

2 cups (approximately, depends on your taste) shredded cheese (your choice).

1lb cubed or diced ham.

1/2 jar (approximate) cheese sauce (Ragu has a nice balance of flavor), optional.

Other ingredients can be added such as small frozen veggies like peas or mixed veggies, but it will alter cooking time and finished texture.

You can half the recipe if necessary, but we just use the entire bag of potatoes, knowing we’ll eat it ALL.

As usual, except for the ham and potato, the cheese measurements are approximate. We just put enough cheese on until it looks right.

Due to the long baking time, make sure you start (with an empty pan) about 2 hours before it’s time to eat the first time you make it. If it finishes early, you can keep it in the warm oven until it’s time. If it takes a bit longer to cook, you won’t be screwed.

The casserole doesn’t need it, but we sprayed the pan with cooking spray for easier cleanup. You can do the next process as layers like this, or mix it all together and dump it in with a layer of cheese on top, your choice.

The first cheese layer and the potato and ham layer with our sauce dollops.

We layered in this order: Shredded cheese, 1/2 the potato, All the ham, dollops of cheese sauce, more shredded cheese, the last of the potato, a few more dollops of sauce and a final layer of cheese. Now that I’m thinking about it, some ground pepper would be nice as well.

The second layer of shredded cheese and the final potato layer.

We’ve found that the ham and cheese sauce make the need for added salt unnecessary. If you choose to not use the sauce, some salt might be needed depending on the saltiness of your ham.

The final layer before going into the oven.

Bake it in a 350 or 375  degree oven for about 1 hour. Our oven is wonky, so the cooking time varies from batch to batch. We’ve had it ready anywhere in between 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Basically bake it until the potatoes are hot & cooked and the cheese is all bubbly. Using fresh potatoes will alter cooking time as well.

Let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

The top layer was almost overdone here. This one’s ready for digging in!

This stuff is so good! It’s great as leftovers for breakfast with a fried egg on top too! However, because it seems really bad for us, we try to make it no more than once a month. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for almost a week.

This recipe is great because it’s easy, filling and provides leftovers for the rest of the week for breakfast or lunch.

Enjoy your HaYum!


Spadoinkle! Weekly: Portable Chopsticks & Silverware

Okay, I have chosen my Weekly Review name: Shpadoinkle!

What does Shpadoinkle mean? If you didn’t follow the links, it is a made-up word that can basically mean something that is nice or pleasant.

“Wow, you have a Shpadoinkle blog!”

For my first Shpadoinkle, I will be reviewing an eBay purchase, a set of stainless steel collapsible chopsticks, fork and spoon with case.

Here you can see the chopsticks collapsed and assembled.

When I first saw this, I thought it was so neat! You can find these sets on eBay for $2.00 if you look carefully and don’t mind waiting for the shipping from China. I’ve also seen them at my local Asian market for $4.00. Some other designs can be found as well if you look around on eBay, Amazon, etc. When I ordered mine, there was no color selection, but I’m happy that I received silver as it’s what I wanted. For those looking to buy wholesale, try Alibaba.

The case is plastic and looks like a case for slim reading glasses. The lid slides off easily but stays in place. This is something that can fit into a purse, backpack or lunch bag easily. It’s probably a bit long for some small bags, but it needs room for the chopsticks and utensils.

Here you can see the actual size with a ruler.

Normally I don’t like metal chopsticks because they tend to be too slippery. However, these have a textured tip for helping grab food. When assembled, they’re nice and long. They fit comfortably in my hand and the joint isn’t too obvious. They screw together firmly and unscrew easily.

The fork and spoon… are VERY SMALL! I would not try drinking soup with the spoon, but it can help with items a fork can’t grab easily like yogurt or jelly. The fork is only 3 prongs and skinny, which is good for piercing but not for scooping. If you have big hands or are really hungry, these aren’t really that useful. For me, they’ll be great when using chopsticks isn’t appropriate and I can’t locate other utensils.

When putting the whole thing together, I have to be careful. If I don’t line up the fork and spoon correctly, the lid won’t fit. I accidentally dented my spoon trying. After use, the case can be a problem because the whole thing needs washing to remove food residue. Unless you want to wash your silverware after eating, it’s probably not that convenient.

Here you can see how it all fits.

I’ve been able to fit a different, small spoon in the case, but I would need an equally small fork to match it. I think some baby utensils might fit, but I don’t have any around to try. If just using the spoon and fork, wrapping a napkin around them would be a nice touch and would help avoid a messy case after eating.

All in all, I am happy with my purchase but I may not use it as often as I hoped. Definitely worth $2. If I had paid more, I might not be as satisfied.

Overall Score:

3 out of 5 Baked Potatoes. Shpadoinkle!

Warm Baked Potatoes!

P.S. Props for those who got the references without clicking the links!