Tuesday, November 03, 2009

November 3rd Bento Lunch

I love Chinatown.

It's definitely in my top five favorite things about living in Toronto.

BF and I went there this weekend and bought homemade dumplings from a dumpling shop, homemade barbecue pork pastries from a Chinese bakery and all kinds of yummy produce.

So, I figured that calls for a bento!
My lunch today consisted of one barbecue pork pastry (my favorite food in the world) cut in half, three gyoza, fried then steamed, and veggies consisting of steamed broccoli, asparagus and lotus root slices (boiled with a little water, sugar and vinegar). For some fruit, I packed pomegranate seeds, raspberries and persimmons. I also included a little sauce bottle filled half and half with soy sauce and rice vinegar for the gyoza.

This lunch was a little heavy on the fried foods and a little light on protein, but it's what I was in the mood for, so it's all good. It was probably one of the most delicious bento lunches I've made. There were lots of great textures with the crunch of the lotus root and pomegranate seeds, the softness of the pork and dumplings and the smooth sweetness of the persimmons. I'm tempted to have the same thing for supper!

Edited on November 4th to Add:

Hello again!

I enjoyed yesterday's lunch so much that I decided to make it again today. I guess that practice makes perfect because I thought it turned out much cuter than yesterday's. So much so that I decided to show it to you.

Here it is:
The only changes I made were to add a few carrot flowers and I switched out the sauce bottle for a panda one because my other bottle developed a leak.

Much better!

Friday, October 09, 2009

And The Winner Is.......


BentoBeginner of http://bentoforbeginners.blogspot.com/, lover of cute shaped onigiri, picked the same number as the random generator so she is the recipient of the free book!

Congratulations BentoBeginner! If you could please email me your mailing address (my email is jackisbentoATgmail.com), I will see that it gets to you.

Thank you, everyone, for your participation. I truly enjoyed reading all of your wonderful comments

I have to say that I was really touched by how many of you said you were happy to see me back. I want to apologize for not posting more frequently. This has been a year full of changes for me and making bento lunches kind of fell off my radar for a bit, mainly because I took quite a bit of time of work so there was no need to pack lunches. BF and I decided we needed a fresh start so we tossed all of our stuff in a U-haul and drove for two days until we hit Toronto. That was two months ago, and for the first month I barely had a kitchen to cook in! I seriously suffered from cute food withdrawl, although it was a good opportunity to explore the cupcake shops in my new neighbourhood.

I'm back at work now, and while I do expect I will pack a lunch sometimes, I'm in a fortunate position where I'm able to come home for lunch, so I'm not sure yet whether I will be able to update as often as I used to. But on the plus side, there are much better resources where I'm living now for different ethnic foods, which I find so exciting! Although I'm still trying to locate a place to buy bento supplies in Toronto. If you have any leads, let me know!

So that's where I'm at right now. This weekend I'm hosting Thanksgiving dinner (My first turkey! Eep!) so I will be putting together a batch of turkey cupcakes. On one of his many travels, BF found me a bottle of root beer extract, so I'm going to try to make root beer cupcakes! I'm pretty excited by this prospect. If they turn out any good, I will share the recipe for sure!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Book Review + Free Give Away! Book Title: Cute Yummy Time

La Carmina, author of the new book Cute Yummy Time, offered to send me a copy of her book to review. I love any opportunity to check out some new, cute foods so I was happy to oblige, but I couldn't forget about you guys! So I asked if she would send a copy to one of you as well and she said sure!

Here is my review, and at the bottom of this post are the instructions for what you need to do to enter the very first giveaway contest here at Jacki's Bento Blog.

I love that the art of the bento lunch is becoming more and more popular here in North America because as anything grows in popularity, more information becomes available on the subject. When I started making bento lunches about two years ago, it felt like although there were great English books available about Japanese cooking, and even specifically with bento recipes, all of the kawaii bento books were in Japanese. To find the really cute stuff, I resorted to attempting to mimic things I saw on Japanese language blogs.

But it seems that over the past few years, more and more books have been entering the North American market that specifically focus on the cute, artistic elements of bento lunches. While this is a good thing, most of the ones I have read have had lots of great artwork, but not the clear instruction I was looking for, this is the niche that Cute Yummy Time attempts to fill.

The book contains 70 recipes for cute foods. Each has its own two page spread that contains an ingredient list, detailed instructions and coloured photographs. Although the pictures only show the end result (there are no step by step pictures), after reading through this book I feel confident that I can recreate any of the recipes and designs. They all seem really straight forward and use ingredients that I can pick up at my regular chain grocery store, no trip to the Asian grocery store is necessary.

I believe the author is a very creative person as there are ideas in here that I've never seen before, and I spend a lot of time looking at people's pictures of bento lunches! There are little things I never thought of, like using my nori punches to make shapes out of spinach, and there are lots of foods I've never thought of trying to make cute before (I can't wait to try her recipe for piggy bread!). Some of the recipes are very clever, like her Puffin Sushi, a maki sushi roll where the slices look like puffin heads.

The healthiness of all of the recipes really impressed me. She uses whole grains, high antioxidant foods, low fat dairy products, natural sweeteners and lots of fresh produce in her recipes. The recipes are all from scratch, right down to things like doughs and soups. The meals are smartly balanced, for example her recipe for Panda Tofu Soba. It has lots of lean protein in the tofu, soba noodles for carbs and lots of brightly coloured, fresh vegetables. It's perfectly healthy and balanced meal, and it's just adorable.

That said, half of the book, called the "To Go" section, contains recipes that are not portable and therefore not suitable for bento lunches, although you will find lots of great ways to make a cute breakfast. Many of them also require special bento equipment such as animal shaped cutters, and ice cream sandwich molds. A lot of people have these already, but I know there are also those who have a hard time getting ahold of these things.

My only criticism of the book is that for a few of the recipes, it's difficult to identify exactly what animal I'm looking at. I was excited to see a recipe for Hedge Pork Loin because I adore hedgehogs. When I saw the picture, however, it didn't really look like a hedgehog to me, so I won't be making it. But some of them, like the Polar Bear meringues, are spot on.

All in all, I like the book and will definitely be trying some recipes from it. It's well put together, easy to understand and none of the recipes appear to be overly complicated or time consuming. Everything looks yummy and they will definitely add some cuteness to our meals.

Book Giveaway Contest Rules: To enter, leave a comment on this post that tells me your favorite cute food to pack in your lunch. Mine? Checkerboard cut apple slices.

The cutoff is Midnight (Eastern Time) on Thursday, October 8th. On Friday, I will select a winner using a random number generator. So if the random number generator picks 6 and your comment is the sixth one, you win! I suggest that you include a way for me to contact you in your comment (for example, through your blogger account if you have one or by posting your email address). Otherwise, I will post the name of the winner on my blog next Friday and they can contact me through my email address which I will post at that time as well.

Limit of one entry per person.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Picks for UFC 100. In Cupcake Form of Course!

Is anyone else excited for UFC 100?? I have been anticipating the rematch between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir for months and months and months!!!

BF is rooting for Mir. I'm a diehard Lesnar fanatic. So I decided this time to let the cupcakes do the talking!! As always, just click on the picture for a closer look.

They turned out awesome, but it was a long time getting here. First I made a batch of Chocolate Raspberry cupcakes, using the recipe from the book Crazy About Cupcakes.

They were by far the worst cupcakes I've ever made. I was so disappointed. Usually the recipes in this book are really good, but this one was the exception I guess. While I was mixing the batter I fell in love. There were so many fabulous ingredients, like cocoa, raspberries, sour cream and toasted almonds. The batter was so soft and luxurious, I had never made anything like it.

Into the oven they went and when they came out, they had hardly risen at all. As they cooled, the centers sunk into the middles of the cupcakes and the cupcakes pulled away from the liners. The taste was awful. They were gritty, and tasted like unsweetened cocoa despite the 1 1/2 cups of sugar in them. I was so sad. I almost gave up.

Then BF brought me a brand new stick of butter, a bag of sugar and a carton of eggs, gave me a kiss and asked me to try again. I found a jar of cherries in the fridge and made a batch of my tried and true cherry cupcakes. Perfect. I topped them with swirls of chocolate buttercream and popped my fondant decorations on top.

I'm especially pleased with how my fondant rendition of Mir turned out. This was the first time I've ever made a face out of fondant, I'm more of a flower person to be sure. Here he is in real life and in beaten up fondant form:
I cut out all of the pieces (except the letters) freehand. I was a little stumped with how to make his hair look textured, and ended up using the rough edges that occur naturally when you roll out the fondant. I think they turned out great.

BF was very unhappy with this cupcake.

So we've got cupcakes and I made a batch of pulled pork for sandwiches for the party tonight.

Lesnar, GSP, Henderson, don't let me down!!!

Post Fight Thoughts: Hey, all three of my guys won! Maybe my cupcakes are lucky? Now if only the Atlantic Lotto Commission would extend their sports betting to include the UFC, lol.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcakes! With Recipes!

Oh, these were too much fun to make!!

I know I'm a couple weeks late, but these were actually Father's Day cupcakes, I just wasn't able to get together with my dad on the actual holiday (his work sent him to Australia, how awesome is that?). My Dad has a definite silly side, so I thought he would appreciate some cupcakes in disguise. When I saw this idea for spaghetti and meatball cupcakes in the book Hello, Cupcake! I knew it would be perfect!

They really look like spaghetti, don't they?

I loved the concept of these cupcakes, but the actual recipe in the book includes more premade ingredients than I am comfortable using in my baking, so I made everything (except for the meatballs!) from scratch. I made peach cupcakes with vanilla buttercream frosting, strawberry sauce and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. If you've never had a Ferrero Rocher, I have to say they are probably my favorite chocolate that you can buy at the drugstore. Starting from the center and working out, they consist of a hazelnut in the core, surrounded by chocolate hazelnut cream, a thin chocolate wafer shell, and a chocolate and crushed hazelnut coating on the outside. Just the perfect combination of crunchy and smooth. So decadent! Their size, colour and outer texture make them perfect fake meatballs.

Here are my recipes and the assembly instructions.

Recipe: Peach Cupcakes

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes


  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 large can of peach slices
Drain peaches. Cut slices in half lengthwise and then into small pieces crosswise until you have 1 1/2 cups of peach pieces. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating for a full minute after each addition. Add vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to the cream mixture, alternating with the milk and mixing after each addition. Mix for an additional two minutes after all the dry ingredients and milk have been added so that the batter is nice and fluffy. Gently fold in peaches.

Bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 25 minutes until cupcakes test done with a toothpick. Allow to cool completely before decorating.

Recipe: Vanilla Buttercream frosting (Spaghetti colour)

  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp milk
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cocoa
  • small amount of yellow icing colour (only use a tiny bit, we want the frosting to be more of an off-white than a bright yellow)
Beat butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and mix. Add icing sugar about 1 cup at a time, mixing until combined after each addition. Add cocoa and icing colour and mix until colour is uniform. Add milk 1 Tbsp at a time until the frosting reaches the proper consistency.

Recipe: Strawberry sauce


  • 1 pint of fresh strawberries, halved
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp water
Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce has thickened somewhat.

Allow the sauce to cool and then puree in a blender or food processor. Return the sauce to the saucepan and return to a gentle boil. Combine cornstarch and remaining water in a separate bowl. Slowly pour into the strawberry mixture, stirring the sauce as you pour. Continue to cook the sauce for another minute or two until it has thickened. Allow to cool completely before using it on the cupcakes.

Now, time to put it all together! (this is the easy part)

Recipe: Spaghetti and Meatball Cupcakes

  • 24 cupcakes
  • 1 batch of vanilla buttercream frosting, spaghetti colour
  • 1 batch of strawberry sauce
  • 24 Ferrero Rocher chocolates
  • 1/2 ounce white chocolate, finely grated
Using a spatula, spread a thin layer of frosting on each cupcake. Arrange cupcakes in a rectangle on the dish you want to serve them on.

Place remaining frosting in an icing bag with a #5 tip (alternately you can just cut 1/8" off of the tip of a disposable bag. I don't use this method because I find it puts a seam in the icing from the seam in the bag).

Squeeze out the icing on to the cupcakes sort of randomly, making sure to cover all of the areas (including the gaps between the cupcakes), so that there is spaghetti icing mounded on top of each cupcake and draping down the sides a little bit.

Coat each chocolate with strawberry sauce. The thinner the coat of sauce, the better because it allows you to see the texture of the meatball better. Set aside.

Take the remaining sauce and gently spoon it onto each cupcake, making sure not to deform the 'noodles'. Again, a thinner coat is better. I recommend putting a little bit of sauce in the center of each cupcake and gently working it over to connect to the other cupcakes using the back of a spoon, adding more sauce where required.

Place a chocolate in the center of each cupcake and sprinkle some of the white chocolate on top of each cupcake. You're all done!

Here are a dozen packed in a foil tray ready to be taken to my Dad's house.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

New Bento Book! And my bento lunches are in it!!!

I'm too excited!!

The photos and recipes for some of my bento lunches have been included in this brand new book called 501 Bento Box Lunches. I've known about it for a while, but I was waiting until I actually had the book in my hand before I was ready to tell everyone.

When I first sent my photos and recipes to the publisher (twenty of which have been included in the book) and she told me she was compiling a collection of 500, I couldn't even begin to imagine the work that would go into organizing all of that information. But somehow, she pulled it off! There are pages and pages of recipes, and pictures of each and every bento lunch. It's all compacted into a neat little package. Like many of the bento boxes I've ordered online, the book was smaller than I expected but it's exactly the size it needs to be to include all of the information.

If you want to check it out, I've included links to some sample pages below (with the publisher's permission of course). I've also included it in the list of my favorite bento cookbooks in the left column of this blog so that you can link to its listing on Amazon.

I love this book and I'm not just saying that because I'm affiliated. I think it is an amazing source of inspiration and I can only turn a few pages before I see something new I want to try. I don't think it's a great beginner book, as it doesn't cover off a lot of the basics of bento making (like how to make onigiri, ratios of rice to meat to veg content, speed tips, etc.) but if you ever need a place to go for new ideas, this book is the best one I've seen.

Here are the links to the sample pages:

Pages 18 - 19
Pages 80 - 81
Pages 94 -95
Pages 126 to 127

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Butterfly Fondant Cupcake Toppers

After the rose cake I made earlier this week, I had all kinds of marshmallow fondant left over. My grandmother said that she had never had a fondant covered cake before, so I decided to make some fondant cupcakes just for her.

This is my first foray into the world of fondant cupcake toppers and I am really pleased with how they turned out (although there is always room for improvement of course!).

The cupcakes are plain chocolate with chocolate buttercream and marshmallow fondant toppers. The recipe for the fondant can be found here and the recipe for the cake is here (it's the one on the side of a can of Hershey's cocoa. Such an amazing cake recipe! And great when you don't have any butter on hand). The design for the toppers was based on some cupcakes I had seen on Flickr earlier this week, so I can't take the credit for that.
I already had lots of blue and white fondant left over from the cake, so I just needed to make some pink by kneading in some colour (I used Wilton Aster Mauve icing colour) with some of the white fondant.

I made the butterflies and the flowers ahead of time, using three different sized blossom cutters and a butterfly cutter (all Wilton) and allowed them to dry overnight so that they would hold their shape. For the butterflies, I left them to dry in folded pieces of cardboard lined with wax paper, laying the center of the butterfly in the crease of the cardboard so that it would dry in the correct shape with its wings angled up. For the larger flowers (although they're all quite small), I first used a small ball tool to made a round dent in each of the petals and then a large ball tool quickly pressed in the center of the flower to give the blossom an overall rounded shape. For each of the two smaller flowers, I used the small ball tool in the center of the flowers. I dried the flowers in Wilton flower formers.

This morning when I made the cupcakes, I assembled the toppers as the cupcakes cooled after coming out of the oven. The first step was to roll out the blue fondant to a little less than a quarter inch thickness and punch out circles the size of the cupcakes. Next I piped on the most of the green frosting, starting with a dot in the center to anchor the butterfly (using tip #12) followed by the vines piped with tip #3. Then I placed the butterflies and flowers on the cupcakes, secured by the buttercream and finished off the vines by piping some leaves on them using tip #352 (I love this tip!! It makes gorgeous leaves of all sizes so easily). The last step was to pipe little yellow dots in the center of each of the flowers and then the body of the butterfly, all using a #2 tip.

Once I got going, I was able to make thirty toppers fairly quickly. I think they look quite nice for how little work they were. After the toppers were complete, I frosted the cupcakes and gently placed a topper on each one. The frosting holds it in place.

I brought some over to my mother's house for Nanny to try and she liked them, so I call that a success. Most of the rest of them will be accompanying BF to his scuba class tomorrow. As of tomorrow afternoon he will be a certified rescue diver! I am so proud of him (not to mention happy that if I get in trouble when I'm learning to dive this summer, he will be able to rescue me, lol)

I can't wait to try this technique again. I think I need to work on getting the edges of the toppers to line up properly with the edges of the cupcakes as you can still see parts of the wrapper when you look at the cupcakes top-down. Suggestions welcome as always!

And here is another picture of my army of butterflies