In my household, we've settled into a weekday pattern surrounding food. Husband gets home an hour and a half earlier than I do, so he generally pulls dinner together, and I get the lovely benefit of a tasty meal that's all prepared when I walk in the door. He's awesome like that.
I, on the other hand, take care of the lunches we bring with us to work.
What are the goals of a brown-bag lunch? To save money, certainly. Many of my coworkers go out for lunch every single day, and I can't imagine spending that kind of money on daily mediocre restaurants. To use up leftovers, and this does happen a lot. It's a handy way to eat through overly large batches of food from dinner. To provide more nourishing, healthy food than grabbing a burger. And finally, and certainly NOT least importantly, to be interesting and beautiful and tasty.
Ultimately, sandwiches and leftover pizza, though easy and cheap, get boring.
Fundamentally, a bento is simply a meal packed in a box, and almost any packed lunch would technically qualify. But generally it means several different dishes packed together, and intended to be eaten at room temperature. Often they contain Japanese food, as bento is a Japanese concept, but they certainly don't have to. Admittedly, I've been getting a hell of a kick out of expanding my repertoire to Japanese cuisine, but eventually I'll probably calm down and branch out into other options.
Some bento, called charaben or kyaraben, are incredibly detailed works of art that must take hours to assemble. I don't have that kind of time in the morning, people! But Maki of Just Bento focuses on tasty, healthy bento that are appealing to the eye without involving painstaking amounts of effort.
So I worked up my courage, picked out some simple-seeming Japanese recipes, and packed lunches for us in some random tupperware. For a first attempt, I remember it being reasonably tasty and reasonably pretty. I got the satisfaction of having prepared something special and thoughtful for our lunches, and it gave me something to look forward to through the morning in a way that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is simply incapable of. And Husband was surprisingly supportive. Also, it made my coworkers somewhat jealous.
I was hooked. It's a simple way to expand my culinary ability, take care of Husband, and feel taken care of myself.
So, I'm going to post occasional bento, with pictures and descriptions. I don't have pics of all of my past creations, but I have a few and will get those up gradually. Also, most of the pictures were taken with my crappy phone camera, so don't expect stunning quality (side note: learn how to take actually decent pictures of food someday). I generally bento about once a week now, generally on Tuesdays. My bento aren't spectacularly pretty or incredibly detailed, but they are yummy, and maybe someone out there will be inspired to give it a try. It's easy and it's delicious.
Without further ado, some bento!
Yesterday's lunch: cashew chicken and brown rice.
Ironically, this week's bento was remarkably plain, and probably not one I'll be repeating. I found a recipe for cashew chicken in a magazine, and it's been living in the 'to try' section of The Book for a while now. I mostly followed the recipe, except for adding in a bunch of zucchini, as it was notably deficient in veg content. I packed it with brown rice.
It was... okay. The chicken was kind of dry (it would have been much better with dark meat rather than white), I slightly burned the cashews (oops), and the sauce was a pretty straightforward and uninteresting blend of chili garlic sauce and soy. It's a very simple recipe, and possibly one I'll adjust and keep around in my head, but it definitely needs some tweaking and I think I can safely throw away that magazine page now. Live and learn!