I don’t watch TV much these days but I’m hooked on Top Chef. It showcases France’s up and coming professional chefs, as they battle it out in front of the daunting cameras – all sweat and tears to seduce the eyes and tastebuds of the discerning jury with their innovative dishes based on each set task. The jury? We’re talking Thierry Marx, Jean-François Piege, Ghislaine Arabian, and Christian Constant, s’il vous plaît. One of the surprising tasks last week was to come up with an artistic and healthily balanced bento box. The additional jury was even tougher this time: a group of sophisticated 8-year-old French children.
Bento boxes are something I only discovered recently by visiting Xinmei Wang’s blog, Pudding Pie Lane. If you don’t already know it, then I urge you to check it out. Xinmei’s creatively cute bento boxes are what first caught my eye, then I returned for more doses of her sense of humour. You get a glimpse into her life as a student while at Cambridge University. Yes, Xinmei is a clever cookie and in her spare time in between essay writing, she skillfully bakes and cooks up dishes not only on a limited budget but with the minimum of equipment, perfecting the art of getting by on a microwave. Let me hand you over to Xinmei.
Ever wondered how to be a food blogger as a student, meaning a very stretched budget? I like baking and everything I do is in my spare time (often procrastinating from writing my 10th essay of the term!) I study Economics at Cambridge so have never taken any courses related to baking or cooking, I’ve taught myself from various cookbooks, but occasionally like to make up my own recipes to ‘see what happens’. I especially love baking for my friends at Uni and more recently making bento boxes after I saw them on another site. Not only are they a (quite literally) healthy break from the cakes and cookies, but also look incredibly cute!
You may wonder how I manage to make this bento box in my tiny puny midget University kitchen (aka ‘gyp room’), with just a microwave, kettle and toaster. How did I cook the eggs? How did I boil the rice? And just how did I manage to make the wombat/bear/generic-furry-animal bento so astoundingly amazingly awesomely cute?
For the first two, that’s the Art Of Getting By On A Microwave. For the third one, well, that’s a secret 😉
At my University we’re all catered, so we have limited cooking means, and I’ve often had to make do. I don’t go to the hall to eat very often, however Harry Potteresque Cambridge University dining halls looks like (or should I say ‘however Cambridge-esque Harry Potter looks like!’). Maybe because we have to eat by candlelight at dinner every night. This may sound cool, but the novelty wears off when you’ve accidentally eaten sponge cake instead of chicken.
Not that I have ever done this. But anyway, I’m going to show you how you can make this bento in your very own box of a ‘gyp room’ so you can make one yourself!
You will need:
1. Rice! How to cook them in the microwave? Well:
- Buy/borrow/find a pyrex bowl with a lid.
- Put 1 cup of rice in it and rinse the rice. Soak with just over 1 cup of warm water for 15 minutes minimum (this is important!).
- Microwave, with the lid on, on HIGH for 5 minutes.
- Stir the rice around to get all the uncooked bits evenly distributed.
- Do this two more times, or until the rice seems cooked when you stir it. It will depend on your microwave.
- boil them in the kettle (see the bottom of this post). After it is boiled and cooked, separate the yolk from the white and mix it with the rice to colour it yellow. This makes said rice taste creamy and yummy.
- You can even make scrambled eggs in the microwave by cracking them into a bowl, adding milk and seasonings, then microwaving in about 2 or 3 thirty second bursts (stirring between each one).
- (I have, however, yet to figure out how to make eggs in the toaster.)
It’s a funny thing about eggs, because, well….
…please don’t judge me, but this one time, I went out to eat at a very posh restaurant where the menus have words like ‘mouli’ and ‘pousse café’. You see, one of the things was some chicken and ‘hen’s egg’ dish. And, seeing that, my thought process went something like this:
1) Oooh! Hen’s egg! I’ve never had that before.
2) I’m going to order it.
3) That was very yummy.
4) Wait a second.
6) A hen’s egg is just an egg.
My friends have never let me forget that.
So moving swiftly on, here is a nice photo of the steps needed to make the wombat bento. You can put anything you like in the bento as extras, I have used random bits of veg, crabsticks, dumplings and pork fritters. You will also need:
- Seaweed sushi nori for the eyes and mouth
- Black sesame seeds for the eyelashes
- Ham for the ears
- A mushroom (I used a date instead, but you might find that a bit strange) for the nose
- Ketchup for the cheeks
Et voila! You are done. I hope you like it!
Thanks so much, Xinmei. I think the Top Chef contestants could have done with checking out your bento box for their task last week, especially since one of the young jury members said she hoped to see a bento box with a cute bear’s head and none of them had this wombat beauty. The chefs could have also impressed the jury by telling them it was made with hens’ eggs! You know, I ate out in Paris last night (yes, hubby took me out after 7 months, bless him, so it was posh to shut me up) and the first item on the menu was…”oeuf de poule...” It cracked me up!
I say this is the cutest bento box but believe me, Xinmei has many more wonderful creations over at Pudding Pie Lane: check out her bento panda (‘Pandi’.) Please say hello from me and try not to make any hen jokes.