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Easy Japanese Cooking: Bento Love

I’ve got three bentos to post today. One is from Friday that I was too embarrassed about to blog, but since I’m writing today about my new ones, I figure I might as well throw the ugalee one in too.

Ugalee is, of course, toddler speak for ugly. This word is much more malicious and therefore much more effective, since it allows for some serious enunciation. So when your mom is being a total jerk and saying you can’t have more cookies, don’t call her ugly, call her UG-A-LEE!

Today I will be reviewing a book I recently got on Amazon called Easy Japanese Cooking: Bento Love, written by Kentaro Kobayashi. It sells for a very affordable price of $10.17 and features 38 bento lunches and 27 side dish recipes. A paperback cookbook published by Vertical, Inc., it is 91 pages long and sized at around 8 1/2″ x 7 3/4″. The bento pictured here is one that I made for Mr. Pikko using Mr. Kobayashi’s recipe for “Pork Steak Bento”.

Kentaro Kobayashi is a professional chef from Tokyo who grew up eating his mother’s simple, yet delicious bentos. His introduction gives a background into why his meals are constructed and I have to admit I was a little miffed by his comment that none of his bento will have cute picks or “meaningless frills”. I fully realize that charaben isn’t for everyone, but what makes it okay for him to go ragging on us cute bento and charaben fans?

That being said, I really don’t think his title matches his food. “Easy Japanese Cooking” I get, but “Bento Love”? What? From reading the introduction it stems from his mother’s love for his family in the food she made, but if you’re going to be all macho and stick your nose up to what a lot of hard-working Japanese moms do, then at least call your bento book what it really is: Bento for Men. The Man’s Bento? The Working Man’s Bento? Something tough…

Don’t get me wrong, I ate some of the pork and it was very tasty, but the bento in his book are obviously tailored for a man’s appetite. He admits himself that he puts a ton of meat and rice into his bento and that’s perfectly fine because I’d eat any of the meals he displays, but I felt it could have been marketed better if it was targeted it men specifically. I can’t say I like the bento they chose for the cover either. But anyway, the bento in this book don’t fool around when it comes to volume.

The pork steak bento in his book is very easy to cook, though it took me about 20 minutes this morning due to the thickness of the steak and the soaking in the sauce. I made the tamagoyaki last night because I was feeling like Super Woman, having cleaned the stovetop, washed the dishes, and cleaned the counters. I cooked the asparagus with olive oil and garlic salt and threw in the tomatoes at the same time since I’m liking the idea of cooked tomatoes lately.

The book is separated into seven chapters including Dreamy Steak, Fried Meat, Fried Fish, Bread, Leftovers, Hefty, and Secretly Veggie-ful with a chapter at the end with side dish recipes. I’m not entirely sure I understand why he even put in the Bread section as it’s just burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches with paper bags pictured nearby. I know bento is technically just “lunch on the go” but I think calling these meals that aren’t packed in a box “bento” is stretching it a bit.

The photography is nice, with the pictures being very sharp, clear, and close-up. There are step-by-step cooking photos located on the sides of the pages that are pretty handy.

Kentaro’s recipes are extremely simple and easy to follow and if the recipe I tried is any indication, very yummy. Mr. Pikko has already reported that his bento is very tasty, despite me lacking the ginger the recipe called for and forgetting to cook the pork with salt and soy sauce. (Oops!) If you’re looking for a cookbook with recipes big enough for a guy, this is definitely a book to try. It’s even great for men who don’t really know what the hell they’re doing in a kitchen because of the step-by-step photos. At 10 bucks, I think this would make a great small gift for a guy looking to start saving some money by brown bagging it without eating ham sandwiches every day or for a gal looking to pack some yummy bento for her significant other. It’s definitely a great book to get started into adult bento, that’s for sure!

This is my bento for today, which has leftover fried fish that I made last night for dinner. I finished my KUT kickboxing course last Saturday and sadly, I didn’t do all that well. I didn’t have the time or energy to put the effort needed into my diet and with my busy schedule these last couple weeks, I basically missed the last 9 classes. With this loss of daily exercise, I ended up gaining back 4 inches for a total loss of 7 inches, 2.5 pounds, and 2.5% body fat. Overall, that’s still good, but it’s still very disappointing to me. My only consolation is that I can now do 25 more modified pushups than I could at the start, which was a big wimpy 0.

I put about 1/4 cup rice in first, then laid three small fried fish on top. I put the asparagus and broccoli in, added some kim chee crab to a food cup (available on J-List), plopped the egg in, then added the tomato and sauce bottle. I took some of the steak sauce for the pork bento for my fish. I’d boiled the broccoli and cooked the tamagoyaki last night, so everything was pretty easy to put together. Unfortunately with cooking Mr. Pikko’s steak, tending to Baby Girl, and packing two bento, it took me about 20 minutes. Since everything was already cooked, this is probably more than twice as long as I needed. And oh no, I have a cute food pick! Kentaro would no doubt look away in disgust. lol

The fish was easy to make. I simply cut the fish into little slices and seasoned with salt and cracked pepper. This was a huge mistake as about 3 enthusiastic bites into the fish, Baby Girl looked at her food and said, “MOMMY! I CAN’T EAT THIS! IT HAS PEPPER!!!”

Soon after, Buddy is chiming in, “Mommy, this has pepper, I cannot eat it.” #$(*@&#%*

I dipped this into a batter made of:

1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 egg

This ended up being way too much batter for about a 1/2 pound of fish, so if you just have a small slab of fish, cut the batter in half, though I think it’s probably ok to leave the egg as-is since the batter was a bit thick. We ate it by dipping it in soy sauce. It was yums!

And here is the uga-lee bento:

I don’t even want to talk about what’s hidden (yes, hidden) under the bell peppers but it was corned beef hash with waaaay too much potatoes. The bean sprouts were pretty good, I fried that in olive oil, sesame oil, and soy sauce.

I had wanted to have a bento for Baby Girl to post because after some coaxing and whining on my part at Foodland yesterday (“Everyone but you loves my bentos…”), Baby Girl finally said (again) that I could make her a sandwich bento. She spent five freaking minutes picking the right pack of cold cuts.

“NO! NO CHICKEN! Yes, turkey. No, it has ham.”

“Yes, that one is ok, it has ham.” (what?!)

“I don’t want bologna!”

“I want only bologna!”

I was ready to tear my eyes out. Then as if I wasn’t already feeling the knife in my back from previous rebuttals, she freaked out when she saw the Lunchables, demanding I get her that. I told her that’s just bento made by a machine.  Oh, the knife, it hurts. But then I took her to the bread section where she picked out this 100% whole wheat bread loaf on sale. *beam*

My joy was short-lived. This morning I got the usual, “I don’t WANT a bento, it’s too embarrassing.” I wish I had the guts to go back to her freaking preschool and paint “Bento Haters!!!” on the stupid corrupt Jag-driving president’s office door. Stupid no home-lunch policy. Anyway, the quest for Baby Girl Bento continues unsuccessfully.

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  • Aimee S.

    Pikko! You think that’s ugalee??!! Maybe for YOU (because yours are always perfection). It is NOT ugly!! I wish I could start making bentos for my wee one. She just started daycare and they provide the food. It’s not all that!

  • April

    Do you think “Bento Love” is a direct translation of “aijyou bento” (愛情弁当)? That’s my only guess as to why he would use a title for a manly bento cookbook with the (frequently reputed as girly) word “love.”

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  • kanmuri

    Nice bento’s. Don’t worry, the first one wasn’t that ug-a-lee.
    Baby girl seems really picky. Maybe you should stop giving her choices and tell her that if she doesn’t want what is offered, then she can do without dinner or lunch. My parents did that with me, it worked; I ate everything I was given 😉

  • It seems like the title may be just to tap into the very market that he ends up disparaging. I’d guess that not nearly as many men buy bento (or any) cookbooks, while we bento obsessed moms are always looking for new ideas.

  • @Aimee Aww, thank you! (I still think it’s ugalee, lol)

    @April That’d be kinda cool, except that would have been my choice for a bento book title for adults since my blog is “Ai Bento”. Grr!!

    @Kanmuri Her choices are school lunch and mommy’s bento and to my utter embarrassment, she prefers school lunch, even though she says she doesn’t like how it tastes. Her two embarrassing experiences (crying when told she can’t eat them because of school policy) with bento at her preschool have made her scared of them. 🙁

  • Wow, that has got to be mega frustrating that she doesn’t want a bento lunch!

  • Thanks for all these informations and different bentos, you prooved, you ARE superwoman!

  • Kelly

    I got that book awhile ago from Abebooks, but I haven’t made any of the recipes yet. I did think they seemed a little on the large side for bento, but I agree that the directions seems really simple and I can find most of the ingredients in my normal store. I can’t wait to actually try some of the recipes in there-even if they are manly.

  • Mer

    Why on earth won’t they let you pack lunches from home!?

  • I may have to get this book! The hubs loves packing his own bentos now so this would be great for him.

    You should at least tack a sign up at the school. Paint can be scary. lol

  • RV

    I got that book awhile ago from Abebooks, but I haven’t made any of the recipes yet. I did think they seemed a little on the large side for bento, but I agree that the directions seems really simple and I can find most of the ingredients in my normal store. I can’t wait to actually try some of the recipes in there-even if they are manly.

  • Clarisa

    I love your bentos….even the ugalee one! My niece is the opposite. Some days I want her to eat at school just because I don’t feel like making lunches for everyone, but she says NO. She does love her some Lunchables though. I recently bought her a Bento box of her own and she loved it. I filled it with ham pinwheels, baby carrots and a small container of ranch dip. It came home with just a few carrots left over. The Bento Love cookbook is the first Bento cookbook I purchased, but I haven’t made any of the recipes in it yet. I laughed out loud at your review though since it is so true.