Cooking Cute: a bento site
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I use quite a bit of equipment, both large and small, to make and pack bento lunches.  My bento-ware includes: , , , , , , , , a , a , a , a , a , a , and .  While it may seem like a staggering amount of stuff, I can assure you that I have nowhere near as much as there is available for puchase. ;)

Mini-cookie cutters are a fantastic way to add some spice to your bento.  For reference, the cluster of 4 cutters (wavy circle, sakura, star, flower) in the upper left are about 1" in diameter.  These are perfect for cutting vegetables, cheese, cold cuts, kamaboko, thin omelets, etc., into adorable shapes. 

I have two sets of different sized shapes (star and flower) that come in small, medium, and large.  I like these because I can make shapes within shapes, or fill foods with other foods.  For example, I made a large cucumber star using the largest star, then I cut out a small star in the center using the smallest star.  I used the same small star to cut out a tiny carrot star that I stuck into the center of the cucumber star.

You can find molds like this online and at your local craft stores (like Michaels).















Egg molds are another fun and easy way to dress up your bento.  I have a set of 3 (bear, heart, and star) that I purchased from .  See the for details on how to use these molds.

Wiener cutters bring much happiness to lunchtime (in addition to fits of giggling when saying or writing 'wiener cutter').  I bought my crab cutter from - I've also seen cutters for tulips, penguins, and octopii.  Just be sure that your wiener is small enough (*giggle*), that you toss the wiener into the freezer for 10 minutes prior to pressing, and that you coat the cutter with a little cooking spray to help retain all of your wiener appendages (*giggle again*).  Then just cook up the wiener like normal!

Rice molds are handy for making onigiri and for making ordinary rice much cuter.  In the top left corner are the triangular molds I use for onigiri (the larger one for stuffed varieties, the smaller one for mixed-rice or onigiri rolled in furikake).  To the right of those are rice molds that make octopus- and squid-shaped onigiri (hilariously cute!).  My spam musubi mold is in the upper right, and a nigiri sushi mold is in the bottom right corner.  (How-to's for onigiri, spam musubi, and sushi are available in the section).

The black mold came with one of my bento sets.  It's used to press down the rice in the bento box to make rounded sections (like little logs) that make it easier for you to pick up the rice using chopsticks.  Lastly, in the bottom left are molds to turn your rice into hearts, triangles, stars, or flowers - I actually don't use this one much. Make me an offer! Ha ha...

Liners/food separators serve a double purpose.  First and foremost, they keep your food separated.  Second, they look pretty!  You can use regular foil cupcake liners (or the colored paper ones if your food isn't moist) or the heart- and star-shaped mini-muffin pans that Reynolds is making these days (the heart-shaped pans are to the right), or you can buy pretty Japanese liners online (I bought mine from ) or from your Asian grocery.  I put anything from fruit to cookies to shelled edamame to curry (in the Reynolds pan) in these liners.

Mini-skewers also are handy for keeping things in order (and your fingers clean).  I use them to skewer chicken or tofu pieces, meatballs, shelled edamame, etc.  I bought these nifty knotted-bamboo skewers from .  You also can use colored toothpicks or party toothpicks available at your grocery, or order some of the fancy Japanese food picks online.

sauce containers of different shapes and sizes

Sauce/condiment containers are very important.  You don't want your food to be too moist as it will sog during the hours before you eat it.  The solution is to pack your soy sauce, chili sauce, salad dressing, dipping sauce, etc., separately.  I bought the pig and fish containers at and , the red-topped bottle from , and the rest from .  All sorts of bottles and containers are sold online (check the section) – some shaped like strawberries, carrots, decorated with various characters, etc.

These are all reusable!  To fill the smaller containers, use the power of suction: squeeze the container, insert the tip into the sauce, let go and let the sauce get sucked in.  To clean these containers, use the same method to fill and expel soapy water followed by clean water until well-rinsed.

Sushi grass serves as a handy separator between foods (you can buy food dividers with fancy designs too).  It also helps to keep certain foods from sticking to each other (e.g., onigiri that are resting side-by-side in the bento box).  Sushi grass also is handy for . . . sushi.  I use it for decorative purposes and to keep the gari and wasabi separated from the sushi.  Be sure to check out the sushi tutorials in the section.

Speaking of sushi, you should pick up a bamboo rolling mat for about $1 the next time you are bento shopping.  These are necessary for rolling nice, tight maki (rolled sushi), both inside-out and normal.  You also can use the rolling mat to reshape your tamagoyaki if it is a little misshapen coming out of the pan.

One of my favorite things about Japanese cooking is the use of freshly toasted sesame seeds that are then ground to release their flavor before adding to a dish.  So fragrant and delicious!

For this purpose, I have both a sesame seed toasting pan that has a netted lid to keep seeds from spilling out (works well for other spices too) and a sesame seed grinder (fill the base with seeds and turn the crank to grind). I purchased both from AsianUtensils, and the is available on Amazon as well.

Everyone needs a rice cooker!  I don't think I could survive without my .  It does everything and more!  Most importantly, it makes fantastic rice with minimal fuss. 

I heard that my Zoji was designed to cook 3 cups of sushi rice perfectly - and it really does!  I drop some rice in the morning and it's ready by the time I need it, or I'll drop it the night before and set a timer.

The Zoji also cooks wonderful jasmine rice, basmati rice, sticky rice, risotto, porridge and more.  I highly recommend the , which has tons of good recipes for both steamer-type and fuzzy logic rice cookers.  If you want to make dishes like sticky rice and porridge, you should get a fuzzy logic cooker, and get one that is about 5.5 cups -- even though you might never need that much rice, a lot of the recipes for 'soupier' fare require the larger capacity (or it will all boil over and make a terrible mess).

I only rediscovered wok-cooking recently.  I had tried to use one years ago but gave up due to some mishaps (mainly because of ignorance on my part) and the laziness to clean something that wouldn't fit into my kitchen sink.  I bought a nice carbon steel wok over Christmas 2005, but I didn't start using it until more than 6 months later.  What a waste!

I've discovered that with proper seasoning, a wok is a dream come true.  Nothing sticks and the cleaning is minimal (swishing around hot water with a non-abrasive brush).  Better yet, vegetables cooked in a wok's searing heat come out brighter, crunchier, and just plain tastier. This picture shows my old wok. I bought a new round-bottomed one from after Cooking Cute went gluten-free (as carbon-steel woks can be porous enough to harbor hidden gluten). It came with a nifty bamboo wok brush for cleaning too!

What does a FoodSaver have to do with bento, you ask?  Well, not a whole lot, but it certainly helps me maintain a huge store of bento goodies in my freezer.  As is discussed more fully in the section, I like to make big batches of food, then divide it into portions and freeze it for use later.  You can use ordinary freezer bags and tupperware containers, but if you're hardcore, you'll want one of these babies.  They suck all the air out of the bag, so your food never suffers from freezer burn and keeps for a really long time.  I've toasted up year-old eggrolls that taste like the day my mama made them.  Fantastic I tell you.

Glad Press'n Seal seems like an odd item to list here, but this wrap definitely deserves a mention.  A lot of bento containers have sealing lids, but they're not completely watertight.  I like to add a layer of Press'n Seal for extra-protection against leaks.  And you can cut it to size so your bento box isn't marred with plastic wrap sticking out everywhere.

I also like to use Press'n Seal to make packets of garnish for bento (e.g., packets of sliced scallions, chopped peanuts, etc.).

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