Ok, to make up for my lack of real posts lately... sort of... I'm going to post a couple of big things. Hehe!
So as you may or may not know, I have a dog whom I adore and cherish and she is my baby forever and ever. Her name is Keywee (pronounced kiwi - I could bore you with the story of why it's spelled that way, but you might realize just how incredibly vain I really am then, hah). Since I adopted her almost 7 years ago now, I have not eaten kiwis at all. It wasn't a conscious decision on my part - and I didn't eat many before then anyway - but in the past 2-3 years, I've noticed that the sight of them on a cake or anywhere makes me cringe. Thankfully, they're not too common in the things I eat, but that's just an odd thing about me. Why does any of this matter?
... meet Sandwich.
Yes, darlings, meet the latest addition to our family. Sandwich aka Sammy... a French bulldog + Beagle mix. Isn't he ADORABLE?! I will have better pictures of him eventually, but for now, this will have to do - he was pooped out from his exciting day!
Will I stop eating sandwiches?
NOT BLOODY LIKELY. Hahahaha. I love sandwiches! I may stop calling them "sammies" though ;)
Jar: ribollita - made with Italian sausage instead of bacon
Side cup: grape tomatoes
I also have an individual cup of Mandarin oranges on the side for dessert. I would have put some more crushed pineapple, except I discovered the little cups on the side of this aren't quite leakproof when I last put crushed pineapple in there - the juice leaked out a bit and got all over the inside of my insulated lunchbag. Boo.
So LitVit asked me recently about lunch jars aside from Mr. Bento. The above lunch jar set is this one, which I spoke briefly about in that post. Over a year later, here are my thoughts on this jar...
I love this set because it's perfect for packing soups, stews, curries, whatever that you want to keep warm. I run my hot water tap for a minute or so, then fill this and set it aside while I prepare everything else. Things stay hot in it, especially if they're very hot when I pack it. Once or twice, they've actually remained hot enough to almost burn my lips when I first open it, and they stay warm throughout my lunch. I did notice, however, that the more liquid an item is, the hotter it stays - for example, I've packed regular rice (mixed with other stuff) in it before, and it did not stay hot. It was warm, sure, but not hot-hot like a stew would be, and like how I expect my lunch today to remain.
I also love this set because it's metal - which means it is super easy to clean (in my opinion - I obviously hand wash my bento items because I have no dishwasher, and they are mostly plastic, but I really do dislike washing plastic items because once oily, they are a PAIN to clean properly, and sometimes they stain).
HOWEVER, the largest downside I've found to this set is its size. At 560 ml total, it's respectable for a woman my age, height, and weight, and perhaps not bad for losing weight, but the main jar is only 240 ml, which means you aren't getting a ton of stew or soup or whatever it is you'd like to pack, and in fact, the bulk of your meal is really coming from the side cups (160 ml each x2 = 320). As I'm trying to lose weight, this isn't necessarily a huge deal, and for me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons, hands down.
Having said that, there are also several alternatives if you want larger bento jars - the JAR portion itself, not just the entire capacity. You may have noticed that I do have another bento lunch jar (again, besides Mr. Bento). The jar of this one clocks in at approximately 290 ml, with the side cups coming in at 165 ml and 200 ml. (Since the Zojirushi website uses ounces, the conversions might be slightly off, give or take .5 ml.) So the total is approximately 655 ml, again with the side cups bearing the most of the food, and that's a bit more than I might want to eat on any given day. I occasionally pack this accordingly - using only one cup, or packing something that's light on calories, high on nutrition, etc.
One other major problem with this set that I've found is that with the exception of last week's pasta, I've had general issues with keeping things warm in this jar. Interestingly, that pasta was not liquidy at all... but the set itself is very different from the other one. It's larger not just in capacity, but in size - the jar is a metal exterior shell that I pre-heat with hot tap water, and then has plastic insert that you place inside the empty metal shell with the actual food in it. This goes to my dislike of plastics because they stain, and a lot of the soups, stews, curries I make are tomato based or - well, curry! which is also staining. So far, I haven't had any issues because I wipe the jar out when I'm done eating, but I could see this being an issue with other people. Or not. Depends on how anal retentive you are, I suppose. So I can't really recommend this set based on my own experiences with the heat retention so far. I do admit that since I first began using it, when I reach for a lunch jar, I always reach for the smaller red set first. Not just because of its physical size, but because of my past history with it, the weight of the Zojirushi set (which is quite heavy), and the amount of food it holds (too much). I tend to only take this one out when the other one is dirty, so perhaps my limited experience with it has also tainted my view of it - maybe it holds heat just fine, just that I did it wrong the first few times and it's actually a great set. I mean, it is a great set, just that I mis-used it initially. I don't know.
So, let's say you really want to pack almost entirely soup/stew/curry and just a little of a side dish. My brother actually has a solution for that sort of lunch (scroll down past the first bunch, that's just a review on the entire thing, till you get to where it says "Modded Mr. Bento") - without requiring you to buy a new lunch jar whatsoever. He has had excellent results with using a quart container - one of those cheapy plastic numbers you get at Chinese takeout all the time - slipped inside Mr. Bento with hot food. He says that the Mr. Bento keeps that hot as well! How awesome is that?! That totally makes the Mr. Bento worth the $40 USD or so that it costs, right? I mean, personally, that's still too much food for me, but my brother is a big guy, and you don't have to fill it all the way to the top, right? ;) This also works for my problem with plastic - if it stains or is just too greasy to wash properly - just throw it away! (Well, in light of our environment, I hope you use it a few times first, but you know.)
I hope this helps LitVit and anyone who was thinking about lunch jars, pros, cons, etc. These are just some of my thoughts on the containers I've had experience with - I've actually only used my Mr. Bento once because it is way too large for me to comfortably eat in one sitting, but I did find that my food stayed warm with it and if you pack half of it with snacks - or perhaps pack two meals in it - it's not that bad.
--- What, you thought I was done rambling on here? I've got one more. It's not a big thing to me, but while I was doing it this past weekend, I thought, "Oh hey, maybe people will be interested in this." Sometimes I find myself casually mentioning something I do to make my life easier, and the response is usually at least one person will be surprised and happy that I shared... so I thought I'd do that here. Maybe you all already know it and I'm building this up. Maybe it won't help any of you. BUT IF IT HELPS JUST ONE PERSON, I'll be happy I shared :)
As you probably know, freezing food is a really big help. And I've mentioned that I have not mastered the art of cooking for one - I grew up in a family of 5, and cooked for 5 people always with the intention of having a little bit leftover (my family is big on excess - which you know, if you read Feisty Foodie at all, we do our meals up big time - I mean, I grew up being taught-by-example that it is ALWAYS better to have leftovers than to run out of food). SO, as such, I've been freezing a lot of food lately instead of cooking something and eating it for two weeks straight. Not that I would mind, but this helps me also on weeks when I'm just not feeling the cooking thing, I'll still have something to eat for dinner or lunch, right?
I've frozen Japanese curry with great success before, so I've been thinking of what other kinds of stews/soups/curries that might hold up well to freezing. So I froze some leftover beef stew in individual sandwich bags/serving sizes, and some of that creamy chicken stew, and I made a ton of that ribollita above so I'll be freezing the leftovers of that as well. What's my point, you ask?
It's not that easy ladling these liquidy items into sandwich bags without getting it everywhere. The first few times I tried, I got curry all over the outside of the bags, the part where you "zip" the bag, the part where you open the bag... it was a mess. I was pretty pissed (even though I realized later that once you freeze it, it'll peel off so no curry will be wasted, hehe). I really hate getting my hands messy when I'm doing something that, by all accounts, shouldn't be messy! And I really hate getting the outside of containers dirty because it gets everything else dirty too (I do wipe them because I'm very anal retentive about that).
So I figured out one day that instead of holding the bag with one hand and trying to fling stew into it with the other... I could just hang the bag inside my mug and it would keep it open for me! Easy, pour one two three and then zip, it's all clean and can just be popped in the freezer straightaway! NICE!
I literally just open the bag, push my hand in to open it up, then push it into the mug, push down the top of the bag so it doesn't get in the way of the ladle, and then I take it out, push excess air out and freeze.
Maybe it's not a stroke of genius for you, but it's made my life so much easier since then; now the bags stay clean on the outside, and stew/soup/curry only goes on the inside of the bag where it belongs!
Alright, I've probably rambled on enough here, so I'll let you go. Oh what a coincidence, it's now lunchtime ;)