Guest Recipe Monday: The Ninja Baker’s Cookie Bento

 The warmest Immaculate welcome to the newest member of our Guest Blogger Team, Kim Watkinson, AKA the Ninja Baker. Before we get to her amazing, creative post, here’s a bit about Kim in her own words:

“Although I’m a towheaded American, my only knowledge of language and food was Japanese until age 5. Tokyo, my hometown of 17 years influences my blogging, baking and book writing. As the Ninja Baker, I seek the sweet stuff of life: Recipes for happy living as well as the how-tos of delicious Asian fusion, gluten-free and American standards. At NinjaBaking.com http://ninjabaking.com I highlight scrumptious recipes, fun factoids about Japan and other cultures, plus a cheery thought or two.”

The Ninja Baker’s Cookie Bento

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“Think what a better world it would be if we all-the whole world-had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap.” So said Robert Fulghum, author of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Amen! Right? And we want to make sure these cookies are full of wholesome and delicious ingredients.

Wishing only well-being and good health to all kids, little and big, I do my best to use good-for-you ingredients in my baking — like the ingredients from the Immaculate Baking Co. which “uses only the best natural ingredients.” In their honor, I created a cookie bento box. (A Japanese-style lunch box.)

Bento boxes originated in ancient Japan, where wives would prepare rice balls (onigiri also called omusubi) and arrange them artfully in a box along with some fish and pickles. The luxury of the lunchbox would depend upon the budget of the housewife. (Some things never change.) You can bet the samurai were getting some high-quality fish while fieldworkers or farmers were lucky to get a sliver of any protein tucked into the rice. O-bento were also sent to school with boys.

Originally made out of lacquered wood, over the centuries they have evolved and you can find bamboo, metal, plastic (and disposable) bento boxes. All these centuries of bento box-making have produced some magnificent works of art alongside cutesy lunches featuring popular Japanese anime characters. I’ve made standard bento lunches.  But I was inspired to think outside the box and create a cookie bento!

Here’s the how-to on the Ninja Baker’s Cookie Bento Box.

Here’s what you’ll need:

Bento lunch boxes (available online at Amazon.com and http://bentocrazy.ecrater.com)

Clean paintbrushes

Orange gel food coloring

1 ½ inch round cookie cutter

1 melon baller or a ¼ measuring spoon

Fresh fruit cut into bite-size pieces

1 tablespoon softened coconut spread (or butter)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup brown sugar

½ cup raisins

1 cup of almond butter (organic peanut butter is great, too)

Immaculate Baking Co. products:

  • Vanilla Sugar Cookies
  • Chocolate Chunk Cookies
  • Buttermilk Biscuits
  • Ready-to-Bake Pie Crusts

1. Pie Crust Cinnamony Carrot Cookies

Carrots

Mom always said eat your carrots =)

Ingredients:

1 Immaculate Ready-to-Bake Piecrust

1 tablespoon softened coconut spread (or butter)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ cup brown sugar

½  cup raisins

Instructions:

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees.

Bring an Immaculate piecrust out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (about 30 minutes.)

Unroll the piecrust onto lightly floured wax paper.

With a clean paint brush, or chopstick, streak one side with orange gel food coloring.

Carefully flip over.

Smother coconut spread over the white surface.

Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon over the spread.

With a 1.5 inches round cookie cutter punch out circles.

Roll and shape into mini carrots.

Tuck a few small raisins on the top half to create the wider part of the carrot.

With a clean paintbrush, smoothly paint on more orange food coloring.

Place on parchment lined baking sheets.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes.

Cool for a few minutes before eating or placing the cinnamony carrot cookies into a bed of raisins in the bento box.

2. Vanilla Sugar Cookie Almond Sandwiches

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A classic PB with a sweet twist.

Ingredients:

1 package Immaculate Vanilla Sugar Cookies

½ cup almond butter

Instructions:

Bake the sugar cookies per package directions.

Cool.

Smother the middles of cookies with almond (or peanut) butter.

Sandwich together and place two into your bento lunch box.

3. Chocolate Chunk Cookies Dessert

For “dessert,” nothing beats an old-fashioned chocolate chunk cookie.

Ingredients:

1 package Immaculate Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Instructions:

Bake the cookies per package instructions.

Cool.

Place them into your bento box.

Until age 5, I only knew the Japanese language and food. Rice balls with pickles or fish in the centers were a standard lunchtime treat. (They’re called omusubi as well as onigiri.) So, I created an “onigiri” using Immaculate Buttermilk Biscuits.

4. Immaculate Buttermilk “Onigiri with a Plum Pickle”

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A standard in many Japanese lunch boxes.

Ingredients:

Immaculate Buttermilk Biscuits

¼ cup of strawberry or raspberry jam (to resemble the plum pickle)

Instructions:

Bake the biscuits per package directions.

Cool.

With a melon baller or ¼ measuring spoon, scoop out a small bit of biscuit from the center.

Fill the hole with jam.

Place it into your bento lunch box.

Of course, my bento boxes are only ideas to spark your imagination and creativity. So assemble all of the above as you like along with some lovely fresh fruit or whatever your healthy self desires.

Wishing you sweet health and creative fun at lunchtime and always!

The Ninja Baker
 

Guest Blogger Monday: Tea Party Time.

With the Thanksgiving holiday, upcoming schools vacations, sick days, and the like, I was excited to see Jessica Cottrell’s Guest Blogger Post. I love the notion of a tea party — or in my house, a cocoa party — with your favorite snacks. Any favorite recipes you share with your at-home kiddoes?

Princess Tea Party Playdate

My 5 year old daughter had a playdate this week and she and her friend were playing a regal game of Princess and Pop Star when they decided they needed a tea party. This is my daughter’s favorite way of getting some treats out of me, and it usually works because I am a fool for little girls and all their glitzy Fancy Nancy inspired play. It’s also about the only time my tea set ever gets used, so it’s fun for me, too. But on this particular day I didn’t have any treats on hand and I really wasn’t in the mood to haul out ingredients to bake from scratch. I actually said no, until I recalled that I had a few cookies left in my package of Immaculate Baking Company Lemon Sugar Cookies. In order to make these worthy of a petite princess tea party, I wanted them smaller, so I cut each oversize cookie in half and sprinkled with purple sugar crystals. Since I only had four left that gave me 8 cookies, 6 for the girls and 2 for the chef, of course. To be honest, they ended up being normal sized cookies, so in the interests of having more delicate tea party finger foods, I would probably quarter the cookie dough next time. I baked them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and when I took them out I gave them an extra sprinkle of purple sugar for good measure.

It looked so cute that I decided to share, because it was such an easy way to make this playdate a special little memory, for 20 minutes until the cookies and tea were gone. And then the Princess and Pop Star fled for the great outdoors!

The Impatient Mom’s Guide to Frenzied Valentine Baking 3: The Heart-Shaped BIG cookie.

Ok, so it’s not a world record setter, but it’s still pretty cool. I found a heart-shaped pan and imagined that our chocolate chunk dough would be perfect. It’s so easy, the cookie was pretty durable, and it tasted great.

Big-Hearted Cookie

You’ll need a heart shaped pan.

A package of Immaculate Baking Chocolate Chunk Cookie Dough

A spatula.

Preheat the oven, grease the pan, and separate all the “cut” pieces of dough in the package. Spread the WHOLE package out on the heart. It looks weird, I know. Bake for 5 minutes. Take the pan out of the oven, and get to work. You need your spatula. As you can see, the cookies are melting into each other, but there are probably uneven or odd spaces, so you need to help it along.

Here is the technique: flatten, spread, swirl. Use the spatula to flatten out the dough. Don’t really smush it down, just pat it gently, evening it out into the corners and in the rounded parts. The chocolate is melting, and this is a great thing, swirl around and you’re spreading the chocolate in a tie-die sort of fashion. Put it back in the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes. The edges should be browning and crispy; the middle should be crackly.

Let cool. Back away from the kitchen. Let cool let cool let cool. Gently ease it out of the pan onto a platter or cutting board. It’s thick enough not to be terribly delicate. I took out the pizza cutter and went to town.

Impatient taste-test.

We were all anxious to sample the big cookie, but I think patient folks could drizzle it with something, dress it up, write lovely sayings, etc. Good stuff.

The Impatient Mom’s Guide to Frenzied Valentine Baking 2: Brownie Pop

Now, perhaps it’s ambitious, but in my Valentine frenzy, I also made Brownie pops in the beloved Immaculate Office kitchen. I know you are probably rolling your eyes – a professional kitchen! But no, there are portable ovens and no dishwasher and little counter space. So brownie pops were a real undertaking.

Brownie Pops!

The brownie pops idea was inspired by these cool silicone pans I saw at the store and they are called: brownie pop pan. They were next to the brownie pop sticks. If you are remotely more resourceful than I am, I imagine you can use mini muffin tins and twigs from the backyard, but you get the idea.

You need:

Immaculate Baking Fudge Brownie Dough.

A pan (mini-muffin, brownie pop, something like that)

Some sticks.

White chocolate or coating of choice.

Decorations (sugar, nuts, chopped dried fruit, coconut, etc)

Preheat the oven (350)

Open the package and cut about10-15 pieces of brownie dough. Put in greased pan: it should fill the slot about 2/3 of the way.

Bake a bit and then insert sticks.

Bake for 5 -10 minutes. Remove pan, insert sticks (remembering that the rack abive might need removal), bake the rest of the way – about 20-30 minutes

Very important: LET COOL, Really.

Impatient mom removes pops too soon!

When they are cooled, coax the “brownie pops” form the baking pan. Melt chocolate (I love using white chocolate chopped up), drip over pops.

Melting White Chocolate

Decorate. Lay on waxed paper. Let dry/harden, etc. Bon apetit.

Coming up next time: The Heart-Shaped BIG Cookie.

Holiday Baking in High Gear

Cookie Cutting and Holiday Swaps Made Easy

So, like many other moms with young kids, the cookie baking is a key part of the holidays. The kids get all excited and jump up and down and want to decorate and make batches and batches. And then they Peter out and have some battle with the nutcrackers and Legoes, and I am cooking and cleaning and nibbling all afternoon. I know if I planned better, I could make the dough ahead of time, and bake in smaller quantities. But for me, it’s not realistic. I need a cookie, the kids need a cookie, their classmates, and my neighbors, and we all need them NOW. Now, I don’t want to buy 6 dozen cookies because a.) they will be loaded with unpronounceable things. Or b) they will be outrageously expensive.

Enter our own Vanilla Sugar Cookies. Now, I haven’t tried this trick with our Gingerbread Spice, but I bet they would work the same. If you give it a try, send me word, and I’ll share it!

OK, so I need 6 dozen cookies. I get 3 packages of Immaculate Baking Vanilla Sugar Dough. I toss two in the refrig, and open the third. I preheat my oven to 325 – not the 350 on the package because I am going to roll them a bit thinner. I flour my kitchen table, grab a rolling pin, and take half the package and roll it into a ball. Then, using flour liberally, I roll the dough out. I like really thin Christmas cookies, so I roll as thin as 1/8 – 1/4 of an inch. Then I use my holiday cookie cutters and place them on my lined cookie sheet (I use a slipat, but parchment paper works just as well). Groovy decorations: sugar, red and green candies, etc. Then, they go into the oven for 12 minutes.

While those are baking, roll out the other half package of dough. Keep an eye on the baking cookies. Since they are thinner, they can jump from perfect to burned FAST. Like I said, I timed it with 12 minutes. Cool and sample. Repeat . . . working one package at a time. By now, the house smells so good, and the kitchen is full of mischievous children who offer to decorate.

So, 6 dozen cookies, I am talking an hour. Including cleanup.