Wednesday, November 20, 2013

School lunches - Planetbox Review.

Last week an exciting online purchase arrived at the front door. It was my long awaited Planetbox lunchbox. Well, Ben's lunchbox actually. These things are expensive and because you can't purchase them in Australia I also had to spring for a substantial shipping cost as well. It was with a lot of thought that I finally hit the 'confirm' button at the checkout!

Was it worth it? I can honestly say that it was. We bought the Rover complete set which came with an insulated lunch bag, magnets for the top, two dipper containers and the stainless steel bento style lunchbox. I also bought the cold sleeve which you can freeze and pop into a pocket inside the lunch bag to keep things cool. The lunch bag also has a spot for utensils and two pockets on the outside - one for a drink bottle and one for the big dipper container. Ben chose a black bag with space magnets but there are lots of options, and thankfully the accessories aren't too expensive on their own so you can change them as your child gets older.

The insulation and the cold sleeve were two reasons I really liked the idea of this lunchbox. Because it's metal it cools down really quickly and stays cold. That's important because we live in a hot climate and without sandwiches to fall back on I am often packing meat or rice for Ben's lunch. I've never been comfortable sending meat to school to sit there for hours so this gives me peace of mind and opens up some new lunch ideas that I would have considered unsafe before.

We've used the lunchbox for a full school week and it's been brilliant. I've packed fruit and we haven't had any leaks. Ben can easily open and shut the latch on his own and he's had no trouble opening the dipper containers. I love that the box stays in the lunch bag so that it won't get scratched and knocked about like his other plastic lunch boxes (we have been through 3 plastic ones this year already).

I have loved not searching for containers and lids in the morning. Even better is not having to tackle the complicated jigsaw puzzle of fit-the-containers-in-the-box. Ben is eating more lunch than he ever has because he can see it all in front of him and doesn't have to bother with little screw top containers. My biggest issue with him and his lunches has been that he can't be bothered opening anything to see what's inside, so he often won't eat for the whole day. He doesn't have a huge appetite so I guess the incentive wasn't there.

I never would have thought that a lunch box could be a game changer, but it really has made my mornings better. Making school lunches used to be one of my most hated chores but I really am enjoying them now. So much so that I bought another set for my daughter and a larger 'Launch' set for my husband.

Here are some photos of 4 of this week's allergy friendly lunches in the new box.

(GF, vegan apple sauce and carrot muffin, GF vegan choc chip cookie, walnuts, avocado and cucumber sushi, kiwifruit)

(apple sauce and carrot muffin from freezer, brown rice crackers and roasted broad beans, GF pizza bread with home made hummus, strawberries and GF marshmallow treat)

(white corn tortillas toasted and cut up with home made hummus, roasted broad beans and rice crackers, thai coconut sticky rice pudding with peaches, kiwifruit)

(GF, vegan chocolate cake, chickpea chips, GF vegan bread roll with avocado and salmon, strawberries)

Recipes for the baked items will follow in the next couple of days. The bread roll is a brand called Zehnder that I discovered by accident in the freezer section of our local IGA. They make a great, fluffy bread roll which we use for hamburgers or the occasional lunch roll like the one above.

So the low down?

The rover set cost us USD 59.95 plus shipping. All up it came to almost $100 Australian.

It's easy to wash, strong, and can fit enough food for my kids (6 and 9). There is a larger version for older (or hungrier) kids and adults.

The only downside for me is the price, particularly the shipping costs. There is no shipping discount for buying more than one item and when my next parcel arrives I will be checking carefully to see if I have been overcharged. I do think that the lunch box will pay for itself after a while because I won't be buying wrap or any more containers / snack tubes / lunch boxes (hooray!).

For more info see: Planetbox

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steamed Rice and Chicken Buns with Asian Noodle Salad


Asian food can be tricksy when it comes to allergy friendly cooking. My kids love the bold fresh flavours of asian food so tonight I decided to try out something new. Not only was it new, it involved a dough. I have a history of GF dough flops so I was a bit nervous about trying this one. As it turns out, it was pretty easy and they came out really soft, sweet and delicious. The recipe looks a little long, but most of it you can prepare and leave.

The chicken (filling for the buns and for the salad)

500g good quality boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 C water
1/2 C balsamic vinegar (GF)
2 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/3 C GF soy sauce such as tamari
1 clove garlic
1 bunch of asian green such as bok choy washed and chopped finely

Mix together all ingredients except the chicken in a shallow pan and place on medium heat. Add the chicken and simmer for approx 20 mins until the liquid has reduced and is sticky. Keep turning the chicken so that both sides are nice and brown. When the liquid starts to go sticky remove the chicken and add the greens to the sauce. Continue simmering until the liquid reduces further and becomes a glaze. Chop the chicken and place in a bowl then add the greens and remaining sauce.

For the buns:

1 Tbsp dry yeast
1 1/2 C luke warm water
1/4 C honey
2 C glutinous rice flour (this is GF despite the name, and found in Asian supermarkets)
2.5 C fine rice flour
1/2 C olive or vegetable oil
Sesame seeds

Place the warm water, the yeast and the honey in a bowl and stir until dissolved. Whisk in the 2 C of glutinous rice flour and cover the bowl with cling film. Place in a warm spot for 30-40 mins until the mixture is bubbly.

Add the 2.5 C of rice flour and the oil and stir until combined. Knead with your hands and form into balls a little bigger than a golf ball. It's not going to be a smooth elastic dough but never fear - it'll work. Wet your hands if that makes it easier. I got around 10 balls from my dough. Place the balls onto a tray lined with baking paper.

To form the buns press each ball with the heel of your hand to form a disc. Add 1 Tbsp of the chicken mix and fold the edges around the chicken. You're meant to pinch it to seal but my dough was rather cakey and difficult to handle so I made a ball as best as I could using wet hands. If there are some cracks just smooth them over, and if some sauce leaks out don't worry about it! You can see from the pic below that it's a dry dough rather than a traditional elastic wheat based dough. You can use this recipe for dumplings as well by rolling it out thinner and placing filling inside before folding it over.

To cook the buns place a bamboo steamer over a wok or large pan with water covering the bottom of the pan. Line the steamer with baking paper and use some spray oil if you have some. Place 3 - 4 buns in the steamer at a time, making sure that they don't touch each other or the sides of the steamer. Place the lid on and steam for 15 mins. Don't peek! But do make sure the pan doesn't boil dry. Keep topping it up as you go. Keep the first batch of buns warm while you make the second. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you wish.

For the salad

1 'cake' of vermicelli noodles (rice)
2 carrots grated
1/2 cucumber peeled and cut into batons
1 bunch coriander leaves
Sesame seeds

Place rice vermicelli noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water.

Add vegetables, coriander, sesame seeds and remaining chicken in a bowl. After 10 mins add the drained noodles. Run a sharp knife through the noodles in the bowl a few times to chop them up. Toss everything together.

There we go! And you thought you'd never be able to eat dumplings or steamed buns again.