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Bento Recipes: Hot dog octopi and spiders


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Normally I don't eat hot dogs. I've had too many cheap, icky dogs, and heard too many stories about what goes in them. However, I couldn't resist making the octopi I see in bento boxes in manga. So, I got some lowfat kosher beef franks - Hebrew National - and, wow, they taste good! If I'd had those before I would never have gone off hot dogs in the first place.

To make a hot dog octopus, cut a frank in half. Then cut one half up the long way, stopping an inch from the top. Bisect it again so you have four legs. Bisect each leg so you have eight. Boil them as you normally would and the legs will curl up. If you microwave them, pose them on a plate with their legs sprawled around them, holding them upright, so they'll curl right. Pat dry and make a little face with drops of mustard, ketchup, or whatever if you like.

If you want to make little Halloweenie treats, make the octopi using whole hot dogs, and serve them so the legs sprawl around in all directions. Be careful when boiling more than one at a time, though; the legs can tangle.

To make a hot dog spider, cut the hot dog in half, then slice one half of the dog into legs. Depending on the size of the compartment the spider will be in, cut it into four or eight legs. If you cut four legs, cut them in half to make eight short legs. Cut almost through the hot dog where you want the knees to be so you can bend the leg joint. Microwave all the pieces, then arrange them on the rice, putting the legs down first, and setting the body - the uncut half of the dog - on top. You can put eight sesame seeds on the head end for eyes. You can also, using kizami nori (nori cut into strips about as thin as cassette tape), make a web on the rice before assembling the spider.

How about hot dog daisies? Cut a hot dog into fourths. Then cut the segments as you would for hot dog octopi, except make only six "legs," and stop a half inch or less from the top. Then boil them as you normally would, or pose them on a plate with their legs - er, petals - outward and microwave them. Pack these petal-side-up on top of rice, steamed broccoli, or some other vegetation. You can put a pea or a carrot coin in the center to make them look especially floral.

Hydra dog If you're feeling adventurous, try making a free-form mutant hot dog. When you cook them, the meat expands while the skin does not, causing the outward curl you see in the legs of a hot dog octopus. So, try making all sorts of random shallow-angled cuts in a hot dog and see what happens! You can get some weird, elaborate, even pretty designs that way. It's best to do most of the cutting on two sides, so the bits will curl in those directions, making it easy to pack flat.