Weekend Fried Rice

On the weekends, you may have to throw a fabulously complicated dinner party. However, most weekends are my time to “relax” a bit and not worry about getting the dishwasher unloaded from the night before, a load of laundry started, and escorting my son to school, all before 8:15 am! A leisure morning of pancakes and eggs, along with a late morning shower are all in order. I also don’t enjoy grocery shopping on the weekends. (Well, except for going to the farmer’s market!) And that usually leaves my fridge full of fantastic left-overs for lunch and a number of odd ingredients to throw together for an early evening weekend meal.

After an unusually warm January day in New York, filled with train rides downtown and afternoons spent in the playground, I was left with little time to throw together something for dinner. Luckily I had a few ingredients in my fridge, which allowed me to create a fantastic fried rice. It’s always a good idea to try to stock your pantry with a few items you enjoy, so when you are pinched with time, or mere idleness, you have the ability to whip up something easily that, at the very least, tastes fantastic.

I tend to stock my fridge with sweet peppers and fresh herbs and my pantry with coconut milk, soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, and various spices, such as cumin, curry, turmeric, and coriander. Most likely you have some left-over meat in your fridge, just waiting to be incorporated into a new dish. And if you don’t, no worries! You could always make a strictly vegetarian fried rice. The following recipe is what I had on hand today, but they are simply a guideline. Feel free to incorporate whatever you may have lying around your kitchen. And by all means, feel free to alter the amounts of each ingredient to your liking. I tend to put a splash of something here and there while cooking fried rice, without exactly measuring, so if you happen not to have a certain ingredient, you can always exclude or substitute it with another.

Yield: 4 adult dinner portions

1 1/2 c. jasmine or basmati rice
1 c. chicken stock
2 c. water
1 Tbl. butter, or oil
2 strips of bacon, heritage breed/organic preferred, chopped into very fine pieces
3 green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 2-inch piece of ginger, grated
1 red bell pepper, preferably organic
1/4 c. frozen (or fresh) peas
8 oz. coconut milk
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. peanut oil
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. whole corianer seeds, ground
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. oyster sauce
2 Tbl. organic, low-sodium soy sauce
splash of rice vinegar
small squirt of rooster sauce
large handful of fresh coriander, chopped finely

Cook the rice with the chicken stock and butter. You may omit the chicken stock if you prefer, however it does give the rice another nice element of flavor, which the water can not provide. Keep covered; set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare each of the above ingredients, setting them aside until you are ready to heat your pan. Preferably, use a wok, however, if you don’t own one, you can still prepare a delicious stir fry with a large skillet. Add about 1/3 c. of peanut oil, or other vegetable oil, to your prepared, hot pan. Once hot, add the bacon (Note: if you are using another type of meat, such as a left-over steak or chicken, add the meat in at the end, just to heat through.) and allow to cook on medium-high heat. After about 2 minutes, add the onion, garlic, ginger, and dry spices. Add the chopped red pepper and allow it to cook for 1-2 mintues. Add the coconut milk, sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish, oyster, and rooster sauce. Once you begin to smell the aromas of the spices, after about 2-3 minutes, add the beaten egg, being careful to contanstantly stir it until it has incorporated nicely. Add the peas and green onions, and give the dish a good stir or two. Add the cooked rice and soy sauce. Stir to combine. Take a taste and add whatever seems to be missing.

And that’s it! A nice, simple, tasty dish to satisfy just about anyone after a busy weekend afternoon. Enjoy the weekend and happy eating!

Cranberry Slaw (An Alternative Salad for Turkey Day)

Can it really be that Thanksgiving is only a few short days away?? I checked my calendar yesterday, and realized that indeed, it is. Luckily, this year we are invited over to a friend’s home for the big Turkey Day, so I won’t be stuck roasting, basting, blanching, and baking solely. (Ok, enough crudité, which will be my addition for the planned fiesta, for about 36 people is quite a bit of work, but at least it only requires peeling and chopping!) For those of you who may not want to go the traditional route, I thought I would offer a healthy and extremely tasty salad, which incorporates that quintessential Thanksgiving ingredient: cranberries.

During the winter months, when cabbage is plentiful, I usually make a cabbage salad, with grated carrots, chopped parsley, and fresh lemon juice. But one day, my father, who tends to call me when he’s come across an exciting recipe, was itching to tell me his latest find. Apparently he stopped in for a quick lunch at his local deli, and they were serving a cranberry slaw alongside their sandwiches. My dad enjoyed it so much that he went home and recreated it for a dinner one night. (Hmmm, maybe that’s where I get my obsession with food.) He sometimes adds baked strips of chicken, on occasion, to turn this salad into a main course. However, it could be a welcomed side to just about any main dish.

Whether you end up making this slaw for Thanksgiving, a lunch, or dinner, I hope you enjoy it as much as my father and I do. Thanks for checking in with us. We hope you all have a healthy, happy Thanksgiving. And if you have a few moments to spare, share some time and food with someone you know who may need it. Happy Eating!

Cranberry Slaw

1/2 head of cabbage chopped (red or green)
1/2 c. dried cranberries, or orange flavored cranberries
1/2 c. unsalted peanuts
1/4 c. raw sunflower seeds
1 large carrot, peeled and grated (optional)
3/4 cup sweet and sour salad dressing *
salt, pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

*Sweet & Sour Dressing Recipe:
1/2 c. olive oil
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, or liquid measuring cup with a spout. Whisk and chill in the refrigerator. Tweak the ingredients to your liking. I have seen recipes that include celery seed and use dry mustard powder instead of Dijon.

This salad can easily be prepared hours before your meal or event. Just place it in the refrigerator and allow the dressing to nicely blend with the cabbage. Because you don’t have to worry about any of the ingredients wilting, this salad also makes for some fantastic leftovers!

Freshly Ground Peanut Butter (A gift from the gods??)

While we’re on the topic of sodium, when was the last time you looked at the ingredient list of your favorite brand of peanut butter? I am blessed to have a wonderful food market near my home, which carries freshly ground peanut butter. Of course you could start grinding your own peanut butter at home. (I know it sounds like too much work, but it really doesn’t take too much effort to produce the heavenly goodness of homemade PB.) But if you don’t feel up to it, make sure the brand you do purchase does not have any added sodium (AKA sodium chloride), sugar, or hydrogenated oils. I mean, isn’t peanut butter supposed to be simply ground nuts? Why is all that other stuff in there in the first place???? There are a few organic brands out there on the market, which do not have any added fillers. Simply turn the jar over and take a peek for yourself.

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I started making my own peanut butter a couple of years ago…it’s way easy, takes just minutes of time, and it tastes REALLY good. No recipe is needed. All you need is a food processor, raw peanuts, some peanut oil, and, if you want, honey and salt.

Step 1 – Dry roast the raw peanuts on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until they start to brown and smell good. Take them out and let them cool to room temperature.

Note:  If you want to skip Step 1 and use peanuts that are already roasted, that’s fine.  It’ll still be good, just not quite as good.

Step 2 – Put the peanuts in the food processor with the honey. Begin to process them while drizzling the peanut oil. Add as much oil as is needed to make the peanut butter soft and almost drippy. It’ll take several minutes of processing for the peanut butter to reach the right consistency.

Amounts of the ingredients are up to your discretion. The amount of oil necessary depends on the kind of peanuts you get — some are oilier than others. How much honey and salt you use (if any) is for your taste buds to decide. For 2 cups of peanuts, I usually use about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of oil, several large spoonfuls of honey, and no salt (the freshly roasted peanuts don’t need it).

The first batch of this I made lasted for about a day. Everyone in the house kept eating it by the spoon! Now, I can’t recommend that homemade peanut butter be used for baking — the commercially made stuff is much smoother — but the flavor can’t compare. Plus, you’ll know exactly what is (or is not) going into your PB&J!