Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ham Fried Rice or Fried Rice, The Leftover Machine

After the egg is cooked, the rice is fried.  Next, the ham and veg are added but not stirred together with the rice quite yet.
 Anyone who cooks needs a few pantry meals.  Meals that can be made without a special trip to the grocery store.  Meals that definitely should be made without finding specialty ingredients ("order from this website.")  How about inexpensive, tasty, quick, and healthy, too?  Fried rice pretty much fits the bill.  If you haven't mastered some kind of fried rice technique, try this.  You'll probably be making fried rice every week because pantry meals are even more important for a solo cook for whom family-sized amounts of fresh food go bad quickly.

I can't take credit for this rice, though on my own I make tres yummy fried rice.  When I don't think about it and throw in the kitchen sink, that is.  Only this one small problema:  it's not consistant.  One time it's fabulous and the next time it's so-so.  Edible, but so-so.  Makes you want to scream.  So I set out to find a great, tried and true method to conquer.  This isn't saying it'll come out the same every time, because it seldom can.  There are different ingredients available; that's the beauty of fried rice.  It's a leftover machine. The Chinese use yesterday's rice to make it and they throw in what they have. (You can also add leftover grilled chicken or other meat, but that's definitely optional.)  It's often a late-nite snack.  Sounds good, huh?   But it can come out just about as mouth-watering delicious every time.

Setting out to find the best fried rice, I didn't go to the local Asian dive where greasy rice reigns.  I went to long-time Chinese cookbook author Barbara Tropp, who in the '80's wrote a definitive, American-friendly Chinese cookbook called THE MODERN ART OF CHINESE COOKING : TECHNIQUES AND RECIPES (Hearst Books, 1982; 611 pages.)  Still available on amazon.  I tried several kinds of fried rice, but first had to re-learn how to cook rice.  Barbara's way.  The Chinese way.  Note:  This fine cookbook has lots of recipes, but also teaches much about equipment and technique.  It's a good addition to your shelf.  While there are excellent  illustrations, it is not a photographed cookbook.  Why not take your own photos and make your own Chinese cookbook?

Writing for examiner.com yesterday, I put up a recipe for sugar snap pea fried rice.   Which is lovely.  Which is not pantry-friendly unless your ever-bearing garden has fresh snap peas all year long.   This recipe is pantry-friendly.  Particularly if you keep a bit of cryovac ham in the meat drawer.  That means the kind that's vacuum packed and keeps for a good, long while.  And once you make this rice, you just might keep that package of ham around.  The ham makes or breaks this rice.  Unless you're a vegetarian, that is.  In which case, you wouldn't want it anyway, right?  Insert tofu that you have drained, pressed, baked and stir-fried ahead of time.

Try this rice.   It doesn't take long (except for the original cooking of the rice--which takes 30 minutes.)  You'll like the way you feel.  I guarantee it!

Chop everything ahead and have it ready to go right next to the stove.

Barely cooked, chopped eggs.  No browned spots if possible.

Farmer's Market fresh spring/green onions (scallions)

Ham Fried Rice (with lots of vegetables)  3 generous servings

First, make the rice:  Make a day ahead (or in the morning.)  If you need to make it right beforehand, spread it out on a big baking sheet after cooking to cool and dry out for 15 minutes or so.

Making rice well:  (30 minutes--Day before or early in the day, if possible.)

  1. Start with short or medium grain white rice if possible.  (Sushi rice will work.  If all you have is long grain rice, plunge on ahead anyway and buy more rice later.)
  2. Take 1 cup of rice and place it in a bowl; fill with water.  Swish around 10-15 seconds.  Drain in a fine-meshed strainer or pour water out while holding your hand at edge of bowl to prevent the rice escape.
  3. Repeat 5-6 times until water in bowl is becoming or is clear.  Shake rice well in strainer.
  4. In a  2 - 2 1/2  qt. pot, place rice and 1 1/2 cups water (1 3/4 cup if you have long grain rice.)
  5. Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low or low and cover tightly. 
  6. Let cook 15 minutes.  You should be able to hear the rice bubbling and little wisps of steam should come from the pan.  (Not big streams of water that hiss and run; turn that mess down.)  If you don't hear/see this, turn the heat up a tiny bit until you do.
  7. After 15 minutes, remove from heat (leave covered) and let rest for 15-20 minutes.  
  8. Remove lid and fluff rice gently with a fork from the bottom.  Salt and pepper with a light hand; this is the first layer of seasoning for the fried rice. 
  9. Let cool.  Store in covered container for a day or overnight if possible.  No time?  Spread out on a baking sheet to cool as per above.
According to Barbara Tropp (and to my lights, as well), this will result in a perceptibly lighter, fluffier, cleaner kind of rice.  In fact, it's delicious.  You can well understand why Asians eat a pound a day!  

Making the fried rice: (10 minutes chopping; 10 minutes cooking)
  • 3 cups cooked/leftover rice
  • Sea salt (or table salt) and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly
  • 3T peanut or vegetable or canola oil (you'll use this a bit at a time)
  • 1/4 cup sliced ham, cut in thin slivers
  • 1/4 cup each sliced red onion, sliced cabbage, green onions (save out 2 tsp for garnish),  cut-up broccoli, peas, thinly sliced carrots (1/4"x1""), chopped asparagus, etc.  (whatever vegetables you have)  up to 2 cups total*
  • 1 clove garlic minced, 1/2 t ginger minced (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper (or, in a pinch, use a couple of drops of hot sauce or a sprinkle of ground cayenne--crushed red pepper is definitely best here)
  • Optional:  You can add soy sauce at the table if you like it.  The Chinese eat white rice with white salt. 
  • Optional:  1/4-1/2 sliced or chopped leftover cooked chicken, shrimp, roast pork/beef or steak
  1.  In a wok or a large, deep skillet, heat 2tsps peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Pour in eggs; let set a few seconds.  Turn over or pull eggs up to let uncooked egg underneath using a large wooden spoon.   Continue for a few seconds more until the egg is nearly done, but not browned.  Remove to a bowl and chop into tiny pieces with your wooden spoon.  Set aside.  You'll add it back in a few minutes.
  2. Wipe out pan with paper towels or cloth towel being careful not to burn yourself.  
  3. Pour in 1 tablespoon peanut oil.  Add rice.  Stir and cook for 2 minutes to heat and coat all grains of rice with the oil; do not brown.   
  4. Push rice to one side of the pan.  Add a bit more oil and throw in the ham and vegetables, including garlic and ginger if you're using them.  (Keep out a little green onion for garnish.)  Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper.  Stir the vegetables for 2 minutes or so until just beginning to wilt, but meantime also lift/stir the rice a little bit to ensure it doesn't brown.
  5. Stir everything in the pot together.  Add the reserved chopped egg bits and stir.   If you are using up your leftover meat, add that here.  Stir together a minute or so.   Taste and adjust seasoning.  Add a bit more salt if necessary.
  6. To serve, place fried rice in a bowl and garnish with the reserved scallions.  Chop sticks are fun; use them if you can.
*If you have leftover vegetables from another meal, use them by all means.  Just heat briefly until they're hot (no need to cook again) and continue the recipe.

    Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Poached Egg Chef's Salad

    Poached Egg Chef's Salad--Yum
     When I lived in Germany, I was greatly amazed at the foods that arrived at table with a fried egg on top.  (Beer at McDonald's was another eye opener.)  I don't think I'd seen a fried egg on a pork steak before.  Or on a beef steak.  I got used to it.  The eggs were just barely over easy and if you pricked the yoke with your fork, the gooey orange centers became a decadent, yummy sauce.  My father would have loved it.

    Fast forward to summers in Minnesota.  Hot nights and no energy for the grill.  A lovely bowl of any greens, some (any) vegetables from the market, two poached eggs and you're set.  A bit of tomato is great.  A light, but filling meal with no leftovers.  No special ingredients and lovely for one person.   Did I say quick?  Dinner!

    Poached Egg Chef's Salad with Vinaigrette serves 1

    2 cups fresh greens
    1/2 cup chopped fresh vegetables (carrots, celery, broccoli, etc.)
    1 scallion, minced (or 1 tablespoon shallot or red onion)
    1 slice turkey or ham, chopped or sliced 1/4" thick
    1 slice cheese, sliced 1/4" thick
    3 cherry tomatoes or 1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato
    1T grated Parmesan cheese
    Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
    2 poached eggs*
    1t fresh lemon juice

    Vinaigrette:  Whisk together:  1 tsp white wine vinegar, pinch each salt and pepper, a tiny dab of Dijon mustard.  Then, continuing whisking, add 1T olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings. 

    In a large bowl, place cleaned greens and add the vegetables, meat and sliced cheese.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.   Add poached eggs, gently tapping the slotted spoon on a towel to remove excess water before placing  at the center of the salad.  Salt and pepper the eggs.  Squeeze the lemon juice over all and drizzle with vinaigrette.

    *To poach two eggs:  Check out this wikihow clip.

    Or follow my directions:   Heat 2" water to simmering in a small skillet.  Break one egg into a ramekin or small cup.  Slowly pour the egg into the water, stopping after the first bit of white is in..then continuing with the remainder of the egg.  Repeat with the other egg.  Cook 3 minutes or so or until the yolk is as done as you like.  Remove with a slotted spoon or ladle.  Tap off excess water before adding to salad or eating.  Eggs can be made ahead (undercook them a bit), stored in the frig and reheated gently in water right before serving.

    Enjoy cooking and taking care of yourself,

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Tabbouleh--No Cooking Summer Meal

     One of my very favorite summer meals (or sides) is tabbouleh, which is a middle-eastern salad made with bulgur wheat (dried wheat that you must reconstitute with liquid).  It's a cool, light dish made with little effort, though the wheat must sit in water or lemon juice (perhaps other things) for an hour or so to plump up and be edible.  One of the joys is there's no cooking.  The needed water can be heated (some people don't even heat it) in the  microwave and that's quite a boon on really hot days when even turning on one burner sounds like punishment.  We  had 102 the other day in St. Paul and I refused to do anything but shred some salmon into a salad.  We would have gone out, but the old restaurants around us probably weren't any cooler.

    A little research makes it appear that Lebanese tabbouleh contains more herbs than wheat and if you're interested in that version, check out David Lebovitz' recipe here.   While you're at it, cruise around David's lovely blog and come out wanting to read it regularly.  He also has a few books that are favorites of mine....  THE PERFECT SCOOP  and THE SWEET LIFE IN PARIS are two.  READY FOR DESSERT is the newest, I think...but go to Amazon and check out the fun list.  If I have to make ice cream, I look no further than THE PERFECT SCOOP and neither should you.

    If you're ready to try my version, read below.  Mine is a combination of recipes (particularly Ina Garten's from THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA PARTIES --PAGE 113--  and the recipe on the back of Bob's Red Mill Bulgur Wheat). Change it up to suit you; why not?    This is all about vegan, vegetarian, healthy, filling, inexpensive (yes, you need fresh herbs no matter what) and...yummy.  Note:  I store my bulgur wheat in the freezer. Oh, and you can make tabbouleh tacos ( I do this; I don't know if anyone else does--read my article on examiner.com) or you can also listen to "The Tabbouleh Song" on youtube.  I think tabbouleh goes a long way... I'm thinking of tabbouleh stuffed green peppers or leaves of cabbage next.

    Tabbouleh my Way

     1 c bulgur wheat (comes bulk in some stores  or in a 1-2# package by Bob's Red Mill or others.)
    1/2 c fresh lemon juice
    1 c boiling water
    2 t kosher salt
    1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

    Mix all of the above ingredients together well and let sit 45 minutes-1 hour.

     Meantime, chop

    1 c fresh parsley
    1/2 c fresh mint
    1 c tomatoes
    1 cucumber, peeled, seeded (peel with potato peeler, slice the whole thing in half lengthwise and, to remove
       the seeds, take a spoon and scrape it down the middle of each long half.)  If you use English (or hothouse) 
        cucumbers, you needn't peel them.  American cukes are often waxed and the skin is difficult to digest.)

    Mix together with softened bulgur wheat mixture  and stir in

    1/4 cup best quality you can afford extra virgin olive oil.

    Taste and adjust seasonings.  Need more salt?  Try 1/4 t more.  Dull?  Add a few grinds more of black pepper or a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or even a drop or two of hot sauce.  Just lacks something?  Think acid and squeeze a little more lemon juice into the mixture.  Let the ingredients have fun with one another for a bit and taste again.

    Let sit 30-60 minutes before eating if you can wait.

    Note:  If you're not going to eat all of this, only put tomatoes into today's portion.  Refrigerate the leftovers and add the rest of the tomatoes tomorrow when you'll eat the rest.

    Gluten free?  Try quinoa or wild rice in place of bulgur wheat.

    Lovely with grilled  (or just cut up and/or heated) pita bread and a bit of hummus and/or feta.

    Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

    Thursday, June 2, 2011

    Pie--Step-by-Step Crust and a Rhubarb Filling

    We have a lot of chances to make pie.  Take one!
     As I write online articles for examiner.com (St. Paul Entertainment--Food and Drink), I am often working on dishes, meals, or recipes for foods that are in season or are being featured at farmer's market.  The past couple of weeks, rhubarb has played a large role in my market shopping and I wrote up the recipe for a rhubarb pie for them this week.  As I worked on the recipe (and it was no work to eat the pie, you'll see), I kept Dinner Place readers in mind and took lots of pictures of making the crust and putting the pie together.
    Rhubarb--Perfect spring vegetable, but dispose of leaves safely, they're full of oxalic acid and are poisonous.

    For whatever reason, many perfectly good cooks shy away from baking  pie.  Maybe they're not bakers.  Or they tried it once and it was a mess (and so was my first pie) or they tried it twice and had to throw away a crust (so does every pie baker, no matter how experienced), etc.  I have a method (and an alternate) that I'm sold on and hope you'll try.  You will be the hit of your group of friends even if the pie crust has some lumps or pieces missing...people just love pie and will love you for making it.  Soon, you'll be a champion pie baker (maybe), but your pies will get eaten all the way up that learning curve.

    As a solo cook, a pie is a challenge.  You'll either eat a piece every day or two (storing the remainder in the refrigerator) or you'll make pie when you have a reason to take something to someone's house or to a potluck.  There are individual pies and, if you have tiny pie plates (the kind children bake with) or ovensafe bowls (perfect for pie for one) or even ovensafe mugs, you can make pie just for you.

    This pie crust is made in the food processor. If you'd like to make a crust by hand, watch this.
    Coming home in my basket

      Here's the process in photographs.  My crust is made in the Cuisinart Food Processor.
    Flour, salt, sugar, and butter mixed until combined until pea-sized and smaller pieces.

    Iced water added. Processed until just coming together.

    Meantime, chop the rhubarb into about 1/2" pieces.

    Take dough out of bowl, divide in half.  Put half in frig and press other half between 2 sheets of waxed paper.

    Roll out from center until more than big enough for pie plate. Put plate upside down on crust to measure.

    Flip dough over and roll quickly-once!-with rolling pin to release dough from waxed paper.

    Gently peel that side's paper off.

    Turn dough over onto pie plate and carefully pull the other sheet of paper off.

    Gently press dough down into pie plate as evenly as possible.   Edges should hang over.

    Alternate method:  Dust counter, dough and pin well with flour and roll your dough out from the center.

    Into the pan and crimp edges.

    Fill with rhubarb mixture and dot with butter.  The butter and the flour in the rhubarb will create the thickener.

    Take that top crust and loosely roll it around your rolling pin.

    Lift it on to  the pie, being careful of placement so you don't have to do it twice.

    There, it's on and covered and just needs trimming.

    Trim evenly with sharp knife or scissors. (I like to make pie crust cookies out of extra dough.)

    Seal or crimp edges quickly; don't over work dough.

    I like to make a pretty edge. You can press it down with the tines of a fork, too.  Or leave it simply crimped--pinched together.

    Make slits in top crust for steam to vent.  I like designs!

    Place on a rimmed sheet in case of boil overs.

    It's done when it's browned and bubbling through slits. Glass pie plates help you see if it's done.

    So close and yet so far away.  This must cool nearly completely or you'll cut it and have a sea of filling all over.

    I love pie.  A little ice cream wouldn't hurt.