January 21, 2009

Impromptu Fried Rice


As you've probably already surmised if you read this blog with any regularity, I almost always cook from a recipe. I am a planner, and often a hyper-compulsive one at that, so I usually find it difficult to head into the supper hour with no plan at all besides the odds and ends found in the fridge.

But every so often I get the urge to improvise in the kitchen. It happened last Wednesday when I was faced with the prospect of the final bean salad in Deborah Madison's book. It was about 8:00 at night and I just couldn't make and eat another bean salad all by myself. Instead, I turned to the large container of leftover brown rice that was sitting in the fridge. I decided to make fried rice.

When I was on exchange in New Orleans in my undergrad, I ended up making a lot of fried rice. I was living in a two-person apartment in an musty, dour residence, and my roommate Mary was frequently away (On a side note, Mary was vegan but seemed to subsist only on juice, popsicles and frozen grapes. But that's another story for another time.) It was the first time in my life that I did much cooking all by myself, and I had a thin, orange-covered cookbook called the Teen's Vegetarian Cookbook that I had picked up in a bargain bin somewhere. It was actually a great book and was full of easy, mostly good-tasting recipes. Two of the ones I liked were fried rice and stir-fry, and I made them both many times. The kitchen was tiny with no natural light. The knives, pots and cutting boards were all flimsy and inadequate, but despite that (or maybe because of it) it was always satisfying to cook a good meal in that kitchen.

I still own the Teen's Vegetarian Cookbook (in fact, I just lent it to a friend who needs some guidance in the cooking category). But I surprisingly didn't think to open it up to put this fried rice together. First I searched the rest of the fridge for any leftover vegetables that needed using, and found broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and green onions. Fried rice is so much fun to make because you can basically throw in any vegetable you want.

When it came to the sauce, I was unfortunately not confident enough to make one all on my own, even though I knew the basic ingredients. So I opened one of our trusty Moosewood cookbooks and followed one of their sauce recipes.

I pulled our wok out from the bottom shelf (it was a wedding present and this was the first time we ever used it, if you can believe it) and got to work. I scrambled an egg first, then cooked the vegetables, adding a little sauce now and then, and finally the rice. I added the green onions near the end and saved some for a garnish.

It's pretty hard to screw up Fried Rice. I guess that's why I made it so diligently when I was a young student trying to eat things that were tasty AND good for me. I love the way the whole thing gets so saucy and flavourful. And makes such great leftovers. It’s basically a perfect meal.

I feel like I’ve come a long way, cooking and otherwise, from my days spent in New Orleans four years ago. But Fried Rice is still delicious.


Wednesday Night Fried Rice

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar or cider vinegar
2 teaspoons molasses or brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
red pepper flakes

Vegetable oil
One or two eggs, scrambled
2 to 3 cups chopped raw veggies
  (You can use almost any veggies you want. Some suggestions    include carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, green onions, snow peas, mushrooms, bok choy or other cabbage, water chestnuts, eggplant…)
3 to 4 cups leftover rice
chopped nuts (I used almonds, but cashews would also be good)

Stir together the first seven ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Heat a wok or large frying pan on medium heat and add 2 teaspoons or so of oil. Add the egg and cook until it’s the way you like it (everyone likes scrambled eggs differently. Or you could make a thin omelet if you are good at flipping. I’m not.) Remove the egg from the pan and set aside.

Add a little more oil and the veggies that take longest to cook, such as carrots and eggplant. When they are starting to get tender, add the veggies that take a medium time to cook, such as broccoli and cauliflower. Then, add the veggies that don’t take much time, such as mushrooms and cabbage. Every time you add new veggies, pour in a little sauce. Save some sauce for when you add the rice.

When the veggies are all almost cooked to your liking, add the rice and the rest of the sauce and stir everything together. Cook just enough to heat through. Remove from the heat. Serve with a garnish of green onions or chopped nuts.

The proportions I wrote here are a bit loose – it’s all up for improvisation. You could also add tofu or meat if you wanted to.

*My excitement over my Gourmet subscription has not waned. In case you were wondering. I pulled the second issue out of my mailbox on a morning this week when I was off work, as I was heading out into the lovely sunny day. I was so excited about the promise of it in my bag that I bounced out the door and down the street with a half-smile on my face that probably made me look like a crazy person. It helped that the cover was a collage of delicious-looking crusty rolls and bread. 

January 17, 2009

Salads Good and Bad


I’ve discovered that I hate green olives.

Hate is a strong word. But I use it here because I can’t actually fathom how anyone would willingly put such a vile-tasting thing into her mouth.

Of course, I’m half-kidding. I know that taste is personal, that one person’s caviar and champagne is another’s compost. I know that taste can be shaped by many things, including the way we were raised, the memories we associate with certain foods, and the  actual buds on our tongues. But. But. To me, the taste and smell of green olives doesn’t even seem related to a food. It’s like a cross between some horrid chemically cleaning product and something that comes bubbling up from the sewer.

I’ve surprised myself this year by actually learning to like black olives. I still wouldn’t eat them out of a bowl at a party, but I like their tang in salads and in sandwiches, and I’ve become a particular fan of olive paste, spread on bread with cheese and tomatoes. It seems to me that green olives are a different kind of beast altogether. Can they even be from the same plant?

Well, it turns out they are. Most of you probably already knew this, but I just found out through some vigorous research that green olives are picked from the olive tree when they are not yet ripe, and black olives stay on the branch until they are fully ripened.

Well, I say leave em’ on there! Let them hang out a little while longer and get nice and purply and juicy. Much yummier.


I came to this olive revelation last week when we made a white bean salad with green olives from Deborah Madison’s book. I took one for the team here. I tasted the salad first and proclaimed the nastiness of the olives. J wouldn’t come near it. That was the second salad of the year so far that Susan benefited from.

Okay, let me be clear. Not all of these salads have been bad. In fact, I’m even going to give you recipes for a few of them that were quite tasty. But I think that overall, I’m not a huge fan of bean and grain salads. I love beans. I love them in dips and spreads, soups and casseroles, cooked in a sauce atop rice and baked with molasses. But when beans are in a salad they really tend to dominate it, and when combined with a grain and a strong vinaigrette it’s just not a flavour combination I usually enjoy.

One of the ones we liked was a lentil salad – altogether different from most other beans in my opinion. And it had roasted beets in it, which for me is always guaranteed to tip the scale in a recipe’s favour.


Before Christmas we made a good salad with quinoa, mangos and curry dressing. An unlikely combination, but it works. If you’ve never eaten quinoa, please, please go buy some. It’s so incredibly flavourful and even more incredibly good for you. The Incas called it the miracle grain or something like that because it’s packed with protein and vitamins.

We’re onto pasta salads next week, which include buckwheat noodles and mung bean noodles. Also dulse leaves. I have no idea if you can even get those things in Edmonton. Well, you probably can but it may involve a lengthy bus ride to an Asian grocery. It could be worth it because the recipes look delicious. I’ll let you know how things go.

Quinoa Salad with Mangoes and Curry Dressing (from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) serves 4

1 1/3 cups quinoa
2 mangoes
3 scallions, including an inch of the greens, thinly sliced                   1 jalepeno chile, seeded and diced
1/3 cup almonds, toasted

For the curry vinaigrette:

1 garlic clove
2 Tablespoons yogourt, mayonnaise or sour cream
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons light olive or sunflower seed oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Bring three cups of water to a boil and add a half a teaspoon of salt. Stir in the quinoa, lower the heat, cover and simmer until the grains are tender, about 12-15 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the vinaigrette. Pound or mince the garlic and ¼ teaspoon salt in a mortar until smooth, or put the garlic through a press. Combine the garlic and salt with the yogourt and curry in a small bowl. Stir in the lemon juice and then slowly whisk in the oil. Sprinkle the cilantro over the vinagrette and set aside while you make the rest of the salad. Taste to see if it is tart enough or too tart, and adjust if needed.

Slice the mangoes in bite sized chunks. The easiest way to do this is to slice lengthwise through the flat center, as close to the stone as you can get. Score the half that does not have the stone in square shapes, going through to the skin but not cutting through it. Cut off the resulting cubes from the skin. Cut the second half away from the pit and repeat.

When the quinoa is done, drain it if necessary - theoretically the grains will have absorbed all the water. Toss the quinoa, onion, mango chunks and jalepeno in the vinaigrette. Sprinkle the almond slices over the top and serve warm.

If you are going to save any for leftovers, just sprinkle the almonds over your own portion so they won’t get soggy in the salad.

Green Lentils with Roasted Beets and Preserved Lemon

5 beets, about one pound

1 teaspoon olive oil

Salt and freshly milled pepper

1 cup French green lentils

1 carrot, finely diced

½ small onion, finely diced

Aromatics: 1 bay leaf, 4 parsley branches, 2 thyme sprigs

1 preserved lemon or 2 teaspoons lemon zest

Lemon Vinaigrette

1/3 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped mint, plus mint sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 350. Peel four of the beets and cut them into small cubes. Set the last beet aside for garnish. Toss the beets with the oil, season with salt and pepper, and bake on a sheet pan until tender, about 35 minutes, stirring once or twice. Meanwhile, put the lentils in a pan with water to cover, add the carrot, onion, aromatics, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender but still a little firm, about 25  minutes. Drain well.

Cut the preserved lemon into quarters and scrape off the soft pulp. Chop the pulp finely and stir two teaspoons into the dressing. Finely chop the remaining skin. (Or just zest your lemon.)

Toss the lentils with the roasted beets and the vinaigrette, the preserved lemon or lemon zest, parsley, and mint. Peel the remaining beet and finely grate it. Put the lentils on a platter (or on plates) and garnish with the grated beet and sprigs of mint.

Lemon Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest

Salt and freshly milled pepper

1 shallot, finely diced

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or to taste

Combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl and let stand for 15 minutes. Then whisk in the oil and season with pepper to taste. Taste the correct the balance, adding more oil if needed.

January 13, 2009

Cranberry Cornmeal Cake

I feel like I still have so much to tell you about the food I ate over the holidays. But pretty soon it’s just going to be too late and I’ll have to start talking about the food I’m actually eating now. Before that happens, I have to share this fabulous cake I made for New Year’s Day.

J and I spent the holiday flitting back and forth between his parents’ and my Mom’s house, cooking and eating at both. We always spend Christmas Eve with his family and Christmas Day mostly with mine. The plan was to make this cake for Christmas dinner with my Mom, but the rest of that meal became so elaborate and time-consuming that none of us had the energy to either make or consume cake. So we promised that we’d save it for New Year’s Day.

Our supper was simple: spaghetti with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts and a green salad. This cake was the perfect ending. (Since there were only three of us, I halved the orginal recipe, which I found over at the Wednesday Chef, one of my favourite blogs.) It was fruity and crumbly but not too rich and not too sweet. The cranberries lent a beautiful tang, and I personally think you could add even more than the recipe calls for. It looked so wonderful and festive on the platter, so warm and golden with bursts of red. I also like that it is perfect with no icing or topping or anything. Not that a little whipped cream of vanilla ice cream would be out of place … but it’s not at all necessary.

What’s better than sharing food, cake and a little wine with those you love to start the new year?

In more recent food news, we’ve been eating a lot of salads. A lot of bean salads. J still isn’t sure how he feels about beans, so it’s been touch and go. Our friend Susan is getting a lot of food donations from us recently.

Other than that, I’m happy to be back in Edmonton, back into a shopping routine, going to the market. It feels good. There are a couple of salad recipes I’d like to share soon. I must say, though, it’s hard to take a good photo of a bean or grain salad, which I think is partly why I’ve been hesitating to post them. All the pictures look so blah and unappetizing. It doesn’t help that the only hours I’m in the apartment during the week are when there is absolutely no natural light.

Salads are what we are eating, however, so it is salads that you will see!

After that convincing pitch, I’m sure you’ll all be checking back every day just to hear about the salads. Right.

January 10, 2009

My First Gourmet

Ahhhhh. Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t in lovely? Doesn’t it make you want to sigh with pleasure?

I was so excited when I saw my first issue of Gourmet waiting for me when we came back to Edmonton that I literally clutched it to my chest and jumped for joy.

I ordered Gourmet back in October and I knew it would take a while to get here. It’s also the first food mag I’ve ever subscribed to, so forgive me if I’m a wee bit excited.

The issue is all about Italian cooking. I’ve never been particularly interested in Italian cooking, evidenced by the fact that our Jamie’s Italy cookbook has been sitting on our shelf for two years and we have never made a single recipe from it (I know! It’s a bit ridiculous). But there are definitely some recipes in this magazine that I would like to try. Starting with the cover, I must admit. I’m not much of a meat person, but that spaghetti and meatballs just looks so simple and luxurious all at once, so flavourful and comforting. All the things Italian cooking should be.

I’d also love to try the shaved-fennel salad with oranges and pecorino, the pizza bianca, and the sweet ricotta pastries.

There’s a great article in here about Italian restaurants in New Orleans, which made me a bit nostalgic. I went on exchange to that city in my third year of university, when I was just starting to realize how much I loved food and everything to do with it. I didn’t have much money and I only made it to one of the places mentioned in this story, Brocato’s Italian bakery. A wonderful family I met through my cousin took me there for spumoni and little seed cookies.

Reading this mostly makes me want to A) eat a lot of pasta, and B) go to Italy. Which are not bad things. But for now the meatballs recipe is going on my mental challenging-things-to-make list. I’m sure the recipe itself it actually pretty easy, but I’m not used to cooking with meat and this involves large, ground quantities of it. Which means it will also be a bit pricier than our standard vegetarian fare around here.

You can be almost guaranteed that whenever I do make it, you will read about it here.

January 5, 2009

Foodie Resolutions

Happy New Year. We are back in Edmonton and back into the old routine. I still want to tell you about some more of the great food we ate over the holidays, including a great Christmas day supper and a wonderful New Year's cake. But it's late, I'm tired, and that can wait.

For now though, here are my foodie resolutions, inspired by foodie suz.

In 2009,

I will make homemade ice cream and homemade pasta.

I will faithfully continue my project with Deborah Madison’s book.

I will eat more slowly at every meal and not overeat.

I will take a food-writing course.

I will cook more with my friends.

I will enjoy every food moment that I can.

I will buy food that is local and sustainable whenever possible.

I will travel and discover new foods, ideas about food, and food places.

Here's to a delicious 2009!