Friday, March 6, 2009

Chinese (American) Comfort Food

Here's a good comfort food recipe for classic "Fried Rice", a good way to use up yesterday's rice as today's side or main dish. I am using Jasmine but any long-grain variety will work. I know some of you out there still use "parboiled" but I encourage you to experiment with different varieties (just avoid high-starch rice like arborio, sushi, sticky, Spanish short-grains, etc.) This dish truly works better with at least day old rice as it has started to dry a bit, using fresh cooked rice will result in a sticky dish. Here's what you will need:

2 cups Rice, pre-cooked
1 tsp. Ginger, minced
1 tsp. Garlic, minced
1/2 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 cup Mushrooms, thinly sliced (I like Shitake or Mitake but any variety will do)
1/2 cup Peas, Frozen
1 Scallion, thinly sliced
1/8 cup Peanut Oil
1/8 cup Sesame Oil
2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
1 1/2 tsp. Fish Sauce (Optional)
Fresh Hot Chiles (Optional)
2 Eggs, beaten

Combine Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce and Fish Sauce in a small bowl. In a wide saucepan (preferably non-stick) or well-seasoned wok heat 1/2 the Peanut Oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add beaten egg and quickly stir fry until done, remove from pan. Add the remaining Peanut Oil, Ginger, Garlic and Hot Chile (if using) and stir fry for 1 minute. Add Red Bell Pepper and Mushrooms and continue cooking for an additional two minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly to separate grains, for an another couple of minutes. Add scallion and peas and stir to combine. Pour in sauce and cooked egg and continue cooking until everything is hot. Season with additional soy sauce.

*Remember the idea of "stir-frying" is to cook everything very quickly in a very hot pan to achieve a level of doneness that cooks everything but maintains the integrity of the ingredients. The Chinese call this "Wok Hay".

Moroccan Carrot Salad

I am getting really burned out on winter and uninspired by the same old offerings at the local market (hence my lack of recent postings!). This is especially true when it comes to the produce section. Because of our short "high country" growing season we have to rely on produce that has been trucked cross country or from another country at least half the year. This usually means things are harvested before they are ripe and ready and a LARGE amount of petroleum is necessary to get them here.

One thing that is pretty consistent in terms of quality are some California grown carrots that are in the organic section of the grocery. They are in bunches with the green tops still attached. Unlike most grocery store variety carrots that have long since been removed from their chlorophyll-ed appendage and are cracked and drying (i.e. dying) these guys are sweet and delicious. To get the full nutritional benefit I like to serve them raw with a simple dressing. I washed and peeled them, cut them into about 1.5 inch sections and ran them through the julienne blades of the mandoline. Feel free to use a knife and make whatever cut you fancy.

The dressing is pretty simple:

1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
1 1/2 tsp. Honey (or Agave Nectar)
Zest of one Lemon
1/8 cup Chopped Cilantro
1/8 cup. Chopped Mint
1 tsp. Coriander
1/8 tsp. Cracked Black Pepper
Salt (Either to taste in the dressing or use a finishing salt, like Maldon, on top)

You could easily make an Asian version by substituting the Olive Oil with Sesame Oil, the Lemon Juice with Rice Wine Vinegar and adding additional ingredients like: Thai Basil, Fish Sauce, Black Sesame Seeds, 5 Spice Powder, etc.

Bluegrass Kitchen Tools

If you haven't used a Mandoline before they can be a very efficient tool in the kitchen. Consistent and uniform cutting of fruits and veggies are the main reasons to keep one around. Thin slicing and julienne cuts can certainly be done with a good knife but not nearly as quickly and precisely as with this tool. That said none of the mandolines that I've used have ever been particularly easy to clean. In addition you need to be extremely careful with the sharp blades and if you are short on storage space it could end up being a bit of a pain. So, there's my disclaimer...The good news is that in the past good mandolines have been pretty expensive at around $200 dollars for a quality model. When Cooks Illustrated did a mandoline review a couple of months ago I was excited to see the $35 "OXO Good Grips V-Blade" at the top of their list. I purchased one shortly thereafter and have enjoyed using it for various recipes like the one that follows...