Fried Rice ~ Basic Recipe

IMG_9565_2For several months one year, we had two young women staying with us through the Canada World Youth Program; one was a Canadian university student from Sherbrooke, Quebec, and the other, an economics student from Jakarta, Indonesia. Language was one of the key components to their stay here, as well as volunteering in the community. While I struggled with Indonesian, finding it difficult to separate the words, as the language is so fluid, I did find my high school French coming back to me so quickly. The three of us would laugh, quite often pointing, or drawing pictures to communicate. But slowly it all started to happen. Often just a quick sentence, but the intent was picked up on.

Besides language, food was a huge part of us getting to know each other and our cultures. Our household became used to the scent of rice in all its cooked forms. During Ramadan, the two of them would get up before dawn, and start cooking the early meal. Usually it was a simple assembly of fried rice. A few pieces of garlic, onions, and hot peppers, fried with leftover rice from the evening meal. Other bits of vegetables or meats would be added, and served with sambal oelek and ketjap bentang. This meal would last them right through until the late meal. Our Quebec guest found it very hard to manage the long days of fasting, but did it to experience her counterpart’s religion. Our tiny, Indonesian friend explained to me, that if you eat less, it is far easier to make it through the day, as she watched with glee as our young Canadian friend wolfed down a bagel with cream cheese following her fried rice.

Frying the rice before cooking it (instead of frying leftover rice) gives it a nuttier flavour. The recipe still uses small amounts of vegetable, meats, and egg to make it a complete meal. Be creative with this, as it is a very simple meal, using what is at hand. It can easily be fully vegetarian, or just use the egg if you like. Continue reading

Coconut Rice with Fragrant Onion Sauce

Image In my early 20’s my younger sister and I shared an apartment.  We had two cats, two bedrooms, and groups of friends five years apart.  Somehow it all worked.  I was big sister to many of her friends, and my responsibility for her kept me with my feet firmly on the ground.  We started off in a two bedroom ground floor suite that we could hop over the hedge and come in through the sliding doors, in a complex that had a pool that we never used.  Next step up was a one bedroom in a more amenable area, in an older building with bigger rooms, with a creepy guy across the way that used to exercise in his briefs (we called him Jock Strap).

Finally we moved into a huge two bedroom third floor suite.  It had been left in disrepair, so we made a quick agreement with the manager to paint the whole of it in exchange for the damage deposit.   There was even a horrible mustard yellow “feature” wall that had a large dark stain dribbled down it.  With a group of friends over one weekend (and a can of marine grade paint to cover the yellow wall), we got the whole of it done and moved into our first home-like suite.

There was a green grocer up the street who would sell us a stalk of celery or half a head of lettuce.  The butcher was across the street, with a grocery store across the laneway.  We ate well.  Not a lot, but well.

One of our mainstay dinners was a couple of pieces of chicken seasoned and baked for ½ an hour or so, while we cooked some rice and a veg.  Very plain, but it worked.  I think the format of the supper allowed me to get some nutrition in fairly quickly after a day’s work before I’d head down to the stables to train for a couple of hours.

Rice has always been an easy way to round out a meal.  I know we’re supposed to only eat brown rice, but it just takes too long!  I use it, but more usually Basmati or Japanese.  I’ll get my whole grains elsewhere.

When a large bowl of rice gets plunked down on a table family style, it quickly conforms to the shape of the bowl, and becomes less appealing.  This recipe builds in a bit of sauce, so it stays moist and tempting far longer. Tuck a couple of flowers in the side and your family will think you’ve gone all “gourmet” on them.       Continue reading

Rice Salad with Ginger & Lemongrass

IMG_4034Potlucks are easy ways to gather for a meal.  They’ve been around for years, and will continue for many to come.

One way to hold a potluck is to give no rules, and just see what turns up.  There have been stories of twelve bowls of green salads lined up, with nothing else.  Or the transformative Thanksgiving dinner we held at a shared house; we offered to do turkey as the hosts, and left the rest up to the ten or so guests to do the rest.  We had a great dinner of turkey, stuffing, gravy and 6 different versions of pumpkin pies.

What I recommend doing, is to look after the meat & dessert.  Let everyone else bring side dishes or appetizers.  At least this way the meal will have a bit of structure.

There are times that I pull out all the stops and work to create something memorable.  However if time is limited, there’s nothing wrong with doing a simple dish, as long as it is presented well, is yummy, and interesting!  This is easy to make, and can be served cold or at room temperature.  As you can see, I served it in my bamboo steamer, but here’s a tip if you don’t want to worry about dishes.  Line a foil pan with an oversized sheet of parchment, tuck in some herbs or flowers at one side, and you can just walk away from it at the end of the meal. Continue reading

Quinoa Cakes with Lemon Yogurt Sauce

IMG_3583I am always on the lookout for vegetarian main dishes that can hold their own on a menu.  Gone are the days of simple substitutions for animal protein, to satisfy the needs of a few vegetarians. As I’ve mentioned before, meat is just one of several dishes that go together to make a meal.  There should be at least one complex, wonderful vegetarian dish that everyone at the table looks forward to.  I had been trying a few ideas along the lines of grain cakes, when I received an issue of Canadian Living that showed their most downloaded recipe, Quinoa Cakes.  So look no further – these are amazing.  I may have switched an ingredient or two, and made a slight change, but only because I may have had a replacement on hand and also considered the merit of incorporating the pine nuts into the cakes instead of sprinkling them on top.

Okay, memory lane time.  As vegetarianism became more mainstream, and we were starting to hear the word vegan, I can remember cooking rice with chicken stock at an event, and questioning whether or not we should be using it for the buffet.  The answer – sure, it doesn’t have meat in it.  I switched to water and returned the packaged stock to the storeroom. Really?

Then there was a Groom’s Dinner BBQ we were catering back in the early 2000’s.  Out of about fifty guests, a dozen or so were vegan (wow – cutting edge guests!).  We were given long lists of wants and desires.  We started by cooking about 4 – dozen tofu & veg skewers, followed by similarly glazed chicken.  When we were about half way through service, we realized we were down to about 10 skewers.  Everyone wanted some!  We quickly covered the remainder with foil and asked each guest from there on in if they were vegan.  We had just enough.  Since then, any service that includes vegetarians or vegans, I serve a full service of a vegetarian or vegan main.  Really?  It is just part of a gracious service. Continue reading

Baked Mushroom Risotto

IMG_1170Here it is the beginning of spring and I’m baking a mushroom risotto.  It’s still cold out, although if the sun’s shining while working out in the garden it’s wonderful to feel the heat!  I think that as long as the weather still has us cooking indoors, we can still enjoy a hearty repast.  This dish can be served as a main course, with a few vegetables on the side, or a big crunchy salad.  It also serves well accompanying pork or beef.  I try to serve meat as a component of the meal, not the star attraction.  I think it keeps meals more balanced.  Continue reading