Sunday, September 25, 2011

Happy one year, with fried rice.

A year ago today, my husband and I were married in Michigan. We danced in a big white tent that was set up in the backyard, on a hill, with a long staircase that led to a lake, where we said our vows before our family and friends. 

All week, I've been looking back at this past year, trying to wrap it all up in newlywed memories. But Murdo and I lived together for two years before we were married, so with the exception of a name change and wedding bands, our first year wasn't that much different than the ones before. 

And then I think about the future, and how different this first year will be from every year that follows. We'll look back and remember buying furniture for our tiny apartment, and the private rooftop terrace of our honeymoon suite. We survived a long, blizzard-y winter with cozy fires and breakfast for dinners. We adjusted to new work schedules, celebrated promotions, kept our fingers crossed and held our breaths. We said goodbye to a family member, and welcomed two more into our home. 

He taught me how to change a tire. I taught him how to cook white rice.

fried rice

The food of our first year of marriage has been, for the most part, fairly routine. I've tried a new recipe here and there, but only a handful have made it to the weekly rotation. We have our regulars, our trusted dishes, the ones that we eat over and over again, because they're quick and they're simple and we know what we like. When I was thinking of a recipe for our one year anniversary post, I couldn't think of anything new or exciting or special. All I could think about was fried rice.

We eat fried rice once a week here, nearly every week, always accompanied by a bag Trader Joe's frozen Mandarin orange chicken. It's nothing special, I know -- even borderline boring -- and that's the reason why I've been hesitant to even post a recipe for it. But it was the first dish I ever learned how to cook on my own, and it's the one that we can eat every week and never get sick of. 

fried rice

Murdo makes the white rice before I get home, and once I walk through the door and get settled and start cooking, I can have a meal on the table in 20 minutes. Twenty minutes! That is my kind of meal, and it's one that I know will follow us to our next home, and our first house, and one that we'll feed to our kids. It'll survive many more anniversaries to come, and every time I cook it, I hope I"ll remember this first year. 

Happy one year anniversary, Murdo. I can't wait for more.

Fried Rice
After you read this recipe, you might notice that it breaks all the rules when it comes to what other recipes might say about "real" fried rice. For example, you're supposed to use leftover cooked rice instead of hot, just-cooked rice, otherwise you'll end up with soggy results. But I never have leftover white rice, and I'm not going to cook rice a day ahead of time for a dish that's supposed to take just 20 minutes to put together. This is supposed to be quick and easy, after all -- a meal you can put together when you realize there is nothing else in the house to eat. 

So, I use fresh rice, and I don't think it gets soggy at all. I also use frozen vegetables, and I don't ever measure. I tried this time around, but completely forgot halfway through, so the soy sauce measurement is more of a guess. Like I mentioned before, this is the first dish I ever cooked on my own, and I didn't have a recipe then, either. The only thing I screwed up was the garlic, which I burned. By the second time I made fried rice, I was a pro. You will be, too.  

1 cup of uncooked jasmine rice, or 2-3 cups of leftover cooked rice
vegetable or canola oil
3 big garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2 cups of frozen mixed vegetables (I use the bag with green beans, carrots, peas and corn, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand, or even fresh veggies if you're feeling ambitious)
~1/4 cup of soy sauce, divided
2 eggs, beaten 

Optional Additions (I've cooked fried rice with most of these options, though nowadays, I'll only ever add sesame oil and green onions, and only when I have them on hand.)
leftover cooked chicken, pork, ham or steak
sliced onions
sliced green onions
toasted sesame oil
oyster sauce
fish sauce
chopped kimchi

Cook rice according to package directions, or however you normally cook your rice. I rinse mine a few times and cook 1 cup of rice with 1 1/2 cups of water in a rice cooker. It usually takes about 20 minutes.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet. Add garlic and cook until sizzling and fragrant. (If you are cooking with meat, add now and cook until heated through or, if using shrimp, fully cooked, then remove and set aside.) Add veggies and cook a few minutes until just soft. Sprinkle with black pepper. (Here is where I would add a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, or oyster sauce, or fish sauce.) Add a few dashes of soy sauce, about 1/8 cup, and cook a few minutes more. 

When the veggies are done, add the cooked rice and combine well. Add the rest of the soy sauce and adjust to taste. Once you've got the perfect amount of soy sauce to rice, push the rice to one side of the skillet and pour the egg on the other side, stirring until cooked but still soft. Lightly chop the egg with your spoon and combine with the rice. You can up the heat a bit here, and fry your rice a few minutes more, so that it's browned and even crispy, depending on how you like it. (Add your meat back at the very end.) 

Serve with Trader Joe's orange chicken, or topped with a fried egg, for a perfect weeknight meal.

Wedding photos by Jen Lynne Photography

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kamote leaves and tomatoes.

I should start with the tomatoes.

what summer tastes like.

I've been eating them all summer long, from the moment I could get my hands on them at the farmers market, usually reaching for one as soon as I get home from work, or while I'm supposed to be cooking dinner. I'll cut up a tomato into wedges on a paper plate, sprinkling each piece generously with salt before cramming it into my mouth, only to start salting away at the next. I eat them like there will be no tomatoes tomorrow. Because, well, there won't be. Which is why I am telling you about them today -- it's September! The heat has passed, the summer storms are gone, my window is open and a cool breeze blows through, and the tomatoes will soon be gone.

Besides a Caprese salad back in June, and a few roasted batches, I haven't really been preparing any dishes with the tomatoes. Like I said, they go from bowl on the counter to paper plate to my mouth, and pretty quickly. But when my parents came over on Sunday to watch football (another sign that summer is on its way out) and eat meatball sandwiches and play with kittens, they brought over a bag of kamote leaves and tomatoes, just picked from their garden. And while kamote leaves and tomatoes can hardly be considered a dish with an actual recipe, it's one I had to finally share with you.

kamote leaves

Kamote leaves, or kamote tops, are the young leaves of the kamote, a type of sweet potato. My parents grow them in their garden, harvesting the leaves every summer, but the ground eventually grows too cold for the sweet potatoes to actually grow. The leaves are widely used in Filipino dishes as a green to throw in soups and stews and salads, but I like them just lightly steamed, dressed with a dash of fish sauce, topped with summer ripe tomatoes, and often served with fried fish. Prepared this way, they are slightly salty, a hint of sour, with the freshness of the juicy tomatoes cutting through. While other kids grew up eating spinach, I was eating kamote leaves. They mean summer to me, which is why I asked my mom to bring them over on Sunday -- because I hadn't gotten my fill yet, and summer is almost over.

Luckily, there is still a bowl of tomatoes on the counter, and a Tupperware of steamed kamotes in the fridge. There are bags of fresh corn in the freezer, blanched and stripped off cobs picked straight from Murdo's family farms, ready for batches of winter chowder. I painted my toenails last night because I'm not quite done wearing flip flops. I can hear the crickets chirping outside. September is here, but I am still loving summer.

kamote leaves

Before I get to the recipe, a quick announcement:, a great recipe website that brings the tastiness and beauty of some of the best food blogs out there together in one amazing space, is now featuring a handful of Happy Jack Eats recipes. You can sign up (it's free, people), type in the ingredients you crave, or have, or like, or dislike, and browse through a ton of recipes accompanied by gorgeous photos that pretty much jump out of your screen. Here's my lumpia, just to give you a peek. I'm really excited to be among a long list of really talented food bloggers!

Kamote Leaves with Tomatoes
Here is the unfortunate thing about this recipe, and something I probably should have researched before sharing, but didn't: I don't know where you can get kamote leaves. I get mine from my parents' garden. If you don't have any, you might be able to try your local Asian grocery store, or find an awesome Filipino family that might be growing some in their backyard. I will look into this further and update when I get the chance.* Otherwise, you are welcome to try this recipe with any other green, including spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens or even dandelion greens, and let me know how it works out!

Another thing: I often find the stems can be a little hardy, and can almost feel like eating thick blades of grass. Feel free to trim off the thick stems, although I just leave them all on and bite the leaves off the stems once cooked. 

*Update: The lovely commenter Kate let me know that she found kamote leaves at her local farmers market, where they are called sweet yam leaves. Thanks Kate!

A big bunch of kamote leaves or other green (I had a plastic grocery bag full, which was enough to fill my 5-quart Le Creuset to the brim twice)
Fish sauce
Fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped

Fill a clean sink with water and dump in the kamote leaves. Swish around and make sure all the dirt and grit is gone, draining and rinsing twice. Do not dry. Put a large pot over medium heat and fill with the wet leaves. Steam the leaves lightly, turning over with tongs to make sure the leaves on the bottom aren't overcooking. You want them just wilted. When done, transfer to a large dish and toss with a dash of fish sauce. Start with a tablespoon and adjust from there. Top with tomatoes.

Serve as a salad or alongside fish, steak or any meat.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Family photos, family dinners.

I shot seven rolls of film in California and more than 600 digital images. There were photos of sunsets and rocky cliffs, city skylines and bridges, murals, houses, street signs. We hiked through Muir woods, climbing until we were nearly among the tree tops, the sunlight peeking through walls of redwoods. We drove Highway 1, swerving to the side of the road every so often to breathe in the stunning views. We soaked in a hot tub on a balcony that overlooked the ocean, watching the sun go down. Every moment was an opportunity to capture a world of beauty, the kind that makes you realize just how small you are, and just how much there is to see in this one country alone.

And yet, as I browse through the folders on my computer, I find myself going back to the same photos.

The ones of small, simple moments. The quiet connections that become so much more when the whole family gets together only once or twice a year. I don't get enough of these.

The nice part about it, though, is that every time we have a family gathering, we're also taking a vacation. This time, we -- or should I say, Mom (thanks, Mom!) -- rented a house in Dillon Beach, a small town in Marin County that seemed to live in a cloud for the entire week we were there, but no one seemed to mind that much because we could still see the ocean from every room in the house.

My favorite was the dining room.

at the table.

That long table was made for family meals, comfort foods, loud conversations. Our dinners weren't fancy or elaborate, but tried-and-true recipes that we could prepare while chatting and drinking wine: baked mac and cheese, garlic-lemon shrimp and chicken kebabs, lentil soup with sausage and chard, grilled steak, spaghetti. 

But when I look back on this vacation, and flip through the photos, it won't be the food that stands out. Instead, I'll remember my two-year-old niece and my husband playing with a cup of poker chips, and the way she first said our names ("Mo!" "Gack-ey!"). Pictionary around the fire, and puzzles in the morning. Absinthe. Ping pong, vinyl albums, A Song of Ice and Fire. Searching for mussels along the shore and getting soaked by the rising tide. Happy announcements. An early morning phone call about Tim getting sicker, and the ease with which my family changed their plans and went out of their way to help Murdo get on an earlier plane home. 

Simple moments that mean so much more.

mac + cheese + broccoli.

Grilled Chicken and Shrimp Kebabs with Lemon and Garlic (from Bon Appetit)

24 uncooked large shrimp, unpeeled, deveined (thawed if frozen) 
12 chicken tenders
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel
 2 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 cup olive oil

Thread 4 shrimp on each of 6 metal skewers; place on rimmed baking sheet. Loosely thread 2 chicken tenders on each of 6 metal skewers; place on another rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk lemon juice, lemon peel, and garlic in medium bowl; slowly whisk in oil. Season marinade with salt and pepper. Pour marinade over skewers, dividing equally. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Grill shrimp until pink on outside and opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side. Remove kebabs from grill; serve immediately.