Turnip Cake Pad Thai

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey… and by small, I mean tiny; the borders of my town encompassed roughly 1 whole square mile and my graduating class had about 85 people in it. I guess you could say I was pretty lucky, because even though my town had more hair salons than people to occupy them, I still managed to find some of the silliest, craziest, most adventurous people I’ve ever had the pleasure to call my friends.

By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, we had formed a clique cult 14+ members large. We even had a name for ourselves (the SMC), a mascot (a stuffed pink rat named Ratzo), pet names (Choch/Larks), a handshake. It was all very complex and mysterious…

…and by mysterious, I mean mildly embarrassing, because when I look back, it’s clear just how obnoxious we were…

Since our one-horse town had little to offer other than a Kosher Dunkin Donuts, we started inventing things to do…

Like having food fights at Applebees…


and going team bowling, dressed as ninjas versus pirates (and getting kicked out for bowling more than one ball at the same time)…

having wayyyyy too many dance parties….

…and craming 12 people into a 4 person tent, even though most of us had beds to sleep in less than a 5 minute walk away.

More than any of those silly things, I look back on that amazing year as a time where I got to live deeply with a group of friends, most of whom I had known since childhood, and who would become as close as family to me.

Fortunately, if my senior year of highschool was a hit sitcom, my life here in Boston would be the spinoff; two of my very bestest friends from that crazy group live here in Boston (one as my roommate!) and many more have come to visit us over the past couple of years. From trips to Cape Cod to Dorchester Saint Paddy’s Day shenanigans, we’ve managed to continue the adventures right here in our new home; a home that, this time, brought us together by choice instead of chance.

From NJ to Boston...still the bestest of friends.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t get nostalgic for our lil’ ol’ town in New Jersey sometimes. Usually my nostalgia takes the form of hunger, since the things I miss about New Jersey are bagels, fat sandwiches, pizza, and Thai food. Yep, I’ve never had better Thai food than I’ve had in my tiny little town in New Jersey, and the reasons for that can be summarized in 4 words — turnip cake pad thai.

Sound strange? Fear not, my friend. Turnip cakes are square little pillowy morsels of soft, fried, sweet goodness. There’s no real adequate way to describe them other than starchy, soft, and friggin’ amazing. They’re usually found on dim sum carts and appetizer menus of Chinese food places; the only place I’ve ever known to put them into Pad Thai is our little Thai restaurant in Nowhereville, New Jersey.

My (subpar) version of turnip cake

Whatever possessed me to order something as bizarre sounding as Turnip Cake Pad Thai, I’ll never know, but the dish has become practically legendary among my group of friends. It’s just that good.

Because it can be found nowhere else on the planet, it’s been one of my long-term cooking goals to recreate this dish in my own kitchen. This weekend I tried and (sort of) succeeded, so it’s going to have to be a goal I keep working at. For now, I’ve managed to make a passable version, and since I have two gigantic daikon radishes still sitting in my fridge, I’m going to have to make it again.

Pad Thai itself is a relatively easy dish, but turnip cake takes blood, sweat, tears, and miracles. Well, maybe just sweat and proper equipment. My turnip cake mostly likely failed because I was using this make-shift contraption to steam it:

In the end, I ended up forgoing the steaming in favor of this recipe’s favored approach of just straight up pan frying it. The results were okay, but not the same as the turnip cake I’m used to… big, juicy, soft rectangles *cue choir of angels*

I also didn’t stop to take great photos because I was freakin’ hungry after hours of slavin’ over my favorite dish in the kitchen. Hopefully when I get the recipe to a place I’m happy to, I’ll take some nicer photos to show off the goods. For now, enjoy this recipe for Pad Thai, which is freakin’ a-mazing (turnip cake recipe to come!).

Pad Thai (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
NOTE:  For a thicker sauce, double the first 6 ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate, mixed in 2/3 cup hot water
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (more to taste)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces dried rice stick noodles , about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 3 cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
  • 1 medium shallot , minced (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces) [omit if, like me, you friggin’ hate bean sprouts]
  • 5 medium scallions , green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
  • OPTIONAL ADDITIONS FOR CARNIVOROUS AND VEGETARIAN CHEFS ALIKE: 2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine + 12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined OR 12 ounces tofu OR 12 ounces turnip cake
  • Lime wedges
  1. Mix the tamarind concentrate with 2/3 cup hot water, stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.
  2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp or tofu if desired and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp or tofu are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp/tofu to plate and set aside.
  4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).
  5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.

Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry

Because I have the reading comprehension of a first grader and occipital lobes as lazy as an 80 year old’s, (ummm yes, I did just make a neurology reference, deal with it.) I vastly prefer cookbooks with pictures in them.

And really, how can you blame me? How am I supposed to properly cook something if I have no clue what the final product is supposed to look like? How do I know if my sauce is the correct color if there’s no standard of comparison? How do I know a recipe is appetizing if there isn’t a mouth watering portrait to drool over? Really, my method saves time by relying on gut instinct (tee hee hee). If a recipe looks good in pictures, I’ll take the time to read it…who has time to read cookbooks as if they were novels? Not this girl!

Lucky for me, cookbooks with pictures are usually the ones found in the bargain aisles of major booksellers, next to the coffee table kama sutras and anthologies of Scottish lighthouses. For some reason, these cookbooks also seem to not be sure as to whether to use the metric or imperial system of measurement and will switch freely between the two.

Sometimes said cookbooks will reference a commonly found American ingredient by its British name. This can be embarassing when you’re running around the produce aisle at Stop and Shop asking people to help you locate a “capiscum” only to find out later that it’s the British name for a red pepper.

But since part of my unspoken New Year’s Resolution was to try cooking things I wouldn’t normally, these cookbooks have lately been my trusted friends.

For example, up until this week, if I were asked to write the dictionary definition for “stir-fry,” my entry would look something like this:

Stir-fry v. (Cookery) To locate every spare vegetable or article of protein in one’s fridge, cut into small bite like pieces, and heat together in a wok as one conglomeration of vegetables and sauce. To serve over rice and lament the fact that you once again have to go shopping for vegetables.
n. A last resort meal when nothing more interesting strikes your fancy.

But apparently not everyone agrees that stir-frys require the use of every vegetable in your possession nor have to be as dull a meal as microwaved canned soup. No siree, in fact, my $7.98 cookbook suggests a multitude of single-vegetable stir-frys. I know, I know…that’s borderline crazy-talk.

I'm not lying, it really was $7.98

In an effort to be adventurous, I decided to try my hand at one: an asparagus and mustard stir-fry. Extremely simple, but more flavorful than any stir-fry I’ve gotten my grubby little paws on over the last year. Not only was this a deeply satisfying served over rice as its own meal, but I bet it would be one killer side-dish when you’re feeling just plain tired of regular ol’ roasted asparagus.

I’m not going to lie, the onion really makes this dish, so feel free to add more; the slices take on a very sweet, tangy taste during cooking that mixes really well with the spiciness of the mustard. Toss in some chicken or tofu if you want to make it a whole meal and hit all the bases. Enjoy!

Asparagus and Mustard Stir-Fry (from The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook)

  • 15 oz. asparagus (who knows that this means, just go with one whole bunch)
  • 1 tablespoon oil (I used peanut!)
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard (those little yellow mustard seed balls)
  • 1 teaspoon honey (I used about two)
  • 1/2 cup cream (I used milk and it turned out fine. I’m sure coconut milk would work great too)
  1. Break the woody ends off the asparagus by holding both ends of the spear and bending gently until it snaps at its natural breaking point. Cut the asparagus into 2 inch lengths.
  2. Heat the wok or pan until very hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the side. Stir-fry the onion for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Stir in the crushed garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the asparagus to the wok and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until tender, being careful not to overcook the asparagus.
  3. Remove the asparagus from the wok, set it aside and keep it warm. Combine the mustard, honey, and cream. Add to the wok and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until the mixture reduces and thickens slightly. Return the asparagus to the wok and toss it through the cream mixture. Heat until the sauce thickens to slightly thinner than a glaze, but isn’t soupy. Serve immediately.

Improvising Peanut Sauce

A long, long time ago…

Before the responsibility of things like a job, and rent payments, and foster dogs, and billz billz billz…

I traveled far “across the pond” to live in London for 6 glorious months as part of “study” abroad. And ohhhhhh my, “study” I did. Over that half a year I learned many things about Britain, its culture, and its storied history. For example…

I learned that Big Ben really is prettier at night…

And that it’s practically a sin to call Tower Bridge “London Bridge” (but I did it anyway)…

And that these red phone booths pretty much serve no function other than for escort ads and obligatory tourist photos…

And that it is necessary to wear brightly colored tights with your dresses if you want to fit in with London’s hipster scene…

What looks like a grungy basement in this photo is actually a famous, super popular venue called Notting Hill Arts Club frequented by people like Courtney Love and Robert Pattinson. Despite being super trendy and full o' celebrities, it is indeed pretty much a medium sized basement with an overpriced bar.

And that warm beer really isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be (and that you should wait until photos are over to start gulpin’ it)…

But aside from building an epic bottle collection in our kitchen, practicing my British accent, and apparently only ever wearing the colors red and black, I did find time to actually learn some things.

Yeah, I learned a lot about history and manners and culture and traveling and street smarts and all that jazz… but surprisingly, I also learned a ton about cooking.

London was the first time I had a fully equipped kitchen at my disposal and no cafeteria to abide my laziness. Prepared foods and meals are few and far between in European supermarkets. Yep, everyone cooks… which meant I had to learn how, too.

Another important kitchen lesson learned in London: how to do the dishes while drunk.

One of the biggest culinary accomplishments I had while in London occurred while le (ex)boyfriend and I were on a never-ending mission to find the perfect peanut sauce recipe. It started one day when one of us ordered peanut noodles at a food stand called “Mr. Peanut,” run by a small, 80-year old Asian man whom I can only assume was Mr. Peanut himself. Now I dunno what Mr. Peanut put in these noodles, but they. were. heavenly. After three orders we were practically worshiping at Mr. Peanut’s food truck alter, and an obsession to re-create the noodly, peanuty, deliciousness was born. Three times a week, every week, we attempted a new peanut sauce recipe to pour over ready-wating spaghetti.

But something wasn’t working… we must have attempted a dozen recipes, but every single time got different results: spicy, goopy, watery, thick, tangy… nothing was really jiving with our taste buds, nor remotely compared to the crack-like ecstasy that was Mr. Peanut’s sauce. Fed up, one day I said to myself “screw it, we’ve done this so many times, I know the gist of the ingredients, I’m just going to wing it now…” And with a lot of patience and a few mishaps, a little improviser (and a great peanut sauce!) was born.

Ever since then, I’ve stuck to mostly my own intuition when making peanut sauce (and sauces in general). I can’t say that the sauce comes out tasting exactly the same every single time, but it’s always a sauce the I’m interested in eating, which is all that counts, right?

Working up the courage to face peanut sauce head on without the comforting reassurance of a recipe was probably one of the greatest contributions to making me the confident little chef I am today!

Learning about sauces is a great way to figure out how different foods interact with each other without the big risk that comes with improvising a whole entire meal. When a made-up sauce doesn’t work out, you can just scrape it out of the pan and heat up some Prego — crisis averted and meal saved!

But if it works out, whipping up your own sauces can teach you a lot about flavor combinations and food purposes, which can really help turn your gears when it comes to getting creative in the kitchen…which is precisely why I’ve whipped up this little tutorial to help get your feet wet with improvising sauces, starting with an easy-peasy peanut sauce.

  1. Read a lot of recipes. Take note of their differences and similarities. Chances are, more a dish as common as peanut sauce, there is going to be a lot of variability in recipes, but you’ll probably still be able to get a grasp of what you’re going to need.
  2. Understand your “cast of characters.” In food dishes (and especially in sauces), ingredients can be looked at like parts in a movie or play. You’ve got your star of the show, supporting characters, some extras, and some understudies. Knowing which ingredients play which role can help you figure out proportions, but more importantly, knowing what exactly an ingredient DOES for a dish is the key to knowing how to balance, add, and correct inadequacies. Sometimes it helps to actually write out the list of ingredients and their roles. For peanut sauce, our cast of characters is as follows:
    1. Peanut Butter — the star of the show! Its purpose is to be the most prominent flavor and fill your mouth with peanuty goodness. For half a pound of noodles you’ll want to start with about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup of this.
    2. Soy Sauce — a supporting character. Its purpose is two-fold: add flavor and add liquid to start breakin’ that peanut butter down into a sauce. You’ll probably want no more than a few tablespoons of this.
    3. Rice wine vinegar (or any clear colored cooking vinegar) — plays a small role but an important one! This little guy is necessary to break apart the peanut butter’s gooey consistency to a more sauce-like texture. Just a dash of it is necessary.
    4. Honey, brown sugar, or some other sweet ingredient — Balances the strong taste of the soy sauce and vinegar. The sweeter you like your sauce, the more of a role this guy is going to play. The amount you’ll need is all up to you, but I’d start with a tablespoon and go from there.
    5. Water — Controls the thickness of the sauce. Add more water to thin it out, heat the sauce longer to thicken it. Sometimes I don’t even use water, this is one of those ingredients that will have to be adjusted as you go.
    6. Oil — Use whatever oil you like here, but I recommend peanut or sesame. Its only real purpose is to heat the pan and keep the peanut butter from sticking (so you’re not going to need a lot of it, just enough to heat the pan).
    7. Extras — There are soooooo many things you can add to peanut sauce to make it shine! Some recommendations (to add, little by little): chopped green onion, red pepper flakes, siracha, milk (for a creamier sauce), sesame seeds, mustard seeds, garlic, ginger, chopped peanuts (for a chunkier sauce), lime juice. All up to you, little improviser!
  3. Have all your ingredients in front of you and START SLOW. Heat the oil in the pan, use low heat, and add the ingredients one by one. Once you’ve added the peanut butter, soy sauce, and vinegar, a sauce should start forming (with a little help from a spoon or spatula). Add in the sugar, mix well, then taste.
  4. Use your senses to critically appraise your sauce and figure out what it needs. Taste critically to figure out what it needs:
    1. Too salty? You probably added too much soy sauce. Counteract this by adding more peanut butter, sugar, or water.
    2. Too sweet? Too much sugar. More peanut butter or soy sauce, or perhaps a spicy addition like red pepper or siracha.
    3. Too bland? Figure out what you want to taste more of. Needs more sweetness? Add sugar. More spice? Whatever spices your hear desires. More salt? Throw in some soy sauce.
    4. Visually appraise the sauce, too. Is it thick or thin enough for what you’re using it for? If it’s going to be a dipping sauce, you want it thick. For noodles, you’ll want it thinner so it spreads. Adjust the thickness by adding water to thin the sauce out (a little vinegar helps too), heat the sauce longer if you’re looking to cook off some of the liquid.
  5. Whatever additions you make, always do it little by little. Remember, you can always add, but never subtract. Adjust teaspoon by teaspoon and taste after every addition, asking yourself “what else does it need?”
  6. When it tastes good, looks good, and is warm enough, STOP adding and remove from heat. Your sauce should be done! Serve it whatever way your heart desires: as a satay dipping sauce, over noodles, over meats or veggies, on top of rice:

There you have it, little improvisers, a one-of-a-kind sauce without any help from a recipe! Mr. Peanut would be so proud! These same steps can walk you through whatever kind of sauce you’re lookin’ to make, and soon enough you’ll be on your own, whippin’ up whatever sort of sauciness sparks your creativity! Happy improvising!

New Year’s Resolutions and No-Calorie Noodles, Three Ways

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at a lot of things. I’m a terrible parallel parker. My artistic abilities are limited to shoddily drawn cartoons on par with those found in a third grade art class. I can’t for the life of me deep fry something without either completely ruining it, starting a fire, or burning off half of my taste buds.

But I have no shame in admitting that I am exceptionally good at making New Year’s resolutions. So good in fact, that last year I made exactly 50 of them.

Yes, 50. I have issues, don’t judge me.

Did I accomplish any of said resolutions? Considering I threw away the notebook containing them sometime in September, I would venture to say probably not…

But this year I’m doing things differently.

For starters, I’m not making 50 resolutions.

And this year I’m not going to be secretive about them and pretend I’m above all that New Year’s hoo-ha.

And I’m going to resist the urge to lump all of my goals into one big resolution like, “I’m going to be better at everything I’m already doing and start doing all the things I’m currently not.”

And this year I’m not going to start my list of resolutions with a resolution to make a list of resolutions. Yeah, that happened:

This year, I’m narrowing it down to five solid, concrete, accomplishable resolutions with measurable outcomes.

And I’m going to work my butt off to accomplish them…

…because on the off chance the world ends this December, and judgment day is less than 12 months away…well, I’ve got a loooooootttttt of work to do if I ever have a shot of getting my ass into heaven.

So, this year I’m going to work on 5 things, and only 5 things:

1) Find a new job.
2) Cook. Five times a week. No excuses, mofo. And baked potatoes with butter and cheese don’t count. Oh, and start packing a lunch while you’re at it. And for god’s sake, eat a normal breakfast once in awhile.
3) Blog. Once a week. At least. Don’t complain about it, you love this shit.
4) Share. Let others read Two Veggies. Play guitar for someone other than your stuffed animals. Go running with someone, even if you’re afraid you look like an injured ostrich while doing it.
5) Be healthier. Resume some form of viable exercise and perform it at least three times a week. Eat more vegetables. Eat a piece of fruit once in awhile. Commit to eating “healthy” meals five days a week.

Concise, right? <<Insert applause>>

But let’s talk about that last one for a minute.

A lot of people make resolutions like that… you know, the usual buffet of typical New Year’s promises: be healthy, lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, stop drinking, stop stuffing yo’ face full of chocolate cake at every forsaken opportunity.

I’m not a nutritionist, or a doctor, or motivator, or a life coach. I can’t give a long, inspired speech about finding your inner willpower, harnessing the inspiration to make get off the couch, making small permanent changes instead of big temporary ones… all that sing-songey new year’s stuff.

But I can share a little secret I stumbled upon that might make all those things easier:

Tofu shirataki. Looks like pasta. Tastes like pasta (i.e., nothing). Has the same texture as pasta (almost). But is only 20 calories per serving.

Did you hear that?!

I said, 20 friggin’ calories per serving. If that’s not a New Year’s miracle, then I don’t know what is.

In addition, the shirataki is (sort of) all natural. It has three ingredients: tofu, yams, water. It is dairy free, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, and (almost) no carb. If you’re Paleo, I imagine this is as close to a pasta substitute you can get (while I’m pretty sure cavemen didn’t eat tofu shirataki and it wouldn’t “technically” be Paleo, I doubt it would be a harmful addition to a Paleo meal when you’re just dying for some friggin’ pasta). They’re available at pretty much every grocery store I’ve been to, usually in the produce aisle next to where they keep the meat substitutes.

I’ve spent some time cooking with these bad boys over the past few months and I’ve had great results. As an Italian, it would be sacrilegious of me to ever consider permanently giving up pasta, but it’s always good to make substitutes when and where you can and save up all your pasta points for a night when you can really splurge on something goooooood…like pasta carbonara.

Here are three tried and tested recipes using tofu shirataki, each with a completely different taste to help you get kick started with your goals in the New Year! They all serve two VERY generously. Happy 2012!

Broccoli and Tofu Shirataki in a Spicy Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed with hot water
  • peanut oil, for sautéing
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 large broccoli crowns, chopped
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, ground
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (depending on how sweet or salty you like your sauce)
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • siracha sauce to taste
  1. In a large pan or wok over high heat, add a liberal amount of peanut oil and the chopped onion. Stir until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the broccoli crowns, stirring constantly until they become heated and soft, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions and broccoli from the pan and onto a nearby plate for later use.
  3. Heat a little more peanut oil and add the scallions and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, honey, red pepper and some siracha. Heat for about 2 minutes and then taste, adjust the ingredients to your liking.
  4. Add back in the broccoli and onions and coat well in the sauce.
  5. Lower the heat and add the tofu shirataki, stirring until evenly coated with the sauce and heated through.
  6. Serve with some freshly grated ginger on top!

Thai Curry Noodle Soup

  • 1 package of tofu shirataki, drained
  • 2oz Laksa paste or other Thai curry paste
  • 1 large can (1 1/2 cups) light or full fat coconut milk
  • 2 cups mixed chopped vegetables
  • handful fresh basil leaves
  1. Place noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute then massage to loosen into individual strands. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons of peanut or other vegetable oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add curry paste and stir fry for 30 seconds. Quickly add coconut milk and 2 cups boiling water. Bring to the boil and add vegetables. Simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  3. To serve, divide noodles between 2 bowls. Pour soup and vegetable mixture on top of the noodles and top with basil leaves.

Mexican Pasta Bowls

  • 1 package tofu shirataki, drained and rinsed under hot water
  • half an onion, minced
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 package fake veggie chicken (if you like)
  • three bell peppers (of assorted colors if you’re feeling fancy), cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup of canned black beans
  • 1/4 cup of frozen corn
  • small pinch of red pepper flakes
  • shredded chedda’ cheese, if you please (I sho’ do!)
  • Hefty pinches of:
    • Cumin
    • Chile powder
    • Paprika
    • Salt
    • Pepper
  1. In a large pan, saute the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the fake chicken, bell peppers and frozen corn. Cook for about 7 minutes, until peppers are soft.
  3. Add the black beans and all the spices, mix well and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Toss in the tofu shirataki and heat another 2 minutes.
  4. Dish into bowls and serve topped with shredded cheese, salsa, gauc, or whatever else fits your palette!

Fried Rice, Asparagus, and Egg

I’m a huge fan of untraditional breakfasts.

By that I mean I’ll pretty much eat anything for the first meal of the day.

Sure, I love eggs, toast, pancakes, and hash browns as much as the next person, but there’s also something deeply satisfying about eating last night’s cold leftovers out of a tupperware container while standing in PJs in front of the fridge. It’s like helping yourself to seconds… just 12 or so hours later, and it feels oddly devious in a way.

Some people get really weird about the concept of eating something other than a traditional breakfast. Le boyfriend, for example, just can’t wrap his head around NOT eating eggs or waffles in the morning, which is kind of funny when you think about what our “traditional” daily start consists of: greasy protein, whole grains, or…sugary pastries? A slice of cake or cookies would be a big no-no at a traditional American breakfast table, but muffins, pancakes and waffles (covered in syrup and powdered sugar)… now that’s acceptable?

Pssssh! I say we break down those cultural barriers! Leftovers, cake, and cookies for all!

Now, I grant you that I have rarely gone out of my way to actually make an untraditional breakfast — I mostly just like to quickly scarf down a cold version of what was once dinner one or two days ago, but today I thought it was time to try my hand at something new…

In most parts of Asia, breakfast is similar to other meals of the day: rice, vegetables, soups, sometimes meats. A friend who is currently living in Korea wrote in a recent update that her breakfast is usually fried rice with an egg and kimchi… roughly the same thing she eats for lunch… and dinner.

This naturally peaked my curiosity. What would it be like to have fresh, warm, fried rice with my eggs instead of fried potatoes? Worth a try, right?

So I set to work this morning fryin’ up some rice ‘n eggs. I kept the rice nice and simple with just a few key ingredients and since I didn’t have kimchi on hand, I sauteed some asparagus spearz.

I’ll be honest, when I saw the finished product, I had my doubts about how much I was going to enjoy this homage to an Asian breakfast. But all my fears were washed away when I made my first cut into the fried egg and the yolk gushed all over the rice, creating a yolky mass of yummy goodness. Yep, I was pleasantly surprised how naturally this dish slid down my throat at 8 a.m.

For all you non-believers out there, I imagine this makes a pretty tasty light dinner as well… and a really great use for leftover rice any time of the day!

Ginger, Garlic and Mustard Fried Rice With Asparagus and Fried Egg
(portioned for one because no one else would eat it with me) 😦

  • 1 cup of cooked white rice (leftover works great!)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped into small little matchsticks
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 asparagus spears
  • 1 egg
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  1. In a shallow frying pan, heat some olive oil over high heat. Sauté the asparagus spears until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  2. In the same pan, heat the peanut oil. When hot, add the ginger, garlic and mustard seeds and cook for 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the rice and mix well, cooking for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the soy sauce to the rice and mix well. Cook another three minutes and then set aside on a plate. Arrange the asparagus spears on top of the pile of rice.
  4. Using the same pan, yet again, heat a little more olive oil and when hot, crack an egg in the center, being careful not to break the yolk. Fry to an over-easy or over-medium consistency (I usually cook to over-medium. Takes about 3 minutes on high heat, with one flip at the 2 minute mark). Carefully place the finished egg on top of the asparagus spears. Top with salt and pepper, if you like.

Veggie Chicken Egg Rolls

Even though I’ve been a vegetarian (on and off, but mostly on) for about 7 years now, I still have a few lingering carnivorous weaknesses I just can’t seem to shake.

I know, I know – bad flexitarian! But most of them aren’t so bad; ramen soup flavoring, gravy in all forms, a few slices of turkey on Thanksgiving… you know, the things where a veggie substitute usually isn’t readily available.

One of my continued disappointments as a vegetarian is the severe lack of vegetable egg rolls at Chinese food places. No, I’m not talking about spring rolls… those are different. I’m talkin’ about the crispy, flaky, big, thick rolls usually stuffed with cabbage and pork. Man, those things are amazing.

Sometimes, if I’m desperate, I’ll make exceptions for egg rolls too, but on the whole I try to be good about it. I’m already an ovo-lacto-pesce-gravyatarian, adding egg-roll-atarian to the mix definitely cuts down on my credibility.

Every once in awhile le boyfriend and I get a HUGE craving for take-out egg rolls, and instead of heading down to our local Chinese dive and settling for spring rolls (or just plain cheating…but le boyfriend is “above” that), we cook up a nice heaping pile of homemade egg rolls using vegetarian meat substitutes.

Some foods never quite stack up to their take-out counterparts, but these little buggers are quite the exception! Fry ‘em up good and they’re fairly indistinguishable and you can add whatever you like to them.

I adapted this recipe from one that calls uses real chicken. I followed nearly the same steps (with a few changes to cooking time because fake chicken is pretty much already cooked), but added my own twist. For all you carnivorous biddies out there, check out the original recipe – I can’t imagine it’s any less delish than the vegetarian version!

These little guys aren’t terribly hard to make, but they do require a little patience and kitchen finesse. A few tips:

Don’t freak out if you don’t roll every egg roll perfectly. Avoiding overstuffing will eliminate most of the problems that arise from folding, but if you do break a wrapper open, just double wrap that sucka’ – I did with a few of mine and they were fairly indistinguishable from all the others. It’s also okay if every nook and cranny isn’t perfectly sealed. They harden up real fast in the hot oil and we usually have no major disasters.

Get (and keep) the oil nice and hot! Each batch of egg rolls should only take a few minutes to fry up to a nice golden brown. The longer you take to cook the rolls, the greater your risk of ruining one or getting burnt. Wouldn’t want to hurt those precious cooking fingers!

As you probably know from take-out, leftover egg rolls aren’t really the best. They have a tendency to get soggy and gross when they’ve sat in the fridge for a day. Only make as many as you plan to eat. We do about 4 to 5 egg rolls per a person as a main dish. Obviously budget less if you’re making this a side.

Vegetarian Chicken Egg Rolls (adapted Tide and Thyme)

  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 4 chopped green onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use a mixture of vegetable and peanut oil)
  • 2 packages of Smart Life veggie chicken (or about 8 oz. of any other fake meat)
  • ¾ head green cabbage, shredded thin (I used one bag of Dole Cole Slaw Medley instead…saves work!)
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A good drizzle of siracha sauce
  • 16-24 egg roll wrappers
  • 2 tablespoons flour mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • Canola oil, for frying (again, I used a mixture of peanut and veggie oil)
  1. To make the marinade, combine 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce, 1 clove of minced garlic, half of the green onions, all the minced ginger, and 1 tablespoon of the oil in a Ziploc bag; shake well to combine. Place the fake chicken strips in the bag, press out the excess air, and seal. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 3 hours.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable in a wok or large skillet over high heat. When the oil is very hot, add the fake chicken and all of the marinade to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the fake meat is warmed through and lightly browned.
  3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Add the shredded cabbage and carrots and the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce. Stir to toss the vegetables. Cook over high heat for about 2 minutes. Toss in the remaining garlic and green onions and cook for 1 more minute. Add a good drizzle of siracha sauce and remove from heat.
  4. Place the mixture in a colander and in the sink. Press down firmly on the filling mixture to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Let the filling cool for 15 minutes before filling the wrappers.
  5. Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees F. While the oil is heating, assemble the rolls. Lay an egg roll wrapper out on your work surface with one corner pointing toward you. Add a tablespoon or two of the filling to the center of the wrapper. Fold the corner closest to you up over the filling. Roll slightly away from you then fold in the two outside corners, and continue rolling the wrapper tightly away from you. Securely close the egg roll by lightly brushing the inside top corner of the wrapper with the corn starch mixture. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
  6. Fry several egg rolls at a time in the hot oil but without overcrowding, about 4-5 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a large plate lined with paper towels and place the finished egg rolls vertically to help drain excess grease. Repeat with the remaining rolls. Serve warm with soy sauce or sweet n’ sour.
Voila! Happy cooking!

Sustenance Rice

The cupboards are still bare… we are still poor and paycheckless. Consequently, we’re keeping the meals simple and substantial…

which means we are eating rice by the pound, and that’s perfectly okay by me.

I love rice. So much so, that sophomore year of college, in an effort to find a loophole in the “no hotplates” rule, I went out and bought a rice cooker. I found it for 20 bucks on Amazon and it’s been my greatest pal ever since. So simple! Pour rice in, fill with water, press a button, come back 25 minutes later and you have a beautiful, steaming pot of rice.

Even cooler, or so I thought at the time, was the vegetable steamer that came with it. It’s where my first recipes were born — out of stolen produce from the cafeteria and a $5 bag of sticky rice from the Asian food market.

I was so enamored by my rice cooker that I tried cooking pasta, making couscous and even baking bread with it (ohhhh yes, you heard right) — all just because I could.

My trusty old 20 dollar rice cooker is still of great use to me. I mean, geesh, who needs to use a pot when they have a rice cooker? Not this girl.

Unfortunately, le boyfriend is not a big fan of rice, which sucks for him because it’s a big cheapo pantry staple and I looooove cooking with it. Every so often, though, I can make a recipe that peaks his interest…fried rice is the biggest weapon in my arsenal.

My favorite type of fried rice is sticky fried rice, the kind that clumps together and is slightly gooey. This is usually achieved by using glutinous rice or sushi rice… any kind that has a lot of starch in it. I mean, just LOOK at all that gooeyness!

Yum-o! Cheap, super easy, and oh so good cold the next day!

Basic Sticky Fried Rice

  • 2 cups uncooked sushi rice (or whatever rice you prefer), you can also substitute 4 cups cooked rice instead
  • 1/3 cup peanut, sesame or olive oil (or less, if you prefer)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • Assorted vegetables, chopped and cleaned. Here are some I recommend:
    • Broccoli
    • Mushrooms
    • Carrots
    • Peas
    • Green Beans
    • Snow Peas
    • Bean Sprouts
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/3 of a cup soy sauce (or more to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar (the brown is for coloring, but white works fine…I just steal brown sugar packets from Starbucks)
  • Assorted spices, some I recommend:
    • Chile pepper**
    • Paprika
    • Majhoram
    • Cumin or cumin seed
    • Coriander
    • Lemongrass
    • Curry Powder
    • Salt
    • Pepper
  1. If using uncooked rice, cook according to your rice cooker’s directions. If you don’t have a rice cooker, bring 3.5 to 4 cups water to boil in a pot. Add the rice and reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You may add a tablespoon of butter to the boiling water if you don’t want your rice sticky, but hey, this is a recipe for sticky rice after all. Set your cooked rice aside in a cool place while you prepare the rest of the meal.
  2. In a large wok or pan (if you don’t have one big enough, use a big cooking pot), heat a tablespoon of oil until steam rises from the pan. Pour in the beaten eggs. Let the eggs sit until they solidify and air starts to bubble beneath them. It should look like an omelette right before you flip it. With a spatula, scramble the omelette into small or medium sized chunks and set aside on a plate to cool.
  3. Scrape out any remaining chunks from the pan and heat the remaining oil over medium to high flame. When it starts to crackle, add in the garlic and onion, stirring constantly until soft (about 5 minutes).
  4. Once the onions soften, add in the tough vegetables (broccoli, green beans, snap peas, carrots and anything frozen), stir fry for about two minutes, then add the vegetable broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until the vegetables are cooked but still slightly crunchy. Add in the soft vegetables (mushrooms, cooked peas, bean sprouts) and stir fry another two minutes.
  5. Create a well in the middle of the mixture and add in the rice. Mix the rice and vegetables thoroughly. Consider adding another tablespoon or two of oil. While you wait for the rice to heat up (about 3 minutes), add the spices (enough to turn your rice a very light pink, brown or red) and mix well.
  6. Add the soy sauce (enough for the rice to turn a nice, golden brown) and brown sugar, stirring well. Toss in the cooked egg and continue to heat until all the excess liquid is absorbed (no more than a few minutes).
There you have it! Fried rice that rivals Chinese takeout and isn’t nearly as bad for you, though I don’t have any proof to back up that claim. This recipe makes enough for four people, plus leftovers.
My favorite thing about this meal…the cleanup is only one pot and one pan. Not that I do the cleaning when I cook, but still, it helps le boyfriend feel not so resentful of our many riced meals.