As much as both Brian and I LOVE to cook, there are still nights when we get home from the office and dread stepping into the kitchen. Sometimes we're lucky enough to have some leftovers floating around in the fridge, other times we resort to ordering steamed veggies and tofu (and maybe some crab wontons, ahem) from the Chinese restaurant down the street. Even though this happens every few weeks, it has been years since I've ordered fried rice. I think I had a few too many disappointments with too-old, slightly crunchy, oddly clumping take-out fried rice in the past, and have stuck with steamed for as long as I can remember. Plus, steamed is healthier, and it makes me feel a little less guilty about the crab wontons I shove in my mouth the minute we close the door behind the delivery boy.
But recently, we discovered how easy it is to make fried rice. And that really, when you make it at home, its not that bad for you. Yes, you throw a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil in your pan, but we all know that the right oils in moderation are actually good for you, and when you divide this dish up into four hearty servings you've got nothing to worry about. Add the fact that we used brown rice instead of white and threw in some colorful veggies loaded with vitamins and you've got yourself a healthy alternative to take-out. And I guarantee that you can make it faster than the delivery boy can get the bad stuff to you.
It does help to have some forethought - you want to have rice already made in order to enhance the texture of the dish and cut down on preparation time.
Several Saturdays ago we picked up a couple of beautiful pork chops at the farmer's market from Double H Farm (no website) along with some of their gorgeous eggs. Pork chops on the grill seemed like the perfect accompaniment to the veggie fried rice I'd been thinking about, so I cooked up some brown rice that weekend and one night after work we put this meal together. It was quick, simple and incredibly delicious, not to mention colorful. I briefly thought about healthify-ing the rice even further, by using only egg whites, but when it came time to discard those beautiful orange yolks I just couldn't do it. I'll leave that up to you, if you wish.
The flavor of the pork was very good, I'm just not a big pork chop fan. I ate a few bites and then passed my chop over to Brian, whom I knew would enjoy it far more than I would. For me, the vegetable fried rice was the star of the show.
Vegetable Fried Riceadapted from Gourmet Magazine, via Epicuriousmakes 4 large servings
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped finely
1 red bell pepper, chopped finely
2 tsbp fresh chives or scallions, minced
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups steamed brown rice, cold (ideally, leftover from the night before)
3/4 tsp salt
1-2 tsp Asian sesame oil
Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet (12") over medium-high heat. Saute' the carrot and bell pepper until tender, then remove to a separate bowl and set aside.
Wipe skillet clean, then heat over high heat, until a drop of water vaporizes instantly upon contact. Add the remaining 1 tbsp peanut oil, swirling to coat pan evenly, and heat until hot and just starting to smoke.
Add eggs, tilting pan and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer and cook for 30 seconds. Add rice and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the carrots, peppers, chives or scallions, salt and sesame oil to taste, stir-frying until well combined.
Pork Chop Marinadefrom Weber's Big Book of Grilling, by Jamie Purviance and Sandra S. McRaeenough for 4 pork chops, about 1-1/4 inches thick
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp light brown sugar
1/4 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
Whisk together all of the ingredients.
Place the chops in a large resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal. Turn the bag to distribute the marinade over the pork chops. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
Remove the chops from the bag and discard the marinade. Allow to stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before grilling or baking.
Cook as you wish. We grilled them, over direct high heat for 12-15 minutes. Turn them over halfway through.
We also whipped together a cucumber salad, to help with our abundance. It was nice and refreshing on the side, but you really need to like sesame if you're going to enjoy this salad.
Asian Cucumber Saladfrom Vegetables Every Day, by Jack Bishop
3 medium cucumbers - peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut on the diagonal 1/4 inch thick
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted in a dry skillet until golden brown (we left these out, and the sesame flavor was still really strong)
Toss the cucumbers with the salt in a colander. Set the colander in the sink and let the cucumbers sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour, to drain excess liquid.
Whisk the vinegar, oil, sugar and pepper flakes together in a small bowl and set aside, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
Thoroughly rinse the cucumber slices under cold, running water and pat dry with paper towels. Toss the cucumbers with the dressing and sesame seeds.
Even though we've only lived here four years, Brian and I have fallen completely in love with Charlottesville. One of the things we enjoy most about this little city is the strong local food movement. We visit the farmer's market each weekend during the season to gather our meat, eggs and produce for the week (whatever we're not growing in our own garden) and have long conversations with our favorite farmers. We get to see photographs of the chickens who lay our eggs pecking the ground in their grassy field, the cows and their new calfs, and the bee hives housing the bees that are pollinating the plants from which our vegetables grow.
It is undoubtably our favorite part of the week, and we make sure to leave ourselves with plenty of time to talk to Richard about the problems we are having with our own tomato plants and to gush to Jean about the magic of her hens’ eggs. We have a direct connection to the people who supply the food on our table, something that I think the majority of the world population doesn’t have and may not understand.
I know that we're very fortunate, and was reminded of it again last week when I made this vegetable frittata. As we sat down to eat I realized that every single ingredient, except for the parmesan cheese and olive oil, was locally grown. The eggs, milk, bell pepper, leeks and zucchini all came from the farmers' market, and the herbs were grown in our own garden. How cool is that?!? I'm not trying to rub it in, I'm really not, I just had to share with you all the amazing feeling that I had knowing that our dinner was not only delicious, but also supporting our local farmers.
With Food, Inc. just out (which I haven't seen yet, gasp!) I've read a lot more chatter in the food blog world about being aware of where our food comes from. Its exciting, and I'm so glad to see bloggers with serious readership and influence supporting the cause. To join in, I wanted to share a couple of sites I've recently read about that may help you discover local food providers in your area. And, for my Charlottesville readers, I've added a new local page to the top bar. I know that I am probably missing a lot of great resources so if you have any to add, please leave a comment!
I challenge you all to make this frittata and try to include at least one local ingredient, even if it is just herbs from pots on your porch. Every little bit counts!
Feel free to switch up the veggies, the recipe is very versatile. And delicious too, I might add.
Farmers' Market Frittata
8 large eggs
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (for a silkier texture) or 1/2 cup whole milk
4-5 good grinds of sea salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh chives, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped to 1/4-inch dice
1 zucchini, chopped to 1/4-inch dice
1 leek, white and pale green part only, halved then sliced thinly
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Whisk together eggs, salt, pepper and yogurt or milk until smooth. Add minced herbs and stir well, set aside.
Heat oil in 10 or 12 inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper, zucchini and leek. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until veggies are tender.
Increase heat to medium-high. Pour egg mixture over veggies evenly. Cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes, tilting pan and lifting edges of frittata to allow raw egg to run underneath.
Lower heat to low, cover pan and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes, until frittata is mostly set. Shake pan occasionally while cooking. Meanwhile, place a rack at the top of the oven and turn broiler on to high.
Remove frittata from stovetop when it is mostly set. Sprinkle cheese across top and place in oven, under broiler. Broil for 1-2 minutes, watching carefully to not let it get to brown. You just want a few spots of brown across the top, and bubbly cheese.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes. Remove to cutting board or large plate, cut into wedges and serve.
March is a big birthday month in our household. We kick it off right with Brian's at the very beginning, end it with mine and have a whole slew of friend and family celebrations in between. I've never attempted to actually calculate the numbers, but if I had to guess I would say that 30-40% of the birthdays we actively celebrate fall within March. That means a lot of cake and cocktails, which, following a winter of heavy comfort foods makes the whole month seem like a last hurrah for indulgent eats before the panic of a looming swimsuit season sets in. The mostly dreary weather of March has put a damper on my running habit as well. Although the coldest temperatures of the month are typically much higher than those in January and February, the occasional 60* teaser days make the moderately cold ones completely unbearable. I have a hard time motivating myself to tie my shoes and hit the road on a 40*, overcast evening (which in February would have felt downright warm) when my previous run had me in shorts and a tank top.And now here I am on the eve before the start of April, my legs sore from last night’s run after the prior week’s hiatus, my mouth craving a sweet because its become a daily habit and, dare I say, my body a couple of pounds heavier than it was just one month ago. I started this blog originally to hold me accountable in my healthy eating and exercise habits, but found (along with an amazing community of people and many new friends) that the creative aspects of photographing and writing about food were more compelling for me than the keeping of a food diary.
Its been about a month since I switched formats, and although the timing may have been poor what with all of the celebrations that March holds, I think the changes I've seen in my daily habits prove a point. Food diaries work. At least for me they do, which is why I'll be keeping a closer tab on myself starting tomorrow. But don't worry, I won't be switching things up on you again. I really love the direction the blog is heading and from the positive feedback I've received, I think you do to. What you will be seeing are some lighter, healthier, simpler and hopefully more economical recipes popping up on Bella Eats this month, starting with this one.
This soup was delicious. So good that Brian and I haven't been able to stop talking about it for two days. Its very simple, using ingredients that we always have on hand - carrots, celery, onion, canned beans, canned tomatoes, dried mushrooms, dried grains, good olive oil and fresh herbs are staples in our kitchen. The mushrooms added such a wonderful earthiness to the broth that I don't know if I'll ever be able to make vegetable soup without mushrooms again. And the infused olive oil adds so much depth. Please - please - don't leave it out. You won't be sorry.
Mushroom White Bean Soup with Rosemaryrecipe inspired by keep it simple foods and the new york times
1/2 oz porcini mushrooms, dried
6 cups veggie or chicken broth (I used chicken)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, cut in half and sliced into 1/4" pieces
3 celery stalks, sliced into 1/4" pieces
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced
1 can diced tomatoes, drained (15oz)
1/2 cup quick cooking barley
2 cans cannelini or navy beans (15oz each), drained and rinsed
salt and pepper
First make infused olive oil, recipe below. It will need to sit for 2 hours before serving, so be sure to plan ahead.
Boil 2 cups of water. Place dried mushrooms in a glass bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let sit for 30 minutes. Place a fine mesh strainer over a separate bowl. Lift mushrooms out of water and squeeze over strainer, collecting liquid in second bowl. Rinse mushrooms in strainer with cold water and squeeze out excess over sink. Chop mushrooms and set aside. Pour the mushroom soaking water through the strainer into the second bowl. Add water as necessary to make 2 cups. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottom soup pot. Add the onion, carrots and celery and saute' for 5-7 minutes, until starting to tenderize. Add the garlic, rosemary and thyme and saute' an additional 30 seconds.
Add the chicken broth, mushroom liquid, chopped mushrooms and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a heavy simmer and add the barley. Continue to simmer for 12-15 minutes until the barley is tender. Add the beans and salt + pepper to taste.
Serve immediately with rosemary + porcini oil drizzled on top.
Rosemary and Porcini Infused Olive Oilrecipe modified from bon appetit
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 whole garlic clove
1/2 oz porcini mushrooms, dried
Place mushrooms in a strainer. Rinse under hot water and drain well. Pat dry.
Combine mushrooms, oil, rosemary and whole garlic clove in small, heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat until thermometer inserted into oil registers 180*F, about 8 minutes. (I am currently without a thermometer so left my oil on for 9 minutes, just in case).
Remove from heat, cover and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Oil can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.
Thank YouAll for the great comments you write on my posts, they really make my day! Welcome to my new readers who have found your way here from Tastespotting and Foodgawker, I look forward to hearing from more of you and to sharing some simple, healthy recipes with you this month. Enjoy!