Saturday, April 19, 2008

Comfort Food

Comfort food has a lot of different variations in my mind. There is the comfort food we think of in a cultural context. Here in America the term tends to invoke images of homemade, down-home cooking. Then there is the comfort food that we each individually define as such based on our own experiences or family traditions. And then there is the kind of comfort food that just sounds "right" on given days or in given seasons. For example, when its snowing outside and all I want to do is hunker down on the couch wrapped in a warm blanket, nothing sounds better than a bowl of my grandfather's chili and a slice (or two) or my homemade corn bread. At the height of summer when it stays light until after 9:00 pm here in Utah, my ultimate comfort food tends to consist of hamburgers cooked on my mom's grill served with potato salad and corn on the cob (and a Coke, but darnit, I'm trying to kick that habit).

There are a lot of reasons I love food, but certainly somewhere near the top of the list, are the cultural associations and traditions that define food in both a wider social context and more narrowly, on an individual level. We each have our individual likes and dislikes and they don't always make sense, even to our own families. A couple of mine... whenever I eat macaroni and cheese (not the orange death stuff, but the real, creamy, homemade kind) I have to douse it in ketchup. This is a lingering taste leftover from my childhood. I assume it started because I must not have liked the mac-n-cheese my mom made, but would eat it if I could add ketchup. My mom claims that adding ketchup to the mac-n-cheese was not her idea, but in my opinion, it seems like a sneaky mom trick to get a kid to eat something they are refusing to touch. Another food I developed a taste for early in life, although it was relatively unheard of in southern California is grits. My favorite meal growing up, aka the ultimate comfort food in my young, and as yet unsophisticated opinion, was grits casserole. Every birthday for years that is what my mom would make for my birthday dinner. Certainly the credit or blame, depending on your point of view, for my early love of all things grits goes to my father. But that still leaves a lot of unanswered questions because he grew up in Nevada, and I don't think grits was a particularly common element of cooking there either.

Planting rice in Puli.

Having lived in Taiwan and China for a total of 2 years, I now have a short list of Chinese comfort foods - foods that for me invoke the same feelings of coziness and down-home cooking that I associate with American comfort foods. As I've thought about this post, I realized that I've already posted 2 of my favorite Chinese comfort foods, the stir-fried cabbage with garlic and the dumplings. Today I wanted to share another favorite Chinese comfort food, egg fried rice. One of the reasons I love egg fried rice is because at its most basic, which is my favorite version, its nothing more than a way of cleaning leftovers out of the fridge. Yet the end result is homey and delicious.

In my first area in Taiwan, a little town in the center of the island named Puli, we had one particular place we always went for fried rice. This place made the best fried rice I ate the whole time I was in Taiwan. As an added bonus, they always gave you a choice of adding either hot sauce or ketchup once the rice was cooked. Its probably not hard to guess which one I went for. The ketchup of course. Because Puli was my first area I assumed adding ketchup to fried rice was common practice across Taiwan. Not so. But much like my love of ketchup with mac-n-cheese, once my taste for it was established, I couldn't shake it. The remainder of my time in Taiwan I got many a strange look when I asked for some ketchup to add to my fried rice.

蛋炒飯 (Egg Fried Rice)

This recipe is dedicated to Hillary, who has a very intense love for fried rice. Hill, I hope this lives up to your very exacting standards.

You can make this dish with or without meat. If you want to add meat, almost any kind will work. I made this right after Easter (sorry for the very long delay in posting) so I used ham leftover from our Easter dinner. Shrimp is another good choice, unless you are Hillary, in which case it's bad. Very bad.

Last note... you want rice that has cooled already, so this truly is an ideal way to use up any leftover rice you have taking up space in your fridge. However, when I made this I didn't have any leftover rice on hand, so I quickly made up a batch in my rice cooker and spread it out on a cookie sheet to cool quickly.

2 T. sesame oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. white pepper (you can use black pepper)
3 c. cold, cooked rice, fluffed
4 T. soy sauce
3 T. chicken broth
1 c. diced ham
8 oz. frozen peas and carrots

Heat a pan or a wok over medium high heat until hot. Add the sesame oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the eggs, salt, and pepper. Cook the eggs until lightly scrambled. Don't overcook the eggs because they will be staying in the pan and will therefore cook a little more. Once cooked, break the eggs up into small pieces. I used my spatula to cut the eggs into thin strips.

Add the rice, soy sauce, and chicken broth to the pan. Stir to combine. Let cook for a minute or two.

Add the ham and the peas and carrots. Stir to mix well and let cook for 5-7 minutes, until the peas and carrots are cooked and the ham is warmed through. Serve. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

My New Favorite Thing: Google Reader

I'll say right off that this post makes me feel more than a little bit silly. However, having just been introduced to the wonders of Google Reader a few weeks ago (thank you Jess), I feel like there must be others out there, like me, who haven't yet been introduced.

If you, like me, use gmail, then you can access Google Reader from the top bar in your gmail account. Why I love it? It's a one stop shop for all the blogs you want to read (or just feel obligated to read). Just add the blog address to Reader and anytime the blog has a new post, it will show up in your reader. No more checking my favorite food blogs multiple times a day waiting for that new post! It comes to me! I love it. I always resisted signing up to receive new posts via email because I feel like my inbox is cluttered enough as it is (hence the lengthy wait for me to respond to any and all emails). Now, I just click on Reader a couple times a day to see if any of my blogs have new posts, and then I can read them right there. Genius!

To be fair, there are other readers out there. If you don't like or use Google, feel free to check out other options. But like I said, I just wanted to make sure that my readers, at the very least, knew this was out there.