Monday, April 18, 2011

Comfort Food: Fried Rice and Matzo

This week I had volunteered to make a meal for a family with new triplets, one of whom was in the hospital with complications of prematurity.  They have a preschooler at home as well, and not a lot of family in the area, so I wanted to make something relatively kid-friendly but nutritious.  I also wanted to offer a departure from lasagna noodle bake cheesy mexi-casserole, which I'm sure they've been eating a lot of lately. (We're making something along those lines next week!)  Claire is especially fond of my fried rice, so we'd been planning all week to make that.  A few days earlier, my sister had brought over a rotisserie chicken from Costco.   Claire and I LOVE rotisserie chicken, but those chickens deserve their own blog post.  I had made some chicken stock from the leftover bones earlier in the week, and was hankering for some matzo ball soup.  Which of course pairs perfectly with Chinese fried rice and brownies.

Extra challenges: This week, maybe because it was a Friday, maybe because it's been raining seemingly nonstop since October, we were low energy.  I had a few errands to run before we started (like buying a dress for a work dinner with a cranky toddler in tow); Claire had forgotten her cell phone, and had to pick up her son from preschool in the middle of meal prep. I had forgotten to make the rice the night before. Oh, and despite bugging her repeatedly for the past 2 weeks, my friend Natalie, who makes the best matzo ball soup, still hasn't given me her recipe.  So I also needed to find a recipe for matzo ball soup. And, some friends of ours were coming over for dinner- no menu planned, house a mess, and the twins each budding new teeth or something that was making them kind of clingy all day.  But, life doesn't just stand still because there's a lot going on, so here's what we did:

Homestyle Chinese Fried Rice
This is our family recipe. Fried rice is a great go-to meal that uses up leftovers.  You can subsitute just about any vegetable, but I like to keep a bag of frozen peas and carrots and a bag of diced ham in my freezer at all times.  The only additional ingredients you need, then, are leftover rice, eggs, and green onions. You can make it however you want, but for me, green onions, sesame oil, and white pepper are essential. I also am somewhat picky about the type of soy sauce I use (Superior Soy Dark), but you don't have to run out and find this. I sometimes like to add the little dried shrimps that you can get in the Asian markets.  It adds a great authentic flavor, but it might be too adventurous for some families.

My family's comfort food.
The kids will all eat bowl after bowl.
4 cups leftover cooked rice
1 cup frozen peas and carrots  (if you use fresh veggies just dice them so they're the same size cubes as the diced carrots in the frozen peas and carrots bag)
1 handful of chopped fresh spinach (optional)
1/2 cup diced ham  (use turkey ham if you don't eat pork)
3 eggs
1 + 1 tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic
2 green onions, chopped
dash WHITE pepper
chicken stock or water

The order in which you do things is important.  Start by mixing the eggs in a bowl with 1 tsp of sesame oil and half the chopped spinach- just enough to make the eggs pretty. Heat up 2 T canola or veggie oil in a large pan- whatever you're going to cook in.  (I don't like to dirty more than 1 pan for this.) Add the egg.  Let it cook almost all the way through, omelette-style, and then flip it just for a minute.  Put it on your cutting board and slice it into small squares or rectangles. Set aside.

Like this.
And this...
Heat up 2 T of canola oil again. Put in the garlic (do NOT let it scorch.  If it scorches, start over or your rice will taste like burnt garlic.) and then add the chopped ham.  Give it a few stirs and clear out space in the middle of the pan. Add the veggies, and stir fry them a little, then mix all together.  Clear out a space in the center of the pan again and add the rice.  Stir, breaking up the chunks of rice if you need to.  Mix it all together. Add 2 T of soy sauce (this is mainly for color) and 1 tsp of sesame.  If the rice is looking a little dry, add a little bit of chicken stock or water. (I usually add about 1/2 c total liquids, but it depends on how dry your leftover rice is.) When it's nearly done, fold in the green onions and spinach. Add a dash of white pepper.   That's all there is to it!

Pearl River Bridge Superior Dark Soy Sauce, 16.9-Ounce Glass Bottles (Pack of 2)           Taiwan Cooking Michiu Tou (Price Is for 3 Bottles)         WHITE PEPPER GROUND FRESHLY PACKED IN LARGE JARS, spices, herbs, seasonings         Kadoya - Pure Sesame Oil 5.5 Oz.    

Matzo Ball Soup
adapted from "Oma's Fabulous Matzo Ball Soup" at

Full disclosure: I don't really know anything about matzo ball soup. I'm not Jewish, I've really only had my friend's soup, and I love it every time.  In my mind, her matzo balls were really big.  I made mine big, but I think they would be better if I had made them golf-ball sized.  I also accidentally bought Mediterranean matzo crackers, which had sundried tomatoes, olive oil, and basil baked into them.  You couldn't really taste it, but it made me hold back on the dill, and I think the soup recipe needs dill. 

One 11 oz package of matzo crackers
1/3 c butter
3 eggs
4 T minced parsley
1 small onion
small amount of matzo meal
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
3-4 quarts of chicken broth, homemade if you have it
1 tsp dried dill weed or a sprig of fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

Boil a pot of water. Break the matzo crackers into small pieces and soak in the water for a few minutes.  Drain.   Melt the butter in a large skillet and add the matzo. Stir until slightly dry and brown. (My mixture was about the consistency of polenta.)

While this is cooking, throw the onions and parsley into a food processor.  Or finely chop if you like. Add the lightly beaten eggs.  When the matzo is ready add the onions/parsley/eggs to the matzo and mix with your hands.  Add a little matzo meal if it can't be shaped into balls.

Once you have them shaped into balls, and here's where I got impatient, you're supposed to test one out in the boiling water.  They're supposed to float up to the top.  If it sinks, add more beaten egg.  If it floats, make the rest of the dough into balls. (I didn't do this, and they turned out fine. Oma would probably be horrified, though.) Heat up the chicken stock.  Add the carrots and a sprig of fresh dill if you have it, 1/2 tsp dill weed if you don't.  Once this is boiling, add the matzo balls and serve as they float to the top.

This is awesome when you're feeling sick and bored with chicken noodle soup.
The matzo balls are also deceptively filling.
I highly recommend that you start with smaller balls.
Not everyone can handle balls this big.

We ate the soup for lunch along with some Trader Joe's shiu mai.  Once I put the rice into the box for the family, it didn't seem like enough for a full meal.  So I tossed together the following quick stir-fry with some sugar snap peas and ground turkey I had on hand:

Sugar Snap Peas with Ground Turkey

1 lb of sugar snap peas, with strings removed
1/2 package of ground turkey (1/2 lb, I think)
2 T rice wine
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp minced ginger
dash szechuan peppercorn powder (optional)
salt to taste
about 1 T of cornstarch
1/2 c water or chicken broth

Heat the oil until it's hot enough that the garlic talks to you when you add it to the pan. Add the garlic and ginger, stir in the ground turkey.  Keep in mind that the ground turkey in this case is really more for flavoring. Clear out a space in the center and add the sugar snap peas.

Stir.  Add the rice wine and sesame oil. Shortly before the peas are done (I like them so they are still bright green, with a little bit of crunch but no raw taste.)  mix the cornstarch with the water or chicken broth and pour it into the pot.  Stir and watch closely.  The cornstarch will thicken into a sauce.  You may need to add more liquid. Add the dash of peppercorn powder (it adds a great subtle flavor) and it's ready to serve.

Off to feed a new family of six!

Ok, we just made the brownies from the Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix that you can get at Costco.  I know some people swear by homemade brownies, but this particular mix always turns out perfect, with minimal effort.  Claire agrees.

This is the special brownie pan that I got for Mother's Day one year.  I love the edges that it makes, although sometimes I miss the irregular edges that you get from cutting the brownies with the knife.  I do love that the brownies are all pre-cut, though- it makes it a cinch to serve.

I added one last dish at the end, one that Claire and I have made often.  It's a knock off of the Zuppa Toscana that you can get at the Olive Garden. My son, for some reason, loves the Olive Garden. I could take or leave the Olive Garden, but I do love this soup and it is super quick. I can't remember who gave me the original recipe (speak up and I will credit you!), but you can find it at under "Toscana Soup."  As always, this is my adaptation.

Toscana Soup

1 package sweet italian sausage or chicken sausage
1/2 small diced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 T chicken soup base
3 potatoes, quartered then sliced into 1/4 inch slices (think thick potato chips)
2-3 cups of kale (we had some fresh organic Russian kale from our CSA-thanks, Mel!)
1/2 c half and half

Remove the sausage skins and brown the sausage in your soup pot. Add the garlic and onion.  Once the sausage is cooked, add water (not sure how much, enough to make soup!). Add the chicken soup base. Add the potatoes & let it boil for a few minutes.  Reduce the heat and add the kale and half & half. Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.
Add some red pepper flakes if you want to spice it up a little.

Please leave a comment if you plan to try, tried, or have any suggestions for any of the recipes above. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. I've never added liquids to my fried rice. I stir to break up the fried bits at the bottom and use a nonstick pan. Super easy, quick go to meal and just as good with brown rice.

    I LOVE Costco's rotisserie chicken. I bought one for myself, ate some while hot the first day, used some in paella the next day and made chicken stock too. I love that $4.99 can go SOOO far.