Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Routines, New Ideas, New Places

Despite being out of school for oh, so many years, I still see the beginning of school as the real beginning of the new year. Perhaps even more so this year than usual due to the biggest change we've had in this household in quite a while. Healthier son has gone off to college! Apart from the obvious adjustments required of his loving family, his departure has also spurred a sea change in my grocery shopping and cooking, the details of which I am just starting to explore.

I guess the first piece of this is quantity. Each time I'm in the grocery store or at the farm stand I have to remind myself that I am cooking for 1 (probably more like 1.5 by actual volume!) fewer at mealtime, and to restrain myself. No need to buy a tub of hummus each week or make quite so many chicken thighs. One pound of pasta will now provide two full dinners instead of one and a lunch. I'm guessing Trader Joe's, source of most of our snacks, will notice a drop in the amount of nuts, dried apricots and Dunkers they sell each week.

The next piece is taste. Healthier daughter is not a happy flesh eater, unless said flesh has been pulverized, ground or chopped such that it's origins are incognito. She will eat chicken sausage, or any kind of sausage, really, ragu, diced prosciutto, even the occasional hamburger. She will pick at salmon and the odd piece of chicken, but she does not really enjoy most fish, meat or fowl. While refraining from giving up those few meats she cares for and actually calling herself a vegetarian, she eats a mostly vegetarian diet. This is in almost direct contrast to healthier son, who in grade school advised me that for his lunch, he really liked "a meat sandwich." Everyday.

As a result of these disparate tastes, I strive for a happy medium between the two in my cooking. I'm noticing now that what I must have done without even realizing it was to make a primarily vegetarian meal, with some fish, chicken or meat either on the side or easily separated. Pack some some extra veggies in to the meal, add some alternate proteins, provide a little meat or fish and cross my fingers. Some nights one or the other might be slightly disappointed at the meal, but generally, everyone ate pretty well. I no longer (except on school breaks) have to compromise. Meat boy is off in St. Louis (where I hope he'll eat some vegetables) and veggie girl can be appeased.

One area I am finally hoping to explore in depth is Asian cooking, with the emphasis on vegetables and grains or noodles. I recently read Fuchsia Dunlop's memoir with recipes, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, and purchased The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook. I also had a successful visit to the library where I bagged 5 or 6 books on Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking to augment a couple I have on Chinese cooking: Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking and Alford and Duguid's Beyond the Great Wall.

I know that whatever I'm cooking at home is much lower in fat and calories than when we eat out, but what I'm still trying to figure out is how to reduce the sodium in many of the recipes and techniques even further. I already use lower sodium soy sauce, but there is quite a bit of sodium in fish sauce, miso paste, and kimchi.

I recently purchased a couple of jars of kimchi through Food52's shop. This is some delicious artisanal kimchi from Mother-in-Law's Kimchi, (MILKimchee) a small, new producer out of New York. The owner uses her mother's family recipe to produce her product.

A few days after ordering my kimchi, a package arrived with two pint jars of bubbling, living Napa cabbage kimchi, already lightly fermented. Fed Ex man did not ring the bell, so it sat outside on my porch overnight in ninety degree plus weather and when I found it the next morning the ice packs were long melted. After frantic emails back and forth with MILKimchi, I was reassured that the kimchi was fine, just a little more fermented due to the heat. I stuck it in the fridge for another couple of weeks, until one night when I was looking for a lighter dinner for three.

Kimchi, for those of you have not yet been introduced to its pleasures, is basically spicy, pickled and then fermented cabbage. Somehow, the fermented cabbage is good for digestion, and while mostly vegetable, often includes some kind of fish, either anchovy or dried shrimp. MILKimchi also contains some beef stock, so if you are kosher or vegetarian, take a good look at the ingredient list when you're buying kimchi. My daughter loves kimchi.

Back in June, we breakfasted on some kimchi fried rice with a fried egg on top while at the Ferry Building market in San Francisco. As a riff on that, I scrambled a few eggs like I would for any old fried rice and then removed it from the pan. I then added a few diced mushrooms and sliced scallions to a thin sheen of peanut oil (canola would be fine and healthier, too). Once the mushrooms softened a little I added about a cup of diced kimchi and some roughly chopped pea shoots I had lying around. As I tossed it through the pan, it got a little dry so I added about a tablespoon of lower sodium soy sauce but chicken stock would work well too and would be lower in sodium. Next came the rice and I tossed it all together and let it cook for a little while. I then added the cooked egg back in for a quick toss and after turning off the heat, mixed in a couple of teaspoons of sesame oil and garnished it all with some roasted sesame seeds and some nori flakes. Delish!!

This is a relatively healthy dish, what with the brown rice and vegetables. The kimchi, despite its slightly higher than I'd like sodium count, is still a very healthy food. Eggs are no longer the bad guys they once were with regard to cholesterol, though I did scramble them dry so I didn't have to worry about the recent salmonella scare. Already roasted sesame seeds and nori flakes can usually be purchased at an Asian market, though neither is necessary. And, this can be made in no time if you use frozen brown rice or if you make the rice ahead and have it in the refrigerator.

Quickie, Healthy-ish, Kimchi Fried Rice

(serves 4)

6 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, divided

4 ounces mushrooms, sliced thinly

4 or 5 scallions, sliced thinly, reserve a small amount for garnish

a few handfuls of roughly chopped pea shoots, thawed frozen peas or snow peas thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 cup kimchi, thinly sliced (I used one made with Napa cabbage)

4 cups cooked and cooled brown rice (this is a great place to use frozen brown rice. I used two bags and slightly undercooked them in the microwave so that they were just warmed but not steaming hot)

1 - 2 teaspoons sesame oil

sprinkle toasted sesame seeds or toast your own briefly in a dry pan

sprinkle nori flakes (if you have them)

1. Set a large skillet or wok over medium heat and once heated, 1 tablespoon of the peanut or canola oil and then the eggs. Either scramble or let set a little like an omelet and flip so fully cooked. Once cooked, remove eggs from pan to a plate and set aside. If you've done the omelet way, slice into thin strips.

2. Wipe out pan and add the other tablespoon of oil. Raise heat to medium-high and cook the mushrooms until they soften. Add the scallions and pea shoots (or substitute) and cook a minute or two. Add the kimchi and rice and stir fry for another 3 or 4 minutes, until all contents have warmed through and are well combined. If the mixture seems dry, add a splash of soy sauce or chicken stock or even water.

3. Add the eggs back in and toss gently and let re-warm briefly.

4. Turn off heat under pan and add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Add more to taste.

5. Garnish with remaining scallions, sesame seeds and nori.

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