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Meatless Mondays: Veggie Fried Rice

Okay, I have absolutely no idea why fried rice is something that’s intimidated me for so long, but now that I’ve tried it I will definitely be making it again. It depends a lot on having leftover rice (which I tend to make in quantity anyway) and veggies and stuff in the fridge. Also on having in one’s fridge that one key ingredient that at least for me sort of makes the difference between “I am pretending I’m cooking something sort of Asian” and cooking something that actually tastes sort of Asian. That ingredient is toasted sesame oil–a must-have. Fortunately, it keeps just about forever.

The rice has to be cold, and the pan has to be very hot, and you have to pretty much pay real attention for the entire 5-7 minutes or so it’s cooking.

Veggie Fried Rice (quick!)

  • Chop up a little onion, celery, cabbage, carrots, zucchini, whatever.
  • Saute on very high heat in as little olive oil as you can manage, in a fairly big pan, till just beginning to brown.  The food needs room to move around, or it gets juicy and steamy.
  • Sprinkle with a little garlic powder and/or ginger powder. Or, much better, add a little real minced or grated fresh garlic or ginger. (I would have just said that, except I promised you “quick.”)
  • Remove veggies from pan. (It should be pretty dry at this point–not much, or any, juice floating around in there.)
  • Into very hot pan, put a little toasted sesame oil
  • Add about a cup of cooked cold brown rice. Stir around and saute until lightly browned.  Put in a tbs. or so of soy sauce. Add veggies to pan, stir around a little more. (This would be the place to add any veggies you don’t want browned, like baby peas or something…
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Optional–somewhere in the rice-stirring part, add just a little dollop of peanut butter and smoosh around till it’s melted and evenly distributed…or if you want to do it right, mix with the soy sauce and heat a bit so it mixes better.  But the smooshing method works just fine.  Serve with a little fresh lime juice squeezed on it–this gives it that sort of pad thai vibe.

This is SERIOUSLY yummy and ridiculously quick. If you want a little more protein, you could scramble an egg in there somewhere between the veggie step and the rice step, and then put it all together at the end.  And for those of us trying to cut calories without feeling deprived–remember that the higher the veggie-to-rice ratio, the more you can eat for the same number of calories!

Baked Oatmeal Revisited

Another of my favorite breakfast-on-the-go recipes–Baked Oatmeal.

I’m not sure really what to call it–it’s not a quick bread, it’s not a cookie, it’s not a muffin–there’s no flour, so its consistency is really just that of, well, oatmeal.  Except cool and in bar or muffin form.

The basic original recipe I put up here a while ago; this time I varied it a bit to see if this would work. So:

Baked Oatmeal Recipe, Banana Variation

mix together:

  • 1.5 cups oatmeal
  • 1/8 cup oat bran (optional)
  • 1 tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 mashed banana
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • Few shakes cinnamon, ginger, and/or nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (opt)
  • 1/2 cup (or more!) dried fruit, like cranberries, currants, raisins, blueberries, whatever (add last)

Spread in 8×8 greased baking dish. (or 9×9, because that’s what I have, it’s just a little thinner) or divide into 12 portions in a muffin tin. (They will be only about an inch thick.)

Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes in a baking pan or 20 minutes in muffin tins.  Let cool. Cut into squares, or remove from muffin tins. Store in fridge if it’s not going to be gone within a day or two.

VERDICT: Delicious.  Honestly, even too sweet with the little bit of brown sugar added, because of the banana; next time I’d just leave it out.  I wonder what this would be like with a little peanut butter…or with 1/2 cup pumpkin puree in place of the banana, and maybe a little orange juice in place of some of the milk…seriously, any of the funky variations to which we treat oatmeal could be applied here as well…

Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies: lightened and health-ened

It’s fall, which means pumpkin starts to sound just YUMMY.

So I went looking for a recipe for pumpkin-oatmeal cookies, the hope being that this could be a breakfast-cookie kind of thing I could munch on the go or have as a desk-drawer snack here and there.

The original recipe was found here, and it looks absolutely delicious…but that cup of butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar thing had to go.  So  played around with it.

So here’s what I tried:

Guiltless Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies (makes about 2 dozen)

Just so you know what I did–I substituted nonfat yogurt for about half the butter, and stevia for about half the sugar. I used whole wheat flour instead of white.

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 1/3 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ½ tsp stevia
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ tsp each nutmeg and ginger
  • ¼ tsp cloves and cardamom
  • ½   cup (1  stick) unsalted butter – softened
  • ¼  cup plain yogurt
  • ½  cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup currants, raisins, or other dried fruit of choice (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cookie sheets with foil or parchment paper (I used parchment)

Combine flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, stevia, salt, and spices in one bowl. (Or skip this step, which I always do…you just have to be more careful when combining them with the wet ingredients so you don’t get all your baking powder in one little lump in the cookie to the front of the baking sheet…)

Cream butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add honey, yogurt,  pumpkin, egg and vanilla – mix well.

Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Add dried fruit; mix again. Do not over mix. Chill dough for 30 minutes.

Drop cookie dough onto baking sheets by spoonful, depending on how big you want them; remember larger cookies will take a little longer.  I sort of made each one golf-ball-sized and then flattened them a little.

Bake 20 minutes for this size cookies, or a little longer for bigger ones. Cool on baking sheets for a couple minutes and then transfer to wire cooling rack.

VERDICT: A keeper;  I like them a lot.  It should be noted that they definitely taste more breakfast-y than dessert-y–soft and cakey, rather than crunchy. Husband and son sort of squinted and said, “It’s okay.” Daughter, “Delicious! But I don’t want any more.” Which also means she’s not bowled over. I think they are very good, though, and this means I just don’t have to share them.  I made some with currants and some without; the ones with currants are definitely better.  I can very faintly taste the stevia-aftertaste, but mixed with real sugar in the recipe it is almost invisible. Next time I might leave it out all together and throw a mashed banana in there for extra sweetness. Someone wiser than I would have to do calorie calculations on this–but there’s really not much to complain about in this ingredient list.

Breakfast on the go.  A good thing.

UPDATED VERDICT: unfortunately, these don’t taste anywhere near as good the second…or third…day.  They get sort of gluey and dry.  I think the currants or other dried fruit would need to be upgraded from “optional” to “necessary” to make them a decent thing to keep on the list…

Brown Rice

I just made up a ginormous pan of brown basmati rice last night.  Well, enormous is perhaps an overstatement–two cups of dry rice in 4 cups of water, to equal 6 cups of finished product.  I did it to sort of force myself out of easy pasta as my go-to-source for grains. Pasta, with refined white flour, is nutritionally less than a powerhouse…brown rice, on the other hand, is a wonderful fibrous whole grain, and one that still contains all the good stuff that white rice has had removed. It also takes about 40 minutes to cook, which is why I will use pasta or white rice as my “go to” grains more often than I should. But this time I made a bunch of the healthy stuff.  Now my mission is to actually eat it.

It’s going to be fairly easy, actually, and I think this is something I should be a bit more staple-y about, having it in my fridge sort of the same way I nowadays have a container of quickie bread dough just sitting there waiting to become bread when I feel like it.  So far I’ve come up with–

Breakfast: This morning I put some into a bowl with some cut up fruit and raisins, cinnamon, a little brown sugar, and some milk thrown over it, put it in the microwave for 2 minutes, and delicious.  Like rice pudding only much quicker.  Like oatmeal only not as gummy. Like cereal only way, way better.  This is a keeper!

Lunch: my dietary downfall is my favorite comfort food: pasta with butter and salt and a little parmesan.  I just think it’s the absolute most delicious thing in the world.  If I had to choose between giving up pasta with butter and salt for a month or chocolate for a year, I’d seriously have to think about which to let go of. I was delighted to realize today that brown rice with butter and salt and a little parmesan is very nearly as good as its white flour pasta equivalent.  Even my picky kids will eat this, though they complain about it.

Dinner: well, tonight I’ll probably take a break from the stuff, but here of course the possibilities are endless.  Throwing pasta sauce or pesto over it probably wouldn’t be bad at all.  Cooking some lentils and mixing the lentils and rice with some curry powder would be yummy too.  (Though honestly I’d probably just make fresh rice along with the lentils, since it takes about the same time for each.) All kinds of veggies could go into this very easily, too.  Throw some salsa, black beans, and corn in–you’ve got a nice Southwestern rice dish.  Throw the above onto a flour tortilla and roll it up, it’s burritos.  Or you can make fried rice, your own alternative to the oh-so-delicious but incredibly fat-laden Chinese restaurant staple–you can do your own recipe searches, but the secret seems to be a combination of day-old and not-too-moist rice that’s very cold, and a skillet that’s very hot.  This site seems like one I’ll want to revisit for that, since I’ve never had a fried rice success…

Rice will keep easily in the fridge for 4 or 5 days, and I find that basmati seems to hold its shape and tastiness much longer than “regular” rice.  It dries out a bit as it sits, of course, but as long as you store it well (am I the only one whose husband doesn’t get that those cardboard things from the chinese restaurant are NOT the place to store the leftovers?) it stays good for several days–and I’ve been known to push that several days pretty far. (As I always say…please don’t take my advice on food safety. I’m a food safety nightmare. Do your own research and homework. If it has blue spots on it, don’t eat it.)

The Most Important Meal of the Day? Fine, whatever. (Healthy Whole Breakfast ideas)

I don’t like breakfast.  I don’t care how many people tell me I really should eat it, I just don’t much like to.  My idea of a good breakfast is a nice cafe au lait.  Has a little protein from the milk, right?

On the other hand, I am also overweight and tend to do a bit of late-night calorie-loading, so maybe if I made a conscious effort to have a decent breakfast in the morning I could back off on some of the other eating I do during the day and in the evening…

Ran across this article on Eat Drink Better, with 11 ideas for healthy breakfasts.  They look pretty good, though none of them are all that crazy nuts surprising.  Stuff like yogurt with fruit and nuts and a little honey, or veggie omelet with turkey bacon (why use the turkey bacon, is my question–you get protein with the egg?), banana with nut butter, stuff like that.  Cereal with fruit and milk, for a truly novel suggestion. But they all look fairly yummy.

A couple of the more unique offerings in that article–it suggested oatmeal, of course, but also had brown rice as one of its suggestions.  Add a little cinnamon and a handful of raisins, it suggests, and it’s good to go.  And the kind of breakfast I’d be likely to eat, honestly, was on the list: an apple, a slice of cheese, and a handful of nuts.

Which brings me to my other rebellion: why do we supposedly have to eat breakfast foods in the morning? Whose idea was it to decree that certain foods are “morning” foods and others are more appropriate for lunch or dinner?

So, my idea of some of the breakfasts that I like:

  • leftover pasta (whole wheat is healthiest) with chunky marinara sauce and a little parmesan. And yes, I eat it cold.
  • leftover pizza–again, if you used whole grain crust and lots of veggies on top, there’s a nice balanced meal right there.
  • “pizza” that’s not necessarily leftover: take a whole grain bagel or english muffin half, put a little chunky marinara sauce and some grated cheese on it, and broil or toast in the toaster oven
  • When you make brown rice, barley, or any other grain for dinner, make some extra and save it for breakfast: heat in the microwave and mix with some combination of the following: brown sugar or honey/cut up fruit/milk/cinnamon (tastes like rice pudding), or butter/salt/parmesan/oregano, or a little pesto sauce, or a little chunky marinara, almost anything you’d put on pasta is good in any other grain.
  • Take a wheat tortilla and fill it with whatever the heck you want–sprouts, veggies, tomatoes, cheese, rice (or barley or other grain), some pieces of whatever your main dish was the night before…whatever. Fold it into a wrap or burrito. Yes, you’re allowed to have a burrito for breakfast that doesn’t have an egg in it.
  • Another tortilla thought–smear some nut butter on it, drizzle with a little honey, and dollop some yogurt on top of that. Throw some cut up fruit (apples and bananas are what we have around, but hey, whatever!) and/or raisins or other dried fruit on top of that, and wrap it all up.  Who says you can’t have fruit in a sandwich?
  • Leftovers.  Almost anything you ate for dinner last night is not a bad idea for breakfast, as long as it has some good fiber and fruit/veggieness and stuff in it.  How about a bowl of sweet potatoes with a little honey and cinnamon sprinkled on?  If you want to make it “breakfasty” you could have it over a little oatmeal.  Whatever vegetables you ate last night, heat them up and eat them–put them in an omelette if you must, but you don’t have to, a serving of whole grain anything with them would be just fine.

In short, the best breakfast to me is often exactly what the best lunch or dinner might be.  And if you like the quintissentially breakfasty foods, heck, eat them for lunch and dinner if you want!  Be daring. Be a rebel.  Eat what you want, when you want.

After all, everyone else’s mother says it’s the most important meal of the day. Mine doesn’t, because she doesn’t eat breakfast either.

The “Eating Down the Fridge” challenge

The Green Fork Blog the other day posted about this article from the Washington Post: “Eating Down the Fridge.”

The basic premise is simple: In the wake of the Thanksgiving holiday, eat or freeze your leftovers, and then take a week off grocery shopping. Challenge yourself to see what’s in that tall cold box in the kitchen and see what fun and innovative meals might be lurking in its depths.  It’s interesting to contemplate how much annual grocery money might be saved by making a habit of this, you know?  Food for thought (pun intended)…

It’s too late for us; we already went Sunday, mostly because the previous week we only bought Thanksgiving stuff and were out of some of what my family considers to be “staples”–cereal, milk, stuff like that.  But we may try it some other week, just see what happens.

Shut up, kid, and eat your broccoli stew.

Had an interesting encounter with one of my daughter’s classmates the other day. This little girl came up to me when I stopped in the kids’ classroom and said to me confidentially about my daughter, “Did you KNOW she almost never brings anything healthy in her lunch?”

Pushy kid. (Okay, she’s adorable, but she’s very Strong In Personality.)  Who does she think makes the lunch?

My daughter’s lunch, most days, consists of some variation on the following: homemade plain lowfat yogurt with honey or maple syrup and a little cinnamon drizzled on top (or, okay, chocolate syrup sometimes), a little tupperware thing with cheese curds and whole grain crackers, and another little thing with, for example, a mixture of cereal and raisins.  Yes, it’s all sort of “snacky” food, but it’s GOOD snacky food, and it covers a wide variety of different food groups.  I’d vary it more if I could get her to eat a greater variety, but this is usually what she’ll eat. 

(Our school, by the way, does “trash free” lunches, where we are to send food in reusable containers wherever possible.  It’s been surprisingly easy, and in fact was the beginning of my mission to cut down our garbage production footprint.)

Is a salami sandwich on Wonder bread, or whatever variation thereon one tried, really a “better” lunch than this?
–J