Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reminiscing and Reproducing Thai Crab Fried Rice

A few years ago, when I worked at a small marketing communications firm in Old Pasadena, I became a regular at a local Thai restaurant. A colleague and I never grew tired of sharing the lunch special four times a week at our desks. The owner Sue, aware of our frugal ways, would always slip in an extra order of brown rice.

When I worked late, I would often slide solo into my favorite seat by the window, listen to the sounds of the water wall and order Thai crab fried rice and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Sue would always top off my glass with whatever was left in the bottle.

Alas, Sue eventually sold the restaurant to a clueless entrepreneur who replaced the wall of water with a giant flat screen TV. Not a good sign. When he changed the menu, the crab fried rice was one of the the first casualties.

I've ordered crab fried rice in other Thai restaurants, but it never measures up. Maybe it was Sue's nurturing or the soothing sounds of the water or that extra touch of white wine that made that dish so special.

I was about to give up until I found this recipe on Wives with Knives. I made it for lunch today, and it was nearly as good as the version that Sue's mom used to cook up for me at Nana.

Thai Crab Fried Rice
  • 3 to 4 cups rice, cooked the day before and refrigerated overnight (I used Japanese brown rice because it's more nutritious than white, but I think basmati rice makes the best fried rice.)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup raw carrot, grated (I used frozen, but I like the idea of fresh.)
  • 1/2 cup peas, fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup green onion, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 ounces or more Dungeness crabmeat (I used lump crab meat from Whole Foods.)
  • salt to taste (I found that, with the salty soy and fish sauce, salt wasn't necessary.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • cilantro (Original recipe called for parsley, but I prefer cilantro with Thai food.)

Mix together the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil to a large wok or fry pan and heat until it just begins to smoke. Add peas, carrots, green onions and ginger and cook for about one minute, stirring so it doesn't burn. Add rice and lightly mix, then add liquid mixture and blend well. Fry for 4-5 minutes, watching that the rice doesn't burn.

Make a well in the middle of the rice and pour in the beaten eggs. Wait for about 30 seconds and then cover the eggs with rice. Leave for another 30 seconds and then continue to stir fry until the eggs are cooked and are mixed well with the rice.

Remove from heat and gently stir in the crab meat, garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley and serve with lime wedges.

The only thing that could have made it better is a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Breakfast Theatre

As I bite into my early morning burrito at Clockers' Corner, I can't decide which is more magnificent: the San Gabriel Mountains and palm trees shrouded in mist or the thoroughbreds running at full throttle.

The photogenic setting at Santa Anita Park has been featured in films from the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races in 1937 to Seabiscuit in 2003. But, unlike a typical day at the races, the morning mood is serene. The only sounds are the steady clip clop of walking horses, the staccato clapping of running hooves or an occasional snort as jockeys and trainers work out their horses.

It's the perfect backdrop for my morning meal, where everything from bagels and breakfast burritos to pancakes and omelets is available at Clockers' Corner, the casual counter restaurant at Santa Anita.

As for that breakfast burrito? I'll be honest. It's easy to find a better one just about anywhere in town, but you won't find a better place to eat it. (Next time, I'll play it safe with a toasted bagel with cream cheese.)

Clockers' Corner
285 W. Huntington Dr.
Arcadia, CA
Hours: 7:00 to 10:00 am
Parking is free before 10:00 am. Enter Gate 8 from Baldwin Ave.

Modest prices, magnificent views.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Comfort Food: Macaroni and Beef with Tomato Sauce (Or How to Deal with a Dead Dog)

A bowl (or two or three) of comfort

It's a funny thing about comfort foods. Nobody says, "I think I'll make a big green salad because I need to calm myself." Or, "I'm steaming some broccoli because I'm totally bummed." I suppose that's what's wrong with us Americans. We've been programmed to turn to foods from our childhood, usually heavily laced with fat, carbs and sugars, when we're seeking comfort.

Today, Betty, my beloved dog of 13 years, died unexpectedly. So, needless to say, I'm bummed, and I need some quick and easy comfort. I abandoned the idea of a spinach salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries and toasted almonds. That's a delicious lunch, but it's not the kind of dish that wraps its arms around you and says, "I know it hurts, but it's going to be alright."
For that, I needed macaroni and beef.
Macaroni and Beef with Tomato Sauce
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
  • 8 ounces macaroni, uncooked
  • 1/2 cup onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped (didn't have this today)
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Brown beef, onion and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat. Add tomato sauce, water and remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes. It's as simple and easy as Hamburger Helper, but without all of those naughty processed ingredients.

This makes 8 servings, unless your dog has just died, and then it feeds three ravenous grievers.

Macaroni and beef won't bring Betty back, but at least it will get me through the afternoon. That and a quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream in my freezer.

(And if Betty was still here, I'd have let her clean out that bowl.)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

'Tis the Season for Berries

When I was growing up in West Virginia, strawberries were a rare treat. Once a year, an itinerant strawberry salesman came to our front door hawking boxes of the bright red berries. My mom purchased two boxes and whipped up our annual indulgence of strawberry shortcake. We savored every morsel because we knew it would be 365 days before a strawberry would pass our lips again.

Now that I live in Southern California, strawberries appear to be everywhere - the grocery store, the farmers market, a temporary strawberry stand and the back of a vendor's truck. And, when they're in season, I can't get enough of them.

I've eaten them whole and dipped them in chocolate. I've dunked them in creme fraiche and crushed them into strawberry lemonade.

I love to eat them sliced and macerated with sugar, tossed with blackberries, a splash of cassis liquer and a zest of orange. Don't they look stunning in a blue bowl?

Life is just a bowl of berries.

I throw those same berries into a cocktail glass and make a breakfast parfait with Greek yogurt. I have a large collection of stemmed glasses and don't believe in waiting until happy hour to use them. The glasses were gifts from a group of friends who figured that the stemware would raise my spirits when I was trying to pump out stem cells for a stem cell transplant nearly three years ago. (Get it? Stemware, stem cells?) Every time I eat or drink from one of the glasses, I think of my good friends and my good fortune.


But, of course, my favorite thing is still that strawberry shortcake. This
recipe from the LA Times calls for orange zest in the dough and a splash of orange juice with the strawberries. I also added a little zest and a wee bit of cassis liquer to the whipped cream. I think it's my favorite shortcake recipe ever. It's even better than the Bisquick mix and cream from a squirt can of my childhood.

See the flecks of orange zest in the shortcake?

And the best part? I won't have to wait an entire year to eat this again.