Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Vegetable "Fried Rice"

Folks, here's a secret.

I'm not crazy about rice. As a kid, I would eat all of the pasta bits out of rice pilaf before touching the actual rice. Risotto? Meh. Not worth the effort. And sure, rice is alright smothered in Palak Paneer... but all in all, it's still a little blah to me.

However, when I'm looking for a quick and easy meal for one (read: every single day), I make a variation on fried rice. It's fast, healthy, and delicious. My trick? I use quinoa! I buy it pre-cooked at my local grocer and use it like I would rice.

If you haven't tried quinoa yet, I highly recommend it. It's got all sorts of nutrients and it tastes pretty much just like rice. If you want, you can buy it in bulk and cook it yourself. Quinoa can be used in all sorts of recipes.

What you'll need:
 - A splash of cooking oil
 - A clove of garlic, minced
 - Red pepper flakes
 - 1 packet of pre-cooked quinoa (approximately 1 and 1/2 cups)
 - 2 eggs
 - Splash of milk
 - Small handful of cheese (any kind will do!)
 - 2 cups of spinach
 - 1 cup of broccoli, cut into manageable pieces

First, always, start by preparing your ingredients. My roommate and I only have one proper knife, but we make it work for whatever needs to be cut. You don't need a fancy set of knives just to cut tomatoes and cucumbers differently. Mince your garlic (if you don't buy it minced), wash your spinach, and cut your broccoli. Scramble your eggs (I always add a splash of milk to mine).

This way, you're not left panicking about chopping up broccoli when your garlic is about to burn! Half of the secret to successful cooking is in the preparation--leave nothing up to chance.

All you need to cook with is a plain skillet. Pour some of your oil in and turn your burner on. For some reason, I have gas burners in my apartment; quite frankly, I'm surprised that's not a safety hazard in a college apartment complex. Turn the heat to medium-high and wait for the oil to get hot.

Once the oil is nice and hot, add your garlic. Only cook it for about a minute or so--garlic will still cook when you add the other vegetables. After cooking it briefly, add some red pepper flakes to taste, then give it all a stir and add your broccoli. Broccoli needs more time to cook than spinach, so it needs to go in first.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli has shrunk a bit in size and is softer when you poke at it (very scientific, I know). It should have a bit of give in it (basically, not raw anymore). At this point, add all of your spinach except for a small handful.

When the spinach is wilted, unwrap your quinoa and pour into the skillet. Give it a good stir and add some more pepper flakes if you're feeling up for an adventure. Wait until the quinoa is heated through, then pour in the egg mixture. At the same time, put the rest of your spinach into the mix.

Cook until the eggs have set. They will sort of disappear into the mixture. All the components at this point will start to stick together.

Once your eggs are no longer raw (everything is white and sticking together nicely), add some cheese. Stir it all up. Add some more cheese if you're feeling adventurous. It should become a nice sticky mix of egg, cheese, quinoa, and vegetables. Keep mixing until it's really fully dispersed. It will smell absolutely awesome.

Just a minute or two after adding your eggs, your vegetables are cooked, the eggs are set, and the cheese is melted. You are ready to plate! Turn your burner off (NEVER forget to do that!) and slide everything onto your plate.

That's it! You've done it! You have made a delicious, nutritious meal in about twenty minutes, start to finish. If you like the taste of adventure, feel free to add some Sriracha to the "fried rice". And, unsurprisingly, you can add whichever vegetables and meat you want to this. Just remember that not all vegetables cook at the same rate!

Once your meal is on your plate, bung all the dirty dishes in the sink and forget about them (for now). Sit down, pat yourself on the back and enjoy your meal. You earned it!

Side note: I love this meal because it combines a lot of components I like by themselves--garlic, vegetables, a bit of a kick, eggs, and cheese. Feel free to spice it up, add whatever you fancy and make it your own!
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

San Francisco, Days Three and Four

On Sunday, we woke up early and went to the hills for a little hike before a family barbecue. I've never been to the Bay Area before, remember, so I was pretty surprised at how hilly everything is. We hiked for about an hour to try and burn some calories in anticipation of all the food we'd be eating that afternoon. At the beginning of our hike, the scene looked a little like something out of Lord of the Rings--very untouched and beautiful.

The weather was right around 60˚, so we weren't the only ones getting in some exercise in the sunshine. We ran into a bunch of other people and met some friendly dogs. There was one little chihuahua that got all up in some cows' grills... cutest little dog ever! He seriously wanted to make some new friends.

Once we had hiked up for about forty minutes, we paused to take some photos of the vista. I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday (Happy belated, Mum! xx) and we started to loop our way back down the trail.

Seriously though, Northern California is so gorgeous. Throughout the weekend, I kept thinking of all the things I'm going to do next time... wine tour, anyone?

After we descended, we hopped back into the car and headed back to N's for a shower and the family barbecue. Her family is Italian so I was expecting a lot of food... I was not disappointed! One of her Nonnas brought all these sweet and savory dishes with her. Two of my favorites were Bagna Calda (which is an intense garlic dip) and garlic zucchini. Notice a trend? She also made these strawberries in a fruity sauce. I'm not doing it justice, but I could have stood there with a spoon and eaten the whole thing!

Anyways, I met her whole family, we ate, talked, ate some more, and kept talking. Everyone was incredibly friendly--a really nice family to spend some time with. At the end of the afternoon, I was full and exhausted from conversation and laughter... so I took a powernap and rallied!

N wanted some new combat boots so we hit up the local mall first. First stop, Steve Madden!

I didn't feel like buying anything in particular, but these babies just begged to have their photo taken... Maybe one day I will splurge! Definitely on my to-buy list (hint, hint!) We then drove to the outlets just to check out Nike and Kate Spade. I got a new little three-card wallet from Kate with my horse money from yesterday and a pair of leggings, and N got a similar wallet to mine. We stopped by Ghiradelli for some samples and then went back home for an evening of leftovers (three-bean salad, yum) and Real Housewives. I'm a sucker for some reality TV! We hit the hay early, because tomorrow was shaping up to be a big day...

The next morning, we were up at the crack of dawn to start our trek back to Los Angeles. We literally rolled out of bed at 7:30 and got in the car with the promise of a big brunch down the road. That's probably the only thing that will get me moving so quickly on a day off!

This was my view for about a thousand miles this weekend. All highway, pretty much straight and flat, clear skies. Certainly nicer than taking a bus and definitely cheaper than flying. Also, Costco socks are the best socks, duh. Anyway, we drove for two hours and pulled off the highway in Coalinga, California for brunch at the famous Harris Ranch. Harris Ranch supplies North America with a few million tons of beef every year and bakes a mean biscuit. I was in the moment N mentioned brunch...

Outside, there are big cuts over a flame filling the air with juicy, spicy smoke. We walked in and down a long Spanish-style hallway (past a meat counter as well, obviously) and headed to this room to wait for a table. Just a few minutes of perusing the goods and then we sat down to eat!

N and I both had eggs, potatoes, biscuits, and freshly-squeezed orange juice... and half a strawberry. Seriously, what's the point of giving each person half a strawberry? We were a little confused. N's plate was also a bit lacking in the potato department (she got graced with a stingy portion) but we both enjoyed our biscuits! Big, fluffy, warm, and flavorful... Mmm!

After we paid, we drove across the street to fill up the tank and clean the windshield of our rental. Then it was back on the road for another few hundred miles!

Another few hours of driving later, and we were back in smoggy LA. This is the view from the parking lot of N's building... it's a pretty cool place to be! N and I returned the car and walked back to campus in the sunshine. We timed our return so we could do some work and set up for our friend's (and N's roommate's) birthday. Balloons, streamers, and cake... A perfect end to a perfect long weekend.

Altogether, a pretty wonderful few days spent in a place I can't wait to visit again.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

San Francisco, Days One and Two

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to travel up to the Bay Area with my friend N. Her family lives in the suburbs, so it was nice to get away from LA, sightsee, and relax. I've never been to San Francisco before so it was exciting!

We rented a car on Friday afternoon and started up the I-5 with lunch in our hands...

My first In-N-Out! I had the grilled cheese with onions. So delicious.

We drove all through the afternoon and got to N's town a little after nightfall. We met up with her parents at one of her favorite restaurants (sadly, no pictures) where we had the most delicious yogurt/pumpkin dish. I wasn't sure I'd like it, but it was really well spiced and had a great texture. After dinner, we headed back to N's house to crash.

The next morning, we were up bright and early to head into San Francisco. First stop? The Golden Gate Bridge, of course!

It is really incredible. The scale of San Francisco is just completely different than I thought--the city just sprawls! It's a bit of a mix of Chicago, Boston, and a little New York. We drove through the whole city and stopped for an amazing brunch at a place called Boogaloo's with N's brother. It's sort of Mexican-influenced breakfast! I wanted it all, so I got pancakes, eggs, fruit, and toast. N ordered a potato bowl dish that had cheese, onion, tomato, and sour cream. N's brother got huevos rancheros. Everything looked good! I could have gone for more.

After Boogaloo's, we stopped in to say hi to N's grandparents, and then we drove to Mitchell's for some classic ice cream. Needless to say, it was delicious.

I had a peanut butter and chocolate cone. Swirls of creamy peanut butter and little peanut butter cups in a chocolate base--yum! This is the face of a happy girl.

Once we had demolished our ice cream, we took a quick zoom down Lombard Street (the narrowest, turniest street in the world... I think) and were off to the races (literally)!

N's family is really into horse racing, so we were off to Golden Gate Fields to see their horse compete in the El Camino Derby. I've never been to a horse race before, so I had no idea what to expect! We met up with lots of N's family and friends to watch some races before their horse competed, I won some money (!!!) and got to visit the paddock to see Wildcat Moon before his race.

Unfortunately, Wildcat Moon didn't show (place in the top three) but it was still a fun afternoon. We got back in our car after one more race and drove back to the suburbs, pleasantly tired after a long and fun day.

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