Vegetable Fried Rice (chǎo fàn, 炒飯)

Fried rice is one of the quickest Chinese dishes to make; it’s also one of the cheapest. When making fried rice all you need is rice and vegetables. You can make it with beef, chicken or top it with scrambled eggs. It’s very easy to make, especially for beginner cooks, and it gives me a chance to try some new Chinese ingredients.

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Although I am not a vegetarian, I prefer to eat vegetarian Chinese dishes. I think that most of the sauces and spices used in Chinese cooking compliment vegetables and tofu well. Plus, Chinese vegetables are different from the ones we use in the U.S. The Woks of Life, a blog that focuses on traditional and non-traditional Chinese dishes has a whole glossary dedicated to Chinese vegetables. For this recipe, I decided to keep it simple with carrots and broccoli. However, in the past, I have used bok choy, scallions, bean sprouts, edamame and many other vegetables.

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If you are going to try to make fried rice at home, I suggest that you have everything mise en place. This is a fancy French word meaning “putting in place”. Since you will have to work quickly when cooking the ingredients, it’s almost necessary to put all of your ingredients in separate bowls. If you don’t have everything in place, your food can burn and it will be disastrous, trust me.

Don’t be afraid to make fried rice at home. It’s simple to make and doesn’t require much time or money. Even in Nanjing, it’s cheaper for me to make friend rice at home than buying it at a restaurant. Lastly, it’s an easy way to start exploring the world of Chinese cooking.

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Vegetable Fried Rice
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Vegetable Fried Rice
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Ingredients
  • 6 Chinese spoons soy sauce
  • 2 Chinese spoons sesame oil
  • 3 cups cooked white rice
  • 2 carrots chopped
  • 1 head broccoli cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 white onion diced
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 3 tablespoons oil sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch white sugar
Servings:
Instructions
  1. In a bowl, mix the sesame oil, soy sauce, white pepper, salt, and sugar together. Set the bowl to the side.
  2. Heat your skillet or wok on medium heat and add the oil.
  3. Next, add the onions and garlic to the skillet and allow them to cook for two minutes. Make sure to consistently move them around the pan so they don't burn.
  4. Then add the carrots and broccoli. Cook for another two to three minutes.
  5. Finally, add the rice and sauce. Mix the ingredients together well. Allow the rice to cool for a minute before serving.
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Egg Roll (鸡蛋卷) with Three Kinds of Cream

While living abroad, especially in Asia, you are going to find some interesting street food. I have tried so much food on a stick or in a paper cup. I think that is one of the best parts about living abroad; trying new foods that you may not find in your hometown.

Lately, I have been seeing these wafer-like rolls sold near my neighborhood. I’ve been meaning to try them,but I always forget about them by the time I pass by the vendor. Plus, you can’t buy them one at a time, you have to buy a bag of at least ten. They aren’t filled or topped with anything. Many people think that they are sweet enough but I disagree. These egg rolls are slightly sweetened and crispy. A friend gave me some and suggested that I fill them with cream. I found a cream recipe on Eugenie’s Kitchen’s website. I wasn’t too familiar with her work but her cookies and cakes looked cute and colorful.

For the creams, I wanted to make one that was different than what I normally make and two simple ones. I decided to make a matcha, chocolate and  cinnamon vanilla cream. The matcha cream may be difficult to make if you are living in the U.S, but you can definitely make the cinnamon vanilla and chocolate creams.

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Matcha, Cocoa and Cinnamon Vanilla Cream
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Matcha, Cocoa and Cinnamon Vanilla Cream
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Ingredients
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon nutella optional
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Add cream and sugar to a bowl. Whip until the cream is fluffy and forms soft peaks.
  2. Divide the cream into three bowls. Add the matcha powder to the first bowl, the cocoa powder to the second one and the cinnamon and vanilla to the third one.
  3. When all three are mixed, place one of the creams in a pipping bag and pipe it into the egg roll. Repeat this step for the rest of the creams.
  4. Optional: You can chill the egg rolls for up to ten minutes to let the cream become firmer.You can also drizzle nutella on top of the cinnamon and vanilla egg rolls.
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How to Roast Chicken

Recently, I learned how to roast a chicken. Roasting a chicken sounds pretty difficult but it’s really not! I was so surprised that I, Maia, could roast a chicken.

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How do I roast the chicken?

Before you roast a chicken you should consider two things : the size of your oven and how much time you have to commit to the process. I did a good bit of research on how to properly roast it without using a conventional oven. The oven I have is a large toaster oven. I knew it was big enough to make a pizza, but I was unsure about whether or not I could roast a whole chicken in it. My main concerns were  the chicken getting fully cooked, how long it would take to bake and the taste of the chicken. One of my biggest cooking fears is dry chicken; no one wants to eat dried chicken. What I found out was that the size of the chicken and the oven does matter. For  a small chicken, it takes an hour and a half to fully roast in a toaster oven, not including prep time.

 

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My work area for cleaning the chicken.

I suggest that before you begin prepping your chicken you make a prep area in your kitchen. Above is a picture of my work area. The chicken will have some kind of fluids and you don’t want that all over your countertop. For easy clean up, I lined my work area with plastic bags and paper towels. Lastly, place your seasonings in bowls ahead of time so you can avoid cross-contamination.

Okay, but what about flavoring the chicken?

Flavoring the chicken is pretty important. You don’t want to roast it, taste it and discover that it has no flavor. Here are some simple ingredients you can use to flavor your chicken:

  • Olive oil or butter
  • Herbs ( oregano,parsley,thyme)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Onion

That’s it! It’s really not complicated. As you get better at roasting  chicken, you can test out different flavors. Recently, I made a herbed butter and stuffed it with chopped garlic and onions. The butter seasoned both the chicken and the vegetables.

 

Any other tips?

Have fun! I know that cleaning a chicken and potentially beheading it doesn’t sound fun, but the outcome is what makes it special. You’ll feel more accomplished as a cook when you pull a roasted chicken out of the oven. The smells fill your kitchen and knowing that you created a good meal will warm your heart. My deep feelings for cooking were intensified when I heard butter sizzle on top of the chicken.

If you would like an in-depth guide on how to roast a chicken, check out the guide on The Kitchn‘s website. They go through each step from start to finish.

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Baking Frustrations and Baking Wins

Last week, I posted a link on my Facebook page regarding tips on how to bake for beginners. I mentioned that I’ve wanted to learn how to bake because I feel that I am not a well-rounded cook. I can easily cook something with only a few ingredients and spices. However, whenever I try to bake anything that involves flour, it doesn’t turn out well. I think my lack of baking knowledge may be because I used to bake more when I lived in the United States. Last year, I didn’t bake at all.

When I lived in Longyou, I had a rice cooker, microwave and a hot plate. It wasn’t much but I learned how to make it work. At times, it was difficult and frustrating not having the equipment I needed to improve dishes, but I don’t regret that experience. Now, I kind of have a standard kitchen complete with convection and a gas stove with two burners. Yay!

Since I posted the article, I’ve been baking consistently. It’s been very challenging and a little tiring. Baking is so precise. A little too much baking powder can change the makeup of a cookie. Some things turned out well, even better than I expected, but other things were quite disappointing. My first baking fail were chocolate chip cookies. The taste of the cookie was good, but I used a too much baking powder. Instead of being cakey, they were crumbly. They literally broke apart in the bag. I was disappointed but I knew how to make the next batch better.

Following the crumbly cookies was a dented mini Bundt cake. I went to the baking store with my friend and I saw the cutest Bundt pan. It was small and perfect, so, of course I bought it! I brought it home and looked up a recipe for a Bundt cake. I adapted the measurements to the size of the Bundt and everything. When I began to pour the batter into the pan, I thought that there may not be enough butter and flour in the pan. I found out that there definitely wasn’t. The cake stuck to the sides and was misshaped. I wasn’t very upset about my dented Bundt, but I was a somewhat disappointed. Yet again the flavor of the cake was good but I wouldn’t call it a Bundt cake.

The last fail was a fail at first, but, in the end, I turned things around. I burnt Christmas cookies. I know it’s a little early to start baking cookies, but if I want to get more blog traffic, I need to develop recipes ahead of time. I made very buttery chocolate cookies. I came in with no expectations, but was pleasantly surprised by the dough. The dough was very soft and wasn’t too sweet. It had a perfectly balanced cocoa flavor, kind of like a cup of hot chocolate. After cutting the dough into Christmas trees, I placed them in the oven. About ten minutes later, I smell something burning. At first, I thought a few crumbs were at the bottom of the oven. I took them out at the fifteen minute mark, let them cool for two minutes and tasted one. It tasted so burnt. They were inedible. Later, after a breakdown over my blackened chocolate cookies, I realized that I not only had I baked them for too long, but I had made the cookie too thin. I ended up rolling the dough and putting it in the fridge for a few hours. I decided that I wouldn’t let these little cookies win, so, I sliced the roll and baked them for ten minutes. I topped them with a mixture of powdered sugar and cinnamon. The cookies came out perfect! They were soft and the cinnamon complemented the chocolate.

Despite some ups and downs, I still enjoyed baking. My fails made me want to learn more about baking. This week, I’m going to attempt to make a cake and a cranberry and orange loaf. I hope everything turns out well and that I remember to take pictures of my food.

 

 

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Sweet Dumpling and Butternut Squash Soup

In celebration of all things fall, I decided to make my squash soup. Soups are one of my favorite foods to eat  this time of year. They are easy to make and you can let them cook for a while. Whenever I have no obligations for the day, I will take a couple of hours to make a soup. I love having the aromas from the spices fill my apartment.

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A little less than a year ago, I made the first version of this soup. I was very proud of it but I forgot to write down the recipe. I’ve made it about five times since then and each time the soup took on a new flavor. Sometimes it was too sweet or there was way too much cinnamon. One time, I made a vegetable broth into the soup, put way too much salt in the broth and the soup turned out very salty and almost inedible. When I made the new version of this soup, I decided that I would take my time, record every part of the recipes and take lots of pictures in case I forgot a step.

 

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One of my favorite ingredients in this recipe are the shallots. When I saw them in the grocery store, I was kind of skeptical about buying them. I wasn’t too sure about the flavor, especially since I used red onions in the previous versions. Adding the shallots to the recipe really added to the natural sweet flavors of the squash. Also, roasting the squash before hand made a huge difference in flavor.

 

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In my opinion, this has to be the best version of my soup. It is not too sweet and is very aromatic. I think that it shows how much I have improved as a chef, and how much more I need to learn.

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Sweet Dumpling and Butternut Squash Soup
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Sweet Dumpling and Butternut Squash Soup
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Ingredients
  • 2 large halves butternut squash You can also use one butternut squash
  • 1 small sweet dumpling squash
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 shallots sliced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat your convection oven at 180 degrees Celsius, or 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cut the sweet dumpling squash and butternut squash in half. Put them on a sheet pan and drizzle them with three tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Place the pan in the oven and roast the squash for fifty minutes. Once done, remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool for twenty minutes.
  4. When the squash is cool enough to handle, scrape out the seeds and the stringy parts and place them to the side. Next, remove the rest of the squash from the peel and place them in a bowl.
  5. On medium-low heat, warm a medium sized pot and add the remaining olive oil, shallots and garlic. Allow the garlic and shallots to cook for three minutes, consistently stirring them.
  6. Then, add the water, coconut milk, squash and spices to the pot. Turn the heat down to low and allow it to cook for fifteen minutes.
  7. The soup will be very hot, so allow it to cool for three minutes before blending. Lastly, place the soup in a blender and blend it for one minute.
Recipe Notes
  • If you roast the squash ina regular oven at 200 degrees Celcius, or 400 degrees Fahrenheit, it could take only twenty-five to thirty minutes instead of fifty.
  • If you cannot find a sweet dumpling squash, you can use a regular sugar pumpkin. I have used both and they work fine.
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