Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Happy Belly, Happy Smile - Fried Rice

"On Fridays I have dinner with Grandpa Sam. He owns a restaurant in Chinatown." - Happy Belly, Happy Smile, Rachel Isadora

I have reviewed books about families cooking and eating together for this blog, but I don't believe I have ever reviewed a book about a family dining together in a restaurant. Enter Rachel Isadora's Happy Belly, Happy Smile, a sweet picture book told from the point of view of a little boy who is visiting his grandfather's Chinese restaurant.

Happy Belly, Happy Smile isn't just a book about food or a book about families, it's a book about the experience of visiting a restaurant and seeing how things work from a child's perspective. Every Friday Louie visits his grandfather's restaurant in Chinatown. A frequent visitor, he knows the waiters, chefs and other restaurant staff by name and he gets an insider's view of what goes down in a working restaurant. He watches the chefs roll egg rolls and chop vegetables and the waiters bustle from table to table. When it's finally time to eat Louie and Grandpa Sam enjoy an assortment of Chinese dishes: rice, dumplings, egg rolls, spare ribs, shrimp chow mein--even fish and crabs. And a fortune cookie, of course. The book's title comes from the message inside the cookie: "Happy food, happy belly, happy smile."

Isadora's collage and oil illustrations are a treat. Scraps of paper from what appear to be real Chinese restaurant menus and are incorporated into the collages, a nice touch.

Of course, this book makes me think of Chinese food. Since converting to a gluten-free diet over a year ago, I haven't had much occasion to eat Chinese takeout. Between the wheat-based sauces, noodle dishes (my favorite) and fried foods, it just isn't the best choice. If I really want plain steamed rice and vegetables I'll get them at home. That's not what most people go to Chinese restaurants for! Fortunately, we have been able to replicate some of our favorite Chinese takeout at home. It's not quite the same but I have received high praise for my fried rice. Some would say it's even better than Chinese takeout!

Fried Rice

  • 2 - 3 cups cooked rice (I prefer Calrose, or "sticky" rice, but anything will do)
  • cooked lean protein (chicken, beef strips, tofu, etc.)
  • 2 - 3 eggs
  • 3 - 4 strips of bacon (optional)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups diced fresh or frozen veggies (we use peas and carrots)
  • 1/3  - 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • sesame seeds (to taste)
  • black pepper (to taste)
  • red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • butter (optional)
Additional equipment: Large pan or wok.

1. Cook your rice. Ideally, the rice should be cold so you may want to cook it ahead of time. Or use leftover rice. I've never tried to make fried rice using the pre-cooked rice I have recently started to see in grocery stores but if you've tried it let me know!

2. If you are using bacon, cook it in the pan/wok. We started putting bacon in our fried rice because one of our favorite Japanese teppanyaki restaurants does this with their fried rice and it is unbelievably good. (I am of the opinion that bacon makes everything better.) When the bacon is cooked through, carefully remove from pan and set aside. Do not drain the pan of the bacon grease! You'll use this instead of cooking oil for the stir fry part. (Sounds gross, I know. Trust me though.)

3. Crack eggs into the pan. Stir fry the eggs with garlic and black pepper until they are no longer runny. Add your lean protein and continue to stir fry.

4. When eggs and meat are cooked through (don't worry about overcooking the egg), add the veggies; let cook another two to three minutes.

5. Now it's time to add the rice. Slowly add rice by spoonfuls. Mix well.

6. Add red pepper flakes, brown sugar, sesame seeds and splash of vinegar. Add soy sauce and a small amount of butter (the butter is optional but it does enhance the flavor--I use a tiny bit). Mix well.

7. Turn up the heat and let cook until the sauce begins to caramelize. The rice on the bottom should stick a little but it shouldn't burn or fuse to the pan.

This recipe serves the four of us and provides a lot of leftovers. (I used the same amount to serve five adults and three kids a few weeks ago.) However, if you want to go all out and make a few Chinese takeout-style dishes to serve family style, I have a few suggestions:

CrockPot Broccoli Beef and CrockPot Sweet and Sour Tofu from A Year of Slow Cooking
Szechwan Beef Stir Fry from Better Homes and Gardens
General Tso's Chicken from Tyler Florence and the Food Network

These are some other great books to get you in the mood for Chinese food:

Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin
Yum Yum Dim Sum  by Amy Wilson Sanger

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1 comment:

Callie Feyen said...

Mouth. Is. Watering.
And I put Suzanne Colasanti on my "to read" list. Thanks for the suggestion!