Liberated Cooking: Family Memories (peanut sauce & fried rice recipes)

Whether we’re in our home kitchen, a cottage in Oregon or a hotel room in New Mexico, my dad, my brother and I love to eat good food. What counts as “good” has certainly changed over the years, but what hasn’t changed is our love for food that does more than just satisfy our hunger – good food needs to create a memory as well. One that we can look back on with pride as we remember not only what we ate but the context in which we ate it. Which is why I’d like to dedicate this edition of Liberated Cooking to the many meals my family and I have shared over the years. Read the memories at your own risk:

* Two people cannot eat a whole Thanksgiving turkey by themselves: Sadly, it’s just not possible. At least my dad and I couldn’t. But when we found ourselves alone on the holiday dedicated to gorging, we couldn’t risk not getting the chance to fill our faces with too much food. So we went all out, with everything from the bird to the mashed potatoes to the homemade cranberry sauce. And wow, was it good. Certainly a meal to remember – to this day, the wishbone remains in our kitchen as a constant reminder. If you ever find yourself with very few people on Thanksgiving (or even by yourself), make the meal anyway. It’s totally worth it.

* Will’s Bacon Shack: When my brother was 10 years old, he decided that he loved to cook bacon. Already a staple in our weekend breakfasts, my younger brother turned frying bacon into an art form or, at the very least, a very cute and scrumptious dream. Every time the cured meat came out of the fridge, he would take over the cooking duties and demand that all orders go through him. We got to choose the level of crispiness – the “Will” got you a lightly fried slice, the “Dad” resulted in a very fried slice, and the “Melissa” was somewhere in between – and if we were ever unsatisfied with our bacon, he would happily make us more. For a while, the plan to open ‘Will’s Bacon Shack,’ a restaurant dedicated to the greatest breakfast food ever (cooked to order, of course). Though that plan was shelved, bacon is still his forte and I still order a “Melissa” every time it’s made.

* A crab will fight for its life: This statement might not surprise you, but when we cooked live crab for the first time I was shocked by how active the crustacean was during its final minutes. While on a trip to a small coastal town in Oregon, my dad and I decided to do something we deemed crazy and cook our own crab. Armed with instructions and a stick of butter, we left the store excited about the delicious meal to come. We quickly found out that the pincers were incredibly sharp and the crab knew how to fight off its impending death. If you ever cook your own crab – which I highly recommend since it tastes absolutely fantastic – make sure to have a set of long tongs nearby.

* Fried rice is worth fighting over: Up until a year ago, fried rice was rarely mentioned in our house. We ordered it every once in a while when we got Chinese take-out, but we never thought much about it. That is, until my dad got to experimenting one day and found homemade fried rice to be the easiest and most delicious meal ever. So much so that we once made three batches in one week and still fought over who got to eat the leftovers. It’s also a surprisingly good travel food. Which means that thinking about fried rice makes me think of at least half a dozen road trips, including one to the city where they discovered Pluto. Is it wrong that I’m still sad it’s no longer considered a planet?

* Peanut sauce makes everyone happy: Never underestimate the power of a true cooking staple. Years ago, I discovered that it’s actually really easy to make a quick and delicious peanut sauce. As long as you can find a market with a well-stocked Asian food section, you can make a dish that not only goes beyond your wildest expectations but also makes your family incredibly happy. Which means that thinking about this recipe and the many times I’ve made it just makes me smile.

Liberated cooking is about cooking what you want because you want to, not because someone tells you to. It’s also about creating an environment in which cooking is fun and the kitchen becomes a place of memories rather than expectations. So try these recipes with people you care about and make your own memories. It will make the meal all the better, I promise.

  PEANUT SAUCE  (serves 3-4)
  2 tablespoons canola oil
  2 tablespoons red curry paste
  1 can (6 oz) coconut milk
  10 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
  2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  3 tablespoons sugar
  pinch of salt (to taste)
  sambal oleke (to taste)
  In a small pot, heat canola oil over medium heat.
  Add red curry paste and heat until you can smell it (about 3 min.).
  Add coconut milk and allow it to simmer for a couple minutes.
  Mix in the peanut butter, rice vinegar, sugar and salt.
  Simmer over medium heat for about ten minutes (it should appear 
  smooth when finished).
  Add the sambal oleke for some heat (be careful – only a couple 
  teaspoons will make the sauce very spicy).
  Serve over rice with chicken and stir-fried vegetables.


  FRIED RICE  (serves 3-4)
  1 cup rice
  2 cups water
  canola oil (or bacon fat, if available)
  2 cups diced ham
  1 cup frozen peas
  2 cups diced carrots
  3 eggs
  Cook rice in water (you can use either a rice cooker or use a pot 
  on the stove top).
  In a small pan, scramble the eggs.
  In a large pan, heat up a couple tablespoons of canola oil.
  Add ham, peas and carrots and fry for about 5 minutes (until the 
  vegetables are hot to the touch and the ham is looking browned).
  Add scrambled eggs and rice to the large pan and fry for another 5 
  to 10 minutes.
  Add salt to taste and serve right away (leftovers will keep in the 
  fridge for about a week).

This article originally ran in the Winter 2012 issue of Fem. Illustration by Kara Kedrick.

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