Archive for November, 2008

Special Fried Rice

November 30, 2008

My favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen, pretty much summarizes my feelings when it comes to Rachael Ray:

I have no doubt I’m opening a can of worms here, but I really don’t see the point of the classic foodie hobby, Rachael Ray Bashing. Sure, her voice is unnecessarily loud, and it makes you wonder why her supposedly caring producers wouldn’t tell her to cut back on all the yelling; of course, the (trademarked) EVOO is hideously annoying; and yeah, that FHM photo shoot was, at best, a pathetic cry for attention, but in the kitchen? The 30-minute meals? How did these become the enemy?

Yes, her knife skills are lacking, but guess what? So are mine. Yes, she relies a bit on pre-processed ingredients, but I’ve got no beef with canned tomatoes, beans and frozen peas when you are short on time. Yes, she lacks finesse but hello! I’m a big as a dork as anyone, and yet you are still here. To be honest, I often parallel her cooking to Oprah’s Book Club. (At the rate she’s earning, she’ll be as loaded as Oprah in a couple years, which is what I suspect is actually what irks people.) For the most part, the books aren’t to my taste but I won’t begrudge a woman who got thousands of Americans back into reading. In the realm of food, I can think of more worthy nightmares to dump on (ahem).

I’ve actually never seen her cooking show.  The only time I’ve seen her on television is when I saw the last fifteen minutes of her travel show when she visited Boston.  Her dishes aren’t always (or even usually) to my liking, but about once or twice a year, I make one of her recipes on a weeknight and I really enjoy it.  Last week was one of those times.  

Rachael Ray has a recipe for Vegetarian Fried Rice that I think is really tasty and easy — and it’s one of those quick recipes that mostly uses ingredients that I already have on hand.  I like to be generous in the amount of vegetables that I throw in to make it more nutritious.  I also like to be generous in the amount of fresh ginger that I throw in because ginger is just so good.  When I made it for dinner most recently, I served it with Chung’s Vegetarian Egg Rolls (frozen), which were surprisingly decent.  It’s a great recipe for lunch leftovers and it actually does take less than 30 minutes.  So, without further ado, here is the recipe.


  • 2 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups white rice
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable, sesame or wok oil, 3 turns of the pan
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots, available in pouches in produce section, a couple of handfuls
  • 1 small red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced on an angle
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 cup Tamari, dark aged soy sauce

Bring water to a boil.  Add rice, reduce heat, cover and cook over medium low heat until tender, 15 to 18 minutes. Spread rice out on a cookie sheet to quick cool it.  (I normally skip that last step…)

Heat a wok, wok shaped skillet or large nonstick skillet over high heat.  Add oil to the pan. Add egg to hot oil and break into small bits as it scrambles.  When eggs are scrambled, add garlic and ginger to the pan. Add carrots, pepper, scallions to the pan and quick stir-fry veggies 2 minutes. Add rice to the pan and combine with veggies.  Fry rice with veggies 2 or 3 minutes.  Add peas and soy sauce to the rice and stir fry 1 minute more, then serve.


Maybe There Are Free Lunches After All

November 29, 2008

Graduate students have to pay especially careful attention to their personal finances.  We’re on a relatively fixed and entirely low income.  Plus, we have to concentrate so much on our work that taking on side jobs is a major professional risk.  401(k)?  Roth IRA?  Not yet, buddy.

One strategy to survive and even to save in graduate school is to cut costs.  Another strategy is to find little freebies and money-maximizers.  I try to do both, but the second strategy is by far more fun.  Along these lines, I recently enjoyed this post over at I Will Teach You To Be Rich about how to use your credit cards’ free rewards.  Genius!

Dear readers, today I want to share with you one of my fave ways to get a “free lunch” — or really, in my case, a free dress or shoes.  It’s MyPoints.  MyPoints is a website that gives you a small number of points for reading daily e-mail advertisements and a larger number of points from making online purchases from their huge number of affiliated retailers after clicking through the link on their website.  Different retailers give different amounts of points per dollar for purchases; one reason MyPoints is so good for grad students is that offers an especially large number of points.  You can redeem your points for free gift vouchers.  That’s right, free.  I tend to get around $200 in free gift cards each year.  

My strategy when it comes to using MyPoints is to save up at least $150 worth of points, which I then spend to make a major new purchase — for free!  I get something that is a “practical splurge” (i.e. something that is practical but at a splurge price point) that makes me feel like I’m not actually a grad student for a fleeting moment.  My latest purchase was an awesome Soia and Kyo coat.  Since the e-mail advertisements might get annoying, I send them all to my junk mailbox and then go through them around once a week when I am in need of a procrastination device.

So, sign up for MyPoints and you, too, can get a free lunch!  If you would like to be referred by me (which I think would give you extra points), please just leave a comment.

Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon

November 24, 2008

This recipe is such a quick and easy dinner for a weeknight when you arrive home from the lab or an exhausting day at the library.  I’ve been making it for several years and it still hasn’t failed me, even though I’m not even that much of a salmon lover.  The recipe is from Gourmet, as always with a few small tweaks from me.  


  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (lemon works, too)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • two 6-ounce pieces salmon fillet

In a small bowl whisk together honey, soy sauce, lime juice, mustard, and water. In a small non-stick skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and cook salmon 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden and just cooked through. Transfer salmon to 2 plates. Add honey glaze to skillet and simmer, stirring, 1 minute. Pour glaze over salmon.

I like to serve this delicious fish with steamed vegetables (broccoli is my favorite) and brown rice or a baked potato.

Charity Holiday Cards

November 24, 2008

It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but everyone is already starting to think about Christmas!  Normally, I hate the rush towards Christmas that seems to start as early as September, but this year I’m joining in.  Sometimes you just really need to start getting excited about the holidays!  

As a grad student, it can be challenging to buy meaningful presents for friends and family without breaking the bank.  I will do a post in the future with my favorite present picks.  But a great, cheap and thoughtful gesture is to send everyone special in your life a warm holiday message in the mail.  Often a kind hand written message delivered by the mail man or mail woman is more appreciated than whatever little trinket you might give instead.  And we don’t send enough mail to our friends and family these days!

If you’re crafty, you’ll make a handmade card that will wow your loved ones.  If you’re me, you’ll buy charity holiday cards for a good cause.  My pick this year?  A classic in the field of charity Christmas cards: UNICEF.  They have some great retro designs this season.  Be sure to start making or purchase your holiday cards now so that you’ll have them ready to go in time for the holidays!

Curried Lentil Soup

November 19, 2008

I’m always on the lookout for recipes that are delicious, relatively simple, inexpensive, nutritious and make great leftovers (in other words, perfect grad student dishes).  A tall order?  Not so tall as you might think.  Take a look at Exhibit A below: Curried Lentil Soup.  I’ve been making this one for several years and it never disappoints.  Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit with a few small changes that I like.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 8-ounce russet potato, peeled, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 14 1/2-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 cups lentils (about 12 ounces), rinsed, drained
  • 2/3 cup frozen peas
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, potato, garlic and carrot and sauté. until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Mix in curry powder and cayenne and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add broth, tomatoes with juices and lentils and bring to boil. Cover pot, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until lentils are very tender, about 45 minutes. Throw in the frozen peas with about 10 minutes to go.  Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Refrigerate until cold; cover and keep refrigerated. Before serving, rewarm soup over low heat.)

Every Blog Begins with a Single Post

November 17, 2008

Maybe you’ve come across Gwyneth Paltrow’s new lifestyle website, GOOP.  Although her advice about how to “nourish the inner aspect” has already met with quite a backlash, there’s a part of me that does enjoy her newsletters about little black dresses and turkey ragu.  (The ones about eliminating sugar and detoxification cleansing?  Ehhhh, not so much.)  

But taking lifestyle advice from a celebrity can be pretty hard to swallow, even in the best case scenario.  Like Gwyneth, I’m on a quest to make my life good in terms what I eat, where I go and what I do (professionally and personally).  Unlike Gwyneth, I have quite a limited budget in terms of time and money.  

This blog is the story of a grad student trying to live the good life.  It ain’t always easy on my limited stipend and with a seemingly endless amount of work to do.  But I’m trying.  I hope you’ll join me as I share my attempts.